Why the Uniting Church should be louder about its LGBTIQ inclusion

I know what you’re thinking. I’m going to pontificate about the wideness of God’s love and our responsibility to share the good news of God’s unconditional acceptance with people who feel excluded from most churches. But you’d be wrong. I say that sort of thing all the time. This is about what really matters. This is about getting bums on pews. There is evidence to suggest that being louder about the fact that the Uniting Church unconditionally welcomes LGBTIQ people as members, ordains LGBTIQ people as ministers, and allows same-sex couples to be married in churches, is just good advertising.

It might lead to the return of young people who have been brought up in the church but who no longer attend. An American study, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith[1] found that one of the reasons people in their twenties give for leaving the churches of their childhood and youth is the perception that those churches don’t welcome LGBTIQ people. The authors found that among the young adults they talked to there was ‘the widespread belief that churches are not accepting of gays and lesbians’. David Kinnaman wrote that:

Christian or not, younger adults tend to be more accepting of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals than older adults. Although I do not personally view this as a positive trend, any discussion on sexual ethics with the next generation must not ignore this critical arena of human sexual experience.

A recent study of Faith and Belief in Australia by McCrindle (May 2017) found that the biggest blocker to Australians engaging with Christianity is the church’s stance and teaching on homosexuality. 33% of the people questioned said that this completely blocks their interest. (p. 10)

Issue Blockers

The only study on the impact of places of worship marrying same-sex couples comes from the UK: Religious marriages of same-sex couples: A report on places of worship in England and Wales registered for the solemnization of same-sex marriage (November, 2017).

This found that while some congregations experienced negative consequences in their relationships with other churches, and some hostility in the form of negative comments on news reports and social media, most of the outcomes were beneficial.

Among the outcomes: new people began attending the churches; most of these new people were under the age of 40; some previous members returned; the solidarity of existing members was increased; being known to provide same-sex weddings was a positive ‘brand’ for the congregations; and while most congregations reported that the number of opposite-sex weddings remained stable, 10% reported an increase in the number of heterosexual weddings.

The Uniting Church in Australia has been too quiet about our inclusivity for too long. Late last year, when controversy raged over the Religious Freedom Review’s recommendation to allow religious institutions including schools to retain the right to discriminate, the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania didn’t even mention the fact that it had decided to oppose religious exemptions on the basis of gender identity, sex, and sexual orientation almost a decade ago.[2]  Maybe it’s time that we see our welcome of LGBTIQ people as something to be promoted and celebrated, rather then something to be kept quiet. We might even grow as a result.

[1] David Kinnaman and Aly Hawkins, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith, (2016).

[2] Synod Minute ‘Religious exceptions to the Equal Opportunity Act’.

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2 Responses to Why the Uniting Church should be louder about its LGBTIQ inclusion

  1. Karl Hand says:

    The problem is that the Uniting Church isn’t LGBTIQ inclusive. There’s a policy in place which says any local church is allowed to refuse to marry us, and discriminate against LGBTIQ ministers, volunteers and staff.
    What we need is to be honest with LGBTIQ people about where they stand, not to advertise an inclusion which isn’t genuine.

  2. Chris Goringe says:

    Karl, that’s true. But what if we read RDG’s post in the context of the local congregation; to argue that fully affirming congregations should treat their position as an evangelistic asset?
    I’ve more than once heard people say that “we should be completely affirming but don’t want it to define us”, as an argument against making our position more explicit or visible. I take RDG’s argument as a rebuttal of that attitude.

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