This article was published on November 28th, 2016
The church and the LGBT community sounds like an oxymoronic pairing. There are many stories of evangelical and extreme right wing churches, and their hate campaigns against homosexuality. The Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, is a classic example. Historically the communities of religion and homosexuality have had various clashes, and current frictions still exist, with legality and religious freedom and equal rights legislations being brought into the fight
However Churches and Christian communities are championing Jesus’ message of love and acceptance, and bringing to create a new phase for the modern church, one, which welcomes members of the LGBT community with open arms. This has shifted the image of the church. No longer is it a members only club from which gays are aggressively excluded. It would appear that things are moving towards a future where religious faith and being LGBT are no longer mutually exclusive.
“LGBT persons are children of God, can be faithful members of the church, and can serve in its ministry,” said Rev Ron Rentner, a retired Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States whose book, Church is like a Chicken Bus, deals extensively with homosexuality within the church and the bible.
This is a far cry from the unaccepting and intolerant voice of the church that many have had in the past, but is this image out-dated?
“Today’s church demonstrates its understanding of God’s acceptance of people,” said Rev Ron Rentner. “As with other civil rights movements, there are Christians who pioneer and support such rights, and there are people who, for a variety of theological, social, and psychological reasons try desperately to turn back the clock.”
It is easy to tar the church in general with the same blanket homophobe brush?
Of all people, gays know what its like to be judged and have stereotypes thrust upon them with no evidence to support it. While there are churches and organizations that are active in their prejudice of the LGBT community, it is important to remember they are not indicative of all of them.
“The LGBT community and churches should be learning from each other,” said Rev. Ron Rentner. Acceptance and tolerance is a two way street. It is time to start fresh with the church and begin to forge new bonds that will help to bridge the gap between religion and the LGBT community.
What’s the relevance of religion in the LGBT community?
While there are some atheists within the LGBT community, others are looking to turn to religion. Fighting for equality and rights is something that gays have done forever, and strength is drawn from the power of the numbers and a combined voice. There are many people within the LGBT community who struggle with holding their faith, and others within religious communities who are struggling with sexual and gender orientation. Almost everyone can understand the difficulty of resolving inner conflicts in learning to accept and love, especially when society may deem individuals as being outside of the norm. Now there is an opportunity to reach out and bridge the gap for those who are both LGBT and religious faith. Through love and acceptance, everyone can continue to grow and evolve.
Socially there has been a trend to shift towards this learning process and cohesiveness. The big change in moving forward is through the Pride movement. It has smashed the stigma associated with being LGBT and as a result, are creating space and providing support for people of all backgrounds to live openly and out of the closet, in all walks of life. This means people meet and interact with unapologetic, brave and proud LGBT people, and realise they aren’t criminals or sex crazed lunatics like homophobic culture has been made out to be in the past. The importance is people are having their views challenged, opening up their minds to questioning the prejudices they hold.
“I’m glad that we can put a human face on the issue,” said Rev Ron Rentner. “This, after all, is not just an issue, it’s people.” This is what people are starting to realize.
It is a new era. Being gay doesn’t automatically exclude you from having religious faith. It is important that the LGBT community works to forge new bonds and continue progress for members of the community who wish to be accepted by both. Obviously there is more work to be done. Simply having the church and society tolerate LGBT people because it’s the socially and politically correct thing to do isn’t enough. Gays need to have acceptance and openness of everyone.
“To tolerate people is not the same thing as to love or accept them,” explained Rev Ron Rentner. Love and acceptance is what everyone should be working towards.
“My advice to the LGBT community is to claim the birth right of baptism and find a place where it is accepted and valued,” said Rev Ron Rentner, giving his final thoughts to anyone within the LGBT community who is interested in navigating their way in to religion.
Have you struggled with sexuality and religion? Do you have thoughts or advice for members of the LGBT community who are interested in exploring religion? Please leave your comments below. We’d love to hear your stories.