“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)
Everyone, history was made this week: a church actually talked about sexuality. It was a true, positive effort—not one of those poor attempts accompanied by furious blushing and mumbled metaphors, and not an overzealous blame game with pointing fingers, signs and songs about people going to hell. It was a simple, straightforward and interactive discussion, given and conducted with honesty, gentleness and humility. It bubbled over with compassion instead of condemnation.
And it is incredibly tragic that this was a novel thing.
It seems the general assumption these days is that an individual can either be religious or be supportive of the LGBTQ community, but nothing in between. Personally, I do not believe this is true, and I think that was proven in a small way this past Sunday. My pastor—Pastor Josh—discussed with our congregation what the Bible has to say about sexuality and how to treat others, and contrasted this with how the church has actually treated the LGBTQ community.
He concluded his sermon by having his friend John* join him to discuss his experience as a Christian with attractions to people of the same sex. It was incredibly moving to see John up there, being incredibly honest and frank in a place where too many have been condemned for doing just that. His courage in coming back to the church that had burned him in the past was inspiring, and his expression of forgiveness, instead of bitterness, was incredibly humbling.
John’s story was also very sobering. When John told us about being essentially excommunicated from his church’s youth group after revealing his same-sex attractions, there was silence all around. But this was not the silence of denial, or the kind of silence that intends to sweep things under the rug. Instead, I felt it was a silence in respect for what John had to say, augmented with righteous anger and deep sadness for what our brothers and sisters in faith had done.
When he was finished speaking, I wondered how this conversation would end. Would we pray, and then drift out, mulling over what we heard today? How would we live in response to what we had heard? There was no question in our minds that the church has acted and still is acting wrongly towards the LGBTQ community. But that begged the question of what ought we to do in our own lives, in order than the church might become what it was meant to be. If being a Christian literally means being like Christ, how might we truly and finally be like Jesus to the LGBTQ community?
My question was answered for me when all the men of the church stood up, gathered at the front, and prayed for and in solidarity with John. They prayed not that he might be ‘fixed,’ or that the devil might come out of him. Rather they prayed that we might love him, and live together with him in such a way that that the love of Christ might always be evident in our actions.
There is that saying about a picture being worth a thousand words, and I think that is most certainly the case here. It would not do for me to ruin this beautiful image with an excess of words. I will conclude simply by saying that this is what the relationship between the Church and the LGBTQ community should look like. And I am so incredibly sorry if it has looked like anything less loving, any less uplifting, any less affirming. We are the same.
Before we left, Pastor Josh addressed the question that people always ask him: Is his church a gay-affirming church? His answer, I think, was the most appropriate response I have heard yet: It depends on what you mean by affirmation. Perhaps we will not always agree with others’ beliefs. But we will most certainly agree that everyone is a person of great value, and is deserving of love because Christ says they are. If we are to be true Christians, we will love the members of the LGBTQ community, for loving all of God’s creations in turns means loving God.
So let us settle this now. Believing in what the Bible says—what Jesus says—is not mutually exclusive with loving members of the LGBTQ community. In fact, that is exactly what he says to do. We are all children of Christ. You are a child of Christ. And I am deeply sorry if we have made you feel like anything less.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.