Thinking Out Loud

January 17, 2020

Helping Churches Navigate Uncharted LGBT+ Waters

Filed under: Christianity, Church, issues, reviews, theology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:08 am

Towards the end of the summer I happened on an edition of the Unseminary podcast where Rich Birch was interviewing Texas pastor Bruce B. Miller, author of a book I was unfamiliar with, Leading a Church In a Time Sexual Questioning: Grace-filled Wisdom for Day-to-day Ministry.(Zondervan) I obtained a copy of the book but only this week completely finished reading it.

The thing I remember from the interview that day was the tremendous accommodation his church is making for visitors and regular attenders in a world of many different gender labels and complexities.

I really looked forward to reading the book but found that, in the perspective of the podcast I’d heard, it didn’t really hit its stride or have the same bite until about halfway through. I think there are a couple of reasons for that.

First of all there are things that you can quickly get into in a verbal interview that bypass laying the scriptural foundation for a particular view on issues related to LGBT+ people. He wants to begin with a theology of sexuality.

Secondly, I think it was important to the author to make clear his own position which is a traditional interpretation of key scripture passages.

But that said, especially the second point, only serves to show the tremendous grace that he and his leaders have offered to those who might be coming to his church for the first time or might be considering attending on a regular basis. The book is an excellent template for any church that is navigating these uncharted waters.

Miller draws largely from the writing of Preston Sprinkle (who wrote the foreword), Andrew Marin, Nate Collins and many others. (Lots and lots of footnotes for those who want do dig deeper.)

So how does the grace-filled response enter?

…[G]ay people are crystal clear on our church’s teaching that gay sex is wrong. In fact they go much further and imagine that we think being gay is the worst sin imaginable and that we hate them. Therefore, we have to go to great lengths to share what they do not know: that we love them and welcome them just as they are, as Jesus does. We have to say over and over that we want them here in our church family…(p.120)

And of course there’s two sides to this and so I also appreciated this quote from Kyle Idleman

“The church should not be known for outrage towards people outside of our community who need grace; we should be outraged by people inside our community who refuse to give grace.” (p.121)

Which tied in directly to this earlier statement,

We need as much grace for church people who struggle with gay people as we do for gay people who struggle with the church. (p.111)

So who it is that we’re dealing with?

…86 percent of people in the LGBT+ community reported a significant level of church involvement at some point in their childhood or teenage years. (p.118)

I also appreciated the way that he’s looking forward into the possibilities that can arise 10 or 20 years down the road from the position where are we now find ourselves. For example this comment about what happens as the gay population ages. Quoting Marin,

“What will churches do with the eighty-year-old gay man who has committed himself not only to the church but to celibacy as a theological conviction? He doesn’t have children to support him or to serve as next of kin or as power of attorney for his medical care. He doesn’t have descendants to listen to his stories or pictures of grandchildren to share with his peers. Who will be his advocate, his family, his community? It’s a reality that theologically conservative churches need to start planning for…” (p. 155)

In addition to discussion questions at the end of each chapter one feature of the book which I need to mention is found in chapter 10: A liturgy for sexual healing. This could be the basis of an entire service on this topic and there is content here that can be adapted by non liturgical churches.

I recommended this book to several people not because there aren’t other books on this topic in the market and others being written as I type this, but rather because it is written from a strong Church leadership perspective and as this issue becomes more front of mind in our churches it is the type of resource which, if I were a pastor, I would want to put in the hands of all of my key leaders and board members.

I wanted to include a section from the book on my devotional blog, Christianity 201, but that blog deliberately avoids topical issues so I found a general section which you’ll find at this link.

One more time, if you want to catch the podcast, click here.

I’ve used LGBT+ as that’s what this book uses. The author is clear at the outset that the focus is on gay and lesbian people, not transgender or “other sexual minorities.”

This was my first attempt at dictating an entire blog post into my phone. I think I caught the spelling and syntax issues, but you can let me know!

June 6, 2016

Would Your Church Welcome These People?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:37 am

What is that person doing in our church

At least until they got to the door, the gay couple walked from the church parking lot holding hands. One was wearing a rainbow belt. The other had rainbow earrings. There was no denying the identity they wanted to register with everyone else at worship that morning. Some people were visibly uncomfortable.

Today however, I want to look at some other possibilities for discomfort. How would your church react in these cases:

  • The man who has been at the center of an ongoing local television news story concerning the alleged misappropriation of public funds.
  • The woman who, a few years ago, was charged with careless driving after a vehicle accident which left a pedestrian permanently disfigured.
  • The heavily tattooed man who shows up for church wearing a leather vest but no shirt or t-shirt underneath.
  • The girl wearing a hoodie with the logo of a chain of sports bars where the female staff are dressed provocatively.
  • The local newspaper writer whose most recent article was very critical of an evangelism program offered by another local church. 
  • The family that shows up; two boys, a girl, a husband, and a wife who is wearing a hijab.

Two questions might come to mind:

  • What on earth is he/she/they doing here?

and the very similar:

  • Of all the churches in town, why did they have to pick our church?

I believe that the church — both the local assembly and the collective Church — need to consider our responses before some people show up at weekend services.

Eugene Peterson translates the beginning of Romans 14:

Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

Ken Taylor’s original restating of the same passage reads:

Give a warm welcome to any brother who wants to join you, even though his faith is weak. Don’t criticize him for having different ideas from yours about what is right and wrong.

Interesting story behind the latter version: A bunch of us from the youth group were sitting in the church auditorium balcony waiting for the service to start when we noticed a guy heading toward us who we simply didn’t want to sit with us, near us, or even in the same building.

“Spread out so it looks like there’s no room;” one person said.

“Avoid eye contact;” someone else said.

“Pretend you’re reading something;” I added.

So I opened my copy of The Living Bible and there it was, “Give a warm welcome to the brother who wants to join you…” Yikes!

Perhaps my story seems a little distant from where we started — the gay couple holding hands in the parking lot — but really the principle is the same.  A chapter later, Paul writes to the Romans:

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring glory to God.

Later in 1 Corinthians 9:22 he takes this further. I like how J.B. Phillips translated this:

To those who were under the Law I put myself in the position of being under the Law (although in fact I stand free of it), that I might win those who are under the Law. To those who had no Law I myself became like a man without the Law (even though in fact I cannot be a lawless man for I am bound by the law of Christ), so that I might win the men who have no Law. To the weak I became a weak man, that I might win the weak. I have, in short, been all things to all sorts of men that by every possible means I might win some to God. I do all this for the sake of the Gospel; I want to play my part in it properly.

This isn’t easy. Not at all. The church faces challenges all the time, but one thing we’re not is a private club for the pious and the religious. We’re a service center for the broken, the hurting, the needy…

If you’re uncomfortable around certain types of people, make sure at least that you have someone in your church family who is comfortable. But don’t use this strategy as an excuse for not recognizing what it is God is wanting to cultivate in you.

I usually quote from the more modern translations, but I want to end with this KJV phrase reminder from 1 Cor. 6:11

And such were some of you…


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