Category Archives: The Twelve Days of Diffcon

The Twelve Days of DiffCon: Day #6. What have I learned about same sex attraction by listening to people?

Nigel Chapman, 19 Feb 2014

(Part of a 12-day countdown to A Different Conversation.)

Yesterday I asked why Chistians don’t generally listen (as far as I have seen) to what same sex attracted people in their congregations and communities have to say about their experience. Today I’d like to list a few things I have learned by doing so.

As far as I have seen, heterosexual Christians have not very often taken the opportunity of speaking with same-sex attracted Christians about what that’s like, and as a result lack understanding and empathy. I have found that listening to their experience leads to the following convictions. Little here will be very earth-shaking to many people, and there’s plenty more that could be added, but I found that these points were important for better understanding same experience of being sex attracted.

1) Significant diversity exists in human gender and sexuality, some of which, especially intersex, does not resolve into male and female categories at all.

2) A same-sex “oriented” person, as I will use that term, experiences involuntarily, permanent and exclusive attraction to others of the same sex, in the same way that most people experience involuntarily, permanent and exclusive attraction to the opposite sex. In this case, they are as little attracted to the opposite sex as a heterosexual person is to their own (however, see Day #3 for some statistics on that score.) In the remainder of my countdown to A Different Conversation, I’m going to focus mainly on the experience of same sex orientation. This doesn’t cover all important cases or situations, but it asks the most important questions both for churches and society, and so is a good place to begin in thinking through sexuality issues through from Christian perspective.

3) It can be helpful to refer to orientation as an “inversion” of desire when speaking to somebody only familiar with heterosexual attraction; this makes the point that it is every bit as constant, complex and pervasive as their own experience of heterosexual attraction has been. This attraction is not limited to sexual desire; it encompasses the romantic desire for intimacy and affection, as well as the desire for life companionship and family. For a heterosexual person to be able to empathize with a fellow Christian or community member who is exclusively same-sex attracted, we have to try to re-imagine the tens of thousands of moments in our life in which we were conscious of sexual or romantic desire: (“Wow, she’s cute! I wonder if she likes me. OMG! She’s in my dream! Why didn’t she talk to me? Should I ask her out? What would we talk about? Does she want to have kids? Who’s that guy she’s talking to?” — Or substitute male/female as required.) We should have no trouble recalling these emotions, especially as we experienced them in adolescence, and the names of many of the people who prompted these thoughts. Then, we have to imagine that every single time, it was someone of our own sex who triggered these thoughts and feelings, while no-one of the other sex did. It may take a while to process how we would have handled that between the ages of 13 and 23. Then, to empathise with growing up in church, we would have to imagine trying to reverse every single one of those thoughts, filtering and censoring everything we do and say so that no-one can ever know this is happening, and facing this for years on end, alone. It should not surprise us if people crack under these pressures, because no-one concerned can take a day off from same-sex attraction or romance — any more than most people can from heterosexual attraction or romance. This is something for Evangelicals to note when we feel weary from merely discussing LGBT: we can always walk away and take a few months off from these questions; but people in our care don’t have that luxury.

4) As already seen, depression and self-harm are very common outcomes for same-sex attracted youth, possibly more so in church than elsewhere. Whatever our intentions, the present cultures of our churches are in many cases actively harmful, rather than helpful or healing, for people who grow up same-sex attracted.

5) Same-sex attracted youth in our churches and communities do not generally expect us to understand their situation or to be able to help in any way. As a result they usually address same-sex attraction alone, online or elsewhere. Whether or not we are thinking about this background will affect the questions that we bring to scripture.

Those at least, are my major convictions derived from listening to the stories of same sex attracted Christians. It’s better to listen to them than to listen to me, because I can’t speak first-hand about that experience. But to do that, you’ll need someone who trusts you enough to open up, or you’ll need to get along to something like A Different Conversation.

Tomorrow, I’ll be discussing orientation in more detail.

The Twelve Days of DiffCon: Day #5. What prevents us listening more to people who grow up same-sex attracted in our churches?

Nigel Chapman, 18 Feb 2014

(Part of a 12-day countdown to A Different Conversation.)

Thus far in this series I have asked why churches need to better engage with same sex issues. Now I’d like to ask how we can do so, starting with the factors that prevent us listening to the experience of same sex attracted people, whether in our churches or our communities.

Planting a church in a ~30% LGBT suburb makes same-sex attraction an unavoidable and unavoidably personal question. There is no avoiding or deferring the questions this raises for Christians, no retreating from public life. There is no acting as if these are marginal or unimportant concerns. There is no controlling the conversation by speaking of it in abstract or impersonal terms, enforcing silence, or talking over the top of anyone. There is no assuming those concerned are absent, or explicitly or implicitly sending them away, or disengaging. These are all ways of not listening, and that is not a practical option.

Can you love someone without listening to them? It sounds impossible, doesn’t it? But love is the Christian ethic.

At Surry Hills Baptist Church our experience of listening to same-sex attracted people, Christian and otherwise, has come about in several ways – simply living in the suburb that we do and being open to talk; having deliberately built our community as a safe space for those experiencing crisis, vulnerability or rejection; having people referred to us that other churches cannot accept; and, with the Salvation Army’s OASIS Centre, having run a pastoral ministry conference called A Different Conversation in Surry Hills at Mardi Gras for several years, at which many people have shared their stories, often for the first time.

Evangelicals, in my experience, think of ourselves as a having a natural pastoral and evangelistic focus: we are all about care and communication. We should be good at listening. As I said, without listening, we cannot attain understanding or empathy or trust, which are the qualities most missing and most desperately needed in contemporary conversations about same sex issues.

What prevents this kind of listening from happening more widely in our churches? There are at least three major reasons why we don’t listen to same sex attracted people, their experience of life, or their experience of church.

One obvious reason is that they leave, as the experiences of church that I have quoted over the past few days would suggest. So they’re not around to listen to even if you wanted to do so. But that leadds us to ask, why do they leave, and one reason frequently mentioned is alienation. No-one would listen. Quoting from WTI3 again:

They are all very homophobic and Christian. I fear I would be rejected and outcast. I hate it…I’m a bit stuck, a bit confused. I don’t know whether or not to act on [my sexuality]…Whether I should go against what I’ve been brought up to believe…What’s worse is that being in a Christian family I have no one to talk with about it. (Bethany, 19 years)

Same sex is morally wrong in [the churches] eyes and they did make several references about it is wrong – using the bible of course. So my crisis of who I was and why I was feeling this was left to me to figure out. I could not ask my friends – especially my family – due to them all been in the religion. (Tomlin, 21 years)

This kind of alienation is so unique and distinctive that it poses some obvious questions about churches. Is there any other group of people of young people would find themselves on the outer in this way, even within families? It is difficult to think of anyone else that we would so marginalize, or to whom we we would not listen. Here are three possible reasons why this might happen:

  1. If love requires listening, do we see no responsibility to love “those kind of people”?
  2. It is that we wouldn’t know what to say if we got into a conversation?
  3. Is there nothing we think we could learn, or no difference we think it would make? — Are we, in essence, resigned to bad outcomes when people grow up same sex attracted in our churches?

The first reason, which we would instinctively deny (“We love EVERYBODY”), is plausible if we think about same sex issues as impersonal conflict, like political opposition. If we’re busy fighting “the Greens” [presumed to be irrational], or worrying about how society will suffer from marriage being undermined, or fearing Christians will be persecuted for expressing their freedom of conscience, then we’re not thinking of people to be loved at all, but threats to be repelled. Speaking purely in these terms would surely alienate same-sex attracted youth in churches, and it could be difficult to shift gears when faced with an unavoidably personal situation. All the same, when faced with a personal situation, we would recognize the non-negotiability of love.

However, when the stakes are high and when agreement seems impossible, discussions necessarily become polarised: it’s “the gay agenda” versus the “haters”. Large parts of the Christian and gay communities do not believe that the other will respond to reason or values, only that they are some kind of fringe who may at best be stopped from causing (more) damage to good society. Conflict is assumed from the outset and this assumption becomes self-fulfilling: Trust is lost, the walls go up, the rhetoric escalates, the alienation and offence increases. We need to know who’s with us or against us, who’ll compromise and who won’t, and so, like any sufficiently divisive issue, this becomes an test of Evangelical faith in churches. All of this works against listening.

The second reason, that we might not know what to say and so avoid conversation, seems much more likely. It seems in my experience reasonably common for Christians, even when persuaded that the biblical condemnations of same sex intercourse are unquestionably universal (so orientation affects nothing), and consequently thinking that it must be wrong in every situation, to be unable to explain exactly what the problem is when conversing, say, with a friendly young same sex couple living in the apartment next door. This results in the divide which has characterized the recent campaign against marriage equality: in churches, advocates will emphasize faithfulness to scripture, while in public campaigning they emphasize harm to society. Neither approach directly addresses the moral questions in the public square, and private conversations show the same disjunction. It’s difficult to listen if we are avoiding conversation.

And the third reason looks to me to be absolutely correct: Many churches and Christians will feel there is no need to listen because they think there is nothing relevant that could be learned. I would be surprised if it was ever put so bluntly, but that’s what happens when our starting points marginalize anything that a same sex oriented person may have to say about their own experience.

We don’t listen when Christians are skeptical that lesbian or gay people actually exist; if they believe that “orientation” is nothing more than a rationalization of habit, or a delusion fostered to excuse a pattern of behaviour. This happens when Christians speak insistently of “lifestyle choice”, and homosexual ‘desires’ or ‘attraction’ or ‘inclination’, and systematically avoid the terms ‘orientation’ or the use of ‘gay’ or ‘LGBT’ to describe people. Seeing no viable understanding of the situation other than sin and the effects of sin (say, denial), it follows that the only good response is repentance. What then could be the benefit of “listening”, beyond asking whether a person will or won’t face the moral issues? Evangelicals especially will say that obviously they love everyone and want the best for them, and they will see appeals to orientation as living in denial, which can’t help anyone. And others, of course, will see them living in denial about orientation. (The reader may observe that I have only referred to “attraction” thus far in this series; I’ll look at orientation on day #7.)

The obvious problem here is talking to people about their own experience, and telling them what we think this is. Unless there is a lot of trust in place, a few mistakes will easily suffice to write us off as presumptuous idiots. “How would you actually know what I experience?” And the only way to have trust in place would be through empathy and understanding, which is to say, through listening. And even more problematically, this link between of wrong-doing and denial doesn’t automatically apply to young people as they discover themselves to be same sex attracted in the first place, and these, of course, are one of the main groups to which we have pastoral responsibilities.

Not listening is of course reinforced by an originally biblical taboo. By defining a series of mostly sexual Canaanite sins as abhorrent and detestable, Leviticus 18 deliberately makes same sex intercourse unmentionable. This taboo dynamic is then reinforced in several New Testament passages. In Eph 5:5,12, “it is shameful to even mention what [the sexually immoral] do secretly,” and in 1 Cor 6:18, sexual sin is described as more serious than sins that occur outside the body; and these of course are applied to same sex relationships. A taboo is not necessarily a bad thing – we don’t give sexual abuse a “fair hearing,” for example – but a taboo can only be distinguished from a prejudice by explaining its rationale. Scripture itself does not always give reasons for what is wrong with same sex intercourse, often linking it directly to shame or abhorrence, as if the underlying reasons were self-evident.

But when prejudice can only be distinguished from taboo by it’s supporting reasons, and when Christians have trouble explaining the biblical judgments by an appeal to common values, then we look prejudiced. And when, as noted, same sex attracted people have conspicuously poor experiences of church, that is very naturally ascribed to prejudice, not moral principle — and in many cases it may well be prejudice. We can’t listen to people who wont’ even talk to us because they think we’re prejudiced.

These have been some of the issues that keep Christians from learning from the experience of same sex attracted people in our churches, and so developing empathy or understanding, or working to prevent the worst of these experiences. Tomorrow I’ll ask what we can learn, or at least outline what I have learned, from listening.

The Twelve Days of DiffCon: Day #4. What’s the worst that could happen? Churches, self harm and suicide.

Nigel Chapman, 17 Feb 2014

(Part of a 12-day countdown to A Different Conversation.)

Yesterday I asked the question, “How do the gay people in your church know that it’s safe to come and talk to you?”, and gave a few quotes to illustrate the experience of feeling unsafe. Today, I’d like to go one step further and ask if churches can be dramatically harmful places for young people (and others) who are same sex attracted. This of course is the worst-case scenario, but we do need to ask “What’s the worst that could happen?” — because it happens.

The following excerpt, from a letter received by a gay ex-minister of my acquaintance, is representative of many of the Christian stories I have heard at this conference.

When I discovered I was gay I was horrified. My Catholic family always spoke of these people as abominations. As a teenager I converted from Catholicism and attended a charismatic church where I was informed demonic spirits caused homosexuality. I was commanded to undergo exorcisms. The first two didn’t work as apparently I had unconfessed sin in my life. I was assured the third worked. Sadly I soon realised nothing had changed. I hated myself for years and believed God hated me also. I pleaded with him constantly to heal me and make me straight. Eventually I was commanded to go to the Exodus endorsed program Living Waters. The program left me feeling suicidal and more unworthy than ever. After 3 suicide attempts I came to the conclusion I was an abhorrent and detestable human being unworthy of anyone’s love.

In a conflict between faith and sexuality, the worst case scenario is that a person will try and take their own life. The film Prayers for Bobby tells the well known story of a Presbyterian woman, Mary Griffiths, who became an LGBT advocate after her son Bobby committed suicide after long rejection. I’ve never tried to seek out and compile this kind of information, but I know of several large and well known churches in Sydney in whose congregations same sex attracted people in their teens or twenties have committed or attempted suicide, and have heard second-hand of a number more. When we put reports like these together with experiences like the one described above, we have to ask if there is a connection.

There are several reasons why suicides related to same sex attraction are believed to be under-reported. Suicides in general sometimes look like accidents; same sex attraction may not be known to others, so not be considered; a family may be ashamed or mortified, and tell no one; and sensitivity in a time of mourning may prevent frank disussion. However, there are some statistics on attempted suicide from which we can extrapolate.

Yesterday I mentioned Writing Themselves In 3 (WTI3), a 2010 La Trobe University study of more than 3,000 “same sex attracted and gender questioning” 14–21 year old Australians. In this study:

“Those who mentioned religion (n=267) were:

  • More likely to feel bad about their same sex attraction.
  • More likely to have experienced social exclusion or had to tolerate homophobic language from friends.
  • More likely to report homophobic abuse in the home.
  • More likely to report feeling unsafe at home.
  • More likely to not be supported by their mother, father, brother, teacher or student welfare coordinator/counsellor, when disclosing their SSA.
  • More likely to report thoughts of self harm and suicide or to carry out self harm.” (p.91)

Concordant with the negative experiences quoted yesterday, this can lead to a rejection of faith or religion that is understood in terms of self-acceptance.

I kept on telling myself that homosexuality was immoral and wrong, and I prayed and told myself that I liked people of the opposite sex. This caused me a great deal of depression and alienation from my peers… Being a Christian made me hate myself and who I was, and I really believed that God could change me. By the time I hit puberty I had renounced my faith and accepted myself for who I was. (Oscar, 14 years)

In spite of these higher measures, the reported rate of attempted suicide was the same as for those who did not mention religious involvement as it was for those who did:

Our study found that SSAGQ young people who mentioned religion were more likely to report having thoughts of self harm and suicide. Those who mentioned religion were also more likely to have harmed themselves. However, there was no difference between the groups in the percentage of young people who had attempted suicide. (p.94)

Across all WTI3 respondents, the rates of attempted suicide were about 6% for those who had never been abused for being same-sex attracted, 17% for those who had been verbally abused, and 36% for those who had been physically abused (p.51). Those who had been physically abused comprised 18% of respondents (p.39). Remember, WTI3 found no difference between religious and non-religious rates of attempted suicide: These figures apply to church contexts. They also noted, “Young people who mentioned religious discourse were also more likely to rank their school as Very Homophobic” (p.87).

These figures may be low since, to state the obvious, the survey did not include people who had attempted suicide and died. If there is anything positive to take from higher rates of suicidal thought, it is that are balanced by a lower tendency to act upon them. But that’s hardly positive compared with the generally high rates of well-being that we associate with faith.

These figures may also be high, since those with negative religious experience may have been more likely to mention it than those with neutral or positive experience. But this qualifier should not free us of concern or obligation about how same-sex attracted youth experience church, since we should expect our church environments to cancel out dangers in wider society, never to copy or even exacerbate them. We should not have people writing that they feel safer outside of church than inside:

I have had multiple thoughts of suicide. I have acted and failed on those thoughts a few times. I am never able to actively harm myself (i.e cut myself) but I’ve wanted to many times. I would say any gay person who says that they have never even thought about suicide is lying. Not being able to act on any of your desires, having to actively hide your true self, often having to pretend to hate the very thing you are. All of these things equates to a deep feeling that you don’t deserve to live, or failing that, a deep desire to end the suffering. On a happier note, coming out has turned my life around. All of those things mentioned are starting to become a thing of the past. (Christopher, 20 years)

This will be the most sensitive subject I bring up in this series of blog posts. Citing a suicide can seem like emotional manipulation when there is no general measurement of harm to back it up; obviously every person’s motivations are different. But WTI3 and the stats and quotes that it supplies (see pp.91-96) will suffice to establish higher rates of self-harm and suicidal thoughts in church contexts; put that together with the quotes from yesterday outline the kind of reasons people give for feeling unsafe and conflicted in our churches, and leaves us with an issue that we ought to be considering more openly.

Most obviously, it would be useful to have better research; so it is good news that a large and pioneering Macquarie University study is nearing publication as of Feb 2014 and this will give us a much better picture of the effects of church on well-being for same sex attracted people.

Over the last three days I have given several reasons why churches need to address and talk about same sex issues. This last one, the worst-case scenario, is the most arresting. But even without this, it seems reasonable to say that at present significant features of our churches or church cultures are actively harmful for people who grow up same-sex attracted. This is so whatever our intentions may be, and without further investigation we cannot simply that other denominations have this problem and we do not.

Over the next few days I will look in more detail at why this may be so, beginning with the question of orientation.

The Twelve Days of DiffCon: Day #3. How do the gay people in your church know that it’s safe to come and talk to you?

Nigel Chapman, 16 Feb 2014

(Part of a 12-day countdown to A Different Conversation.)

Yesterday, I asked whether churches need to engage with same sex issues, and concluded that something which affects, by even quite conservative estimates, one in every sixty persons, is simply too common to ignore. That is one obvious reason for promoting greater empathy and understanding in regard to same sex issues in churches.

But a second and much more important reason is the actual experience of growing up same-sex attracted in a broadly Evangelical church — and let me mean by that, Anglican, Baptist, Pentecostal and the like. This experience is usually tense and sometimes borders on horrific. And worst of all, the people who have this experiences simply leave, and we don’t hear about it.

What do they say about this experience, when they speak to others? I won’t quote anyone that is known to me or to Surry Hills Baptist Church in real life. But the following quotes, from a study by La Trobe University, are representative of much that we hear.

Writing Themselves In 3 was a 2010 La Trobe University survey of over 3,000 “same sex attracted and gender questioning” 14–21 year old Australians. When asked at what age they first “became aware of these feelings”, 25% replied either “always” or by the age of ten, and 35% and 30% said between 11–13 and 14–16, respectively. By these figures 60% were aware of same-sex attraction by the age of 13, the same result as in the 2004 survey (WTI3, p.20).

It changes our understanding of same sex issues to think that most same sex attracted teens go through their whole adolescence in this knowledge, long before anyone else becomes aware of it. That is to say, long before they trust anyone in their churches or families enough to tell them.

In this study and it’s predecessor in 2004, more than a hundred respondents mentioned religious involvement in their answers, despite no religious questions being asked. Here is some of what they wrote. The critical question is: How many of these stories could have come from your church or college or Christian school?

I go to a private Christian school and whilst I have not had to withstand any openly blatant homophobia from my teachers and administrators they have done nothing about the bashings, have lectured me repeatedly on the sins of my actions and assured me that I’m going to hell, and sit and listen as people verbally abuse me. (Adrian, 16 years)

When I was younger I used to have to go to church with my family. They are Baptist and have a particularly homophobic minister. Words cannot express how much I hate this guy who made my life hell for much of my childhood and adolescence. Due to his constant bible bashing I was depressed and suicidal for much of my early teens. (Randall, 19 years)

My mother threw me out of the house and said ‘Don’t come back till you give your heart to Jesus’ (Chrissie, 16 years)

Knowing what was facing me religion-wise and with my family i was pretty suicidal between the ages of about 16 and 19. Overdosed on painkillers once and used to cut a bit and engage in other very dangerous behaviours like driving VERY recklessly, not so much because of people’s homophobia but because of feeling totally trapped between a religion/family that didn’t accept homosexuality and being who i was. (Peggy, 20 years)

When i was going through the religious conviction it was very hard because i hated myself which is a lot harder that [sic] when someone else hates you. (Ray, 21 years)

Some days the whole issue of homosexuality makes me feel depressed, alone and confused. I’ve been to the point where I’ve felt like it needs to end, that I shouldn’t have to suffer like this. But there are two things that always have gotten me through the tough times. These are: 1 I would cause a lot of harm in my family. And 2 that God does not give a man more then he can handle. Therefore what ever comes my way, God will get me through it. (Daniel, 20 years)

There’s a even darker side to this experience which I’ll discuss tomorrow. But when anyone at all is having the experience of church described above, we have a problem, and we need to talk about it. That’s what A Different Conversation is about.

That churches have a general problem in this area is not disputed by anyone. A organisation like Family Voice Australia can write: “We believe Christians need to learn how to care for same-sex attracted people. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be lacking in our churches. We need to do better.” But FAVA aren’t responsible for pastoral care; churches are.

What would it mean to “do better” if these members of our churches and communities simply do not trust us with their most important secret? One year at A Different Conversation, Rev Matt Glover asked a particularly gripping question that a social worker had once asked him:

How do the gay people in your church know that it’s safe to come and talk to you?

Until that moment he had just assumed that they would. How would you answer that? Would it actually be safe? Would it help? And if the people I’ve quoted above had grown up in your church, how would they have ever believed that?

(Continue to day #4)

The Twelve Days of DiffCon: Day #2. Do churches really need to talk about same sex issues?

Nigel Chapman, 15 Feb 2014

(Part of a 12-day countdown to A Different Conversation.)

Yesterday I kicked off my countdown to A Different Conversation, a conference in Surry Hills on same sex attraction and pastoral ministry. I started by posting some practical scenarios for discussion — a few common ways that same sex questions come up in regular church life.

But how common is this? Do we really need to talk about it? Is this just some “inner-city” issue, hyped up and politicized? Is it enough to go about our regular church busyness, referring anyone with questions to the minister or to some organisation? Is “the issue” only to be spoken of privately and with sensitivity? Do we say “It’s up to God to talk to them about that,” as I’ve heard in Pentecostal churches lately? Do we think that now and then it must be spoken of, but just as a political concern, or as a litmus test of true faith versus compromise?

When these are the questions we’re asking, it means that our churches do not see same sex issues in personal terms — in terms of the people themselves. It’s “not my circus, not my monkey” — not my problem. Here “it” is an abstract concern, to keep at a distance and leave to the people who deal with that. This is not true of all Evangelical churches; some Sydney Anglicans manage considerable empathy and inclusion, while remaining perfectly Sydney Anglican on all points (see this podcast if you don’t see how that might be done.) But for many and perhaps most Evangelical churches, the discussion remains at arm’s length.

What then happens when a member of the church, or their friend or their relative, suddenly says they’re gay? (This always happens “suddenly.”) The abstract suddenly becomes concrete. The theoretical suddenly becomes practical. And the impersonal suddenly becomes unavoidably personal. I’ll give some examples tomorrow of bad reactions in this situation, for which more than a few of us have not been quite prepared, to put it mildly.

Today, though, I’m asking a prior question. — What ARE the odds of that? — How common is same sex attraction? (I’ll speak about attraction now and orientation later in the week.)

A range of figures are given for the number of same sex attracted people in society. Jim Wallace, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby, has written that “authoritative studies put the number of homosexuals at between 1.5 and 2 per cent of the population.” Similarly Gordon Preece, in the 2012 Anglican Press book Sexegesis (p.11), accepts 2003 findings that men are 97.4% heterosexual and women 97.7% heterosexual, with 1.6% of men exclusively gay and 0.9% of women exclusively lesbian, the balance being largely bisexual. Higher figures, sometimes four and five percent, are commonly accepted in other contexts, but I will use the figures Evangelicals accept in what follows. They are thoroughly sufficient for the point I wish to make.

What does “between 1.5 and 2 percent” of the population really mean? It means one in sixty of the young people in our churches, and, if we were genuinely representative of our communities, it would mean one in sixty adults too. On average, in a church or school or youth group of 300, it’s five. 500 Facebook friends? It’s eight of those. In the 2011 Census there were 352,500 Baptists in Australia, and 1.5 to 2 percent of that total is 5,000 to 7,000 people (or do the maths for your denomination). Out of the Australian population it’s 340,000 to 450,000, and globally it’s in between 105,000,000 and 140,000,000 people – a number in between our twelfth and eighth most populous nations. And this is only (mind the pun) a conservative estimate. It’s a vast multitude.

Evangelical churches are especially committed to both mission and to pastoral care. That is, to the absolute equality and dignity of everybody before God, the singular significance of Jesus Christ for all people, and the recognition that we are accountable to God for showing love to every last one of our neighbours – and particularly those in our direct care. If we are not aware of this same-sex attracted community in our churches then we are either unrepresentative of our society, or those congregation members do not trust us. That would mean that we are failing either in mission, in pastoral care, or in both of those foundational responsibilities.

While the grown-up lesbian and gay communities are concentrated in the inner cities, and are consequently under-represented in rural and outer suburban areas, this is not the case with youth, and the inner-city concentration is in any case diminishing as that community diffuses into more suburban areas over time. Many same sex attracted people have, of course, left churches, though this is not the case with youth (yet), nor with those who stay but remain hidden, and if anything it calls for much greater attention to the way that we relate to gay and lesbian communities in the cities, towns and suburbs where we live.

So what ARE the odds that any random person is same sex attracted? One in sixty is what Evangelicals themselves are saying, and it may be more frequent than that. That is far too many people for us to ignore, or be unsure about whether we need to understand and empathize with same sex issues, wherever our churches are. It’s something we do need to talk about.

(Continue to day #3)