Christian group offers apology and affirmation
Some months ago, I was invited to be part of a new ecumenical support group for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ+) people. This group of Christians are concerned about how homophobia, transphobia and other forms of fear and loathing continue to cause grief and harm to LGBTIQ+ people.
It is not just the judgementalism and prejudice shown by the extreme elements who want to “kill the fags” or “pray the gay away”, but the considered words of church leaders and many well-meaning Christians who feel sorry for sexuality and gender diverse people, who encourage them to ask forgiveness from a loving God, and who reassure them of their prayers and support “in their struggle”.
Some church people can only imagine LGBTIQ+ people as clients of the church. In their love and compassion, they fail to notice how insulting and arrogant this stance is. The same church people would not assume to cast heterosexual people as clients of the church based only on their sexual orientation. We are all in need of pastoral care from time to time because of a particular need in our lives. To assume that pastoral care is required because of person’s sexual orientation is discrimination.
This mindset perpetuates two discriminations. Firstly, LGBTIQ+ people are judged to be in need of help by virtue of who they are. Secondly, LGBTIQ+ Christians become objects of church care, rather than equal members of the baptised community. On both these counts, Christians contribute to the deep pain of exclusion and discrimination experienced by LGBTIQ+ people.
These beliefs can lead to harmful effects. Christians opposing marriage equality and the Safe Schools program often exhibit this thinking. Ideas such as that marriage equality will lead to polygamy, or that Safe Schools is mainly about promoting gender fluidity, are born of this way of thinking, and not of careful listening to the pained voices of young people trying to be themselves against the stress of cruel bullying. As one teacher said after a 13 year-old school boy suicided recently, “We didn’t know he was being bullied”. This school had not engaged in the Safe Schools program, one of the key objects of which is to train teachers in the signs of bullying abuse.
We chose the name Equal Voices for our group. This was intended to highlight that every human being should have an equal voice based on their membership of the human race. We wanted to draw attention to the danger of heteronormativity, which is the belief that heterosexuality is the only acceptable sexuality, a view promoted by some church leaders and Christians.
Equal Voices decided to begin by promoting an apology to LGBTIQ+ people. This was partly inspired by Pope Francis who encouraged Christians to take responsibility for the part played by the church in discrimination and insensitivity to gay people. Pope Francis said, “The Church must ask forgiveness … Christians must say sorry for not having accompanied them” and, “I believe that the Church not only should apologise to the person who is gay whom it has offended but has to apologise to the poor, to exploited women, to children exploited for labour; it has to ask forgiveness for having blessed many weapons.”
The Equal Voices apology to all LGBTIQ+ people who have been adversely affected by the teachings and behaviour of Christians and their churches calls for individual Christians to ask forgiveness for being too slow to acknowledge that we need to say sorry; for not speaking up against the hurtful, damaging and often violent mistreatment; for speaking about LGBTIQ+ people, without first listening to them; for not creating safe environments within our churches where people can speak openly and honestly; for not recognising that God has created us all as we are and for perpetuating the mistaken belief that non-heterosexual orientations should be treated, healed or changed, and for not acknowledging the damage such misunderstanding has wrought in people’s lives.
The apology asks Christians to make a commitment to actively include LGBTIQ+ people and to confront careless, harmful or misleading talk.
People can add their names to the apology. There was a liturgy of apology at St James Anglican church on February 24 and the launch of Equal Voices will be on April 3 at Pitt Street Uniting Church with the Hon. Michael Kirby. Details of the apology and the events can be found on the website: Equal Voices
Fr Peter Maher is parish priest of St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Newtown.