Fear abounds: fears that gay people will be excluded, attacked and rejected, fears that moral truth will be abandoned, and fears that churches will split.
After the United Methodist Church (UMC) decision for the denomination as a whole, each local church must consider how she will represent Jesus, as his body and bride, to hurting people. Far beyond the UMC, this challenge confronts every local church.
Protestors chanted, “stop the harm.” Some opposed the affirmation of the UMC’s position adopted in 1972
“We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We call everyone to responsible stewardship of this sacred gift. Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.”1972 UMC General Conference
Hearts full of concern lead protestors to feel their church is communicating that it is against gay people. Far too many wonderful people have been told that God could not love them and they were not wanted in our churches.
And yet, Jesus is not against anyone. Somehow Jesus communicated full truth and full grace with no lack of either. Truth and grace unify in love, which is the greatest virtue of all. Those involved in sexual sin were drawn to Jesus as he embraced them with his love. Think of the woman at the well in John 4; the woman caught in adultery in John 8, and the “sinful” woman anointing Jesus with perfume and wiping his feet with her tears in Luke 7.
Could you imagine a day when churches are known as places of grace? Jesus did not say you will know my disciples by their moral stance on social issues. He said you will know my disciples by their love (John 13:35). Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, “Love can never be an offense to Christ.”[i] God wants his churches to be places where struggling people find hope and healing. People rejected as sinners by other religious people flocked to Jesus. What if gay people were drawn to your church as a place of grace and truth where they would be welcomed and loved and given the truth that sets all of us free? Where we say, “In Jesus your sins are forgiven.” “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
I pray for local churches to be places of grace and truth—to be families where everyone is accepted even when we disagree. I pray we become places where we are each pursuing Christ, aware we are all in process, that none of us have arrived, where we grant each other redemptive space to fail, to grow in our understanding, and mature in our living.
In our local churches, we are sinful people, hurting people, helping other people of all kinds, to find and follow Jesus Christ who saves us all.
In the fullness of salvation, God offers to lead us to green pastures and quiet waters. He prepares a table for us even in the presence of our enemies, anoints us with oil of healing, and pours out goodness and mercy on us with the promise of dwelling in his house forever. In partial ways, could we do this today in our churches as Christ’s body, as “temples of the Spirit,” as families of the Father? The Father has always called his people to welcome the stranger, to be people of radical hospitality. And the Lord God has always charged his people to stand up and step up for justice, especially for the oppressed, for those without a voice.
Can you imagine a church that provided a safe refuge for all people, including sexual and gender minorities, that provided a loving family of friends, an open table for hurting people, and a seat for justice? My prayer is that we would build that kind of biblical community in our churches. I long to see churches become inclusive families of gay and straight people who join voices together to sing God’s praise, who kneel together to receive the Father’s love as his children, and who stand together for love and justice.
People who felt rejected and excluded by the Jewish synagogues of the day were drawn to Jesus. What if our churches were magnets for gay people? I’m compelled by the vision of our church becoming a place where gay people want to be, where they are drawn by our love. Nate Collins put it this way, “Christians not only need to remove all cause for those outside the church to believe that they don’t like gay people, but our churches need to become the havens of grace, love, and truth they are called to be. The gospel requires nothing less.”[ii] If the church is the body of Christ, should we not act like Christ?
These days, our responses to questions around sexuality are amplified, and potentially explosive. As church leaders, we are keenly aware that our church could face a lawsuit, or social media backlash that would damage our ministry. Someone in the church will get upset no matter what stance you take. We need to shepherd well people on all sides of these issues. Ultimately the gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake because the unchurched, especially younger people, are keenly watching how churches respond to LGBT+ people and their concerns. In my book I offer practical, spiritual wisdom to help you navigate your church in these sexually turbulent waters.
To hear more of my heart for our local churches, see the new book coming out April 9. Leading a Church in a Time of Sexual Questioning: Grace-Filled Wisdom for Day-to-Day Ministry. You can order it today from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and ChurchSource.
[i]. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (London: Dent, 1927), Chapter 41.
[ii]. Nate Collins; Wesley Hill, All but Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions at the Intersection of Faith, Gender & Sexuality, pg. 31, loc. 471–73.