The following is an adapted excerpt from “A Word to Gay Christians,” chapter 14 from Generous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter.
When considering what church to connect to as a gay Christian, you need to have a clear sense of where you are in your own journey. Has faith become a vibrant part of your life that you own for yourself? How does faith shape your identity? How does your faith impact how you work through (or have worked through) questions about your sexuality?
When you consider faithful discipleship as a gay person, where do you ﬁnd yourself: Are you committed to refraining from a consummated same-sex relationship? Are you conﬁdent about pursuing a same-sex relationship? Are you still wrestling with God and Scripture to know whether the future may include a same-sex relationship? Are you in a committed same-sex relationship?
When I meet with young, single gay Christians, it is common to encounter some degree of uncertainty about being in a same-sex relationship. This is an important part of one’s spiritual journey, and many will say that their struggle brought them closer to God and taught them to rely on God and trust him more. So if this is where you are, it may be helpful to see this not as a question to resolve, but as part of the journey in coming to know God and yourself as you experience intimate relationship with him.
As you reﬂect on where you are in your faith journey and in the process of integrating your faith with your sexuality, you can then begin to consider questions about a potential church. For better or worse, the tone and ethos of a church may be signiﬁcantly impacted by the leadership. When you meet with a pastor of a potential church, it is not particularly helpful to immediately ask for his or her position on same-sex relationships.
One conversation starter is to ask about the ways diversity is embraced in the congregation. Ask about the kinds of people who gather in fellowship. Ask about how they navigate differences between people. Ask about whether the community is open to learning from other people’s backgrounds and experiences in their corporate worship. Ask the pastor what some of the challenging conversations have been of late in the congregation and how the group worked to come to consensus or resolution. The responses to these kinds of questions, and the opportunity to hear archived sermons, will give you a better sense of the pastor’s heart and the tone of conversations within the church community.
You will want to hear from the pastor, and experience ﬁrsthand by a visit to the congregation, the priority placed on hospitality and the genuineness of the welcome for those who are new. Part of the ethos of hospitality you will want to explore is the comfort level and sense of safety in being honest and transparent. Do people feel free to share what is going on in their lives? If people disagree about choices others are making, is there a safe environment in which to discuss differences and give one another space to wrestle through their discipleship journeys? Would disagreement be threatening to others in the congregation?
It is important to have a sense of your own spiritual gifts and the areas of the church to which you feel most called. You will want to know if your passion and desire to serve are warmly welcomed rather than viewed with some level of hesitation. Some of the gay Christians I’ve talked to have said that once they came out and indicated they were comfortable identifying as gay, they were removed or prevented from serving. These are hurtful decisions that can cause an individual to feel marginalized in the church. It can also negatively affect a person’s spiritual journey. Serving others is one of the ways we grow as we learn to trust God, grow in the fruit of the Spirit, and see God’s hand at work. Being involved in using your gifts, growing in your sense of calling, and serving others is an essential part of belonging in a faith community.
Each gay Christian has their own unique journey. This is evident in the choices individuals make about the church they will attend. Finding a church where you feel you can become fully engaged will be a positive step toward sustaining a deep and committed faith. Whether that choice is an affirming church or a church that is intentional in extending hospitality, make sure that you will have a spacious place to continue to grow in Christ. Encountering a pastor who is willing to listen and dialogue may be an important factor in the decision-making process.
No church is perfect. In fact, it is the imperfections of our churches that can afford us important opportunities to grow. As we persevere in walking a “long obedience in the same direction” within a fellowship, despite the weaknesses and friction points, we can ﬁnd ourselves enlarged in our own ability to extend hospitality, grace, and forgiveness.