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. πŸ™‚

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. πŸ™‚

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.

The Gypsy Camp: My Response to “Surfing Secularism”

I’ve been asked by several people now to share my thoughts on the article “Surfing Secularism: Why Fighting the Rest of the World is a Losing Strategy for Churches“. If you haven’t read the article yet, please do so. Most of this post will be in response.

First of all, this would not be an article I would read on my own. In fact, though I’d seen it on my news feed for awhile, I was content to bypass it altogether. That is, until you started emailing me about it – which I LOVE by the way! Please keep them coming.

The reason I wouldn’t normally read this is because these types of article/arguments just don’t interest me. Not at all. Christians debating back and forth of who is right, who is wrong and what the best methodology is makes me want to blow chunks. I’ll just go about my business without any of that, thank you very much.

I think the best way I can respond to this article is to share an encounter I had with God recently.

Disclaimer: This post is going to be longer than usual. Also, I am going to mention a “gypsy camp” in probably very stereotypical ways. I do not intend any offense to the Roma people. Really quite the opposite. The Roma (gypsies) in my imagination symbolize passion, living life to the full and joy.

Here is the encounter as I remember it:

I saw a huge and imposing Medieval castle. It looked weighty and awesome. I thought, ‘I need to check this out.’ So I walked through the front gates and started looking around. I saw many men and women dressed in fine clothes – they looked rich, important and majestic – they looked like kings and queens. Apparently they were too important to talk to me, because they saw me, looked away and moved on. I kept searching the castle. I got to the interior courtyard – it felt like this was the place the castle was built to defend. Planted in the middle of the courtyard was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As I watched, the people came to eat of the fruit. As soon as they had taken a bite, they started arguing with one another – debating what was right and what was wrong, who was included in the Kingdom and who wasn’t. Their speech was full of rules, judgement and condemnation. I was really confused. I became aware of the Lord’s Presence by me and I asked Him to explain.

He said to me – ‘This is the Jaded Palace and it is a symbol of what the church in the West has become.’ I was appalled. These men and women had erected walls of cynicism and judgement because they thought following Christ was eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

I was immediately taken out of the castle and brought to the other side of the territory. There I saw a sprawling gypsy camp. Wagons and tents of various colors were clustered together with no rhyme or reason. I saw lots of campfires outside the tents and wagons. As I entered the camp, I was aware of being loved and welcome. I heard music (good gypsy/greek dancing music) and saw tons of children laughing, playing and running around. I eventually made my way to the center of the camp only to find the Tree of Life there. I saw men and women, much dirtier and more worn than those in the Palace, gathering fruit and cooking it in pots. I saw women carrying food to the elderly, sick and the lame. I saw children gathering fruit and taking it to those with injuries. The children squeezed the fruit and the juice fell on the wounds, healing them. I don’t remember The Lord saying anything in particular, but my soul felt at peace and free in this place.

I remember standing in the middle of the camp, by the tree of Life and looking out over the camp. In the distance, a long way away I saw other tents and wagons. I instinctively knew that these people considered themselves part of the camp and the people within the camp didn’t argue the point. If those outside said they were in, then they would be treated as such and welcome to eat, dance and sing.

That is the end of this particular encounter.

In my opinion, “courageously confronting the culture” too easily translates into “being a dick for Christ”. I realize that is stronger language than I typically use on this blog, but I stand by it. “Courageously confronting the culture” is just Christianese for being angry, obnoxious, belligerent, belittling and arrogant. The confrontation happens over all the wrong issues and in all the wrong ways.

Exactly where in the Gospels do we see Jesus courageously confronting the culture? When He is dealing with the religious people! The people who considered themselves set apart, holy, doctrinally pure – those were the people Jesus went out of His way to insult, rebuke and beat with whips. I share His feelings sometimes.

And the sinners we are supposed to be “courageously confronting”? I’m pretty sure Jesus would eat and drink and dance with them. I’m pretty sure Jesus would talk to them about a passionate Bridegroom God who wants to bring them to a wedding feast as His Bride. And He would sozo them – heal them, save them, deliver them – bring health, wellbeing and the Kingdom of God to bear on every aspect of their lives. He’d let them know that they were loved.

Following Jesus is about eating from the Tree of Life, not the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (the Law) only brings death – it does NOT make us more like God. Eating from the Tree of Life, embracing life giving activities and relationships and ways of being – having life to the full – that is what Jesus came to offer us.

Do realize Jesus came to offer us Life? Life to the full? Life overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, meekness and self-control? Life full of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost? Life that leaves us with unblemished consciences, free from any spot or wrinkle?

Those are the things I wish we were saying to our culture, not “confronting” them with religious dogmas and checklists. Anyhow, enough of that, onto the author’s article, “Surfing Secularism”.

I’ll admit, I hate the title. The title implies that the culture is the one calling the shots, establishing the culture, and the Church just has to ride it out.

But Jesus calls us the ekklesia the common Greek word used in His time to describe the group of people who exercised governmental authority for the well being of their city. It Jesus who has received all power and authority, not the world.

I feel like now is a good time to mention Eugene Peterson’s words from The Contemplative Pastor. In this excellent work, Peterson says that pastors (as representatives of the Church at large) should be unbusy, subversive and apocalyptic. The last two words Peterson uses are especially helpful in our dealings with the world.

Subversive Rather than riding the waves of secularism, catering to the whims of popular culture, I like Jesus’s image of yeast infiltrating dough until the whole batch is elevated to a new level and becomes something greater than the sum of its parts.

Apocalyptic We must understand our time in history. We shouldn’t chastise the darkness being dark – that is what it is, that is the only thing it can do. We should be more concerned with wether or not the Light is shining in the Church. Are we doing the things Jesus gave us to do without question and without compromise? If not, then let’s first remove our plank before we help our brothers with their speck. I find it helpful to remember that Jesus is the Way as well as the Truth. Jesus models the Way we present the Truth.

As for the author’s three points: 1) “It’s not about them. It’s about us.” 2) “It’s not about the trappings, it’s about the offer.” and 3) “Our culture doesn’t equal God’s culture.” I agree, though I would say things differently than he does. Based on my beliefs and the encounter mentioned above, I would say 1) it’s about belonging before believing; 2) it’s about substance rather than show, and 3) American church culture isn’t even close to being like the Kingdom. If we could find a way to take Jesus at His word and do the things He did, live transformed lives full of Grace and offer the world an encounter with the Lover of their souls I think the world would take us seriously once again, but right now we aren’t even part of the discussion. Religious church culture has been marginalized and deemed irrelevant to modern life. We have yet to prove them wrong.

All in all, this was a decent article, but not something I get really excited about. I think the author articulates things the younger generations (Millennials and iGen) already intuitively know, it is only making a splash among the Boomers.

So, there are my thoughts, but I wonder about yours. What do you think – that is what I want to know. What do you think about the article and what do you think about the things I’ve mentioned here? If you are a blogger and have written a response, would you post it in the comments? I’d love to read your thoughts.

Other than that, please keep those emails coming. πŸ™‚ Thanks for reading friends.