The Church and our LGBT Brothers and Sisters (part 3)

This is part 3 of my series on the Church and our LGBT brothers and sisters. This post includes my personal thoughts on why the Church needs to rethink how it addresses the LGBT community, particularly LGBT Christians. This issue has been very close to my heart for years, but because of where many people in the Church have stood, and my personality to not pursue conflict, it's been difficult for me to always speak my mind. The easiest thing for me to do was leave, instead of engage in dialogue with people who disagreed. I'm now at a place in my walk with Jesus that I understand how important it is to stand up for my convictions that are based on what Jesus has taught me.  To me it all comes down to loving God and loving others, and that means being an ally for our LGBT brothers and sisters who are not being heard in the Church. So here goes!

During his ministry on earth, Jesus spoke about following him… knowing him… doing as he taught…  As written in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”  Jesus taught his followers that being a disciple meant surrendering to God, giving up the comfort of the life we knew before, and carrying our burdens and the burdens of others in the name of Jesus.

I believe Jesus Christ was resurrected to bring hope and renewal to our lives, and to bring us back into union with God… and others.

Jesus, Mary and Martha hanging out

Jesus, Mary and Martha hanging out

Jesus Christ mingled with all types of people (the rich, tax collectors), yet his ministry focused on the outsider, the marginalized (women, children, prostitutes, the sick, the poor, the foreigner). These were the people society found no need for at the time.  However, the church has played a vital role to play in helping the powers that be see the dignity and value in all human beings.

As we look at the history of the Church in the United States, it has grown more inclusive over time, as society has also grown more inclusive. There are many denominations that  now ordain women. There are more multi-cultural churches than just a few decades ago, with people from all races and nationalities worshipping together (although we still have a long way to go). Churches also have more ministries that serve people with disabilities, and support groups for people who are dealing with addiction, mental illness, divorce, and chronic medical issues. There are lots of prison ministries. Many churches have also taken on the cause of the orphan and provide adoption ministries for people in their community.  And of course, food pantries are a staple of many churches, helping to feed struggling families.

These are people Jesus focused on when he walked the earth 2,000 years ago. He met with them where they were, on the outskirts of society. He showed them love and grace, even if the leaders of society in that day considered them not worthy of their time or resources. It has taken centuries for many of these groups to be allowed to come into a church, become members, and contribute positively to a worship community. 

I firmly believe the last group of people who the church has fought embracing is the LGBT community. So what are the options right now if you “come out” as LGBT in church?

  • In some churches, you will be asked to leave.
  • Some churches ask you to change to heterosexual, and will even send you somewhere to learn how to do so.
  • Others require you to be celibate.

The churches that have led the way in rejecting these responses are mostly within more mainline denominations such as United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Other mainline denominations, such as The United Methodist Church, have been debating this issue for decades. While it currently maintains the traditional interpretation, it has a large percentage of members who seek reform.

There is also a struggle within more Evangelical churches on how much they should embrace the LGBT persons. On one hand, some churches never address the issue, hoping they will never have to mention it in a sermon. They don’t even recognize there are gay people sitting among them. But on the other hand, there are churches that focus on what they see as “moral sin” eroding our culture instead of how to follow Jesus and be a disciple. So to paint “the Church” with a broad stroke of either inclusive or exclusive of homosexuals would be misguided and just inaccurate. There are local churches homosexuals can go to and feel welcome and even pursue a ministerial calling (without being asked to be celibate) if they so choose. But those churches are still a small minority, especially if you look at the church as a whole (Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, etc.).

Younger Christians are beginning to understand that the issue of our LGBT brothers and sisters in the church is not as cut and dry as their pastors have made it out to be. They see their gay friends and family members and understand that they are regular people, with hopes and dreams, and even many who desire to know God and worship in a Christian community… and yes, possibly even serve God in the form of a pastoral calling. Yet, for years much of the Christian church has rejected the LGBT community. This new generation is much more likely to say they favor same-sex marriage and equality than their grandparents, and even their parents.

I believe it is time for the church to take a good hard look at itself and ask if we can’t be welcoming to all people and meet them where they’re at, are we truly following Jesus.

If Jesus were still walking the earth today, would he be yelling harsh words to his followers about who not to vote for because certain candidates support same-sex marriage, or would he be washing the feet of homosexuals?

Would he be turning away same-sex couples with children who want to worship him or would he be sharing a meal with them and having conversations about the way of the world?

Jesus never denied anyone the right to worship him. He gave people the option to choose him or reject him. He loved all who humbly came to him in faith, including the thief who was being executed on the cross next to him.

Standing with Matthew Vines and millions of other devoted followers of Jesus, I am pleading with the church to rethink the way we “deal with” homosexuality.  Recognize the fact that this is not just a political issue, but also affects the spiritual and physical well being of many seeking to follow Jesus Christ.

Limiting the conversation on homosexuality in Church to noting how Christians need to vote “moral issues” including “the sanctity of marriage,” disregards the humanity of the people directly affected.

For the sake of those God calls us to love, I am crying out to my beloved Church to start recognizing the following:

  • We have brothers and sisters in our congregations who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and/or transgendered and feel they have to hide who they are to be loved and accepted within the Church.
  • We have LGBT Christians in our congregations feeling called to ministry, yet feel broken and defeated because they are told they cannot pursue the calling or choose to hide who they are through the ministry process.
  • We have heterosexuals in our congregations who support their LGBT brothers and sisters, yet feel they can’t tell their congregation because they will be told they are “not a real Christian.”
  • All people, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, have a right to worship Jesus if they want to. It is up to us as the Church to be the light of Jesus to the world and this includes opening our doors to all who want to know God more.
  • As Christians, we are not supposed to blindly believe everything we read in the Bible, but study it in a way in which we can understand the historical context in which it was written, what it meant at the time, and what it can teach us today. The Bible is full of poetry, metaphors, parables, historical stories, etc. We have to be careful not to take scripture out of context, but instead recognize its complexity and how it fits into God’s bigger story.
  • Even if you still believe homosexuality is a sin, recognize that the church has been hypocritical in how it treats sins, holding some as worse than others. Homosexuals cannot serve in many churches. In contrast, gluttony is a sin that affects the body, just as “sexual immorality,” yet many ordained clergy are obese and serving churches without doing anything to change their “sinful behavior.” Many churches have made homosexuality a worse “sin” than all others.
  • Throughout history, the local churches have played a huge role in homosexuals (especially children and teens) seeing themselves as different, not “normal,” “abominations.” This language has encouraged some parents to disown their children when they come out. I argue this directly contributes to the high suicidal feelings among gay teens. In fact, gay teens are five times more likely than straight teens to attempt suicide.

Instead of debating we should be weeping…

If our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling so rejected by God because the Church has rejected them, to the point where some feel their life isn’t even worth living, then we certainly are guilty of not being the light of Jesus in a broken world. We are not fulfilling the greatest commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love encourages, it does not increase despair.

Some Christians say that pointing out someone’s “sin” constitutes love, and use unhelpful phrases like “hate the sin, love the sinner.”  But I would argue, if you look at how love is defined in New Testament, it is apparent many churches do not truly love their LGBT neighbor. 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

How is it kind or honoring to politicize an issue like marriage equality in the church when it so deeply affects the people in the congregation? The church needs to come together as a family to have an open, frank discussion about the beliefs and experiences of its congregants. This would recognize the humanity of the issue… the people it affects in a tangible way. 

There is another  way we can measure the “light of Jesus” through the actions of the Church. When people turn their life over to Jesus, they are given the Holy Spirit, which changes their heart and mind. This change is revealed through the fruits of the spirit:

But the Spirit produces the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. There is no law that says these things are wrong.

The Church needs to mend its broken relationship with our LGBT brothers and sisters, both Christian and non-Christian. We need to love them, as we would any person who walks through the doors of our church, and any person we come into contact with throughout our day.

We need to be joyful in getting to know one another, and desiring to bring peace to each other’s lives through authentic relationship.

We also need to be patient with another, since we are all at different points in our spiritual journey.

We need to be kind to one another, recognizing each other’s dignity and worth as people created by God.

We need to be good to one another, treating each other with respect.

We need to be faithful, and believe that God is bigger than all of us and he is always in control. We are just put here to love one another; He will take care of the judgment part.

We need to be gentle and compassionate, which is best accomplished by just being a friend and listening.

We need to be aware of the words we use, practice self-control, with no anger, no outbursts, or self-righteous diatribes.

Two of my favorite verses speak to how we should humble ourselves around one another, and think before we speak…

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” – Philippians 2:1-4
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29

If we can do all these things, then we will be showing the light of Jesus to the world – the entire world.

To me it is incredibly important to show the love of Jesus to those who haven’t seen it from Christians before.

It’s time for the Church, the Bride of Christ, to emanate love and compassion to ALL people.

It’s time for the Church to explore deeper ways of understanding the Bible so that our faith is growing, instead of stagnant and futile.

Lastly, it’s time for the Church to repent and recognize that our treatment of our LGBT brothers and sisters throughout history has been repugnant and reflects something very far from what Jesus would have done.

Will you join me in supporting Matthew Vines and the Reformation Project in looking deeper into these issues, looking deeper into what the Bible and God is really saying about how we treat our LGBT brothers and sisters? Matthew Vines says in his speech:

Our discussion of this issue, of the “gay issue,” can’t take place in the realm of abstractions, of musings about ideal design and ideal gender roles, as though gay people don’t even exist. Jesus placed a particular focus on those others overlooked, on those who were outcast, on mistreated and marginalized minorities. And if we are working to emulate the life of Christ, then that’s where our focus needs to be, too. Romans 12 tells us to “honor one another above yourselves…rejoice with those who rejoice,” and “mourn with those who mourn.” Hebrews 13:3 says, “Remember those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” How fully have you absorbed, not just the existence of gay and lesbian Christians, but the depth of the pain and the hurt that their own brothers and sisters have inflicted on them? Does that pain grieve you as though it were your own?  

We need to allow the pain and grief of our LGBT brothers and sisters to be our own. Once we can empathize with their struggle and recognize the need for reconciliation, then we can move towards being in community with one another. Isn't that truly the point of Jesus’s greatest commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind... and... love your neighbor as yourself?

My prayer is that one day ALL people who humbly seek Jesus Christ, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, will be able to enter any church and feel truly welcome to worship in community with other Christians, without any fear of rejection. 

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Matthew 6:33

Thank you for listening...

Previous posts in this series: Part 1 on my personal experience and Part 2 on Matthew Vines and the Reformation Project.

I would love to hear your comments! What is the biggest challenge to reforming the church’s view on homosexuality? In what ways do you think it should be reformed or not? How has your church welcomed LGBT individuals and their families at all?