Op-ed: Don’t Give Up on Christian Gays
BY Matthew Vines
April 30 2012 11:30 PM ET
When I left home in the fall of 2008 and started school at Harvard, I was amazed at how much openness and support there was for LGBT students on campus, mainly because it was worlds apart from the conservative Christian church in Kansas that I’d come from. Back home, gay issues were never discussed, every family and every wedding was heterosexual, and the few people who eventually came out waited until they had moved far away.
The message was largely unspoken, yet crystal clear: If you don’t fit into a heterosexual identity, you aren’t welcome.
None of this was because church is unwelcoming in general. Everyone was welcomed on the same terms — being willing to repent from sin. Those who wouldn’t repent but wanted acceptance anyway were asking for special treatment. And being gay was a sin — a choice, a rebellion against God’s design.
Sadly, for LGBT kids in these communities, things are not getting better. And no matter how many moving videos are made or how many young people take their lives in despair, change will not come so long as the only voices of dissent are coming from the outside — from progressive Christians and the nonreligious. Change can be achieved within conservative Christianity, but it must come from within.
The trouble is, the best candidates for reforming these churches — the LGBT Christians who are in them — remain isolated and voiceless. When we do come out and try to gain acceptance, we’re shut down with antigay readings of Scripture. And if we aren’t prepared to articulate and defend our own theological understanding with all the fluency and gravitas of a biblical scholar, we’re shown the door.
“Unfair” doesn’t begin to describe that situation. It’s outrageous. But wrong as it is, that’s still the world that millions of LGBT people in conservative Christian communities inhabit. This generally leaves them with two options: leave and come out or stay and remain closeted. Most don’t begin to have the time or the resources necessary to mount an effective theological challenge to churches that are rigidly set in their ways. Fortunately, when I came out a year and a half after arriving at Harvard, I was able to make the time and acquire the resources to do just that.
I went back home to Kansas and undertook two years of intensive biblical research and personal engagement with my church community. My outreach efforts, alas, mostly failed. The numbers were too stacked against me, and too few people proved willing to reconsider their long-held views. But my research was much more successful, and a progressive Methodist church in town let me deliver an hour-long talk on the Bible and homosexuality in March, which I videotaped and posted online.
I’m happy to report that change is already afoot, and I continue to hear from Christians who are changing their minds after watching the video. Change is slow, though, and most members at my old church still don’t want to engage the issue.
The more views and links the video gets, the harder it becomes to ignore. And no matter how frustrating it is to constantly be debating such a central part of our lives, know that when we give up on any community, we’re not just giving up on the people there who hurt us. We’re giving up on the LGBT people there who are still hurting too. If years of biblical study and argumentation is what it takes to help them, then so be it. They are worth our every effort.
The church I grew up in has more than 2,000 members, including hundreds of kids in its youth programs. Undoubtedly, some of them are gay, and they’re in a world of hurt and pain every day. Although they may be all alone right now, it doesn’t have to stay that way. If you’re willing to share this video as widely as you can, then we can reach those kids in a more direct and powerful way than we’ve ever been able to before. The video won’t change everyone’s minds, but it has and it will change some.
That’s all it takes to give LGBT kids more hope for their future, to let them know that they aren’t alone after all, and to affirm that their lives are very much worth living, no matter their sexual orientation. So whatever your feelings toward religion and the Bible, please watch and share this video, because there are millions of suffering people around the world who dearly need to hear its message.