In talking on college campuses and in churches, many people ask: how can the Church practically minister to the GLBT community? This a fair question to ask; moreover, it is a question the Church has far too long ignored answering. Surprisingly enough, the answer is not hard to give. In fact, it is as simple as living out the Words of Christ. As Christ summed up the entire Law and Prophets by commanding us to essentially love God and to love others – as ourselves – (Matthew 22:34-40) so I too believe that the Church can best minister to the gay community by essentially “loving one another”.
By no means is this an original thought. God’s Love for mankind runs throughout all of scripture, since the beginning of Genesis to the ending paragraph of Revelation. I think, where the conversation splits is in how one uses the word “love.”
The “love” I am using here is not the “flowery-I-love-chocolate” love. Rather, it is the “for-God-so-loved-the-world” type of love. The first love fills temporary needs within the person receiving it and the person giving it. This type of love is not the “end-all” of all loves, because it leaves people unfulfilled. It is a love that is not pure, as it is often selfish and conditional. The second Love, on the other hand, fills eternal needs within all who receive it and give it. This type of Love – God’s “Agape” Love – is the “end-all” to all loves, because it leaves people fulfilled / satisfied. It is a Love that is pure, being sacrificial and unconditional (1 Corinthians 13). The question becomes, then, not so much are we loving others, but with what type of “love” do we love others?
To truly Agape-Love others, we must first be in a right Love-relationship with our Father God. As 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.” Earlier John also writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God … if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (4:7-12). It is His Agape-Love, working through us, that enables us to Love others effectively and purely. If I were to love my wife on my own merits, I would fail more times than succeed – all of us would. My love for my wife comes from the Father’s heart to mine and out to her heart. This applies to every relationship I have. It has to be. If God’s Love is the purest of all, then why wouldn’t I want to Love others through it rather than rely on my own merits – which are surrounded by selfishness and pride?
Luke 15 is a great chapter that talks about this Agape-Love of God. Jesus speaks of many parables that relate to what the Kingdom of God is like, showing us a picture of God’s heart for His children. One of the greatest pictures of God’s Agape for us (besides the Cross) is in the parable of the Lost Son. As the story goes: a father has two sons, the youngest asks for his inheritance early, after receiving it he blows it on “worldly” things, comes to the end of his rope, and returns home. This is where the story gets interesting.
Upon returning home, the son intends to work for his father as a slave. After all, he has blown all his inheritance and has nothing to show for it but brokenness and shame. Jesus says that while the son was a ways off, the father saw him coming over the horizon, and he started to run towards his son. Let that sink in for a minute: the father ran to his son …
When the son and father meet, the son drops down to his father’s feet and begins his lament to become his father’s slave. Without missing a beat, the father embraces his son and orders that he be dressed in the finest of cloths and that a party be set up for his honor. The reason: the father’s son, who was once lost and thought to be dead, was now home again and alive! The father had no concern for what the son did while gone. The father only cared about one thing: his son’s return.
This picture is a familiar one: a child is lost, comes home, and it lavished upon with a Father’s Love that has the power to wash away all guilt, shame, brokenness, and scars of the past. This picture happens every time a “prodigal child” returns home to their Father God. The book of Romans says that all have fallen short of the glory of God; and that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 3:23, 5:8). Every person is considered a prodigal before they come back to the Father, and once they do come back, they are then considered a son or daughter. Adoption takes place; we no longer belong to our past identities, because we are brought into a new identity as God’s child.
This adoptive, Agape-Love of God extends to all prodigals, including those within the GLBT community. Too many times, though, the Church says otherwise and instead of embracing them as God’s children, they treat the gay community as the older brother treated his own brother. When the prodigal son returns home, the older brother erupts over the father’s loving-kindness towards his younger brother. Many in the Church take on the same attitude and thoughts: once a gay person always a gay person; homosexuality is the sin of all sins; God should just wipe out the gay community. When it comes to the GLBT community, the majority of those in the Church turn a cold shoulder to what God can and wants to do within His children.
In speaking on this story, Joe Dallas offers a convicting question to the Church:
Is the Church a father to the prodigal, racing to meet him halfway and celebrating his return? Or is the Body of Christ better represented by a self-righteous older brother, distant and cold, uninvolved? When addressing the problem of homosexuality, these are perhaps the most important questions to consider.
(A Strong Delusion, p. 226)
What would the story be like if the older brother approached his sibling, like the father? What would the story be like if the Church approached the GLBT community with the Father’s Agape-Love?
The answer to this question determines how the Church can effectively and practically minister to the GLBT community. Through our own love, the Church will not meet the needs of the gay community; rather, within the bounds of God’s Agape-Love will the Church and the gay community come together on common ground. This common ground involves seeing each person as equals, who are in need of a Father’s perfect Love and made in the image of God.
Right now, some are freaking out because I said that gays should be seen as “equals” and “made” in the image of God. God’s Love holds no political barriers. His Love goes beyond our human debates and agendas. God’s Love is beyond our comprehension. When God looks at us, He sees children that He has made, equally, for His glory and purposes. When the Church sees gays and lesbians, they need to look beyond the debate and arguments and see what God sees: a child He has made, whom He has died for, and whom He desires to have back in His fold. (Do I believe that people are born gay? No. Do I believe that people choose to be gay? No. Are we all born in the image of God? Yes – Genesis 1:26-27)
Taking Practical Steps
In understanding this, then, here are some practical suggestions for those within the Church to consider when ministering to those within the GLBT community.
The gay community consists of people, not stereotypes. As said before, the Church needs to approach gay people without agendas, debates, arguments, and the like. When we come with our fists and arms raised, the other side comes ready to fight as well. When we come with our hands at our sides, the other side has no ammunition. Yes, both sides are guilty of attacking each other, but the Church needs to respond as ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:20). There is more to the gay community then just “behavior.”
Homosexuality is not “the sin of all sins.” At the Cross, we find common ground: for God so loved the world, that whosoever believes in Jesus and accepts His atonement, will not die but have everlasting life. The Cross holds no prejudices, and neither should the Church. When we change this truth, we take God off His throne and we place ourselves there as judge. This is what Jesus means when He says, “Don’t judge one another.” (Matthew 7:1-5) Mankind is born into sin, and no one can escape that – even those who deny that they are sinners or who do not believe in God. Everyone is held accountable to God’s standards, hence why we all need to approach the Cross of Christ in such desperation and humility. This is the common ground we all need to begin with. All of humanity fits into two categories: those who have a saving-relationship with God and those who do not. At the end of the day, this is all that truly matters: one’s relationship with their Father God.
Stay focused on the real issue. In continuing from above, the number one focus is not to get a gay person to become “straight” or to get them married (more on this later.) The focus of the Church should be this: (for non-Christian) helping the person accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and (for Christian) helping the person grow in their relationship with Jesus. The only “agenda” we should approach the gay community with is God’s agenda, which is to Love on His children as only He can do.
Allow the Spirit to invade. As all Christians (should) know, we cannot make people do anything – no matter how hard we try. The Spirit of God brings conviction, He causes us to be refined, and He produces sanctification within us – no work of man, so that no one can boast. The more we step aside and allow the Spirit to work, the better our ministry to the gay community will be. This takes the pressure off the Church, cause all we are then called to do is Love within the bounds of Grace and Truth – just like Jesus (John 1, 4, 8).
Throw out your expectations. As said above, the Church needs to allow the Spirit to freely roam within a person’s life. God knows what healing He needs to do within a person; we do not. God knows how long this healing process will take; we do not. This is not to say that God will not use us in this process, He will, but this is to say that we should not move without the Father’s “go ahead.” In removing our expectations, I want to expand on a few points:
- The goal for ministering to a gay person is not to become “straight.” There are no quick fixes in this journey. Sometimes people get over their same-sex attractions, but, more often than not, many do not. Saying that becoming “straight” is the goal puts doubt into a person that any progress towards wholeness is not worth much. By “straight,” I mean this: only having attractions to the opposite sex. Instead, understand that some people will still struggle with same-sex attractions. Ok, move on. If the person is not acting on his or her attractions, praise them for it. Encourage them to keep pressing towards the real goal: wholeness in Christ. Remember, a person is not defined by what they struggle with, or what sins they have committed in the past, present or future.
- The goal for ministering to a gay person is not marriage. Please understand this Church. Many within the Church push the “marriage” issue too far – even for those who are single and not gay. Marriage is not the end-all of life. Paul states that some are called to stay single, while others are called to get married (1 Corinthians 7). Therefore, the Church should stand by and support the call God has placed upon a person. Many people, who do choose to walk away from their gay identity, have no attraction towards women what so ever. Marriage is not an option for them because they know they would not be able to handle it. Recognize this, and bless them by not pushing the issue. One can lead a very fruitful life for God single, just as a married person can.
Throw out your “fears.” Gay men and women are not after your children. They are not out to “recruit for their side.” Most gay people are not interested in pushing any type of political or religious agenda. Most gay couples will not shove their relationship or affection for one another into people’s faces. In fact, most gays and lesbians are normal people; just like everyone else who attends church, goes grocery shopping, watches movies, and hangs out with friends. Allowing fear to override you hinders you from being an effective vessel of Christ to a person. It is all right for you to be cautious or to ask questions, just do not allow those things to keep you from what God is asking you to do: Love on people.
Affirm the person. Understand this: affirming someone does not mean you have to affirm how he or she lives. If you have kids, they will eventually do something that you will not approve of, so does that mean you stop loving them or that you love them any less. No. It simply means you do not approve of what they do. Instead, assure them that your Love will not waiver. This is what “affirming the person” means.
Become an authentic safe community. Everyone loves to feel safe, especially those who have been wounded by others. As said before, the Church has wounded the GLBT community; therefore, the Church has a lot of repenting to do for how they have presented the Gospel of Christ to gays and lesbians. Christ preached within the bounds of grace and truth, so we should do no less. Many in the Church preach truth, but they leave out the grace. Others, preach grace, but leave out the truth. In order for a Church to be an authentic safe place, they must minister like Jesus, who was full of grace and truth (John 1:14). To do otherwise, is to preach only half a gospel, which limits the power of God from fully transforming a person into His likeness. I do not consider this type of place authentically safe because full truth is lacking, and where there is no full truth, there is really no full hope in what God can (and will) do. When a Church preaches the Gospel, they must preach the full truth of the Gospel.
Additionally, the Church needs to be a community. Generally, communities look out for their “members.” A great example of this is the first Church (Acts 2). Scripture says the Church came together in daily fellowship (community), sharing meals, prayers, and instruction with one another. They gave of their possessions to those in need. The Church of Acts was an authentic safe community that leaked the Love of God wherever it went and whenever it met. Sadly, somewhere between then and now, the Church has lost that focus – both inwardly and outwardly. The Church needs to become a place where people, from all pasts, can come and share themselves with others without fear. As the Church we are called to share one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-2), we are called to encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11), we are called to stand united (John 17:11), as one Body in Christ (Ephesians 4:1-7). Unfortunately, we seem to select which members of the Body are deserving of these commands. Those who identify themselves as gay or lesbian need an authentic community in which they are embraced with God’s Agape-Love – just as the next person. Those striving to change their identity from “gay” to “God’s” need a Church community that is committed to walking along side of them, in faithful prayer and discipleship. They need an authentic community to authentically Love them, for them, no matter how many times they stumble along the way. (This need extends to all Christians within the Body of Christ!)
It is no longer a question of “If” people from the gay community attend your church, rather it is a question of when will they come. As I alluded to before, some churches reach out to the gay community with grace, but they fail to call “sin” sin. Then, there are churches that reach out in condemnation, refusing to show grace until the person is “acceptable” of it. In the middle, we find the majority of the Church: silently watching and trying to dodge the issue. There needs to be a balance of grace and truth found within each church, so that they can truly welcome in those who desire a relationship with Father God. If it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4), may we be a safe community that shows the GLBT community that they belong to God, and in so doing, leading them to believe in His Word so that they can experience true life and freedom in living as God truly intended (for us all).
© Shawn Harrison // six11 ministries // six11.wordpress.com