LGBTQ+ Where do we stand?
YOU DESERVE A CLEAR ANSWER…
When asked if they are inclusive and affirming to LGBTQ+ individuals, couples, and families, too many churches refuse to give a clear answer. This section of our site should answer any questions you might have, both practical and spiritual, about Saint Anna’s beliefs about LGBTQ inclusion in the church. But it will start with the most important one…
Q: IS YOUR CHURCH AFFIRMING OF LGBTQ+ PEOPLE?
Saint Anna’s is fully affirming of all LGBTQ+ people. We believe that everyone is a beloved child of God, deserving of dignity and respect. Everyone is welcome and included in our church because we believe that the Kingdom of God contains a vast multitude and diversity of persons, identities, and orientations. LGBTQ+ individuals and families are welcomed into the full sacramental life and worship of the church and encouraged to participate in leadership, ministry, and service at all levels.
Q: AS AN LGBTQ+ PERSON, CAN MY FAMILY & I RECEIVE THE SACRAMENTS?
As Episcopalians, we believe that the church’s sacraments are gifts from God and a means of grace. This means that the benefit of and participation in the sacraments is up to God and the traditions of God’s Church. This means that LGBTQ+ people are treated in the same way regarding the sacraments as anyone else. Part of our tradition means that some sacraments have traditional requirements before they can be participated in; others have teaching components in place by the church to help people understand the sacraments more. However, these requirements are equal across the board, regardless of gender, orientation, or marital status. The requirements include, but are not limited to:
- BAPTISM – At least one parent & one godparent must be baptized. If you wish to have your child baptized but are not baptized, both parents & children may be baptized at the same time. We recognize that it may be difficult to select a godparent for your child if you are new to the Christian faith or new to our tradition, or if you don’t have supportive family and friends. We are honored to connect you to a seasoned member of our parish to serve as a godparent for you/your child if that is the case.
- COMMUNION – All baptized Christians (any tradition) may participate in Communion.
- MARRIAGE – Marriage is open to all legally marriable adults, including LGBTQ+ couples. There may be further requirements if either person seeking marriage is previously divorced (proof of divorce decree and bishop’s permission required by canon law). All couples must complete pre-marital counseling with our priest, or alternatively with a mental health professional of their choice.
- OTHER RITES (Confession, Unction, Confirmation, Ordination) – All of these sacraments are open to all LGBTQ+ people in the church after fulfilling various requirements set forth by the church, diocese, or denomination. The requirements of LGBTQ+ people are the same as those outside of the LGBTQ+ community.
Q: WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR A CHURCH TO BE AFFIRMING?
WE AFFIRM THE GIFTS, PRESENCE & LEADERSHIP LGBTQ+ PEOPLE BRING TO THE CHURCH & KINGDOM OF GOD.
We believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ radically includes everyone into the saving work of God, not by our faithfulness or obedience, but by Christ’s. By and through his perfect life, death, and resurrection, Jesus Christ fulfilled God’s plan of salvation for the whole world, perfectly fulfilling the law, and setting those whom he calls free to love God and love their neighbor. In this calling, Jesus offers to all the forgiveness of their sins, eternal salvation, justification before God, and the promise of sanctification through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
And yet, it also means so much more. For Christians, the Gospel of Christ eases all distinction and hierarchy among people. As St. Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians (3:23-27):
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore, the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
In Christ Jesus, we have all become children of God, given the righteousness of Christ, and are being transformed ever more into the likeness of Christ by the inspiration and work of the Holy Spirit. This means that EVERYONE is included in the church!
But more than that, not only is everyone included, but the church NEEDS everyone. In his Revelation, St. John of Patmos has this vision of the Church in Glory (7:9-10):
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
John’s vision of the Great Multitude is a clear sign that the full reconciliation of God will include all people, encompassing people of all genders, identities, orientations, races, and heritages. That means that for the church of today to look like the Church Triumphant, we also must include—and benefit from—the gifts, talents, leadership, ideas, experiences, and faith of that multitude.
For the church to be the Church, we must affirm the full participation of LGBTQ+ people in the life of the church, because, without them, we do not represent the fullest expression of God’s reconciling work in history.
Q: I COME FROM A TRADITION THAT WAS NOT AFFIRMING OF LGBTQ+ PEOPLE. CAN YOU HELP ME UNDERSTAND HOW YOU CAME TO YOUR BELIEFS?
Here is where we start in our understanding of inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQ+ persons in the church. This is not a full answer, but a place to start:
THE END OF THE LAW & INCLUSION
For Christians, the clearest and most important argument in support of affirming LGBTQ+ persons, relationships, and identities are the work accomplished by Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says (5:17-18):
[Jesus said] “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.
As Christians, we understand that Jesus Christ, in his perfect life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection, has fulfilled God’s plan for the salvation and redemption of the world. The Law and Covenant were given to Moses, and the initial promises made to Adam, Noah, and Abraham, find their completion in the finished work of Christ. St. Paul explains it like this in his letter to the Ephesians (2:15-19):
He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So, he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So, then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God…
Christians understand that in Jesus we have been set free from the demand of the Law, and we affirm that we could only be saved by outside help. What that saving work accomplishes is freedom. Freedom to love God and our neighbor; freedom to include everyone in the family of God; freedom to erase all distinction between people; and freedom to see every human being as Christ sees us—loved, forgiven, valuable, deserving of dignity and respect, and included in God’s saving plan for the whole world.
Functionally this can be seen in the Acts of the Apostles with the inclusion of the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40)—a sexual and cultural minority, and one of the first Gentiles included in the new church—and in the broader inclusion of Gentiles into the church following St. Peter’s dream where he hears God say, “That which I have called clean you shall not call profane” (Acts 10 &11).
As Christian, we hold to a radical promise of inclusion and love brought to us through the faithfulness, righteousness, and obedience of Christ. Or, to put it in another way, “We love, because [Christ] first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
SAMENESS & UNITY IN RELATIONSHIPS
The words of Genesis are often quoted to make the case against affirming LGBTQ+ people and their relationship. Jesus quotes a very specific passage from Genesis, and his words get used to that end (2:23-24) (Matthew 19:5):
Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.”
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Now the argument that typically gets made from these verses is about the difference between Adam and Eve—their “complementary” nature. However, the text offers a very different story. After examining all of the creatures on the earth, and finding no partner, God notes that it is “not good for [Adam] to be alone” (Gen 2:18a). Note, this is the first time in the Genesis story we find that something is “not good” or incomplete. The thing that is missing for Adam is a suitable partner—someone who is the same, a match for him. When God creates Eve from Adam, God creates a pair who are matched because of their sameness. It’s not that their biology or anatomy fit together, but that Adam and Eve are of the same type. They are meant for relationships with one another because, at last, Adam finds someone like himself.
When Adam exclaims, “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,” words that get used in our wedding ceremony, what Adam is identifying is a partner who is like him, not compatible with him, but like him in such a way as to make a relationship possible. We might be in very committed relationships with our pets, but they are part-in-parcel, wholly different relationships.
People are meant for relationships—relationships that help them grow more closely together and more closely to God. From fellowship, to friendship, to mentorship, to parenting, to marriage, there are many types of relationships to which one may or may not feel called. The reason we as a church can affirm LGBTQ+ relationships and marriages is that the central unifying factor of Adam and Eve was not their anatomy or biology but their ability to be in, sustain, and cling to a relationship with one another.
Historically, Anglicans have long upheld the central importance of the “unitive function” of marriage. When drafting the first wedding ceremony for the new Church of England, Thomas Cranmer added language to the service, for the first time, that recognized the importance and significance of love, mutual affection, and growth within a relationship. Our wedding service says the following; note how “heart” and “mutual joy” come first:
The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity… (Book of Common Prayer 1979, p. 423)
We support LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church, and specifically LGBTQ+ relationships and marriages because God created us to be in committed, mutually beneficial, and supportive relationships with people who feel called to such relationships. We affirm, as God does in Genesis, that “it is not good” for people “to be alone.”
SHIFTING CULTURAL CONTEXT
Much of the modern biblical argument made against LGBTQ+ inclusion and affirmation in the church comes from an incomplete reading of scripture. We believe not that Scripture is wrong in what it says, but that for modern readers, so far removed from the original context of the text, what might appear at first glance as obvious statements about LGBTQ+ persons and relationships are, in fact, not obvious at all.
Before we get into the text, it is important to note two things. First, a modern conception of “sexual identity” is completely absent from Scripture. Sex and sexuality were not something that defined a person or their identity but was ancillary to it. The assumption in all of Scripture is that human attraction and sexuality are malleable—neither innate nor fixed, but shifting. Second, most of the conversation around same-sex activity in Scripture, and the injunctions against it, are linked to the patriarchal cultural demands and expectations of society. Many of the verses used to denigrate and exclude LGBTQ+ people from the church were initially intended to solidify and bolster culturally accepted (at the time) gender roles between men and women, seeing same-sex activity as a rejection of this cultural norm. In sum, scripture never speaks about LGBTQ+ persons or relationships as we experience, know, and understand them today.
We will briefly discuss five oft-used verses and explain how a deeper contextual reading of the text reveals both the inaccuracy of the modern interpretation and a more faithful reading of the original.
- Sodom & Gomorrah (Genesis 19) – Despite the colloquial link between this story and an associated word, the story from Genesis is not about LGBTQ+ persons, but about specific acts meant to harm, shame, and violate visitors to a city. The judgment against Sodom & Gomorrah is against their violence and attempted rape of visitors. This story has nothing to do with loving relationships between LGBTQ+ persons.
- Abomination (Leviticus 20:13) – We’ve seen the signs outside of sporting events, but what does this rule in Leviticus really mean? Specifically, this section of the Law refers to ways that humans “degrade” themselves through sinful lust. This verse assumes that an act between men is not one of “mutual joy” and “unity,” but about domination and offending gender roles of the time. Engaging in activity with like partners was seen to degrade both, as it forced people out of their culturally assigned gender roles, to their societal detriment. Furthermore, this passage serves to uphold a culture of patriarchy that today we reject as a church and as a wider society, because it imagines that one of the worst things a man can do to another man is to treat him like a woman.
- Lust (Romans 1:24-27) – Paul uses this example for a number of reasons. Like the above, the issue at hand is patriarchy. However, more is going on here than that. The 1st century saw same-sex acts (note: not relationships) as an excess of lust. Sexuality not being fixed, for people to expand their appetites beyond what was culturally acceptable was a sign of excessive lust. More than that, the most common vehicles for such sexual activity were cultic, temple prostitution, pederasty, and the rape of slaves. Not only is Paul not talking about committed, monogamous LGBTQ+ relationships, but he is also criticizing violent, patriarchal abuses of vulnerable people by others abusing their power to pursue their own lust and pleasure.
- Patriarchy/Toxic Masculinity & Trafficking (1 Corinthians 6:9–11; 1 Timothy 1:8–11) – In both 1 Corinthians & 1 Timothy, Paul uses the novel word arsenokoitai, meaning literally “male-bed.” Paul is probably the first to use this phrase and its usage disappears quickly after its first appearance in his letters. In 1 Corinthians, it is coupled with the term malakos, which means “soft” or “effeminate.” As the words appear in lists of sins to avoid, their meaning is unclear. Some have suggested that it means “homosexuality,” but as noted above, there is no first century understanding of modern sexual identity. Likely, Paul is referencing two things in this passage: (1) men whose passions make them easily susceptible to control (especially by women) and (2) male prostitution or pederasty. In both cases, the injunction is not against persons who are LGBTQ+, but those who don’t conform to the gendered norms of the day, as well as, those who would use/abuse others for their own satisfaction. Note, both of these terms reflect the patriarchal bias of the first century, as well as, what we might describe as “toxic masculinity,” or a gendered understanding of masculinity that holds as its opposite femininity. These verses are not talking about LGBTQ+ persons, but men who—either by their actions or their lusts—stand outside of first-century gender norms or, who in a form of hyper-masculinity, use their locus of power to abuse others (specifically men/boys). The difficulty of these texts are easily explained by the same information offered above. However, to be clear, these texts are not talking about LGBTQ+ persons or relationships as we understand them today.
This is not an exhaustive look at passages in the Bible, but this information is meant to provide a starting point for discussion. Modern, LGBTQ+ identities and relationships are totally absent from Scripture. Although some verses seem to say specific things about LGBTQ+ persons and relationships, they are most often talking about cultural norms at the time, the upholding of traditional gender roles and patriarchy, and the abuse of those most vulnerable in pursuit of one’s own lusts and appetites.
Q: WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS?
HERE ARE SOME HELPFUL PLACES TO CONTINUE!
We understand that for many Christians the process of becoming open and affirming is a journey not easily traveled. As an open and affirming congregation, we strive to make sure that Saint Anna’s is a safe space for LGBTQ+ Christians; however, we also hope to be a church that supports and walks beside people on their journey to be open and affirming. Our highest priority is the safety of those with whom God has entrusted us, but we also want to help others in their travels.
Below are some resources that can help you in your journey. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a place to start. Know that we are praying for you as you wrestle with these difficult questions and that we are here to love you along the way:
- God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines
- Shameless: A Sexual Reformation by Nadia Bolz-Webber
- Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians by Austin Hartke
- Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life & Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity by Elizabeth Edman (website)
- An excellent list of resources from “Queer Grace” Blog