Loving the LGBT+ Community

Ok, here goes… Am I really doing this?

Yeah, I’m doing this…I’m going to talk about how Christians should interact with the LGBT Christian community, which is not a light, draft-while-you watch- GYC-live-stream kind of activity. It may be obvious to you at this point, but there are people who identify as CHRISTIAN and LGBT!

Let’s talk through some possibilities in a series of questions and discussions.

What should we call people who are LGBT while we talk about them?

First of all, I want to get some terms locked down. These discussions are hard enough without the fear of using politically incorrect terms hanging over my head. There are so many things I could say that are potentially offensive, even with my well-meaning heart, so allow me to explain the terms I’ll be using and why I’m using them.

The most commonly used “LGBT” is a fairly effective label —explaining that there is a spectrum of sexual orientation (whom you’re sexually attracted to) and gender identities (which gender you identify with) and this is the main term I’ll be using in this series. However, I do realize there are many people who feel like those letters have nothing to do with their identity or their struggle, which is why so many other letters have been added to this acronym. LGBTQQIP2SAA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Pansexual, Two-spirit, Asexual and Allies) would be the more inclusive acronym but it’s challenging to work into natural speech and it STILL wouldn’t cover everyone’s identity or situation. I’ll let you google all the definitions, but take it from me: each person is unique and it’s impossible to include everyone in one label, even if it includes half of the English alphabet.

For the purpose of this discussion, I’ll mostly be focusing on those who would include themselves in the LGBT category. I might use the term “sexual minority” to describe someone who is homosexual, bisexual, transgender or otherwise different than the majority of hetero, cisgender Christians. I might also use the word “queer” which is not at all meant derogatorily but meant in the traditional sense--different.  Though I realize that sexual desire and gender identity are not what defines a human, I have to find a way to talk about these issues!  Labels and definitions help with that.

Hello, I’m Amie

I figure you’d like to label me too, so you know who’s talking to you and can decide whether to dismiss my ideas and whether you’d like to do that before or after you’ve heard them. I’m Amie: run-of-the-mill heterosexual, cisgender, Seventh-day Adventist Christian with traditional theological interpretations and a desire for the world to see the true character of God.

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert in this field

Sure, I grew up seeing men holding hands at the mall--it was Southern California in the late 80s.  But my first real interaction with the LGBT community was volunteering on the crisis hotlines while I lived in northwest Arkansas. I remember an hour long conversation with a teen girl who told me she was queer. And suicidal. She didn’t feel like she fit anywhere. She was unwelcome in her own home. She was confused and tired. I asked her if she had any support system—any family, friends or religious leaders who she could talk to. She didn’t.

My first face-to-face interaction with the LGBT community was at the same crisis center. I got a new co-worker who was transgender and in the early stages of sexual reassignment surgeries and hormone therapy. This co-worker was born female, attracted to females, identified as a male and was married to a female who happened to be an ex-Adventist. I had a few conversations with her as she transitioned to him. I asked about support and religion and community. He didn’t have many people he could talk to, just his wife. He had not felt comfortable talking with many Christians before me. I was thankful to be included in the small circle of those he considered trustworthy.

Both of these interactions broke my heart. I had a tiny glimpse into the lives of a couple people who sincerely felt like aliens in their own bodies and minds and they didn’t have many people to talk to—let alone people to show them the love of Christ. This had a big impact on me and my desire to show love to people, even if I was initially uncomfortable.

Before we get any further, I want you to understand my heart! I’m not experienced at talking about these challenges. I’m awkward and humble and I may have come to different theological conclusions than you have. We may have the same theology but differ on applying it, but this is an attempt at bridging some gaps between Christians who have been born on the traditional side of gender and sexuality and those who have not, or even those who have just been experimenting. I’m not any kind of expert in this, but I’m hoping I can help bring people together at the foot of the Cross.

Some shared assumptions

I don’t want to spend all my energy trying to list texts and Greek words to prove the traditional Adventist view that homosexuality, bisexuality or disassociating yourself with the sex you were born with is a sin. To be honest, besides those few well-known verses on homosexuality, I can’t find much in the Bible about the letters of the acronym. It’s not that I don’t care about hermeneutics and rightly interpreting Scripture (I do, I really do!) it’s just that I don’t want to get stuck there because there are folks much more learned than me studying and parsing and tangling with these questions.

For the sake of this discussion, I want to lay the foundation that the definition of sin is anything outside of God’s plan for His children. That said, I’m also going to assume that any sexual minority can truly be a Christian. And by Christian, I mean, someone who is genuinely seeking to know Christ and align their life with the will of God. And this I DO believe. I believe God calls all of us to follow and that He gets into a relationship with anyone who wants to get to know Him—regardless of how close or far we are to the ideal. My righteousness is as dirty rags and I’m a Christian. I can therefore believe that anyone CAN be a sinner and in relationship with Christ.

Let’s move forward and start answering the question: IF any sexual activity outside of that which happens between a man and woman in marriage is a sin, and IF sinners of all sorts can be considered Christians, then how should we interact with our LGBT Christian neighbors, friends, and family members? How should we treat the LGBT Christians who are UNDOUBTABLY among us…or hanging on the outskirts?

Hey, we should be friends!

Let me start off with what I believe is the ideal: a full-on acceptance, no-distinction embrace and appreciation of our LGBT Seventh-day Adventist Christians…in church and out. Not only do I believe we have a spiritual mandate for the assembling together of all Christ-followers (Hebrews 10:25), I can’t figure out why we wouldn’t want to bring someone we think is a sinner into a place where they could be intersected by the Holy Spirit. It would be like saying, “I disapprove of you and wish you to change, but I will withhold the very love and support that may attract and empower you to change.” That’s not how deep, soul level transformation happens. “Nearer, still nearer” to Christ and His spirit as the old hymn explains, is the thing that allows us to resign from the follies of sin. I believe that the church is called to do whatever is in our power to lead our world to salvation.

My friend Andrew Uyeyama was telling me about a sermon he was preparing last weekend on John 8. It’s the famous chapter that talks about the woman caught in sexual sin. His point was this: “No matter what sin you struggle with in life, you cannot feel the desire to ‘go and sin no more’ until you have first heard ‘neither do I condemn thee.’”

If we want to help people have a real chance at seeing themselves as they are, we need to be their friends. Jesus Himself was labeled a “friend of sinners” (Matt. 11:19) by the spiritually elite of His day. It was meant derogatorily. It was a put-down, but because of their own blind and sinful state, those church leaders couldn’t see how far they were from the ideal.  Joke’s on you, if you don’t think we should be friends with sinners—because Jesus wants to be friends with you, and you’re a sinner. Why would we not be inclusive when Jesus dies to include us?

I love John 6:37 which says, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” If Jesus is not willing to cast out anyone who is endeavoring to follow Him, I’d rather not cast anyone out of my circle either.

But won’t we be condoning and normalizing sin?

Listen pal, who are you kidding? Being LGBT is already “normal.” Everyone outside the church has moved on. We need to realize that if inviting gay people to worship with the rest of the crowd is normalizing sin, then so is letting in the town pot-grower, the deaconess struggling with porn, and the man who is stealing from his boss. Why has this become the sin that people worry about most? Your acceptance or non-acceptance of someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity has nothing to do with whether or not there will be more of it. If acknowledging people and their struggle is “normalizing” sin, then I guess I’m ok with that.

As far as condoning it, there’s a world of difference between not condemning a person and condoning their sin. In fact, that’s the space Christ occupies in the aforementioned John 8 adulteress story. Christians have got to find a way to live in that spirit, in the heart of love—free of condemnation for the person, but not encouraging them in their sin either.

There’s a reason Ellen White’s book, Steps to Christ, goes in the order it does. The first chapter is God’s Love for Man, the second is The Sinner’s Need of Christ, and then comes the chapter on Repentance… BECAUSE THIS IS HOW IT WORKS! We can’t lead people to repent before we help them see the deep love of Christ! That’s futility at its finest! We can’t worry about “normalizing” sin before we’ve normalized God’s love. Pshhhh. I know I said it up top, but it bears repeating. If we think someone is in sin, why would we not want to bring them into the church?! The Gospel is what helps us see our shortcomings—not judgmental Christians who think they have it all figured out.

Be patient as you educate

It’s incredibly exciting to watch the church grow in the first few chapters of Acts. They go from 120 believers praying for the Holy Spirit in chapter one to 3,000 in chapter 2. By chapter four the count is up to 5,000! Yet even through the church is prospering, they’ve got serious issues. One of these issues is that the church is full of bigots. It’s full of loving, learning, circumcised Jews and proselytes (converts) who are still bigots.  When they hear that the gift of salvation and the Holy Spirit has also come to the gentiles, they don’t shout “Hallelujah,” they pick a fight with Peter, who was following God’s orders to bring the message of salvation to the gentiles.

Instead of being grateful, they charge him with the crime of sharing a meal with “those people.” Peter then has to explain what happened and, to their credit, as they experience the Holy Spirit, these folks abandon their ages-long prejudice and realize that “God hath also to the gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). I’m sure there were tense and awkward moments, but I believe this is what’s possible when we are convinced that God truly wants to save everyone for His kingdom.

So this is my first practical recommendation for preparing a church to be able to minister to any sexual or gender minority. Besides having the Holy Spirit (this is a given), we need to preach this “salvation is offered to everyone” message. We need to preach the John 8 “neither do I condemn you” sermon several different ways. We need to use the podium and the classroom to really help people see and believe that because God wants everyone, so do we. And then we ALL need to let God make us whole, whatever that means for each of us.

We are all in process with God. Some church members won’t like being inclusive to the LGBT members, and they may even put up a fight, but it doesn’t have to tear the church apart. As we read in Acts, you can be saved and still be a bigot—so be patient with the scared-saints! No need to treat the fearful as if they are enemies. The Holy Spirit is the guiding light and as we educate our members, He will be active to soften hearts, just as he did with those church members in Acts.

Preach Jesus and the assurance of salvation

I asked my gay friends if they thought our churches should do any certain programs or a separate Sabbath school for the more accepting people or to try to ameliorate tensions in any way, and the response from each was “NO.” In fact, one of my friends said that she joined the church she did because it was just a non-issue. There were no special “affirming” sermons or classes, just kind Christians on their mission to seek and save the lost. Another friend agreed, explaining that in some places she’s been, there is so much focus on being gay, she can’t stand it! “Preach nothing but our salvation in Christ. Preach nothing except that “he who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Sexual minorities have been told so frequently that they’re going to hell that they have no confidence in their salvation, but according to Romans 5:18, we’re already saved if we choose to be in Christ. “That will build confidence. That will get rid of the insecurity of salvation.” And that will be the thing that allows the Holy Spirit to come and convict us of sin and Christ’s righteousness.

So if your church really wants to minister to our LBGT friends, preach the assurance that God has saved them, and that if any one of us is in sin, the Holy Spirit has the same power today that he has always had, and will convict us and enable us to change.

Don’t be a jerk

In his YouTube video titled “A Gay Christian's advice to the Church,” SDA vlogger Justin Khoe interviewed his friend Matthias Roberts. If you haven’t watched the series or subscribed to “That Christian Vlogger” I recommend you do both. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZRG1lU6LaU)

Anyway, one of the biggest takeaways for me was when Justin explained why some people feel the need to confront sexual minorities about their sins: It’s because they overestimate their importance to that person within the plan of salvation. As Matthias states, if you’re going to critique someone’s life “there better be some relational foundation.”

We need to train people in our churches on how to lift up truth without being a jerk. Matthew 18:15 says, "If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over." But did you catch that?

“BROTHER or SISTER” . . . this connotes a serious, close, shared-blood and mission type relationship.

Don't be that Christian who loves to point out the perceived sins or shortcomings of people you casually know. At best, you'll be wasting your breath. At worst, you'll be creating rebellious hearts against the very word you're trying to lift up.

Rules of thumb for calling out anyone else's shortcomings: How close are you? If you're not in regular, supportive conversation, if you haven't eaten together lately, if you haven't prayed together, if you're not truly a brother or a sister in Christ, I suggest you can your criticism. Unless you're in their immediate circle of trust and accountability--it's not your job, and it’s not even effective, plain and simple.

Create an excellent hospitality team (If you’re reading this, you should be on it.)

Here’s the one thing “special” I think we need to do in our churches, and this is not particular to any minority group but will lift up the whole church, including sexual and gender minorities. We need to have our most loving, grace-filled members trained to provide 5-star hospitality for every guest.

Greeting and hospitality are the MOST IMPORTANT part of the Sabbath day ministry! The songs could be off key, the pastor could go mute, the food at potluck could be a little weird, but if people are desired, appreciated and made comfortable, our guests will come again! I’ve created a little training to help with this, if you’re interested, but basically you extend a warm greeting, ensure that they have someone loving to sit and talk with throughout their Sabbath school, church and potluck experience, and talk with them about their experience and any questions as you walk them to their car. The more friendly people who take an interest, the better!

It’s important in any case, but especially important with people who might feel less at ease in church because of previous interactions or presuppositions.

The End

In closing, I just want to reiterate a certain standard that Jesus introduced while He was on earth. While some ideologies, philosophies and religions are known by their dress, their haircuts, their elaborate ceremony, their diets, Christ asked us to identify ourselves by one mark. “By their love for each other, for mankind, for God, is it known or denied that men who call themselves Christians are really Christ’s disciples.” So whatever you do, however you operate, make sure that love for Christ and His people is what drives your decisions.