As an 18 year old boy, I was subjected to forcible deliverances (exorcisms), leading to a suicide attempt, and was, for a brief time, expelled from my family because it was discovered that I am gay. The Christian communities that had nurtured us abused us and ultimately discarded us.
I read this, and my heart hurts, because I have heard (and keep hearing) one story after another like this from LGBT folks raised in connection to churches. As he writes, though he and his partner Dean were both raised in church-oriented families, they now experience "the vulnerability of connection": they're afraid of connecting to any church, for fear they'll be abused all over again, have their hearts broken again. Just as the Anglican Communion has just broken the hearts of many LGBT members, and is giving new heart to the most exclusionary, judgmental, and cruel wing of the United Methodist Church, which is intent on shoving LGBT folks away from UMC churches . . . .
He and Dean had connected to a United Methodist Church that seemed inviting, but then this happened: he started connecting to United Methodists online, and met some lovely folks. But:
I also encountered persons who characterized me, and the larger community as heretical, synonymous with pedophiles, and, generally, great sinners in the hands of an angry God. Those communicating these messages inverted the place of the abuser with the abused, and were more than willing to sacrifice mercy for the sake of the institution.
I understand, because Steve and I live in that same liminal space, safeguarding what we have in our life together when we know that many church people to whom we might connect will ultimately assault us, if we let them inside our own protected space. I understand, because so many LGBT folks and their families are forced to live this way by churches who go on and on and on about love, compassion, mercy, welcome, and inclusion, but who do not live that message, and who beat up on LGBT people as a scapegoated group representing sin incarnate.
The hard religious right in the U.S. keeps shouting that gay-affirming and gay-welcoming churches are losing members hand over fist, though the strongly anti-gay Southern Baptist community, the largest Protestant body in the U.S., is losing members, and the Catholic church, whose leaders have defined LGBT folks as intrinsically disordered and whose institutions in the U.S. fire LGBT folks right and left, is losing members more rapidly than any other religious group in the U.S.
How can Christian churches expect to continue attracting people and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to the world when they become enclaves of mean-spirited homophobes, equating the good news of the gospel with the denigration and exclusion of a targeted segment of the human community? I certainly don't see how they expect to accomplish their mission of announcing to the world the good news that God is love, as they behave this way.
But, then, I'm one of the ones they've succeeding in excluding.
The graphic is from Michael Liptka's May 2015 report for Pew Research Center about the rapid growth of religious "nones" in the U.S., particularly in the millennial generation.