There’s a certain irony to the debate about whether our communities, and especially our churches, are or should be inclusive places. Specifically, should we welcome gay* people? (I hope you read that in the appropriate meaningful whisper accompanied by a quick sideways glance). Are those the people we’re looking for in our communities? Are they who we want sitting next to us in the pews? If we were to just be cool about it, what kind of slippery slope could that set us on?
Here’s where that irony I mentioned kicks in: they are already here. I know, I know, shocking, right? But it’s true. People who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender are already your neighbors and fellow church members and kids’ favorite teachers. To paraphrase the old slogan, they’re queer and they’re already here.
Now some of you are like, Duh! Others are thinking, Yeah right, maybe in your church, ya freakin’ hippie. May I humbly suggest, though, that it’s not that you don’t know any gay* people, it’s that you don’t know any who feel safe enough to come out to you?
Chew on that for a second, then look at the bright side. There’s some good news in that, at least for you. It means you already know and love the folks you fear, which means that you already know that they’re not all that scary. It means your personal experience will tell you that people are just people regardless of who they love or which pronouns they prefer to use about themselves. And people are all pretty much the same. Hearts, brains, bruises, and an indomitable desire to belong.
Remember when you heard that spectacular sermon, the one that shifted your entire perspective and really changed things for you? Remember when your kid or your niece or your friend from summer camp came home from a youth retreat and told you she’d felt a call to ministry, and everything in you said, “Yes! The church will be so lucky to have you!”? Remember when your mom held you and stroked your hair while you cried about a bad break up? Remember how your friend cheered you up after you totally humiliated yourself in what you will still only refer to as “the incident”? Remember the mentor who took an interest in you and wrote that glowing letter of recommendation? Remember all those moments, all those things that made up your relationship with this person that you love?
Coming out doesn’t change a thing about that. With that in mind, coming out truly is the better description. It’s not about welcoming outsiders in but about inviting insiders to come out, to share their true selves in safety and support. The person sitting in front of you who manages to get out the words, “Dad, I’m gay” is the same child who drew all the pictures covering your fridge. The roommate who says, “You know I’m gay, right?” over coffee in the morning is the same one who helped you haul your giant green chair up the stairs and cried with you during the new episode of Parenthood every week. The minister who steps away from congregational ministry to work at the Human Rights Campaign is the same guy who helped guide you through the confusing process of answering your own call to ministry. The woman who finally shares her true self with her kids is the same person who worked for years to earn the title “the greatest athlete in the world” at the ’76 Olympics.
Nothing has changed. Our people are still our people, we just know more about them now. Nothing has changed. Except, I hope, your heart. And my heart. And the way we talk about welcoming in the folks who’ve been right there with us all along.
*I’ve found that in this discussion many folks utilize the terms gay or homosexual as a sort of catch-all for anyone who identifies as LGBTQ*. In this post, I’m mirroring some of that language for relatability, but I am talking about persons of all sexualities and gender identities along the spectrum. I’m for loving everybody. 🙂