I am one of you. I have been a believer and a follower of Jesus Christ for 27 years. I have been faithfully attending the same church home for 21 of those years and have participated in Bible Studies for all of those years. My Bible is read, well read. You can trace a history of my spiritual growth in its margins and in every blank spot of the end pages. I love Jesus, consider myself submitted to and I try to live sacrificially.
And, yet, I have am often disregarded as a “serious” Christian because of one belief that I hold within the context of my faith: I am fully affirming in equality and access for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (glbt) people within the Christian church.
The Bible has over 31 thousand verses contained within; of those, only 5 sections of Scripture have been used in recent decades to construct a wall blocking the glbt community from most churches. Not all denominations participate in this gate-keeping, and others are in process of opening the padlocked entryways.;
If you are part of the church body doing the ‘sexual orientation check” at the door, you may consider that you might have overstepped the job description of a Christian:
- Love God
- Love people
Pretty simple. Everything that I do of value is a subtopic to those two dictates. Unconditional love of God and others. Expend yourself on these and you will please God.
We have the example of Jesus come to earth. He completely demolished the who’s in, who’s out categories. This is the sheer beauty of the plan: I love God, He makes it possible for me to love others, all others, they see God in me and they consider going directly to Him for their own relationship with Him. Beautiful and simple. If I say I am following the Leader Jesus and I exclude any group from the God-access, I have failed miserably in my piece of the plan.
We can argue Scriptures down to the tithe of mint, anise and cumin (Matt 23:23) and take on the role of the religious hypocrites of today or we can stick to the beautiful, simple model. If you currently place women in the church as a subclass, not worthy of pulpit/leadership equality, you should probably stop reading here. My experience shows me that those that do not extend the Jesus model of gender equality in Galatians 3:28 to women, are probably not willing to transcend the gap to sexual orientation equality in the church.
I have been involved in advocacy for the glbt Christian community for over six years; I offer these ten observations. If you disagree, I encourage you do it from knowledge and experience rather than religious, cultural or social bias. There are few people that come from the straight Christian arena that have experiences that I do; it is for this reason, that I hope you will consider my observations as valuable insights that may help bring understanding.
1. The Bible we read is a translation. No matter what version you read, in all likelihood, you are not reading it in Greek and Hebrew. Modern day translation of several Greek and Hebrew words to “homosexual” is a travesty. I encourage you, using only your Concordance and Bible, do the translation work for yourself. Don’t be lazy, presumptive and biased. Use Bible study tools that you know are right: read in context, identify the audience, cross reference the Scriptures all while letting God’s Spirit influence you. Don’t get trapped the silliness of “but my Bible says ‘homosexual’”. You are reading a modern day interpretation that, believe me, is biased. When a Greek word in three sections of the New Testament makes the transition in subsequent editions from “male prostitute” , “abuser of self sexually” and “masturbator” to “homosexual”, there should be some alarm of sensibility that goes off your brain that asks “Why?”
Do this study of the verses with the seriousness that lives depend on it, because, you know what—they do. Both physical and spiritual lives depend on how we interpret and mete out these verses.
For 17 years of my Christian life, I never cared enough to do any of what I am suggesting. Until it became personal and I developed a friendship with a lesbian hiking partner. The face of “homosexual” was a person I came to love and the church-dictated story line did not mesh with what I was found as the truth in the lives of glbt people. Which ushers in . . .
2. Crisis can bring humility. We motor along in our certainties and concrete black and white world until something stopsworking. It is then that people that I will call “brave” are willing to look at the sacred cows of their lives and ask “is what I believe ‘true’?” This can sneak in or crash in via a variety of avenues. For me, it was a twenty year marriage coming to an unexpected ending. Me, the “do-it-all-right,” “know-that-God-will-heal-this” girl was faced with not knowing. Uncertainty in me cracked a door open just wide enough to consider that I did not know what I thought I knew. I was following the rules, but could I possibly be wrong about the rules?
This dynamic is consistent for many who have changed their thinking on theological or social issues. Divorce, death, financial crisis, attack on reputation and illness have each lead other people I know into stepping off the “I am King” pedestal. Sometimes God just needs let our me-me-me world rock so that our certainties crumble. It is then that we might listen to Him and not us on a few issues. My rubble-producer had nothing to do with gay people and everything to do with cracked assurances. Oh my, God is a creative Creator. For some, it could be a friend, child coming out as glb or t; your brain can just not assimilate the “I know and love this person” with “this person is broken”.
Whatever the issue, God looks for people who will be more like Him than themselves. Crisis does bring humility, if you are brave enough to allow it. Humble people are malleable; prideful people stiffen. Crises do present opportunities to do a major God check-in. Let it happen. I looked a lot more like Jesus post divorce.
3. Everyone knows one thing about God: He says to love others. I get in conversations with people of every age, belief system and sexual orientation outside the church and they do not understand the controversy of homosexuality inside the church. With absolute consistency, they say “But, I thought God loved everyone.” This part of the PR message has worked; word of His radical inclusivity has gotten out. The actions of His followers, however have damaged the membership drive. How can they believe God loves them if we, who say we are submitted to Him, can’t seem to muster enough love to even be kind?
The Apostle John writing in one of the last letters to the church says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (I John 4:8). This ups the ante above the God is love axiom. Those that know God are to be instruments of His love. If we are not loving towards others, the unconditional type, I Corinthians 4:13 variety, we might want to consider our own commitment to God. If we struggle to love any other people group as a whole, it is a pretty strong indicator that our own love and submission to God needs tweaking. Which brings me to . .
4. If you cannot love others, there is a problem between you and God, not them and God. Oooohhh, this is a tough one. Without doubt, the most quoted verse I hear from the Bible when discussing how a person (mis)treats glbt people is not even in the Bible and in fact, it’s not even a Jesus concept. “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Brilliantly righteous license to render another human as a behavior. Great tool to validate mistreatment and disregard. No wonder Jesus did not say it and God did not inspire it.
This is what I see in the Bible: despise your own flesh and your own sin AND love others. Maybe if we actually hated our own sin, it might lead to us loving sinners/others. Those that know how to love are so aware of their own need for mercy from God. They overflow and drip grace out of their pores. You can only get that reservoir of excess when you get real with your own stuff before God. Love one another. Love won another. Perfection.
If I see a Christian being an ass towards others “in love”, I see a lack in their own vertical relationship. Stop pointing the fingers out and lift the hands up. Then fall on your knees and let the grace pour in from above so that it can flow out vertically. And, while you are working on that for the rest of your life . . .
5. It is not your job to make people follow God’s rules. We readily admit that only the Holy Spirit can change a heart. We get to reflect Jesus, point to God and disciple others. God gets to change people yet, in the area of sexual orientation, we forget this mantra. This seems to be the one area of the church entrance conversation we conveniently overlook.
IfGod can truly change people (He sure changed my sorry self), then let Him. Why is it any of our concern what the Holy Spirit is doing in another person or what their journey is with God? In some of Jesus last recorded words after His resurrection, Peter wanted to make sure he was in the know about what would be happening with John. Jesus shoots back and challenges Peter, what business of yours is it what I am doing with, planning for John? Just do what I told you to do.
Hey church, don’t dare look on another person and assess their lives by your standards, your journey. We have no idea what it has taken to get where they are or where they are going in God. Just love. Love them.
We tell the glbt community as a whole, sure, you can come to our houses of worship, but you may not be in a sexual/romantic relationship, you must be willing to acknowledge your need to change your orientation or, you cannot even “act gay”. Do you know how utterly crazy this sounds to them? Sure, come be with us and God, but deny who you are. We would love to love you if your picture of how you should love matches ours. Leading directly to . . .
6. Gay people are gay, not broken. Transgenders have a brain imprint opposite of the body sex. There is no changing of sexual orientation/gender identity. Dysfunctional parents do not create gay kids. Transgenders are not playing dress up. Stop it church. Stop it. So, people are different. We don’t fully understand socially or biologically why gay or trans people are a predicted part of the population. They are in every culture, country, ethnic group and economic strata. God did not ask us to first understand people before we love them. God is not holding out for the “gay gene” and I suggest we do not either. His love is radically inclusive even when we are not.
The bulk of some denominations still believe that glbt people make a choice for sexual orientation. That has been refuted by every psychological, psychiatric and medical association and yet, many still hold this belief. If the professionals cannot convince you, my best suggestion is to get to know glbt people. ( and read this post “I’m a Zero” ) Listen to them. Ask when they knew they were glb or t and listen. If you really heard what they are saying, their reality (which is superior to your assumptions), you would not lay the “you must change” dictate on them for entry to your faith communities.
Relationship will change you. Get to know glbt people. They are in your churches. Often hiding and . . .
7. Asking people to lie and hide before God is completely opposite to the Good News. Freedom in Christ is one of the bigger incentives we offer as Christians. But, we often insist that gblt people deny or hide their orientation to be acceptable to us.
If you could understand the personal struggle most glbt people go through to accept their orientation/gender identity in conjunction with being Christian, you would be impressed that they are still believers. Many glbt Christians still do not know that the two identities can co-exist. They will play your game because they love God so much.
Freedom in Christ? No, bondage in church is more accurate. They will never be who God intended them to be while living a lie in the fear of our rejection. The ultimate “don’t ask, don’t tell” program is going on in the House of Truth. Utter hypocrisy. Enforced shame and dishonesty. God’s anointed slumber in their gifts or walk away from His calling. Our imprisonment results in . . .
8. The catastrophic loss to the church of His anointed people. I have a tome of stories attesting to glbt people who were forced from churches when they were truthful or got discovered. The ones who migrate over to affirming congregations or start their own ministries are the ones I know. These are the survivors of church rejection, but we will never know the numbers that were cast aside, never to become the God-tools they were created to be.
I am in an extremely rare position to have participated in extensive settings of glbt believers. From one-on-one relationship with hundreds of glbt Christians to full camp meeting, pentecostal style services, I have been with thousands of glbt Christians. I do not say this flippantly or as a red flag inviting attack. It is my reality. The gifts, anointing, worship and devotion that I see in the glbt Christian community is far more genuine than what I see in the glbt Christian rejecting community. How can that possibly be?
Take any marginalized, hurting, hungry for God, oppressed, rejected group of Christ-followers and strip them of everything but God and you get Jesus pouring out of them. This group loses family, reputation, respect, civil rights, access and is actively and repeatedly told they are not good enough. When God becomes your ALL, it shows.
People have discounted me for saying this in the past. Oh well. Until you have been where I have been, you are just an outsider making assumptions. Test if what I am saying is true. Be brave and confront those walls of your own mind. When you experience it for yourself, you may . . .
9. Stop discounting as “invalid” spiritual experience you do not understand. Straight Christians can be: one with God, experience the Holy Spirit in revivals, hear from God, feel the Holy Spirit, operate in His anointing, preach the Word in truth, create music and worship under God’s influence BUT, when a glbt person claims this—it is often reduced to a “counterfeit”. The Bible tells us that the relationship with God is one of Spirit yet, we insist glbt people be bound by their flesh in that relationship.
Be careful what you judge. You have no idea what that precious gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person had to go through to have authenticity with God. That path to praise is strewn with the unnecessary burdens we, the Christian church at large have placed on them. We have wrapped chains around them and padlocked them tightly with our standards of righteousness. Ah, but He is greater and a liberator. God calls people righteous in Jesus. Big bolt cutting Jesus.
We are guilty of assessing their spiritual relationships with a body-value. When I suggest that people go experience a glbt community of believers for themselves, the next sentence is usually “it is just an experience and it is not valid.” Okay, so back to a prior sentence. Straight people can “experience” the Spirit of God, but glbt people can’t? It is either a spiritual experience with God or it is not. God looks at the heart, God wants the heart. We screen in the flesh. So, we tell glbt people they are not welcome in our Houses of Worship but . . .
10. Just because you don’t want them in your House, does not mean God does not want them in HIS House. I would sure hope your faith community reflects the heart of God. If you tell glbt they are not welcome or must change to come worship the all-loving, all-welcoming, life-changing, uber-Father, merciful, gracious God to be with you, then please do not insist that you speak for God. You are only speaking for you, for your congregation, for your denomination. Not for God. There is a growing number of denominations, independent churches and newly formed “glbt churches” that will welcome glbt people.
If you are glbt, reading this and your church has rejected you for sexual orientation or gender identity, I suggest, brush that dust off your shoes and find a faith community that will encourage you to grow in your relationship and wholeness in Christ.
If there is no such community near you, there are thousands of churches that broadcast and archive online and will give you the teaching that your need to spiritually grow. These groups won’t make you lie and hide to get real with God. Connect online, on Facebook and find people in your area that will become your new faith family.
The church may have taken you in your multicolored coat and tossed you in a well to die and then sold you off as worthless to live outside the mainstream church community but, ha! You are the ones learning forgiveness, radical grace and mercy, and love. The oppressed becomes the teachers; the ones who know God and are known by Him. These discarded glbt believers may save us from the famine in our stale churches.
These congregations are attracting the others that feel like outcasts. If you have left the Church, check out an affirming community. They are masters of inclusion. They learned from the Master.
Also to my glbt brothers and sisters, take time in transitioning if this is scary. There are glbt people that have not studied what the Holy Spirit might want to say on this issue. You may still believe you are less than, broken and need to change to please God. This is a lie. I encourage you to study the verses too. Don’t just believe me either.
If you want to have God and Jesus in your life, do not let anyone take that from you. The gift is from God to every person. No middleman, no board to approve the transaction.
I hope this give pastors, church leaders and fellow non-glbt Christians some food for consideration. There will be some that benefit from my years of ministry and others of you that will just get angry at me. That is okay. I take the smart business outlook on this: some will, some won’t, so what, next. The Holy Spirit does the work; I am giving insight and making suggestions. I have been having this dialogue for years. I see movement towards understanding and inclusion of glbt believers.
If you struggle to treat a glbt person in any way that is less than equal, you ought to be looking in yourself to ask “why”.
Jesus, He came to make a way for all people to God.
Jesus, He came to include those officially excluded.
Jesus, He came to change the Law to the law of love.
Jesus, He came so that we might have an example to follow.
Are you looking like Him? It is time for this dialogue for full inclusion of the glbt community in the church. I believe when God looks at a heart and seeks our Spirits to follow Him, He is gender neutral and sexual orientation blind. Please become part of the solution, the discussion for understanding. If I can help you, let me. Let me point you to resources in your area.
Help repair the breach and consider joining me in a Str8Apology at Gay Pride Events this summer and fall.
If you are missing the beauty of glbt believers in your churches, you are missing the fullness of the rainbow.
Kathy Baldock, Executive Director