What Loving LGBTQ Ministry Could Look Like

At the St. Louis General Conference and since, conservatives have often been accused of being hateful, bigoted, and punitive toward LGBTQ persons. We frequently hear quoted “Do no harm!” and “Love your neighbor!” These statements are aimed at the traditional view that marriage is between one man and one woman and that the practice of homosexuality (as well as any other sexual relationship outside marriage) is contrary to God’s will.

The statements imply that the traditional view is unloving, but that is because we have different understandings of what love looks like. Perhaps it would be helpful to flesh out how traditionalists might engage in loving ministry with LGBTQ persons. (Obviously, in a blog post I will only be able to hit the high spots, rather than delving into the details of each person’s situation.)

From a traditional perspective, love seeks the best for the other person. The problem becomes discerning what the “best” is. We know that we have trouble understanding what is best for ourselves. In the same way, it is also risky to accept another person’s discernment about what is best for them as always being right. The way out of this dilemma is to trust that God knows and has revealed what is best for us. The Bible teaches us the way of righteousness and holiness, leading to living at our best. As Psalm 19 explains, the precepts of the Lord are “more precious than gold” and “sweeter than honey.” “By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is much reward” (Psalm 19:11).

Loving God and seeking God’s ways (not our own) is the first and greatest commandment for a reason. We too often impose our human judgment in replacement of what God has revealed to us.

To love lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning/queer persons as our neighbor means to treat each one with love, respect, and kindness as a fellow human being created in the image of God. Therefore, there is no room for insults, put-downs, joking comments at their expense, foul language directed at them, or violence of any kind. On a human level, LGBTQ persons should be treated as we ourselves would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12). There are no exceptions to the Golden Rule.

As Christians and out of love for others, we are compelled to share the love of Christ with our friends and neighbors so that they may come to know him as Savior and Lord of their lives. That includes our LGBTQ friends and neighbors. We will never help move a person closer to Jesus by harshly condemning them, insulting them, or mistreating them in any way. Rather, in a winsome and invitational way, we seek to introduce people to Jesus because we know and love him ourselves. We know that apart from him — gay, straight, or questioning — we are all lost and separated from God, so we seek to bring others closer to God. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (II Corinthians 5:20).

In our conversations, we should not insist that gay people become straight before they can come to God, just as we do not insist that others of us have our lives all together in order to come to God. Rather, we come as we are, with only “the desire to flee the wrath to come,” as John Wesley put it. As we respond to God’s grace expressed in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, we begin to change from the inside out. We journey with Christ toward becoming the person he created us to be.

To love LGBTQ persons is to fully embrace and support them in their journey of discipleship. None of us is meant to walk that journey alone. We are assigned the task of “watching over one another in love,” as Wesley put it. We stand not in judgment over one another, but as fellow pilgrims traveling toward the common destination of becoming perfect in God’s love. For many lesbians and gays, it will mean a life of celibacy, meaning that we the church will need to help form that supportive community and provide a family relationship as the embodiment of God’s love.

To love LGBTQ persons is to teach clearly, lovingly, and sensitively what God requires of us — gay, straight, or questioning — in all aspects of life. In this era of “designer religion” where we are each tempted to create our own belief system, it is imperative that we begin to learn and understand the truth from God’s perspective. We do so in humility, knowing that none of us can perfectly understand that truth, nor do we always live up to what we know. Instead, we seek together to grow in our understanding of the truth, faithful to God’s self-revelation in Scripture and guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

God’s intent for the exercise of his good gift of human sexuality has become clear in Scripture, as interpreted and understood by over 1,200 years of Jewish history and the additional 2,000 years of the Christian church. Some who propose to change the definition of marriage to include persons of the same gender may not fully appreciate what it means to say that every single biblical scholar of the church, bishop, and defender of the faith for 2,000 years has been wrong in their understanding of God’s word. The heavy weight of that much accumulated wisdom and piety is not to be lightly cast aside by a majority vote of a General Conference.

It is not my task here to argue the biblical case for one man-one woman marriage. I would refer the reader to Richard Hays’ masterful chapter in his volume, The Moral Vision of the New Testament (chapter 16). Ambitious scholars desiring a more thorough examination of the biblical and cultural evidence may turn to The Bible and Homosexual Practice by Robert Gagnon.

To love LGBTQ persons is to not set ourselves above them, as if we were somehow superior. Rather, it is to acknowledge that we, too, stand in need of God’s grace, forgiveness, and transformation. No one’s sin is worse than another’s. Heterosexuals, no less than LGBTQ persons, need to learn God’s ways and discipline ourselves to keep them by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us.

We may never lose the attraction toward sin, whether it is greed, same-sex desires, the desire for that next drink, or whatever it might be. The gay person may never completely lose same-sex attractions. The alcoholic may never be able to safely take a drink. The greedy person may always want more than they have. But by the grace of God, the desire can weaken and lessen, until it has no more control over us. We can have the ability to say “no” to sin, despite whatever temptations we face.

On the other hand, some do experience deliverance from sin and a restoration to wholeness that allows them to no longer be tempted by sin. Some lesbians and gays have been healed and delivered to the point where they can enter into healthy opposite-sex marriages. We must not foreclose on God’s ability to supernaturally work in our lives.

We may never become “perfect in love” or without sin until we get to heaven. But we keep “attending upon all the ordinances of God” – those means of grace that strengthen our faith. We keep “consider[ing] how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, … but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

The ministry of love for all people, including LGBTQ persons, is the ministry of transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit through a supportive Christian community. All of us are in equal need of that transformation, gay or straight. God will do what he promises, no matter what challenges we face in life, as we respond to the leading of his Holy Spirit. “And we all … are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (II Corinthians 3:18).

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Thank you for this extremely helpful post.

  2. What do we who were taught by family from early childhood that homosexuality is sinful do now? Change from family teachings is not impossible but not easy. Our friend Rev. Billy Graham often said, “The Bible says…” to remind us of God’s word and it is not easily, if ever, put aside in the name of Christian love.

    • Perhaps you should consider not being a Methodist. There are other denominations that hold that ‘practicing’ isn’t the problem, that simply being homosexual is the problem.

      Of course, if you want to hold to that “Biblical Truth”, how do you handle people with tattoos, and divorced persons, etc?

  3. Tom – excellently put, as always. In order to be truly loving we have to be able to call out sin as it is defined by the Bible. To change that definition is not our place. As you explain, we should point out sin in a loving and gracious manner, not requiring that a person be perfect before they can approach God. For we have all sinned and we are all a work-in-progress. Is the sin of homosexual sex worse than alcoholism? No – it is man’s nature to rank sins whereas in God’s eyes they are all the same. It is wrong, and a disservice and unloving, to tell someone an untruth – that something that is a sin, is no longer a sin. Someone cannot truly repent if they don’t know for what they need to repent! Nor can someone truly repent if they only wish to repent for certain sins but not others. We can, and should, be loving and accepting of our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters as we are all of our fellow fallen sinners. They can be part of the church. But that which the Bible has declared to be sin cannot be changed just to make anyone feel better. Ultimately the sides that cannot agree on what is sin cannot abide the same denomination.

  4. I put this on the main page posting, but perhaps Rev Lambrecht will respond here.

    The logical extension of this Biblical view is that the UMC should return to the view that pastors cannot divorce and remarry, or marry divorced persons as that is a direct conflict with the words of Jesus.

    [They can only divorce due to adultery on the part of their spouse. Remarriage after such a divorce could be considered as this isn’t specifically forbidden in Jesus words in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.]

    If someone sinning by engaging in ‘practicing homosexuality’ and thus is to be excluded from being married or from being considered for ordination;
    AND if “No one’s sin is worse than another’s.”
    AND if Divorce (as noted above) is the sin of Adultery
    THEN the same exclusions must apply to those who are divorced and remarried (exceptions noted above).

    Do you agree, Rev Lambrecht? Doesn’t that HAVE to be the next logical step in the Traditionalist view?

    I wonder how many Traditionalist pastors are ‘sinning’ in that way.

    • JR, thank you for your question.

      Adultery is not the only biblical grounds for divorce. Desertion and (by extension) abusive behavior are permitted grounds under I Corinthians 7. I believe this means a person whose spouse divorces them against their will is innocent of sin and would be permitted to remarry. There is no question that the church should be more forthright about the evils of divorce, with the aim of strengthening marriages and forestalling the conditions that lead to divorce (such as pornography and affairs). Where a person has initiated a divorce without biblical grounds to do so, I believe they should be suspended from leadership or ministry. But divorce is also not an unforgivable sin. Where there is repentance, there can be forgiveness. Where restoration of the marriage is impossible (for example of the spouse has remarried), the person may be able to remarry after repentance. After repentance, they could also be restored to ministry and leadership. Each case and its circumstances needs to be considered individually. But I think the cavalier attitude the church sometimes takes toward divorce is biblically wrong.

      The difference with homosexuality is that it is an ongoing practice. Repentance from the practice of homosexuality would involve renouncing same-sex physical relationships. If a person with same-sex attraction is willing to do that, I think they could qualify for leadership and ministry. But a person wanting to continue same-sex physical relationships would not qualify for leadership or ministry, although they could still be members of the church (in my view).

      • Hi Tom,

        I appreciate the response. I think you are really dancing around trying to make divorce palatable because you know it’s a deal breaker for a large part of the UMC, and if you put the same logical precision to divorce that you do to homosexuality, divorce is (except in specific circumstances) as ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ as homosexuality is.

        1 Corinthians 7 does address specific cases of divorce.

        But verse 10, Paul calls out that the LORD says not to divorce. Pretty easy to go back to Jesus words with that.

        And verse 12, Paul calls out where he says differently than the LORD (dealing with unbeliever married to believers). It’s a much more limited case – divorce is acceptable if a nonbeliever abandons a believer, but ONLY in the case where the nonbeliever leaves. To make that fit, we’d have to have a spouse who is a nonbeliever and moves out.

  5. JR,
    Liberals often use Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce in Matthew 19 as a roundabout justification for openly practicing homosexual marriage/ordination. In other words, poor sexual or marital behavior on the part of heterosexuals is surely justification for the church to grant sacramental justification for same-sex marriage. So two wrongs make a right, JR? That adage must surely be somewhere in your Bible.
    Here’s the problem with your previous argument of deductive reasoning: The New Testament Greek word sometimes translated “adultery” in Matthew 19 is “pornea”, which has a broad definition of sexual immorality or unfaithfulness. We can debate quality of legitimacy till the cows come home, indeed, but question practically every UM clergy person who is divorced, and nearly every one can cite some measure of sexual unfaithfulness or “pornea” as a legitimate Jesus (and Matthew-19-consistent) reason for divorce.
    I appreciate your sincerity, but your deductive logic, in this case, simply doesn’t work. What’s more, in Matthew 19, Jesus clearly defines and endorses marriage as between one man and one woman. Finally, to echo Rev. Lambrecht and your sentiment, you are absolutely correct that church leadership, rather than singling out homosexual practice for condemnation, needs to dedicate itself more fully to nurturing marriage, family, and sexual faithfulness across the spectrum. On that note, I say “Amen”!

    • “In other words, poor sexual or marital behavior on the part of heterosexuals is surely justification for the church to grant sacramental justification for same-sex marriage. So two wrongs make a right, JR? ”

      Oh, no.

      Take it the other way around.

      IF you hold firm on the sexual immorality of same sex relationships, you have to hold firm on other forms of sexual immorality. Go ahead and quote the ‘2000 years of Christian Tradition’; you don’t get to pick and choose any more than I get to pick and choose.

      AND the Bible clearly states – JESUS clearly states, as does Paul – that unless your spouse engages in sexual immorality, getting a divorce and remarrying is adultery. Adultery = sexual immorality, I’m sure we can agree.

      So if there’s a pastor who was married and divorced – perhaps his christian spouse left and took the kid, irreconcilable differences, whatever – but there was no ‘sexual immorality’ involved or accused, then his getting remarried is a SIN under the view that the Traditionalist side is proclaiming.

      Bryan says is above: “But that which the Bible has declared to be sin cannot be changed just to make anyone feel better.” Traditionalists want the Bible to be immutable, non-contextual. Sin is sin is sin. Adultery is a sin, Homosexuality is a sin, Divorce (limited exceptions) and remarriage is a sin. Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

      Methodists, up until the mid-20th century, wouldn’t even consider marrying previously divorced persons. Doing so, or yourself marrying a divorced person, could have CHURCH CHARGES levied against you.

      Re: porneia, the translational piece isn’t nearly as varied as you imply. ‘Illicit Sexual Intercourse’, variations thereof. https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g4202

      And that should be a predecessor to an actual divorce.

      If Traditionalists want to toe the line on Biblical sexual ethics, they should do so. No half measures.

  6. JR,
    You can argue for a stricter translation of the Greek word “pornea” and I can make a case (and any clergy person can make a case) for a more liberal translation of “pornea.” The fact is, like I said earlier, practically every previously divorced and remarried clergy person can make a case, in one way or another, that “pornea” or sexual unfaithfulness was a critical reason for a previous divorce (and have solid grounds for doing so). Sexual unfaithfulness or “pornea” broadly understood is indeed a Jesus and Matthew-19-consistent reason for divorce and remarriage was the point I was making. Now, you show me where Jesus gives endorsement for the church granting sacred approval and sanctioning for same-sex marriage on an equal standing with traditional marriage. And also show me where Jesus endorses and encourages same-sex sexual practice in the scriptures.
    To your point about sexual immorality: Completely agree 100%. Sexual immorality is sexual immorality: Adultery, pederasty, pornography, sex-trafficking, same-sex sexual practice. To single out and discriminate anyone or any group based on one form or another is unjust! Amen to that![

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