In April, an episode of Songs of Praise that I was privileged enough to be interviewed in was aired on the BBC. I was really blessed by the positive reaction and support I had around me, and there weren’t too many trolls or transphobic complaints. I expected a lot, but there were only a few. There was one bit of the interview that caused some debate in the LGBTQ+ community, though, and I wanted to talk about it. I felt that the production company, and Aled, did an amazing job, but TV interviews only allow for snapshots and soundbites, so it’s really valuable to be able to think and talk about wider questions and understandings.
Near the end of our 20 minute interview – cut to about 5 minutes in production – Aled asked how I felt about churches that disagreed with me being trans. I said that “it’s ok that different churches think different things” and that there are “some churches where I can’t feel welcome. Aled expressed his surprise, saying that “surely every church should welcome everyone”. I responded by saying that “I believe that” but that there are “less welcoming opinions” and that people have every right to hold such opinions. I stand by my comments, but I think it’s important to explain, in a more lengthy format, what I meant.
Many of those who commented felt that I said that it was ok if some churches did not welcome trans people. This really surprised me! As an autistic person, I speak pretty carefully and try to mean exactly what I say. Perhaps I sometimes struggle to foresee how things might be heard! In any case, I was very careful with my wording to say that there are some churches where I can’t feel welcome.
I strongly believe that every church should welcome everyone. Anything else is not only less than a Gospel ideal, it is an active partaking in the oppressive and divisive systems of humanity. In order to uphold the liberating message of the Gospel and reject the oppressive and divisive systems that are opposed to it, every voice must be heard and every person must be welcome; starting with the poor and the oppressed.
However, whilst some churches do, sadly, actively turn away trans people, they are in the minority. What I’ve found to be far more common and pervasive are churches that actively welcome LGBTQ+ people in and then treat them like second class citizens. These churches may be moderate-to-liberal and will be especially welcoming to married LGB couples and binary-gendered trans people. They use the language of ‘Christian men and women’ and believe in a biblical ‘ideal’ but ‘accept’ and ‘welcome’ people who don’t meet it. They might even ‘allow’ (problematic language in itself!) LGBTQ+ people to preach… as long as they don’t tell their authentic testimonies; as long as they don’t talk about being LGBTQ+. These churches are a considerable majority and I do not feel welcome in them at all.
Are these churches the perfect church? No. Is their message the gospel message? Not fully. Should they be shut down? No. Because, the thing is, welcoming everyone means welcoming everyone. It doesn’t mean agreeing with what they say or how they behave but it does mean welcoming them. And challenging them of course. And churches, and people within them, are capable of change. They are persuadable. They are the places where I, and many others, have found ways in to speak and teach about the realities of LGBTQ+ lives and ways in which churches can become more welcoming and prioritise the voices, needs and hopes of marginalised people. Gradually, such churches can become genuinely welcoming to all. Gradually, some might even speak up for LGBTQ+ people publicly and renounce their former views and behaviours. They will never be forced to do so, though, change requires grace. That, too, is a key part of the Gospel message.
Will I speak up for you if you are being oppressed or marginalised? Absolutely.
Will I help you to learn more about trans people and the oppressive idolatry of the gender binary? I would love to.
Will I demonise or avoid churches and people who are still open to learning? No. Never.