Disclaimer: In the following excerpt from Bruce B. Miller’s Leading a Church in a Time of Sexual Questioning, he largely treats his position that same-sex activity is sinful as an assumption his readers will share. However, that stance is not readily transparent in the following excerpt.
Due to the oftentimes divisive nature of the discussions surrounding the topic of homosexuality, Denison Forum wants to make it explicitly clear that we likewise believe the Bible’s condemnation of same-sex activity. However, that does not mean that homosexuals are any further away from God’s redemption than any other sinful person. For a longer discussion, see “What does the Bible say about same-sex activity?”
Now, consider this excerpt, where Miller offers a very helpful guide for how we can better think about our approach to this issue in light of both the gospel message and the larger context of God’s approach to fallen humanity.
An excerpt from Leading a Church in a Time of Sexual Questioning
One Sunday in December during the season of Advent, I felt led by the Spirit to invite any lesbian and gay people listening to my sermon to come talk with me and tell me their stories.
On my heart was how difficult the holidays are for many lesbians and gays whether they have come out to their families or not. Almost invariably, not all the family is fully welcoming at the Christmas celebration. I shared that I wanted to shower each one with the Father’s unconditional love.
Some took me up on my offer and I had several multi-hour fruitful conversations, all of which were healthy but also all included elements of pain. Too many stories had this plot line: “I grew up involved in church and tried to follow Jesus. Then as a teenager I experienced unwanted same-sex attractions that I tried to get rid of. They created unspeakable pain, confusion, and shame. When I tried to talk about how I was feeling, I was made to feel even more ashamed, and was told to tell no one. I was prayed over, but felt shunned and unwelcomed. This led to isolation and depression, even suicidal thoughts, until finally I left the church to find love and acceptance somewhere else.”
Christians simply must invest more thoughtfully in the lives of LGBT+ people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other [+] sexual and gender minorities). If we do, we will hear more stories filled with grace and overflowing with love.
Can you imagine that the sinners who were drawing near to Jesus ever left him depressed and wanting to kill themselves? The despised people of Jesus’ day were drawn to him like to a magnet, so much so that the Jewish religious people (even core leaders) were upset.
As Christ-followers we, too, want to be spiritual magnets who draw people to the light and love of Jesus who can give them eternal life. And yet gay and lesbian people avoid churches like the plague. They often assume they will be hated and viewed as disgusting.
Even if they come, they will try to act like they are straight so that no one notices them and thus won’t judge them. As Bill Henson says in his Posture Shift workshops: “A gospel that excludes or rejects has no power to reach already banished and mistreated persons. We must offer greater acceptance and inclusion in order to foster spiritual identity formation in LGBT+ people — as with any people.”
The church’s dismal track record
My wife and I have invited some gay friends to our church, assuring them they will be accepted. We invite them to sit with us and pledge to protect them from the odd person who might say something off-color. But some still will not come.
In fact, the church’s track record on responding to gay people is so dismal that millennials are leaving the church based on how the church has mistreated gay people. The gospel is at stake! If we do not love and embrace young gay Christians, then when they embrace a gay identity, we need to accept that some of the fault might be ours.
In our church recently:
- A mom and dad sought my counsel because their daughter announced she was engaged to another woman.
- A young man confessed that he just broke up with his boyfriend and wants to follow Christ.
- A lady asked if she could tell people at the church that she is a lesbian and wonders if she is welcome.
- Several teenagers have confessed romantic feelings that made them worry they are gay or bisexual.
- A gay teen has experienced teasing in youth group and worries that reporting it will yield retribution — or even greater isolation and mistreatment
Of all places our churches should be a safe refuge because we believe in the amazing, unconditional grace of God in Jesus Christ.
We confess that we are all sinners desperately in need of that grace. No one can out-sin the grace of God. We believe that the truth of God will set us free. We know obedience leads to blessing, always.
My heart rejoices with same-sex attracted men and women who have courageously chosen to be celibate for Christ. Would they be accepted in your church without qualification or hesitation?
Sides in a war?
We must provide space and grace for those who are devoted to following Jesus and at the same time are same-sex attracted. It grieves me that at this moment in our culture, the sides have been drawn so that often a person feels forced to choose between being gay or being a Christian, as if you must choose sides in a war.
Christians must rise above the cultural war to care for real people. We need to hold the hands of those struggling with inner temptations and confusions. The church is called to be the place of grace in this sinful world. There is no shadow for shame to hide beneath the cross of Jesus. The arms of God are the safest place there is. The Father sent his Son to die for each one of us while we were still sinners.
If we are going to represent Christ to people, then we must be willing to pour love on people who may still be sinning. Who are we kidding? We are all still sinning. Will we self-righteously judge those whose temptations differ from ours? Who will cast the first stone? We should be all grace and all truth.
Truth and grace are not in conflict but are united in love. Sometimes Christians hesitate to share that gay sex is sinful. While context and timing are crucial, God’s truth is good for us. We want blessings in our friends’ lives.
Jesus Christ is our Savior and our model. Consider how Jesus talked to tax collectors. They were despised and avoided by religious people. And yet Jesus went to parties at their homes and had dinner with them. He did not affirm their sin but their humanity and shared the Father’s love for them.
Does acceptance equal approval?
After services on Sunday, a lady in our church came to ask me a question. She said she is in a Bible study with a neighbor who describes herself as a lesbian. (Inside I was celebrating.) Then she asked me if she should continue since she did not want to communicate that she approved of being lesbian!
I held myself back emotionally.
My goodness, I would be thrilled if more people in my church had relationships with their neighbors, much less be in a Bible study! And with all the hatred and conflict between gays and Christians, what a wonder, blessing, and joy to be studying the Bible together.
Jesus did not worry about whether religious people thought he might be affirming a tax collector’s “chosen lifestyle”! He enjoyed dinner with Zacchaeus and the party at Matthew’s house. We have to show our people Jesus and how to follow him. Association does not equal affirmation. May the people of our churches be accused like Jesus of being a friend to sinners.
A mom called me in sobs over her daughter who had married a woman and was having a child with her partner. The mom confessed she had not responded with love when she first found out. After hearing me encourage her to show unconditional love and grace, she asked, “but where is the line?” In other words, at what point would her love possibly communicate approval?
My counsel was that there is no line.
Jesus did not worry that his unconditional love might confuse people into thinking that he approved of sin and neither should we. I prayed this mom would love her daughter extravagantly. She asked what I thought of asking her daughter to meet her halfway.
My response was to suggest she not do that.
Jesus does not meet us halfway. He went all the way from heaven to earth to join our humanity. He went all the way to the cross while we were still sinners, and so should we go all the way in loving others.
This article is adapted from “Leading a Church in a Time of Sexual Questioning” by Bruce B. Miller, pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in McKinney, Texas. See BruceBMiller.com for more information.