The cost of exclusion

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.

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?

Glenn Goodfellow and his partner George live in Portland, Ore. He is a musician, preschool teacher and conference planner. He also sits on the board of Oregon Safe Schools, a nonprofit that works to keep all students and teachers safe and happy. / Illustration by Jerod Clark.

Comments (28)

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It’s called holiness.

Were some one in my family gay? I would start with hospitality. I would want to set the table and make sure that he or she is always welcome. Always.

At church, I would make sure there is always a place at the potluck. I would sing together. Pray together. And because I’m not ordained, I would break off the bread and give it and say, “this is Christ’s body broken for you.”

A model that shuts people out or hardens hearts is not the stuff of Grace. Rather, we need the wisdom to let tares and wheat grow; to nurture the wheat, in full confidence that a the Last Day, goodness and delight win, and the weeds fall away.

Here is the problem as I read it: you are worshiping your sexuality and not worshiping God.  You are defining yourself by whom you sexually desire and not as a child of God.
You are not willing to conform yourself to Christ but have embraced your sinfulness.
I am not judging (condeming) you, just telling you the Truth, repent of your sins (not just your sexual activities) and recieve Christ as Savior and Lord.
To the point of your message, though, Scripture tells us to turn away those whose sins are visible for the purpose of their seeing their sins as sin so that they may return to fellowship when they repent of those sins. This removal is to be done out of love for the individual in hopes for their restoration.  If their intent was to harm or hurt you, then they should repent of that sin. 
That being said, God does not call the individual to reject the sinner and it is unfortunate that your family is acting in such an ungodly manner.  Just because someone is sinning (and are not harming us in that sin) should we turn them away.  We should confront their sin, but it is God who changes the heart which, in turn, changes the person.

I once visited a church in Mexico.  I asked how I should dress for the occasion:  hat, dress or slacks, what was appropriate?  The response spoke love to me in such a deep way, I have never forgotten it.  “We all come to church to worship, not judge one another.  God will speak to individual hearts to tell them what needs changing.”

Only a truly loving, serving church will welcome all people to fellowship.  It is hard to remember that it is Christ’s church, not our own. 

On the other side, most LGTB’s shun churches by projecting fear, judgement, criticism.  They hardly give us a chance to reach out to them.


I think Glenn you want to have your cake & eat it too. You want to belong to the Church of God, The Body of Christ & at the same time not only keep your sin without repentance but openly flaunt it to others. Homosexual acts may be as legal as Adulterous acts in New Zealand or your country but they are still sin full acts. When we come to Jesus Christ in repentance & Faith we are born again by the Spirit of God just as we are. As we grow in Grace the Holy Spirit will point out sin & hidden sin we need to repent of & this may take a lifetime, but you know your sin & have chosen to ignore it. If I had someone in my family gay I would want my church to nurture their faith by treating them the same as any other person. With Christ like love & compassion and good Biblical teaching - leaving nothing out whether warnings against Adultery, Gluttony or Homosexuality! But always stressing the Love & Grace of God to forgive.

I think you gave us all rhetorical whiplash here. In one sentence, you tell the writer of this piece that he is “not willing to conform [him]self to Christ but ha[s] embraced [his] sinfulness,” suggesting that you know exactly what is in his heart and mind and soul, and then in the very next sentence you have the temerity to write “I am not judging (condemning) you.”

Those two statements are incompatible with one another, despite your weak attempt to paper over your judgmentalism by saying you’re “just telling [him] the Truth” as if it is somehow an objective, absolute, and certain thing that your particular hermeneutic and interpretation of the Bible is the right one.

Oh, and “defining [him]self by who [he] sexually desires”? No. It is the culture that forces that upon him, and upon all LGBT people. It is straight privilege that you and I *don’t* have to define ourselves by our sexuality, because our culture sees straight as “the norm,” and engages in harassing, hating, assaulting, ostracizing, and often killing those who fall outside of that—with people who claim to follow Christ, shamefully, often standing at the front of the crowd hurling metaphorical stones at our LGBT brothers and sisters.

The comments on this article show what an uphill battle it is to gain acceptance among Christians. All the same, I believe it’s a battle you can win, and in doing so, show the world what Christian Love can actually mean.

It’s understandable given the way many churches treat LGBT’s, isn’t it?

Now a little about myself. I am a white American Heterosexual that works as a full time missionary. Politically I am an independent because, partially because I don’t like a lot of things that “conservative Christian Americans” stand for… things always get messy when you try to treat politics like it is part of your faith and don’t do things the other way around. I know people that are gay, and some that used to identify themselves as being gay. I like them, and I agree that there is value in knowing people who are gay, just like it helps to know people who are Muslim. It could be easy to get caught up in needless hate mongering when you don’t have a face for what you know.

I don’t think there is much of a point in telling others that aren’t followers of Jesus how to live. Part of the power of the Gospel is that it can transform those of us who believe. We aren’t called to change and then reciprocate in our relationship with Jesus. Instead we are called to come to Jesus/God, and start the life long process of becoming more like him, and adhering to what the Bible teaches. So I don’t tell non Jesus followers how to live regardless of sexual orientation. My job as a Christian is to model God’s love to them.

The thing is though, Christianity isn’t merely a warm blanket of acceptance one you are a follower of Jesus. This is part of the point of the Bible. I do believe it is infallible, and I also believe it is God’s word. It tells us to love others, it says God loves us all the same, but it also expects that as followers of Jesus we try to stop sinning, and we use the power that the Holy Spirit gives us to say no to temptation. So when someone choses to start making their relationship with Jesus go both ways, then it is reasonable to expect to see change in their life. In fact if we don’t see change in their life, or ever worse if they continue to proudly live in any kind of sin (such as for instance “playing house” as more and more young men and women are doing today) believers are instructed to act. I don’t believe this is a pitchfork and torches kind of act, but we can lovingly show people what God’s word says, and help give them encouragement.

So I have to admit that this article does bother me a little. It seems like there are only two conclusions that I am allowed to draw from it. One conclusion is that God’s word contains at least one fallacy (you know, the part about the whole gay thing), and if that is the case then what is the point in believing in any of it.  The other possible conclusion is that the writer has chosen to overlook that part of the Bible, since I don’t know him I won’t make any assumptions further than that. I love people who are in live in boy-girlfriend situations, homosexuals and other people that aren’t living the kind of life that the Bible calls us to. However if they are people I have a relationship with or may be disciplining, I still can’t ignore that kind of behavior if they are a professing Christian. In the end though it is God who changes hearts, I just try to do what I’m taught and told.

I think the void is only there until the QUILTBAG realizes YHWH is not the only game in town.

There is a reason that paganism is popular with LGBT people. It meets our spiritual needs, while giving us gods who actually understand us, and who don’t hate us for who and what we are.

Being required to be the exact opposite of yourself for a god to love you is a sign that This Is Not The Right God For You. (Thinking women bump up against this too)

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