The pressure of modernisation: LGBTQ+ in the churches of Europe

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The pressure of modernisation: LGBTQ+ in the churches of Europe

LGBTQ+ acceptance among European Christians is increasing. Do churches adapt to this social change or do they stick to their more conservative teachings?

Social change and institutional rigidity

In Europe, acceptance of homosexuality, bisexuality, and gender diversity is growing steadily. People, including individuals with a Christian background, are becoming increasingly accepting of LGBTQ+-related issues. In the Netherlands, only 1% of Roman Catholics have negative attitudes towards homosexuality and bisexuality. 13% of believers belonging to the Protestant Church in the Netherlands are reported to think negatively about homosexuality. The majority of Dutch Christians are positively accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. Although there are Christians who take a neutral stance, straightforward disapproval is becoming less and less common.[1]

Despite the fact that LGBTQ+ acceptance among Christian believers is growing, Christian institutions across Europe often still express anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments. The Vatican holds the opinion that homosexual relationships are not in line with divine will.[2] In 2021, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith prohibited priests from blessing same-sex unions. The reason given for this prohibition is that it is impossible for God to “bless sin.”[3] Attitudes towards transgender rights also tend to be straightforwardly negative. Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, a German representative of the Roman Catholic Church, recently referred to transgenderism as “a mutilation of mind, soul and body.” He openly condemns it and calls it a sin. Müller opposes the LGBTQ+ movement because, according to him, it rejects man’s nature given to him by God.[4]

Social pressure: LGBTQ+ in the church

There seems to be a tension between the conservative stances of Christian institutions and the increasingly progressive attitudes of believers. Many believers dislike the rigid position of their church. They want a church that is in touch with society, one that adapts to social change. A recent questionnaire revealed that many women in the Netherlands want their church to modernise. They wish to see changes in their church, like a more modern stance on sexuality and gender and the approval of same-sex marriages.[5] Some believers organise themselves to promote such changes.

A German Catholic youth organisation called ‘the Katholische junge Gemeide’ (KjG), for example, recently introduced the term ‘Gott+’ to promote inclusivity and diversity. The KjG expressed that the Catholic Church employs an outdated image of God that is consistent with sexist and patriarchal views. They plan to refer to God with alternating masculine, feminine, and gender-neutral pronouns, thereby creating more space for LGBTQ+ positivity.[6]

Christian institutions are not insensitive to the pressure of modernisation. More and more Churches are adapting to the LGBTQ+ acceptance that is growing among Christian believers. In May 2022, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland voted in favour of confirming same-sex marriages.[7] In June, the national synod of the Christian Catholic Church in Switzerland voted in favour of blessing same-sex marriages with the same sacraments as heterosexual marriages.[8] German Cardinal Reinhard Marx advocates for a change in the Catholic teachings on homosexuality. According to Marx, who has blessed multiple LGBTQ+ couples, the Catholic catechism is in no way unchangeable. Marx does not believe that homosexuality is a sin and promotes inclusivity of the LGBTQ+ community.[9]

While Christian believers are becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, Christian institutions tend to lag behind. Nevertheless, there is space for change. Social pressures from the outside are transforming the positions and practices of many churches. Under the pressure of modernisation, there is more and more space for LGBTQ+ in the church.

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[1] Homoacceptatie in Nederland groeit, ‘gender’ blijft omstreden

[2] Segensfeiern für Liebende in rund 80 katholischen Kirchen

[3] ‘It just hurts’: Catholics react to Vatican ban on blessings for same-sex couples

[4] Kardinal Müller: Transrodna ideologija je ‘samosakaćenje’, njezino promicanje je ‘ozbiljan grijeh’

[5] Rooms-katholieke vrouwen: Stel ambten open

[6] Een inclusief plusje voor een God die al inclusief is

[7] Schotse kerk stemt in met inzegening homohuwelijken

[8] In Switzerland, first same-sex couples say “I do”

[9] Marx dringt auf Änderung der Kirchenlehre zu Homosexualität