It has only been a month into the year 2015 and it’s clear this year will be significant for the LGBT conversation in the church. There are many naysayers who deny the shifts are happening in the Christian LGBT conversation. They claim the church is unified in its anti-LGBT stance. Yet, slowly more and more anti-LGBT voices are realizing a stance against LGBT children of God is a stance against the Gospel.
Within a week, two large evangelical churches announced they were taking a theologically affirming stance on same-sex relationships. Pastor Ryan Meeks of Eastlake Community Church in Washington and Pastor Stan Mitchell of GracePointe in Tennessee both gave sermons announcing a change of heart.
“…Our position that these, our siblings, cannot have the full privileges of membership, but only partial membership, has changed,” Pastor Mitchell told his congregation. “Full privileges are extended now to you with the same expectations of faithfulness, sobriety, holiness, wholeness, fidelity, godliness, skill, and willingness. That is expected of all. Full membership means being able to serve in leadership and give all of your gifts and to receive all the sacraments; not only communion and baptism, but child dedication and marriage.”
If those announcements weren’t indicative of the coming year, in an interview with Christian Today, Church of England Evangelical leader Jayne Ozanne came out as a lesbian. Although formerly a vocal voice against LGBT equality, Ozanne was inspired by gay Christian theologian Vicky Beeching to come out.
“It's not about right and wrong, it's about the Gospel of Christ. For me this whole issue frankly is about understanding Scripture," Ozanne told Christian Today. "God is a God of surprises. We can never be sure of what the future may bring, but what I do know is that He will always look to transform our darkest hours into something beautiful. I'm personally thrilled to be able to serve Accepting Evangelicals during such an exciting and important time for us as a Church." Ozanne told Christian Today she came out in hopes to continue engaging with the church in the conversation on sexuality.
Despite these changes, a few aren't willing to follow suit. As reported by RNS, a group of evangelical Christians and Catholics plan to sign a manifesto condemning marriage equality as “a graver threat” than divorce or cohabitation. What is unclear is exactly why these spiritual leaders feel the need to sign this statement which only emphasizes their current stance on marriage equality. The statement only serves as a last ditch effort to be recorded on the wrong side of history. Despite this (unnecessary) signing, many are forecasting come this June, marriage equality will be the law of the land – at least in the eyes of the Supreme Court.
These changes show American Christianity has come to a breaking point. People of faith around the world can no longer ignore the LGBT community. We are coming out, and many are remaining in the pews, demanding for our humanity, and our faith, to be recognized. Many, perhaps even a majority, of Christian leaders are at the very least beginning to find ways to have respectful, Christ-like conversations across theological interpretations.
But these conversations are moot if we continue to exclude the very people affected by the current stances of our church. LGBT people must be centered in the conversations of faith and sexuality. No one knows our stories better than we do. Regardless of whether theological changes happen on same-sex relationships, churches must begin to engage those who are faithfully LGBT in order to create safe religious spaces. The time is now.
This is the time the church decides whether to answer God’s call for a more inclusive, gospel-centered church. 2014 had defining moments and it looks like in 2015 we are going to make even bigger strides.