Last Friday my conservative Christian parents had about 20 members of their church over for dinner. Guests arrived at about 7, and after everyone helped themselves to buffet-style Italian beef, they sat down and talked about -- wait for it -- LGBT people.
I was shocked when I found this out. The congregation of my hometown church is not a hateful one, but they are incredibly conservative Baptists, many of them are over 50, and they are primarily quiet folk. What my parents realized was that even though it's great to be a member of a church that is not overtly bigoted, being silent on these issues isn't going to cut it.
You see, those in my former church who did have LGBT relatives or friends often came to my parents in secret, asking for counsel and advice because, well, everyone knew that they have an estranged, gay son up in New York (cue Barbra, my entrance, and a half-hearted shimmy).
But this confiding-gayness-in-secret thing grew tiresome, so my parents said, basically, "Why don't we hold onto our britches and put it all out on the table? We'll even throw some beef sandwiches in there."
My parents were "NALT" and didn't even know it. They had never even heard of Dan Savage or his recently promoted acronym, which stands for "Not All Like That." In addition to being a term for pro-LGBT Christians, "NALT" is a newly launched Web movement for allies of faith to publicize their support for the LGBT community. "NALT" is a term that can be adopted for your own purposes in promoting LGBT rights at your church. Together you are newly assembled NALTs. I think it can also be a verb: I NALT, you NALT, we all NALT, etc.
And although posting a supportive video to the NALT site is definitely one thing that you can do to separate yourself from the Westboro Baptist types, it would be an even bigger step forward to do for your church what my parents are doing for theirs.
Be the one to start regular meetings for a local NALT society, or as my sister so lovingly calls it, "The How-to-Handle-Your-Gay-Son Club." This brave assembly assesses something that churches should have started doing a long time ago. Instead of saying in secret that they support LGBT rights, Christians should step out of their comfort zones -- come out, if you will -- and just talk about it.
But doing so is easier said than done, and your fellow NALTs will likely encounter some complications or even backlash. So take it from "the gay son" when I say there are a few things you can do to better your future NALTing:
- Start small: Don't feel like you need to make an announcement or put up flyers, because churches often don't condone PSAs that are not sponsored by the church. An open invitation and word of mouth will do just fine for the first meeting.
- Stand your ground: Depending on your church's theoretical climate, you may be approached by someone who will advise against your NALTing or even try to stop your meeting. Stay calm and ask them to grab coffee with you sometime. If they are aggressively homophobic, then they are not NALT and therefore are not allowed to come to your NALT club.
- Leave church politics at church: If a pastor or church leader comes to join your NALTs, do not be intimidated by their status or let them override conversations. With everyone in their street clothes and enjoying food, your NALTs are equal members and entitled to equal opinions.
- Appoint at least one LGBT person (ideally one representative of each letter in the acronym) to be present at every meeting: Hashing out LGBT issues without an LGBT person is like flying a plane without an air traffic controller.
- Expose your group to liberal media: Although sites like Christianity Today and Christian News will often cover LGBT issues, they are often written without any actual LGBT writer or perspective. Seek out Christian models in liberal media who can provide a balance to what you are conversing about.
- Don't take sides: The church choir mom who is desperate for her lesbian niece to inherit the kingdom of God will not -- I repeat: will not -- beat out the transgender teen who is desperate to worship openly. When you have a duel of desperations, you will have a stalemate. Try to approach the issues objectively, without taking personal offense.
- Finally, and most importantly, emphasize that there is no "cure" for homosexuality: Whether you would like to believe it or not, homosexuality is not a choice, and we cannot help our attraction any more than you can. It is not a disease. It is not a "struggle." However, there are different ways of living with yourself when you are attracted to the same sex. Evaluating those ways is part of what NALT is all about.
The first person who ever told me that I was going to hell was a leader at my church. I was 16, and I assure you that nothing haunted me more. Truth be told, I left my church ages ago because I thought my entire congregation saw me as "struggling."
But NALT involvement at your church could override people like that who hold such a piteous outlook on LGBT issues. Break the mold and seek out ways that you can counter Christians who misrepresent what is supposed to be a loving community. Give NALT a chance. It could help kids like me know that not all Christians are "like that."