The following article is from an LGBTQ United Methodist who is formerly a candidate for ministry, but left that process and her affirming progressive local church. Her story serves as a witness that, even if progressives are further down the road than traditionalists, progressives have a long road ahead of them when it comes to actual “full” inclusion. Read on.
Progressive Christians: Your Love and Affirmation Do Not Absolve You
A Life of ministry
I often crept into the red-carpeted sanctuary of my church as a child, alone among endless rows of wooden pews with cushioned seats. I knelt in front of the altar and a shiny, golden cross before resting with my back on the floor, arms stretched wide as I looked up at the vaulted ceiling. The star we used on Christmas Eve hung year-round, tucked away behind the rafters and barely in sight from those rows behind me—a secret prop to wish upon when I was without company.
If only I could feel as safe I as I did then, so that I could lay there now. I have a wish–a prayer–to whisper in desperation.
As a teen, the holy spirit stirred within me as I agreed to officially join the United Methodist denomination and the thriving, local church I was raised in. Despite my teenage doubts about faith and miracles and God, I felt led to be a part of that community and the work that was happening through those people–people who wanted to do good. I actively pursued opportunities to learn about and address the problems plaguing my neighbors and throughout the world. I prayed for the understanding to put my faith to work, and my denomination’s leadership taught me how to move those passionate prayers towards action.
When I started a family, we found authenticity and affirmation within that same congregation. My spouse and I volunteered with youth, joined committees, led discussions, and accepted a variety of responsibilities for lay leaders. I was inspired by the prophetic voice of the deacon on staff–a strong advocate for speaking truth to power, unafraid to challenge the comfortable people around him to feel less settled. His mentorship convinced me that I was worthy of my call to ordained ministry.
But I walked away from that.
Our departure was abrupt and caused by a variety of complex realities, but it allowed me to pause in reflection about my family’s identity with regard to the institution and that local church. I still mourn the loss of that community and even sometimes question my decision to leave. As someone who left a liberal-leaning church, I have found it difficult to explain to the people who still attend why we will not return despite invitations. That reason is hard for many to hear.
We, the queer people impacted by the United Methodist Church, already know so many of you don’t want to boot us to the curb. We know that you love, accept, include, and affirm us. But your affirmation is not enough.
The elder at my former church was not supportive of the UMC’s decision to abandon LGBTQIA+ people by denying us access to sacraments and leadership, but his public message to his congregation still stung. It began, “My Dear Sisters and Brothers,” a greeting that alienates many of the queer people he hoped to comfort and connect with. I’m sure he didn’t mean to exclude those who aren’t affirmed by binary language, but he left them out–an act of harm that many cis, straight, white pastors and church-goers who claim to be inclusive don’t even realize they’re committing against the queer people they invite to the pews.
I see so many rainbow flags flying in defiance, in resistance. Hope-filled allies chant “All means all!” in protest of the decision they claim does not represent their communities. But so few of these people or their churches are truly seeking justice for those harmed by the oppressive system they, too, perpetuate. They yell, “There’s work to do!” without realizing the work that needs to happen is with themselves. The news has shown the clear and obvious divide between opposing faith perspectives–but some of the harm that devastates the queer community is committed by our allies, not only by those who interpret our identities as sin. The enthusiasm I’ve witnessed over the past few weeks ignores the very important work you need to do that within your own communities. This makes your response hurt just as much as the bigotry. Another queer friend explains that this response feels like the defense “Not all men!” which often detracts from #MeToo stories. That is harm–the harm you hope to avoid when you denounce more obvious hate against us.
Seeking Truly Affirming Queer Experiences
Many congregations who affirm the sacred value of queer people, approve their candidacies, and welcome them to pulpits lack accommodations and ministries that truly affirm queer experiences. Progressive Methodists, you don’t get to blame African delegates or Southern conservatives for the discrimination that occurs in your liberal churches.
If you use binary language or fail to create opportunities to share pronouns, you aren’t truly welcoming. If your overnight policies for youth don’t include affirming arrangements for nonbinary students or you still lack accessible bathrooms for people of all genders to use (without forcing them to duck into private offices or up a flight of stairs), your church is not a safe space for all people. If you aren’t helping those who face school and workplace discrimination or supporting organizations that provide shelter and resources to queer, homeless youth, you aren’t seeking justice. If you haven’t adopted liturgy for the celebration of a name or pronoun affirmation or your registration forms only offer options for mother and father, boy or girl, you should change that. If you aren’t actively engaged in trauma-informed care for those who need to heal after religious traumas and aren’t confronting the way you’ve caused harm, you aren’t doing enough to repair the damage. If you aren’t teaching through the lens of affirming theologies, you must begin. Are you listening to the queer leaders of color in the denomination who share concerns and ideas? If you are in a position of authority or power, why haven’t you stepped back while they lead important initiatives?
You can’t keep making excuses to resist change, justifying inexcusable language or behavior, and demanding we pat you on the back when you do the bare minimum instead of challenging you to do more. You must examine your own paternalism, fragility, white supremacy, ableism, patriarchy, racism, transphobia, homophobia, and countless other problematic biases directly harming the LGBTQIA+ community. A refusal to address even one aspect of those points demonstrates that even our allies aren’t ready to welcome us despite their desire to do so. Do not force the marginalized people around you to do the work you’re called to pursue: immerse yourself in the breadth of information available about these concerns. A variety of resources are free to use and available for purchase. I know you can Google.
A Call to More
I relied on my local church as a constant sanctuary through the milestones and heartaches of life. It was my home. Now that I don’t have it or a denomination to lean on, I often pray in isolation–but it’s different than when I was alone as a kid, without a sanctuary. My family joined a liberal church before there was truly a place for the people I love to be nurtured, to feel safe there—and that caused harm. You can do better.
You must use affirming language, include accommodations, and develop ministries that seek justice for the most marginalized LGBTQIA+ people before you welcome them in. Your affirmation does not absolve you from a call to the truly humble work of educating yourselves and moving towards reconciliation. It is my prayer that you embrace this role as people who claim to want to work as allies. Until you do, you are complicit in the harm. Until you do, you shouldn’t be waving those rainbow flags.
Lauren Rowello hopes to become a chaplain but has paused her membership and path towards ordination in the United Methodist Church. She is a youth worker, community leader, and activist who is especially interested in helping those who have suffered through religious trauma find healing and community.
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Yes, but… [wrong response]
Okay, but the LGBTQIA+ community has to… [wrong response]
You have to be patient… [wrong response]
Give us time to get there… [wrong response]
Noted. Working on it. I’ll do better, and I’ll work to help others do better.
Thank you, and I’m sorry.
We have to stop acting like people will automatically know what to do and what to say as societal norms change. I applaud you for letting us know how you feel and what you would like to see done differently. But taking yourself out of the equation because people just don’t automatically know to change their forms and use certain terminology is not going to help the situation for you or anyone else you speak for. It has been people who stay in the game and fight for change that see real change. Getting out and sitting back and judging those who are trying to help is not very helpful. What is helpful is being a part of the change you hope to see.
I was a part of change and movement and still am from the sidelines in other ways now that I’ve been apart from the denomination. There are tons of resources and tons of leaders who offer excellent examples on how to be truly affirming (through speech, use of our spaces, in programming, and in other ways), so I no longer accept the excuse that folks don’t know what to do as being valid. If we don’t know what to do, we should seek to learn—that means seeking resources and talking to people (both leaders who have already made changes and people in our own communities) to find out how we can address the issues.
So anything less than perfect is not good enough…?
Attitudes like this probably push more people away from the cause than bring them in.
Is there a word besides brothers and sisters I’m not aware of?
As a progressive, I didn’t find this to be very convincing at all unfortunately.
There are greetings beyond brothers and sisters and I guess you haven’t looked for them in the past because you didn’t know that more inclusive language was out there. Now that you do, you should research or even just think of other options (like neighbors, friends, beloved, etc.) and put them to use. I think you got stuck on that sentence and missed the rest of this writer’s point beyond her personal story.
I don’t think this writer is claiming that anything less than perfection is not good enough. This writer is trying to help those of us who have more work to do see where we need to grow. I’m able to continue learning and improving the ways I’m an ally (not only here but for other minority groups) because I intentionally seek to make those improvements. You can do that too by reading work by queer theologians, following marginalized voices on social media or blogs, and listening in your own community. We need to listen when ideas like this one are shared instead of getting defensive or put off by it. The writer even said that there are resources and leaders available for us to learn from. Now let’s seek them out so we know how to address the issues and correct them.
Posts like this make me think some people would rather remain angry victims than have imperfect but well-meaning allies.
I pointed out the sisters and brothers quote because it was such a horrible example – bad enough that the rest of the post could not recover from it. And it was her first and primary example!
Here is a link to the Human Rights Campaign – the #1 advocacy organization for LGBT+ people. And even they use it!
Right here in the transgender section it says:
“Transgender people come from all walks of life. We are dads and moms, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.”
This post moved the cause backwards, not forwards, in my opinion. Instead of uniting the progressives to fight the good fight, this post just divides us even further. So I guess now I am now a not-good-enough ally instead of just an ally. Disappointing.
That’s the description of a binary experience. This writer is specifically pointing to the experience of nonbinary people in the example she highlighted. She even says that. The use of binary language alienates people who are nonbinary or who are not affirmed by the use of binary language.
You seem to be feeling very attacked by this instead of realizing the need for growth. It’s okay to be imperfect. We all are! But we all need to keep learning and growing. This post reminds us to unite under the leadership of the people we hope to fight for.
“Brothers and Sisters” within the church is usually meant to communicate the close familial relationship we share as adopted children of God. While “siblings” is gender-neutral, it sounds a little clinical. And “cousins” is just a little too distant… and doesn’t fit the culture of urban and suburban environments very well. Any suggestions for terminology that conveys the same close relationship between brothers and sisters but in a non-binary way?
Thank you Lauren for sharing your story. Thank you for teaching us how we can do better. We must do better. I commit to do this. Appreciate you.
Not sure if this is a reprint from The Onion, but it would be a great satire on how carried away the PC and social justice warriors can be. The height of selfishness to be concerned (angry) about what pronoun someone uses while children starve all around the world.
Oh BTW, I notice that Pete Buttigieg announced that he would appoint a woman to be VP. How unwoke is he to be so daggone binary?!
“The height of selfishness to be concerned (angry) about what pronoun someone uses while children starve all around the world.”
Where does ‘making a snarky response’ fit against that same concern? Asking for a friend.
We’re talking about the platinum rule here – treat others as they would like to be treated. It doesn’t even take much effort to exert a little empathy, to try to take the next step into fulfilling that goal of really welcoming Others (as opposed to expecting them to meet you where you are).
I’d personally rather have someone tell me that I’m falling short than have them be upset silently. If I don’t know, I can’t change my behavior to be more welcoming. Knowing is half the battle.
If “brother” or “sister” is enough to “trigger” this author, then he/she/it is headed for a life of pathos, and that needs to be bluntly stated.
And wouldn’t the Golden Rule mandate overlooking the “mistake” of using a pronoun (as defined by the author). Didn’t Jesus confer blessings to the captors who abused, whipped, and crucified Him (sorry for the binary word)? Perhaps the author (and you) need a refresher on the Golden Rule.
Okay, I’d like someone to tell me when I’m falling short. I’ve already stated this above.
So here’s a little Golden Rule application for you, Dave.
If you are an ally of LGBTQ folks, if you are part of a Reconciling congregration and you are still annoyed at having to consider the pronouns you use and you put it back on the author to ‘buck up’, then you are falling way way short of the mark.
If you don’t fit in those categories – if you are just a ‘dude’ who wants people to shut up with the PC stuff and move along – then this comment, and the post itself, don’t apply to you. Not very Christian of you, in my opinion, but at least you don’t have to register any concern or empathy for THOSE folks. This would be falling short in an entirely different area.
Have a blessed day, Dave.
I have empathy for people who feel slighted and live in anger. Realizing that “brother and sister” are common usage words that have absolutely no negative connotations are positive steps in the direction of shedding self-doubt and anger, and living a full life in our society. That’s not “bucking up”, that’s just being a normal human being who desires freedom from self-defined pathos that can be found any where at any time.
Thanks for the blessing, and may you also live a life of not continually fearing what you have done to hurt someone.
Says the person who is outwardly offended by someone else’s pain.
P.s. – See how easy it was for me to use “person” there instead of “guy” or “dude”.
Oh My God!!!!!
I self-identify as a Dude, not just a person. How could you be so non-binary and offensive to me? I am mortified and do not know how I will make it through the day. I demand that you defer to MY wishes!
Hey Dude, see how easy this is?
It is helpful to be informed that I have been unaware of muances of language that have and continue to hurt people who I had thought I was walking and working with toward a goal of inclusion. I might have missed the mark in more ways than one, but to judge whether ignorance and carelessness are not ‘absolved’ so though we are on the path toward a common goal, we no longer walk together, strikes me as dismissive and divisive.
It is helpful to be informed that I have been unaware of nuances of language that have and continue to hurt people who I had thought I was walking and working with toward a goal of inclusion. I might have missed the mark in more ways than one, but to judge whether ignorance and carelessness are not ‘absolved’ so though we are on the path toward a common goal, we no longer walk together, strikes me as dismissive and divisive.
It is good to know that we can never be good enough. No matter how hard we try, there’s always someone we will offend. So let’s continue apologizing to the offended forever as they move the goal posts, define new ways to be offended, and then refuse to realize how ridiculous this whole thing is until the backlash hits hard.
“Stay offended, my friends.”
The privilege in the negative comments WREAKS of a self-righteous attitude that fails to even desire to see the perspective of vulnerable, marginalized people. You’re making the point that this article is talking about every time you chime in with thoughts about how terrible this other perspective is or how upset you are by it. You’re. Making. Her. Point.
Did you just use the binary pronoun “her” to describe the author?
You. Just. Proved. How. Ridiculous. The. Author. Is.
If you look up the author on social media (where we are connected), she uses her pronouns and even submitted a bio (something most bloggers require their writers to do for them) on this page using she/her pronouns. That information is there for us, so we don’t have to assume or rely on neutral pronouns in this case.
So she can use binary language but nobody else can. How convenient for her!
P. S. Kate, please do not let yourself be so easily duped by such people in the future. There are people out there who will manipulate you and try to control you using whatever means necessary. The author is using “hurt feelings” to control the most basic human function of communication. Please use your common sense and reject such tactics. Someone who uses “she”, but implodes when someone else does is inherently controlling and should seek mental help. I wish you better than that, as you sound like a good person.
I don’t even know what to say in response to your words. You seem very confused by what she’s trying to say with this post. There’s nothing wrong with using binary language when we know that people use it. She uses she pronouns, so it’s appropriate to respect that. It’s inappropriate to use binary language when there is a group of people present we aren’t sure are affirmed by binary identifiers. I can’t tell if you’re trolling this post because you’re an angry person feeling confused and isolated in the midst of people trying to pursue reasonable, important change… or if you’re just a jerk.
If someone gets angry and assigns abuse to the simple use of words that have been acceptable parts of regular speech since humans first spoke, then it simply is their choice (desire) to be angry. These micro-aggressions are simply dividing people and preventing the honest and necessary dialog that society needs. That is why I protest this column. If using such a common word as “sister” causes pain/anger, I will simply refuse to engage in conversation. And let’s be honest, if I refrain from using “sister”, then the PC police will come up with more words that they can claim to be offensive so that they feel like they are “making progress” in their social justice crusade. Could you have ever imagined 5 years ago that “sister” would be offensive?
By the way, you accuse me of “trolling” and speculate that I am “a jerk”. I am not in the least bothered by your opinion; you are entitled to it and in my opinion it only shows how little you know about me. There is a well-spoken saying “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me”. I abide by that wisdom; you the author certainly learned that as children, so please live with self-confidence and abide by those words.
I get where you are coming from, but you’ve missed the whole point and gotten yourself all worked up here.
I can think off the top of my head easily a dozen words that were used commonly in my youth that aren’t appropriate anymore. I can probably come up with another 20 that were used commonly in America 100 years ago that are completely inappropriate now.
“Could you have ever imagined 5 years ago that “sister” would be offensive?” Actually no. But now that I know that sticking to the binary terms CAN feel exclusionary, I change my language just a bit. As a simple example, going back to ‘Brothers and Sisters’, I tend to aim to use “Friends” or “Neighbors” when addressing a group (particularly in church). Also inoffensive, non-exclusionary, and if anything even friendlier. Language changes, it does all the time. Go back to the Greek, there were multiple words for ‘Love’. Each had a different meaning, different context.
But what I can tell about you, Dave, is that you aren’t interested in being an Ally or really doing what you can to make LGBTQ+ folks feel at home in your church. That’s your choice – you can be as stuck in your ways as you feel necessary. And that means that this particular article isn’t actually meant for you, because you clearly DON’T care that even the small stuff makes a difference to some people. That’s the point of view that you are putting out there.
I currently struggle with the pronoun changes, as I’ve been stuck in a binary language mode all my life. I try, I get it wrong sometimes, I miss the mark quite a bit, but I continue to effort on all of this.
You said earlier that “I have empathy for people who feel slighted and live in anger.” You might want to show some of that, for the side you are attacking – because you haven’t done so yet here.
A true ally helps another person overcome the behavior that causes them harm. Telling a person that they should accept a commonly used word that has no negative connotation by the speaker is akin to addressing an an alcoholic’s problem by taking them to an AA meeting. You on the other hand address that problem by taking them to a bar.
The idea of using an alcoholic as an example of a LGBTQ+ person is offensive in the first place. And the fact that you didn’t even consider that speaks volumes.
So I’m going to turn this in another direction. Here’s a true story.
Youth baseball. When I was growing up, we had a girl who wanted to play on the baseball team (instead of the softball team). The coach was a bit of an old school guy, and had never had a girl on his team before (I think she was the first one in the league, ever). He just figured he was going to go on about things the way he had always done them – ‘just treat her like all the other kids’.
He used ‘Boys’ all the time at first. All the time. The girl came up to him after practice, steeled herself and asked if he could not use ‘Boys’ when referring to the group, because she wasn’t a boy. It made her a little uncomfortable, and it was tough enough being the only girl on the team.
He started using ‘Guys’, as a generic term for the group. After a couple of days of that, she came back and suggested he use ‘kids’. He said he never had used ‘kids’ before when speaking to the team, does it really matter that much? It mattered to her, she said.
So he tried. He failed, slipped into old habits (particularly in games), but he really efforted here. And she saw, and she worked all the harder to be a better player.
And here’s the thing that I remember best from this – she went from being ‘just another player’ to being a great player. The following year she ended up getting all-star in the league at 2B.
You can change a little, Dave. I think you want to be a better person than you are showing here. Open your mind, open your heart a little.
Wow, you just proved my point!
Instead of taking deep offense and running away from the baseball coach (even after she tried to correct him), she instead “bucked up” and continued her career to great success and personal satisfaction. What a great story of overcoming difficulty.
On the other hand, the author took offense at a totally minor “infraction” and ran away from a church community that had otherwise brought great personal satisfaction and contributions to the truly needy in society. What a great story of capitulating to defeat.
Thanks for your help, J.R.
You missed it, Dave.
We can agree that the parallel here is the girl in my story vs the author.
You don’t seem to realize that you are the coach in this scenario.
You are hearing that your language, your attitude, your stance might not be taken well. Do you change your behavior to accommodate the person telling you that, or do you tell them to buck up and suck up?
Yup, great coaches encourage others to work hard, overcome difficulties and keep their eyes on the prize, rather than letting inconveniences like hard work and discouraging words keep them from achievement and happiness. That’s me, and I thank you for acknowledging my abilities.
I hope you and the author learn to not succumb to negativity.
Now, school’s out and you can go on your way.
I’m sorry that you aren’t willing to be better.
I would think that a Christian would WANT to be better, every day.
For me, it’s a constant effort – I fail all the time. I’m willing to acknowledge that failure, and try again.
I’m ashamed for you. And I’ll pray for you.
Cool! You pray for me, and I’ll pray for people suffering with perfectionism (like the author) and those who enable and prolong their suffering (like you).
We are not actually being an ally if we are unable to hear feedback from those we are supposedly an ally to about how we are causing harm, and unwilling to repent and move forwards in a more loving and just way. “Ally” is not a status we can achieve, it is a way of being in (Christ-centered) relationship with those who are marginalized.
Hi Krista, I’m glad you brought up the name of Christ. Jesus without a doubt affirmed the “binary” nature of human sexuality. He said:
4 He answered, “Haven’t you read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh?’ 6 So that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, don’t let man tear apart.” (Matthew 19:4-6 WEB)
Jesus didn’t correct what Genesis says about God creating male and female. I understand that the context of these verses is the matter of divorce. Still, if Jesus believed that there were other categories than male and female, wouldn’t he have corrected what he quoted from Genesis?
Concern for the feelings of others can be appropriate at times. But to say that to speak the truth about a person being male or female is hurtful is not appropriate concern for others. Denying reality is not an act of love. Asking other people to deny reality is not an act of love. Denying a God-created-reality does not make one an ally of Jesus; it puts one in opposition to him.
I think you hit the nail on the head, Krista! Thanks for bringing this up. Donald, I think you’re preaching to people with fundamentally different beliefs on this thread.
Yes, I realized that.
But Jesus went on in Matthew 19 to talk about people who were born Eunuchs. That is, born neither male nor female.
Jesus used binary pronouns.
I’d thought “born eunuchs” were chromosomally male. No? (Not that first-century genetics was an advanced science, but weren’t “born eunuchs” at least culturally understood to have male physical form, apart from their genitalia?) From other comments I know your knowledge of koine Greek is far superior to mine; perhaps you’d know if there are lexicons that tie eunouchos to androgyne, hermaphrodyte, or another term roughly translated as intersex.
So you believe that people born eunuchs because of a genetic defect constitute a third sex?