Franklin Graham, son of the famed evangelist Billy Graham, has taken to Twitter to question the validity of Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg’s faith because he’s an openly gay Christian man. Graham tweeted:
“Mayor Buttigieg says he’s a gay Christian. As a Christian I believe the Bible which defines homosexuality as sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized.”
This view, that being LGBT+ and a Christian is incompatible has been the traditional Christian perspective throughout modern history, and has been used to expel and marginalize LGBT+ people from faith communities and families. None the less, throughout history, LGBT+ people have continued to fight for a place within the Christian community, and today, Mayor Pete is just the tip of a massive iceberg that represents a community of thousands of LGBT+ Christians around the world who are boldly claiming their place within the Christian tradition, despite what vocal Christian leaders like Graham continue to espouse.
As a gay Christian pastor, I have always found it perplexing that Christians would seek to intentionally exclude or turn away anyone who has a desire to be a part of their faith. The commission that Jesus gave to his earliest followers was to “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to all of Creation.” (Mark 16:15) The Christian call has always been to seek to invite absolutely everyone into this movement of grace that Jesus inaugurated, and yet, in our modern era it seems that a good number of Christian leaders have abandoned this invitation and shut the doors of the church in the faces of a community that is eager to join in to the movement of Christ.
Just think about Graham’s comments. As far as I know, Mayor Pete has done nothing to provoke Graham to comment on his sexuality. He has simply made the case in public that he is a committed Christian and is driven by the values of Jesus, and also happens to be a gay man. He is literally witnessing for the Christian tradition in his campaign, something that conservative Christians typically laud. But simply because he is gay, Graham felt the need to publicly criticize Buttigieg’s faith and call him to repentance.
In what world does it make sense to publicly undercut someone who is bearing witness to the very faith that you claimed to have given your life to promote? After all, Graham is an evangelist– literally someone who is out to share and promote the Christian Gospel. But unlike his famous father, Franklin Graham obviously sees his role not so much to invite people into the way of Jesus, but to police the boundaries and borders of what he believes is legitimate Christian faith and what is not.
In 2011, the Pew Research Institute released a poll that showed that while most demographics in North America were leaving behind their affiliation with Christianity, one of the only demographic groups that continued to affiliate at higher numbers year after year was among the LGBT+ community. This has been my experience as well. I lead a church full of LGBT+ people who are passionate about living into the Christian faith they once were told they could not be a part of. Every year thousands of LGBT+ Christians gather at conferences around the world like Q Christian Fellowship and the European Forum of LGBT+ Christians to worship God and grow deeper in their faith. Despite the persistent efforts of a few vocal gatekeepers like Graham, it seems to me that this spiritual revival among LGBT+ Christians will not be deterred by those who seek to keep the doors of the Church closed to anybody that’s not like them.
“If God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was that I could hinder God?”(Acts 11:17)
The Apostle Peter didn’t have the theology to understand what he had experienced. He didn’t understand why God was extending salvation to the Gentiles. But instead of rejecting their claim of faith and holding strong to his understanding of Scripture, Peter stands in wide-eyed amazement and says “Who was I that I could hinder God?” God was doing a new and unexpected thing, and Peter chose to rejoice and welcome it with open arms.
It is my sincere hope and prayer that Franklin Graham and other vocal Christian leaders will follow the lead of the one whom Christ chose to be the first leader of his Church. They may not understand how LGBT+ people fit in to their theological paradigm, and they may not understand why LGBT+ people like Mayor Pete desire to follow Christ, but that’s really not their responsibility. Their only job is to stand with open arms and joy-filled hearts as God draws more and more people from unexpected places into the Kingdom he is creating.
Because whether they like it or not, LGBT+ people are already part of the Church. Mayor Pete is a gay Christian and so am I, and there are hundreds of thousands more of us. And so I ask, just at the Apostle Peter did two thousand years ago: “Who is Franklin Graham that he should hinder God?”
For an introduction to the Christian case for LGBT+ inclusion, check out my new book “The Gospel of Inclusion: A Christian Case for LGBT+ Inclusion in the Church”, available here on Amazon and wherever books are sold.