TBH, you're not welcome here

I’ll be honest with you: this has been on my mind for a while. Every time I step into the shower, I ponder my reflections on the topic and think ‘maybe I should get round to writing this down’. But I don’t. I just keep washing my hair.

The launch of SCM's Honest Church campaign, encouraging churches to be honest about their LGBTQ+ welcome, has spurred me into finally taking the leap. Through my time actively looking for churches to attend, I have had this huge sense of worry and frustration. I will get to a place where I enjoy the people, the space, the worship style, the teaching. Everything seems inviting and loving.

I will find out a few months later that I cannot join the worship team if I decide to ‘engage’ in ‘homosexual practices’. Like a smack in the face. I am not welcome.

I leave; because what is a Church if I can’t integrate fully? What is a family if you can’t connect unconditionally? The cycle continues.

More often than not, I find myself trawling through Church websites, online forums, social media comments, to get an idea of where they stand. Whether I will be accepted or ridiculed, safe or in danger. Whether I am embracing a weekly act of self-harm. 

I thought that moving from my small-town upbringing to a city would give me plenty of options, take the issue out of my hands. Then, I was introduced to megachurches. These have been the most difficult to navigate. You rarely get a glimpse behind the curtain.

And it’s a shame. Sometimes I find myself longing for a prominent clobber passage front and centre of the church website, just so I know what to avoid and how to stop being hurt all over again. I don’t want to be coddled, I just want them to be upfront. If you believe being gay or transgender is a sin, then fine. But please embrace it, publicly, so I don’t have to walk into it blindfolded.

There is a certain privilege to being able to hide or mask your true thoughts like this, too. And I know everyone hates the word ‘privilege’ by now, but it really is one. Church leaders can take their time and say, ‘I’m still thinking about it’. They can ponder whether to publicly announce their acceptance (or the opposite) over their morning brew. Meanwhile, queer people who love God and love themselves are being crushed again and again by this lack of transparency. They’re being turned away from faith. Stagnating while they wait for the internal debates of leadership to decide if their doors are fully open. There’s a really good drawing by NakedPastor (David Hayward) that illustrates my point perfectly. 

Do Church leaders expect queer people to line up outside the gates while they decide?

Put yourself in these shoes if you can: You’re queer. You’re at peace with that. And you fancy going to Church - for the first time in a while, maybe for the first time ever. You want to learn more and devote time and space to worship. You want to form a community. 

You find somewhere where you’re treated the same! Unconditionally, they said! It was a bit vague, but they teach about embracing your neighbour, so you’ll be fine. So you’re treated the same, until you decide to mention your partner one day. You’re asked to step down from the worship team until you ‘reassess’ your commitment to God. You hear gossip from the rows behind you. You get sent links to books and passages and retreats that might ‘help’ with your sin. You’re approached by people saying they’ll pray for your healing. You think that maybe it was a mistake coming (back) to Church.

And you no longer want to risk it. To go to Church, or to bring your entire self to Church. You stop worshipping, in body or in mind. You hide.

I have heard and lived this story many times over. The shock of anti-LGBTQ sentiment often forms a mistrust in places of worship. It turns people away from approaching God in new, intimate, interconnected ways.

So, let’s face it: it’s time to be Honest.

Written by Honey Harrop, an SCM member studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham. Honey's pronouns are she/they.