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…
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.