A new Pew Research Center report released this week finds that just 48 percent of LGB Americans identify as Christian, compared to 41 percent in a 2013 survey. That compares to 70 percent of the general public, down from 78 percent in 2007. (Read more at The Advocate.)
I watched many in the LGBT media and some LGBT faith activists via social media and news reports yesterday react positively to the news. They praised the seven-percent jump among LGB Americans, even as general religiosity decreases in the American mainstream.
My reaction was entirely different.
While others were focusing on the slight increase in those LGB people identifying as Christian, my mind kept racing back to the fact that more than half of my LGB — and, though they weren’t surveyed, likely transgender — siblings have seemingly abandoned the Christian faith in droves.
It is sad and disappointing, though it certainly should not be all that surprising.
Justin Lee, founder and executive director of the Raleigh-based Gay Christian Network, summed up the obvious reasons why to The Christian Post, saying: “Many LGBT people have felt a lack of understanding and love from religious groups-Christians in particular-and, as a result, they often walk away from their childhood faith and may even become very hostile to religion.”
But Justin is far too diplomatic.
I’ve long believed, and have said many times, that one of the church’s greatest sins has consistently been pushing people away rather than bringing people to Christ. It’s a bit ironic, given that so many evangelicals, in particular, hold the Great Commission so closely to their hearts and missions.
Many in the religious right will, no doubt, see these numbers as confirmation of their own prejudices and bigotry. They will say that the “sinful nature” of homosexuality causes people to turn away from God.
But the true sin here lies not with LGBT people. This sin rests entirely upon the shoulders of those church leaders — popes, bishops, pastors, Sunday school teachers, youth mission leaders — who have persistently, consciously and purposefully abused, maligned, excluded and shunned LGBT people.
Generations of LGBT people and hundreds of thousands of people living today have been forcefully rejected and ejected from their faith homes. They have been taught that Christ rejects them. They have been made to believe that the infinite Creator of all things has made no loving room for them in this life or in the next.
The result from LGBT people runs the gamut from the simple shirking of faith identification to the more extreme — self-hate and self-loathing, mental illness, suicide — and to the even more extreme: the inspiration of violence against LGBT people by followers of a twisted, hateful and false gospel that preaches exclusion and rejects Christ’s true teachings of radical inclusion and affirmation.
Many Christian leaders have already turned the tide. They’ve reflected long and deep on their actions or the actions of their fellow people of faith. They’ve undertaken public penance, putting their minds, hearts and efforts toward transforming their churches into what they should been from the beginning — a safe haven and refuge, a community of the beloved. They should be applauded and more should be encouraged on their journeys.
But others — by far still the majority — have more making up to do. Mere words of affirmation following a change of heart aren’t enough. A grave sin has been committed against God and his children. True, honest and intentional repentance is needed. Leaders must say “I’m sorry.” Over and over again. Publicly and to each individual LGBT person they meet. And they must put action behind their words — public and intentional efforts to right the wrongs of so many decades and centuries. For some, repentance might even require their resignation from ministry — great sins of harm, be it spiritual, verbal, psychological or even physical violence, toward the people they’ve been charged to protect and lead should not result in their continued role in shepherding God’s people.
Without this public penance, church leaders cannot be absolved of their sin. Without this public penance, LGBT people cannot ever feel fully welcomed or affirmed in places of Christian worship. It’s not an option. It’s not a preference. This is a requirement. My single message to leaders of the global Christian church is simple — turn the fingers you’ve been violently pointing toward LGBT people back to yourself and say: “Turn away from your wicked ways and repent of your sins.”
Chapel in an abandoned college, United Kingdom.
AndreasS, via Flickr. Licensed CC BY 2.0.