I often have the privilege of consulting with clergy and congregations about their commitments of affirmation for LGBTQ people.
Many of those conversations focus on what to do after becoming affirming of LGBTQ people to embody that commitment in meaningful ways.
Here are five encouragements to congregations wishing to live into their identity as a welcoming and affirming congregation:
- Proclaim the good news of your affirmation in ways that LGBTQ people can easily see and understand.
Many churches go through incredibly intentional processes to help cultivate LGBTQ affirmation and then never tell anyone about that commitment outside the church walls!
Churches have been agents of harm in the lives of LGBTQ people for far too long to expect that queer people will just assume that your church is going to welcome them in the fullness of their humanity. You must make that good news plain.
Phrases like “welcoming and affirming,” “open and affirming,” “more light,” “reconciling” and on and on are phrases that are only recognizable to denominational insiders. Queer folks outside of your denominational circles won’t recognize these words as having anything to do with LGBTQ people.
Rainbow and trans flags, statements like “Celebrating LGBTQ Lives,” and other unmistakable messages on your building and the front page of your website are essential.
There are LGBTQ people looking for communities of faith. If you would welcome them in yours, be sure they know it!
- Develop your knowledge and competencies related to gender identity.
Many congregations do a good job understanding sexual orientation (the LGB parts of the acronym), but often don’t give as much careful attention to the lives and experiences of trans and genderqueer people and others on the wide spectrum of gender identity.
Don’t assume that because you understand LGB experience pretty well (or because you are LGB) that you know everything you need to know to be genuinely affirming of trans people.
A couple of places to start learning more are this recording of a panel of trans clergy held by the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, and the very accessible book Transforming by Austen Hartke.
- Get involved in LGBTQ rights on a local level.
There have been many gains in rights and protections for LGBTQ people over the last decade or so. And there have been significant challenges to queer and trans rights on other fronts.
Trans youth are targeted to curtail access to medical care and involvement in sports teams.
LGBTQ affirming books are being removed from school libraries, and “Don’t Say Gay” laws are being proposed around the country.
Fourteen states don’t have LGBTQ hate crime protections, and 11 others have laws that don’t include gender identity.
Some of the major challenges to LGBTQ wellbeing have been lodged at a very local level: state legislatures, city councils and school boards. These are levels at which your congregation can make a significant difference. Forge partnerships in your community and organize.
If you believe that LGBTQ lives are sacred, helping to protect them against injustice and working to promote their flourishing must become a sacred task for your church.
- Uncover and regularly tell the stories of the queer faithful.
Queer people didn’t just discover Christian faith when your church finally opened the doors to allow the fullness of our humanity to enter in. We’ve been in pews and pulpits and sometimes practicing faith on the margins of churches for ages.
Yet, stories of queer faithfulness rarely get passed down in mainline churches today. Queer, trans, straight and cis people alike need to hear the stories of LGBTQ people who have lived their faith beautifully and courageously.
These are stories belonging to queer people, and they are stories that belong to the church! We need to recover them and retell them with regularity.
- Develop caring competencies across intersecting identities and the lifespan.
LGBTQ people are diverse. We have races, classes, nationalities, ages, abilities and a myriad other markers of identity that intersect with our sexual or gender identity, making each of our lives complex and beautiful.
See queer and trans people as whole people and consider the fullness of our lives and identities.
In terms of age, LGBTQ youth get a lot of deserved attention, as adolescence can be a precarious time for LGBTQ teens. LGBTQ elders receive less attention but are also in need of particular forms of care.
Becoming affirming of LGBTQ people is a start. Cultivating meaningful ways of embodying that affirmation is the rest of the journey.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week calling attention to June as Pride Month. The other articles in the series are:
On Learning from Queer Kin | C.J. Fowler
Celebrating Pride and Pentecost in a Pub | Bert Montgomery
I Am a Woman Because I Do Womanhood | Junia Joplin
An Invitation for Embrace and Resurrection | Kali Cawthon-Freels
Pastor to Old Cambridge Baptist Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, American Baptist Chaplain to Harvard University, Advisor for LGBTQ+ Affairs in the Office of Religious, Spiritual, and Ethical Life at MIT, and Affiliated Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology & Chaplaincy Studies at Chicago Theological Seminary. His books include A Brief Guide to Ministry with LGBTQIA Youth and Christianity, LGBTQ Suicide, and the Souls of Queer Folk.