5 lessons so far - a pastor's reflections on helping a church become LGBT+ inclusive
Our journey to become an inclusive church community has challenged our theology, attitudes and behaviours, and has led me to initiate and bring change in areas where I have any influence. This starts with a reshaping of the local church, to become all that Jesus intended, to acknowledge the LGBT+ members of our church and community as a gift from God in our christian family.
So as a church leader, here are five things that I have learned so far on my journey:
1. Let love rule
Remembering that the heart of the mission of Jesus was about people and not rules is a good start. It’s too easy to become critical and judgemental, but if God isn’t condemning his children, then neither should I. I choose to live how Jesus modelled, loving without conditions, reaching out and accepting people who have been oppressed or marginalised, and loving and walking with anyone who may have been harmed or rejected by religious organisations, and in doing so finding new friends and new perspectives.
2. Don’t let fear win
I am learning to choose to walk in faith and integrity rather than fear. There can be a real fear of challenging what is often the prevailing consensus, especially within churches. The fear of challenging and disagreeing with those in authority, and a fear of rejection that this can bring can cause us to stay silent. However, I have discovered the peace that comes from acting with integrity and not allowing fear win.
3. Level the playing field
It can take courage, as challenging the status quo and bringing real change is often unpopular. Life often isn’t fair, but where we have an influence I believe we should use it to bring inclusion and equality, not to maintain injustices. This has led me not just to passively accept Christians who are LGBT+, but where I can, to advocate on their behalf, challenging behaviours, stereotypes and systems that allow rejection, and to hopefully bring freedom and belonging for those who have often been badly treated and have felt rejected.
4. Know yourself
I came to recognise that I had in some ways become conditioned and my thinking shaped over many years by church context and culture. It was an uncomfortable path to confront areas of my own thinking, behaviour and language but through reflection on how Jesus walked, changes had to be made. Certainly within a church context, inclusion has to be modelled consistently to create the change we need. That starts in the heart of the leader.
5. Create a safe and welcoming community
Intentionally create a new culture, a culture of love, safety and acceptance, where judgement and rejection are no more. A community where there is a place for everyone at the table, irrespective of sexual orientation or complicated sexual journeys, a place to run to in times of turmoil and crisis, and not run from. An inclusive community to belong to and contribute to. A big ask? Yes, but by God’s grace, it’s happening.