What Loving LGBTQ Ministry Could Look Like

By Thomas Lambrecht –

At the St. Louis General Conference and since, conservatives have often been accused of being hateful, bigoted, and punitive toward LGBTQ persons. We frequently hear quoted “Do no harm!” and “Love your neighbor!” These statements are aimed at the traditional view that marriage is between one man and one woman and that the practice of homosexuality (as well as any other sexual relationship outside marriage) is contrary to God’s will.

The statements imply that the traditional view is unloving, but that is because we have different understandings of what love looks like. Perhaps it would be helpful to flesh out how traditionalists might engage in loving ministry with LGBTQ persons. (Obviously, in a blog post I will only be able to hit the high spots, rather than delving into the details of each person’s situation.)

From a traditional perspective, love seeks the best for the other person. The problem becomes discerning what the “best” is. We know that we have trouble understanding what is best for ourselves. In the same way, it is also risky to accept another person’s discernment about what is best for them as always being right. The way out of this dilemma is to trust that God knows and has revealed what is best for us. The Bible teaches us the way of righteousness and holiness, leading to living at our best. As Psalm 19 explains, the precepts of the Lord are “more precious than gold” and “sweeter than honey.” “By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is much reward” (Psalm 19:11).

Loving God and seeking God’s ways (not our own) is the first and greatest commandment for a reason. We too often impose our human judgment in replacement of what God has revealed to us.

To love lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning/queer persons as our neighbor means to treat each one with love, respect, and kindness as a fellow human being created in the image of God. Therefore, there is no room for insults, put-downs, joking comments at their expense, foul language directed at them, or violence of any kind. On a human level, LGBTQ persons should be treated as we ourselves would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12). There are no exceptions to the Golden Rule.

As Christians and out of love for others, we are compelled to share the love of Christ with our friends and neighbors so that they may come to know him as Savior and Lord of their lives. That includes our LGBTQ friends and neighbors. We will never help move a person closer to Jesus by harshly condemning them, insulting them, or mistreating them in any way. Rather, in a winsome and invitational way, we seek to introduce people to Jesus because we know and love him ourselves. We know that apart from him — gay, straight, or questioning — we are all lost and separated from God, so we seek to bring others closer to God. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (II Corinthians 5:20).

In our conversations, we should not insist that gay people become straight before they can come to God, just as we do not insist that others of us have our lives all together in order to come to God. Rather, we come as we are, with only “the desire to flee the wrath to come,” as John Wesley put it. As we respond to God’s grace expressed in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, we begin to change from the inside out. We journey with Christ toward becoming the person he created us to be.

To love LGBTQ persons is to fully embrace and support them in their journey of discipleship. None of us is meant to walk that journey alone. We are assigned the task of “watching over one another in love,” as Wesley put it. We stand not in judgment over one another, but as fellow pilgrims traveling toward the common destination of becoming perfect in God’s love. For many lesbians and gays, it will mean a life of celibacy, meaning that we the church will need to help form that supportive community and provide a family relationship as the embodiment of God’s love.

To love LGBTQ persons is to teach clearly, lovingly, and sensitively what God requires of us — gay, straight, or questioning — in all aspects of life. In this era of “designer religion” where we are each tempted to create our own belief system, it is imperative that we begin to learn and understand the truth from God’s perspective. We do so in humility, knowing that none of us can perfectly understand that truth, nor do we always live up to what we know. Instead, we seek together to grow in our understanding of the truth, faithful to God’s self-revelation in Scripture and guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

God’s intent for the exercise of his good gift of human sexuality has become clear in Scripture, as interpreted and understood by over 1,200 years of Jewish history and the additional 2,000 years of the Christian church. Some who propose to change the definition of marriage to include persons of the same gender may not fully appreciate what it means to say that every single biblical scholar of the church, bishop, and defender of the faith for 2,000 years has been wrong in their understanding of God’s word. The heavy weight of that much accumulated wisdom and piety is not to be lightly cast aside by a majority vote of a General Conference.

It is not my task here to argue the biblical case for one man-one woman marriage. I would refer the reader to Richard Hays’ masterful chapter in his volume, The Moral Vision of the New Testament (chapter 16). Ambitious scholars desiring a more thorough examination of the biblical and cultural evidence may turn to The Bible and Homosexual Practice by Robert Gagnon.

To love LGBTQ persons is to not set ourselves above them, as if we were somehow superior. Rather, it is to acknowledge that we, too, stand in need of God’s grace, forgiveness, and transformation. No one’s sin is worse than another’s. Heterosexuals, no less than LGBTQ persons, need to learn God’s ways and discipline ourselves to keep them by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us.

We may never lose the attraction toward sin, whether it is greed, same-sex desires, the desire for that next drink, or whatever it might be. The gay person may never completely lose same-sex attractions. The alcoholic may never be able to safely take a drink. The greedy person may always want more than they have. But by the grace of God, the desire can weaken and lessen, until it has no more control over us. We can have the ability to say “no” to sin, despite whatever temptations we face.

On the other hand, some do experience deliverance from sin and a restoration to wholeness that allows them to no longer be tempted by sin. Some lesbians and gays have been healed and delivered to the point where they can enter into healthy opposite-sex marriages. We must not foreclose on God’s ability to supernaturally work in our lives.

We may never become “perfect in love” or without sin until we get to heaven. But we keep “attending upon all the ordinances of God” – those means of grace that strengthen our faith. We keep “consider[ing] how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, … but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

The ministry of love for all people, including LGBTQ persons, is the ministry of transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit through a supportive Christian community. All of us are in equal need of that transformation, gay or straight. God will do what he promises, no matter what challenges we face in life, as we respond to the leading of his Holy Spirit. “And we all … are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (II Corinthians 3:18).

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News.

Comments

  1. The logical extension of this Biblical view is that the UMC should return to the view that pastors cannot divorce and remarry, or marry divorced persons as that is a direct conflict with the words of Jesus.

    [They can only divorce due to adultery on the part of their spouse. Remarriage after such a divorce could be considered as this isn’t specifically forbidden in Jesus words in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.]

    If someone sinning by engaging in ‘practicing homosexuality’ and thus is to be excluded from being married or from being considered for ordination;
    AND if “No one’s sin is worse than another’s.”
    AND if Divorce (as noted above) is the sin of Adultery
    THEN the same exclusions must apply to those who are divorced and remarried (exceptions noted above).

    Do you agree, Rev Lambrecht? Doesn’t that HAVE to be the next logical step in the Traditionalist view?

    I wonder how many Traditionalist pastors are ‘sinning’ in that way.

    • JR,
      The UMC has not and does not handled the divorce issue very well, agree. The UMC did not and has not handled the sexual revolution vey well. Both these issues, entwined as they are, need to be revisited and some long needed reforms initiated in the church. But, if we start down that old proverbial road of two wrongs make a right, with all the social wrongs of this contemporary culture, then we’re finished off as a church much sooner than later as the compromising would soon be steamrolling. It is long past time for the Christian church to start reacting to all this social decay instead of joining in or being complicit with the pro-acting.

  2. This is an excellent article, but there’s one code word that would have been better left out. We all sin, and need to be healed from the ‘sickness of sin,’ by the grace of God, but using the word ‘healed’ regarding homosexuality is a red flag to that community, and might negate any effort to reach out in love to the homosexual. JR’s comments above are somewhat off the mark. The church can determine what level of sin and forgiveness is acceptable in ordained leaders. Pastors and bishops in open violation of marriage vows are not allowed to continue in office (at least to my knowledge).

  3. Tom, I wholeheartedly agree. I assume that this is a statement that Good News needs to declare.

    But so often in the day to day business of living life, there are those who don’t get it and throw the “discrimination” epithet at us. Just today:

    From a commentary in United Methodist News:

    Achieving inclusion: Break barriers, build bridges

    By the Rev. In-Sook Hwang
    June 14, 2019 | UM News

    “I feel very blessed as a clergywoman and as a pastor of color in The United Methodist Church. I am included. We call ourselves the church of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” But are we really open to including everyone? Can you see the big footnote? It reads, “Except LGBTQ.” What kind of openness is that? I thought we were moving forward. Then the special General Conference 2019 declared an exclusive, punitive and discriminative decision that demoralized God’s beloved and beautiful people in the name of the Bible. For the first time, I feel ashamed. My heart hurts as I feel the pain of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters as well as their supporters. I sent my apology to them and asked for God’s forgiveness.”

    From an article today on Yahoo News:

    Teen fired from Christian camp counselor job for being gay: ‘I’m heartbroken’

    Facebook post:
    “I would like to thank everyone that has shown support on the event of being fired by the Firs based on my sexual identity. This is not what I was taught at the Fircreek I went to. I was thought love and accept others for who they are and not be discriminative of that. As I said in my Instagram story, we need change, we need to see equality in the work place for all members in the LGBTQ+ community! This world does not need people who discriminate based on who they love or identify as. Please make sure to support those who are being discriminated and stand up for them, we need more love in this world.”

    We need to love those who see us otherwise. But this type of constant rhetoric that I see many times a week, week after week, month after month frankly leaves me weary and unfortunately with a desire to just avoid gay and lesbian people.

  4. Having lumped same sex desire with greed and alcoholism he just lost the lgbt crowd since they have a different concept wrt same sex attraction as a sin. Rather than waste words with each othet let’s just start negotisting the split.

  5. In response to JR comment that adultery is grounds for divorce.
    It is my understanding that Jesus changed the grounds for divorce from adultery to fornication.
    Matthew 5:32, “…That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication.” When using the Greek in this verse it reads like this, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication [porneioa], causeth her to commit adultery [moichao]: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery [moichao].” Two different Greek words explain what Jesus means when he tells us, “It was Moses who said adultery is grounds for divorce, but I tell you that fornication (unnatural sex) is the only grounds for divorce.” Jesus will change the grounds for divorce from adultery to sexual perverseness, fornication. When a person who does not believe in unnatural sex is married to a person who does believe in unnatural sex, the one who does not is unequally yoked together with a nonbeliever and that person has grounds for a divorce.

    • Interesting perspective. Considering that Moses wrote that a man could divorce a woman for ANY reason, but then Jesus severely limited that…

      So two things. I don’t think that your reading actually differs that far from mine – yours is more restrictive, but that really only strengthens my point about the UMC and divorce.

      Secondly, I caution you – your description of someone ‘believing’ in sexual perverseness/fornication (as you have it defined) doesn’t fit the ‘practicing’ basis for the current UMC rule that is used to exclude homosexuality.

      For example, if I believe that homosexuality is equivalent to your definition of fornication and thus a sin, and my wife believes that there’s nothing wrong with it (even if she doesn’t swing that way), then I have grounds for divorce per Jesus. And it’s not about the act of practicing, it’s about the belief about LGBTQ+ people.

  6. I’m for the traditional plan and agree with JR. I have no issue holding all ministers to a higher standard. Part of not doing that is why we have a mushy denomination now.

  7. Due to Old Adam, we all remain with the sin nature that we inherited. By Faith in the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ we become a new creature (creation) in the Body of Christ. If we believe this, we witness to the LGBT community this Grace of God. LGBT people if they believe the Gospel should become celibate and chaste. We all are tempted and have weaknesses. We remain with two natures the spiritual and the sin nature of Old Adam. They struggle within us. It is the one you feed that determines which way you react to. If we then sin, we confess it and cleanse it by washing in the word of God.

  8. Ann Jones says

    Below is are excerpts from a Joe Dallas blog.

    Who is Joe Dallas? He is a man who once believed it was possible to be a “Gay Christian”, but was delivered from the gay life by God, and has been happily married to his wife for 30 years, in a heterosexual marriage. They have two grown sons.

    I believe Joe is one of the many voices to listen to in regards to homosexuality. Along with many others who have come out of the gay lifestyle – and thus KNOW of what they speak!
    ________________________________________________________
    Quotes from Joe’s blog…….

    “If we’re in agreement, we’re in unity. If we agree to disagree agreeably, we’re in peaceful co-existence. If we have to agree to get along, we’re in trouble.

    That, I believe, is the dilemma modern Christians face as we feel increased pressure to either change our views or shut up.

    So today, if you hold to traditional views of marriage and family, or take Jesus literally when He presents Himself as the only way to the Father, or view man as essentially sinful rather than inherently good, or warn about a future place of judgment, then you’re part of an ever-shrinking minority. Some (many?) believers who used to agree with you have now evolved in their thinking and adopted a more “enlightened” Christianity. Psychologists and educators consider you backwards, activists say you’re dangerous, comedians use you for new material, and many people sincerely believe you’re hateful.

    I don’t want to fight. I hate arguing, I think controversy’s exhausting, and I’ve no interest in doing battle with believers or non-believers holding different views than mine.
    But more than ever I’m also aware how impossible it is to cleave to truth without having to, at some point,  contend for the faith (Jude 1:3) be ready to give an answer for the hope that’s in me (I Peter 3:15) and hold fast to what is good. (II Thessalonians 5:21)

    [As Martin Luther stated]:
    “My conscience is held captive by the Word of God.
    And to act against conscience is neither right nor safe.”
    ________________________________________________________

    Joe’s complete post is on his website at:
    https://joedallas.com/2019/05/31/getting-along-without-going-along-2/

    There is also a very good Youtube video with Joe Dallas at:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0SfYZtwGs8

  9. I get that this represents what many traditionalists believe they stand by. However, if this is true, why is the public emphasis so strongly on the “sin”of LGBTQI+ persons rather than things like decreasing suicide rate, speaking out against pastors/officers who call for the execution of LGBT persons, and teaching parents NOT to reject and disown their LGBT children? Perhaps caring for these life and death issues from this population would be a more fruitful means of love than putting so much emphasis on punishing those who love differently.

    • I think you may have missed what the specific debate in the umc is about. It is about whether clergy who engage in repeated, unrepentant sinful actions such as sex outside of heterosexual marriage should be allowed to continue as clergy in the umc. For clarification, the umc’s doctrine is that sex outside of heterosexual marriage is sinful. No one is debating that all members may follow their own conscience only that the church’s consistent 2000 year old teachings should not be anbandoned.

  10. Rick Danielson says

    For the many, many LGBTQ persons who are already in happy same-sex marriages and seek to grow in their love and service of God, what would you suggest, based on what is put forth in this article? Divorce? Is that what “loving ministry” means?

    • Tough situation, but if they truly want to grow in their love and service to God, being in a practicing homosexual relationship, whether married or not, is antithetical to the Word of God.

      • What if this same sex couple has children? What happens to the children? What if there is an African Bishop who has more than one wife? or other persons who have more than wife? Does the husband select one and abandon and leave the other wives and their children? Would Jesus abandon the innocent? These are tough questions that the church needs to be ready to respond to with love and care.

    • Rick, the answer to your question is one that will occur despite ourselves—there will be two Methodist churches! And one of them will be perfectly consistent theologically with the idea of same sex marriages. The other one will not, but hopefully will still minister to the LGBTQ community within the bounds of their own theology—a task that many other evangelical, non-mainline, churches are doing as well.

      • Rick, you also have to understand that for those LGBTQ+ with a traditionalist theology, they have been in this no-man’s land for generations that you fear of now for same sex married. When the official UMC has ministered to sexual minorities, it has always been within the context of an affirming theology.

  11. The essay above may not fit the PC standards of many, but I do think the writer presents a good effort in describing the attitude that we must have as a traditional church in lovingly ministering to the non-straight community. When I began reading this article, I feared that it would be another conservative rant about how gays must be healed of their identity. Thankfully, it was not; our goal as a community should be to take people as they are, advocating the teachings of the faith (along with the traditional sexual ethic of thousands of years) and ministering to their needs. That may mean that people in the congregation are uncomfortable with the effeminate men sitting next to one another in the pew beside them–so be it. We are called to love one another–but not to change the laws of God for our own convenience. I am a non-straight, same sex attracted man who believes in a traditional sexual ethic. We tend to be hidden, but the younger generation is less likely to be in the closet. Many, many of us have had a traumatic adolescence and a rough life in general (i.e., how do you live a normal life as a Christian when the typical patterns of adulthood–marriage, children, etc– are not available to you?) Frankly, in dealing with these matters, the church has been a no-show.
    If you would like to read a great Christian book on this matter, consider “Washed and Waiting” by Wesley Hill, an Anglican theology professor.

    • Thank you, Ed C., for the courage to disclose your own attraction, beliefs, and appeal toward compassion and mercy – especially in our churches – for LGBTQ persons. Apart from whether a person affirms same-sex marriage or not, we can all affirm the dignity of all people who are created in the image of God.

  12. Jim Wolfgang says

    The subject of divorce and remarriage by Christians comes up frequently. No one who takes their Christianity seriously can be cavalier about divorcing their spouse and ending the covenant made with God and their spouse. It happens because when all else has failed it is the only way for the couple to be healed of the brokeness a failed marriage brings. The covenant is broken (likely by small degrees during the marriage),so ask for forgiveness, and start anew: that is a Biblical principle which I am confident our Lord endorses as so many of these remarriages are a blessing to the couple and all involved. These marriages represent the ideal our Lord lifted up of a MAN and WOMAN becoming one, and being “subject to one another out of reverence to Christ” (Eph. 5:21). Scripture interprets scripture, and tradition, reason, and experience informs this too, but the practice of homosexuality fails the test of the quadralateral and the biblical ideal of marriage. Sometimes a divorce is the only way to regain that ideal.

  13. charles armour says

    The biggest issue at hand not what comprises a given sin, but is rather the question of the sacred. Whereas folks can argue back and forth over various “sins” by proof texting to one another, and indeed, we are all imperfect in our lives, scripture offers only one human relation as uniquely set apart.

    The mystical union between man and woman is the only union that is able to “recreate creation” through the producing of a “living being.” The Bible makes a very clear distinction being spiritual life and biological life. Only Adam in the second creation, unique among all other life forms, received the very breath of God. And only then did he became a “living being”. The union between man and woman brings forth yet another “living being”, a true child of God.

    This does not mean other relations are bad. It is just that they are not sacred and set apart. Marriage as noted, is a gift from God through which we give back to God a child, another “living being”. It can thus be correctly stated that since we receive something from God through childbirth which we in time yield back to Him as one of His own heirs, that marriage is in essence, “corban”. Other relations such as, Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, Elijah and Elisha, and others are lauded in scripture, but are not repeatedly lifted up in the same unique category as is marriage between a man and woman.. Even “The Lamb” Himself shall marry as a prelude to the Eschaton, and the New Age, as noted in “Revelation”.

    People fail and sin. No marriage is perfect, and sometimes in extreme cases divorce becomes a sad necessity. But such events in no way abrogate the sacredness of the union between man and woman as a divinely inspired institution. We do not get to change the definition of either marriage or the sacred in accordance to the mores of some post modern ethic, and remain consistent to Christian tradition.

  14. Jesus didn’t totally forbid polygamy I don’t think, so should we allow clergy married to more than one person? This is a bigger debate than just LGTBQ. This debate is about scripture. The sad thing is, I believe over 75 percent of US Clergy doesn’t believe in basic Biblical and Christian principals so the denomination. An must depend on a miracle of God to save it.

  15. So here’s another angle.

    Rev. Lambrecht notes how a LGBTQ+ ministry COULD look like, under the Traditionalist plan. It can still be loving, it can still be positive (even through ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ exists).

    So, Traditionalist folks – how does the LGBTQ+ ministry look in YOUR church?

    Are you careful to “not set ourselves above them, as if we were somehow superior”?

    Do you “not insist that gay people become straight before they can come to God, just as we do not insist that others of us have our lives all together in order to come to God”?

    Do you “treat each one with love, respect, and kindness as a fellow human being created in the image of God”?

    How many LGBTQ+ folks are in your conservative church? Are they fully involved, such as teaching sunday school or being a lay reader or even making the coffee on Sunday morning? Are they appointed to committees?

    I applaud Rev Lambrecht’s prose – I wonder how many actually make LGBTQ+ folks feel welcome and embrace them in the life of the church? Here’s where the rubber meets the road… what does this look like in YOUR church, where are you falling short and where are you doing it different and/or better?

    • JR-I do agree with your sentiment here. The theory may be appropriate, but getting parishioners to go along is quite another. I would hope that conferences will see the urgency of dispelling the accusation of the remaining church being anti gay. Frankly, I am guessing there are many congregations that will want to bury the issue as deeply as possible. I do think a practical option is for the districts to create initiatives to organize ministries. While this may seem strange, I think taking it outside the local congregation will allow ministering to those who need support, but also need confidentiality.

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