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November 4, 2013

Embracing Gay People at Church

Sometimes Christians have trouble acting as we say we will



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Norman approached my husband, Brad, who spoke at an interdenominational Good Friday service. Brad learned that Norman had been involved heavily in the gay lifestyle and was now suffering from AIDS. In further conversations, Brad found out that Norman’s mother was a Christian and had been praying that he would come to Christ before he died. He did.

Never was a man more radically changed. From the outset, Norman told Brad that he didn’t know if he could change his orientation, but he knew he could change his behavior. My husband said that was good enough for him. At that moment, Norman became a part of our family. He came to a Bible study in our home each week and sang worship songs with the vigor of a man who knew he would soon be meeting the one he sang about. He soaked in Scripture as if it were his last drink of water before entering a long desert journey. We visited him frequently in his ever-increasing hospital stays.

However, we were surprised to find that not everyone at church responded to Norman as enthusiastically as we did. Older men, particularly, kept their distance—although moms with young children were a close second. Through our experience with Norm, we learned some things that I would like to have put into a sermon for our church.

Affirm a person’s choice to follow Christ, even if you don’t understand that person.

The older men, it seemed, just didn’t know what to do with Norman. He was different from the kind of man they were used to relating to. Granted, that may have been more because he taught theater than that he was gay, but it was clear they felt very awkward around him. Men who had always been particularly warm to newcomers kept their distance from Norm.

At the time, my husband and I didn’t know what to do about that. If I could have pulled them aside to talk to them about this, I would have encouraged them to find a way to affirm Norman’s radical, life-changing decision. They didn’t have to be best friends with him, but they should reach out and let him know he is a welcome and valued member of our congregation. Also, they could consider going the extra mile and learning a little about theater and why he loved it. It may not be as easy as talking about sports, but it would show they care about his life and what made him tick.

Children learn love when they see us embrace those who are repentant.

Young moms in our church, however, seemed to be frightened that whatever Norm had was catching—and not just AIDS. They were completely unprepared to talk to their children about embracing a person whose lifestyle had been so radically different from what they approved. In their desire to protect their children, they made sure they and their kids kept their distance. They didn’t want to take the chance that Norm might influence them to become gay and, worse, they feared he might be a pedophile.

But knowing Norm was a rich experience for our children. Because Norm had full-blown AIDS, he spent a lot of time in the hospital with secondary diseases. Our children had never been around anyone who was very ill. They learned compassion for one who was slowly, painfully letting go of this life and preparing for the next. It helped them evaluate what was important as they saw him gradually let go of all the trivial things in his life. Our kids also saw Norm’s love for God’s Word, his concern for other people, and his grace in the midst of suffering.

Our children were young at the time, so we didn’t try to explain what it means to be gay. Instead, we talked about how to help him as he struggled with illness. But if they’d been older, we would have used this as a teachable moment to explain what it means when a person says they are gay, why we don’t believe a person should engage in sex with a person of the same gender, and how to lovingly come alongside someone who is struggling in a new faith that often doesn’t seem very welcoming.

No matter what a person has been through, we are commanded to love. That doesn’t mean we excuse sinful behavior, but it does mean we listen, understand, and sacrifice our own comfort and preconceived ideas to represent Christ well. Through Norman and our relationship with him, I discovered the importance of listening before condemning and of offering the same grace that Christ shows me in spite of all my faults and foibles.


JoHannah Reardon has been involved in church leadership for more than 30 years. She blogs at johannahreardon.com and is the author of numerous novels and two devotional guides.

Related Tags: ethics, homosexuality, sexuality

Comments

Thanks for writing this! I have been surprised (naively so?) at the times I have expected church family to be warm and welcoming to my friends, and it hasn't happened. At the same time, the church community has also been the place where I have sometimes been surprised by outpourings of love and grace.

Well, first, no matter how sick one is, they still have sexual physical callings. Since he was openly homosexual, of course, the men to whom he was actually a stranger were not interested in giving him a chance to move on them in front of or not in front of all the other men. And, the Moms were right. The Catholic Church learned the hard way about not checking the sexual yearnings of their priests. Children have to be protected from any sexual activity simply because their age doesn't give them the ability to comprehend what is going on. That's how any sexual perversion is accepted by children and this no comprehension of children is taken advantage of by adults. It's sad that the life this man lived had death force his coming to Christ like many elderly non-Christian people come to Christ when death is near but he did come to Christ so he is saved. Like any other organization churches are loaded with personalities and ages to go with them. And, at least the members didn't kick him out or have a battle over him. The men did what was necessary for them and the mothers did what was necessary for them. And by the way, there are rules for former rapists and pedophiles in church, one being they are not to be left alone around children or to be even involved in class work with children. Former rapists have to have a man with them while women are in the church. So why do rapists and pedophiles have rules and apprehension in church but homosexuals are not supposed to have rules and apprehension in church. Also, women are beginning to get it that homosexuals don't care or like women, they are for men, and women will also react accordingly. I don't hang around those who drain me due to their personalities but I will accept them to be in church worshiping Jesus since that's what church is for, to worship Jesus and his Father and repent sins and do work with the poor and his main order, to spread his word. That's the love of Jesus, not the love that homosexuals say Christians should have, love for them so they get the respect of being in a community church without repenting.

Anna - I agree that you shouldn't leave your child with any adult you don't know, even if he or she is in church. And if Norman had asked to do anything with kids, we would have refused because of his having AIDS. But Norman didn't want to be alone with kids. He just wanted to be included in the church fellowship. And he and most gay men I know love being around women. In fact, he felt much more comfortable around women because he didn't feel sexually attracted to them. But he longed for acceptance with the men, because he was a man. He was a very conflicted soul who felt isolated most of his life and drifted to those who accepted him. It's tragic that it wasn't the church until the end.

To say he can't change his orientation but can change his behavior is not biblical. We are a new creation, old things have passed away, behold all things are new. To hold on to an identity of a homosexual and claim to be in the kingdom of God is heresy. To really love him, the body of Christ would tell him this and guide him to true repentance. In I Corinthians Paul says "and such WERE some of you. BUT YOU WERE WASHED." If Norman didn't allow himself to be washed and become a new creation through true repentance, he did not inherit the kingdom.

1 Corinthians 6:9-13

9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

JoHannah, you are simply affirming what you do not really believe to be true: that identity is bound up with a person's struggle. No, that is not WHO he is. If I am an alcoholic but quit drinking in order to follow Christ, even though I am still tempted to, would you say that I had not repented? To repent means to turn away from! The same for someone who had affairs (if they stopped), or any other type of sin. Some people are dramatically delivered from homosexual desires all at once, but others are delivered over a longer period of time. Most people struggle with sins of all types. Have you not ever prayed and found God answered one of your prayers to deliver you from one issue only to leave the other there? This cannot be explained away as "not being washed". More likely, there was something that He wanted - maybe more work needed to be done (forgiveness, grieving, fasting) or maybe he wanted you to empathize with someone else going through it at that time. Who knows? I do believe God will deliver people completely from this over time as we follow him.

This article is somewhat helpful, but I still find it confusing. For instance, how does a man who has never had much interaction with a gay man NOT feel awkward? Isn't this expected? He may not know what to do! And the parents as well. We need help in this area. Churches are so caught up in the "it's a sin" - "no it's not" argument that we are not helping people to figure out what is an ok boundary and how we can relate to each other. Who doesn't feel awkward at church from time to time? So it seems to me that the more this is discussed the more helpful it will be..

I have a problem with accepting the idea that homosexuals are more comfortable with women because they're not interested in women. Women hang around women as friends while men are for husbands, the relationships are different and the same with non-homosexual men who hang around men as friends while women are for wives. We had a homosexual teenager in our area say on his facebook page that he had lunch with and hung around women so they would protect him from those boys who simply didn't like him because he was all about advertising his sex needs in school to other boys when school is about learning so as to get a good job when all grown up not to get sex. Apparently he never learned from his parents that boys protect girls not the other way around. Homosexual thinking unfortunately uses women to advance their needs because women are more prone to be accepting of them and even "protect" them against the outside world. Women do this for children but they are starting to realize that homosexuals are not children to be protected and that women are being used by homosexuals to advance their agenda. Look what happened to the women's movement when the homosexuals invaded the movement by saying they wanted to help support the women. When they finished with the movement which they destroyed they set up their own movement with what they learned from the women. I was there to see all this so my thinking about homosexuals is different from other women not involved those many years ago in the women's movement.

On this issue, repentance is the key. We serve a God in the transforamtion business. 1 Corinthians 5 deals specifically with sexual immorality in the church. We need to follow that model to a T. We shouldn't glorify it (1 Cor 5:2).

As one who battled alcohol and is celebrating 26 years of sobriety, I take exception to any individual that wants to label themselves by their sin. My identity is in Christ alone. I can't think of any other group that celebrates a label the way the gay community does. If you have to identify yourself by your preferred choice of bed mates - that alone leads me to question your idenity in Christ and true repentance.

Don't call that man 'Gay" - what an insult. When I repented of being a whore when I got born-again, I sure wouldn't want you referring to me as a whore. You insult the new creature in Christ whose old self is already dead and no longer is identified by that old man.

I am angered that people would automatically think that a gay person or one who struggles with same sex attraction would be attracted to children in a sexual manner!!That is simply untrue!Gee Whiz.How sad that these people are robbed of offering their love,talents,gifts,etc. to children AND adults because of homophobia and misconceptions.People wake up!The numbers prove that the percentage of heterosexual incest is far greater among "straight" men than among gays!The percentages alone are staggering when it comes to men who are claiming heterosexuality that are molesting boys & girls!
I am completely for gays who adopt or christians that struggle with same sex attraction.That doesn't mean they have a thing for kids.Wives watch your husbands closely & females watch your boyfriends.

I totally agree with Jackie alnor. I cannot believe some of the homophobic writings in the comments. Why are rules so different for homosexuals? if a straight person enters the church, are they then questioned about their sex life? no! What would this church have done if this man was actively gay? and yes ... mums have far more to fear from straight men attacking their children. What do these Christians do when they encounter gay people in the workplace or their own family? 'let him who is without sin cast the first stone'.

Oh neat reply, except the 82% of the bad priests in the Catholic Church were after the boys who had just reached puberty and these boys told the courts years later when looking back the priests had been paying attention to them for years, being extra nice, picking them out and guiding them in activities, otherwise preparing them for the past puberty age when the priests approached the boys, now as men.It worked because the boys never reported it until they were adults. The technique is now being taught in Massachusetts schools to kids five years old and up telling them to try homosexual activities as they grow up because it feels good. Counselors there in the Mass. schools when a teenager or pre-teen tells them they don't know what they are,send the kid to the nearest homosexual organization conveniently located within blocks of the Mass. schools,to be helped in their sexual orientation, outside of school, parents and psychiatric help. The kids are told their parents don't love them and are lying to them but the homosexuals accept them and "love" them. Since the general population is considered to be straight until a person says differently in any situation, why would you ask straights about their sex in the first place. This man and other homosexuals make their lives about sex, they tell you right off the bat and than march into an organization and demand that the organ. change all their rules for the homosexuals. So, why shouldn't the straights be leary of why they're there as their bullying their way in and their activities including their demands for changing the definition of marriage and the demand of churches to "accept them without repenting" to satisfy their needs automatically puts straights on the defensive until the homosexuals or anyone for that fact prove that they're there to not change the organization but to accept Jesus as their Lord, repent and follow Jesus. And by the way, calling me homophobic when you don't know me and just because I disagree with you tells me what you are. Like I already said, I'll accept anyone in church who's truly there to worship God in Jesus' name but not to "worship" by not repenting. I repented to follow Jesus and so far have been able to not do what I repented of and I expect others to do the same. That's why we are called Christ - ians, not Baalists or sex worshipers or something else.

There are not enough words to express my great gratitude for you and your husband. What you are doing is the work of God.

Not long after salvation I started work at the soup kitchen my church had opened in one the poorest and most dangerous parts in my home town. God had saved me and pulled me out of homosexuality. But simply saving me didn't fix the brokenness in me. Saved or not I didn't know how God could take out of me all the "abomination". You know the "abomination" of which I speak don't you? Leviticus 18: 22,

"Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."

I was filled with fear, hopelessness, bitterness, loneliness, and the rejection of my fellow Christians. When I told my first pastor about my past I thought I was telling him about the most amazing freedom God had already worked into my life. He stopped me mid-sentence saying, "There is such a stigma attached to your past that people won't forgive...even God's people won't forgive." Unfortunately I have found his words prove true more than not. The night Jesus Christ saved me he showed me what he was offering through eternal relationship. Words seemed to well out of a place within me. I didn't sense they came from my mind. It was a simple thought, but it destroyed my life in homosexuality as sure as nuclear bombs obliterate all life. The thought said, "This is My gift to you: Unconditional love, unconditional understanding and unconditional acceptance. (What Jesus meant by unconditional acceptance didn't mean Jesus affirmed that he created me to be gay. Jesus accepted me just as I was, and he would take the sin out of me.) BUT HOW?! How can even God change an abomination into a child of God?!!

A couple of years later God sent me to work in the soup kitchen my church ran in one of the worst and most dangerous neighborhoods in my home town. Ministering at that soup kitchen was incredibly difficult to do. I didn't look down on the patrons because I'd made my life an abomination, so I certainly could condemn anyone else. There actually was one group of frequent visitors: the hookers I did look down on and condemn.

The worst hooker was a woman I always call "Lilly". Lilly had AIDS, but she kept selling sex. At first I hoped God might have sent me to be in the right place to catch Lilly in the act of plying her trade. I could turn her in and then act as witness against her in court. Lilly just needed to be thrown in jail to save lives.

Instead Lilly became the key to unlocking how God can free a man who'd made himself an abomination. Lilly was the hardest human I'd ever met. There was nothing of human spark in her. When she looked at me there was never any recognition in her eyes. She didn't show me hate, and she never offered her services. There was nothing in the eyes looking at me. She was seeing through me. She deserved whatever punish came her way, including Hell. The evidence of her life condemned her. Lilly never spoke to me once in the 4.5 years I ministered the gospel at that little soup kitchen. I did have the chance to hear parts of the stories other hookers talked about among themselves. Some of those hookers were very bold, saying right to your face. "I do this cause I love sex and I love money." Funny thing was I'd over hear them talking about how they hated men and that all men are pigs and dogs. For people who loved money and sex they hated the men who supplied them with a great deal of both.

One of the greatest things God taught me through hookers is: Hooker might love sex and money but they hate men using their bodies. Money changes nothing, no one wants to be made into an object for other people to use, abuse, and throw away. Actor Charlie Sheen said it the best: "I don't pay prostitutes for sex I pay them to leave."

as I overheard pieces and parts of the hooker's life stories I was able to piece together their early lives. The men and women who should have loved and cherished them raped, beat, prostituted them for money or drugs. To survive these women took control of their own lives and did the only thing they knew how to do. The most important people in their lives treated them like so much garbage. For some of these women if they'd stayed where they came from they'd have ended up dead and literally thrown into dumpsters or shallow graves. I started seeing the hooker's lives in a very different light. One day when Lilly came in God poured more light on situation. This thought welled up from inside me, "I want Lilly to be my daughter. I never intended men to use, abuse, disease, and then throw her life in a dumpster, like so much trash." God loved Lilly! God wanted Lilly to become his beloved child. The people who should have loved and treasured Lilly treated her body like it was a trash can. All Lilly did was embrace the message her abusers gave her, "You are a trashcan." Lilly went out and continued the use and abuse of herself living up to the identity her abusers had given her; TRASHCAN. Not only did Lilly trash herself, but she trashed every man she could get her hands on. They used Lilly as a trash can, she trashed the men who used her, and the men who used her, likewise, trashed themselves with her.

Another great lesson God taught me through hookers: The person who objectifies, uses, and abuses other people makes himself into an object. It is impossible to make a fellow human being into an object, for lust and use without being made a similar object by lusting and using.

This understanding was the key to God teaching me about Leviticus 18:22
This thought welled up from inside me,

"Lonnie you are not an abomination. I have saved you and you are no longer a "thing to be used." I have created in you a new human life. You are the object of my love and fatherly pride. You are not a "thing" you are my child in and through Jesus, my Son. I have taken away all that you were, and that includes the abomination. I have taken all you are and placed it upon my Son hanging on a cross. I have taken all the worth, beauty, holiness, righteousness, and perfection of my Son; my very heart and all of my wealth, and placed it on you. You are no longer a thing for I have made you alive, free, and clean, human."

THAT IS LEVITICUS 18:22, not as it was given through Moses, but rather through the grace and truth of Jesus Christ. I love Leviticus 18:22, for in Christ the law which killed me has become the life giving law of the Spirit of Life. I'm not a thing to be killed by the law, I am a child of God made brand new so that instead of being an object of destruction I am made new for eternal life and eternal relationship with God and his other former abominations. "God gives beauty for ashes..."

Keep giving this man God. Your friend is called to relationship with the beauty of God (grace). Your friend has lots of ashes, but the beauty of God you give through acceptance, understanding, and God's world overcoming love will utterly consume all his ashes.

I struggled with what I should call myself for several years. Was I "ex-gay", was I struggling with "same-sex attraction? I never used gay christian because saving faith is a gift of God. Salvation is God's from start to finish, we receive salvation by grace through faith. Only God can give us the label we wear. And God's label for every person who comes to saving grace and is made born again of the Holy Spirit is, 2 Corinthians 5:17,

17 "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."

God's label is "New Creation". If your friend wants to call himself "gay christian", let him. But do tell him the good news that God calls him New Creation!

This is an excerpt from the book I am writing: EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT GOD'S LOVE HE TAUGHT ME THROUGH HOOKERS


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