Updated: Nov 26, 2022
“You’re being too sensitive!”
“You have to understand that we didn’t mean anything by it.”
“That’s obviously not what we meant.”
Sound familiar? Too often, these are the responses to any attempt to dismantle systems of oppression. Rather than being open to criticism (even when it is shared in the kindest of manners) and learning from marginalized voices, people immediately become defensive, refusing to believe that they are part of an oppressive system or perhaps that the system even exists.
Maybe you’ve heard it called whitesplaining; maybe you’ve heard it called mansplaining. Today, I’m going to call it churchsplaining – while this includes the other two concepts (and more), I believe this kind of excuse-making hurts even more when it takes place in the context of the church. Church is where we are supposed to welcome EVERYONE while focusing on the needs of the “weakest” among us.
We read stories about Jesus welcoming the poor, the sick, tax-collectors, even sex workers! Jesus not only welcomed society’s outcasts, he made it clear they were also beloved children of God and openly shamed those who set out to hurt them. But that is often not how we see today’s church behaving.
Church is full of microaggressions, especially for queer folks. I attend a quietly LGB-friendly church. I use the term friendly rather than welcoming because they aren’t going out of their way to minister to queer folks, but they’ll love you once you’re there. (I honestly have no idea how they would react to a trans* presence – I’ll keep praying and working on that one.) Regardless of how “friendly” they are, I cannot tell you the last time I went to a church service there or anywhere else where I didn’t hear a microaggression against queer folks. I’ll unpack exactly what those look like in subsequent posts, but for now, I want to focus on the response when those microaggressions are pointed out.
When you say, “You are too sensitive,” what I hear is, “Your hurt doesn’t matter to me.”
When you say, “You have to understand that we didn’t mean anything by it,” you assume that I don’t already know that and that somehow that erases the hurt.
When you say, “That’s obviously not what we meant,” you assume that your intentions are obvious, and you forget that visitors (to the church itself and even to our website) don’t know you and have no idea what your intentions are.
When I point out microaggressions, it is not to shame you; it is to help you communicate more kindly, effectively, and lovingly – it is to educate you.
At the moment, I have to accept that church sanctuaries will not always be a peaceful place for me, but I am not willing to sit back and let that be the case forever. Queer folks who stay active in churches despite being hurt by them do so because we love the church too much to see it continually hurt others and itself. We genuinely deeply love the church.
Jesus didn’t want your excuses, and neither do we. We ALL come to the church as broken people looking to be made whole – we are ALL there to learn. Please be open to learning from the queer voices around you. That’s going to require listening and self-reflection. I can promise you that it won’t be comfortable, but I can also promise you that it will be so worth it.