Culture At Large

The cost of exclusion

Glenn Goodfellow

Editor's note: Agendas Aside, a Think Christian series on homosexuality and the church, also includes pieces by Neil de Koning, Joshua Walters, Jason E. Summers, Josh Larsen and Nathan Albert. TC is a ministry of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. The denomination's position statement on homosexuality can be found here.

I was raised in a Christ-centered home where my family looked to our Lutheran congregation for community and guidance. My high school was Reformed and my university was Jesuit, each surrounding me with excellent examples of a living faith.

Between choir, playing music, mission trips and more, my young adult life was the church. This upbringing led me to view the world with compassion, to treat others with dignity and to understand that my flawed existence was worthy of God’s redeeming salvation.

It’s worth mentioning that a message I didn’t hear was any reference to being gay. Those messages didn’t start becoming mainstream until the 1990s, coinciding with my own attempts to reconcile my sexuality.

My family had a difficult time accepting me as a gay man. That difficulty slowly became a shift from being a supported sibling and son, to simply being tolerated. This might not sound like a big difference, but think of it as choosing to no longer water a plant that you’ve previously nurtured. It’s passive disapproval.

The passive and active exclusion of queer folks from our communities of faith is heartbreaking and unnecessary.

Over time, these relationships further degraded, culminating in a now complete separation from most of my immediate family. In the end, my being gay was a source of repulsion that my family could not bridge. I was also unwilling to accept their version of conditional support. I have reconnected with my father after many years and his side of the family has been more accepting.

Semantics aside, most of my family is now chosen - not genetic.

For many years, I worked at the LGBT Community Center of Portland, Ore., a job that allowed me to interact with thousands of wonderful people. The stories I heard! Men in their 70s “coming out” after their wives died. Children living in cars after their parents put them on the street for being gay. Women weeping for joy as their commitment ceremony was witnessed with loving support. 

A prominent thread running through the narratives of my gay brothers and sisters is a church that no longer values them. Oftentimes, like their biological families, their church families vanished as a source of love and encouragement, leaving behind a terrible and dangerous void.

The passive and active exclusion of queer folks from our communities of faith is heartbreaking and unnecessary. I believe that we as the church, as a diverse whole, find ourselves at an important crossroads where we can choose to demonstrate compassion. I pray that these moments do not become another lost opportunity for inclusion and reconciliation.

As a gay man, I have the privilege and, I would argue, the responsibility to re-think many of the social norms that most people take for granted. Being the target of legal oppression has made me keenly aware of injustices against all other people. I believe all people are worthy of grace. Because of this, I now expect the faces in the pews to mirror the real, diverse world around me: ethnically, by age, through gender balance in the leadership and, yes, whether or not gay and lesbian people are there too.

My partner of 10 years and I are in a loving, monogamous, faith-filled relationship. In less than a year, that bond will include a child. I refuse to allow our family to exist in the crosshairs of a theological debate set on determining if our existence is beyond the scope of Christ’s redemption. Instead, I will continue to lead by example, fostering a life of compassion, dignity and a belief that everyone’s flawed existence is worthy of God’s redeeming salvation.

What Do You Think?

  • Do you agree that turning gay and lesbian believers away from the church creates a “terrible and dangerous void?”
  • If someone in your family was gay, how would you want your church to nurture their faith?

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, The Church, Home & Family, Family, Sex