With LGBTQ inclusion currently the most talked about topic (and the most controversial one) in Christian churches across the country, I’ve been asked a lot recently by those who ARE affirming, how their church can be more inclusive of the LGBTQ community and communicate that their church is a safe place for LGBTQ people to attend. Here are 7 ways I believe your church can be more LGBTQ+ inclusive:
1. Have a Clearly Affirming Statement on Your Website.
A clearly affirming statement is the very FIRST thing I (and many others) look at to determine if a church is safe. If you want to truly include and affirm LGBTQ people, you can’t be ambiguous. Something along the lines of, “We celebrate and honor the diversity of all people regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or ability. This means that we also welcome LGBTQ+ people in all levels of participation and leadership including marriage, baptism, and ordination.” A statement like this will leave few questions unanswered and little doubt in the LGBTQ person’s mind as to where your church stands on full inclusion. The church I currently attend in Denver is one that I believe does this well. You can view their statement here. Also, make sure that your statement is either on the front page of your website or under the “About” or “Beliefs” section where it is easy to find. Searching too hard for your statement makes LGBTQ people wonder if you’re trying to hide/bury it. LGBTQ people have been hidden and dismissed for so long; they want a statement that is open so they know that they themselves can be open.
2. Register Your Church on ChurchClarity.org.
Once you have a clearly affirming statement up on your website, register your church on ChurchClarity.org. Church Clarity is an organization that evaluates churches on their LGBTQ policies and gives them a rating so that LGBTQ people and their loved ones can search for affirming churches in their area OR find the status of a church they are thinking about or already attending. You may already have a rating on Church Clarity whether you know it or not. Search for your church, and if you don’t like what you see there, submit it to be re-evaluated once you have your policies clearly outlined on your website. There’s are lots of LGBTQ people who are seeking out safe places to worship, so this is a simple way to help people know that you are a safe place for them to belong.
3. Let the Way You Value Diversity be Represented in Your Staff and Leadership.
As an inter-racial, female, gay couple where my wife is a first-generation immigrant and I live with invisible disabilities, diversity is extremely important to us. I can’t tell you how many churches I’ve gone to where they say they value diversity and affirm LGBTQ people, yet their stage is still full of white, straight, cisgender men. It ends up not feeling any different than the evangelical churches we grew up in. My wife doesn’t want to be the only person of color, nor do we want to be the token gay couple. We also (much to straight people’s surprise!) don’t want a “gay church” where only LGBTQ people attend! We simply want to be part of a beautifully diverse body of people in all their colors and abilities and backgrounds and forms of love and identity. So encouraging diversity of all kinds in your leadership not only makes for a healthier church, but will also draw in more diversity from those who attend. This may take time to attain, but it will make a difference.
4. Have Gender Neutral Restrooms.
Having gender neutral restrooms available is crucial for transgender or gender non-binary people to feel safe. If you have a small church with single stall bathrooms, there is no reason that those can’t be made gender neutral. If you are part of a larger church that currently has bathrooms with multiple stalls, then be sure to have at least one single stall restroom available that is gender neutral. It could also be made to be an accessible restroom or a family restroom. Something like using the restroom is a basic human need that most of us take for granted, yet is something that can cause great distress for those who identify outside the binary of male or female. Having gender neutral restrooms will make them feel more comfortable and safe attending your church, and will also communicate that they are valued and matter to your community.
5. Have a Free Lending Library of Supportive Resources.
It’s not uncommon for churches to have a small lending library, but filling that library up with affirming resources will help your LGBTQ members know that they are truly celebrated and supported with you. If you’re not sure where to start, here is a list of recommended reading that I have on my website.
6. Intentionally Use Inclusive Language From the Stage.
It is easy to fall into what is comfortable when it comes to language and how we talk about God and faith, but training yourself to use inclusive language will go a long way in helping your LGBTQ people feel like fully-affirmed members of your community. Instead of thinking of people as strictly male or female, think about the spectrum of gender and include people in your stories and sermon examples that may identify as intersex, transgender, or gender non-binary. Likewise, when talking about marriage, remember your same-sex couples and don’t automatically assume certain gender roles within a marriage or that all families look the same. These things may take some thought initially, but will come easier with time and will certainly make for a more inclusive community.
7. Remember Your LGBTQ People During the Holidays.
Holidays are still one of the most challenging times for LGBTQ people. Whether they’re completely estranged from their family, or perhaps they are “tolerated” rather than celebrated, it creates a lot of complicated emotions and feelings of loneliness, loss, and isolation. For big holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, consider hosting a meal where everyone who needs a place to go could come and be a part of a larger church family celebration. For smaller holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, remember that this can be an especially painful day for those that have been disowned from their families of origin. Reach out with a call or a text, or send a card in the mail to let them know that you’re thinking of them and that they’re not alone. Birthdays and anniversaries are private holidays that are typically celebrated with family, but when family isn’t there…these days become eerily quiet and lonesome. Whether you decide to reach out as staff to your LGBTQ members during these times or you decide to cultivate ownership of that within your community of those who attend the church, making this effort will go a long way in letting your LGBTQ people know that they are deeply loved and truly belong with you.
This list is certainly not an exhaustive one, but I hope it gets you thinking and provides you with some tools to make your faith community more inclusive of LGBTQ people. If you found this helpful, please share it with your own faith circles, with your pastor, or on social media. It’s obvious that we need more inclusive and affirming churches for LGBTQ people to belong and thrive in, and by spreading this around, you can each can play a part in making that a reality. Be Brave, Live Unashamed, Amber Cantorna