How Pastors and Churches Can Be LGBTQ+ Allies
A question I often receive both online and in-person is how can pastors, churches, or anyone who serves in Christian ministry be an ally to LGBTQ+ people? This is a complex question to answer for a few reasons.
For starters, I cannot speak for the entire LGBTQ+ community. Some of my ideas may not be enough to make all queer people feel comfortable in church settings because as a community, we have a rough history of not being welcomed into places of worship and a diverse set of experiences with Christianity.
Additionally, there is no way for me to know to what extent someone in church ministry has actually engaged with LGBTQ+ people unless I know them on an intimate and transparent level.
Regardless, I have come up with a list of six ways that church workers can be allies to LGBTQ+ people. As you read through this list, please know that I will not be able to perfectly capture the questions of straight pastors and church workers, nor will I be able to capture the fullness of the concerns of the queer community.
With that being said, here is a basic starting list for anyone asking the question of how to do better for LGBTQ+ people in Christian spaces.
1. Be Completely Clear and Honest About Your Positions, Even if It’s Uncomfortable.
The biggest frustration that I have had with well-meaning straight pastors and churches has been their unwillingness to admit various theological and social beliefs regarding LGBTQ+ people. While we don’t need these spaces to smother us with what they think about gay sex and marriage or LGBTQ+ inclusion in ministry, it is helpful to be honest when asked.
For example, if you hold the view that men and women should conform to specific gender roles, or if you believe that LGBTQ+ people are not fit for ministry, this might feel awkward to say outright, but if we ask you about that, you need to be completely transparent so we can find a church that can better serve us if you are unable to do so.
I have painful experiences with pastors that said they welcomed LGBTQ+ people, but offered no support when it came to including me in ministry. Being honest about policies, theology, and social ideologies saves everyone lots of heartache and rejection.
For more information on why clarity is important, check out Church Clarity.
2. Ask and Challenge Your Partners in Ministry on LGBTQ+ Inclusion.
Let’s say you’re working at a church, and your senior pastor has shown a clear disinterest in including an LGBTQ+ member in ministry, service, or basic community. Call. That. Out.
You can call this out nicely and ask probing questions about why they seem to overlook queer church members or guests, or if you have that kind of relationship, press into them and really find out why they show either a subtle or overt aversion and/or hostility to LGBTQ+ people.
This goes especially for youth workers who are not being respectful to LGBTQ+ teens. Queer youth suicide is a serious problem as they often face rejection at school and/or at home. Be the church that offers a relief from the chaos. Don’t be the chaos.
3. Remember that Your Title as Pastor Makes You an Expert on Nothing.
You might be Senior Pastor of Ignite Fellowship Community Church and you might even have your Master’s in Divinity from Prestigious Theological Seminary. These may equip you for pastoral ministry, but they do not make you master Biblical interpreters, they do not give you authoritative knowledge of human sexuality, they do not make you gatekeepers of Christian community, and they certainly do not give you license to tell LGBTQ+ people how to navigate their sexual or gender identity.
I say this because you may be tempted to believe that you will always know what is best for the LGBTQ+ people in your life, especially when it comes to living out their faith as an LGBTQ+ person. The reality is, you likely don’t and truthfully, you don’t have to. That’s not really your job, anyway.
4. Remember that LGBTQ+ People Owe You Nothing.
LGBTQ+ people are never obligated to answer your questions about LGBTQ+ people. If we do answer, consider it an opportunity to learn and not to argue your stance on anything. Even if you have a close relationship with someone who is LGBTQ+ they are not required to educate you on all things queer. The queer people around you get to choose whether they would like to teach you about their experience. Please do not expect it.
5. Remember that the Work of Being an Ally is Public and Private.
Many who want to support marginalized people grasp either the public or private nature of allyship, but few seem to remember that supporting LGBTQ+ folks involves both. It is important that pastors and churches show public support for LGBTQ+ people while also doing the private work of challenging people behind the scenes.
For example, you may be hospitable to LGBTQ+ people privately, opening your homes to the queer folks that you know and that is a good and wonderful thing. Remember also to talk publicly about how queer people are beloved. Likewise, you may speak publicly about how LGBTQ+ people should be welcomed in churches, but are you doing the private work of making sure LGBTQ+ people are actually welcome in your church by clarifying policies and holding ministerial staff accountable to their words and actions?
6. Repent of and Denounce Evils Committed Against LGBTQ+ People.
Lastly, this may seem like too big for you to tackle as an individual, but it is a relatively simple step forward.
The Church has sadly committed many evils against LGBTQ+ people, driving us away, banning us from inclusion in ministry, telling LGBTQ+ folks that we need to be “healed” of our sexual orientation and gender identities.
In light of this, a simple, yet important step to being an ally as a ministry worker is to make a practice of repentance from this type of oppression and denounce the Church’s complicity in these evils. This will let anyone who is LGBTQ+ know right away that your church or other ministry space is safe for them to inhabit.
This list just scratches the surface of how you can support LGBTQ+ people as someone in ministry. I expect that you may still have questions going forward on how best to respond.
That is okay.
The work of allyship is a process. It’s not about having all of the answers, it’s about growth and tangible change. Continue to listen, to read, to engage, and to respond accordingly. This is hard and necessary work. There are so many resources available today that can help you build awareness for how to be Christ to all people. Seek them out with an open heart.
May you carry on in love and transparency for the betterment of the Church.