Tikkun Magazine, July/August 2010
It’s Time to Heal a Mega-Church Psychosis
by Yvette A. Flunder
Some time ago, I was copied on an email from an alleged member of a well-known mega-church in the Washington, D.C., area. The email identified by name those church members thought to be same-gender-loving (it used another term). The message gave great detail as to the church members' attendance at parties, where they lived and with whom, their miscellaneous sexual proclivities, and where they served in the work of the church. The email requested that these individuals be taken down from their volunteer jobs. As a result the pastor convened a meeting of those named in the email and polled them to determine who among them were seeking help to be free from a same-gender-loving "lifestyle." There have been numerous follow-up emails from folks named in the original email that are defensive, threatening, and angry. Several have decided to leave the church after many years of faithful membership.
What a tragedy—but the reality facing this church is not unusual. It is indicative of a psychosis that permeates many churches with regard to the presence and involvement of same-gender-loving (SGL) people, who have great love for God and for their church communities.
The institutional psychosis I speak of arises when SGL people contribute to their own oppression by continuing to support churches that oppress them and are complicit in structures that support homophobia, homohatred, and hetero-privilege and that encourage internalized homophobia (similar to battered spouse syndrome). It arises when church leaders seek to define themselves as "straight" by embarrassing their SGL parishioners and publicly dehumanizing them.
Sources of the Problem
Many SGL people end up contributing to their own oppression because they have a need for the anonymity available in a big church and a need to identify with perceived success (mega-church). Other causes include feeling "real church" is validated by traditional church leadership (male pastor and pastor's wife) and pageantry, the benefit of assumed heterosexuality or ambiguous sexuality, and perceived commitments or loyalty to family. For those SGL persons who benefit financially from the church, secrecy seems to also be an economic imperative. Public ridicule of SGL people may often be a church's effort to hide the reality of the presence of SGL people.
This sickness has resulted in the destruction of self-esteem, as well as in open vicious attacks against the personhood of countless individuals and their families. It has produced self-inflicted theological and physical violence, duplicity and inauthentic leadership (some leaders are themselves SGL or bisexual), loss of valuable members, lack of focus on other vital justice issues, and ministry destruction. This psychosis also causes destructive acts, including irresponsible sexual behaviors complicated by secrecy and an inability to form and sustain lasting, healthy, authentic relationships.
Are there many churches like the one described above? Certainly! There are numerous examples of churches disproportionately populated by SGL sisters and brothers, who are not only bereft of affirmation, but who also live in an atmosphere of continual debasement, degradation, and fear of exposure. This grim situation leads to suicide, disenfranchisement from the church, addictions, and other self-destructive behaviors. The light that is being cast on this disparity is no accident; it is the active will of God, which must be acknowledged and embraced.
This oppression is not making SGL people straight. It is just driving SGL people further underground. The real questions are these: What actions are necessary to move churches beyond toleration to acceptance and affirmation and eventually to celebration of the SGL community and their extraordinary contributions to the Christian community? What is the alternative for those who cannot wait for change to occur? And what is the responsibility of SGL people to participate in their own freedom?
I would suggest the following as action items for SGL people and their allies to consider and use to frame discussions regarding relationship and involvement in churches and faith-based communities. Let us develop and promote the following:
- Faithful support for affirming churches and faith-based organizations.
- Education regarding a theology of full inclusion of SGL persons in the life of the church.
- Active involvement in inclusive theological education of family and friends.
- Active involvement in inclusive theological education of churches and faith communities.
- Education regarding human sexuality.
- Commitment to ethical behaviors that include honesty, authenticity, and truth-telling.
- Confrontation when misinformation, destructive comments, oppressive theology, or dehumanization occurs.
It is time to move beyond avoidance and commence the dialogue necessary to heal this painful breach. It is time for change.
Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder is the presiding bishop of the Fellowship, a multi-denominational gathering of 110 pastors and Christian leaders representing 56 churches and faith-based organizations. She is the senior pastor of City of Refuge UCC.
Flunder, Yvette. 2010. It’s Time to Heal a Mega-Church Psychosis. Tikkun 25(4): 48