Why do we need to say sorry to LGBTIQ+ fellow Australians (including fellow Christians)?
Both individually and collectively, in what we have done and failed to do, we have sinned against LGBTIQ+ fellow Christians and fellow Australians. Our guilt and shame is church-history long, and still reaches into the present in disturbing ways. For more detail, see ‘Why we need to apologize?’
What do the acronyms LGBTIQ+ mean?
Gay is a term most commonly used of men, but can be applied to any individual who is romantically, physically and/or emotionally attracted to members of the same sex.
Lesbian is a specific label for women attracted to other women.
Bisexual attraction to ‘both’ genders.
Transgender is applied to those whose gender identity does not align with their sex as assigned at birth. It is an umbrella term covering a range of identities that run counter to socially defined gender norms.
Intersex ‘People with intersex variations’ is an umbrella term for those born with congenital atypical sex traits (whether chromosomal, hormonal, or anatomical). A person with an intersex variation has biological sex characteristics which don’t fall (or fall neatly) into a binary definition of male or female. These characteristics are not simply physical or visual (which is how they have been spotted, reaching all the way back into the Bible with its reference to eunuchs who are born that way), but are built into people’s chromosomes and hormones as well. Over 1% of the population have a variation of one or more of their chromosomes, hormones or genitalia.
Queer is an umbrella term that can be used to refer to all LGBTIQ people. The + at the end of LGBTIQ+ recognises that even these acronyms don’t adequately cover what is a complex range of sexual and gender variations including those who identify as asexual.
How can I sign up to this apology if I am not guilty of all (or even any) of the things mentioned in the apology?
You can, because we are all part of a community, the church, which bears historical (and current) responsibility for serious wrong-doing. The apology was crafted as a quite comprehensive apology which Christians, as a collective, can sign up to. You are not apologizing on behalf of others, but, rather, are identifying with Australian Christians who, as a group, are saying sorry and committing to do better.
If I myself am LGBTIQ+ can I sign up to the apology?
You can. You are part of a community of pain – inflicted and received. You may identify as one of many Christians who want to apologize to fellow LGBTIQ+ Australians. You are simultaneously being apologized to and apologising. It may also be that you can identify ways in which you yourself have let down others who are LGBTIQ+. Alternatively, you may also decide you can’t sign the apology, and would be uncomfortable doing so, and that is entirely okay.
What does it mean to suggest that sexual and gender differences are not part of one’s true identity as humans made in the image of God? (Point 6)
Some Christians argue that sex and gender variations are incidental, but not essential aspects of the identity of LGBTIQ+ people. Some go so far as to say that all people are essentially straight. But this doesn’t correspond to the lived experience of LGBTIQ+ people, who do understand these differences as part of their true identity. Nor does it correspond to emerging scientific understandings. Moreover, it makes good sense, biblically and theologically, to see these as variations, which have always been present in human populations, and can be seen to enrich our human society. Without any doubt, all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, each of us in distinctly interesting ways.
Why is it a mistake to believe that ‘sexual orientation and gender identity should be treated, healed or changed’ – point 7?
Long-term experience has shown that efforts to treat, heal or change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity have failed. In many cases, they have failed miserably, and too often tragically. Some who have previously been involved in orientation change efforts, such as Alan Chambers, the founder of Exodus International, have joined a growing chorus of opposition to conversion therapies, because these ‘therapies’ have proved ineffective. Even conservative researchers admit that a change from homosexual to heterosexual doesn’t happen. It is now widely recognised that such efforts have been enormously damaging in many cases.
Today, how people identify in terms of gender is richer than it was in past generations. Trying to take everyone back to a time when everyone was believed to be either male or female and exclusively heterosexual just doesn’t work. The reality has always been more complicated.
How is it that not understanding or accepting the non-binary sex characteristics of people with intersex variations harms them or constitutes rejection? – point 8?
In a nutshell, people with intersex variations are not being accepted for who they are. Because they don’t neatly fall into the categories of male or female, they are likely to feel hurt or misunderstood by efforts to squeeze or force them into one category or the other, when the reality of who they are and how they see themselves is otherwise. This has been reinforced by the medical profession and governments, and has been reflected in the church where it as assumed that people are either male or female, and that no other or mixed categories exist.
Isn’t there just one correct way to understand homosexuality and any other sex and/or gender variations?
There are some who continue to mistakenly say that the Bible is absolutely clear about these matters, or that you simply can’t be a faithful Christian if you disagree with what the church has traditionally taught, but such statements are false, not to mention coercive and unacceptably authoritarian.
Is there just one correct way to understand homosexuality and other sex and gender variations?
History shows that both church and society have made costly mistakes in these matters. We are still learning what the Bible and on-going scientific discovery have to say. We have much to learn from our LGBTIQ+ fellow Australians.
Theologians and biblical scholars from across the theological spectrum are working carefully towards new and richer understandings. In fact, growing numbers of evangelicals are now supportive of same-sex marriage based on careful biblical study.
There are some who continue to say that the Bible is absolutely clear about these matters, or that you simply can’t be a faithful Christian if you disagree with what the church has traditionally taught. This is not the experience of a growing number of faithful Christians. Claims that this is the case have been felt as coercive and heavy handed.
What are the consequences of NOT apologizing?
The good news is that the world will not end, God will still love us, and we will still have opportunity to love. We will, however, carry pain in our relationships with each other and especially with our LGBTIQ+ family and friends. Moreover, the fact that we don’t ask for forgiveness is sure to be interpreted as proof that we really haven’t heard or seen their pain, and that the gospel imperative to forgive and to seek forgiveness has not been heeded.