A Gospel of Exclusion Has No Power to Reach Already Banished Persons
Our questions can reveal a lot about us as they sometimes expose what is really going on beyond the surface. When I start talking about churches becoming safe places for LGBT people to connect with Jesus, I get the question, “But where do we draw the line?” It can be a legitimate question. If we believe that same-sex sex is outside the bounds of God ordained sexual expression, and that to be a church leader, according to New Testament standards, one must not be involved in any type of sexual immorality, then we’d need to have boundaries – a clear dividing line for what is and is not acceptable standards for behavior.
However, that question can be asked with different motives and I would invite us all to examine those motives because “where do we draw the line?” can also be asked with the intention of wanting to keep a hierarchical distance between straight & gay people in the church. To be more pointed, it can say, “you can’t truly belong until…..”
You need to know that OUR human nature loves hierarchy – especially if it puts us at the top. Every culture experiences this and it’s not going away this side of eternity. Church culture is no exception to the love of hierarchy – we clearly show favoritism to the gifted, the wealthy, those who are married - anyone that can benefit the cause the most. So we need to ask ourselves, where have we inadvertently created a system of “these are people who are in” & “these are people who are out”. Every culture does it, but to combat it you have to be aware and honest about it.
I don't want to be in a church where anything goes, no one is held accountable, and we are all told we’re fine every week. But in the sexuality conversation, that’s not where we are as a whole – although it seems to be a fear many conservative churches tend to operate out of & heavily guard against. Most churches I’ve had the honor of serving, even the larger ones, have said they only have 1 or 2 gay couples or a handful of openly gay people. This tells me our pendulum is more on “creating the dividing line” rather than Jesus’ revolutionary model of removing it. It’s not an uncommon story I hear that a pastor has attempted to move his church past their bias of not receiving LGBT people warmly, only to be met with a hyper-conservative, longtime member shaming him for being “so liberal” and pressuring him to apply 1 Corinthians 5 (where Paul talks about excommunicating a sexually immoral brother). So we must recognize that our pendulum has swung heavy to one side and needs correction.
We also must recognize that the church’s history with LGBT people has been one of exclusion & non-engagement & that the main question in response to reaching them has been “where do we continue excluding?” rather than “How can we make people we've previously excluded feel welcome and included?” So when people ask the infamous question of “When do we apply 1 Corinthians 5?”, My response is, “We already have been….for decades. And no one’s heart was softened by doing it that way”. I’m ready for something different. I’m ready for restoring dignity to LGBT people in our communities and in our churches. And I’m ready to proclaim the Gospel that declares that in God’s Kingdom there’s no longer any dividing lines that create fallen hierarchical systems. There’s one community, a new community that shouts an equitable “you belong!”
So how do we shift our posture without shifting scripture? I believe focusing on how to make people feel welcome rather than where we might have to "draw the line" one day is important. I believe this can happen when we acknowledge the fact that LGBT people have so much to offer the Christian community. And although I don't wan't to reinforce stereotypes, it's not uncommon to see LGBT people who are undeniably gifted in the arts. How much richer would the church be if we made room for these gifts, these people who bear the image of a creative God? It's not the only way to say "you belong", but it's certainly a start and a humble acknowledgment that one part of the body can't say to the other, "I don't need you".
Again, I hope you don't hear me saying "anything goes" and that no one teaches the sexual ethic God has put forth in His word, but rather a radical shift from focusing on dividing lines to actively looking for places LGBT people can serve, be connected, and truly feel "at home" in a church body.
This blog is one in a series of 30+ tips for relational effectiveness with LGBT people. Find the condensed list HERE. These relational tips are from a handout acquired from “Lead Them Home”, a Boston based ministry that equips the church on LGBT issues. These blogs have been expounded upon with permission.
These tips, along with numerous other insights, are found in an excellent resource called “Guiding Families” available HERE.