Research into LGBTI+ inclusivity gives all European churches homework

7 May 2021

How LGBTI-inclusive are European churches? The Protestant Theological University was asked to investigate that question in 2019 by the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups. Heleen Zorgdrager and Rein Brouwer then looked at the inclusiveness of 46 European churches. Tomorrow they will present the results of their research and a number of "steps forward".

What is the status of LGBTI inclusivity in churches?

Until now, only stories could be used to answer questions about the situation of LGBTI believers. “The European Forum for LGBTI Christians wanted to map out how LGBTI people are dealt with in churches Europe-wide,” says Rein Brouwer, who conducted the research together with Heleen Zorgdrager. “Churches are for all people, but that doesn't simply apply to all churches. Some people are not welcome, or only welcome under certain conditions.” With this survey among 46 churches, objective information is now available for the first time. This information is desperately needed in the dialogue with churches and in lobbying for the rights of LGBTI persons.

Inclusivity index provides a basis for research into churches and LGBTI people

To be able to carry out the research, the researchers developed a new measuring instrument: the LGBTI inclusivity index for European churches. “The index consists of 47 statements about churches and LGBTI Christians,” says Heleen Zorgdrager. "For example, 'Baptism is administered to all LGBTI people and children of LGBTI couples.' Or, 'LGBTI people have unconditional access to the Lord's Supper.' Or: 'The church makes itself heard in the public debate when it comes to health or other human rights of LGBTI people'. The co-researchers could assign a value to this: 0, 1 or half a point.” With these statements, partners of the European Forum investigated in different countries.

Protestant investigation

The PThU researchers were well aware of their own Protestant starting points in the study. That is why they sought contact throughout the process with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox sounding board groups within the European Forum, both in creating the inclusivity index and in analyzing the results. “For example, we entered into discussions with the Roman Catholic working group,” says Heleen Zorgdrager. “In doing so, we listened carefully to their critical questions and had them contribute ideas about certain interpretations. There was no direct dialogue with the Orthodox working group, but someone from the European Forum who is extremely well versed in the Orthodox world was a co-reader. He was able to critically monitor whether justice was done to the situation of orthodox churches.”

Research mainly done within established European churches

The research mainly looked at established churches in European countries. “The co-researchers themselves chose the churches in their country that have a certain impact,” says Rein Brouwer. "So obviously they would choose the most visible churches." In the Netherlands, for example, the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN) and the Catholic Church have been included, but not, for example, the Reformed Liberated Church and the Remonstrant Community. Evangelical and Pentecostal communities and migrant churches are also not included in the survey. This eventually led to a ranking of 46 Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant churches in Europe, arranged according to LGBTI inclusivity.

Differences between denominations, but also within denominations

The researchers compared the different denominations with each other. They also looked at the differences within the denominations. “There is a difference between the 'church families',” confirms Rein Brouwer. “But the purpose of the study was not to see which denomination is 'doing well' or 'not doing well'. Our research isn't meant to point fingers." Heleen Zorgdrager adds: “If you look at average scores, Protestant churches score higher on average than Catholic churches, and Catholic churces in turn score higher than Eastern Orthodox churches. But if you look further, individual churches within the Protestant church group sometimes score very low, while a Roman Catholic church in a certain country can score very high. ” This is because other factors also play a role: cultural and political factors, the history of the country and of the church, and whether a country belongs to the European Union or is trying to enact European legislation. “Churches respond to that. They resist, or they carefully go along with it.” Rein Brouwer nods. “Even within the church families there are big differences. We need that nuanced image. If you don't portray this in a nuanced way, you won't be able to draw any conclusions.”

Churches are given homework

The researchers wrote advice for each denomination: if a church would want to take a step forward compared to another church, what could they do? They have brought their advice together in 24 "steps forward". Heleen Zorgdrager: “In drawing up these steps, it helped us to see: which churches are doing well, and why? What are best practices?” Some of the advice is "very basic," says Rein Brouwer. “Affirm that all people are children of God and that there are no conditions attached to that. If all churches subscribe to this, that's already a big step. Then you build it up further: start a pastoral dialogue with LGBTI people. Invite action groups and interest groups. Look for LGBTI people who can contribute ideas about your policy. It goes on and on, until you get to steps that are only reserved for churches that have been working for a long time to promote the rights of LGBTI people. For example: recognize that churches have played a negative role in the acceptance of LGBTI people. That is quite a big step for some churches.”

All churches can get started with results

“There will certainly be resistance to the results of the research,” says Heleen Zorgdrager. “Not all churches look as good. I think it is important to show how diverse and nuanced things are. That will remove a lot of resistance." What do they hope the churches will do with the report? Wielie Elhorst, participant in the research from the European Forum: “The research was in itself a huge boost for the Forum member groups. They now have a well-educated tool with which to work in their own country and church. In addition to the report, a website has also been developed that is easily accessible to everyone: www.inclusive-churches.eu.” Heleen Zorgdrager: "Of course you hope that churches will make progress." Churches that are not involved in the research can also get started with the results. “You can look at yourself as a church within your context. Which churches are most similar to my context and how do they do it, what are they different or better at than we can show now?”

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