Monday, February 22, 2010

The church and gay youth

The congregation where I served my seminary internship was featured this past weekend on Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly, a show on PBS. It was part of a story on churches and gay youth, focusing on a gay seminarian, a congregation with a shelter for homeless LGBT youth, and the leader of an ex-gay ministry.

You can watch online or read a transcript of the segment here:

Watching Lucky Severson’s report, I was a bit homesick for my time on internship, which was so formative in shaping my pastoral identity. It was refreshing to be reminded of Trinity’s beautiful witness of what I really think church should be—God’s people proclaiming welcome and love for all people.

I found it helpful to include footage from the afterschool program, reminding me that Trinity isn’t a “one issue” congregation. While very passionate about issues of sexuality, Trinity also has very strong ministry with immigrants and young children. There is a wide understanding of “loving your neighbor.”

I must admit that throughout college and even into seminary, I didn’t pay that much attention to homosexuality. I didn’t think that it was my issue. I knew that organizations like Lutherans Concerned were working for the rights of gay people in the church, (I didn’t even think about lesbian, bisexual or transgender then) and that some congregations had voted to be called Reconciling in Christ, meaning they welcome people of all sexual orientations.

But I didn’t think I needed to worry about it. I’m the straight, white guy from Iowa. I’m not gay, so all this controversy in the Church doesn’t concern me.

How wrong I was.

The first time I visited the shelter for homeless LGBT youth, someone asked me, “Are you trans?” Shocked, I responded, “Um, no.” “Well, you must be gay.” “Um, I’m not gay, either.” “Then why are you here?” The young person couldn’t believe that I, as a straight person, would care about the needs of LGBT youth.

Dr. King has famously said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

I am so thankful that I grew up in a non-shouting church. As an ELCA Lutheran, I have been loved and welcomed, nurtured and fed, by faithful people full of God’s love. I want everyone to be able to feel welcomed like that, regardless of our human labels.

Too many people have been shunned and excluded by church folk for far too long. Churches have been much of the problem. It is time for churches to be part of the solution. Thanks be to God for Trinity!


  1. Great commentary. Thanks. I see you are having the same video problems that I was with my blog.

  2. What splendid and wise words. Thanks so much Paul. Please know you are indeed very much missed by Trinity yet we couldn't be any prouder of you! Thanks be to God for Pastor Paul also!

  3. When I attended a Welcoming Church seminar about one year ago, I too was confronted with the obvious pain and rejections suffered by LGBT individuals. It was an easy step to reach the conclusion that LGBT people should consciously and intentionally welcomed in Church.

    However, it is easy to say that we don't want to shun and reject people, but welcome everyone instead. But what does it really means to be welcoming? What is it that we are welcoming people to. This is a discussion that needs to be conducted openly, honestly, and respectfully because it hits on some core theological issues.

    The immediate (and controversial) question is Christianity's treatment of non-heterosexual people. But it seems to me that the discussion goes beyond that. Most specifically for me, how to interpret and apply scripture to my life and the life of the Church.

    A previous post made here by a guest blogger asked the questions "Who should we stone next?" In his question, he highlighted the fact that there are many portions of the Bible that could easily be taken at face value and used as a "standard of conduct" in today's world. However, most of us eat pork with no hesitation, we no longer stone people for infidelity, etc. We no longer interpret those passages in the way the Old Testament Israelites did.

    Like it or not, openly accepting and embracing LGBT people into the Church is a change in how many have traditionally interpreted and applied Scripture.

    Such significant changes raise questions of how to know which changes are consistent with Scripture and which are not. In the absence of an answer to this question, it is natural for a person to feel that "their" Christianity is being taken from them and made into something foreign. Or that someone else is "forcing" an uncomfortable agenda onto them.

    Here at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church, we have learned through recent and continuing experience that change can be exceptionally healthy and scary/unnerving at the same time. What is painful and scary for some is liberating for others. This is a time of great opportunity for the Church to support each other while we all "wrestle" with our faith and our God regardless of individual/congregational "positions" on LGBT issues. Here's hoping (praying) that is what will happen.