Simple Question

Church Clarity offers a simple service—a list of churches, and whether or not they’re LGBT-affirming.

I’m beyond ecstatic that this website exists, and beyond angry that it has to exist.

Shortly before I moved to LA, my home church issued a position paper on homosexuality. It was not technically about that—rather, it was framed as a statement on marriage and gender roles—but seeing as how Obergefell v. Hodges had happened only weeks before, it was definitely about the gay stuff. Strangely, they really didn’t need to do it.

Their position on the subject was already in print, buried on page 20-something of a PDF in a rarely visited corner of the church website. I knew it was there, because I’d been on staff at one point and knew where we kept such things. I also knew what we believed anyway, because I’d been attending this now multi-campus megachurch ever since it was a few people in my pastor’s basement.

Mere days before I left town, I went out for drinks with one of my campus pastors, a guy I’d known since childhood who was basically my big brother figure. It was with him that I’d had some of my deepest conversations about what was going on with my sexuality, my depression, my faith, and a host of other things over the years. It was also with him that I’d agreed to step down from the Communion-serving team after admitting that I’d had a boyfriend.

He asked me what I thought about the position paper.

I told him that, obviously, I didn’t agree with it. But, if I did, it was exactly the way I would have worded it. The entire thing was about as clear-minded and compassionate as one can be when outlining a non-affirming theology.

“But you guys should have published it years ago.”

“That’s what my wife said.”

“She knows what she’s talking about. You should listen to her.”

See, this once small basement church now boasted thousands of members and regular attenders, and by statistics alone, one had to figure that there were at least a handful of LGBT folk in the congregation. I happened to know there were several, because I co-led a men’s group dealing with sexual issues at our counseling center, and some of them were “same-sex attracted” like me. I served coffee at my day job to a cute beauty school student who attended Saturday services. I met a couple more on OKCupid.

None of them had been at the church for as long as I had, and none of them knew what our official position was. It seemed crazy to me that at a church with no female teaching leadership, which regularly preached a complementarian theology of marriage, and focused so hard on the quest for godly manhood, people would be uncertain what the position on queer people was. And, quite likely, that’s what the church leadership assumed, too.

But people hope. And they wonder. And they take a liking to a community despite their caution and reservations, because they want to serve and worship Jesus with others.

And they’re left hanging because churches don’t want to be “controversial” or to focus on “issues over Jesus.”

My friends, Jesus is the issue. Jesus never played coy with what he believed, and he didn’t retreat from facing the issues that the people around him were concerned with in that time and place. In fact, that was the whole point—if he hadn’t met people where they were, walked and talked with them about what was on their minds and hearts, what earthly good would he have done?

“Before you let serve them, make sure they wash their hands and tell you how they voted.”

Many churches sincerely want to walk and talk with LGBT people, and so they leave a position statement off their website. They do have a position, but by not putting it forward, they allow LGBT visitors to tiptoe in and check things out. This sounds nice, but once you’ve had an LGBT person in your church for a few weeks, what do you think will happen when you break the news to them over a friendly cup of coffee that their life, their love, and their relationships are not welcome or blessed by your theology?

Would you want to stay? Would you feel like you could stay even if you wanted to? Do you think you’d feel misled, betrayed, or even lied to?

Because if you don’t tell people up front what you believe, and what you believe is that they can’t attend church, serve in the church, or be a full member of the church the way they are, you are lying.

When the apostle Peter invited Gentiles into the congregation, and then cut them off socially in favor of the company of people who believed Gentiles had to observe Jewish customs in order to be true Christians, that was a lie, and Paul had to confront him on it.

“You can attend our church, but our theology says you can’t attend our church,” is a contradiction in terms, and an attempt to cover up that contradiction is a lie. Even if it’s the passive method of simply not talking about it.

Especially if it’s the passive method.

Quite frankly, I’m downright pleased when I come across a church website where their page of doctrines includes a straightforward statement that marriage is between a man and a woman. It means I don’t have to wonder. I know exactly where they stand, and I know I won’t be visiting. I can check them off the list and move on.

I don’t have to search the photo gallery for pictures of guys holding hands at church picnics, or the video testimonials for people who ping my gaydar, or the sermon archives for titles that sound open-minded on the subject.

The case is closed.

If you don’t have a clear statement, I don’t have time to visit, get to know people, and poke around conversationally to see if I’m welcome. How dare you make anyone wait to find out if they’re accepted?

This is church, not Yale.

After making its name in the early years by staring controversy in the eye and stating where we stood, my church got too big to fail. I was told by staff members with whom I discussed the issue that there was worry that if we addressed the topic directly from the pulpit, we’d end up on the front page of the local paper as That Publicly Homophobic Church With The Hateful Pastor. So instead, we preached for several weeks out of my pastor’s new book on biblical manhood—rather than the straightforward, chapter-by-chapter studies of books in the Bible that had been our trademark.

I met with one of my other pastors during this period to tell him I was too angry to even attend services. Afterwards, there were a couple emails here and there knocking around ideas for forums or workshops, but nothing that bore fruit. I’d hoped I would get over my anger and eventually stick around to do some good, to be part of the conversation that needed to happen, but things were moving too fast in my own life, and I had to go.

In LA, I found a strange dearth of gay-affirming churches (at least, at first), but that’s another story entirely. I will say that another frustrating phenomenon I’ve encountered are affirming churches who don’t want to say outright that they’re affirming. It’s not because they’re afraid of what people will say, but because they don’t want the burden of being That Gay Church. They just want to be a normal, happy church family that happens to accept gay people (and happens to have the best brunches and Christmas pageants in the area).

But you know what? Right now, someone needs to be That Gay Church. Because right now, that’s what the world is dealing with (not the only thing, sadly, but the topic here is queer folks), and if we don’t address it, we’re hiding our light under a bushel.

If you’re non-affirming, and you sincerely believe that that’s the best way for people to live, the way to life, love, holiness, and happiness with God, why would you not preach that aloud from the stage? And if you’re affirming, and you know there are people wandering around out there spiritually homeless and looking for God’s family, why would you not stick a rainbow fish on a searchlight and point it at the sky?

Let me be clear—if you do not say what kind of church you are, you are not being the church.

It’s a simple question. Please answer it.

If you’re in LA and looking for openly LGBT-affirming churches, I know of three for absolute certain, all of which I’ve visited, and none of which hides their position on the subject:

Central Avenue Church

First Congregational Church

Hollywood United Methodist Church

There may be more, but I haven’t visited them personally. Pipe up if you have more info.


2 thoughts on “Simple Question

  1. Thank you for writing this so well-thought post. We need more Christian gay & lesbian voices. You are a shining light. Much love.


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