Updated: Feb 4
You have people in your church that are gay.
Depending on how affirming your church is, some of these individuals have integrated this into their identity, no longer hiding. Some choose to conceal it for a time (from others and perhaps from themselves). Others simply keep it quiet and keep a part of themselves separate, but embrace their gay identities away from church. Still others are trying to pray the gay away, silently suffering, carrying a weight they were not meant to carry. In the past few years, the evangelical church has developed a strategy to deal with what they consider the “same-sex attraction issue.”
In the face of an undeniable reality, some in the evangelical church are finally acknowledging that gay and lesbian people are born what they call “same-sex attracted,” and that we shouldn’t try to change them. At first blush, this seems like a move in the right direction.
Perhaps the church is becoming accepting and has pulled their head out of the sand. Perhaps they’re acknowledging not all people are born cisgender and straight. Certainly individuals like Preston Sprinkle are ready to admit the inhumanity of the church toward LGBTQ+ people, but they stop short.
In the past, the church thought lesbian and gay people chose an aberrant “lifestyle.” Both the desire and the act was condemned as sin. After that, they believed people with “those desires” experienced childhood trauma or abuse and so became homosexual. Cue the ex-gay movement and conversion therapy of the 80s and 90s like Exodus International. These organizations have largely imploded on themselves, their founders and proponents issuing apologies and confessions that not only did these “ministries” fail to convert anyone from being gay, but they did damage by helping people deny who they are.*
Now, instead of pushing the LGBTQ+ out, the church wants to create a familial community to fill the gap that a marital relationship would provide. They are delineating between desires and actions. They’re also crossing their fingers – I mean praying – that the gayness will evaporate. “It’s OK to be gay (I guess), but you must remain celibate, or enter into a heterosexual marriage.” This is the church’s latest attempt at what they call compassion.
They do not see that this position is even more destructive.
Here’s the cruelty of it: in an already isolating reality of experiencing being different and a hated minority, the gay community is being told to further isolate themselves by committing to a life of celibacy. They’re being told that the only way to be faithful to Jesus is to accept this fate and rely upon a church to supplement their need for relationship, love, and connection — a church that has hated and scorned them.
If someone who loves Jesus and is LGBTQ+ decides to attend and serve at a church, then decides one day to become involved with and perhaps marry someone of the same sex, that person must be confronted, dealt with, and marginalized.
They would be treated as a non-believer. It doesn’t matter what they think or believe about Jesus or God, they would be “in sin.”
In other words, “You’re welcome to come to our church, just don’t bring your spouse. In fact, keep your sexuality hidden from view.”
To them, it would be the same as if one day I, a heterosexual man, decided to cheat on my wife and have an affair. To them, it’s all sexual sin.
There are many that call themselves same-sex attracted or even LGBTQ+, but have the conviction or desire to remain celibate. I think of individuals like Bridget Eileen Rivera or a close friend of mine. Both believe that God has called them to remain unmarried, but they also hold that every individual must follow their own conviction.
Yet there are many that choose to be in an intimate committed relationship. There are many that don’t feel the conviction or calling of celibacy or of remaining single. There are many that want to enter into a committed, agape-loving relationship with another human being.
Do they love God any less? Is the fruit of the spirit not in their lives? Are they somehow less of a Christian?
This new tack by the church is not compassion. This is an attempt to control behavior while playing the part of being compassionate. This allows the church to check a box, pat itself on the back, and call itself “accepting,” “open,” “tolerant,” and even “loving.”
While there are many who have the conviction of celibacy for themselves, to mandate a prohibition against same-sex sexual relationships is not compassion. It’s deceitful, constricting, and manipulative.
The root of this problem is a misunderstanding of what it takes to please God. The thinking goes something like this: In order to please God, one must follow a set of prescribed rules. Some of the rules we like; some of the rules we don’t like. Either way, God knows best, so follow these rules whether we understand or agree with them. If we think about or question the rules, we are deceiving ourselves. And because our hearts are deceitful above all things, we cannot trust our reasoning.
Actually, according to the Bible, the rules are there to help us carry out the commandment of love. At the heart of God’s prohibitions of sexual immorality is the goal to treat others with respect and love. Paul cautions against sexual immorality by reminding the Thessalonians that sexual immorality takes advantage of a brother or sister:
“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-6a).
Sexual immorality is about satisfying one’s own selfish desires. It’s immoral because it becomes all about self, and not about loving others. It is “out of control.” And like any selfish sin, leads to emptiness and lack of purpose. This can happen in hetero as well as gay sexual relationships.
When Christians talk of rules, lines, and statutes, they’re focused on arbitrary commands instead of the law of love, which Jesus brought forth.
It highlights a profound misunderstanding of what Christianity is and is not: It is not a set of capricious commands to be followed, but a means of loving God by loving your neighbor.
Beware of the church’s new strategy masquerading as compassion. Although they acknowledge who you are and how you’re created, the moment that you act upon this identity; the moment you stop believing these desires are sinful; the moment that you want to enter into a loving committed connection with another human being is the moment that you are not welcome. ~
* Merritt, J.
Merritt, Jonathan. "How The Leader Of The Largest Ex-Gay Ministry Dismantled The Movement ". The Atlantic, 2015, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/10/the-man-who-dismantled-the-ex-gay-ministry/408970/. Accessed 29 Jan 2022.
Photo credit: Kristina Paparo