Is My Church Homophobic
Did that title catch your eye? I’m being deliberately provocative. To be honest, I’m not a fan of the word homophobic. It has too many violent and broad connotations that make me feel uncomfortable about using it when discussing my experience of church. And yet I have struggled to find another word that is useful when discussing the fear, anger, prejudice and mistrust I have experienced because of my same-sex attractions (SSA) from some individuals in a church context. After all, why did I seek out TFT all those years ago, and why do many of my brothers and sisters still do so? Is it not to, at times, find a place of safety from what might be intolerant and unthoughtful Christians in our local church contexts? When others have commented on the theological stance of my church in relation to same-sex attraction I have rushed to defend it. I have tried to explain that the leadership hold to a biblical position, as I do, whilst knowing in my mind and heart that some of their thinking and behaviours towards me have, at times, been far from the biblical ideal. TFT groups, friendships and the annual conference have over the years provided a much-needed refuge.
Why am I writing about this now? About 18 months ago I moved my home, and work, to a new city, after having been a member of one local church for the best part of 35 years. My new church has made me feel truly at home and welcomed. This has, if anything, accentuated some feelings of regret and sadness about some of my past experiences. This article is not intended as a moan about my previous church, for which I remain thankful, but rather an opportunity to look at the lessons I have learned in the hope that it will encourage you to both bless your fellow church members and, in turn, be encouraged in your most precious faith.
So what lessons has God taught me through my years of experiencing church?
Lesson 1 - Stick with it!
God has ordered our lives and knows what is best for us when it comes to experiencing Himself in a local church. A key assumption here is that such a church is a community of born-again believers who place glorifying Christ in their lives and seek to hold to the Bible as the basis for ordering church life. My former church met these criteria as best they, and I, are able as sinful men and women. I had prayed about which church to join as a student and God made it clear this was the right community for me. The teaching and many of the friendships encouraged me in my young faith, and did so to my last Sunday service. I am grateful to God for his provision, and gratitude is a key even amid trials.
Lesson 2 - Speak up(wards)
God desires us to have a living relationship with him. Prayer is a means by which we can know him and learn, amongst many other things, to depend on him in times of trial. Church life, at times, has been such a time of trial for me. No way of dressing that up! It has been tough and required perseverance and patience that I think can only come from knowing God. When attitudes feel hostile and even homophobic then seeking to forgive and going to God in prayer is vital. This is particularly the case when it comes to praying for leaders whom Scripture tells us carry a heavy responsibility for our souls and spiritual well-being (Col 1:28, Eph 4:12, James 3:1, Acts 20:28 and others).
Not easy, but it is part of the Christian’s walk.
Lesson 3 - Submit!
We can’t get around some key Bible verses, however much they may trouble us at times.
Firstly, ‘Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.’ (Hebrews 13:17). Secondly, ‘Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”’ (1 Peter 5:5). My heart is full of pride and I often believe I know the best way I should be led. These verses acknowledge my heart’s tendency to know better than my leaders. God has given them to us for a purpose and I need to acknowledge this in my relationships with them.
Lesson 4 - Speak out
At the same time, I don’t think this should mean that we remain silent when we experience homophobic attitudes. When I was younger I found speaking out to those in leadership about my SSA very intimidating. There were broader social reasons for this as well as the pervading church culture. Neither of these, I have come to learn, reflected God’s perspective. Materials provided by TFT and early workshops/conferences acted as a proxy for my voice and to which I pointed my elders. The Lord was using me as a signpost to help challenge and develop the leaders He had chosen.
At times though I felt I needed to speak directly. I remember writing an email to one elder which resulted in a relational mess between us. The lesson is to have a conversation after careful reflection and prayer rather than writing long letters. Nowadays, I seek to help leaders learn rather than to vent my own frustrations. Easier said than done. When things are particularly tough it can be useful to speak about your feelings and experiences with a trusted friend in the church with whom you can also pray. I know that when I bottle things up they become distorted in my mind. A good conversation helps me put things into context.
Lesson 5 - Step up to service
My childhood history and subsequent same-sex attractions brought with them pain and trauma that replayed not only in the church but in work and life more generally. I felt at the mercy of feelings of abandonment, and a seemingly unquenchable desire for unrequited male affection, and no one seemed to be bothered. However hard I worked externally to ‘fit in’ my internal struggles invariably leaked out. I then felt shame and feelings of frustration toward all male authority figures and those in church leadership particularly. Not their fault, but it was the consequence of unaddressed pain and projections. To break the chain required, over time, God’s active grace, demonstrated by Him in a multitude of ways, including counselling, prayer and healing ministry. Also mentoring, godly friendships, accountability and supported personal spiritual disciplines helped.
Ideally, I think the local church should seek to be equipped to help in these ways. If you think yours isn’t, then maybe God is asking you to step up and use your gifts and spiritual journey for serving in your church and perhaps also in TFT. Why not consider offering to become an accountability partner for someone recovering from pornography addiction or simply befriending those who may also feel like outsiders? Another option may be to apply to volunteer to support the work of TFT in some way. Start by speaking to your leadership about the possibilities for service and see how the Lord leads you and them. Getting into the habit of serving your church community, in my experience, brings with it the potential to not only glorify God but also can bring a measure of personal healing.
Lesson 6 - Saved forever!
Whatever our experience of church is like today, it is but temporary. Heaven awaits us and we can, in Christ, have hope for a far better future.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Spring 2020 edition of Ascend