Gordie Felger is a volunteer member of two LGBTQ+ organizations (CR Pride and Free Mom Hugs) and a One Iowa volunteer activist. He is a friend of many LGBTQ+ folks and an ally to the community. He also writes about the state of Iowa politics at “WFT Iowa?”
Pastor Gary wears a T-shirt that declares in all caps, “THIS PASTOR LOVES YOU.” The word “PASTOR” pops with eye-catching rainbow stripes. Pastor Gary wears this shirt and a radiant smile to local Pride events. He leaves no doubt about his views on LGBTQ+ inclusion in his church.
Pastor Gary Sneller ministers at Marion Christian Church (MCC) in Marion, Iowa. MCC promotes itself as an “open and affirming congregation.” Its members made the intentional decision to become an actively affirming church. The MCC website states, “We are not a church for everyone. We are a church for everyone who wants a church for everyone.”
Not all churches are as inclusive as MCC. Too many religions, denominations, and individual worship homes consider anyone who identifies as other than straight and cisgender a “sinner” who suffers a “curable curse.” Too many LGBTQ+ people have been burned by a religion that rejects them while proclaiming that “God loves everyone.”
The number of LGBTQ+-inclusive worship homes continues to grow. This year, the worldwide United Methodist Church (UMC) split over the question of LGBTQ+ inclusion. Those congregations that remained a part of the UMC—a vast majority—actively support LGBTQ+ members.
St. Paul’s in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, voted to remain a UMC affiliate. Jane Nesmith, a St. Paul’s member, said during this year’s CR Pride event that her congregation felt it important to show up for the LGBTQ+ community. Church members want all to know that St. Paul’s welcomes them.
Deandra and Greg Chlystun of Marion spoke to Cedar Rapids Gazette reporter Jami Martin-Trainor about their decision to leave their former UMC congregation to join St. Paul’s.
“They say they’re welcoming, but then there’s that ‘but’—‘But, you can’t express your love in the way that you need to do so,’” Deandra said. “We wanted a church that reflected the full diversity of God’s creativity.”
Pastor Gary agrees. Speaking at a panel forum on allyship, he said, “‘All are welcome’ doesn’t always mean full church inclusion.” He suggests asking if a worship home allows same-gender marriage ceremonies and LGBTQ+ inclusion in leadership roles and religious rites, like communion. He also said to beware of “bait-and-switch” tactics in which a congregation initially welcomes LGBTQ+ members only to try to “convert” them later.
My message to LGBTQ+ individuals of faith
Don’t choose between your faith and who you are. Having both is possible. In the same way you look for people who uplift you, look for a worship home that affirms the authentic you. Here are a few tips to help you on your faith journey.
- Ask your local Pride organization for recommendations. CR Pride, for example, shares an Affirming Business Registry and often answers calls from visitors and new residents.
- Ask trusted neighbors. Long-time residents may know of affirming worship homes.
- Visit worship home websites. Does the site use inclusive language? Also, look for signs like Pride flags, photos of same-gender weddings, or other inclusive graphics.
- If you don’t live near an affirming worship home or if transportation is a barrier, look for live-streamed services online. Some worship homes even record services for later viewing. Believe Out Loud offers a list of affirming live-streamed services in many faiths and denominations.
“Somebody once said, ‘Love one another’ and ‘Judge not lest you be judged,’” said an anonymous source. “Maybe we should think about what that person said. Diverse people and those who love them should never let misguided, hateful individuals and organizations steal their faith or spirituality.”
Don’t let religion keep you from your faith. Embrace a congregation that fully embraces you.