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The LGBTI Community: The church’s unreached dilemma

Saturday, 4 March 2017  | Dario Matalone


Editor’s note: This is the first of two blogs on the topic of sexuality, published on the eve of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. The companion blog can be found here.

These two blogs are not theological treatises, but heartfelt, impassioned pleas from both sides of the debate, inviting us to respond pastorally to this complex issue.

The LGBTI Community: The church’s unreached dilemma

A Cry from the Heart

Fellow Christians, we read in scripture Paul exhorting us to be all things to all people, and we see him leading by example. So why do we struggle so much to do the same? With all our advances in modern technology, social media and the Internet, and with all our education regarding social inclusion, tolerance and acceptance, why is the Christian world so behind the times in reaching out to the most marginalised and unreached demographic in our society – the LGBTI[1] community?

We are called to lead in all areas of life. So why do we lag behind in this?

The way many in the church interact with and treat the LGBTI community is a sad indictment on us all. The recent debate on marriage equality has caused a lot of division and brought up a lot of homophobic rhetoric, which has been unhelpful for Christian-LGBTI relations. Such topics are always potentially controversial: talk about issues such as this and you open up a can of worms, and the floodgates of judgement are never too far behind, which is self-defeating. The sad reality is that well-meaning bible-based Christians portray a side of the church that they ought not.

I recognise that there are Christians who are ‘non-affirming’ of same-sex relations, and hence same-sex marriage, for theological reasons, and not out of bigotry or an irrational fear of LGBTI people. But my comments about the impact of church’s attitudes on the LGBTI community, and my recommendations, are also relevant to this group.

While the church is normally respected as the moral barometer of society, recent events like the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse will leave some wondering if the church ever had a moral core. I believe the church has surrendered its role in society to some degree. This is not what God intended; nor did He ever intend for His word to be used as a weapon to bludgeon nonbelievers into shameful submission. The word of God was always intended to lead people to grace, forgiveness and salvation - never, ever condemnation. Yet the LGBTI community are often targets of such ‘scriptural abuse’.

Homophobia with a piety mask is superficial and doesn’t bear much fruit. Far from maintaining a standard of holiness, believers motivated by homophobia turn people away from Jesus. Imagine this: God is watching his people pushing the LGBTI community away from Jesus’ love, away from Christ’s arms and hands nailed to the cross for them. Perish the thought. We can’t justify our own inadequacies and insecurities by putting a Christian face on them any longer.

Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He died for all humanity, not just heterosexual humanity. All can avail themselves of Jesus’ great salvation – ALL. His love for the woman caught in adultery gives us an insight into how full of mercy Jesus actually is. Jesus is shock-proof, in contrast to some of God’s people. This said, there are a growing number of Christians making gigantic inroads into the LGBTI community: doing an awesome job, loving people back to life, reaching those hurting the most due to abuse, hate crime, violence and ongoing discrimination. Such believers deserve loud and constant applause. Well done, good and faithful servants.

So why don’t some churches and denominations get this? You would think that some of the larger churches that consider themselves contemporary in culture and approach would be up for anything and anyone. You don’t need special training to show and extend grace, mercy and love. Sadly, the cut-off point for this grace, mercy and love is often the LGBTI community.

How can we tell people that Jesus loves them but fail to love them too? The LGBTI community wants and needs to be loved, not vilified, judged or rejected. Coming out is a brave and courageous act and often means rejection by family and friends. We should admire such courage. Let him without sin cast the first stone. Young gay people are overrepresented in the suicide statistics, because they often feel that they have nowhere else to turn. These staggering statistics should tell us that we need to understand these people a whole lot more.

Decades of what I call Christian hate speech from preachers, pastors and evangelists has caused the current rift between the church and the LGBTI community. Sadly, our politicians are no better. So, we debate these issues, argue about them in private and in public, and speculate – all of this while people never get the chance to experience the love of God that compelled Him to send his Son to die for them, to give them a life worth living. The LGBTI community charges headlong off the cliff of despair, feeling unloved, unwanted, but we just can’t help ourselves - we just let it happen while we continue our theological arguments. Such inaction can only grieve - even infuriate - heaven.

Where to from Here?

So, what can we do? Here are some ways we can make a real difference:

(1) Christians should continue to represent the church at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Many do, and numbers have continued to grow over the years. Well done, God’s true frontline revolutionaries, hands and hearts crossing the church-created divide.

(2) We need to reach out to the LGBTI community and arrange meetings across the nation with their lobby groups. This will be hard but not impossible. Why? We need to give the LGBTI community the chance to air their views regarding the church, especially how the church has portrayed the LGBTI community – however hard it may be to hear this. This shouldn’t be an opportunity for more verbal confrontation: boundaries and respect by both sides is key, to avoid a slanging match. Nor should it be a protest, but a serious attempt at starting a healthy dialogue, a time of constructive feedback, and a genuine and sincere attempt at seeing how the LGBTI community has been hurt by Christians. This dialogue could begin the healing process: step-by-step, meeting-by-meeting, trust can be built and engagement can start.

Once dialogue has been established:

(3) A letter needs to be sent to the leaders of all denominations, or even every church if possible, informing them of the community engagement. This letter should also contain the feedback received from the LGBTI community, outlining the years of hurt, offense and isolation they have experienced. The letter also needs to convey that not all Christians agree with homophobic discrimination or oppose marriage equality for theological or other reasons, and thus the views of church leadership do not represent the views of all believers. It should also convey that LGBTI rights are to be respected and encourage all believers to search their hearts and ask themselves: what would Jesus do?

(4) A public apology ought to be made to the LGBTI community for not loving people the way Jesus would have us love them – and for all the judgement, demonisation and false accusations made by some in the church against the LGBTI community, for instance, that homosexuality is equivalent to paedophilia. The apology would be made at a press conference of both Christian and LGBTI media - what an historic event this would be. All denominations would be invited. No record of wrongs would be kept from that moment on - the sole motivation for all present would be to build bridges.

(5) A letter should be written to LGBTI media outlets, such as the Sydney Star Observer, to outline the process of repairing relations between the church and LGBTI community.

Then:

(6) Prayer, prayer and more prayer. Prayer cements all relationships. We should never take this new relationship for granted. We cannot expect the LGBTI community to turn up at our events. It’s a blessing if they do - it’s never a ‘book them and they’ll come’ type of scenario. If we meet people where they are, they’ll respect it. Jesus did this and He wants us to also try to avoid the urge to bible bash: quoting the Leviticus verses means the walls go up automatically.

Instead, share your testimony: what you have seen and heard in God. The gospel is as simple as that. By the word of our testimony we overcome and help others overcome. Our testimonies are powerful - more powerful than we think.

(7) Don’t blow in, blow up and then blow out. The LGBTI community respect those who are committed, just as they have been committed to their causes for decades. Care for them. More importantly, just love them. Just love people in general. Earn the right to be heard. Try to meet needs. Learn the lessons from past interactions that haven’t worked. The LGBTI community can spot a fake a mile off. They are not interested in your impersonation of someone else. Be genuine and sincere. Again, they’ll love you for it.

Let’s Break Down the Walls

Friends, it’s time to make a change. Churches are incredible places of hope. Christian charities and organisations have provided hope for all people. Despite not complying with anti-discrimination law, Christians have led the way in aged care, foster care, youth work, drug and alcohol rehab and general welfare. Great job, people: God loves you for it. Don’t stop now. Go harder for God. And now, it’s time to specialise in loving the LGBTI community. Let’s stop playing marbles with potential diamonds - that’s how Jesus saw these people when he laid down his life for them, and He did so without regret or reservation.

What stops us? Is it our bigotry, homophobia or the theological minefield that comes with this area? Whatever the reason, we are all human at the end of the day, and no one is perfect - only Jesus is. But again, that’s what grace is for. Grace is twofold: favour and mercy when we fall; and empowerment to do what we know to be right. I hear the echo of Matthew 25 - ‘whatever you have done for the least you’ve done it for me’ - going off like a holy air raid siren in my mind, soul and heart. We could interpret this as Jesus saying: ‘whatever you do for the lost, you do it for me’.

In summing up: love first, care second, preach not. Just share your heart, your testimony. Your experience is not at the mercy of anyone’s argument. You are the living proof of God’s love. This is how we are going to overcome this great divide. If the LGBTI community would ask us anything, it’d be this: ‘Try walking in our shoes’. Remember that coming out is a gutsy, brave and courageous thing to do. Admire the honesty of that. Loving the LGBTI community is no different to loving any other community. Challenge yourselves - it could be life-changing. Sure, it won’t be easy, but isn’t it all worth it? The LGBTI community have been hated and despised by believers for far too long, and are still hated by parts of society today. Enough is enough. We are called to heal the pain.

With hands and hearts crossing the great divide.

God Bless You.

Dario Matalone has lived life on the edge and personally experienced discrimination. Having faced many of life's challenges, he now wants his life to be used by God to help others.



[1] Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Intersex.


Comments

Evan Hadkins
March 4, 2017, 1:58PM
I'm not sure we lag all that far behind. Although the social conservatives claiming to voice the Christian position are very noisy.

I love the 7 points.

And I should say that those LGBTQI people I've met on the fringes of he denominations, or who see themselves as Christians, have been far more gracious and forgiving of the denominational structures than I feel like being. I'm straight.
Rebecca
March 4, 2017, 6:06PM
#4 is already happening in some places. A movement of people who care about LGBTQI people and want to apologize for the way the church has treated them. Check out http://equalvoices.org.au/
Craig Stephens
March 7, 2017, 4:17AM
I love you Dario. Your love for the hurting and for Jesus continues to inspire.

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