Sun shining–must be three am, Do You Know How Your Church Treats Queers?

It’s 4:00 in the morning, the sun has been up for nearly two hours (moments after it “set”) and I am still awake. Sweden in the North during this time of year means lots of light. Who wants to sleep when it is so lovely out? At 3:00 a.m. I decided to go for a stroll. There is something delicious about a walk in the middle of the night in the light. It felt like I was cheating or something. Birds chirping, air warming, and nearly everyone sleeping. I experienced a new construct of what I assumed night is supposed to be.

Tonight I performed Transfigurations at Ålidhemskyrkan, a Church of Sweden congregation. I performed at this same church back in January 2008 (The Re-Education of George W. Bush). This time they had me present as part of the confirmation class training. The performance, post-show meal (deliciously prepared by Alex and his partner) and discussion were open to the public and widely advertised in the paper. Cool to see a church being so very open and clear about welcoming a program about gender issues, particularly transgender issues and the Bible.

After the show we discussed how churches can be affirming and not simply tolerating. In a nearly all white Swedish church, the sudden influx of a bunch of people from Eritrea would be an event that most people could not ignore (and hopefullly most would celebrate). If 5% of the church members were suddenly from Eritrea, the church staff would take notice, and would discuss the needs of these folks, ways to help them feel welcome, ideas for being sensitive to their culture, etc. Perhaps there would even be a staff training to ensure that this new group of people were well cared for affirmed in the church.

Similarly we can see about training staff to ensure that the church is a safe and genuinely welcoming place for transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay and queer individuals and families. Simply posting a statement that the church is a welcoming place does not make it so. In order to be radically welcoming the church leaders and members must think and work. Since most TBLGQ folks experienced outright rejection and conditional welcome at previous churches, a truly welcoming and affirming church will need to go out of their way to make it clear that they provide a nourishing place for TBLGQ folks.

At the Church Resource Expo that I attended last month in Esher, England, I visited many stalls of prominent ministries and church service suppliers. I stopped by the booths of Mercy Ministries, Youth For Christ, various book stores and discipleship programs. I initiated conversations that went something like this,

ME: Cool stuff you offer here. I know of some young people who would be interested in your ministry. They are sincere Christians, who would both give a lot to and receive a lot from the programming that you offer. They happen to be transgender, bisexual, lesbian or gay. How well would they fare in your organization?

RESOURCE: We welcome all people.

ME: Yes, I understand that, but if they came to you with say questions about their faith or maybe an eating disorder or simply becuase they want to be stronger believers, would they get the help they need without their sexuality becoming THE issue that you insist needs to be addressed.

RESOURCE: We don’t really deal with sexuality. It doesn’t come up.

ME: Wait, you run an organization for youth and you don’t ever talk about sex?!? Seems like a pretty important issue. Okay, so they will not be told they have to change their sexuality in order to be part of the group?

RESOURCE: Well, we do believe in the Bible…

ME: Yeah, so do I and so do these young people. The Bible doesn’t condemn a loving relationship between two men or two women. The Bible doesn’t condemn a gay, lesbian or bisexual orientation. The Bible actually affirms the lives and contributions of gender-variant people.

RESOURCE: We don’t see it that way, but they would still be welcome.

ME: Welcome to recive your services, to give contributions, to fill the seats?

RESOURCE: Yeah, they will be very welcome.

ME: Okay, I want to make sure we are clear here. A young person comes to your ministry. They have peace and clarity about their sexuality. They attend your training courses, meet many new friends, grow in their faith, contribute more and more time and resources to the work you do. After they devote two years of their lives to your ministry, they decide they want to give even more, to take on a leadership role, to lead a course. As an openly transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay, queer person, you are telling me that they will be able to serve in a leadership position in your ministry?

RESOURCE: Well, no, but then an adulterer or rapist wouldn’t be able to either.

ME: I find it offensive that you equate the lives of these transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay, queer people to adultery and rape. These are young people committed to God, living thoughtful responsible lives with peace in their hearts. They are not cheating on their partners and they are not rapists. Some are single and waiting for a partner. They choose to be honest with themselves and others about their sexuality. Would they be able to serve in your ministry?

RESOURCE: Um, no.

ME: So I should tell them that yours is not a safe place for them.
Perhaps you should let people know up front that you accept them under certain often unspoken conditions and that the same conditions do not apply to transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay and queer folks as to straight, gender-normative fellow believers.

Maybe it sounds harsh. I don’t think so. I believe that these ministries and ministry leaders need to see exactly what they offer and the sort of burdens they lay on people’s back. Too many of these places have not done the work to find out what the Bible actually says and does not say about these issues. They revert to the traditional renderings of a handful of texts without considering if what has been handed down to them is correct. They follow the traditions of man and have not taken the time and effort to seek God on these vital issues. They speak with authority about things they do not understand and end up driving faithful followers away.

Perhaps because they are not transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay or queer, they can live their lives avoiding these matters. They can go months, perhaps years, never giving them a second thought. Some of us have spent thousands of hours praying, researching, seeking answers–not trying to find something that our “itching ears want to hear,” rather in many cases we weanted very much to hear that it is wrong to be the way that we are, believing it must be so, only to discover that our teachers are wrong, our parents are wrong, the authorities are wrong.

How refreshing to be in this church in Northern Sweden and see and hear people who affirm transgender people along with bisexual, lesbian, gay and queer people. They get it that it is about love and identity and authenticity. They no longer conform to the pattern of the world that for too long said that heterosexual gendernormative people are the only ones truly allowed at the table (and only males in leadership positions). Instead they have renewed their minds and continue to do so in order to better understand God’s will. They are the richer for it.

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This post has 11 Comments

  1. Bruce on June 4, 2009 at 5:07 am Reply

    Good for you to see through the “we welcome everyone” smoke screen.

    As an Evangelcial pastor for many years I would often say just that…….but my motive was to get them in the pew so I could preach to them, convert them and deliver them from their sin.

    It was Never about true, open, complete acceptance.

    Bruce

  2. alexander resare on June 4, 2009 at 7:17 am Reply

    I am so happy you took a detour up here and performed Transfigurations! Thak you so much for last night.

    Isn’t it something to walk around in town in daylight not meeting any people, hearing any cars. I always imagine up this post apocalyptic world that is rather peaceful when I am up like that. Just me and the birds left.

  3. Jox on June 4, 2009 at 12:18 pm Reply

    Thanks for writing up about the Church Resource Expo. As you know, I think it was very important that you ‘confronted’ the people in the gentle way you have before they have someone in their care broach this subject. Hopefully by having it brought ‘into the light’ they will consider the issue and be able to be more helpful and affirming when a person who is struggling approaches them for guidance.

    Sounds like you are having a beautiful time in Sweden. Having sunshine in the middle of the night must be a very special experience but I hope you are not too exhausted by your VERY early morning walks :0)

    Love Jox

  4. Dharma Kelleher on June 4, 2009 at 1:43 pm Reply

    Great conversation, Peterson!

    Watch out for those white nights! Don’t want to end up like Gregory Hines!

  5. Sheria in SA on June 4, 2009 at 2:28 pm Reply

    A walk in the middle of the night with light trickling all over you…Wow, how romantic and peaceful.
    Ah, the wonders of God’s creation, absolutely magnificent…Now am hearing voices in my head telling me to travel and see the world in a year’s time)!

  6. Whittier on June 6, 2009 at 3:26 am Reply

    The summer I spent in England was the last time I had a normal sleep schedule. Sunlight helps so much.

  7. Sofia on June 6, 2009 at 12:20 pm Reply

    “It doesn’t come up”

    This argumentation takes my mind back to the discussion at the dinner table post-show meal about racist issues and sexist issues int the US and I wonder if maybe it holds a key to understanding developement in these respective areas. I’m thinking how issues involving equal rights for ethnic groups are more prevalent than equal rights for women in the US over all. At least this is how it seems from my point of view. I’m hoping with a more intersektional perspective growing forth in the academic tradition we might come to see a change.

  8. dhconcerts on June 7, 2009 at 2:23 am Reply

    I would love to quote your conversation with those church representatives (on my web page), and refer readers to your page for more of the same.

    And, your walk in the middle of the night sounds really nice, maybe a little confusing to the ‘night is dark’ brain, but beautiful and enjoyable. (I’m sitting on my side porch right now. It’s dark, dark, dark outside. And, a full moon has been rising slowly in front of me and to my left as I work on some writing assignments on my computer.)

    • p2son on June 7, 2009 at 7:29 am Reply

      dhconcerts, sure, please feel free to quote what I have on my blog.

      I am in Stockholm right now and we had a few hours of dark, since it is farther South to where I had been. It was odd seeing the dark, but then it felt like an old friend returning too.

  9. Sue on June 7, 2009 at 5:47 pm Reply

    So thankful for my wonderful, accepting church here in UK – but don’t go thinking it is typical, I left one church because of the attitudes there and I’ve heard many horror stories!

    Keep up the good work, Peterson.

  10. pastor alyas bhatti on July 23, 2009 at 11:35 am Reply

    Dear Pastor,
    Greetings from NSP Church of Pakistan!
    We are pleased to contact you through internet searching. We found you the right way Church committed and devoted for evangelizing and growing with the guidance of the Holy Spirit for the Kingdom of God in this universal.

    Therefore, we also take privilege to introduce NSP Church of Pakistan for establishing ministry relation toward spread the God’s work in Pakistan. NSP has been serving in Pakistan since 2000 on self-help bases along with its local Pastors team in evangelism and church plantings. Therefore, we are interesting to have fellowship or affiliate with your ministry to fulfill the Great Commission in Pakistan. We do hope that you will consider this proposal for the mutual benefit of the both ministries as well as for the glory of God.

    I am looking forward to see your kind response in this regard. God bless you and your church.

    Yours in Christ,

    Pastor Alyas Bhatti
    NSP Church
    Professor Road, Bahar Colony #1,
    Kot Lakhpat, Lahore-Pakistan
    Tel: 92-42-5837198
    Cell- 92-300-4366950
    Email:nspchurch@yahoo.com
    http://www.nspchurchpak.com

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