LGBTQ Christians: Tired of Eating Crumbs from the Master’s Table
And What it Means for Allies
We’re entering a new phase in the quest for equality in faith communities. Increasingly, Gay Christians are done eating crumbs from the master’s table. They are done with churches in which they are only less abused, condemned, scrutinized, and stigmatized than before. The luster of the cheap sympathy of straight friends is also wearing off. Cheap sympathy? Yes, from straight friends willing to enjoy their straight privilege at the front of the church bus, while sexual minorities are consigned to the back of the bus (no weddings or ordinations for them.) Give people a taste of human dignity, and they only want more, believing the whole “I’m a child of God” thing.
Of course, many LGBTQ people of faith have long since left the church behind to save their own souls (and sometimes, their lives.) They suffer bouts of saudade — the intense longing for something that is gone — but they cannot subject themselves to the crazy-making bromide, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Other gay, bi, or transgender Christians have made an uneasy peace in churches that discriminate against them. We do what we have to do to make it through, and it’s for each of us to decide what that means. But more gay Christians are finding — here and there, fewer than one might think — churches that believe, practice, and support full LGBTQ equality. Now that full-equality churches occupy a small sliver of the vast landscape of Christianity, the crumbs from the communion tables and altars of non-affirming churches, seem more galling than ever. As well they ought.
What does this new reality mean for those who would be straight allies to their LGBTQ kin? It means something better than offering crumbs from the masters table. It’ means real hospitality, real friendship, real solidarity.
- Rethink your participation in a church that discriminates against your LGBTQ loved ones.
Why not find a church where your LGBTQ loved ones are welcomed and celebrated every bit as much as you are? Of course, you would enjoy non-denominational hipster church where the music is fabulous and the “KidZone” is modeled on DisneyWorld. But your gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender friends are not safe there. Beneath the smiles and welcome signs, your LGBTQ friends are regarded as defective, intrinsically disordered, and in the most ultimate way — in the eyes of God. Trust me, the tradition that supports this view is grotesquely hostile to them no matter how much sweet talk surrounds the toxic core.
Maybe there isn’t a good church in your town where LGBTQ equality is a reality. Perhaps the best you can find is a United Methodist Church that flies the rainbow flag but won’t perform a wedding for your gay friends. Well, the Jesus movement started as a small sect meeting in homes, and many LGBTQ Christians are out in the wilderness, beyond the confines of well organized or institutionalized communities. You can leave the institutions that are openly or (more likely now) pleasantly and passive-agressively hostile to your friends. You can join the non-institutional, disorganized, program-impoverished, living-room-church world, marked by the kind of messy but real community that humans scramble to create under duress.
Strides toward full equality for minorities generates backlash, as seen on our national stage. White Supremacy, anti-immigrant fever, homophobia, and transphobia have empowering friends in the citadels of power, including the White House and its enablers. Collective action through activism, political organizing, and the rest is a must. But in the meantime, in the realm of faith community, we can just say no to the harm perpetrated against our LGBTQ loved ones by refusing to go along with it and by refusing to enjoy the benefits of churches that abide these harmful policies.
When a straight couple gets married in a church that refuses to marry same-gender couples, the straight couple is going along with the faith-based discrimination aimed at their gay friends. One could refuse the church wedding under those circumstances, even if it means upsetting the family. Our gay and transgender friends are forced to choose between self-defining and making their families happy, why should we be off that same hook … if we fancy ourselves as allies?
2. Withdraw your financial support for faith-based organizations that abide policies of discrimination against your LGBTQ loved ones.
Maybe you were part of a dynamic Christian campus ministry like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship or Campus Crusade for Christ (re-named, “Cru”). You know these organizations are loaded with caring people, and staff members who raise their own support from individual donors. Maybe you’re one of those donors. The LGBTQ young people in reach of those campus ministries are in harm’s way. Young, dynamic, warm-hearted, and socially skilled staffers have been warned: uphold the policies on LGBTQ or leave. The donor base is conservative and on high-alert on matters of sexuality and gender — the new litmus test for orthodoxy. The veiled hostility to LGBTQ people from the hard-assed policies of these organizations and their donor base leak through these staffers to the students vulnerably coming to grips with their sexuality or gender identity. They are plugged into the toxic anxiety of these systems, and it’s not good for them — they are internalizing yet more homophobia and transphobia, but it is a poison delivered in a capsule claiming divine sanction.
Ask yourself, “Why am I supporting this?”
3. Speak up, and keep speaking up, even if it’s a little awkward.
How to say this? Our LGBTQ loved ones have to live with the social consequences of their sexual minority status every single day. They have to decide where it’s safe to be known, and where it isn’t. They have to decide whether to say, “Actually I’m gay” when the homophobic humor is popping up around them, or just try to change the topic.
If we are allies to our LGBTQ loved ones, we should take on some of this load of social distress. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. That means speaking up more, not less — especially when the topic is God, or Scripture, or church, or faith. Do your faith friends and relatives know that you are a conscientious objector to the church’s traditional stance on sexual minorities? Do you live with the social awkwardness too, or do you just dodge it by only waving your Pride Flag when you’re singing with the choir? An ally doesn’t have to win any arguments to be an ally, but we do need to self-define, to say various versions of “I see things differently than you. I can’t support a vision of God or an approach to church that doesn’t treat my LGBTQ loved ones as I want to be treated.” Followed by the awkward silence.
What’s the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow?
When we take real steps to stand with (not just wave at) our LGBTQ loved ones, we feel more connected with them in their suffering. Which means, we feel closer to them. And they feel closer to us. The connections that come with a cost are the ones that tap into the most God-juice.
I told my therapist lately, “I think I have an excess of meaning in my life these days. It’s a bit much.” That’s because I feel like I’m finally doing something to advance the cause of justice in the world — something beyond voting, or liking progressive memes on FB, or calling my representatives to resist White Supremacy and the anti-immigrant fever spreading among us. For all the advances on LGBTQ equality in recent years — the fastest social change in modern history we’re told — the sector of society walled off to progress is the church. It’s the church that has developed and promulgated for centuries various forms of White Supremacy, anti-semitism, patriarchy, homophobia, and transphobia (all of them, of a piece.) When I see so-called “progressive Christians” advocating for social justice in society, but refusing to pay the price it takes to just say no to it in the church, I want to hold my breath like a frustrated four year old. Much of the church — vast and powerful sectors of it — is a hot-bed, a staging ground, and a bulwark of resistance against this stuff. And that influence profoundly shapes the public sphere in which LGBTQ people live their lives. Doing something about it matters and with the doing there’s some inconvenience, and anger, and frustration, for sure, but also some real joy.