For LGBTQ+ History Month, EDI Project Officer, Jemma Adams, pens a blog about her experience of the church and its attitudes towards LGBTQ+ lives.
My personal faith and belief meanders sometimes away, sometimes alongside, the mainstream Christian church, but what I do believe is that Christian scripture, tradition and experience reveals a God who transcends gender and sexuality, a God who did not create, nor do I believe they would condone, the heteronormativity that has come to consume much of the church. As a theologian I am fully convinced that the church can only be authentic to the message of Jesus Christ and its own scripture if LGBT+ people are fully included and indeed central to the life of the church. Others would disagree with me, but I do not want to give them space and use my words here to argue against them (there are also many theologians and writers who have done this far better than I ever could here). Instead I want to reflect on the experience on the ground for individuals and churches and offer a glimpse into what the full inclusion of LGBT+ people in the church might look like.
Whilst the Church of England and other denominations continue to tie themselves up in knots with statements and ‘conversations’ about sex, sexuality, gender and marriage, LGBT+ Christians have to endure the heartache and hurt of statements made about them, demeaning their relationships, identity and the validity of their very existence in the eyes of the church. But whilst this goes on in the governance and leadership of the Church of England there are church communities who are flying the pride flag from their spires (sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically), who are actively campaigning for equal marriage and ensuring LGBT+ people are at the centre of their leadership and expression.
In my experience, however, most churches sit somewhere in the middle, often tolerant but not active or explicit in their LGBT+ inclusion. Such churches often want to be welcoming and inclusive, but my message to them is that tolerance and silence are just not enough. Such an approach requires people to be neutral, to mute themselves and hide their identity. That is not equality and inclusion and nor do I believe it reflects the fundamental Christian principle that we are made in the image of God. If that is true, and humans reflect the person of God, then ‘when anyone is invisible, aspects of God, too, are also rendered invisible’. God is beyond sexuality and gender, yet paradoxically contains all within, just as God is both transcendent and embodied (in the person of Jesus).
If a church community wants to be fully inclusive they must be explicit about being welcoming to LGBT+ people and they must follow this through in every aspect of church life and worship. In other words, they must work to challenge the heteronormativity and the patriarchal structures that can be present, and this must be done by the whole congregation and not just left to LGBT+ individuals. They must think about the language and imagery they use about God; LGBT+ dating and relationships need to be talked about just as straight relationships are; different types of families should be remembered in prayer and sermons and discussion should include references to LGBT+ lives as much as straight or cis lives.
My hope is that the church becomes a place of equal marriage, where all loving and committed relationships are respected and supported and where LGBT+ lives are recognised in the rites and symbols of the church. I long to see a church where people are not othered or excluded no matter what their gender, sexuality, (dis)ability, ethnicity, neurodiversity or cultural expression. My confidence in that vision often wavers, but the faith and strength of those I know in the church actively working to bring about this vision gives me hope, and I think we’ll get there… eventually.
- This blog was inspired and influenced by Siobhan Garrigan (2009) Queer Worship, Theology & Sexuality, 15:2, 211-230.
- If you’re interested in the theology of sexuality and gender, I recommend Adrian Thatcher, God, Sex and Gender: An Introduction (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).
- If you’re interested in finding an LGBTQ+ inclusive church, have a look at this list provided by the King’s Chaplaincy team – LGBT Churches in London
 Janet R. Watson, Feminist Liturgy: Its Tasks and Principles (The Liturgical Press, 2000), p. 33.