Can I Trust This Church?

It’s been nearly a year since I began attending my home church in Upstate New York.

When I first found this community, I was just about ready to give up on church. I felt mentally and emotionally drained from having to navigate how queer I could present in spaces that are supposed to be my spiritual home- a place I could come to knowing that I was loved, rather than having to determine if my acts of service would make me deserving of a faith community.

Eventually, I stumbled across a welcoming community that was determined to love every part of me, even the parts that are not easy to talk about within Christian faith communities, and to this day, they have faithfully walked by my side as I continue to grow in my faith and unpack my passions to be an advocate for LGBTQ+ people within Christian communities.

No community is perfect, but for me, this faith community has given me the space and time necessary to feel at home. They have earned my trust and have now become an integral part of my life.

One day, I will write more on how I found this community, but for now, I want to talk about what exactly made me trust the church I am a part of, and why I haven’t felt as comfortable in any other religious community.

Unbalanced Trust

Relationships are built on trust, and in the LGBTQ+ community’s relationship with the Church, the concept of trust is greatly emphasized out of mutual urgency, meaning both heterosexual, cisgender pastors and the queer people who find themselves in religious communities are desperately trying to figure out if the other can be trusted.

Most churches, especially those within conservative faith traditions, want to know that they can trust LGBTQ+ people to not indoctrinate their children to the queer community, and to not try and influence their congregation with any queer, liberal agenda.

For those of us queer Christians who venture into a ministerial vocation, we are often questioned on our devotion to the community and our adherence to a shared doctrine. This often manifests in high stakes, subtle ultimatums:

“You can serve here as long as you are celibate.”

“You can volunteer in ministry as long as you don’t speak about LGBTQ+ rights.”

“You are welcome as long as you don’t challenge our ideas on gender and sexuality.”

These conditions aren’t always expressed directly, but they are often communicated through double standards of what is expected from both casual attendees and those active in ministry. For example, heterosexual and cisgender church members would seldom be confronted about their sex lives during a meeting to go over membership or their ability to serve.

In many churches, the responsibility of earning trust is placed solely on the shoulders of the LGBTQ+ people who sit in their pews looking for a spiritual home. Ironically, yet not unexpectedly, this places LGBTQ+ people at a place of unrest, exhausted from having to prove ourselves to yet another Christian community just so we can feel a sense of belonging to those who share our faith.

Trust to Be Earned

Understanding this dynamic of trust and suspicion that is common in many churches, it is easy for me to reflect on why I have always felt so welcomed at the church I now call home.

The church I attend, without even intentionally doing so, flipped this tired script of trust and suspicion. Instead of asking me to earn their trust, the faith community I belong to made an effort to earn mine.

My pastor and her family have welcomed me with open arms as I am, and not for who they may have expected me to be. Everyone I have encountered within this community has treated me with dignity and respect, investing in my life without inappropriately overstepping boundaries and without asking for inappropriate information for the depth of our relationship.

What makes this church community livable for me is their honesty, hospitality, and their commitment to inclusion. I am actively encouraged to participate in ministry and to participate in the lives of the people who make up this community. My sexual identity was never made to be a factor to be considered in determining if I could be loved and trusted within a faith community. They saw me as gay, and Christian, and their friend.

Change the Culture

When thinking about whether or not a church community is going to be supportive or helpful to me, this dynamic of trust is one of the most important factors.

In a society where LGBTQ+ people have long been seen as suspicious, deviant, and detrimental for children and families, it cannot be the sole responsibility of queer people to earn the trust of faith communities when all we want to do is find a community that will hold us with honor.

The Church has wronged queer people in deeply significant ways. Part of restoring that severed relationship is to earn our trust before we make efforts to earn theirs.

If I were to have to find another church, I would look for a church community that seeks to shift harmful cultural perceptions of the marginalized through radical inclusion. I would look for a space that understands the history between the heterosexual cisgender Church and queer people, and what needs to be done in order to regain trust, and earn trust where trust has never been earned.

Each church will do this a little differently, so it may be difficult to discern whether a faith community is right for you.

At the same time, don’t feel pressured to stay in a space that has not shown up for you. Branching out and searching for that community can be exhausting, so make sure you give yourself the grace needed to search. And if you need some time, feel free to take that time. Jesus is not waving a judgmental finger, wondering why you haven’t been to church. If anything, Christ is weeping with you at the difficulty that the modern Church has created for queer people, and at the barriers that the Church has placed between the queer community and the loving arms of Christ.

But I hope for those of you searching, that you would find a space like the one I described, and that you would be welcomed with open arms free of suspicion or projected guilt. Peace be with you.

If you need help knowing if a church is right for you, here is a little guide on what it looks like for churches to be allies to the queer community. I hope this is a helpful first step in finding a faith community to call your own. If you are in the position to do so, talk to a pastor or clergy member about what it means to be an ally, and if you are not in that position, use this guide as a way to inform how you find a faith community.

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