On Sunday, TVNZ’s Sunday programme had an “expose” on conversion therapy.
It focused on three men who went through years of counselling to “pray the gay away’’.
I’m already predicting the reactions from those who support social justice but fence-sit on LGBT issues.
They will say “but that’s just the extremists’’.
I’d beg to differ.
I know of a number of prayer healing conferences that have claimed to (in the words of one member of a former church) to “heal deep issues over sexuality”.
This lady sat alongside many of my friends and family.
The majority of churches still see queer people as an “issue”, something “divisive”, something that could cause a split in the church.
But for us on the receiving end of this debate, it’s not a theological discussion as such, it’s shutting us out.
As a lifelong Anglican I have to stand in front of people I have grown up with and unconsciously fight to be fully included.
Otherwise we leave.
This is contentious, but as a friend once said, the church can not fully get behind praying for and campaigning to lessen the toll of mental health and our appalling suicide rate until it fully addresses its complicity in being a cause.
If you shut out young folk, who may have grown up within the doors of your church, and tell them they are sinners solely because they happen to like someone of the same gender, you are causing harm.
People are leaving the church, harming themselves and even taking their lives over the message churches (full of people who “still love them” despite the fact they’re gay or bi or transgender) are sending.
This is bigger than the “ex-gay”, conversion therapy schemes.
While they still exist, I feel it is almost the more casual, implied but not vocalised “love the sinner hate the sin” messages that do harm.
Because while you may not be actively kicking us out, you are expecting us to leave our hearts behind at the front door of a church building.
Stop seeing this as theological debate and start seeing it as group of real people, committed to their faith, who happen to love someone who is the same gender as them.
Because some of the most faithful Christians I know are queer.
Some of the queerest churches have the been the most spiritually powerful places I have been in.
Some of the best priests, ministers and other clergy folk are part of the LGBTQ community.
We should be allowed to be out, open and honest.
Not as a lack of humility but as a defiant shout of joy against hiding our hearts away.
American queer theologian Joel Hollier explains it well: “’Pride’ for LGBTQ folk is not the opposite of humility. It is the counter to shame – shame that was forced upon us, but is now being shattered”.
We know what it feels like to be on the outside and still, God welcomes us in.
The book of Acts, theologian Jane Williams explains, tells the story of Paul’s encounter with the Holy Spirit in people that would have been considered outsiders by the early church.
They were Gentiles, not Jewish.
They were outsiders, different, and the early followers of Jesus freaked out about the fact the “lesser” people could still receive the goodness of God.
As Williams writes, “The Holy Spirit challenges the barriers that people put up between those who are “in” and those who are “out”.”
It is a challenge, but we are here, we are queer and we are faithfully LGBTQ.
As one man, on Facebook thread about the NZ Anglican Synod’s decision to allow blessings of same-sex marriages in their churches, said, God still exists in affirming churches.
I’ll take it he meant it as a reassurance that he didn’t think we were completely heathenous.
But the fact we can grow up in the church and stay in the church is testament to the power of God’s love and the message of Jesus.
We must be accepted, and affirmed.
Because this is both bigger and smaller than conversion therapy, it’s the underlying message subtly sent.
This needs to change.