Queerness and theology do not always play well together. Ever since the word “homosexual” entered the English-language Bible (1946, RSV,) many of our own local, western Christian groups have been working hard to exclude LGBTQ+ folks from the family of God. This intentional exclusion and constant discrimination has resulted in high rates of suicide and suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, substance use, chronic stress, and general mistrust of religious institutions. No Christian space is exempt from this legacy, and we must all learn to do better.
It is with this legacy in mind, that Grebel’s Master of Theological Studies program, in collaboration with Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, offered a ministry forum on pastoral care for LGBTQ+ people. Hosted by Carol Penner, speakers Pieter Niemeyer and Steph Chandler-Burns challenged students and pastors to hold a posture of curiosity
around how our own experiences and contexts may affect our ability to provide pastoral care. They asked questions like: What emotions do I and the person that I am caring for bring into the space? What do I need to learn in order to respond well on the day that a parishioner comes out to me? Is the space or church that I am in safe for LGBTQ+ folks or do the limits of my skillset and the church’s theology mean that referral to other professionals and spaces are more appropriate? Who do I assume is an agent of God? Who can receive God’s mercy?
Attendees of the forum came to understand that regardless of our own theologies surrounding sexuality, we can expect that there will be LGBTQ+ people who grow up in our churches and that pastors should seek to do no harm. We were urged to create places of safety and freedom where people can explore their deepest truths, even if this disagrees with our own thinking. This is not to say that every church must become affirming, but being up-front and clear about the institution’s theological stance is, itself, an expression of ‘do no harm.’
As current and emerging pastors, we were encouraged to educate ourselves so that we are prepared to engage well with people who are different from us. Knowing the basics of what each letter in the LGBTQ+ acronym means, reading queer autobiographies and queer theologians, and learning to use language in an expansive and inclusive way are expressions of love. Questioning our assumptions and listening carefully to voices that are different from our own are acts of love.
This not just a case of being kind to outcasts – LGBTQ+ people have many specific gifts to offer to the church and we, the church, will only become more vibrant, more reflective of the image of God when we learn to nurture and appreciate voices from the margins.
by Joya van der Meulen, MTS student at Grebel