This is a follow-up to last month’s essay entitled, “An Open Letter to the Curious Christian: A call for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church.” If you haven’t read that one yet, you might want to start there.

There are essentially two beliefs when it comes to LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church. They’re typically referred to as Side A: those who are affirming, and Side B: those who hold the more traditional view of marriage as between one man and one woman. There are people who I love on both sides, and in general, those I know who hold the traditional view do so because they deeply desire to honor the scriptures. I just happen to think you can honor scripture and hold an affirming view too; many scholarly Christians do. As I mentioned in my last article, it’s a matter of interpretation, and I tend to gravitate toward texts of welcome.

Regardless of where churches stand on this issue, I think most gay people and allies would agree that clarity is kind. They want to know up front where they stand in any given congregation. They may be welcome, but can they truly belong?


Welcoming versus Belonging

We must be careful not to confuse welcoming with belonging. Many churches will say they are “welcoming” of the LGBTQ+ community. Sure, they can come to our worship services and potlucks, they can drink our coffee and eat our pizza, they can put a tithe in the offering plate. “Welcoming” sounds really, really good. Loving even. But welcoming is not the same as belonging. When you “belong,” you are accepted and loved for who you are, your gifts (including leadership gifts) are valued, and you have equal voice within the community. There is a big difference. No one wants to invest in a church community only to be turned away from membership down the road. Members have a voice within the church, and they help make significant decisions that help govern the church. In many evangelical/non-denominational spaces, this is an important aspect of church life that LGBTQ+ people are not invited into.


“True belonging never asks us to change who we are. It demands that we be who we are.”
-Brené Brown


Are churches intentionally unclear?

The answer is yes. And no.


Many mainline churches have been open and affirming of our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters for a long time. They’ll likely have a welcoming message on their website, or on their sign board just outside their church. You may find a pride flag on their property, beckoning people to come as they are, a symbol of a safe, inclusive space.


My church experiences have largely been in evangelical/non-denominational spaces, and I will tell you that the vast majority of them are not affirming of LGBTQ+ folks. To be fair, some churches are forthcoming about their polices. I may not agree with their theology, but I appreciate knowing where they stand. In my opinion, these churches do less harm because the message is clear, and people can then choose whether or not they want to worship in that community.


In my experience, the churches that are most harmful are the ones who are not transparent. And that lack of clarity seems to be intentional.


🤔 Perhaps they don’t want to appear unloving, so they hide behind the mantra that “All are welcome.” True, but not true entirely. Remember, welcoming does not equal belonging.
🤔 Perhaps in a changing world they don’t want to appear discriminatory. According to a report by PRRI, Americans’ support for LGBTQ+ rights is higher than ever.
🤔 Perhaps they want to maintain the unity of the church, so they avoid the conversation entirely. They take the “nothing to see here” approach until someone starts asking questions. This is a false peace.
🤔 Perhaps they don’t want to see congregants leaving over hotly debated theology because the income of the church is tied to the number of people who attend.
🤔 Perhaps they’re not sure about, or can’t agree on, how to interpret the scriptures. Maybe they’re going through a season of discernment.🤔 Perhaps they hope that LGBTQ+ people will be transformed according to *their* ways, which are too often confused with God’s ways.


These churches will have no statement on their website. If they are a part of a denomination, these unspoken policies may be handed down to them – but sometimes they are made unilaterally by pastoral staff, even in a congregational model of governance. These churches usually appear to be modern and more progressive, but their theology is often quite conservative. Their unofficial policies are often not revealed until someone desires to become a member. By this time, people are already committed to the community. They’ve been attending, giving financially, volunteering, participating in church events – they are welcomed in and then turned away. This is referred to as the “bait and switch,” and it is incredibly harmful.

⚠️ This applies to families too – some people have invested their lives in the church and raised their families in the same community for years. Then, when their child is brave enough to come out, parents understandably have questions regarding how their child will be received in the church. This is when the truth is often revealed. Even if sexual ethics are never preached from the pulpit, silence speaks. And our youth are receiving the message: Same-sex couples don’t exist here. LGBTQ+ people aren’t celebrated here. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is the M.O. here. Families inevitably leave, never to be heard from again. I’ve talked to so many parents who have had this experience. It is incredibly hurtful.


It doesn’t have to be this way.


“The moment we Christians think we have all the right answers for
another person, for a group of people, or for an entire nation, that’s when we know
we’ve not only begun to confuse worshiping God as being God ourselves
but we’ve also confused controlling others as loving them.”
-Rev. Benjamin Cremer (@Brcremer)


So. How can we tell if a church is affirming or not?

Look at their website: Documentation is not always easily accessible on a church website. You might have to dig around a bit, but you may find a statement about marriage, usually in the “statement of faith” or the “what we believe” sections. Some churches might offer subtle hints, like a book recommendation that encourages a life of celibacy for gay Christians.
Ask the Pastor or someone in church leadership, but you must be specific. Move beyond the question of, “Does your church welcome LGBTQ+ people?” The answer will always be, “Yes, all are welcome.”
Ask specific ‘yes or no’ questions, like: 


➡️ Can LGBTQ+ folks participate fully in the life of the church?
➡️ Can they become members?
➡️ Can they serve in leadership positions?
➡️ Would the pastoral staff marry same-sex couples?
➡️ Would you hire a gay pastor or staff person?


Check the denomination of the church, or the denomination of which the pastor is ordained. Most denominations will have a statement regarding marriage, even if individual churches don’t.

Enlist the help of other online resources:


➡️ At you can enter your zip code and find an affirming church near you.
➡️ Church Clarity believes that transparency is reasonable and necessary. Churches in their database are rated from most clear (verified clear) to least clear (undisclosed), as it pertains to their women in leadership and LGBTQ+ policies. Churches who are affirming will want to be “verified clear.”


As allies in the church, what can we do?

I suspect some of us are sitting in our church pews, not knowing what the policies are regarding LGBTQ+ inclusion in our congregations, because it is never discussed. So I encourage Christians to get the conversation started: around your dinner tables, in your circle of friends, in your church communities and with church leadership.


The way I see it, there are three options for allies in the Church:


  1. We stay, and say/do nothing. This is quietly consenting to the harmful, non-affirming theology of the church. This was no longer an option for me.

  1. We stay, and we advocate for change. This is the hard, but important work. And it’s scary, because ultimately you’ll be stepping outside the clearly defined lines established by the church. It will not be comfortable, and you may be perceived as disruptive, but that’s just part of the painful process of advocacy. As Jeff Chu says, “We wait patiently, but not passively.” It begins by educating ourselves, which really is an ongoing process. Then we have conversations with anyone in our church community who will listen. Meet people for coffee, start a book club and explore some resources together, talk to our pastors and other church leadership. Perhaps advocate for a church-wide conversation, one that centers LGBTQ+ voices. Be persistent. Church culture will only change if enough people express their concerns and desire for inclusion. Maybe it will mean stepping out of church membership in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ siblings. Maybe it will mean not giving financially to an institution that continues to discriminate against an entire group of people – and giving more to other churches or organizations that align with our values. We could stay in this space for a while – this can be holy work, but it can also be exhausting because change is s..l..o..w….💀

“I can’t begrudge those who want to stay evangelical and work for change,
but I hope to remind them of just how resistant evangelicalism is to change.
Efforts to reform evangelicalism spanning a century have almost always failed
and have typically been met with overwhelming backlash.”
-Issac Sharp

  1. I firmly believe that some people are meant to stay. We need allies in the church working for change from the inside. But sometimes, it’s time to shake the dust off our feet and move on. Sometimes our work there is done. Sometimes our outsides don’t match our insides, and we can no longer hold the tension. Sometimes, we’ve transformed so much that we just don’t fit anymore – like new wine busting out of old wineskins. Sometimes God is calling us to something else, something new. Sometimes it’s just time to go. This too, can be holy work.

✍🏽 Here’s an additional action step: Send a letter of encouragement and financial support to a church that has made the shift to inclusion. I’m not insensitive to the fact that there’s a lot on the line here for pastors. Conservative evangelicals are often very faithful tithers,

and these churches pay the price financially when members choose to leave. Towne View Baptist Church in GA comes to mind, but even most recently there are other churches who have been ousted from their denominations because they choose to truly welcome all. Consider sending just a simple note that reads, “You give us hope,” along with a donation.


In time, I think the church will come around on this issue. I think in order to survive, it will have to. I suppose time will tell. In general, we’re already seeing a mass exodus in America’s churches, for a variety of reasons. Research shows the evangelical landscape in the US is shrinking, down from 23% of the population in 2006 to 14.5% in 2020. You can read this article about why some people are stepping away from Christianity. Among younger evangelicals in particular, the church’s views on sexuality seem to be one of the bigger reasons why they are leaving their pews. In my wanderings, I find that most people aren’t actually leaving Christianity. Their faith was never confined to a church building on Sundays. Their faith is much bigger than that; they cannot separate themselves from God. In fact, many people who wander in the wilderness grow deeper in their faith, and that has been true of my experience. So I am not advocating that people step away from Christianity entirely, though some do, and I don’t fault them for that. I am advocating for change.

As loving Christians, we must view belonging through the lens of the marginalized group. When LGBTQ+ Christians tell us that they have been harmed by non-affirming theology, the church’s silence, efforts to change them, and “bait and switch” tactics, we have to believe them. These are people who want to belong in a faith community, in *their* faith communities, who have been met with barriers to belonging. It’s wrong. (Luke 11:52)


But we have a voice. Please don’t forget we have a voice. We can literally use it to advocate for change for the marginalized among us – or, we can speak with our actions by no longer participating in institutions that cause harm. We have the power to change church culture by encouraging churches to become inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community, or by insisting that they are at least clear about their policies. And after all that, if you don’t have a friend left in the world, you have me. And thousands of other Christians roaming around in the wilderness. I promise it feels more loving, and diverse, and free out here.


And all are welcome.