“Inclusion”

I recently came across a post by a friend and former colleague at New Jersey megachurch Liquid Church talking about an “LGBTQ-inclusion” curriculum called Posture Shift by the non-profit organization Lead Them Home. I was both skeptical and curious because at first glance it appeared to be relatively “progressive” material for the church that  I saw using it. (This is the same church whose lead pastor preached a series of sermons called “The Gay Debate”—and if you’re morbidly curious you can watch part 1 here and part 2 here—which, spoiler alert, is about as non-affirming as it gets without condemning the entire LGBTQ+ community to automatic hellfire.)

According to their website, Lead Them Home’s vision is “loving LGBT+ people in the Church via our mission: to enhance church inclusion, increase family acceptance, protect against victimization, and nourish faith identity in LGBT+ lives.” Which, on the surface, doesn’t look like such a bad thing. Dig just a bit deeper however, and you’ll find this gem buried deep in their statement of beliefs: “In our best attempt to honor God’s holiness, we hold to a traditional biblical belief regarding marriage and sexuality” (emphasis added).

For those of you who don’t speak Evangelical, “traditional biblical belief regarding marriage and sexuality” can be rather accurately translated “a belief that marriage is only for one man and one woman, and that sex should only happen inside a marriage.”

It should be encouraging that a church like Liquid is even entertaining a conversation about LGBTQ+ inclusion, but I remain skeptical because they’ve addressed the topic in the past through sermons, they have yet to provide information to Church Clarity (I’ll talk about them later in this post) regarding their affirming/non-affirming beliefs, and they’re using an LGBTQ-inclusion curriculum that comes from an organization that holds to “a traditional biblical belief regarding marriage and sexuality.”

While a sermon series from 2010 may not be indicative of what a church believes right now, a more recent sermon from Lead Pastor Tim Lucas (delivered in 2017) indicates no change in the church’s stance. After watching this sermon, I began thinking through some things that Evangelical churches tend to say/do that indicate an unwillingness to affirm LGBTQ+ people while still attempting to build attendance knowing that blatantly non-affirming language will turn people away and cause attendance to drop.

  • “There’s a difference between acceptance and approval.” Evangelical churches love to use language like this in order to appear tolerant to a degree. “We’ll welcome and accept you,” they say to anyone who doesn’t fit into the categories they consider normative. “But we can’t approve of the sin in your life. We love you too much to let you stay the way you are.” All the while ignoring the fact that sexual orientation and gender identity are deeply embedded in the essence of a person.
  • “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.” This one is older than Evangelicalism itself, coming from the modernization of something St. Augustine wrote. The problems with this statement are too numerous to name, so for the sake of sticking to a single topic on this post, I’ll pick just one: it operates under the assumption that any gender identity or sexual orientation that doesn’t fall under the category of cisgender and heterosexual is a sin.
  • “Queer people can volunteer in any ministry they choose, as long as they abstain from leadership positions or from ministries that involve teaching, mentoring, or counseling.” This one is rather specific, but the sentiment exists in almost every Evangelical church that doesn’t flat-out reject LGBTQ+ people. Reserving leadership roles for cishet people is a common practice in many Evangelical churches, and some even keep women from taking on senior leadership positions.

I want to dwell on that third point a bit. As stated on our “About” page, we believe in and strive towards a fully egalitarian culture. This means that every identity should have opportunity to step into a leadership role if they are capable. Reserving leadership positions for cishet people is not truly egalitarian, even if you include women in all levels of leadership.

I hope my assessments of Liquid and LTH are wrong, and that they are affirming and can provide true equality for queer people still adhering to Evangelicalism. But I’m not holding my breath. When I see words like “inclusion,” “acceptance,” “welcome,” and “care” when addressing the relationship between Evangelical Christianity and the LGBTQ+ community, with no mention of affirmation, I can’t help but remain skeptical.

Inclusion without affirmation is not truly inclusion.

Discovering that a church you’ve invested years of relationship and service in has a policy that disqualifies you for particular roles or positions on the basis of your sexual orientation and/or gender identity can be absolutely devastating.

Josh Canfield, a former leader at Hillsong NYC who was removed from leadership due to a controversy stemming from his sexual orientation, had this to say in an interview with Church Clarity:

“Everyone in the church leadership knew that I was gay and dating, and it wasn’t an issue until Brian Houston made his statement that I wasn’t a choir leader at church and that they don’t approve of homosexuality. No statement was ever made at Hillsong London or Hillsong NYC, which I attended for almost 8 years, that they believed being in a committed relationship with someone of the same sex was wrong or a problem. In fact, the only time I heard the word “gay” from the main stage was when it was grouped together with other minorities, like the black community or refugees.

“This lack of clarity on what the church believed hurt my relationship with the church because I began not trusting people. I would doubt things they said to me and wondered if they were ever speaking truthfully.”

(You can read Josh’s full interview here.)

Affirmation and validation in your church family is vital to a vibrant spiritual life. If you feel that your church might not be affirming, it’s probably worth asking your leaders some pointed questions that require straightforward answers (don’t let them get away with vague responses about “inclusion” and “acceptance”) to find out if you’re truly seen as an equal in the church.

  • Do your policies allow LGBTQ+ people be to be baptized in your church, whether single or in a relationship?
  • Do your policies allow for LGBTQ+ people to get married at your church? Will any of your clergy/pastors perform LGBTQ+ weddings?
  • Are there any restrictions on how LGBTQ+ people can participate in your church?
  • Will your church ordain/recommend for ordination LGBTQ+ people, whether or not they’re in a relationship?

Why these questions? Because churches need to be clear about whether they see everyone as equals or whether they believe in a hierarchy of leadership (men in full leadership while women and non-binary people are relegated to non-leadership ministry). If you’re unsure about the church you’re attending, or if you’re searching for a church and want to know if they are affirming/egalitarian, you can search for them on Church Clarity’s database of churches. No, Church Clarity didn’t sponsor this post (although, George, if you’re reading this, I’m happy to take a sponsorship 😉).

I hope you can find safety, validation, and affirmation. You deserve to be able to fully embrace your identity and to fully realize your dreams and calling. You don’t have to give up one in order to attain the other. If your leaders tell you otherwise, go find new leaders.

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