LGBTQ and the Church: Embracing Your Sexual Identity

Mark Yarhouse shares that “In one letter, Henry writes to a woman who was critical of Nouwen for not ‘taking the correct approach to healing himself’ (p. 188)…Your statement that my visions of God is askew, that the emotional imagery of my heart is also askew and I simply need to become available for healing, feels really quite distant and makes me feel somewhat condemned. It simply sounded like: ‘You know there must be other healing available for you; why don’t you get your act together and accept the healing that is there for you.’ If you had any idea of what I have been struggling with over the past eight months and how I have been trying to really enter into the furnace of God’s love and give up everything else in order to really let God heal me, you probably never would have written these words. (p. 188-189)” (Yarhouse, M., July 15, 2017, “How Nouwen responded to criticism of his celibacy”)

In Irene Cho’s article, she reports that The Marin Foundation research had explored spiritual and religious acculturation within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community and found that 86% of gays and lesbians were raised in the church and 73% of LGBT people left the church when they came out. Ms. Cho wrote, “When asked why they left the church, here’s what the research revealed: 17% the church’s stance on homosexuality; 16% religion is distrustful, deceitful, and hypocritical; 15% no interested in attending church; 12% disagree with general religious doctrine apart from homosexuality; and 10% do not believe in God or higher power. When asked what would influence them to return to the church, respondents indicated the following: 62% nothing; 18% patient and time; 7% religious community showing a non-judgmental environment; 2% support of family/friends; 2% feeling God’s love; and 1% if they were able to understand the teachings.” (Cho, I., “I think I’m gay: Having a healthy dialogue with kids who struggle with sexual orientation”)

What are some of the struggles that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) adolescents and adults experience when it comes to sexual identity and the church?

  • Questioning if God made a mistake

  • Fear of being outcasted from family, community, and church

  • Feeling alone and isolated with his/her secret about their sexual identity

  • Shame and guilt associated with the discomfort about one’s sexual identity which brings about symptoms of depression and anxiety

So, how does one embrace their sexual identity? In Psychology Today’s article “Religion and acceptance of gays,” Dr. LaSala shared some tips that he had gleaned from people that he had encountered with, who shared their struggles with their religious belief and their sexual identity. (LaSala, M.C., Ph.D., LCSW, Nov 21, 2011, “Religion and acceptance of gays…”) Here is some additional information to help you manage and cope with your sexual identity within your religious community. 

LGBTQ managing sexual identity and keeping the faith:

  • If one feels shame and persecution within their church, he/she may want to consider leaving that church. If one chooses to leave the church, one might experience spiritual emptiness as well as feelings of loneliness and isolation from family, friends, and community. 

  • Consider looking for a new Christian or religious community. A community that is loving, accepting, non-judgmental, compassionate, and empathic. A community that shares in the same thoughts and feelings as you. 

  • Recognizing that spiritual fulfillment is not the same as one’s religious orientation. Dr. John Morton states that “spiritual fulfillment means the realization of your true self – of who you are…” and “that realization is an inner experience in which you know that you are not only just enough but you are always more than enough. That means there’s nothing that exists or is in your life that can ever stop you from your spiritual fulfillment” (Morton, J., DSS, August 11, 2008, “What is meant by spiritual fulfillment”)

LGBTQ coping with sexual identity in the church:

  • Keep a journal to help you identify any self-defeating automatic thoughts, such as dwelling exclusively on a negative detail, labeling, making yourself personally responsible for things entirely out of your control, and/or self-blaming.

  • Seek to challenge the idea that indicates that one’s sexual identity is not a moral choice but an aspect of one’s identity. Mark Yarhouse states that “sexual identity refers to the labeling that occurs when a person designates themselves as gay, straight or bi…” and he goes on to say, “this fascination with labeling is an interesting development as sexual minorities; they are numerically in the minority by virtue of a formed identity associated with their experience of same-sex attraction.” (pg. 11) (Yarhouse, M.A., “A Christian perspective on sexual identity”)

  • Connect with someone within your Christian community with whom you trust and feel safe with, to talk about your sexual identity. Someone who is able to provide compassion and empathy. 

LGBTQ coming out and valuing one’s sexual identity:

  • Think of the time, place, and a person you feel would be supportive, compassionate, and empathic, when you’re ready to come out.

  • Prepare yourself for initial shock or negative reaction. Provide that person the space to process the information shared with them. If their reaction is not what you had hoped for, just remember that what you shared is not evidence that you lack worth or value.

  • If you have close friends whom you have already shared your sexual identity with, let them know about your plans on coming out to family and/or community. Arrange a time to talk with those friends afterwards, about your experience. Find those you can trust, who can be with you in the midst of hurt, disappointment, anger, and/or sadness.

  • Seek support and resources available to you.

I work with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ):

  • I provide a safe, caring, and nonjudgmental space for LGBTQ individuals to explore his/her sexual identity.

  • I provide a space that facilitates one’s self-exploration, self-understanding, self-esteem, and self-acceptance.

  • I help LGBTQ individuals to sort and organize his/her confusing thoughts and feelings around sexual identity and his/her religious beliefs..

Henri Nouwen states, “Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken…” and he goes on to say, “those who can sit in silence with their fellowman, not knowing what to say but knowing that they should be there, can bring new life in a dying heart.” (Nouwen, H., December 2, 2003, “The way of the heart”) 

Compassion involves being curious about the person’s narrative. It seeks to understand, to unpack the narrative, to allow a person’s background and experience to “thicken the plot” in their life. Empathy is seeing the person’s narrative through their eyes. I provide a safe space for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) to talk and explore his/her sexual identity in a safe, compassionate, and empathic environment.   

Bekke Abe