The Fighting Church: Thoughts on Homosexuality and Christianity

Welcome back to the Our Emptying Church blog series! For the past three months, we have been exploring why Millennials (ages 18-30) have left or will leave the church. We’ve had some significant interviews with Millennials and are about to hear from some pretty great guest posters.

We are specifically addressing the six most common reasons why the number of religious unaffiliated Millennials is on the rise (in order, they are: antihomosexual, judgmental, hypocritical, too involved in politics, old-fashioned, out of touch with reality). Several weeks ago, in light of the coming presidential election, I addressed the church’s involvement in politics and today I wish to jump into the church and homosexuality. I realize this is an emotionally- infused topic, which is why I will attempt to write with honesty, objectivity, and grace. It is also why I only welcome graceful, constructive dialog in the comments section of this blog. It is certainly okay to disagree so long as it’s done in a constructive, kind manner. I don’t intend on changing your stance; however, I do hope to provide a little more perspective on why the church is overwhelmingly seen as anti-homosexual by Millennials and why, in my opinion, we are leaving the church because of this perception.

In times past, the church has not only offered strong objection to the gay lifestyle but made it an object of scorn, disdain, and dehumanization. Hostilely opposing the gay community hasn’t just become a cause of Christianity, it has, for some Christians, become intertwined in their identities. In his book unChristian, generational researcher, David Kinnaman writes:
“…hostility toward gays– not just opposition to homosexual politics and behaviors but disdain for gay individuals– has become virtually synonymous with the Christian faith.” Kinnaman’s research showed that 9 out of 10 Mosaics and Busters (ages 18-41) who are unaffiliated with the church viewed Christians as anti-homosexual.

I see a lot of fear floating around these days and fear tends to make us dehumanize folks.

And there’s a big difference in disagreeing with someone and demeaning him/her.

I wonder if this distinction is a little too muddy in the church.

Millennials are wondering too.

As of late, post-presidential election in particular, I’ve been hearing and reading claims of religious persecution… that some Christians feel their rights have been infringed upon by recent legislation, ACLU lawsuits and the such. I think it important to remember that there are men and women murdered for their faith everyday and that our history is stained with story after story of religious martyrs. These are events of persecution. Being bullied, having Bibles thrown at you, being told regularly that God hates you, or picket signs stating your eternal damnation may constitute the term “persecution” too.

I think it’s important to try to step out of yourself and look objectively. How do you love people? How do you love those that you fear or disagree with? How do you love the LGBTQI+ community? Do you fear working for causes like ending HIV/AIDS? Would you entertain the idea that the legality of gay marriage is actually a civil and human rights issue?

Evangelical Christians have been heard loud and clear that homosexuality is a sin, that it is an unacceptable lifestyle, and that gay couples should not be allowed to marry each other. I’m not sure we Millennials need to keep on hearing it, as we already know where these folks stand. I’d love to hear a little more about how the church is going to fight sex trafficking in Tennessee. Can you tell me how many counties in Tennessee have reported a case of minor sex trafficking in the last two years? Can you even tell me what sex trafficking is? Perhaps we should talk a little more about such things instead of continuing to fight and legislate a culture war.

As stated above, the intent of this post is not to dive into the few Bible verses that mention homosexuality or to change your views on the ethics of the subject, those are personal and you are responsible for researching your own beliefs, but you are similarly responsible for your actions in loving people. Trying to establish Christianity’s primacy in American culture by voting for bans on gay marriage isn’t really a victory for Christians at all. In it, we are completely disenfranchising a group of Americans, of humans. Millennials see this and they are tired of the culture wars. They are tired of the control that Christians seem to feel they must have on all things culture.

I say this as a Millennial who still dearly loves the emptying church.

Teach me how to be a strong woman. Teach me about the women of the Bible. Teach me about human trafficking. Teach me how to hug someone I hate. Teach me how to prevent diseases through education and vaccines. Teach me how to meditate on scripture. Teach me how to trade the sword for the plow. Teach me how to change my heart. Teach me how to rid myself of arrogance and pride. Teach me how to lead by serving. Teach me how to speak with grace. Teach me how to preach. Teach me how to fast for a cause. Teach me how to persist. Teach me to weep for the hurting. Teach me how to take care of the earth. Teach me sustainable farming. Teach me how to live with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self control. Teach me how to embrace life’s seasons. Teach me how to pastor. Teach me how not to hate. Teach me how to rid myself of prejudice. Teach me how to get off the couch after a broken heart. Teach me how to love. I beg you. There are so many hurting people in this world… teach me how to love them like Christ, not how to fight a culture war, I beg you. Teach me.

For those Christians who cannot condone homosexuality, yet who still love folks and treat them kindly regardless of their sexuality, thank you. You teach me a great deal. Thank you. I’m sorry that you are sometimes labeled bigoted for your personal beliefs. I know that’s unfair and hurtful.

Let us find the grace that we beg God for and extend it to each other. Let’s put a name to a face and listen to each others stories; I bet we’ll begin realizing that we aren’t so different after all. When we consciously chose love, I sincerely believe we send a loud and clear message to Millennials, much more so than a picket sign or buying waffle fries at the Chick-fil-A.

Feel free to post any constructive thoughts or experiences below.

This post is the ninth in a succession of the series Our Emptying Church. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving the church. Check out these recent posts: Our Emptying Church, When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian, Fake Smiles and Judging Eyes: OEC Interview with Millennial #1, Prioritizing Sin: OEC Interview #2, You’re Losing Us: OEC Interview #3, OEC Interview #4: One Last Chance, Our Beloved, Overly Political Church, Heroes in Disguise: OEC Interview #5, Good Church Folk: OEC Interview #6, OEC Guest Post: Mark and Tammy Edwards


Prioritizing Sin: OEC Interview #2

In continuing with Our Emptying Church, I’m honored to be sharing with you another interview with a Millennial today. Because of the personal questions I’ve asked, I’m keeping all the interviewees anonymous. This interview comes from a 23 year old woman who I think may just have one of the most beautiful smiles ever. I hope you’ll appreciate her grace and vulnerability as much as I did.

–Did you grow up regularly attending a church?

No, I wasn’t raised in a faith-based home and my family also moved a few times throughout my childhood. Both circumstances made it difficult to be involved in a church community.

–Are you currently actively attending a church?

I’m still seeking a church to get involved in. I’ve been quite the church-hopper as of late, but it’s been a challenge to find a community that shares the same theologies and that have the service opportunities I’d love to share in. However, I am getting my bible study fix, so I find some community there.

–What is your motivation for attending/ not attending?

Within the last two years, I’ve been spiritually challenged to examine two complex, very personal subjects: Calvinism theology and my sexuality. On theology—after thorough study, I’ve discovered that Calvinism is just not an interpretation that I personally subscribe to. Although I don’t mind attending churches where Calvinism is taught, it’s been difficult to find a church that doesn’t in an area where the interpretation is widely accepted. On sexuality—I am homosexual, and many do not know. However, it’s been to the avail of my learning as I’ve observed from the sidelines the relationship between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community. I’m disheartened to know the damage to our witness and to non-believers caused by our very real and false prioritization of particular sins. I’m disheartened to know the hesitancy and fear of judgment (and distancing) that I often experience when sharing my sexuality with another believer. I can’t imagine that for someone outside the church. However—not a justified reason for me to not attend, only to attend more, converse more, and pray more for change.

–If you have one, tell me about your church experience (the good, bad, and neutral).

I have had many excellent experiences with the Church, and I have also had many experiences that I wish had been different. The latter experiences I try only to learn from, as I know I cannot expect perfection from my flesh, so why expect more from others who are very much like me? But experiences like having an older lady, whom I didn’t know, take my hand during prayer at a morning service, or having a loaf of homemade bread left by a bible study group on my porch as a thanks for stopping by, or seeing a church open its doors to the hungry regularly, or seeing a homeless shelter and rehab center built and sustained with the congregation’s monetary donations… I have so much hope for us as an imperfect community, who, in so many ways, I believe truly wish to pursue what Christ intended.

–What is the purpose of the church?

To open the doors for the sick, which is all of us; to extend grace and the love that is the Gospel, and never close to a faint knock.

–Feel pressure to attend church?

No, not particularly. Only when I haven’t been in a while.

–In 1-3 sentences, how do you perceive Christians? (i.e. loving, generous, anti-gay, fundamentalists, too political, etc.)

At times, I catch myself perceiving Christians (including myself) in every way listed. I think it’s easy to see the name of Christ demonstrated by behaviors that define all of those titles, and more.

–In October 2012, a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed that thirty percent of Millennials (age 18-31) identify as having no religious affiliation. Does this surprise you?

My first thought is no. The religious communities that do exist are so wedged apart by opposing theologies and proclaimed truths, and in such an individualistic culture, our lack of unity as a collective faith-based community only further promotes what I think is being pursued by many of the “information age” as the desirable (but false), Unitarian, individualistic truth: all paths lead in the same direction.

–Fifty years down the road, do you anticipate significant growth in the church or significant decline? Why?

I can’t say. I surely hope that more decide to know the presence, ways, grace and love of Jesus, God the father, and the Spirit.

-Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your experience?

I cannot say the negative experiences I’ve had with/perceptions I carry of the Church or Christians leave more of a lasting impression than the love, acceptance, brother and sisterhood, and genuine care I have come to know only through my relationships with other believers. To those who have always extended warm welcomes and open hearts, with no other agenda than to care because Christ did for them, thank you always!

As always, I welcome graceful dialogue only in the comment section. Can you identify with this woman’s story?

This post is the forth in a succession of the series Our Emptying Church. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving or will leave the church. Check out these recent posts: Our Emptying Church, When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian, & Interview with a Millennial

La gracia como la lluvia …

Today…I am spent. Though I don’t necessarily have a dissertation to pen, I do have many thoughts on my heart. So I’ll share the big one… I’ve been learning more about God’s grace lately than I’ve ever learned before. I’m learning about grace right now because I’m needing so much of it. Isn’t that when we learn the most? I guess… unfortunately or fortunately. I have had many large changes and have started a completely different chapter of my life, of which I’m thankful, but frankly, I’m muddling through trying to find the way. Each day I’m being forced to grow…and though it’s sometimes painful and always stressful, deep down, I have to admit that some gratefulness exists in my heart. How else would I learn about grace? If I was good at this new chapter already, why would I need anything from anybody? Why would I need grace to make it? I wouldn’t. And I never want to be in a spot where I don’t need grace. I’ve been in that spot before… it harbors pride and destruction. So tomorrow… may grace & peace reign.

Grace…… eventually…

“When Jesus was asked about beauty, he pointed to nature, to the lilies of the field. Behold them, he said, and behold is a special word: it means to look upon something amazing or unexpected. Behold! It is an exhortation, not a whiny demand, like when you’re talking to your child— “Behold me when I’m talking to you, sinner!” Jesus is saying that every moment you are freely given the opportunity to see through a different pair of glasses. “Behold the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil or spin, and yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” But that’s only the minor chord. The major one follows, in his anti-anxiety discourse— which is the soul of this passage— that all striving after greater beauty and importance, and greater greatness, is foolishness. It is ultimately like trying to catch the wind. Lilies do not need to do anything to make themselves more glorious or cherished. Jesus is saying that we have much to learn from them about giving up striving. He’s not saying that in a “Get over it” way, as your mother or your last horrible husband did. Instead he’s heartbroken, as when you know an anorexic girl who’s starving to death, as if in some kind of demonic possession. He’s saying that we could be aware of, filled with, and saved by the presence of holy beauty, rather than worship golden calves.”

Anne Lamott in Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith

Traveling mercies, my friend.

I went backwoods camping recently with my three life-long friends, known affectionately as the Who-ha’s… a knockoff name derived from The Divine Secrets of the Yaya Sisterhood. Armed with the strength of a sisterly bond, the fierceness and determination of the female species, and the love of Yahweh, we trekked on to our next great adventure. We tend to welcome the outdoor adventures that require a certain sense of survival sweetly mixed with the desire to sleep among the stars, sunsets, and sunrises. Our first major endeavor some years ago was a 3 week road trip across the greater United States that took us nearly into Canada… we camped, we feasted over the campfire, we visited old friends, we took pictures, we sang hymns, we laughed, we drove, we quoted Thoreau, we prayed, we conversed, we star-gazed, we hiked, we met new friends, we sweated, we danced. This past weekend lacked nothing as we reunited to repeat these things once more… picking up where we had last left off. What a rich life. Our time together got me thinking…

I’ve been savoring my reading of Anne Lamott as of late. The San Francisco Chronicle writes: “Anne Lamott is walking proof that a person can be both reverent and irreverent in the same lifetime. Sometimes even in the same breath.” Lamott is irreverent, but she writes about grace as if it is desperately needed, as if it is her salvation. She can write like this because she has a codependency on Christ that leaves you realizing that Christ is literally her Savior through such personal grace that only she can know. She’s been through it all and back. She is endearing with her funny stories, crude language at times, fervid political beliefs, and her dreadlocks. She is ruthlessly honest in her pursuit of both life and grace. I love her writing; I see more grace in it than in many religious writings, excluding the Holy Bible, of course. In her book, Traveling Mercies, Lamott explains that she derived the title from her pastor, the Reverend Veronica Goines and her congregation who wish other members traveling mercies when they are about to depart on a journey away from the congregation. “Traveling mercies: love the journey, God is with you, come home safe and sound.” These are the sentiments that they wish each other; this reminds me a lot of the Who-ha’s, our individual and collective journeys, and the traveling mercies that have followed us through the years.

Later, Lamott writes about Bee, an old friend who had weathered the years and was close to her last breath. Anne sat with her during this sacred time, held her hand, and whispered something so profound as her old friend was slipping away to Glory: traveling mercies. So that’s what I wish to say to you today: Love your journey, know God is with you, come home safe and sound. Traveling mercies to you, my friend.