Christian Denominations in Omaha and Their Viewpoints of the LGBTQ+ Community

Alyha McCartney, Sam Houchin, Jordan Schill-King, Sumayo Isse, Grace Porter

The LGBTQ+ community has been widely rejected by. This applies specifically to the predominantly Christian Omaha, Nebraska. This study will use church websites to find evidence of the rejection or acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. This study will focus on how exclusive churches and denominations can work on being accepting of the LGBTQ+ community and follow the example of other denominations or churches which have treated the community with respect and acceptance.

Methodology

The focus of this research was to look at how churches are and aren’t being accepting of those who are from the lgbtq community. 

This study includes research from scholarly journals and data compiled from websites of fifteen Christian churches in the Omaha metro area from the following denominations; Baptist, Catholic, Evangelical, Lutheran and Methodist. Data compiled from the websites included but were not limited to; the “about us” page, mission statements and the history page on each website. The collected data was then narrowed down and interpreted into tables where themes emerged. The common themes were inclusivity, marriage, economic status/area, website and community involvement. Each theme was separated and expanded upon. The finding where conducted in the span of 9 weeks.

Findings

In the original data, collected by the group many for the churches preached that they were inclusive, being okay with the LGBTQ+. After doing extensive research on the church’s, the group found this very hypocritical, while because they said that marriage is only between a man and a woman. Not for anyone else.  

Sexuality, Religion, and Marriage

After reading several scholarly articles learning facts about what some religions think about sexuality in marriage and relationships. Several of the churches researched including Luthern, Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical, and Methodist, said most of the same things. Everyone is welcome gay or straight but when it came marriage it was a different story. Most of the churches believe that marriage is only for a man and women. That is a sacred union under the sight of God. They believe that marriage is a visible sign of God’s unconditional love for us and brings grace and joy to the new couple. A local coffee shop in Omaha, the Urban Abby is very inclusive and believes that marriage is just loving no matter sexuality or gender. Showing a more progressive side of Omaha that believes equality. 

Analysis: Overseeing many church websites, they try and go for the heart making people believe they are inclusive. They claim “You are welcome in this congregation regardless of Race, Nationality, Age, Gender, Gender Identity, Marital Status, Sexual Orientation”. Most church’s use persons good heartedness, to take their money, and preach for things they don’t really believe in. 

Christian websites surrounding their beliefs

When websites of various religious affiliations were looked at, there was one commonality noticed. They all had an almost “don’t ask, don’t tell” aura about them. They all claimed acceptance of all individuals and then would continue on to list their beliefs. Those same beliefs excluded members of the LGBTQ+ community the majority of the time. So this just begs the question of what Christians consider acceptance?

There have been cases in South Africa in which females, who identify as lesbians, have been judged and discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. One case told of how a doctor told a young woman she could not have been raped because the man was just showing her what was supposed to happen between a man and a woman. What is so astounding is that South Africa is a heavily christian based country who also states that they do not discriminate against sexual orientation. Even though this is in South Africa, the belief system and hypocrisy is evident in Omaha denominations as well.

The stigmatization of the LGBTQ+ community has created bias and controversy especially within the religious community. However people like Freud, considered homosexuality common and a natural human reaction. When determining whether or not religion should have a say in views of morality and justice we should take into account the harmful affects towards LGBTQ children and individuals. We should remember to keep the welfare of children and humans alike, and how their mental health relies on help from the state as well as their families.

In Hinduism, for example, the rainbow appears in the sky after the anger of the god of storms, Indra, has subsided. For Buddhists, rainbows are associated with the highest state achievable before attaining Nirvana. It also mentions how that in medieval times that they believed that a person could change their gender just by walking underneath a rainbow. This was believed in countries such as France and Russia. All of these facts show that symbolism differs based on culture, a rainbow means gay pride for one person and a godly gift for another. Christians shouldn’t expect other people or denominations to hold the very same things sacred or to not have their own take on common symbols or beliefs.

At an governmental level there is a difference between transgender and marriage name changes. There isn’t a cost to change your name when you get married, there is a $435 name and gender change fee, often affecting the same communities that already have higher rates of unemployment and poverty. There were even places whereit talks about medical professionals asking transgender people about how to proceed because they were not taught much on the subject. It’s scary to think how exclusive medical fields, churches, or even families can be. 

A few websites mention tradition throughout, valuing tradition via marriage, parenthood, morals, values and so on. Traditionally gay individuals were excommunicated from society and the church. So is everyone really all that welcome if that religion or church supports the traditional shackles that suppress a particular group of individuals? Maybe if churches were more accepting of different lifestyles and just focused on the love of humanity and god they would have more members and the world might just be a better place

Analysis: 

Through various christian websites accessed online there have been multiple claims of acceptance for anyone and everyone, “a place where ALL ARE WELCOME!” This exclamation from the Sacred Heart claims acceptance of people of all walks of life however if someone clicks on a link of the website it will take you to various websites. 

Of these various websites there are multiple arguments against the LGBTQ+ community and articles in support of Pope Benedict who was known to be homophobic and have had some very controversial coments on the issue. Can a church really claim to be all welcoming if they support someone who does just the opposite?

Inclusivity

While many individuals have found that religion can have positive effects on mental health and serve as a coping strategy for many, according to Rachel M. Schmitz and Brandi Woodell in their article “Complex Processes of Religion and Spirituality among Midwestern LGBTQ Homeless Young Adults,” this idea does not always apply in the case of socially diverse individuals. According to Schmitz and Woodell, LGBTQ+ people of color are disproportionately represented in the homeless population. LGBTQ young adults from religious backgrounds also have higher odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts compared to LGBTQ young adults that did not grow up within a religious household. Religion and spirituality can be beneficial for young adults’ well being, but sexual and gender minorities are often subjected to more religious discrimination than other groups.

In Shilo, Yoseff, and Savaya’s article “Religious Coping Strategies and Mental Health among Religious Jewish Gay and Bisexual Men,” important information and suggestions were taken into account. Even though this study is about Christian religious rejection of LGBTQ+ individuals, this article was helpful in the research process. It enforces the fact that religion can be a positive coping mechanism for individuals, but adds that “positive religious coping strategies only resulted in better mental health when accompanied by social resources such as social connections within the LGBTQ+ community and the acceptance of their sexual orientation by family and friends.” It also suggests that religious congregations should think about expanding social activities and opportunities to the LGBTQ+ members of the community and allow for safe and supportive practice of faith and expression of sexual identity. This way the individuals are able to maintain their faith and religious practices that help better mental health  to begin with.

“Religion, Psychiatry, and Alternate Sexuality” discusses the importance of education and awareness among healthcare professionals in order to give access to proper care for LGBTQ+ individuals. For example, it mentions that clinicians should be aware of religious views that a person may have, since it has been proven that individuals with conflicting religious and sexual identities tend to have more mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety disorders. The article states that, “Education on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex-related topics in mental health professionals leads to a better recognition of the issue and provision of respectful, effective mental health care within the context of socio-religious identity and background.”

In contrast to the effects of religion on LGBTQ+ individuals, “The Reciprocal Relationship Between Religious Beliefs and Acceptance of One’s Gay or Lesbian Family Member” focuses on the effect of having a loved one come out as LGBTQ+ on religious, non-LGBTQ+ individuals. Sometimes they will seek out new churches completely because they don’t agree with teachings that state their loved one’s identity is invalid or wrong in any way. They also may just ignore teachings that don’t promote acceptance. The article says that this is more common in people that have been involved in a certain congregation for a long period of time and have stronger connections and ties there. They may also get more involved in pro-LGBTQ+ organizations and leadership positions such as PFLAG.

In looking through multiple websites for Christian churches of different denominations around the Omaha area, a lot of the same sentiments were present regarding how inclusive they were, or who the churches were targeting. The churches are for everyone who believes in the same thing or prospect, whether that be God, or specific teachings the church stands by. The churches reached out to possible newcomers and to people who are returning to the faith. Every church stated that “all are welcome,” but it is difficult to pinpoint what that means in terms of LGBTQ+ individuals. There seems to be a “don’t ask, don’t tell” sentiment when it comes to one’s sexual orientation in the church. This gives LGBTQ+ individuals the feeling that their identity is not valid and that they should hide who they are because it is not talked about enough.  For example, most of the websites examined didn’t mention the possibility of LGBTQ+ individuals in the church, except for methodist churches and one catholic church. In contrast to the majority of the Christian worship places in Omaha, Urban Abbey creates an example to be followed in terms of inclusivity. Located in downtown Omaha, Urban Abbey is a nonprofit, fair trade coffee shop, bookstore, and Church that explicitly states on their website that they “welcome people with different theological viewpoints, from various races and cultures and classes, and of every sexual orientation and gender identity” into their community.

Analysis: Religious institutions tend to display a conservative view towards individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, so the relationship between the LGBTQ+ community tends to be negative a majority of the time. The lack of inclusivity in the Catholic church can have negative effects on LGBTQ+ individuals who have a desire to be part of the organized religion. The claim that each church is welcoming to all can be harmful to these individuals when faced with the reality that, in fact, most either do not explicitly state that the LGBTQ+ community is welcome or state that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Community involvement

The different denominations of churches displayed multiple types of community involvement. Some of the more traditional churches think spreading the word of God was  Community Involvement. More of the non-traditional churches do volunteer work, community service, youth groups. Each church had no mention of LGBTQ+ youth groups. The denominations studied did not display any involvement with LGBTQ+ community in the Omaha area. Urban Abbey, a non-traditional church does queer faith on campus groups, coffee talks (UNO Veteran Organization) and sells fair trade items. This church was the only church in the Omaha area to openly accept and involve themselves with the LGBTQ+ community.

Analysis: In the sociological perspective, not involving the LGBTQ+ community could backfire on the Christian communities. They could be called hypocrites for saying everyone is welcome but then leave a whole section of the community out of the community involvement.

Economic Status/Area

 Churches like St. Frances Cabrini Church and Salem Baptist Church, both churches who have been around for nearly a century have a large of a portion of their website dedicated to the history of their church and a smaller portion for seeking out new members whereas Hope Evangelical Free Church and Brookside Church, who have both been around for less than 30 years have the majority of their website dedicated to reaching out to new members and virtually nothing about their church’s history.

Churches located in more diverse areas targeted a more diverse population. For example, St. Pius X, a catholic church located in a tract where 19% of the population, according to census data, identify other than white, webpage targeted people from the LG different ethnicities  by displaying messages like “ALL ARE WELCOME!” and photos with people from many ethnic backgrounds. First Lutheran church however, located in a tract where only 9% of its residents, according to census data, identify as other than white, webpage had no inclusive or inviting messages and all photo on the website where of older white people

Analysis: The idea of diversity relating to being more accepting of other is supported by Samuel L. Perry’s article,  “Racial diversity, religion, and morality: Examining the moral views of multiracial church attendees”. Perry states, “Research on the ideological correlates of multiracial church attendance has consistently found that persons (and particularly whites) who attend racially diverse congregations tend to hold more progressive social views” (Perry 2012) 

In realating to the LGBTQ community Perry also states that those exposed to racial diversity typically changes social attitudes. According to Perry, “Some evidence, however, suggests that the link between racial diversity and one’s social attitudes may extend beyond issues of race. For instance, persons who participate in multiracial/multiethnic congregations are less likely to affirm traditional gender norms of women working in the home” (Perry 2012). 

Research to support the claim of older churches being less inviting of than new churches specifically to those of the LGBTQ community were insufficient. 

Conclusion

The LGBTQ+ community has been widely rejected because of religious beliefs. Specifically in the Christian-dominated Omaha, Nebraska, multiple church websites from different denominations show evidence of either denying the legitimacy of same-sex marriage or having a “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude towards these individuals. One church in Omaha, Urban Abbey, shows exemplary attitude toward LGBTQ+ individuals, and serves as a role model for other churches in regards to treatment of the LGBTQ+ community.

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