Queering the Church

Churches may teach unconditional love, but still cause harm to queer people.

Christianity and queer affirmation are often thought of as incompatible. Many Christians claim religious belief prevents them from affirming same-sex marriage. They might proclaim inclusivity but insist queer people should remain celibate, marry a person of the opposite gender, or conform to their assigned sex.

This view is based on religious fundamentalism, which focuses on literal readings of sacred texts considered inerrant. Needless to say, fundamentalist belief is not wholly logical. Consider this from Psalm 93:1 (NRSV): “[The Lord] has established the world; it shall never be moved.” When read literally, it means the Earth does not move.

In Genesis 5:5, Adam is said to have died at 930 years. However, as he ate the forbidden fruit, he should have already died, as stated in Genesis 2:17 (NRSV): “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

While I believe most fundamentalists would not claim the Earth is still, as fundamentalist belief is diverse with varying degrees of literalism, there are still many fundamentalists who by insisting some parts of the Bible should be taken literally, pioneer practices harmful to queer people. By doing this, they ignore biblical context and scientific research confirming diverse sexual orientations and gender identities are natural. Biblical scholarship has shown some things were customs rather than enduring moral truths.

Research has shown children of same-sex parents are not worse off due to their parents’ sexuality. Discrimination, though, negatively impacts children. Yet despite the clear repercussions of queer exclusion, many churches hold non-affirming positions. These churches often care more about maintaining traditional beliefs, than admitting their ignorance. Instead of helping eliminate suicide, they give legitimacy to disparaging narratives about queer people. They may not engage in conversion therapy, but they perpetuate the harmful ideas behind it.

In Sydney, leaders of the Sydney Anglicans and Hillsong hold conservative beliefs about homosexuality and marriage.

Brian Houston, the Senior Pastor of Hillsong, stated in response to the yes vote, “My personal belief in the Bible’s teachings on marriage will not change.” He continues, “Jesus taught us that holding firm to our convictions, and respecting and appreciating other people who hold different views, are not mutually exclusive.”

The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies said in a media response to the yes vote, “this won’t prevent me from continuing to teach that marriage, in God’s good design, is between a man and a woman – an exclusive and permanent union.”

Anglicans have differing views though. The Anglican Archbishop of Perth, Kay Goldsworthy, told ABC Radio National she voted yes in the same-sex marriage postal survey. The Scottish and United States Episcopal Churches and some dioceses in the Canadian Anglican Church also perform same-sex marriages.

Inspiringly, many Christians have openly affirmed queer people in spite of non-affirming positions. In 2014 the United Church of Christ and its co-plaintiffs successfully challenged North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage. The Christians United statement affirmed queer people in response to the Nashville Statement.

Reverend Adrian Sukumar-White who is the Uniting Church Chaplain at USyd and works with Christian Students Uniting stated in an email to me:

“The Uniting Church holds a diverse range of theological perspectives. Among them are many members, congregations and ministers (like myself) who affirm and celebrate the full participation of LGBTIQ Christians within the life of the Church. The Bible is the basis for our affirming position.”

Unfortunately for many queer people, myself included, some Christian churches remain places we could never see ourselves affirmed. These places proclaim extravagant love but still cause harm to queer people. Despite this, affirming churches have taken a stand for equality and we can be proud they are moving forward.

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