Jesus went out of his way to connect with people whom society tended to marginalize for social, political, or economic reasons. The church, of all organizations, should be sensitive to the pains and needs of minorities, since the church has itself always been a minority in the world.
So, even if there were very few gays and lesbians among us, we would still be called upon to take the matter seriously. Wherever there is pain, and whenever the cry for justice is heard in the land, the followers of Christ are called upon to respond caringly.
It is estimated that between four percent and 10% of the population are homosexuals. Exact statistics are notoriously difficult to come by. "Some major researchers conclude that a true estimate of the incidence of homosexuality is probably not possible," says B. R. Simon Rosser in the Summer 1994 issue of Word & World.
That may be a blessing in disguise since identifiable minorities are usually more at risk of being maligned and persecuted. Suffice it to say that one can expect to find some gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered (GLBT) people in every walk of life, in every economic bracket, and in every congregation.
Within every major church denomination there are now organizations devoted specifically to the needs and concerns of homosexuals. To name only some of the more prominent, there is Dignity (Roman Catholic), Integrity (Anglican), Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists, and Lutherans Concerned/North America which has a program called Reconciling in Christ.
In every city or town one is likely to find local support groups devoted to helping queers and their families come to terms with their identity and roles. Such agencies can usually suggest qualified speakers who would be willing to answer questions and to let interested groups gain a first hand acquaintance with gay or lesbian persons. The telephone directory or the yellow pages usually contain entries under Gay and Lesbian Support Services or similar headings.
The number of printed GLBT publications is steadily growing. The Internet abounds in websites and discussion lists devoted to the spreading of relevant information and the airing of gay concerns. The list at the back of this book of websites dealing with gay issues represents only a selected sample.
"Homosexuality is not only out of the closet, it is coming right down the centre aisle and into the chancel," wrote Harold I. Haas in the April 1978 issue of Currents in Theology and Mission.
There is even an entire church body especially constituted for the purpose of proclaiming a gospel of inclusiveness. In 1983, Time reported that the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches was one of the fastest growing denominations, already numbering about 27,000 members and seeking admission into the National Council of Churches. In 2000, it had 42,000 members in 300 congregations in 16 countries and had received Official Observer status to the Seventh General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1991.
Films and videos
Films and videos can provide valuable additional opportunities for gaining insight into the phenomenon of homosexuality. There are a number of documentaries available which aim to present unbiased matter-of-fact reporting without moralizing or lecturing. A short list of useful films and videos can be found at the back of this book. Such resources allow the audience to see and hear for themselves and to draw their own conclusions. The viewing of a film or two, followed by discussion, could be the subject of an entire study session.
There is simply no substitute for meeting gays and lesbians face to face, hearing them talk about their experience, and having them respond to questions. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada has developed Caring Conversations as a model for building bridges between the gay community and the straight community.
Because this model can profitably be combined with our series of studies, it has been included as an appendix to this book. At almost any point in this study, one or more meetings can be arranged for the express purpose of listening to gays and lesbians talk about their own identity and personal growth. This can also be an opportunity to learn from them how they experience the rest of society.
What Do You Think?
At this point, it may be helpful to share our present understanding of homosexuals and homosexuality. Some participants may have personal knowledge of someone who is gay or lesbian. Rather than talking in the abstract about homosexuals, it would be informative to share some actual experiences. Stories about a relative or long-time friend whose sexual orientation had not been known for many years would be valuable. Of course, we will want to careful not to betray a friend's confidence.
How did you personally cope with the reality of your friend's status? Has the personal relationship between you changed as a result of the revelation?