No one wants to be tolerated.
That’s right. You heard me.
When was the last time you felt free and accepted by someone else because they gently whispered in your ear: “I tolerate you”?
Really? I don’t know about you, but when someone tolerates me I feel like they are simply putting up with me. They don’t actually want me around, they aren’t interested in my life, they’d rather I not be in their personal space even if they confess the need to share communal space, and while they do indeed have to acknowledge the reality of my existence, they would really much rather not.
That doesn’t sound like peace-making, kingdom-of-God-on-earth that Jesus was talking about. In fact, I don’t think it’s anyone’s idea of utopia from any religion or spiritual path. It sounds demeaning and divisive.
One of the fastest arguments we hear these days from any side is that the other side pretends to be loving and tolerant, but they’re clearly intolerant of my side. It’s a quick and easy shutdown that screams hypocrisy and gets a lot of social media attention. It appeals to the emotional side of our nature, and we feel safe in justifying the other side’s clear hypocrisy by pointing out how tolerant they claim to be all the while living intolerant lifestyles.
Two Alberta Christian schools have been ordered to support the presence of Gay/Straight or Queer/Straight Alliances in their institutions. Instead of taking the opportunity to really dig into the nuances of inclusion, the word itself has been wrongfully applied to the concept of tolerance.
LGBTQ+ people and allies claim that it is no skin off the schools’ noses to provide space for a student-led, optional group. No one is forcing children or teens to sign up for these groups, nor is the province forcing the schools to change their religious views. In fact, it is a small thing to demand such schools provide this space, being funded with public tax dollars.
However, the ‘other’ side claims that religious freedom is at stake, that morality is at stake, and that if the rights of LGBTQ+ people are being held in such high regard, then so should the rights of Christians. Fair is fair, correct?
Personally, I think it’s audacious and brave for any student to begin a GSA/QSA in such hostile environments. Imagine trying to create a safe space in a school where you know most parents and teachers and faculty and students believe your entire existence is a ‘lifestyle choice’. Imagine trying to create safe space when adults teach that homosexuality, at best, is a mental illness. Even if there were sympathetic students, they would be confused with the conflicting messages. The level of bravery and self-awareness being demanded here is profound.
Not only that, but the power still rests with the Christian schools. 1) they must “tolerate” GSAs/QSAs following the government’s mandate, but are still free to teach their views on homosexuality; 2) no one — that is no governing official — is demanding that students be taught about the history of PRIDE, or the persecution and marginalization of LGBTQ+ people, or LGBTQ+ sexual health. And yet school supporters, whether they have children attending the schools or not, claim that Christianity is being persecuted. It is being forced to include programming that goes against Christian beliefs.
Well first of all, these two schools don’t represent all of Christianity (currently or historically). It would do these schools well to remember that. When people begin a conversation with “I love gay people, but Christianity clearly says…”, we can reasonably and authentically conclude that this is not the truth. It might be the truth for some Christians, but it is not the whole and entire truth for Christians in all times and in all places. This is a critical truth in the ongoing conversation for both Christians to understand, and the world at large.
When having sensitive discussions, it would do people well to include specifics. While it might be romantic to declare how we are all one in the Body of Christ, there are times when we need to identify our affiliations for the sake of clarity. If these schools affiliate with Baptist denominations, that helps give other people clarity looking from the outside in. Too often Christians are all painted as anti-LGBTQ+ (sometimes rightfully so, but often wrongfully so). I can’t say it enough: loud voices claiming to be Christian who declare homosexuality a sin do not, and cannot, speak for the entirety of Christendom. This is also a challenge for affirming/inclusive congregations who need to speak louder and stronger.
We can be Christian. We can be LGBTQ+. And we are loved and beloved of God.
Clearly there are Christians who disagree with me, and put my faith, salvation, life and existence on trial for it. And LGBTQ+ are the ones in power by being offered GSA/QSA space?
A part of what is happening here is — and please hear me when I say “a part of…” (we’re trying to leave room for nuance, remember?) — Christians who are against LGBTQ+ people are confusing tolerance for inclusion. By tolerating gay, lesbian, bisexual, two-spirited/transgender, queer/questioning people in their churches, homes, and schools, these Christians truly believe this is a form of inclusion.
One of the difficult aspects of having more meaningful discussions around all of this is the term inclusion (and diversity for that matters) has a vast quagmire of nuance and vagueness that makes it hard to pin down. For now, here’s a working definition that I’ve found useful. I fully concede it is a growing and working definition (as it needs to be), so your input would be appreciated.
At this point in Albertan history, Christians aren’t being excluded. These schools are not being asked to teach anything that goes against their values or principles. Parents are still free to choose tax-payer funded religious schools.
However, we can demonstrably show that LGBTQ+ people in Alberta, Canada, and across North America have suffered exclusion, marginalization, violence, and death. Some branches of Christianity might be quick to point out that LGBTQ+ “lifestyles” are becoming normalized and mainstreamed, while church attendance dwindles. And these realities are causing existential and moral angst for some Christians in some denominations.
I would caution anyone against using LGBTQ+ inclusion and the decline of church attendance as a sound argument for how Christians are being forced to include beliefs they don’t agree with. It’s specious at best, and not a rational or sensitive way of mending fences or healing wounds.
Now for the thrust of this post.
I’m sitting here in a comfy blue chair in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, trying to figure out my family of origin’s genogram (thanks, Mom!) for my Pastoral Care intensive. That’s right: Pastoral Care. I’m a bisexual seminarian training for Christian ministry.
I’m going to be a pastor…who happens to be bisexual.
And I am good.
I am a full supporter of inclusion. I am learning how my white privilege has supported racial division; but I’m also being given opportunity to share how heteronormative privilege has kept even the most well-intentioned ally cocooned, while LGBTQ+ people (especially people of faith) have to choose very carefully with whom we will share our identities and lives with. For us, it can mean the loss of loved ones, churches, or jobs. For others, it has meant death.
But what am I going to do when I am finally called to a parish, and someone begins a conversation with “Well, those gays…”?
Suddenly inclusion doesn’t seem so appealing.
My challenge will be to actively embrace and include people I have deliberately run away from. I ran away for legitimate reasons, but if I’m to return as a person of faith who espouses inclusion (not belittling tolerance), I’ll need to find ways to authentically include those people who would rather I not exist. They might tolerate me, but as a pastor and a beloved child of God, I will need to love them.
Perhaps some of the accusations from the conservative side of things are justified: perhaps I’m not as inclusive as I thought I was. Perhaps I need to work harder at discovering ways of connecting with dissenting voices, even if those voices dehumanize me, because those people are created good too. They might not sound good in the moment, but they are created good. They are the Creator’s good creation.
I have no profound ways of doing such a thing just yet, friends. I’ll confess to it. But I want it…most days. And I need it.