let me start this post off with a story. A few years ago, as I was developing a prototype of the kind of groups Here/Hear develops, I was asked to come and speak at a local church at their “Night of Hope” which was designed to help people dealing with various emotional and mental issues. Our groups were being successful and helping young people deal with their various issues. A counselor in town was referring people to us and had mentioned us to this church as doing good things. So, again, I was asked to speak. This church advertises as being “welcoming to all” and “being relevant.” But when I was asked to speak, there was a conversation to make sure I wasn’t going to “hurt anyone” and in the course of the conversation I was told that the church “condemned homosexuality” and anything that was not strict heterosexuality. I was then informed that in order to speak I had to attest to this; I told them that I would not be mentioning homosexuality (or bisexuality or transgendered or queer) and didn’t see the point in even discussing the issue. I said I respected the church’s beliefs and would not compromise that but would also not hurt LGBTQIA people by unnecessarily condemning them. My invite was rescinded and the church cut all communication off with me. I was hurt, but couldn’t imagine how my LGBTQIA brothers and sisters felt on a daily basis. That leads to my thoughts contained in this post.

I want to start by saying that Here/Hear agrees with the American Psychological Association in saying that homosexuality, bisexuality, transgendered, queer, etc. are not a mental illness. As an organization that works with mental illness and advocates on the part of the mentally ill, it is natural to ask why even engage the LGBTQIA community if it is not a mental illness. And the answer is that suicide rates are much higher in this community than others. We believe that only mental illness leads to the desire to die by suicide and, so, we want to help those who have been driven to that point. For the LGBTQIA community, this happens almost necessarily because of the way in which the community is treated in our culture. For example, the current “bathroom law” (that rescinds protections for the LGBTQIA community in various communities in North Carolina and, most famously, makes it illegal for a transgendered person to use the bathroom of their gender identity) in North Carolina has perpetuated a dramatic increase in the number of suicide hotline calls by transgendered people. As well, LGBT students from a family that rejects their sexuality are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide.

The problem that we have here is that LGBTQIA people are not treated as people. As an organization, Here/Hear affirms that LGBTQIA people are not just people, but people who have been created beautifully in the image of the divine. It would be disingenuous for us to try and help this community by inviting them into peer-to-peer support groups to then turn around and treat any person as different than or worse than the rest of us. The fact is our groups, in order to work, must be open to all, to affirm everyone’s place in this world, and to be a place of supportive love. I, Nate Crawford, believe this is what the church must be to all people, including the LGBTQIA community, if it is to follow the teachings of Jesus. (In this regard, may I recommend a video of Bill Hybels, Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church and evangelical leader, talking about this issue in his church. Matthew Vines sets up everything very nicely in his commentary, with the video below).

Now, this leads me to the last point. Nothing I have said should be up for debate in orthodox, creedal churches or in schools or other community organizations. As an organization, Here/Hear simply wants to help people, not to change the stances of churches: the only caveat being if your doctrine hurts people, like saying that the mentally ill are possessed by a demon or that LGBTQIA people are not made in the image of God or are an abomination. No, instead we want to help churches reach out and develop communities where people feel at home and where there is real affirmation, love, and support offered. In that vein, we are not advocating any churches to change any stances on LGBTQIA people; simply, we advocate that there be a commitment to love our neighbor the way that Jesus teaches in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10.