This notice appeared in my suburb’s Facebook group.
“Last night while helping out at a soup kitchen I came across two teenagers …
15 and 16 … they had been kicked outta home
As they are gay …
They are living on park benches with very little support. … today we provided them
With back packs, clothes, blankets, some food and other items …
We are trying to get them into housing which we will start tomorrow the process … we are hoping there are real estates out there that could help us … and members that could support these young men … if any one can, could you pls contact me thank you …”
I could be very wrong, but I can’t help thinking that the motivation for families to kick LGBTIQA teens out of home might just be religious. I’ll probably never know about these two. (They have been found accommodation, according to new posts the next day)
But that recent example from my local area is a good starting point to look at the stories captured by Latrobe University’s reports Preventing Harm Promotiong Justice and ‘Healing Spiritual Harms: Supporting Recovery from LGBTQA+ Change and Suppression Practices.’ Looking into these reports allows us to see what harms might be recorded, which churches could seek to change (even, and especially, conservative churches). What are the most positive responses we can give, taking both grace and truth into account.
These reports proceed from the view that conservative religion’s teaching on LGBTQA+ is harmful, and when religion that opposes a gay-affirming outlook is in tension with a LGBTQA+ sexuality, the assumption in that case is it is religion that needs to change.
These views are the basis for the Victorian Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020, with the later report (‘Healing Spiritual Harms’) quite possibly an extension of it.
We want to look past that agenda, and see what “harms” described in the report could be positively navigated by churches. These are reports derivived from the stories of real people and they should be able to heard by Eternity readers, despite the differences we might have.
Here is how some key pressures as described in the reports.
Loss of community
‘Max’ told the researchers “… everything that I did was about God, everything was about church … so much of my 20s was just about, you know, going to church groups all the time, going to prayer meetings, going to Christian group.”
As a gay man, he has lost all those connections. Is it possible for there still to be some friendships which survive the rupture that occurs when someone in a conservative Christian community declares themselves to be LGBTIQ? It is one thing for a church to hold to its doctrine. It is another for the network of relationships top be totally broken. Are there some folk who can still keep in touch?
It seems to me that the Bible’s provisions for church discipline – which essentially revolve around access to holy communion – will no longer apply if someone has left the gathering. But why not retain friendships – if the LGBTIQ person desires it? That won’t meet what the Latrobe Report writers desire but it could help.
Can we leave “shunning” behind?
A counsellor, in private, on the experience of a LGBTIQ person in a Christian church setting: “It’s a life of being constantly bombarded with the message that you’re not right or that you’re broken or that you’re flawed. And it has all the hallmarks of someone who’s been to a war zone or something like that. It’s this constant assault on a person’s wellbeing … So I’d encourage anybody working with survivors to be really skilled in helping to treat and heal people that have post-traumatic stress disorder.”
There are 31,102 verses in the Bible of which only a tiny fraction deal with LGBTIQ issues. There seems to have been a real imbalance in this person’s experience of being part of a Christian fellowship. The argument in favour of legislation such as the Victorian Bill is the crossing of the line into coercive practice.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is the obvious “go to” Scripture here.
“I lost all my friends, David recalled: ‘I lost my job what I had thought was my career path at that point … It was an absolute wrenching of everything … I remember thinking, I feel like I’m grieving. I’m grieving for all my lost beliefs, my lost friendships … the end result … I’ve been an atheist for about 20, 25 years.'”
Extending friendship and ministry to the Davids of the world is happening in some churches. But often not enough. For those of us with conservative doctrine, we can’t be the sort of fix that the Reports writers seek in affirming communities. But we can do more.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is the obvious “go to” Scripture here. The Samaritans and Jews were religious enemies. Perhaps enemies in a culture war are religious enemies too.
David told researchers: “… He prayed over me and exorcised me of the demon of homosexuality and probably a few other demons too. But I sort of thought afterwards, ‘sorry, I don’t feel any different’ [laughs] … I think at that point he was expecting me to say, ‘Oh, I feel liberated.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t feel any different’.”
Exorcisms that don’t work. LGBTIQ persons deserve the best Christian minister, not charlatans. We need to test our doctrine against what actually happens.