Believe this: Many younger Christians are making how we treat LGBT+ people, the litmus test of whether they want anything to do with the church.
In the last few years, I’ve been doing a lot of speaking to pastors and church leaders as the chairman and CEO of The Center for Faith, Sexuality and Gender. www.centerforfaith.com. Our mission is to help Christians and churches love LGBT+ people better from the church’s historical understanding of sexuality and marriage.
Some pastors and lay people believe all they need is the correct doctrine and holding true to that will guard their church from going liberal or soft on LGBT people. Praise God, that attitude is changing. Here’s how I put both the problem and the solution to them (and to any parent or grandparent). There are three groups in almost every evangelical church – your church, who you will need to educate about LGBT+ people. Because, the lines are being drawn more quickly than the average church member fully comprehends between those who believe the Bible allows loving, monogamous same-sex relations and marriage (affirming) and those who believe the Bible does not allow for same-sex marriage (non-affirming). Nowhere is the affirming movement gaining more strength than with college students, young Christians, youth pastors and seminarians – the future leaders of our churches.
Grace, with a minor in Truth The vast majority of students and younger Christians haven’t based their views on a rigorous study of what the Bible says on this topic. Rather, most have simply gravitated to a “soft” affirming position. That is, they’ve become affirming largely out of empathy for how LGBT+ people have been mistreated by many Christians and churches.
Younger people feel the Church has given them only two options; They can either love without judgment all LGBT+ people, or they can write them off and vilify them.
Truth with a minor in Grace But, younger Christians are not our only challenge. While younger Christians generally have more empathy, they also have less knowledge of and allegiance to Scripture, older Christians, often have just the opposite problem. They eagerly submit to biblical authority and morality, but genuinely struggle with showing real empathy and grace toward LGBT+ people.
In my experience, Christians over age 60 range from mildly homophobic to “evangelical red-necks!” The reality is that many evangelicals have a visceral reaction to homosexuality – a reaction that is driven less by what they’ve read in the Bible, than by their upbringing, personal biases and church culture. They will need to re-examine the origins of those attitudes so that their sexual and gender ethic is actually rooted in Scripture alone.
That brings us to the third group and in almost every respect, the most important – LGBT+ people and their families. Not only are many living in fear of being found out, or if “out,” they feel alienated and lonely. Good Christians often just simply don’t know what to say, or what not to say, so they just stay away.
Some LGBT+ people might never return to your church. But what ought to break our hearts is if the silent and scared remain that way.
How then shall we live? To address these attitudes and begin changing the culture of churches and organizations, leaders will have to move beyond doctrinal statements and policies. The Center helps leaders cultivate a fresh culture of belief in their members. That is, they want to give Christians theological permission to engage LGBT+ people graciously without feeling guilty they’ve abandoned any core teachings of scripture.
“Always be prepare to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15b
Being the patriarch of your family So what does this mean for you, if you are a parent or grandparent? It means you will need to educate yourself to be the thought leader for your family, on these issues. I’ve taken our high school age grandchildren out to lunch and I’ve talked to them about what the Bible teaches and what I believe about marriage, sexuality and I’ve confessed my past homophobia.
My goal for having these discussions is that I send out these signals – “I’m safe for you to talk to me about your sexual questions or those of your friends.”
Where to begin
Read People to be Loved by Preston Sprinkle
Practice confessing your past homophobic thoughts about LGBT+ people. (It will open the door wide to dialoguing with your family.)
Practice articulating four or five things you believe about same-sex, sexual relationships and marriage and why.
Read a few of the free Pastoral Papers, on The Center’s website. (http://centerforfaith.com/resources?field_product_category_tid=1)
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
How following Jesus works in real life.
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