Why Public LGBTQ Affirmation in the Church Matters

“We are not officially LGBTQ-affirming, but we accept everyone.”

I have heard this almost every time I have begun to involve myself in a new church, and I have learned that people often believe this is a complete substitute for LGBTQ+ affirmation and inclusivity.

Humanity has a tendency to get comfortable where we are. We resist change because it involves risk-taking and new challenges. We create mountains out of molehills and decide that secondary theological issues should be elevated to essential doctrine. And then we stop moving, people quit showing up, and the church dies.

One of the most effective ways to kill our churches is to decide on our own who is In and who is Out.

“We are not officially LGBTQ-affirming, but we welcome everyone.”

This tells me that you are able to welcome and affirm the LGBTQ+ community in private but you are unwilling to do so in public. You will pat yourself on the back for hiring an openly gay woman pastor while leaving out that detail in conversation with your friends outside of church. You will ask us about our life and if we have set a date for the wedding yet, but what about when someone makes the backhanded comment: I hear you have a gay pastor now? When standing up and speaking out in opposition of injustice, there is no separation between public and private. For true allies, true warriors, this is not even an option because the work of justice-seeking consumes an entire life: not just a Sunday morning.

This tells me that you are afraid. And I get it: change can be scary. But you are only afraid of what people will think if you take a stand on a hot-button topic like LGBTQ+ people and relationships. I am afraid that I will be beaten to death with the Bible in the Name of Jesus if I walk into the wrong church. I am afraid that the pimps, the drugs – Death – will get to the 640,000 LGBTQ+ youth living on the street before we do. I am afraid that we will lose 13 more LGBTQ+ youth today because they are literally dying for acceptance and are unable to find it.

This tells me that you care more about the saved ones inside the walls of the church than the ones who are searching outside of it. You are worried that people will be upset and maybe a few will even leave the church. Listen to me: that’s okay. I knowit feels like I am asking you to sacrifice your people for mine and that hurts. But we cannot continue to protect the privileged at the expense of the oppressed. The Church is called to constant movement, unstoppable Gospel-sharing, and no human being can stand in the way of that which Jesus has ordained. And those people we lose along the way? We’ll see them again because God is a God of justice, of mercy, of unimaginable grace.

To become officially LGBTQ-affirming, whatever that designation is in your denomination, is not just something to check off a list or a status to reach. It is a bold and love-filled statement: our church stands with those people to whom others have tried to deny access to God. It means that we put our reputation where our mouth is and we stand up for what we know is right. We are unwilling to allow thousands of LGBTQ+ people to continue living their lives being told they are wrong and unworthy of Jesus.

Becoming publicly affirming is so important because the LGBTQ+ community is watching and hoping that we practice what we preach. They know who Jesus is and they know what he stands for. What they are looking for is how well we portray him through our words and deeds.

Either we look like Jesus or we don’t.

Steve Austin is Teaching Us How to Catch Our Breath

Listen to Episode 4 https://anchor.fm/MakingRoomOnThePew/embed/episodes/Steve-Austin-is-Teaching-Us-How-to-Catch-Our-Breath-e2pote” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>here!

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Steve Austin was a pastor when he nearly died by suicide. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, From Pastor to a Psych Ward, and Catching Your Breath. Join us as we talk about mental health, fear-based theology, and

Connect with Steve on Instagram & Twitter @iamsteveaustin and at iamsteveaustin.com. Grab Steve’s latest book, Catching Your Breath here.

 

Don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review if this content is encouraging you or positively impacting you in any way. If you share on social media, please use #MakingRoomOnThePew and tag me! 

Manda Carpenter Believes the Church is for Everyone

Listen to Episode 3 https://anchor.fm/MakingRoomOnThePew/embed/episodes/Manda-Carpenter-Believes-the-Church-is-for-Everyone-e2jp22” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>here!

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Manda Carpenter is a writer and foster parent living with her husband Eric in Chicago, IL. Join us as we talk about the hard and beautiful ministry of foster care, how to survive your evolving theological beliefs, and who Manda thinks the Church needs to get better at welcoming in.

Connect with Manda on InstagramFacebook & Twitter  @mandacarpenter and at mandacarpenter.com.

Get involved with #MonthlyLettersOfEncouragement here.

Grab Manda’s new devotional, Space: An Invitation to Create Sustainable Rhythms of Work, Play, and Rest here.

Don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review if this content is encouraging you or positively impacting you in any way. If you share on social media, please use #MakingRoomOnThePew and tag me! 

B.T. Harman, On How to Support Christian Parents of LGTBQ Children

Listen to Episode 2 https://anchor.fm/MakingRoomOnThePew/embed/episodes/B-T–Harman–On-How-to-Support-Christian-Parents-of-LGBTQ-Children-e2jonu” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>here!

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B.T. Harman is a writer and advocate for compassionate, grace-filled relationship–even when there are disagreements about fundamental ideas and theology. B.T. is the writer of Blue Babies Pink: A Southern Coming Out Story and the creator of Harbor, an online support group for Christian parents of LGBTQ children. Join us as we discuss being a gay Christian, how to foster grace-filled relationships with those we fundamentally disagree with, and how to better support the parents of LGBTQ kids.

 

 

Connect with B.T. on Instagram & Twitter @bt_harman and at btharman.com.

Want to read more of B.T.’s story? bluebabiespink.com

Interested in the Harbor program? harborhere.com

Don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review if this content is encouraging you or positively impacting you in any way. If you share on social media, please use #MakingRoomOnThePew and tag me!

Shannan Martin is a Church Misfit

Listen to Episode 01 here!

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Shannan Martin is a writer and speaker living as a grateful neighbor with her jail-chaplain husband, Cory, and their four funny children in Goshen, Indiana. Join us as we talk about how to neighbor well, the problem with the American penal system, and being church misfits.

Connect with Shannan on Instagram & Twitter @shannanwrites and at shannanmartinwrites.com. Grab Shannan’s new book, The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up To God’s Goodness Around You here.

Don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review if this content is encouraging you or positively impacting you in any way. If you share on social media, please use #MakingRoomOnThePew and tag me! 

12 Things I Did (Or Didn’t Do) In 2018

It’s the end of the year and we’re all feeling a bit more introspective than usual. Isn’t that how it always goes? Here I am, sitting at my dining room table on the night before New Year’s Eve, and it’s all I can think about: what I did or did not do this past year. 

In 2018…

I DIDN’T use my yoga studio membership much.

I DID get married.

I DIDN’T stay on any of the 18373 (okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration) diets I started.

I DID start antidepressant & anti-anxiety medication.

I DIDN’T ask for help as much as I should have.

I DID attend my first protest.

I DIDN’T go back to school as I had originally hoped and planned.

I DID make a huge dream a reality with the Making Room on the Pew podcast.

I DIDN’T say I’m sorry enough.

I DID make family more of a priority.

I DIDN’T learn how to be less intense & more considerate as much as I’d hoped I would.

I DID learn how to love the people in my life a little better.

My friend, Manda, does this every year and I can’t help but think what a great practice this is; this intentional time of remembering what we got right and what we got wrong over the past year.

I got more things wrong and less things right than I hoped I would, but that’s not the point. The point is this: in just a few short hours, a new year is beginning. And we have the choice to forget the past, barreling full-speed ahead into the future, or to pause and take stock, remembering the past, taking from it it’s hardest, most impactful lessons, and carrying those with us into the bright promise of morning.

I’ve made my choice, and as I sit here in the dim light of the Christmas tree I can’t bear to take down yet, I pray that you take a moment to do the same.

To pause.

To remember.

To give thanks.

To plan.

To turn your eyes toward tomorrow.

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What did YOU do or not do in 2018? 

Drop me a comment below! 

B: Believe People

“100% of the time, I am going to default to their [any minority’s] reaction because I know it’s true . . . I am no longer going to say my perspective is the right one because it’s the majority perspective.”

–Jen Hatmaker, Surviving Sarah with Sarah Bragg


A few years ago, I was working at a fitness facility. I worked in the Aquatics Department, mostly teaching and organizing swim lessons, and one afternoon, one of the swim instructors called me to let me know she would be late because her car had broken down on her way into work.

Once she arrived, I asked if she had been able to get her car started, but she said no, she had just begun to walk to work.

“You walked that entire way in this weather?” I gasped, glancing out the window at the huge snowflakes flying wildly through the air.

“Oh no,” she laughed. “A cop was driving by and offered me a ride.” She paused as she dropped her bag into the chair next to her. “He was black, so I knew it was safe.”

I froze. Untamable thoughts raced through my mind: She was afraid of a policeman, the very person who was supposed to keep us safe. She was threatened until she discovered he was more like her than like me. She had to think about whether she would be safer inside a police car or walking along the side of the road alone.

I stared at my friend, unable to find words, until she turned and walked toward her waiting class, already splashing and giggling in the pool.

This was just after the Black Lives Matter movement had started, just after I had moved off the family farm in Small Town, Ohio and into the “big city”, just after I had only begun to understand that my charmed experience in America is not everyone’s. My eyes were only beginning to see my beloved country for all it’s good, bad, and ugly parts–and this experience cracked my heart wide open.

This was the story that changed everything for me, but it was not the first story I had heard. It was just the first time I believed–truly, unequivocally believed–the person telling the story. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? That I hadn’t believed other people telling me racism and discrimination exists in the country we claim is The Land of the Free. But we all do it. Or, at least, we have all done it at some point.

Think about it:

How often do we hear others share their hard, heartbreaking experiences and think: Surely not. Not here.

How often do we hear sexual assault survivors bravely tell their stories only to accuse: “Well, were you drunk? Maybe you said yes and you just don’t remember.”

How often do we hear people of color talk about their experiences with racism and think: Really? Are you sure that really happened?

How often do we hear those in the LGBTQ community tell stories filled with homophobia and transphobia and biphobia and say, “Well, I don’t know if they really meant that.”

We are all gaslighting each other so badly that I’m surprised there is even still a Church at all. When no one believes one another, how do we live and work together? How can we possibly learn, speak, or love when no one’s experiences are valid except for our own?

We can’t and we don’t.

Instead, we gaslight and second-guess and disbelieve people who are literally just telling the truth about their own lives. We surround ourselves with people just like us. We create echo-chambers in attempt to avoid conflict. We stop listening and learning, and grow comfortable instead. We become wildly exclusive.

The way to stop that? Believe the experiences of others–even when (or perhaps especially when) the stories we hear don’t make any sense to us. I’m convinced it is the only way.

But let’s not kid ourselves: this is hard work, the act of believing other people’s experiences without conditions or questions. Are you having a hard time listening without an agenda? Here’s a few tips:

  • Stop comparing your experiences with theirs. You’ve heard that comparison is the thief of joy–it is also the thief of compassion.
  • Accept that you will never be the expert on experiences which are not yours. Listen to learn, not to refute.
  • Practice intentional silence. Listen more, speak less.

 

What do you need us to hear about your story?

This is a safe, welcoming space.

Let me know in the comments below or on social media with #MakingRoomOnThePew.

A: Ask Questions

In college, I was a social work major and one of the most impactful classes of my college career was the one where we learned how to appropriately and effectively interview clients during a therapy session. The first day of class, I walked into the classroom and reluctantly found a seat. To be honest, I was dreading this course. My anxiety was sky-rocketing at the sheer thought of interviewing a classmate (or being interviewed, for that matter) in front of the entire class.

Besides, how hard could this be? I wondered as I listened to the professor review the class syllabus. It’s just asking questions!

I was young and more than a little naïve, and apparently equated professionally interviewing a client to asking my best friend about her weekend plans.

Do you know why asking questions is not as easy as it seems? Because it is not just about asking questions. It’s about asking the right question to get to the information you need. It’s about your tone and body language and choosing the best words. It’s not about the questions; it’s about how to best get to know the client.

Little did I know, as a twenty-year-old pouting about speaking in front of the class for a final exam that this class would teach me valuable skills I would use for the rest of my life. This class taught me how to ask questions–and how to not ask questions.

Let’s face it: there is a bad way to ask questions. Insensitive language and ignorant questions can hijack a productive conversation and send it careening into the flames of defensive anger. You know, questions like these:

  • Is your marriage legal everywhere? Like even in other states?
  • Couldn’t they have another tagline? Something more inclusive, like “All Lives Matter”?
  • What religion allows women to be ordained as clergy?

Ouch. These are some cringe-worthy examples.

But the whole point in asking questions is to learn, you may be thinking. If I’m asking about something I know nothing about, how do I know if my question is offensive?

This is a fair point, and I am going to give you the same advice my professor gave me: “Ask kind questions with curiosity.”

Kind questions don’t feel like ammunition. Kind questions are asked from a place of curiosity, not positioned to take down an opponent. Questions asked with curiosity communications a desire to learn instead of a need to be heard. Kind questions asked with curiosity begin conversations rather than ending them.

I believe kind, productive conversations are the basis of creating an inclusive Church, so it makes sense to prioritize the skill of asking good questions.

The next time you find yourself wanting to ask questions of someone different than you, consider these points:

  • Am I asking to better understand, or to “win” this conversation?
  • Could I find the answer to this question by doing my own research on this topic?
  • Is there a kinder way to ask this?

What kind, curious questions do you have?

Let me know in the comments below!

Take me to the next letter! B: Believe People

The ABC’s of Building an Inclusive Church

I never considered church scary until I was no longer welcomed in with arms opened wide. I never thought church could be uncomfortable until I walked through the door after being asked to step down from my leadership roles when they found out I was dating a woman. I never imagined church could be anything other than a safe haven full of ridiculously fun games at youth group and fantastic (though perhaps theologically concerning) music.

My church was my home.

Some of my friends tried to tell me. They tried to explain the shame and fear and heartache they experienced in the same sacred building where I discovered restoration. But I couldn’t hear it. I didn’t want to hear that my experience was not everyone’s experience; that my favorite place in the world was someone else’s least favorite. I didn’t want to know that the place where I found God was capable of causing my friends to all but lose their faith–whatever type of faith they had.

Looking back now, I can see how much I hurt others by not listening to them, by insisting church could be good for them too if only they would keep trying. I never realized how painful and detrimental that can be for a person–until that person being broken apart and shaved down in order to fit into a pretty little box was me. Maybe it’s been you too.

Let me be clear: I don’t say this out of anger. I don’t hate the Church. I love the Church–despite our rocky past. I say these things because I still love the Church deeply and I know we can do better. I am not condemning; I am challenging. Challenging us all–the Body of Christ–to be more loving, more radically welcoming; to be more like Jesus.

This is not about who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s not about watering down the Gospel or “cherry-picking” the parts of the Bible we like. This is about how to best represent the God-Man we claim to be following. It’s about how to become the true Body of Christ, the one God was envisioning at the beginning of time, the one not at all homogenous but which reflects the glorious Kingdom of God.

It is beyond time to start #MakingRoomOnThePew. Join me, won’t you?

Take me to the first letter! A: Ask Questions

Why God Grounded Me

I am thrilled and honored to be sharing over at The Bud Co. blog today!


We learn it from a young age: hard work is to be rewarded. It starts innocently enough, teaching us good work ethic and setting us up for success later in life, but somewhere along the way it morphs into a dangerous message.

We start to hear it everywhere:
We are only worthy when we are productive.
We are only loved when we are the best.
It becomes a cycle of striving, of always keeping up, of never resting. We can’t stop and we definitely can’t fail. We even have a Bible verse to back it up: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23). I mean, who wouldn’t want to give God their all?

So it becomes our addiction—this insatiable desire to do more and be better. Eventually, we find ourselves actually believing that our worth is directly tied to our level of productivity. Have you been there? I have in fact, even in the last 48 hours. I used to wonder what difference it made that I found my worth in my work. After all, I was highly productive and efficient. How could that be a bad thing? So I continued barrelling down the path of self-destruction because I cared more about crossing things off my To Do List than listening to the still, small Voice I knew was calling me to a new way of living. I kept shouting Yes! to too many things and stretched myself way too thin. I was irresponsible with my own time and with the time of others’.

Finally, after years of striving to earn love and acceptance, I reached a breaking point and learned the truth: rooting my worth in my level of productivity was killing my relationship with God and utterly dehydrating my soul.

And, suddenly, everything screeched to a halt. I left a job I was great at, but which fed my addiction to extreme perfectionism, and I found myself nannying, which has nothing to do with productivity and everything to do with simply being present. I took a break from college. I stepped down from a volunteer leadership role and stopped saying yes to new things.

God grounded me, for all intents and purposes, until I learned the lesson He had been trying to teach me for years and we began in the Gospel of Luke. The story of Jesus visiting the home of Mary and Martha is short, only four verses long at the end of Luke 10, but it was this story that changed my whole idea of what God wants from me.

Continue reading this post at The Bud Co blog here >>