A few weeks ago, I received a call from the pastor of a conservative church. Its Lead Pastor was asked this question, “Is your church LGBTQ friendly?” He felt ill equipped to answer that question, as did several staff members. What follows was my suggestion for how staff might want to respond.
The honest answer to that question is, that our church aspires to do more than be friendly. We want every person who walks through our doors to feel welcomed and loved. Gay or straight, rich or poor, all races, ex-cons or judges, single, divorced, married or widowed.
Here’s how we hope to do that, by introducing you to the radical love of Jesus, if you’re not yet committed to him, and helping you live out the love of Jesus to each other and the world as God instructed us. But here’s where it gets a bit complicated.
The Bible is more than a book of wise teachings and ancient history. It is the Constitution for all true Christians. It introduces us to God’s love, his will for all humans and his plan for this world. Like any loving parent, God not only loves us and teaches us how to love one another, he also gives us boundaries to keep us from hurting ourselves and others – the “thou shall” and “thou shall not’s.”
Humans, even Christians, like all children, don’t like rules or boundaries. We like them when they are convenient and helpful for us, but not when we believe they are interfering with our happiness. And like all families, we have people in our church, who are loving, kind and obedient and others who are behaving badly and just don’t care.
So, getting back to your question, “Is your church LGBTQ friendly?” Here’s the honest answer. Some of our people are. Most of our younger Christians who’ve grown up with LGBTQ people as friends will be welcoming without reservations. And you’ll find our pastors and staff warm and willing to help you in any way they can. However, we have other members, who still have not figured out how to love LGBTQ people all that well. As a church, we’re trying to do better, but some are trying harder than others. That’s just the truth.
However, there’s another way some LGBTQ people may not feel like we’re all that friendly. Our church believes the Bible teaches, all sex outside of marriage is a sin, gay or straight, and that biblical marriage, by definition and design can only be a union of one man and one woman.
So, we have straight people who attend our church, who are living with their girlfriend, or boyfriend, or who are single and having sex. We have divorced people. We have straight married couples who are fighting and treating each other badly. We also have LGBTQ people who are celibate, some who are not and others married to someone of the opposite sex. In other words, not everyone who attends our church is a saint! But, we try to do our best to help everyone to flourish as God intended and all are welcome here.
But, we have a different standard for people who are, or wish to be actual members of our church and involved in ministry. First, every person who wishes to be a member of our church must have accepted Jesus as their Savior and Lord, asked his forgiveness for their sin and have pledged their highest allegiance to him, over all other relationships, loves or passions.
We also have a church Constitution which details how we’ve agreed to function as a family. We have both gay and straight people who wish to join our church, who after reading how we interpret the Bible, particularly regarding human sexuality, gender, divorce and marriage, chose not to join. That saddens us, because we undoubtebly feel unfriendly to them. That’s not our intent. We’re just trying our best to honor God by being faithful to the Bible. We simply don’t have the right to turn a blind eye to behaviors, or relationships that God prohibits. So everyone is welcome to attend our church for as long as they want without being a member, but if you chose to join the family, our Constitution and the Bible will have to become your constitutions as well.
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” Titus 2:11, 12
If you are LGBTQ, or a family member is, we invite you to call one of our pastors, have a cup of coffee and let’s get to know each other better. Here’s something else our church aspires to;
If an LGBTQ person or their family ever leaves our church over theological differences, that should make us sad. But if they ever left because we were unkind to them, that would make Jesus sad.
Preston Sprinkle, president of The Center for Faith, Sexuality and Gender, suggests before anyone on staff just sends this, or any email, they learn to ask a few questions first, because there’s always a story and generally a hurt behind that question. What do you mean by, “Is your church LGBTQ friendly and why do you ask?” with a smile on your face, is a good place to start. Give them a chance to give context to their question, then let the Holy Spirit guide you from there.
If a staff member doesn't feel comfortable, or knowledgeable having an extended conversation, then that may be a good time to make this suggestion; “Do you have time for a cup of coffee this week? I’d like to ask our lead pastor to join us and we’ll take all the time necessary to answer your questions.”
So, what do you like or not about this approach?
So, that’s it. I’d appreciate your honest comments.