The issue of how the church interacts with LGBT folks is not going away. The issue is twofold. First, how does the church reach out, love and serve LGBT folks who are outside the church; and second, how the church will love, equip, support, encourage and help grow the LGBT folks who are already part of the church. These challenges are especially true for conservative evangelical churches.
In this post I want to focus only on the second issue — which is the more pressing one. And I think there are only two possible options that can be reconciled with Gospels and the heart of Jesus.
Why is this the more pressing issue? Because it is a family issue. How we reach out as a church is critical and essential and there are many strategies and approaches that churches will come up with. But the church, at its core, is a family — it is the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ. The church is also missional. But that mission stems from its health as a family. The work of the church is to love God together (worship), love each other (fellowship), serve together (ministry), grow together (discipleship), and love/serve our community together (mission).
We’ve got to start with how we are caring for the family.
And when it comes to the LGBT folks who are in our church families, let me suggest two possible options… one that will work for the more progressive, welcoming and accepting churches; and one that I think can work for traditionalist churches who are still working through these issues.
OPTION ONE: NON-ISSUE
In short, the first option (which can be done at more progressive evangelical churches like the one I currently attend) is that sexual orientation is a non-issue. LGBT folks for fully welcomed and integrated into the full life of the church. Opportunities for ministry are based on calling, character, competence and charism (gifting), not sexual orientation. No one needs to hide or pretend to be someone they are not. In this environment, people can grow in spiritual and emotional/relational maturity, learn to use their spiritual gifts for ministry, and are encouraged and supported in their personal lives as well as in their family life. In this model, some LGBT folks will be married, others will be single. Some may feel the call to marriage and others may feel called to singleness (just like with straight people). The role of the church is to help people live out their calling and vocation (single, married, etc) and to love God and love others more and more.
OPTION TWO: BIG TENT
The second option — the one I think can work for more traditionalist churches — is what I call the “big tent” option. Most conservative evangelical churches I know affirm something along the lines of “unity in the essentials, liberty in the non-essentials, charity (love) in all things.” In this idea, “essentials” are usually the credal, basic Christianity stuff. Divinity of Christ, the Trinity, etc. Issues like end times, gender issues, sacraments, divorce and remarriage, personal ethics, etc, are all part of the “big tent” liberty-in-non-essentials category. On many of these issues, different Christians have very strong convictions. But they still aren’t essential issues. But in many cases, Christians and churches may still be working through these issues, trying to figure them out. Homosexuality is one of these non-essential issues. It is not core to the Gospel, not a salvation issue, and under no one’s theological matrix, can be considered an “essential issue” that all Christians everywhere must agree upon for salvation. So I think that traditionalist evangelical churches need to affirm their “big tent” and individual liberty and allow people to work out these issues themselves. This can get messy, but it is a messiness worth embracing. One of the key things is that these churches need to be a place where people can be open about their sexuality. Hiddenness, hiding, pretending… these kill the spirit and kill the soul. Any church that forces or encourages people to hide is (1) a church that is doing serious emotional and spiritual damage to people; and (2) a church that is not living out the Gospel. Jesus never wants people to hide. We are to come into the light, live in freedom, and be sanctified as we encounter and follow Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. This may entail pastors saying things like “we don’t know all the answers…” or “we are still trying to figure this out…” or “we are all on a journey together…” and then let people be on the journey, figure it out with Jesus, discover answers that work for them as they go. In this scenario, a gay person at the church may not feel affirmed, but is also not condemned, forced to hide and treated as a second-class citizen. It also means, as gay Christians, we may be worshipping next to people who are more conservative, think we are wrong, etc. That is ok. The “big tent” cuts both ways. But the point is that we must learn to love and serve each other as Christian brothers and sisters, and we must stop emotionally and spiritually abusing people by forcing them to hide. Jesus never burdens people this way — and the church never should either.
So there are two options… which will your church embraced?