For decades public opinion assumed that if you were gay you could not be Christian, and if you were Christian you could not be gay. The two were mutually exclusive. Theologians, authors, psychotherapists, and religious advocacy groups have challenged that assumption in recent years. In prior blog posts, I have cited several authors and written reviews of their books telling their personal stories of how they reconciled their sexual orientation with their faith.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Institute for Welcoming Resources in 2009 and again in 2013 published “Building an Inclusive Church: A Welcoming Toolkit 2.0” with the support of eleven different denominational organizations. It provided an outline for Protestant Churches to provide a more open and receptive relationship with their LGBT members, and in some case to make a formal statement to that effect in their policies and publications.
This past fall, the Reformation Project, headed by Matthew Vines in Salt Lake City, hosted a conference at the National City Christian Church in Washington, DC that drew a star group of speakers and leaders and several hundred in attendance. Just this week in Portland, OR, Justin Lee with the Gay Christian Network, headquartered here in Raleigh, led several hundred evangelical leaders in a conference titled “Together at the Table.” Most of the denominational organizations cited above also host periodical national and/or regional conferences. The Reconciling United Methodists of North Carolina hosted one in Winston-Salem in 2013 and another in Greensboro in 2014. They are affiliates of the Reconciling Ministries Network that is headquartered in Chicago.
For several years the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, has had a full-time staff member for faith partnerships for reaching out to churches and faith communities. Many Reformed Jewish congregations and some individual Catholic Churches have organized connections with the LGBT community, and the new Pope has taken a much less judgmental view of LGBT people. So the gap between the two is closing both from the approach of gay activities and from the religious leaders. The radical right wing of the Republican Party and the Southern Baptist Convention are the two remaining holdouts that still use homophobia as both a political weapon and a judgment against all homosexuals.
The media seems to have been focused exclusively on same-sex marriage and the controversy that has risen in the past five years and the rapid reversal of state laws regarding the issue. The number of cases that have reached federal appellate courts has with only a few exceptions struck down state laws banning same-sex marriage, and the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to finally consider the issue even though it has declined to the review the decisions of appellate courts in recent years.
In the United Methodist Church, the media has focused on the church trials of ministers who have conducted same-sex marriage in violation of official church policy and how the regional administrators, who in this church are called bishops, have conducted those trials. There has been less publicity about the wave of congregations across the country that have openly stated their willingness to welcome LGBT people as members in full standing. The international legislative body of the United
Methodist Church, known at the General Conference, has debated the issue of the role of homosexuals in the church every four years since 1972 without any movement. This is in contrast with the other mainline Protestant Denominations who not only welcome LGBT people as members but also have ordained them as clergy.
For too long the debate centered on the interpretation of seven verses in the Bible that supposedly address the Christian theology about the practice of homosexuality. Some people have even said that it is OK to be homosexual as long as you do not act on that orientation and remain celibate, so that splits the hairs even further. Fortunately, the discussion seems to have moved more to whether or not LGBT people are to be accepted rather than condemned and not to focus so much on church dogma and the literal interpretation of a few scriptures. More LGBT advocacy groups are becoming less anti-religious, and more faith communities are becoming less hung-up on gay sex so the breech is narrowing.