THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 4
Finding a church
As I sit down at my computer to write this, today’s newspaper lies on my desk in front of me. In it there is a report of an evangelical church in Bradford which ‘condemns sickness and homosexuals’, and further on I read that the senior pastor has said that sickness and homosexuality were signs of ‘the devil fighting dirty’.
What better illustration to start this article on the problems for gay Christians in finding a church that is welcoming and affirming. In fact, I would guess that very few churches in England are gay-affirming, although it is hard to know for sure. Some opt for a neutral stance, but by all accounts many churches, and especially the evangelical churches, are anti-gay.
We have already touched on this in a previous article, and for the moment I want to look at the problem from the point of view of the gay Christian.
The problem is simply this: if he is totally at one with his fellow Christians in the church he cannot reveal his homosexuality as they would consider him either sick, confused or evil. Such an admission would probably bar him from office – certainly he would become ‘suspect’. If, instead, he seeks out men who are gay like himself, then it is unlikely that he will find a fellow Christian in gay company. Is he to go for true Christian fellowship but remain in the closet, or is he to abandon the idea of Christian fellowship and find fun and friendship with like-minded young men?
If he opts for fellowship in his church – say an evangelical church – then he will have to endure people referring to homosexuals as sick or evil, and his fellow Christians will periodically pray for misguided and sinful gays. In a hundred different ways heterosexual Christians denigrate homosexuality. Can he maintain his integrity and still remain silent when this is going on? If on the other hand he contributes his views about the acceptability to God of homosexuality, he will be contradicted by those who ‘know’ about such things. The dogma of that particular church will be trotted out as a definitive last word. If he goes further and discloses that he himself has leanings that way, then there will be concern from those around him and he will become a subject for their prayers – that he will ‘see the light’ and avoid falling into a sink of iniquity etc.
If he merely attends the services of his homophobic church, and finds his friends and fellowship among the gay community there are two direct hazards: he will be seen as only partially committed by those in his church (because he avoids deeper involvement in church activities), and he risks becoming distant from his gay friends who will not be able to understand how he can continue to be a member of an anti-gay church.
So what is he to do? Can any advice be given? It would be wonderful if there were some gay church or gay-affirming church around for him. But let us suppose, as is usually the case, that there is no such place available. Should he remain in the closet and attend the anti-gay church? Or should he give that up and throw his lot in with gay friends who probably have no Christian faith at all?
This is the dilemma that Christians – especially evangelicals – have created for thousands of young gay Christians.
It must be pointed out that many heterosexual Christians do not realize their innate prejudice against gays. They might not be actively anti-gay, but their whole stance precludes the possibility that gays can be in fellowship on an equal basis. When they are coupled with the diehards in the anti-gay church this adds up to a powerful disincentive for a gay man to attend. Gays are only acceptable on the basis that they are going to change – they are not accepted as they are, only as they should become.
One solution that can be recommended is a third way. This is to find one or two other gay Christians, maybe from some distance, who can meet with you periodically for a meal or an evening. In this way you can find the honest fellowship we all need as Christians. An alternative way is to find that fellowship in alternative ways – for example, over the internet. Or to attend Christian conferences and gatherings. Especially celebrations, where the joy of worship is fully explored. Maybe he will be able to get to the Courage meetings held twice monthly in London.
There is also one other important point to be made here. The Lord always understands our situation. He is aware of our hearts. He knows when we have a real problem. Not only may he work to solve that problem for us – but if we have to endure solo Christian living for a time, then He will be our all-sufficient friend and guide. One of the incredible things about the life of faith is the basic truth that God is all we need and supplies all we need. If he has cast you in a lonely role for a time, he will feed you and sustain you and enable you to continue in the pilgrimage of faith.
There is another aspect of the problem that affects us sometimes. It is that the churches that we do manage to find which are tolerant of or welcoming to gay Christians are often liberal in theology, or not of the type of churchmanship (e.g. evangelical) that we are used to.
It is an interesting fact that the radical stance of conservative evangelicalism does give their adherents an ‘authority’ that is somehow often lacking in liberal Christians. Of course many would say that the ‘authority’ that conservative evangelicalism gives is spurious and intolerant, or at least over-dogmatic. And, to the extent that such a theology depends on black and white opinions rather than tolerance of the views of other Christians, this is perhaps true. But how exciting it would be if liberal Christians could find the same fire that evangelicals have – for spreading the gospel, working out attitudes of love and caring for the needy etc.
Here is a suggestion: if you happen to be in a church which has welcomed you for who you are in Christ, and which accepts or at least tolerates your gayness, why not consider whether that church can be persuaded to make public it’s acceptance? If we could establish a network of gay-affirming churches in Britain we would be going a long way towards helping gay people – and especially young gay Christians – in finding good fellowship and having the opportunity to worship and serve others. If any churches would like to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) of their agreement to be known in this way I will gladly start and pass over to Courage an unofficial register of such churches. Who knows, maybe there are far more than we all realize!
And why not? Is being gay-affirming so very far out for Christians? Is not that the attitude Christ had? He went out to publican and sinner, to rabbi and centurion, to rich and poor. Should not our churches be equally open and welcoming? Can we not leave it to the Holy Spirit to convict of sin, if sin there be? Have we got to take on ourselves the task of judging?
But in a time of incredibly rapid change we must understand that some people find it very hard to absorb new scientific discoveries. Centuries ago Galileo was ridiculed and excluded – and I fear that few evangelical preachers and teachers today are up to date with the latest discoveries and understanding about sexuality. We must expect that it will take decades to filter through to the diehards in the dogmatic churches. Traditionalists and fundamentalists change slowly if at all. We must be understanding of their inability to cope with change. Hopefully the next generation will be more open to being like Christ in welcoming all.
A J Cross