Some religious groups are LGBTQ-affirming. But this hasn’t always been the case. A few individuals remember a different time.
LGBTQ-affirming churches do not consider homosexuality a sin.
Frank Langholf is the pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Rockford. He identifies as straight.
He said he began to question his thoughts about accepting the gay community into churches after his own life changed.
“What really tripped on me to really start reflecting on that and working through that was my divorce in 1989,” he shared.
He said his church was OK with divorced pastors serving but they didn’t accept anyone who was gay.
“We were telling all those folks that weren't straight that 'Sorry, doesn't matter who you are, doesn't matter who you fall in love with, you cannot have this type of relationship, you cannot do that,'” he explained. “And I felt that was so painful and unjust.”
Langholf said he started analyzing biblical text.
“At that point, I had already been in a place where I believed that the Bible or the biblical writings are historically conditioned," he shared.
Kaitlyn Frantz is the site pastor of the Inclusive Collective at Northern Illinois University. She grew up in Texas in a United Methodist Church. Frantz said, in seventh grade, she figured out she wanted to be a pastor.
“And I wasn't really quite sure what that was going to look like. But I knew that I had lots of questions about God. I loved talking with people about God,” she explained. “I liked being in relationships with people so I physically felt God calling me in my heart, into ministry.”
Frantz said she didn’t identify as gay until later in life.
“I had kind of wondered if I was attracted to women before, but I just never really…it felt like I maybe had brushed it under the rug, but not cognitively,” she said. “Like I had just done it on my own out of survival probably.”
She said it was confirmed later in life.
“And after college -- right after college -- my roommate who[m] I had been living with for three years, we both thought we were straight,” she shared. “And then we figured out we liked each other in more than just a friendship kind of way.”
She said she thought this would change her opportunity of being a minister.
“Which was...felt earth shattering right," she said. "It felt like, well, I thought God was calling me to be a minister, and now that can't happen."
Despite fear, Frantz continued to pursue her goal. She said she started taking more classes and she attended Urban Village Church in Chicago.
“And it was a place where I started to feel self-love to know that God celebrated who I was and the person that I was with,” Frantz said.
But not everyone felt the same love at church that Frantz did.
Dantẻs Alexander is an entertainer in the Chicago area who spent most of his teenage years in DeKalb. He identifies as nonbinary. He said he looked up to his pastor but when he needed guidance, he said his pastor was not there for him.
“I felt like God abandoned me because my pastor thought I was weird,” he shared.
Alexander said for him the church was therapy.
“Mental health, right" he said. "Those two are connected completely. Because for Blacks it's so important that we're connected to the church. Unlike our Caucasian counterparts, we were taught that therapy comes from the church and the community.”
Alexander said he was welcomed at a church that he said he doesn’t want to name, but he wasn’t fully embraced.
“It was kind of gut wrenching to me and that was after me going through like some of my lowest periods,” he shared.
Alexander said he thought he was a real part of the church after he got baptized in 2017.
He said the illusion was shattered when he wasn’t allowed to participate in things at the church.
“I'm not particularly sure if I wasn't allowed to sing in the choir because of my sexuality or how I presented myself,” he said. “We don't know these things, but that was just, you know, a very … I was just trying to tiptoe over that.”
He said he was never personally told that was the reason he couldn’t join but he said that’s what he believed.
He said he felt like he didn’t have anywhere to go. It seemed as if the church had abandoned him. And not only the church, but God as well.
“And I felt like he wasn't talking to me, I felt like he was punishing me because of who I was,” he said.
He said he contemplated suicide because he had so many issues that he was trying to sort through.
“And the only way that I can find some type of peace was to actually go ahead and place myself into an institution,” he shared.
He said a staff member at the mental institution talked and prayed with him every day. He said her name was Sister Mary.
“She was the one who kind of restored and renewed my faith because she said, ‘You have to' -- you know she's like: 'You got to snap out of this.'”
Kaitlyn Frantz said although she found affirming churches early on she still had challenges with her family. She said she first told her brother and he was accepting. It took her parents a little longer to adapt to her lifestyle. She said at first they were in denial.
She said her parents showed her Bible verses that supported why she shouldn’t be gay.
“And I know, I know that they said that because it's what they had grown up knowing and believing. And it really hurt and it was hard,” she explained.
But she said her mom loved her enough to try to understand.
“She just started reading and she started listening to different podcasts and other women whose children had come out, particularly evangelical Christians.”
Frantz married her former roommate.
She said now, as a site pastor, she has been able to help someone else who is dealing with a loved one coming out.
“And they're trying to reconcile for that relationship,” she said. “And so last year, we met several times and while they're fairly resistant, they're willing to have a conversation.”
Pastor Frank Langholf said people can’t deny who they are. He said “you have to be yourself” whatever your orientation. And he said he thinks God’s desire is for us all to experience love, compassion and care in our relationships.
Not all churches are affirming. Some are welcoming but do not condone same-sex relationships. Here’s a list of some religions and their views on same-sex relationships.
- Yvonne Boose is a 2020 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.