The message was clear.
Being “gay” is the result of a defect. Somewhere in the background is a dysfunctional family where Mom and Dad had switched gender roles; or maybe Dad was weak and Mom subjugated him; or maybe Mom coddled her child too much; or maybe early sexual abuse or inappropriate genital stimulation caused “the gay.” Whatever caused it, one thing was clear — it needs to be fixed to get back to the “heterosexual potential” in every person.
Nope, there is no doubt. To be “gay”-identified discounts a person from wearing the eternal Jesus-clothes of “Christian” and bars them from heaven. There is “no such thing” as a gay Christian. It has been “proven,” after all, by a top Biblical scholar.
What a Difference a Week Makes
I attended the inaugural conference for the Restored Hope Network (RHN) hosted by Sunrise Community Church in Sacramento, CA in September. RHN had broken away from the largest Christian ministry in the world, Exodus International, believing Exodus was moving toward grace and entering heresy.
Ever present in the language of the RHNers was the avoidance of the word “gay,” unless speaking about a “gay lifestyle.” There were no “gay” people in attendance. The language gymnastics could be confusing.
“Ex-gay” is not a term this group would use. A person: is heterosexual with same-sex attractions or is now completely heterosexual, but never “gay.” If a Christian were to wear the label of “gay,” they have given into a wrong identity; they have an identity as “a new creature in Christ.” There is no such thing as a “gay Christian.” Even if celibate and labeling oneself “gay Christian” there is an inherent danger that you may “go back into the lifestyle.”
I listened to sermons, testimonies, stories and teachings giving evidence to these concepts for over twelve hours. One hundred and forty people, minus one, seemed convinced that the birthing and pointing of RHN away from Exodus was a God-inspired movement.
One week later, I was in Los Angeles at the funeral for the Mom of one of my “no such thing” friends. I stayed in the home of two,God-honoring “no such thing” Christian men of integrity. I had a long, emotionally intimate dinner with a “no such thing” friend who serves his country and was recently able to come out under the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” On Sunday, I went to a Spirit-filled church lead by a “no such thing” pastor and was asked to speak to the congregation of “no such things.”
One group says the other does not exist. How is it possible to witness and recognize the Spirit of God in people that others fully discount? Rationalizing the “non-existence” of gay Christians requires using wholly non-scientific junk psychology in tandem with a strict reading of modern translations of the Bible. Both must exist for the dogma to be supported.
Stay inside the Bubble, “Drive by and Pray”
For over three hours, twelve protestors stood outside the RHN event on the entry street corner. Inside the event were about a hundred forty people, minus one, who were there to either learn how to better minister to the LGBT community, or be empowered to win their own “struggle” against same-sex attraction.
Knowing the protesters would be there on Saturday morning, Ron Smith, RHN Board member, told the group on Friday night, “Part of their issue is they want attention. They stay out there and we stay in here and it should be fine. Some have been through therapy, some are still hurt, and some we need to pray for. Just drive by and pray for them.”
Did the RHN-ers know the stories represented on the sidewalk? Did they know one same-sex couple had been together for over three decades and had raised a family together? Were they aware some of the people outside had been in ministries lead by the new leadership of RHN?
No, because not one RHNer choose to go and listen to their concerns.
I did go out and talk to the protesters. I parked my car in the church parking lot and went back up the the street. “Of course,” you may reason, “Kathy would feel comfortable with the protestors.” Also consider, I had invested two days to go hear the leaders of RHN at their conference.
I knew I would not agree with RHN on the bulk of their policy and dogma, yet I did go. I was willing to listen first-hand, and not judge from a distance, from behind the the safety of a windshield or a wall.
This “drive by and pray for them” scenario is core in the “there is no such thing as a gay Christian” issue.
Stepping outside the Bubble to Engage in Relationship
If the attendees of RHN had come to LA with me to the “no such thing” church filled with hundreds of “no such things,” they would have indeed seen Jesus at work in the lives of people; they would have seen the fruits of the Holy Spirit; they would have heard great stories of transformed lives; they would have sensed the Holy Spirit.
What would Robert Gagnon, Board member and theologian, do with his scholarly understanding of Greek and Hebrew then? What would the leadership of RHN think when their own spirit witnessed the Spirit of God in a gay pastor? How might it challenge them to see God and His glory shining through the lives of a same-sex couple?
Ego and pride often stop people from considering a perspective other than their own. It would be very scary to lay on the altar a ministry spread through 24 countries and 97 U.S. cities to risk fellowshipping with LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ. If you have made a career and reputation of “fixing” people or proving their non-existence with Greek and Hebrew, it can be quite a shock to suddenly realize that those particular people are neither broken nor imaginary, but just different. When you recognize that they do indeed love and serve God with honorable lives, this could unhinge you from your “truth” about others. Then what?
Exodus International, in its recent move toward affirming that there are gay Christians, is actually shifting back to the roots of theorganization. (The beginning of the ministry is a fascinating read. Claiming heresy, however, Restored Hope Network seceded from Exodus. In RHN, I see a more virulent fringe of counselors emerging that deny the spiritual existence and potential of people I know and love.
They will tell more gay men to marry more straight women. They will convince more gay people that they need to change what is their natural sexual orientation. They will play word games with gay people, spouses, parents, pastors and the rest of the Christian community. People will hear “sexual orientation change,” but that is not what they will offer or promise. They will push LGBT people to shame, depression and loneliness. And the worst consequence of all, they will push people that are seeking God away from Him with their human rules, expectations and dogma.
Struggling with “No such thing as a gay Christian”
“There’s no such thing as a gay Christian.”
How does each of us begin to struggle with this statement? For forty years, Christian organizations and leaders have been telling us we need to fix these people. Until they are fixed, we’ve been told, they are doomed to hell.
How do we begin to unravel this?
Be courageous enough to not lead with “the Bible says . . . “ The Bible does not “say” anything; we read translations. Then we each interpret and understand it individually. Scripture is from God, but it is interpreted by our own filters of prior teaching, experiences, relationships and our view of God. Even if you are a Bible scholar and have a Ph.D in Near Eastern languages, Greek and Hebrew, you will still run it through your filters. If you have little or no experience with gay Christians, the testimony of their lives will not become part of the context of your understanding Scripture.
If you are courageous enough to risk your pride and your need to be right and will humbly go and be amongst LGBT believers, just ask, “Do I see a transformed life and fruits of the Holy Spirit?” You will.
And then your journey with God on this issue will begin.
Until twelve years ago, I did not have any openly LGBT people in my social circles. I am an Evangelical Christian, and although educated and social, I believed the gay stereotypes presented to me by churches, religious leaders and the media. I had no reason to question what I perceived to be the “truth.”
I started to hike with my dear friend, Netto. Had I not chosen to enter into her life with the desire to understand her, I too would have believed all the information coming off the stage at RHN in September.
Relationship, then verses.
Until Alan Chambers, Exodus, stepped out of his “change is possible” and “there is no such thing as a gay Christian” bubble, for him his dogma remained unchallenged and correct. Overtime, he began to see the Spirit of Christ in people who indeed identified as gay and were not changing their sexual orientation.
Relationships with LGBT Christians will force a person to revisit Scriptures, the ones you are sure you understand. For Chambers, it caused him to move towards a more gracious position on LGBT Christians.
RHN leadership does not promote interaction with LGBT people or LGBT Christians. Frank Worthen and Dr. Melvin Wong, the two panel “experts” on Saturday, cautioned the audience to not associate with gay people, at all.
“You must be cut off from them completely. No more phone calls. No gay parties. Don’t even go to a birthday party; it will turn out to be a gay party.”
What, what, what? How does one learn mutual respect and compassion under these silly restrictions?
Until RHN both relinquishes 40-plus-year-old LGBT stereotypes and junk psychology as truth and chooses to engage in fellowship with LGBT Christians, they will hold a death grip on their interpretation of verses used to discriminate.
What Should Churches Do with gay Christians?
I hope pastors, leaders and counselors are reading this. Many of you sense a shift that is most certainly taking place. Some of the congregants or youth you have known for years are coming to you. They are saying:
“I love Jesus and I am gay.”
This is happening more frequently. With easily accessible information and the witness of the life and spiritual growth of gay Christians in affirming faith communities, gay Christians are bringing the conversation to the very margins of church life. Listen to them.
Pastors, leaders and counselors, you will be called to make choices. Many of you have “outsourced” your gay people to ministries affiliated with Exodus or may now even view the Restored Hope Network as an option. Please seek a way more in line with relationship and compassion. Stop shipping your people off to some ministry on a website or therapist who wants to do the impossible and “fix” them when they are not broken. They are just different. And that really is okay.
For Christians struggling though this issue trying to find a way more in alignment with the Good News, be willing to suffer alongside another person even when you do not understand or agree.
When you value the other as equal and with dignity, you have ripened the soil for compassion. Compassion will grip your very heart and soul as you choose to enter the life of another person,who is often so unlike you. Get beyond the not-even-in-the-Bible “love the sinner and hate the sin” and just “love.”
Listen to gay and transgender Christians. Then go revisit the verses again in context of people you have come to know.
I try to lead; I do uncomfortable things and have uncomfortable conversations in an effort to understand.
Go visit a “no such thing” church and have a meal with them. Come be with my “no such thing” friends at the Gay Christian Network Conference in Phoenix in January. Especially to those of you from Restored Hope Network, contact me; I can arrange connections for you to join me at the Table and meet my gay Christian friends. Stop discounting them by using Greek and Hebrew and long-buried stereotypes.
“No such thing” gay and transgender Christians exist; they love and serve God and they do not need to be “fixed.”
Risk it. Be humble. Don’t “drive by and pray for them” and avoid relationship.
In this messy space of getting to know and honor one another, especially others in the faith that may not be like us, may we learn grace and compassion and arrive at a truth that honors God and makes disciples.