Loving the LGBTQ Community

Jimmy JoSermons, Thinking about TheologyLeave a Comment

Today, we are continuing our series on questions from our community which we solicited at the end of last year.  So far, we’ve talked about Tithing and Offering, Taking Care of the Environment, and the nature of the Resurrection.  Today, we tackle what is probably the most challenging question that was submitted.  And that is, “How do we show love to the LGBTQ community, but stay true to our values?”

I think this is a challenging question because many of us, especially if you grew up in the church, grew up with a very clear and delineated theology around homosexuality (and here, I recognize that the “LG” is distinct from the “B” and especially “TQ”).  That is, we probably grew up confident in what the bible had to say about homosexuality.  However, in relatively recent years, with more and more of society (especially Western society) accepting differing sexual identities, and more and more Christians following suit, we are forced to face the question more than we perhaps are comfortable with. 

So as we begin, I just want to say that this is one of those questions that has generated a great deal of debate within the Christian community and with the Christian community.  And therefore, what I’m going to share with you should not be taken to be a definitive “answer,” but merely my thoughts and opinions on the matter (which, I think everyone understands). 

Somewhat recently, there has been a degree of controversy surrounding Alistair Begg.  Alistair Begg is a pastor in Cleveland, Ohio, who also has a radio show as an extension of his ministry.  In short, and with apologies if I get the details wrong, Begg was replying to a question from a woman about how she should handle her grandchild’s marriage to a transgender person.  Begg affirmed a traditionally Christian view of marriage and sexuality (i.e. that God created only two genders and that Christian marriage is between one man and one woman), but advised the woman to attend the wedding.  In short, and I’m paraphrasing and interpreting here, Begg said that the woman’s job, having made her position clear, was simply to love and support her grandchild.  Quoted from a USA Today article: 

“Well, here’s the thing: your love for them may catch them off guard, but your absence will simply reinforce the fact that they said, These people are what I always thought: judgmental, critical, unprepared to countenance anything,” Begg said, adding that as long as the grandson knew she is not “affirming” his life choices, “then I suggest that you do go to the ceremony, and I suggest that you buy them a gift.”

Alistair Begg, USA Today

Again, Begg advised this woman to support her grandson, even though Begg (and the woman) believed in a traditional Christian view of human sexuality.  His reasoning was essentially, it is more important to demonstrate love and acceptance. 

As you might expect, the backlash towards Begg from the Christian community was swift and loud.  Christians from all corners began denouncing Begg as a heretic and calling for his dismissal/resignation.  His radio show/podcast was removed from the network, though I don’t believe he was fired from his church.  But at any rate, everybody has felt compelled to weigh in with their two cents. 

Now while I didn’t read all of the responses to Begg’s advice, and while there are certainly those who support him, it seems that those who condemn Begg believe that the grandmother should at least not go to the wedding of her grandchild, but also even condemn the grandchild; or at least make it known that she would not brook any such union. 

Now during my reading for this topic, I also came across an article by Walter Brueggemann.  Now Brueggemann’s article is completely independent of the Begg incident – to the best of my knowledge, it is written in 2022.  As you likely know, Walter Brueggeman is one of the pre-eminent biblical scholars of the 20th century.  And Brueggemann essentially wants to say that it’s possible to be biblically faithful and still welcome LGBTQ persons into the Christian community.  He doesn’t get into what he thinks that looks like, and I’m glossing over the bulk of the article, but his conclusion is as follows: 

“All of these angles of [biblical] interpretation, taken together, authorize a sign for LGBTQ persons: Welcome!

Welcome to the neighborhood! Welcome to the gifts of the community! Welcome to the work of the community! Welcome to the continuing emancipatory work of interpretation!”

Walter Brueggemann, https://outreach.faith/2022/09/walter-brueggemann-how-to-read-the-bible-on-homosexuality/

Now I’m not saying that I agree with what Brueggeman said about the interpretation of the relevant texts, and neither should his conclusions be taken to be authoritative.  But it does reflect a perspective, again shared by many Christians, that Christians and the Church have been too hard on those with different sexual identities and that we need to “love better.”

Now I personally am of the belief that the biblical witness is fairly clear.  Or to put it another way, it is fairly clear to me that the bible presents a view of human sexuality and human union that is between one man and one woman (that is, not LGBTQ).  There are numerous scripture passages we could look at, but two of the more unequivocal come from Leviticus. 

  •  Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable. (Leviticus 18:22)
  • If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. (Leviticus 20:13)

Both of these passages are pretty straightforward, apparently not inviting a lot of debate.  But of course, there are debates had about them, which we won’t get into here (usually, such debates have to do with the cultural contexts – cf. Lev. 18:24-27; is this particularly around idolatry?). 

If we carry on to the New Testament, there are again numerous passages which appear to have a similar perspective.  For example,

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Romans 1: 26-27

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 6: 9-10

And again, both of these passages (and others in the NT) occur within specific contexts which we are not examining today.  However, and there are many related passages that we’re skipping, it seems to me that the bulk of the biblical evidence is that homosexuality is contrary to the will and plan of God.

Now at this point, it’s worth acknowledging that scripture does not seem to have anything to say about transgendered persons or other sexual identities included under the LGBTQ+ label (which is not to say that we cannot derive a biblical perspective – simply that the explicit issue is not explicitly addressed).  And I think that it’s probably mistaken to paint with too broad of a brush.  But for the sake of brevity, I’m unfairly lumping these groups together.

So again, it is fairly clear to me that the bible presents alternate sexualities (for lack of a better term) as contrary to the will of God – though I am not so certain in my own opinion that I am not open to hearing other points of view.  And again, like Brueggemann, there will be many skilled biblical interpreters who, for a variety of reasons, have a differing opinion.  Having said all that, it also seems fairly clear to me that the Christian community needs to find a way to welcome others.  And I want to be careful how I say this because I don’t believe that scripture suggests that being loving or welcoming means allowing every opinion and belief.  However, we do know that the bible is full of stories and accounts of welcome for the widows, the orphans, and the foreigners.  Indeed, this is something that is commanded of Israel.  And more especially, we know that Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners. 

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9: 10-13

So by the same token, the people of God are called to be, not a lamp hidden under a bushel, but light to the world.  That is, like Christ, we are called to seek and lead to salvation the lost.  Again in Matthew, Jesus says: 

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. …

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

Matthew 25: 34-43

We know that religious people were scandalized by whom Jesus chose to keep company with, those He wanted to have fellowship with.  But in Jesus’ mind it was these that needed love and grace; and it was the religious leaders who merited judgement. 

Now of course, none of this is surprising or new, and therefore it is likely not very helpful.  The question, after all, is “how should we show love to the LGBTQ community while staying true to our values?”  And the short answer to this is, “I have no idea.”  I have no idea not because loving homosexual or transgender people is particularly difficult.  Certainly no more difficult than loving someone who insists on the prosperity gospel, for example. 

But I say “I have no idea,” because I’m not entirely sure that’s what we’re called to do.  Here’s what I mean.  I think it’s difficult, if not problematic, when we start thinking at the level of populations.  And I think that we need to start thinking in terms of persons, not populations.  We need to embrace the call to welcome at the level of individuals, not communities.  When we think of peoples or populations, instead of persons, we tend to think in terms of abstract principles or generalized characteristics.  We are prone to stereotyping or pigeonholing.  The person gets lost in the category. 

And by the same token, it’s much easier to hate or to judge when we obscure or eliminate the person.  When we are able to reduce the person to a set of principles or a stereotype, we feel no qualms (or at least fewer qualms) about condemning them. 

I think the question that we need to ask ourselves is not, “how should I treat the LGBTQ community” – and again, that’s not a bad question; it’s just difficult to wrap our heads around.  I think the question we need to ask ourselves is, “how should I love this person?”  I think this is what Alistair Begg is suggesting the grandmother do – to treat her grandchild as an individual, as a person.  If she is able to see her grandchild as a person, as an individual with whom she has a personal relationship, and not just as a part of category, then perhaps the question of “how should I love him or her?” becomes self-evident. 

One final thought.  Another article I came across has to do with a church congregation that’s part of our extended family (EFCC).  A couple of years ago, the church in question came under fire because of how they allegedly treated an LGBTQ teen in their youth group.  According to reports, the group leaders called the teen into a meeting in order to confront her about her sexuality.  It is reported that the term “demonic” was used, though not directly at or about the teen, that she was read bible verses about being a sinner, and that they tried to “pray the gay out of [her]”. 

Now I allow that the possibility that the article(s) is not entirely accurate and that the church is painted in an unfairly negative light.  It may be the case that the truth of what happened is not as extreme as the reports seem to suggest.  However, it is also true that such experiences and reports are not isolated.  And it is also true that it is not only people of different sexualities who report being treated in such ways by Christians.  For many in our world, the message of the church is not good news of great joy. 

So my question is, once again, how can it be?  For those who identify as part of the LGBTQ community, for those who are struggling with their sense of identity, for those who are broken and lost, how can we proclaim good news of great joy?  And I am absolutely not saying, “how are we telling people what they want to hear.”  But how is our witness, how is our testimony, how is our being salt and light as an outpost of heaven in a kingdom of darkness, Good News of Great Joy? 

To our friends, to our family, to our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, how can we proclaim good news of great joy?  Isn’t this the question we should be asking?  Isn’t this how we should be known? 

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