For anyone just joining us, this is my second post about homosexuality and the Church. The first post can be found here (If you haven’t read it, pause for 2 minutes and go check it out… but seriously, go. I’ll still be here. Promise.). In that post, I focused on some of the biggest pushbacks and questions that I have had about God’s design for my sexuality. After wrestling with whether or not the church is actually a safe place for years, this post will focus more on questions about what it looks like to have a church that welcomes and loves members of the LGBT community.
For full disclosure, as I mentioned in the first post, I am a man who is attracted to members of the same sex, and at the same time, I am a member of a church, Midtown Fellowship, that faithfully holds to the biblical view of God’s design for gender and sexuality. I hope that this post will show what it looks like to walk in that seeming contradiction.
How Can I, As A Gay Man, Trust Christians?
I remember sitting in a pew one Sunday while I was growing up and thinking to myself, “If these are God’s people, I don’t want anything to do with God.” On another occasion, I remember seeing an anti-Pride protest and thinking, “Why are these people so hateful?”
Then in college, I found myself sitting in my room with my head buried in my hands agonizing, “If God only cares about my sin… If He has no interest in my well being whatsoever... Then how can I trust Him at all?”
I have spent years wrestling with this question.
Agonizing over its potential answers.
Begging God to help me.
Help me understand.
Help me make sense of my desires.
But as I have wrestled with this question, I have realized it was based on a faulty assumption. I was assuming that the actions of “God’s people”, the church, were an accurate reflection of God’s character; that God approved of and condoned the actions of every individual who ever claimed to act in His name.
The first problem with this idea baffled me when I first encountered it. Simply claiming to be a believer does not actually mean that someone is a follower of Christ. Many of the people spewing the most hate-filled messages about homosexuality are, in fact, not Christians. I was convicting God for actions taken by people who had twisted Scripture to fit into their hate-filled agenda. These weren’t people interested in God, these were people using God as a means to an end.
They weren’t Christians.
They were self-righteous bigots.
Which left me with the question, what about the people who really are Christians and are still causing pain.
There were times when the Christians I knew were ignorant or insensitive.
There were times when they had no interest in being helpful.
There were times when they seemed disgusted by me.
There were times when the only way I could interpret their actions was as hateful.
And that’s what I thought it meant to be a Christian, but the more time I spent in God’s word, the more He began to show me what it really meant to be a Christian. Being a Christian does not mean knowing the right answers and displaying moral superiority about your ability to avoid certain sins.
Being a Christian means admitting my sinfulness and proclaiming my need for a savior. It means I stop trying to earn my way back to God. It means I run to God for the forgiveness and grace I can never earn. And because of that, in everything, I am called to trust in the love of Christ, and Christ alone, not the love of anything else. Not the love of a romantic interest. Not the love of my parents or family. And not even the love of God’s people, the church.
The Bible makes it clear that all humans, including Christians, despite their best intentions, are still sinners that will continue to let each other down. So pointing out that Christians are sinners who fail to love and fail to treat people fairly and perfectly isn’t actually a reason to not trust Jesus. It’s one more piece of evidence that Christians, like the rest of us need a Savior.
But What About Christian Hypocrites?
To be honest, the Church, historically, has failed miserably to minister well to those who question their gender or sexuality. Preachers have stood in their pulpits and relentlessly called out people who struggle with same-sex attraction, but have looked the other way when congregants commit heterosexual adultery, show unrepentant greed, or struggle with any number of other sins (pride, drunkenness, and lying come to mind).
As a result, myself and other members of the LGBT community have felt unfairly singled out, ridiculed, and unwelcomed by the Church. My heart breaks with that of those whom the Church has spurned and ostracized.
Growing up in a fairly conservative Southern church, I too know the utter exhaustion that comes from feeling as if you have to hide the truth because your sins are unspeakable, and it seemed like that was the only possibility.
But it’s not.
The biblical call on believers in Jesus is to create a community that is radically welcoming to everyone, including members of the LGBT community. The Bible calls the Church to be a family that sees each other’s sins, and loves each other regardless. To be a group of people that rally around one another when life is difficult. To be a people who celebrate the wins together and also that walks through the mess of life together.
And as crazy as it sounds, I’ve seen it.
There are members of my church family who know me, know my story, know the depths of my sin, and have welcomed me into their lives and loved me unconditionally.
I have struggled with the fear of loneliness that comes with lifelong celibacy, and my church family has absolutely fought alongside me. I have been invited to crash my friends’ dates. I have been invited to live with other people in our church family. And not just other single people. I have been invited into the homes of our married friends to live with them. To be a part of their family. To help raise their kids.
I have been invited on family vacations. Not only with young married people. I’ve been invited into family traditions that involved meeting my friend’s older parents and siblings and their spouses. I have been invited to share holidays with people. To share birthdays. To share random Wednesday afternoons. To come and gather with them during the times of the year that often tempt me to feel the most lonely.
I have been welcomed as a volunteer in the Church. I not only serve in the church office each week, but I serve with our Kids & Families team. Because I’ll be honest, I think kids are some of the most fun people to be around in the world. And because my church family isn’t afraid of me. They don’t think I’m a monster who needs to be kept separate from the next generation. I serve alongside all of our other members in helping to raise the kids in our church family, both on Sundays and everyday of the week. There is no position in our church which is off limits to an individual with same sex attraction who is earnestly repenting and pushing into Jesus.
I have been blessed to be a part of group confession, where every person in the group was openly and honestly chasing after Jesus and reminding everyone else in the group of the gospel. I didn’t feel like people wanted to find me out or catch me. I haven’t felt that my sins were any different than the sins of other people in the group.
And if we are being real, it’s not just me. Our church family has routinely welcomed members of the LGBT community. Into their families, into their homes, and into their lives. I am invited to join into our church wide culture of repentance. To come alongside my brothers and sisters, my friends, and my pastors as we all learn to trust more and more in the love of Jesus.
Can I Pursue Him and Jesus?
At the end of the day, the question that remains is, “Can I pursue a romantic, sexual relationship with another man and still be a Christian?”
More than anything else, I want the answer to be yes.
Some nights I lay awake begging God for the answer to be yes…
Because any other answer feels crushing.
I lay there staring at the ceiling and questioning...how can I go on if the answer is no?
But, as much as it pains me, the answer is no.
Being a Christian means laying down my personal desires and submitting to Jesus and his Word. Being a Christian means living in light of Christ’s teaching. Being a Christian means knowing that I’ll never do any of this perfectly, but Jesus has already perfectly laid down His desires to love and serve me. Even if I claim faith in Christ verbally, James reminds me that true faith in Christ is accompanied by a heart level desire to pursue holiness. This means that as a Christian, I am called to subjugate all of my desires to the teaching of Scripture. This includes my desire to be with other guys.
To be clear, this call is not unique to those who question the Bible’s sexual ethic, but it does include us.
Where Then Is My Hope?
The cross of Jesus is the hope for all of us.
For those of us who struggle with their sexuality and those who don’t.
Hebrews 4:15 describes Christ saying, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” As strange as it might sound, there is no temptation and no underlying belief that Jesus was not also tempted with.
When I find myself daydreaming about a romantic relationship with the cute guy I pass on Main Street because that would surely fix my loneliness, Jesus was tempted with the same belief.
When it feels like all I need to be happy is the friendship and approval of another man, I can trust that Jesus felt that, too.
When I long for the security from an emotional connection with another man, I can trust that Jesus was tempted to believe that that same desire would satisfy him.
Christ understands even my day to day trials.
I can run to him with my exhaustion, my frustrations, and my desires, because he understands me and wants good for me. My struggles will not evaporate overnight and the road ahead of me will not be easy, but as a faithful Christian, I am called to run to the cross of Jesus and faithfully submit to the authority of Scripture, even when it feels like death.
So when I do fail to live by God’s design for my sexuality, the good news of the Gospel is that Christ came and took on the punishment for our sins, all of our sins without exception, and I can still approach his throne in confidence because of grace.
Through all of this, I’m praying for Jesus to give me strength in the times when my desires seem overwhelming.
I’m praying others who struggle with same sex attraction would see the perfect love available to them through Christ.
I’m praying for other churches to see the beautiful design the Bible describes for what kind of hospitable and loving people we are called to be.
I’m praying that Christians who are ignorant, insensitive, or even hateful would repent and trust Jesus instead of their own righteousness.
And I’m praying that each of us, same sex attracted or not, would daily push more and more into the good news of the Gospel.