Finding an LGBT+ friendly church in Belgium is not easy. Here are the results of my small survey to discover LGBT+ affirming churches in Belgium.
Moving to another country often involves finding a new church. For internationals, an English-speaking church is often a first point of call, especially when your French or Dutch language skills are pretty basic.
The good news is that throughout Belgium there are many English-speaking churches of different denominations. This of course can present its own challenges: finding a church that suits you and maybe also your partner and/or children can be a balancing act as you juggle all kinds of personal and family preferences.
If you are looking for a list of most English-speaking churches in Belgium, a good place to start is the Churches Together website.
Not all Christian churches love LGBT+ Christians
However, if you are an LGBT+ Christian, the choice isn’t so straightforward. You will already probably have realized that not all Christian churches are LGBT+ friendly. The level of antagonism towards LGBT+ Christians can vary. Unfortunately, some churches in Belgium, while saying they welcome gay and lesbian Christians, will prevent them from participating in the sacraments, leading public prayer, teaching in the Sunday School, or singing in the choir. Some of the more extreme could subject the LGBT+ Christian to some form of conversion therapy.
There’s worse. In a recent Guardian article (October 2020): “Campaigners say charismatic and evangelical churches that tell LGBT+ people they are an abomination or possessed by demonic forces are driving some towards self-harm and suicide.”
Six years ago a Manchester teenager, Lizzie Lowe, took her own life after telling friends she feared her church would not accept her if she came out as a lesbian.
“For as long as I can remember, I have had to listen to simply dreadful stories emerging from certain evangelical and charismatic churches … [LGBT+ people] find themselves silenced, removed from every ministry and leadership role and generally treated like pariahs.”Simon Butler, Church of England Vicar
A survey to find LGBT+ affirming churches
In 2015 I carried out a small survey of my own. I wrote to all the English-speaking churches listed on the Churches Together website. In my email, I asked them what their policy is on welcoming LGBT+ Christians to their church and encouraging participation in church groups and activities. I also asked them if they wanted to be listed on Discovering Belgium as an LGBT+ friendly church.
I was delighted to get a few replies from genuinely LGBT+ affirming churches. They stated categorically that they are LGBT+ friendly, and that a person’s sexuality would have no impact on them taking a full part in all church activities. These are listed below.
As to the others, the response was not so positive. One church contacted me by telephone and said that they warmly welcome gay and lesbian Christians but participation would “depend on lifestyle.” This clearly shows that a “welcoming church” is not necessarily an “affirming church.”
Most churches, however, simply did not reply. Nor to my follow-up email. And in some cases, did not wish to engage on the topic face-to-face. Some of these are evangelical churches that I know are not LGBT+ friendly through negative experiences I have heard about. One is where a member of the church choir was told to leave the choir when he came out as gay. Other evangelical churches – particularly in the Church of England – maintain a culture of silence. Probably in the hope that the issue will go away if they keep their heads in the sand.
Finding an LGBT+ Friendly church in Belgium
Here is the list of LGBT+ friendly churches in Belgium:
- International Protestant Church of Brussels
- All Saints, Waterloo and its mission church in Mons, l’Ã‰glise to Saint-Esprit. All Saints also supports Christ Church Charleroi.
- St. Andrew’s Church of Scotland, Brussels
- St. Boniface Antwerp
- St. Martha and St. Mary’s, Leuven (English/Dutch)
- The Quakers of Brussels
- Saint Servais Episcopal, Namur (French)
- The Swedish Church of Brussels (Also also hosts a gay Christian group called Christ Libérateur that meets for a French-speaking monthly service in their church)
- The Danish Church of Brussels
It’s a small list, unfortunately, especially considering that I wrote to nearly 50 churches.
If your church is not on the list and you believe should be, please drop me a line and I will be happy to include your church. You will need to agree with the statement below.
What is an LGBT+ affirming church?
An LGBT+ affirming church places no restrictions on people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and/or Queer; they are welcomed and encouraged to participate in and lead at all levels of church leadership and liturgy if that is their wish. Such a policy is clearly communicated, for example on the church website. Generic “we are inclusive” or “we welcome all” statements do not count.
If you want an intelligent approach to understanding what the New Testament says about homosexuality, I can recommend this talk. I have other talks like this. If you are interested, drop me a line.
If their Jesus chap exists, he seems the kind of person who would be welcoming to anyone, regardless of their beliefs and sexuality, so I just don’t get it. Christians don’t seem very Christian-like mostly. :/ Anyways, glad you found somewhere!
It is one of the saddest and hurtful things about being a Christian, that the Christian Church as a whole does not fully embrace LGBT folk but in some cases deliberately excludes them, tries to change them, and causes them extreme emotional pain which can in severe cases lead to attempted suicide. Thanks for your affirming comment Fraggle!
NIce list, Denzil. Pat
Doing well. I saw in a comment you wrote a while ago that you needed focus on your own business so I was not worried. Just glad you are back now.
People are fearful of those that are different from themselves. So much easier to exclude them than take the time to understand that we are all different for various reasons. As a lapsed Catholic I dislike the institutional thinking of mainstream religion and the hell they have created here on earth for many of their followers. On a positive note thankfully there are now more open minded people who are Christians ðŸ˜Š
Thanks Suzanne. Love conquers, but sometimes has struggles, particularly, as you mention, when it’s institutional exclusion that is being faced.
I find that people who talk all the time about being Christian are often the least Christian in their attitudes towards others. It’s good to know there are some welcoming places.
You’re sadly right Carol. But there are others who persevere in trying to display the inclusive love displayed by Jesus.
Having been close to gay Christians who struggle to be part of the church and gay atheists who are repelled, it is clear to me that following the great commission demands an inclusive church.
Well said Paul, although I think it’s a real shame that St. Paul’s Tervuren can’t yet be added to the list, despite me talking to the Lead Chaplain about it. He is content to “maintain the culture of silence” that I mention above.
Denzil, I hope and pray that we are all evolving, both as individuals and congregations. At least this is a Chaplain with whom you could have that conversation – it wasn’t so long ago that women were denied equal rights at St. Paul’s.
I like the idea and practice of an evolving faith and church! It’s always good to be reminded of the positive progress made rather than the road still to be traveled. Thanks Paul.
I find it so sad that lists like these even have to be created, and even sadder how tiny the list is. It is one of those things I just don’t get it, what has sexuality got to do with belief, faith, ability etc etc? Our world is so unkind.
You are a star though for undertaking the survey and creating the list.
Thanks Becky. I agree, in theory, Church should equal Inclusion. In practice, in many it means Drawing Lines, Gatekeeping, and Exclusion. We can only hope, pray and work towards change.
What church did you end up attending?
None of these Timothy. I attend the nearest international church to me where there are people with a mix of opinions on LGBT relationships. It can be hopeful at times, and very challenging at other times.
No doubt, Denzil, that this is valuable information for church-going LGBT visitors and new residents to Belgium.
Good to have you back on the blogosphere 🙂
Thanks Rosaliene for your company, comment and ‘couragement
I don’t believe that God, in whatever language, has a religion. People have religions that raise them to God and to being decent, ethical people. For any church, mosque, synagogue, temple, or spiritual retreat to claim it promotes access to God while refusing full participation to anyone, is, in my book, to prove how far they are from God. People cannot reduce or limit God, they can only reduce or limit themselves.
You’ve provided a compassionate service for Christians in Belgium, and I’m sure many of your followers are deeply grateful.
BTW, the Jewish temple to which I belong is welcoming to everyone. We don’t ask for gender identification nor do we tolerate the “culture of silence” falsehood.
Thanks for your positive feedback Sharon, with which I totally concur. Your temple puts many churches to shame. Shalom.
A sad list, but a list nevertheless. I stand with one of your other commenters: faith has nothing to do with sexuality, or other characteristics defining human beings. I heard somewhere that God loves everyone. Quite hypocritical then that churches would exclude certain groups…
You’re right Liesbet, and a mystery why “love your neighbor” and “God loves everyone” becomes corrupted. Still, change can happen, and is. Best wishes to you.
I really enjoyed this post, and had never thought about the difference between a “welcoming church” and an “affirming church.” It was one of those “oh yeah….” moments where someone articulates something that you totally agree with, sort of understood but never really put much thought into.
I am a gay Christian who is having to take a bit of time out from the church because many of the churches that I attended were at best more in the “welcoming” category, at worst fairly hostile.
I’ll definitely be heading back at some point, but it’s so important to find a church that is affirming. If I was straight, it wouldn’t be so much of a challenge – you’re never going to agree with 100% of what a church preaches, and LGBT may have just been one of the things I didn’t agree with – if it was one thing out of the many others that I did agree with, it wouldn’t affect me as much.
But as a gay Christian, any LGBT teaching will directly affect me, so it’s so important I find somewhere that is affirming. I know of some in Scotland, but it would require a move (possibly in the pipeline anyway) and a lot of time to heal from past damages!
Sorry for the long post, I tend to just type as I think and forget about editing (you should see the first three drafts of half my blog posts…)
Basically, thank you so much!
Hi David, and thanks for your comment: certainly not too long! I empathize with your challenge of finding a church that is positively affirming. In my experience most are simply silent, but this can lead to the presence of people in the congregations who (as you seem to have experienced) fairly hostile. At least with an obviously anti-LGBT church you know where you stand and can avoid them! With a silent church like the one I attend, a potential obnoxious comment is just “one coffee-time around the corner.”
I also agree with your comment on your profile about mental health. This is something far too many churches simply do not get. I find the reality that many many LGBT Christians are suffering from anxiety, depression or worse, simply appalling. Secular organisations are more in tune with this than the Christian church.
I don’t know if you are a member of any of the LGBT Christian groups on Facebook. For example: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1525588697701829/ (in the UK). You might find an affirming church through such a group that is nearer than you think.
Thanks again for commenting David, and best wishes in your search for an appreciative community. Feel free to keep in touch. Denzil
It’s sad how small this list is, but at the same time, a useful one to anyone who is searching for an affirming church in Belgium. It’s sad because the two greatest commandments are about love, and yet many of us in the larger Christian Church don’t exercise that love.
Hi Brendan, thanks for dropping by and adding a comment, which I wholeheartedly agree with. Keep you the good work you are doing, campaigning to stop injustice in its many forms in the world today.
Dear Denzil, thank you for having added our church too to your list! I am glad to discover you again after so many years. Maybe you can add to your list the Swedish church in Etterbeek, and maybe the Danish Church in Ixelles.
Thanks for the tips Georges! I’ll add those to the list. Which church in the list do you attend?
St-Servais, Waterloo, Charleroi, and Swedish Etterbeek.
St-Servais, All Saints Waterloo, Christ Church Charleroi, Etterbeek Swedish. See also the e-mail I’ve sent you, to your old address.
Thanks for all your input George, and I’ve updated the list accordingly. Great to see it growing, steadily but surely as more folk see the light!
I am the new pastor at the International Protestant Church (IPC) in Brussels, and I’d like to share an incident from my interview with the pastoral nominating committee. In the past, when different search committees have found out that I am open and affirming in my stance towards the LGBT community, the interview would often end there. So when the IPC search committee asked me point-blank if I was accepting of the LGBT community, I didn’t hedge, even knowing that my response might cost me the job. I said simply, “Yes,” and waited for their response. I didn’t have to wait long — the person who asked the question quickly said “Good!”
Check out our website — ipcbrussels.org — or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/IPCBrussels/
We are trying to get an audio recording of this week’s service posted online, so you’ll have a chance to check us out anonymously. If you like what you hear online, come check us out in person (when services resume after the coronavirus scare subsides), at 11:15 on Sundays at the Church of Notre Dame de Blankedelle, Avenue des HÃ©ros 40, in Auderghem. Feel free to e-mail me with questions.
Hi Pastor David, and thanks for dropping me a line. It’s great to hear of your positive response from the IPC search committee. My wife and I attended IPC for a while a few years back. It’s always been one of the leading churches in the Brussels expat community in respect to LGBT inclusion. I wish you well in your work at IPC and hope you enjoy Belgium. Feel free to use this site for ideas of places to explore! Best wishes. Denzil
Thank you Denzil for coming up with this list of inclusive churches. I recently moved to Antwerp from Germany where I used to attend small group home gatherings organized by “Zwischenraum” – referring to the space between the christian church and the lgbt community. It is a safe space for queer christians to share their experiences of coming out in a christian church setting and the brutal consequences of being rejected by the church. Settling in in Belgium now, I was wondering if there are similar organizations in Belgium whose goal is to build bridges between the LGBT-community and the church? If there are any gay christians out there in Antwerp, don’t hesitate to contact me. I would be thrilled to start a group such as “Zwischenraum” (https://www.zwischenraum.net/).
Thank you Emanuel for commenting, and welcome to Belgium! I don’t know of any similar organization here to Zwischenraum, which sounds like a really useful and important group. However, I am going to ask someone who may know of something similar. If he does I will contact you by email. I hope you find a welcoming Christian community in your new home!
Hi Emanuel, we are just about to start such a group in Antwerp! I moved here from Switzerland 2 years ago and had attended Zwischenraum Zurich before. As there is no such group yet in Antwerp as far as I know I am in contact with Het Roze Huis who is assisting in starting a new vereniging. It would be wonderful if you joined. You can find us on instagram: hallelu.antwerp