One Way the Church Can Welcome LGBT People
How our communities might foster love instead of loneliness
In the last few years, we have seen a remarkable shift in church culture’s attitude regarding the LGBT community. Churches are wanting to be open and welcoming to these folks. In my opinion, the struggle churches and Christians have is not with “loving the sinner,” as it’s been said, but with how far that love goes without compromising Scripture.
The greatest tension in the church’s welcome and even acceptance of LGBT people comes from the desire to be faithful to Scripture. Many Christians believe the love of God extends to all, but somehow have come to believe that if they go as far as welcoming a gay person, it means they have abandoned their loyalty to Scripture.
An “unwelcoming” shows up when a gay person who has been attending church all of a sudden wants to be on the worship team. This is when the welcome mat is pulled out from under the person’s feet, often leaving him or her devastated. An institutional church has no choice in this matter, no matter how much love they have for this individual. Scripturally, they cannot allow this person to lead. The same moral code for heterosexuals involved in any kind of sexual fornication applies to our LBGT friends.
I often wonder what this looks like to well-meaning LGBT people who are genuinely wanting to seek Christ but still struggling with living the lifestyle. To them, their sexual orientation is part of who they are, not an activity they feel they can just cease. We often don’t realize how much they give up in order to follow this path. Many lose their families and homes. Their conviction of their orientation must be strong in order to endure such heartache. This is something for us to keep in mind when building relationships with them. How would we feel if someone told us in order to be accepted and given opportunity for involvement, we would have to deny our attractions and be celibate? We are asking a great deal of them—and only so they can be involved in official roles, serving Christ within the context of the institutional church. When the apostle Peter stated that we are living stones being built together (1 Peter 2:5), I wonder if that really meant excluding the seeking LGBT person.
I believe we need to return to what God’s dream of church was and still is. It wasn’t a dream of building an organization with “every member a minister” (Romans 12:4-21) only to include the options of greeting, teaching Sunday school, being on the worship team, or visitation as the only possible manifestations of royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). God’s ultimate dream and purpose for the church is for it to be family—his family. And he “places the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6). Honestly, I can’t think of a sector of society who experiences degrees of loneliness more than the LGBT community. The strong sense of family and community they create among themselves shows their rejection by society and their attachment to those who will love them for who they are.
Considering this, how can we prevent these precious people from ever experiencing rejection from the body of Christ without compromising biblical truth? I believe there is a way, and I’m thankful to share it with those who have echoed the same question.
First, we need to remember that God’s standards for church leadership were intended for a church government that looks completely different from what we see today. With only touching on the subject (it’s a topic for another article in and of itself), we need to understand that the principles laid out for elders in the early church were meant not primarily to exclude, but to honor those who were seasoned believers who displayed wisdom and the ability to lead (1 Timothy 3:2-7; Titus 1:6). They weren’t meant to be strict adherences for worship teams, hospitality groups, volunteers, and greeters to be measured by—because such roles didn’t exist outside our modern organizational idea of church. Even in the early church, a homosexual person wouldn’t have been considered as an elder of a church, but that wouldn’t have look like exclusion as only seasoned believers were given that role. Our “volunteer ministry roles,” and the expectations we place on those who hold those positions, are our ideas. It’s a sad day when a homosexual person just wanting to volunteer at the door is refused because of orientation, or is refused when wishing to volunteer in the nursery because of unfounded fears that he may just be a pedophile. To such a person, and to the world, this looks a lot like discrimination. I wonder how Jesus sees it?
The early church met in homes, where they welcomed the weary, the weak, the lonely, and the poor. They loved on one another and all shared openly in meetings about Christ. They ate together. They became a community. They were family.
I feel that today, the safest possible place for an LGBT person to find a true welcome that never comes to a screeching halt is in churches that meet in homes. In a home setting anyone can share, engage, and even just sit back and observe. All can help serve dinner, clear the table, wash the dishes, welcome a newcomer without a list of biblical guidelines excluding them. Anyone can question a passage of Scripture without judgment and engage in meaningful conversation. All can pray and be prayed for. What an amazing, safe environment for anyone to feel at home in. All of a sudden, the Holy Spirit can do his work in people’s hearts—whatever that may end up looking like—rather than be excluded by what we have created and are now bound by. Frank Viola has some interesting thoughts on what house churches look like in his book Reimagining Church.
Much of the tension churches feel in relating to LGBT people is only going to increase in the next decade. Now is the time for us to engage in healthy conversation about how we can see LGBT people come to Christ and be able to grow in a loving community. A community where the welcome doesn’t run out and spiritual transformation can take place.
Connie Jakab is a blogger and author of Culture Rebel: Because the World Has Enough Desperate Housewives. Connie is an active speaker and worship leader, and lives with her husband and two boys in Calgary, Alberta Canada. She can be found on twitter @ConnieJakab.