Not all churches that are inhospitable to LGBT+ people want to stay that way. Sometimes they recognize the problem and ask me how they can do better.

Ask and honest question. Get an honest answer.

This is especially difficult for churches that do not believe in marriage between people of the same gender or who don’t affirm the gender of trans people. Yet sometimes these churches still want to learn to minister well to the LGBT+ community. They believe that their stance doesn’t mean they can’t help and be there for queer people.

In one sense, it’s always refreshing to me to hear this. I have hope that if they keep asking these kinds of questions, things can get better.

But I am also concerned if there is the assumptions that this is a matter of packaging or programming. Such simplistic approaches can come from an underlying assumption that LGBT+ people are the spiritual needy ones and the church has nothing to learn.

Most non-affirming churches need way more than a tune-up. First, they need to acknowledge that they are causing harm to LGBT+ people. Then they need to learn to stop causing harm. Only then can they hope to minister to queer people.

The transformation needed to make this switch is not superficial at all. To stop causing harm to become a positive influence in the lives of queer people, even the closeted people in their own congregations who don’t feel safe enough to come out, is frankly monumental.

But I’m here to help point you in the right direction with these suggestions:

1. Take Advantage of Existing Resources

It would be helpful to begin by learning some basics. I wrote about what pastors should consider when preaching on LGBT+ related topics and those blogs would be helpful for non-ministers as well. The glossary is something anyone who is not familiar with the terminology should read through. I’ve also written other pieces on topics such as why the phrases “homosexual lifestyle” and “love the sinner hate the sin” are not helpful.

Those are some places you can look for information. There are so many others a google search away. A lot of people have worked hard to create easily accessible information on how to show respect to LGBT+ people. Anyone who is interested can find this information quickly.

Unfortunately, it’s more than an information gap that prevents non-affirming churches from effectively ministering to LGBT+ people. The real problem is the relationship gap.

Traditionalists often don’t know how to be in relationship with LGBT+ people. Don’t believe me? According to Barna, 87% of Evangelicals believe it would be difficult for them to have a normal conversation with an LGBT+ person.

No matter how much information you have, if LGBT+ people make you uncomfortable, we will know.

What happens if you do close that gap? How ready are you to be in relationships with LGBT+ people in a way that is genuine, unforced, and mutually respectful?

This is why updating your vocabulary is not enough. If you want to do better, you need to understand what the problem is an close the relationship gap.

2. Ask Why You Currently Aren’t Effective

Why doesn’t your church or ministry already reach LGBT+ people? Are there people currently in your congregation who are out LGBT+ people? It’s inevitable that you have at least a few queer people in your congregation, why aren’t they out? What about parents of LGBT+ people? Are they open? Why not?

If you know someone who is closeted or someone who is a parent and keeps that a secret from the general congregation, have a private conversation about why.

Then flip the question around so you can better understand it. Are you spending any time in predominately LGBT+ spaces? Are you in close and mutually respectful relationships with LGBT+ people? How might life as a non-affirming Christian prevent people from having these kinds of relationships? How might Christian leaders be especially impacted?

3. Foster Relationships of Mutual Respect with LGBT+ People

The next logical step is to cross that divide. Don’t start with trying to convince us to come to your church. Go to us.

There are conferences you can go to such as Q Christian Fellowship (formerly the Gay Christian Network) or The Reformation Project. There also might be some local events through these organizations you can attend.

Another suggestions is to show up at churches that welcome and affirm LGBT+ people. You can find them on this website. Before you go, call the pastor and tell them what you want to do and ask them if they can make some introductions to LGBT+ Christians for you.

If all this makes you feel nervous, know that LGBT+ people feel at least as nervous about attending your church.

4. Try to See Your Church as We Would

Once you have LGBT+ people in your life, ask them about what it might be like going to non-affirming churches.

You might get some surprising stories. You might also hear about common problems like the bait-and-switch: Churches that try to hide their non-affirming theology until LGBT+ people have dedicated time and energy into forming relationships there. Then they ask why that can’t serve or can’t attend a marriage seminar and are told only then that it’s because of their sexual orientation.

You might hear about being involved for years but never fully being apart.

You might here about people hiding their orientation for fear of rejection, or pretending like their partners are just friends.

You might here horrible experiences of insults and rejection.

You might hear about LGBT+ people who chose to abide by the church’s requirements and still didn’t believe they were seen as equal to straight Christians, even after their sacrifices.

If you get to know the LGBT+ community, you will be surprised at how common these experiences are.

Don’t stop with asking. Use your imagination to understand as much as possible what it would be like to be an LGBT+ person in your church.

Take some time envisioning yourself walking into a church with the person you love and having that church believe your relationship is a sin. Or imagine what it would be like to tell your friends at church that you are attracted to the same sex, or that you’ve always felt you were a different gender.

When anyone walks into any church they are not part of, they enter someone else’s home. How will things be here? Will I be acceptable here?

If a queer person walks into your church, you have all the power to make us feel at home or uncomfortable. Be aware of what that’s like for someone who has likely had terrible experiences with religion because of their sexual orientation.

Be ready for questions. Can the lesbian mom can serve in the children’s department. Can the gay man can help out in the youth program? Would you baptize an out LGBT+ person and under what circumstances? What happens when the kid in your youth group comes out as transgender? Do you require divorce of people in same-sex marriages?

More importantly, what must it be like for the people on the other end of these questions? Are you ready to see this through their eyes? Are you ready to face not only the difficulties this poses for yourself, but the difficulties it poses for those in the LGBT+ community?

In my experience, it’s difficult for non-affirming people do to this kind of emotional work. The reality of what church life is like in non-affirming churches for queer folks is hard to face even if you’re only imagining it. How much more difficult is it for LGBT+ people?

But ignoring reality was never part of being a Christian. Ministry without empathy is empty. There is no power without compassion.

If non-affirming theology is your conviction, you do no favors by not being understanding the full implications of your theology. You will come off to LGBT+ people as glib, even non-affirming LGBT+ people.

5. Look at the Log in Your Own Eye

I often hear non-affirming Christians talk about how they believe themselves to be sinful and in need of God’s grace just as much as LGBT+ people are. It’s easier to say this is a general sense then it is to get honest about the specifics, isn’t it?

In my experience, many Christians who do not affirm same-sex relationships or transgender identities are tragically unwilling to consider that they might have stigma and bigotry towards queer people.

Jesus said that before you can see clearly to take the speck from another’s eye, you need to deal with the log in your own (Matthew 7:5).

Following the teachings of Jesus means the first step towards ministering to queer people is to examine yourself. It’s a requirement to effective ministry.

The other suggestions I’ve made will get you ready for this step, but it won’t complete the process. If you are unwilling to confess your own sin, you will be jamming your fingers into other people’s eyes because you can’t see clearly.

This post may not give you the answers you were expecting when you say you want to minister to LGBT+ people. It’s not a how-to. I’m suggesting you should approach this as a more ingrained challenge. I’m suggesting you grow into the type of person who could do that work.

And neither am I done addressing this, because point number five needs further explanation. You can look for Part 2 next week.

One year ago I desperately wanted to attend the Gay Christian Network’s annual conference. I recall trying to think of cover stories for leaving for a few days so that my church and people close to me wouldn’t know where I was going. People finding out could result in questions I didn’t want anyone asking, questions that could lead to me losing my job as pastor.

It wa s all too easy for me to let the date come and go without ever registering or making plans to attend. I was afraid, not only of being discovered but of being seen for who I am at that conference.

Spend all your time hiding and authenticity feels foreign and dangerous. Fear won that day, but fear did not win in the end.

Today, I am waiting for my flight to leave from Denver, having just attended the very conference I was so afraid of one year ago.

Waiting for my flight to leave, I’m reflecting on my first Gay Christian Network conference. This turned out to be the last the last conference by that name when the name was changed to Q Christian Fellowship. It’s the ending of an era that I was glad to be present for, and the beginning of a new era that I’m thrilled to be part of.

This seems like a good time to reflect on what it’s been like to go from conservative church community to queer Christian community.

This very conference that I was so afraid to attend one year ago already feels like home, maybe as much like home as Adventist meetings and conferences ever did. Having attended several progressive and LGBT+ friendly events over the last 9 months since coming out as bisexual, I’m amazed at how many people I know as I wander around the convention center.

These are people I love and who inspire me, people who see all of me and call me good and blessed, people who understand and appreciate my ministry, and people to whom I can gush about my girlfriend and they’ll simply be happy for me. Here I am known and loved. I can drop my guard because no defense is needed. They fulfill my innate need for community in a way I’m not so sure the church I grew up in is capable of anymore, if it ever was.

These conferences bring tremendous healing to all of us. I would even say they save people.

Three months ago at a conservative and LGBT+ affirming conference called The Reformation Project in Chicago, I met a young lesbian woman. She was emotionally wrecked. Constantly on the verge of tears, she seemed fragile and vulnerable because of the criticism she’d taken.

As I talked with her I realized that she was in big trouble. She was at a Christian school that made her believe her desire for intimate love and connection with a woman was a sin. Her friends only reinforced this, telling her she could never experience the love she longed for.

TRP was good for her. She was encouraged, loved, accepted, and was able to see how many queer Christians are affirming themselves and thriving because of it. She was also exposed to solid theology that shifted her thinking and gave her hope.

Still, when I left I was afraid for her. I was afraid she wouldn’t know how to deal with the stress of rejection and loneliness.

A few days ago, at the QCF conference, I saw her again. Instantly I knew that things had changed for her. She stood taller, looked people directly in the eye, and most of all she smiled easily. Clearly she was on a totally new trajectory.

We talked for a few minutes, and she simply glowed when I told her how apparent the change was. I found out she’s doing very well and made the decision to change to a different school. She’s decided to leave behind those religious systems that brought her only death and condemnation. She is finding a better way.

I wonder what would have happened to her without QCF. I wonder what would have happened to me without this beautiful world of queer Christians. I don’t know how people made it before.

I suspect they usually abandoned their faith completely or lived lives of loneliness and judgement in church. But I know there is one more outcome that was and still is all too common. The specter of LGBT+ suicide for those in non-affirming Christian spaces is ever on my mind.

Instead, for those who are in churches and organizations that affirm them, there is hope there never was before. We get to experience Christianity with no strings attached. Love is given without qualification here. Community is unconditional.

We’re here not because we all signed a belief statement or are part of the same denomination. We don’t all behave the same way. There are a variety of different approaches to ethical questions. It’s not our uniformity that unites us. We are united because we all want to help each other through this life as followers of Jesus.

This is not Christendom where discipleship means following your pastor or the tradition and teachings that have been handed down, but where discipleship means following Jesus.

I’m here to report that it’s possible, it’s real, and it’s beautiful. Breath free, beloved, and experience the body of Christ in the fullness of authenticity, messiness, and grace.

Queer Christians are not the only ones who long for this experience of faith. The hunger is universal. From the pulpit to the pew to the classroom, Christians are tired of the judgement, but don’t know the way out.

There is a way out, a way to the gospel that is good news. This is not the gospel of conformity, but the gospel of Jesus Christ, freely given, full of Grace, Peace, and Love.

To get there we need to stop being afraid, stop covering up our authentic selves with masks and lies, and be willing to seek Jesus with our full hearts.

This is the secret that is well known to queer Christians. This is the gift we offer the church of Christ.

I’ve started and failed to finish blog after blog, even though they were great topics and important, meaningful, things I believe in. It seems I’ve had writers block because of my last post about Losing My Religion, a kind of dear John letter to the Adventist church, the conservative Christian denomination in which I used to pastor before coming out.

The day after posting it, even though every word came from a very deep and honest place, something felt off. It was only a half truth. One stop on the way to wherever I’m going. Neither a final destination nor the last word on my relationships with the church I grew up in.

Every sermon is a heresy. It’s something I’ve often said. Maybe every blog post is also a heresy, guilty of the same crime for the same reason, only able to contain a small portion of the truth.

So here’s another side: Most of the best, most loving, kindest, and most generous people I know are Adventists. Many of those people are also totally unaffirming of the way I experience love and family. This is a complex truth. It’s hard for me to handle.

I’ve been looking forward to the day my anger and hurt would abate enough for me to engage more directly with individuals from my church, maybe even attend a service again. That is beginning to happen, and it’s bringing with it unexpected emotions.

During my time as an Adventist in good standing, many people invested in me. Faces flash into my mind as I write these words, faces of people whose kindness got me through difficult times, whose faith in me gave me hope as I pursued the difficult path of becoming a pastor in the Adventist church as a woman.

When I was about the graduate from my Adventist High School, I was gifted a precious book that still sits on my shelf. A book about grace signed by my teachers, one after another affirming their confidence in me and my bright future. This is a beautiful gift for an 18-year-old. I recall professors who spent endless hours guiding me through difficult questions and struggles. I can think of Administrators who offered me jobs, and more importantly whose confidence in me was so crucial for my success.

Adventists were there for me in moments of need. Offering me a room in their home when I needed it, showing up in the hospital to pray with my father who had been diagnosed with cancer when I was on the other side of the country, letting me know that he was being loved when I couldn’t be there yet. Adventist administrators gave me ridiculous amounts of time off so I could be with my father even though they knew I may well be quitting my job to be with my family. My Adventist church family put together my father’s memorial service, making all the arrangements and showing up with food for the reception, after only one phone call from me asking for help.

Adventists are the colleges who supported me through ups and downs and difficult seasons of ministry. They are people who encouraged me, mentored me, gave me opportunities I wasn’t even sure I was ready for, and helped me succeed.

Adventists, many of them anyways, are people who will be there for you if you need them, no questions asked, no thanks required, because they know how to love well.

I wounded these kind and loving people when I came out as bisexual and opposed the church’s treatment of LGBT+ people.

People I worked with side by side, building up the church, now watch me tear down our work. The energy they poured into me I now use to accomplish the opposite of their intentions. I know for certain that my coming out caused people to leave the Adventist church for good. More than that, they are afraid for me because of the choices I am making, and they are afraid of the harm they believe I am causing to others.

The word betrayal is not too strong. I betrayed them. I betrayed the church that nurtured, raised, and loved me. Over the months since coming out, I’ve only twisted that knife. I feel my betrayal, even though I believe I’m doing the right thing.

How must it be for them? Adventists who love me now struggle with my announcement and struggle with the new me. Some are cruel to me in their struggle. Some want to dialogue. Some are even cheering me on. But most seem at a loss and want mostly to care for me but don’t know how.

I know my betrayal is necessary. I’m intentionally causing those good people to struggle, and I hope by God’s good grace to continue. LGBT+ people struggle unseen and unacknowledged in the Adventist church. Straight Adventists need to feel this hidden struggle. Nor is the pain I’ve caused in any way comparable to the extreme stress and resulting mental health challenges LGBT+ people face as a result of unaffirming theology. Yet I know that for some it has felt like I punched them in the stomach. I’ve been told as much.

If I have betrayed my church, my betrayal is the best way I know of being faithful. It’s a holy betrayal.

So why does part of me want to say sorry? I guess for the simple reason that I hurt people I love and who love me. ‘Sorry’ is not the right word and apology is not what is owed. I need to be clear about that. I have no shame and no regret but know I am in the center of God’s calling in the ministry I am doing now. I do want to acknowledge something I haven’t before. Here’s what I would like to say, if it’s not too late, if anyone I’ve hurt is listening:

“I now see past my own pain enough to acknowledge yours. I know you are not malicious but well-intentioned. I see that I’ve undermined the work we were doing together and how hard that could be. I can accept that you are hurt too. I know things are forever changed between us, but I hope they aren’t over.”

If you think I owe the church an apology, I guess this is the best I can do. There is healing in these words for me; I hope there is for others as well.

And this is important because I know my story is not unique. So many of us LGBT+ Christians who are in traditional denominations or coming out of them are in this struggle, and so many of the people we left behind are struggling as well. Perhaps my words can be of some help. If I’ve missed the mark, remember, every blog post is a heresy.

What now? What hope remains for people who have so hurt each other? What reconciliation can there be after such gut-wrenching mutual betrayal?

I don’t know. But for some reason I feel hopeful.

Maybe my hope comes from this: we are all trying to follow Jesus, and even if we don’t know how to manage this mess, Jesus does.