Opinion: Man down - why homophobia is still rampant in the NZ Church

  • 12/09/2018

Aaron Hendry for The Spinoff

OPINION: On Friday, Chester Borrows wrote a piece for NZME extolling the virtues of Destiny Church's 'Man Up' – a support programme that works with men who come from backgrounds of violence and addiction to support them to become better men and make a positive change in their lives and their communities.

Though I have no desire to take away from the good work that 'Man Up' is doing, what struck me the most about Borrows' piece was the footnote about disagreeing with the church's teaching and stance on the gay community.

It sort of read like, "Man Up's awesome, please don't slam me for being homophobic, here's why we should ignore that little point."

Bigotry within church communities should not be a footnote to stave off criticism, especially when that footnote is at the bottom line of almost every church in this country.

Last week, it was reported that several groups within the Anglican Church were breaking with the Church after a decision by the Anglican ruling body to allow the blessing of same-sex marriages. And though some within the church – Reverend Helen Jacobi for one – argued that the church had still not gone far enough with affirming and accepting LGBTQ people, there's a sense that at least the Anglicans have started the conversation.

Rugby star Israel Folau was slammed earlier this year for a controversial comment on social media.
Rugby star Israel Folau was slammed earlier this year for a controversial comment on social media. Photo credit: Instagram / @israelfolau

Yet, for the majority of churches in this country, discrimination and prejudice is still the leading modus operandi. Of course, most Christians won't accept this, and many more won't recognize it to be true, but the reality isn't changed by ignorance.

Christians will say, 'We love all people' and 'We will accept you no matter who you are', yet what you will find is that LGBTQ people are actually still just second-class citizens within the majority of churches.

Disagree with me?

Try and name one church that would allow LGBTQ people to participate in the full life of Christian community without concern or restriction. Can LGBTQ people preach on a Sunday morning? Can they lead worship? Can they be a youth leader, or run the children's programme?

For the majority of Christian communities, the answer is no - or else it is bracketed with some clause regarding whether that person is celibate or not.

The Christian community may say that they don't discriminate against the Rainbow community, yet their actions speak so much louder than their words.

Discrimination against the LGBTQ community has become one of the defining characteristics of the Christian community. This was proven recently in a study commissioned by the Wilberforce Foundation, called Faith and Belief in Aotearoa. The study found that 36 percent of Kiwis surveyed said that Christianity's stance and teaching on homosexuality was the biggest blocker for them being interested in the Christian faith.

Results from a study conducted in March 2018.
Results from a study conducted in March 2018. Photo credit: Faith and Belief in Aotearoa

And not without good reason. Leading rugby personality Israel Folau's statements earlier this year proclaiming Hell as God's destination of choice for gay people was not only quietly supported by many Christians, but publicly defended and endorsed.

Statements like Folau's and the theology that accompanies them are proof that the Christian community has a long way to go before they can call themselves accepting and affirming of the Rainbow community.

And yet the irony of many churches' stance and treatment of LGBTQ people is that it's in stark contrast to many of Christianity's most dear and fundamental teachings.

The Jesus who Christians endeavour to serve taught the Good News that all people, no matter their sexuality, gender or race, were accepted and loved by God. The narrative of the Scriptures lends itself to a theology of inclusion and acceptance, rather than the stance of exclusion many Christian communities have adopted.

Until the Church fully embraces the Rainbow community, acknowledging their equality and God-given humanity in the sight of God, it will continue to place itself in opposition to the teachings of Jesus.

The Church has been dancing around the edges of this discussion for too long. It's time it started a dialogue around accepting and affirming the place of LGBTQ people within Christian communities.

Bigotry and discrimination are not made less damaging just because they're ignored. You can't say you love and accept someone, then turn around and take away their rights, and deny their existence.

We can do better Aotearoa.

We don't need to accept discrimination in our society, and we definitely shouldn't be accepting it in our churches.

At the end of the day, love always wins. The real question is, will the Christian community join with this movement of love and acceptance, or reject God and be left behind?

Aaron Hendry is a youth development worker in Auckland