I’m taking a detour from my posts about challenging our thinking to reflect on the idea of inclusiveness as it relates to LGBT people.
That’s a mighty fancy buzz word these days. Everyone has an opinion about what it means. I’m not going to define it, describe it, or defend it. At this point, and in many churches, it has little meaning. We can’t even begin to open the conversation about being “inclusive” versus “exclusive” until we retire the words we use to talk about our fellow humans. Until we clean up our language, there are no rules, regulations, allowances, or changes in policy that will make our LGBT brothers and sisters feel included.
It’s a lot like public education. I used to work as a school nurse. When I first started, most of the kids with IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) were in classrooms with other special needs children. After I had been there about a year and a half, the school began a process to move the majority of those kids into inclusion classrooms—an educational setting where students both with and without IEPs could learn together, with the help of classroom aides and push-in special education teachers. Before beginning the process, building staff were instructed on how to make the transition smooth. This included helping adults and students learn sensitive language and caring behaviors. Without high expectations that we would all speak respectfully and instruct the children to do the same, it would have been much harder.
The same is true when it comes to inclusion of LGBT people in the church. We have to be sure that our words and actions are not going to alienate people. Obviously, the use of anti-gay slurs is important. But there are subtle things people may say which still devalue people.
Allow me to share some examples of what I mean. Every single one of the following words or phrases has been used at my current church when talking about LGBT people. My church is non-affirming. However, when it comes to relationships, they usually get it right. Even so, these are real examples of the kind of thing that needs to go away before we tackle inclusion:
“I tell people, that’s fine that you’re gay; just go be it somewhere else. I don’t want to see it.”
“We pick on [another student] because he’s, you know, kinda gay. But he knows we’re just kidding.“
“I don’t want [my daughter] to participate in the Day of Silence [for anti-gay bullying]. I want her to be a friend to those people, but in a way that shows she doesn’t approve of their lifestyle.”
“My [relative] is into the gay lifestyle.”
“I don’t know how ‘into’ the gay lifestyle [so-and-so] is.”
“I’m so sick of the gay agenda.”
Those people. Kinda gay. Gay lifestyle. Gay agenda. These are words that aim to make some people “other.” The thing is, I know all the people who said those things. They are otherwise kind, caring people. Kids who look out for their friends. Moms and Dads. People who serve in the church. I’m not even sure that they meant to hurt with their words (except maybe the one who picks on a classmate).
We don’t do this with other things that the church considers sinful. Try replacing the anti-LGBT language in the above examples with just about any other sin. And we don’t do it when it comes to other differences among people such as race or ethnicity (at least, I hope not). So why do we do it when it comes to LGBT people? Why do we allow those words to creep into our vocabulary and cut us off from fully loving and serving the people who walk through our doors?
We’re all okay with LGBT people showing up, as long as they don’t act gay. We’re okay with being nice to gay people, as long as they know we disapprove. We’re okay with the idea of gay people, as long as they’re not in a relationship (which is what the euphemism “lifestyle” really means—same-sex intimacy). We’re fine with talking to gay people, as long as they don’t ask for the same rights we have.
Unless we stop segregating people with our words, we will never be able to stop segregating them with our actions. If we can’t lay aside our fears and prejudices, we won’t be able to open the conversation about how we can reach out, draw in, and include our LGBT loved ones.