Panel Discussion

Help or Harm: How Churches and Families Can Choose to Respond

Listen as three excellent panelists answer viewers’ questions about the help or harm that can result from the responses of churches and families to LGBTQ+ members and those who love them. 

Here are just a few of the many quotes from our panelists: 

“Spaces for open conversation helps. Communities that operate on silence and shame are harmful.” – Ian

“In general, religious participation has positive impacts for mental health – but the opposite is true when
the church creates conflict between one’s religious identity in Christ and one’s sexual identity.” – Emily

“A church’s theology impacts how LGBTQ+ see themselves. If they internalize homophobia, it is harmful.” – Katherine (Hear about four types of churches: Rejecting-punitive; rejecting-non-punitive; qualified accepting; and fully accepting.)

“Identity conflict and internalized homophobia are most harmful for LGBTQ+ youth.” – Katherine

“Church leaders should intentionally assume there are LGBTQ+ persons in the room. Don’t talk about
gays in ways you would not talk to a gay person.” – Katherine


– Dr. Emily Helder, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology

– Katherine Johnson, programming coordinator at The Reformation Project

– Ian Van Haren, PhD candidate in sociology at McGill, former Canadian diplomat and executive director of an NGO.

Read more about the panelists, below. 

Help or Harm: How Churches and Families Can Choose to Respond 


Dr. Emily Helder (she/her) is a clinical psychologist and professor, and her research focuses on adverse childhood experiences and later impacts on mental health and relationships. She grew up in the CRC and is an elder at Grace Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Ian Van Haren is a PhD candidate in sociology at McGill University. His research and teaching focus on refugee protection, international migration, demography, social policy, and the actions of civil society in supporting individuals seeking protection in new countries. Ian is also the chair of the board of directors of Citizens for Public Justice, a progressive Christian public policy advocacy organization.

Katherine Johnson is the programming coordinator at The Reformation Project. She is passionate about helping people to encounter Scripture in ways that foster a life-giving relationship with God and personal growth in Christlike love. She is convinced that the full inclusion of LGBTQ believers in the life of the church would lead to greater flourishing not only for LGBTQ Christians but also for the Kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven”.