Church communities have been changing greatly since the beginning of the 21st century. Traditional views have continually been challenged by many individuals about what the Bible says regarding controversial issues, especially the LGBTQ+ community. Churches have not come to a standard agreement about how to incorporate these individuals. Some churches have welcomed conversation, while others have refused to address such issues.
Someone who has challenged these beliefs from a young age and still continues to question the church and its acceptance and love towards people in the LGBTQ+ community is a 21 year-old, University of Michigan student named Lucas Tittle.
Tittle is originally from Ypsilanti, Mich. and has been a member of a small church for his entire life. Growing up, Lucas Tittle and his family were involved members in the church community. He participated in youth groups all through grade school and was a worship team member for eight years. The relationships he built with his church family were strong and he considers some of the church’s members to be family-friends.
However, things began changing in May 2018. Tittle came out as bisexual to his immediate family and a few members of his church family. Fearful of what his parents would think, he approached the situation with caution. He said, “I knew my parents loved me, but we hadn’t talked about how they felt about all of it.” Tittle was “especially nervous to come out to people at church” because at the time he was an assistant worship leader, and he didn’t want a part of his identity to affect his ability to serve.”
The responses he received from those in the church seemed supportive on a surface level but remained filled with apprehension. When speaking with leadership in the church, Tittle felt “people were not willing to listen” and that “pastors presented [him] with theology that was very shameful and hurt [him] deeply.” This hurt and pain brought on by his interactions with church leadership eventually led to the deconstruction of his own faith and current time away from the church itself.
The most common response that he heard from people was that they “hated the sin not the sinner.” However, Tittle explains that “if a person thinks a person’s identity is a sin, then they do end up hating the person regardless of what you think.” He wishes that people within the church would not have “pushed their views on an already self-loathing human being,” Tittle said referring to himself. In addition to the forceful nature of these leaders in the church that he spoke with, he felt a deep hatred for himself whenever he stepped foot into a church.
After walking away from the church, he has gotten time to reassess his own faith. Through this ongoing experience, Tittle has also seen the church’s true views on what unconditional love looks like in action. To him, unconditional love is “love that has no boundaries, love that seeks to understand and love that doesn’t hurt yourself or other people.” Tittle says that “the church presents unconditional love conditionally, there is always an “if”. If you don’t fit the mold humans have created people in the church start to lose their love for you.” He also states that, “the words “unconditional love” have been tainted since humans only seem to understand things conditionally.”
Joaquín Tittle, Lucas’ father has seen the impact that the church has had on the lives of LGBTQ+ people, including the life of his son. He expressed that even before Lucas shared his sexual orientation with his immediate family, he “had been quite disappointed and embarrassed with how the church has treated (and still treats) the LGBTQ+ community.” Joaquín Tittle describes his perspective of his son’s interactions with church leadership about being bisexual. He says that the leadership “responded in a harmful way, likening his orientation to evil behavior.” He wishes that pastors would have responded in a pastoral, caring way.
After experiencing this pain in his family, Joaquín Tittle hopes that “as more Christians encounter LGBTQ+ people, they will revisit their ill-informed prejudices and change their minds and begin to truly model Jesus’ love.” That is certainly a mindset that congregations are opening their minds too, however it has been a slow process overall.
This reality of conditional love in the church has been a realization for many LGBTQ+ individuals. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, most LGBTQ+ people feel unwelcome within most major religions and they are the least likely to identify as Christians. Although some Christian denominations are becoming more accepting, most denominations are not often so accepting.
When thinking about returning to a church community one day, Lucas Tittle expresses that he will “only go back to church when the Bible is used to start conversations rather than end them.” He finds theology fascinating and has loved diving deeper into studies about Christianity and LGBTQ+ people. However, at this point he is in no rush to find a church or step back into a community that has proven their conditional love for him. He still considers himself to be a Christian, however he strives to be a Christian that “pushes for inclusion and focuses on loving others rather than being ‘right’ and proving it” both in and out of the church itself. Traditional views in the church will continue to be challenged by more people than just Lucas Tittle. His story is just one that reflects thousands more that will hopefully one day be accepted and loved by the church and its members.