Part 8: United Kingdom

You’ve obviously gained a lot of experience working in this area, in what ways have you found that Christians and Christian churches need to change in order to reach the GLBT community?

Three things immediately come to mind.

First, one of the questions I frequently get asked is, ‘How do I live out the truth in love?’. My experience has shown that there are actually two potential underlying questions here. The first is: ‘When do I get to tell them it’s a sin and how quickly can I help them change?’. The second is, ‘I am literally just trying to figure out how to live, and how to learn, and how to love. And I don’t know how to do any of that with the GLBT community’. For me, there is no better place than to come to somebody in the gay or lesbian community that we love and say, ‘I am trying to learn how to live and how to love and I don’t know and I don’t have the answers. And unless you let me into your life, and we do this thing together with Christ rooted in the middle, nothing is ever going to change [with me]’.

Second, I never want to sit here and say that I have all the answers. I never want to know what every step along the journey is. That’s not my job. Christians feel pressure to know and solve everything. Believe me I know. Pastors in particular are approached all of the time for answers to all of life’s unanswerable questions. And anything less than a good answer reflects poorly on their Christian leadership. That pressure to be ‘in the know’ trickles down from the pulpit to the laity so most people make an automatic association that being a good Christian also entails being definitively knowledgeable about every issue of importance to the outside world, even those issues that no one has figured out. That pressure is perceived by the broader GLBT community as arrogance. In the minds of many GLBT people, Christians believe they have all the answers, not only to life in general but to gay sexuality in particular.

It’s alright, in fact it’s ideal, to know that you don’t have to know everything or have all of the answers to every potential aspect surrounding the topic of human sexuality. I fight almost daily the urge to come up with some theory that addresses each of the hotly contested questions of human sexuality. Our thought is that if someone would just come up with a few key answers, life would be so much easier. But God’s ways are higher than human ways; the path he calls us to take often looks to us like it goes nowhere, even goes in circles. And from God’s perspective, there is no better place to be. In order to sync in to God’s direct path, then, sometimes we have to let our human understanding and need for concreteness with constructs such as sexuality go a little blurry.

Third, just because we validate someone’s life and experience as legitimate to them does not mean that we believe in a ‘pro-gay’ theological belief system. There is a difference between validation and affirmation. Yet when people in the broader church look at me, or people like me, they often say, ‘Whoa, wait a second, you’re flying off the handle! You believe in a pro-gay theology!’. The point is that I’ve never said that. Since I live my conservative faith out differently it scares a lot of people. That’s because many in the church have not been equipped with the correct language or understanding to be able to wrap their minds around Christlike Christian living in today’s context.

There was a large Christian magazine that recently asked me, ‘Let’s say, Andrew, that everyone buys into what you say. Let’s say every church buys into what you say. What’s going to happen forty years down the road? Tell us, why should we believe you?’.  Here’s the exciting part and the scary part: I don’t know what it’s going to look like forty years down the road.

The majority of the church has been so concerned with X, Y, and Z, that very few have ever focused intently to work on A, B, and C in the right way over a sustainable amount of time so that we can figure out what X, Y and Z will look like. If people want to talk to me in forty years, when I’m 68, I’ll be able to look back and definitively say, ‘Here’s where culture shifted. Here’s where the church shifted. Here’s where the gay community shifted’. But until that point I am working every day to encourage Christians and the broader church to stop putting the carriage before the horse because God doesn’t only work when we know what the outcome is going to be.

What ways have you found that Christian and Christian churches need to change to be able to build bridges with the gay community?

Much love.

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  • Thanks for the offer of listening to answers about how churches can change to build bridges with LGB communities!

    My top tip would be: see LGB people as a blessing, rather than a problem. See them as God’s children, rather than seeing them only as gay. They have gifts, callings and passions to offer the church that have nothing to do with their sexual orientation. Think about how these gifts could be given the opportunity to grow – to benefit both that person, and the whole church.

  • Mrs T

    The answer is to stop making excuses. In other mission fields, we don’t stop ministering cuz we don’t know what will happen in 40 years. We just do it. Not everyone is called to formal ‘gay ministry.’ But everyone can treat the GLBTs they come across with respect like we are to treat everyone.
    It ain’t that hard, folks!

  • sue

    You are so right, Rachel, gay people do have gifts, callings and passions to offer the Church that have nothing to do with sexual orientation. A harder lesson might be that LGBT people also have gifts, callings and passions to offer the church that have everything to do with sexual orientation.

  • sue

    I think conservative people fear that if they go down “your path” then within forty years – or sooner- the church will change from ” we disagree, but we love and accept you” to just ” we love and accept you.”

    It sounds like heaven to me!

    I can imagine if I had traditional views I might be reluctant to drop the carping and disapproval, seeing it as a slippery slope.

  • Sam

    We know a couple with a college-age daughter. The daughter at one time was a poster-child Christian, but in the last few years has pretty much rejected Christianity. The culture wars, homophobic church people, judgmental church people and some lesser issues have taken their toll on her opinion of Christianity and the church.

    Most of the people at the conservative church she attended and where her parents currently attend suspect that she and her boyfriend are sexually active. How is she treated by them, including when she goes to church? – They are kind, loving and welcoming.

    Is this not how we should treat everyone, not just our sexually active teens, the couple who we know has at least one partner who is unfaithful, the person whose divorce was not for “Biblical reasons” and so on? The last two institutional churches of which we were part each had people in major leadership positions who the pastor and other leaders knew were being unfaithful to their wives. Yet nothing changed in regard to their leadership positions. If someone had decided they were gay (or perhaps a Democrat), however, mayhem would have undoubtedly broken loose.

    Most Christians have a double standard – If it’s your kid who’s having sex before marriage, you want the church to love, accept and pray for them. But heaven help any openly GLBT person who might venture anywhere near. Then it’s “Drag out the ‘why you should know it’s a sin to be GLBT’ manual so we can tell you all about it. Oh, and by the way, stay away from our kids and us too. What you have might be contagious.”

  • Sarah C.

    A wise friend of mine had a family member come out to them. At first, they felt that they needed to “figure out” everything to do with the intersection of GLBT orientation and faith and what they believed before they could be in a relationship with the gay family member. Then, they realized that they would be 80 years old, still not have everything figured out, and have missed out on 50 years of relationship.

    So, that friend opted for relationship first and “figure it all out” later. I think we as Christians need to work more on that. As Andrew says, we feel the need to have everything “figured out”. Life just isn’t that easy. We will miss many opportunities to grow in our faith and love for others while we are busy “figuring it out”. There is no reward in Heaven for those who have the most stuff “figured out”….