Not all Christians are fully embracing of LGBT issues. (Duh.) While some denominations and individual churches openly accept gay couples and even perform gay marriages, many other groups maintain a traditional Christian sexual ethic. But unfortunately, those churches that have abandoned historic Christian teaching in favor of a more progressive outlook tend to be the only churches who are in any way welcoming of gays, lesbians, transgender persons, and other sexual minorities.
While it may be true that many traditional communities are not openly hostile to the LGBT community, one may nevertheless feel out-of-place simply for being gay or trans. Many churches simply do not offer opportunities for their LGBT individuals to flourish and offer their own gifts. In other words, many churches do not encourage their LGBT members to be, well, church. But it shouldn’t be like this. All churches should welcome, appreciate, and care for LGBT persons—regardless of whether they approve of same-sex relationships or not. Here are six reasons why.
1. Because LGBT above all refers to individual persons and not merely any social, political, or moral issue. We’re so used to relating LGBT to the so-called “hot button” issues of the day—often in the realm of political ideology and activism—that we forget the faces behind the acronym. But first things first, LGBT individuals are (surprise!) people. Whether gay, lesbian, trans, or straight, all of us are made in the image and likeness of God. Each person is stamped with an intrinsic dignity, no matter one’s experiences, struggles, and weaknesses.
God calls every person into relationship with him. The human person is literally designed for intimate communion with his Creator, and being homosexual, bisexual, or transgender doesn’t change this. The Church’s job is to advance—not obstruct—every person’s relationship with God in its work of evangelization and pastoral care. It’s no secret that the Catholic Church adheres to a traditional Christian understanding of marriage and the family. But consider how Pope Francis nevertheless addresses the need to affirm the dignity of those who are gay:
We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.” –Amoris Laetitia 250
2. Because the Church is for everyone. That’s part of what “catholic” means: the Church is universal, encompassing all kinds of people. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female,” as Paul says, for we are “all one in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 3:28). So why does it seem like our churches pick out LGBT persons to the extent of making them other? There is no other in the Body of Christ. As a priest once said, there is no “them and us”—there’s only “us.”
Because the Church is one big Us, we cannot go about our lives while disregarding the rest of our brothers and sisters, particularly those in need. Paul likens the Church to a body with many parts—a union so intense that “if one part suffers,” then “every part suffers with it” (1 Cor. 12: 26). Are our churches recognizing the suffering endured by many of its LGBT children? Are our churches working to end “unjust discrimination,” as Pope Francis said? Or are some of our churches actually making the lives of LGBT Christians more difficult, whether by simply acting as bystanders or by actively engaging in insensitive rhetoric?
3. Because, well, Jesus. It sounds cliché, but really, what would Jesus do? If one searches for the Jesus of the Gospels, it’s not hard to find a guy who is compassionately concerned for the most vulnerable. Christ preferred the poor, the sick, the outcast, and the sinner. Doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to add a gay man in that category, no? Let’s get all Jesuitical and imagine if one of Christ’s disciples came out to him as gay. Now, even if Jesus wouldn’t be A-OK about everything homosexuality entails, we at least know a few things Jesus would not do. He sure wouldn’t kick his disciple out. Or deny him food. Or set him apart as other—in a separate class of sinners, for example.
Rather, it would probably go over like the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus. Like he did with her, Jesus would probably call his gay disciple into a fuller life founded on himself. He wouldn’t condemn but would instead reach out as the one who is able to coordinate the man’s life and set it on a trajectory for true fulfillment. Christ will provide his disciple “living water” so that he “will never be thirsty” again (Jn. 4:10, 14). The Church is called to reflect this same attitude of Christ in its own pastoral approach:
I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, “always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street”. The Church’s pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching, must also help them to treat the weak with compassion, avoiding aggravation or unduly harsh or hasty judgements.” -Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 308
4. Because sexuality is more than just sex. A popular slogan among some traditional Christians is “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Oddly, I’ve only ever heard this in reference to homosexuality, which in itself is telling. But if we only focus on sexual activity as if that’s all it means to be gay or lesbian or trans, then we are doing a grave injustice to the persons involved. To get this, all one has to do is reflect on one’s own sexuality: Think how it affects you in multiple aspects of life. It’s not just about who you want to go to bed with; it also concerns how you relate to others, how you see the world, and how you desire to love and be loved. Churches can’t start and end with sexual ethics. If they want to maintain traditional teaching, they will still need to consider that homosexuality (for example) is as much about personality and relationship-making than “sexual acts.”
5. Because LGBT persons want meaningful lives centered on love, relationship, and self-giving. They are like everybody else, then. It’s a sad fact that, for many traditional churches, the best pastoral advice offered to gay persons is simply to remain celibate. And that’s it. For traditional churches, marriage is not an option. However, in many of these same churches, marriage is the only conceivable path to intimate relationship. This is as much part Western culture’s fault as it is the Church’s. In effect, we’re made to believe that we’ll be forever alone and unfulfilled if we’re never married. Think of the short Pixar film “Lava,” which depicts a lonely, depressed volcano whose happiness surfaces only after he meets his female volcano counterpart.
It’s not hard to see, then, why our modern culture has demanded gay marriage. If that’s the only way to ensure meaningful relationships, then ought it be a right for everyone? Makes sense to me. Yet if traditional churches are to maintain marriage as a man-woman institution, they must find other ways to foster vocations of love and relationship for gay people in our churches.
6. Because LGBT persons have gifts to offer the Church (yes, the Church!). It’s sad that some need further explanation on this point. But actually, should we really be surprised if many LGBT persons perceive they have nothing to offer their churches—especially the ones that have routinely called them “objectively disordered” and hellbound? Part of recognizing the gifts of the LGBT community, again, goes back to the need for our churches to first recognize the far-reaching scope of an individual’s sexuality. It’s not just about sex. I’ll end with the words of a priest I greatly admire, the Jesuit Fr. James Martin, whom I agree with regarding the many gifts LGBT persons can offer the Church:
Many, if not most, L.G.B.T. people have endured, from an early age, misunderstanding, prejudice, hatred, persecution and even violence, and so often feel a natural compassion toward the marginalized. Compassion is a gift. They have often been made to feel unwelcome in their parishes and in their church, but they persevere because of their vigorous faith. Perseverance is a gift. They are often forgiving of clergy and other church employees who treat them like damaged goods. Forgiveness is a gift. Compassion, perseverance, forgiveness are all gifts.
Let me add another gift: that of celibate priests and brothers who are gay, and chaste members of men’s and women’s religious orders who are gay or lesbian. There are several reasons why almost no gay and lesbian clergy and religious are public about their sexuality. […] But there are many holy and hardworking clergy and members of religious orders who are gay or lesbian, and who live out their promises of celibacy and vows of chastity and help to build up the church. They freely give their whole selves to the church. They themselves are the gift.” -Fr. James Martin, S.J., “James Martin, S.J.: We Need to Build a Bridge Between the LGBT Community and the Catholic Church”