There is a revolution happening in churches as more and more are experiencing a posture shift to increase family acceptance and church inclusion for LGBT/SSA people. Sadly though, even as church leadership experiences this posture shift, it does not mean all church members are going to immediately get on board.
So what happens when a church member attacks or mistreats an LGBT+ person in the church? How should church leadership respond?
It really happens
Lately, we have seen this occur multiple times all of which were sadly followed by poor church leadership response. In one instance, Liam (who is celibate and holds a traditional view of sexuality) was working in his church’s children’s ministry when a mother of a child said out loud, “I don’t want my child cared for by a fag!” Church leadership was made aware of the situation but never addressed it.
In the second example, Henry (also celibate and holding a traditional view of sexuality) was featured in a video on his church’s Facebook page when a fellow church member commented condemning him to hell for being too “feminine.” Church leadership was again made aware but only responded to tell Henry how he should act to avoid “appearing gay.”
If these two young men who hold a traditional view of sexuality are mistreated in our churches then other LGBT+ people are probably treated worse by Christians.
So what are we supposed to do in these situations?
#1 – Give Support to the Person who was Mistreated
Each situation is different, and it is important to pay attention to the details of each individual case and person, but the most important and first thing to do is privately go and support the person who was mistreated. More than anything, the person may simply need a safe place to express their feelings about the mistreatment. Also if they don’t have other sources of support and they are open to it, help them find trustworthy people in your congregation. (See Guiding Families 2 for more information on how to help build a support system for an LGBT+ person) This needs to be more than a single conversation between you. It needs to be a long-term dialogue.
The most important and first thing to do is privately go and support the person who was victimized
One mistake which many leaders fall into is trying to give the person advice on how they can avoid mistreatment. The problem is this normally ends up being received by the person similar to the message which Henry received from his church leaders. More than advice, the person needs you to listen to them (how the experience affected them) and respond with honoring questions which can help them process. They need to know that this is important to you as their pastor.
#2 – Privately speak with the person who attacked them
Next if possible without causing more controversy, it would be beneficial to talk directly with the person who attacked or mistreated them. This does not need to be confrontational. Simply talk through what happened and share with them the importance of the Christian value to love all people. Do NOT push either person to interact with the other hoping to bring reconciliation. Reconciliation can only happen when the hearts of both people are ready for it and that is not something that can be forced.
#3 – Educate your congregation to help prevent another incident
Finally, educated and emphasize to your congregation that the church values loving all people with the love of Jesus which means mistreatment and bullying of any person will not be tolerated. Love desires justice. It is important to not mention the incident which took place for the sake of the privacy of all people involved.
Love desires justice.
The best thing is to start educating your church before such an incident occurs in order to minimize the chance of it happening. Of course, no amount of education or sermons can give 100% certainty that no LGBT+ person will ever be mistreated in your church, but the earlier and more often you begin to expose the church to the topic, the less likely it is to occur.
Let’s mobilize the church to be the agent of love and justice Jesus meant it to be!
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