Haziness and Holiness: The Church and the LGBT Community

"You don't get to a place where you're never going to be tempted again."
Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International

“God created sexuality.  People create sexual identity”
Dr. Jenel Williams Paris in The End Of Sexual Identity

"Whatever you marginalize, you radicalize"
Rick Warren (@RickWarren 1/15/13)

So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.
 (Colossians 2:10 NLT)

Two things happened yesterday that colluded to produce this blog entry.  First, I participate in a wonderful email discussion with pastors and leaders that covers a variety of topics regarding life and faith.  Over the past several days, there has been significant discussion on the church's treatment of homosexuality in light of Pastor Lou Gigglio's removal from praying during the presidential inauguration due perceived anti-gay comments.  Secondly, a church member scheduled a meeting with me and angrily questioned me about a rumor he heard that I was "inviting gay people to church".  As I write this, I recognize that some people are so entrenched in their view on this, that they will be offended no matter what is written.  I ask that have an open mind.

I have written quite a few blog entries on the topics of Jesus and sexuality as well as the church and same sex marriages.  It never fails to amaze me regarding how stigmatizing sexuality is in our current culture.  During my writings, I have sought to be faithful to the Biblical record by revealing what the Bible says in regards to certain topics, as well as being clear when the Bible is silent.  It is my hope that we can use scripture as divine revelation that seeks to unify, not divide his people.

I believe that the Church today is in a haze in regards to its identity and its role in ministering to and among the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community (LGBT).  Part of that reason stems from a poor theologic framework which has allowed the institutionalization of the club mentality (more social inclusion than spiritual connection) as well as a poorly defined understanding of the essence of its mission (Community that personifies the person, teachings, and disciplines of Jesus Christ and joins in his mission as agents of the Kingdom of God).  We often see our church communities as centered around our needs and responsive to our desires rather than existing to demonstrate the love of God in tangible ways to our neighborhoods, communities, regions and nations.

We (those of us in the church) often repeat the errors of the Pharisees who were present at the time of Jesus.  We become zealous for God and set up laws and regulations that lack any real power for restraining inappropriate desires or changing our hearts (Colossians 2:20-23).  We find those things we identify as sin and we feel that anyone who has had a real encounter with Jesus can and will simply stop doing the offense.  We use a morality test, mostly based upon our own regional and cultural "super sins" and define what is acceptable while being blind to our own culturally acceptable sins. University of Virginia Psychologist John Haidt, in his book "The Righteous Mind" states that morality binds and blinds.  For example, we may reject someone's faith as authentic if they remain in a same sex relationship, but not if they stay in a job where people are exploited and greed is rewarded.

Interestingly, Jesus did not use morality as the criteria for who will enter into the Kingdom of God.  He understood that through the lens of God's morality, that no one would be eligible or deserving of the kingdom of God (Romans 3:23).  Therefore, through His sacrifice, he offers grace to all, and challenges us to literally be grace-extenders!

My point is that Jesus wants people with same sex attractions, orientations, and lifestyles to experience His grace.  Since he will not be dropping pamphlets, or emailing out the means of this grace, he plans on extending his grace through His body, the church, empowered by His spirit.

Some are reading this saying, but God called his church to Holy.  Literally, we are called to be a separate people, fully consecrated to God.  However, the greater understanding of Holiness is not just a legalistic people who do not commit known sins, but a holistic concept where a person is transformed so that they are completely able to love God and their neighbor (John 13:34-35).  Our separation is not to be physical, but spiritual as we are commanded to "make disciples" as we go along in our lives (Mt 28:18-20, I Cor 5:10, Jn 17:15).

In fact, the Church is holiest, when it is loving God and its neighbors.  So, whether its same sex attraction, same sex orientations, same sex lifestyles, greed, bitterness, lack of gentleness, coarse language, or violent behavior, the Church is to demonstrate God's love in tangible ways as a means of extending the grace (undeserved love and favor) that it has itself received.

A real dilemma has arisen in regards to what is the actual sin in same sex relationships.  Is it being attracted, is it being physically intimate?  We know that the understanding of a person as gay or homosexual in regards to identity is a 20th century phenomena so the Bible speaks against those people who commit same sex sexual acts and those who lust after people of same sex.  The Bible also speaks against all people who have sexual acts outside of marriage (defined Biblically as a covenant between a male and female) whether it is same sex or heterosexual.  Lust is also forbidden in general.  So if we assume for a second, and I think most Biblical scholars would agree, that the Bible condemns same sex physical intimacy, can a committed Christian still have same sex attraction or an orientation that prefers company of the same sex?  In other words, is sexual celibacy the fruit that is desired?  Can same sex couples live devoted lives to one another if its not sexual?  This can go on and on...

Alan Chambers is the president of Exodus International.  Exodus is a Christian ministry that seeks to minister to people within the LGBT community, through former members.  Exodus relied heavily on what is called "reparative thereapy" which seeks to "convert" people with same sex attractions, orientations, and lifestyles to heterosexuality.  While there have been antedotal reports of success, Chambers admitted this past June that only about 4% of those people who underwent reparative therapy were successfully "converted", and most have continued to struggle with same sex attractions, orientations, and lifestyles.  

Exodus has switched to a program that seeks to disciple and connect with Jesus.  The goal is not conversion, but connection and community.  It understands that the call for holiness is a call for wholeness, and that is not found in sexuality, sensuality, self-help programs, or even in sin avoidance.  Biblical wholeness is found in a relationship with Jesus.

The Church must understand that its role is love its neighbors regardless of sexual orientation in tangible pragmatic ways and help connect their neighbors with Christ and live in community.  In order to do that, the church must practice hospitality (Romans 12:13) by making room in our lives and in our relationships for anyone who we would regard as a neighbor.  That means that at some point, as the Church practices Holiness through hospitality, you will need to actually befriend and engage members of the LGBT community.

Therefore, ranting regarding the immorality of same sex couples, encouraging further  isolation and insulation, or treating same sex attraction/orientation/lifestyles as if it were the second coming of Nero for the church is not only counter-productive but also un-Biblical and unhealthy.

That does not mean that we compromise God's Biblical standards of conduct in order to appear relevant.  It means that we practice an incarnational approach to our communities where the literal truth and love of God goes out into the world, not for judgement, but to extend grace to a hurting and broken world.

Church leaders, as we practice Biblical Holiness the haziness that confuses us regarding our identity and our mission, will lift.

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor