When I was 19 I became a Christian. I was welcomed into a conservative evangelical church in which I was loved and supported. But I was also exposed to some beliefs and attitudes which took me years to shake off and recover from.
Let me set a scene: a teenager in a church youth group asks how to answer their friend, who is gay, with questions they are having about Christianity. The standard response is trotted out: ‘There’s nothing inherently sinful in being gay in itself, only acting on those desires. You should tell your friend that homosexual acts simply aren’t consistent with biblical teaching.’
Imagine being taught from a young age that being gay is unacceptable. Imagine that the people who are teaching you about LGBT ‘issues’ are not familiar with LGBT people and their lives. Imagine that the basis for these views are ancient texts which have been interpreted in a very particular way, without much regard for context, language, or progress. The word ‘gay’ is used pejoratively, denoting something terrible. If someone’s friend or child does come out, it becomes the subject of gossip for weeks.
In this same situation you are loved and cared for. Church comprises most of your social and often, family, life. The church has given you good things. You have been taught, entertained and allowed to participate. Church is where you truly sense God for the first time. Everything around you appears good and right and you will be accepted, but only as long as you play by the rules.
Now how easy is it to disagree with what you’ve been taught? Can you go against what the leaders in your Church are teaching, or even your family and friends? Here we come to the crux of the problem: black and white teaching effectively silences dissenters. If you don’t agree with what we are saying, then you are disagreeing with the Bible and you are wrong. You are disagreeing with God.
An Oasis Trust survey recently found that more than a third of UK churchgoers are hiding their support for same sex relationships. But for a significant number of Christians, holding beliefs that are no longer socially acceptable has become a point of pride. For some, promoting these beliefs indicates their holiness, righteousness, and adherence to the ultimate authority of the Bible.
Is it any wonder that in such congregations, vocal support of same sex relationships is low?
For people who define themselves as LGBT, the fear of coming out in this context is a huge struggle. Alongside legitimate fears of judgement and ostracism, there is a genuine desire to fit into church communities that are, for the most part, loving and supportive.
I spent two years agonising over my sexuality before having a crisis of faith that led to a period of depression, and several years of resentment of the Church. The anguish that I experienced and that has continued to affect my mental health has been devastating. The fact that many of my Christian friends had no idea that this was something I was struggling with demonstrates perfectly the silence that exists around these issues.
This atmosphere hides the fact that there is support for same sex couples with the illusion that everyone in a given congregation, or even denomination, believes the same thing. As a result, those who disagree may believe that they are alone in their opinions and so are more likely to stay silent. The fear of speaking up prevents others from doing so.
Imagine that you had the courage to speak out against homophobic teaching. Imagine that people’s lives depended on this because the result of hiding our true opinions can be this extreme. This survey reveals that attitudes within the Church are shifting, but it also highlights the fact that too few Christians are standing up for their LGBT brothers and sisters; too few are willing to risk their social standing for the full inclusion of many.