Busting Some Myths About LGBT People

This is the second installment of my thinking relating to how I believe Christians should think about and interact with the LGBT community. Yesterday’s post laid out the foundational concepts I use to think through and process this issue. Today is going to focus more specifically on breaking down myths and stereotypes some Christians have about LGBT people. For many LGBT people reading this it is going to seem archaic and possibly silly to hear a pastor talking about these things, so I appreciate your patience. I’m trying to start from Ground Zero and build up from there.

Response to Yesterday’s Post
Thank you to everyone who read and commented yesterday. The response was, frankly, overwhelming. I’m thankful you take the time to read what I write and benefit from it.

One friend posted this video in the comments section of my Facebook page. The video itself introduces us to various members of the Body of Christ who also identify as LGBT. I thought Huff Post’s title of the section was wonderful – “LGBT Christians aren’t an ‘issue,’ they are ‘the Church’.” That sums up what I was trying to say yesterday in much fewer words. 🙂

Overcoming Prejudice
I argued yesterday that prejudice is the driving force behind many Christian’s beliefs, attitudes and actions towards the LGBT community. Prejudice is when one group of people with certain defining characteristics elicits a fear response in another group, usually the group in power. The group in power then seeks to dominate and control the first group in order to feel safe. Prejudice allows fear to masquerade as wisdom and control to be mistaken for love.

Fear clouds our judgement and makes us act irrationally. My hope in this post is to dial down any anxiety you may have about LGBT Christians and expose some myths the Christian community has about some people. I’m certainly not the best person to do this, but hey, its my blog. 🙂

Truth Telling
1) LGBT Christians are not “an issue,” they are “the Church.”
The Body of Christ encompasses a large number of people from all sorts of backgrounds and life experiences. Part of the beauty of the Gospel is that, in Christ, God reconciled humanity to Himself. God’s family is large and diverse – we need to remember that. The Glory of the Church is the ability to take people from all walks of life, love them and teach them to obey all Christ commanded. In the midst of that we see God at work, changing and transforming hopeless sinners into the beautiful Bride of Christ. Where we are when we start our journey with Jesus is largely irrelevant for we are all called to press on in faith-filled obedience.

2) It is totally possible to love Jesus and be LGBT.
Being gay and being Christian are not mutually exclusive. I’ve had the privilege to know a few members of the Body who self identify as LGBT or with those tendencies and they love Jesus whole heartedly. Of the people I’ve interacted with, all of them share the view that actively pursuing a homosexual lifestyle is a sin, so they talk about being LGBT using the word “struggle.” Since I share that view, I will probably use the word “struggle” from time to time, but I also acknowledge that some LGBT Christians don’t feel any struggle with their sexuality and are at peace with where they are.

3) LGBT people are not better or worse parents than heterosexual people.
There is a myth perpetuated in some Christian circles that gay or lesbian parents are unfit to raise children due to their issues. I disagree that being an LGBT person is something that disqualifies you as a good parent – there might be other issues that do, but being LGBT isn’t one of them. While I don’t personally know or interact with LGBT couples that have children, I imagine that they are as loving, kind, gentle and stern as any other parents. I believe they are concerned with raising their kids right and that they will succeed and fail in that as well as heterosexual parents.

Bad parenting is bad parenting, no matter who you are. And good parenting is good parenting, wether it comes from a lesbian, gay, straight or transgendered person. Prejudice is what makes us think a gay or lesbian couple can’t raise a child because we believe they are so deeply flawed in their moral, ethical and spiritual faculties that they cannot possibly function in society, let alone raise a well adjusted child. Well, some do. And others don’t. Just like the rest of us.

4) Homosexuality is not a communicable disease.
Some people don’t want to be around LGBT people because they are afraid that being gay will “rub off.” This is especially true of straight parents who have never interacted with LGBT people. These parents don’t want their children to be taught or tutored by LGBT people because they don’t want their children to grow up to be gay. (This is one of those instances where fear looks like wisdom.)

Do you worry about your child’s teacher being fat because you don’t want your kid to grow up to be fat? Do you worry about your child’s teacher being divorced because you don’t want your child to grow up and be divorced? If not, and you are worried about an LGBT person teaching your child, then you have just discovered prejudice in your heart and it is time to repent.

5) LGBT people are not predators.
LGBT is not pedophile. LGBT people have the same revulsion to predation as you and I do. We have two unrelated adults in our Sunday School classrooms at all times to ensure that our kids are safe from pedophiles, not gays.

By no means is this an exhaustive list, but I think it covers several main concerns I’ve heard voiced within the Christian communities I’m a part of.

As always, thank you for reading and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Ben

Sin, Sexuality and Sanctification

Several weeks ago, I was asked to voice my opinion on how Christians should think about and interact with the LGBT community. It has taken me a long time to sift through my various thoughts, and what I present here simply represents the best of my current thinking. While I feel satisfied with my position, I reserve the right to change it as experience and insight dictate.

I initially thought I could address this topic in a single post – I was wrong. This first installment lays out my theological framework for thinking about the issues of sexuality and sin. Later installments will address more practical issues of loving LGBT persons and pastoring a community where LGBT persons are loved and welcome.

Also, for the record, this is my opinion, not the official stance of my denomination. As bizarre as I think it is to need a position paper on this topic, you can find it here.

With the disclaimers out of the way, we’ll move on…

My Goal
I want to love the LGBT community as radically and passionately as Jesus loves me. I want to love them in such a way that they set their hearts to love and follow Jesus for themselves. I trust that God, who is the Perfect Leader, will address any issues that need addressing in their lives at the right and perfect time. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts us of sin (John 16:8), I don’t really see that as my job.

We’re All Sinners
I believe the Bible’s assertion that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We’re all in the same boat, which is great, because Jesus came as the atoning sacrifice for sinners. No matter how Sin manifests in your life, Jesus died to take away the guilt, shame and punishment associated with it. Even more, through the waters of baptism we believe that our old Sin-filled self died and the life of Christ was planted inside of us. We now live as Christ Incarnate – His life and character permeating and saturating our being in increasing measure until, one day, we will think, act and speak just like Him.

Please notice that, in the above paragraph, there is only ONE category – sinners. There are not heterosexual sinners and homosexual sinners as though the two were fundamentally different camps, requiring different sacrifices. Your sexuality is not your identity, therefore, Jesus only died once, and He died for all.

Sin and sins
When I talk about big “s” Sin, I am talking about the disposition of the human heart to disobedience and rebellion against God. Sin manifests in many different ways, small “s” sins. Small “s” sins don’t concern me as much as big “s” Sin for the same reason that dandelion flowers don’t concern me as much as dandelion roots – cut of the flower and it grows back, dig out the root and the flowers are gone for good.

The thing is, most Christians focus on individual sins, the least important part of the whole deal. When someone else’s sins look different than ours, we are quick to judge, punish and shame. Conversely, when someone’s sins look similar to our own, we tend to overlook and excuse them to protect ourselves from shame or punishment.

When we get hung up on the sins of others we reveal superficial thinking, fear and prejudice. When church leaders get hung up on the sins of others we have a tendency to put people on sin-management programs. We try to tire people out with cutting off flowers hoping that weariness will wither the root. It doesn’t work and we have cut people off from the Gospel – the good news that the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead in Glory is now at work in us who believe.

Holiness and Sanctification
Holiness (righteousness, perfection, conformity to the character of God) is Father’s main goal for His children. To paraphrase what Paul says in Ephesians 5:25-27, “Christ died to make us holy, cleansing us by washing us with water through the word. Christ died to present us to himself as a radiant church, a Bride without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish. Christ died to make us holy and blameless.” That promise will be and is being fulfilled – partially in this Age and fully in the Age that is coming.

In this life, we grow increasingly in holiness, a process called “sanctification.” Sanctification means that we start in one place and end up in another, “glory to glory” is the Biblical phrase. This is why I believe Center Set thinking is so essential for understanding Christian faith and discipleship. Yes – we may believe in God, be baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit – but we still have a long road ahead of us as we walk out what those things really mean. The road ahead likely has twists, turns and setbacks we can’t anticipate right now.

As we progress in righteousness, Holy Spirit peels back the layers of our hearts, exposing attitudes and sins we were previously unaware of, but that He knew were there all along. This is why we must trust in God’s leadership and timing! God promises us in the Bible that He WILL deal with our Sin and sins. However, we often want Him to deal with things we aren’t really ready for yet. It is like trying to run a marathon when you can’t walk around the block without getting winded – sure you can try, but you’ll likely faint along the way and do yourself more damage in the long haul in addition to feeling like a failure. Our Good Shepherd really is Good, and good at His job. You can trust Him to lead you into battle when you are equipped to win and to keep you from the ones you aren’t ready for yet.

Each of us is in process as we follow Jesus. Hopefully, the sins we are overcoming now aren’t the same ones we were dealing with decades ago when we first started following Jesus, but if they are – oh well. We just continue following Jesus to the best of our ability day in and day out. As long as we aren’t intentionally rebelling against His work in us, then we trust He will complete it at the right time. Righteousness is the inevitable result of obedience – the life of Christ within us compels us to that end.

Many Christians want to segregate LGBT persons into their own group, as though LGBT people are some special class of sinners to whom Father’s love, Jesus’s sacrifice, Holy Spirit’s leadership and the process of sanctification do not apply. That is nonsense. An LGBT person is no more beyond the reach of Father’s Love than a heterosexual person.

Is homosexuality a sin?
Yes, performing sexual acts with someone of the same gender (homosexuality) is a sin and a manifestation of Sin. The temptation to preform sexual acts with someone of the same gender is not a sin, it is a temptation to let Sin manifest in a particular way.

Now that we have clarified that homosexuality is a sin – the big question is, so what? So is divorce, gluttony, pride, lust, cowardice, lying, anger, envy and unbelief. I don’t want to dismiss the severity of sin, but I do want to show that homosexuality is just one sin among many. Why, then, do we make such a big deal of it? Why do we treat people who manifest Sin as homosexuality differently than we treat people who manifest Sin as divorce, or lust, or gluttony? I think the simple answer is prejudice. We think Sin manifesting as homosexuality is disgusting and dirty, and we don’t want to be around it.

But Jesus does.

Jesus loves sinners and He isn’t disgusted by sin. He doesn’t get hung up on the superficial manifestations of Sin, but goes for the root. When Jesus touches sinners, He doesn’t get dirty, sinners get clean. The love and life of Christ are simply undefileable. As Christians, we are called to be the same.

We can do much better at showing love to the LGBT community. But that has to start with us overcoming our fear and prejudice. LGBT people aren’t dirty or disgusting, they certainly aren’t a special class of sinners that we need to control or protect ourselves from. They are people in need of Love and salvation. They aren’t any different than us.

My next installment in this series will cover some common pastoral issues/concerns that arise as a leader of a congregation. Looking forward to sharing with you soon, Ben.

Center Set Thinking

In recent weeks I’ve stumbled back upon the notion of “Center Set Thinking.” It came as I was reading an article on the Blue Oceans website, you can find it here. The information I found pertinent is below:

Bounded Set VS Center Set Models

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Bounded sets are best pictured as circles. You’re either inside of them or outside of them. Centered sets are best pictured with a big dot on a page with lots of smaller dots. The issue there isn’t being inside or outside of anything. It’s motion. The big dot represents what holds the set together and the little dots are you, me, and everyone else. Are we moving towards the big dot or away from it?

As applied to following Jesus, the Bounded Set model is very dogmatic. You are in or out based on a certain set of behaviors. For instance, you become a Christian and are saved when you believe, say the Sinners Pray, and are baptized. Once you perform those behaviors, you cross over the line and are “in”. This certainty of being “in” is amazing comforting and stablizing. The downside is that it can lead to complacency because you are no longer concern with following Jesus because you assume he hasn’t moved.

In the Center Set Model, the only thing that matters is motion – are you moving towards Jesus or away from him? If you have attended a congregation for any length of time you have encountered people who are Christians according to the Bounded Set Model, but whose lives indicate that the direction of their hearts are pointed away from God. This is why repentance is such a huge deal. We must be constantly repenting, making course corrections, so that Jesus remains our goal.

I love the Center Set Model because it allows me to love and pastor people (without an agenda) who aren’t “Christians” but ARE Christ followers. The Center Set Model allows me to walk with impunity into the messiest circumstances and bring the Light and Love of Christ to bear. It doesn’t matter what sin is currently dominating someone’s life, if they turn their heart to follow Jesus then they are closer to him than someone sitting in church, but whose heart is disengaged or disinterested.

We have a few people who worship with us regularly who freely confess that they are not Christians and that they have doubts. I love that! I pray more people like that will join us, because even though they haven’t yet submitted their lives to Christ, they ARE following him. They want to know. They want to connect. And they are. God is working in each of their lives in tremendous ways, in large part, I think, because of their honesty.

Center Set thinking allows people to be in process. It allows people to be human, fragile, bold and courageous. It allows for freedom, doubt and miracles. A Center Set environment allows Holy Spirit to take a gangly group of sinners and transform them into little Christs, sons and daughters of God, through the power of Love. For the Word of the Lord is clear – He will wash us, He will cleanse us, He will present us to Himself radiant and spotless. Our job is to keep pursuing Him so that He can do His work and not keep running away because we think we’ve “made it.”

A word on belief and baptism
In no way to I mean to imply that belief and baptism are unimportant in our lives – they are essential ingredients in salvation. They are also just steps along the way of following Jesus, not hoops to jump through to get in the club. Getting baptized, confessing Jesus as Lord, and then living a life of rebellion will not save you, even though you fulfilled the “requirements”.

The idea of being “once saved, always saved” has done untold damage in the Church. It is totally possible to lose your salvation. It is totally possible to walk away from Jesus, even after having tasted of the Age to Come. For the Center Set mindset, this is no problem, because the issue isn’t “being in” so much as it is “getting close to Jesus”. Bounded Set people have real issues with the idea of losing salvation because they are looking for works to save them, not Jesus. If your aim is to passionately follow Jesus every day of your life you are in no danger of Hell, but if your aim is to do as little as possible and still make the cut, you are lost already, for you haven’t understood what Jesus came to do.

Being a Christian (following Christ) is about giving up everything that hinders us from loving Jesus fully and obeying him completely. It is about loving him and trusting that HE is the One who will save us, not our works or our theology. Amen.

Healing the Whole Person

As a Christian who grew up with a dualistic, Western mindset I needed training in the Biblical Worldview. I have found (and continue to find) Alexander Venter’s book Doing Healing to be an excellent resource in equipping Christians with an accurate theology and practice of healing. I’m rereading Venter’s book and wanted to share a portion of it, but first…

You are one piece
I lift weights and read a lot about weightlifting. Even so, I’ve never been able to buy into the bodybuilding notion of training different body parts. Why? Because you are one piece.

Imagine bench pressing a heavy weight to “work your chest and arms”. Now I come along and jab a fork into your thigh. What is going to happen to the weight? It’s going to crack your ribs unless you had a spotter. Why? Because you are one piece, not a collection of body parts. Even though your leg was hurt, it affected how your chest and arms functioned. There is no such thing as an “isolation” excercise.

This is true of your whole self – spirit, soul, body and relationships. Wounding any one of those areas will naturally affect the other parts. This is why sin (spiritual wounding) often manifests in bodily disease. It is also why broken relationships with people affect our health and/or our relationship with God. You are one piece.

Venter’s Diagram

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You are the sum total of your spirit, soul (mind, will and emotions), body, relationships and more. The Judeo-Christian mindset seeks to integrate these different realities into a unified whole, what the Hebrews call shalom. The Western mindset seeks to dis-integrate these various capacities and talk about them individually. Thus, as healing is concerned, the West has come up with specialist doctors – one kind for each of the different parts of your body, several other kinds for your mind, etc. These compartmentalized specialists only seek to fix the problem, not heal the person. While this has allowed us to make remarkable breakthroughs in physical science, it hasn’t made us a healthy or integrated society.

A Wholistic Perspective on Healing
As Christians, we should focus on healing the whole person. This is often a lengthy process because we don’t just address the manifesting symptoms, we try to treat the root cause and disease. It requires patience and compassion. Often our best and truest work is done in places people can’t see.

I believe in a wholistic approach to health and healing that addresses every aspect of our humanity. Nutrition, rest, right relationships with God and others, meaningful work, mental health, chemical/hormonal balance, soundness in the body – all of these and more are part of health and healing. Messing with any of them can make us sick or dis-eased. I think long standing, chronic issues often require addressing many different fronts before complete healing takes place.

I’ll probably post more of Venter’s work in the future, I just found this idea of integration and being one piece particularly helpful. Thanks for reading friends.