Often people who cause me the most pain are those who are genuinely and sincerely being as kind to me as they can. I find this confusing.

Most of the pain we cause each other happens in the gap between our own heart and mind and the heart and mind of the other. Rarely have I experienced a gap so large as the one between what I experience as a bisexual person when people who don’t accept my sexuality say things they believe to be kind.

Often traditionalists indicate that their words are kind, concilatory, and understanding. These same exact words fall on my skin like a slap and not the hand of mercy I know they were intended to be.

In fact, most of the people I know personally and who don’t accept my sexuality have been nice. Sometimes I’m even hurt by someone who doesn’t say a single word about my sexuality, even by those who reach out in concern, but who I know disagree with my decisions. I haven’t understood why.

This hurt I’m speaking about is not a mild aggitation. I heard one time that sometimes in prison someone marked for punishment will not be attacked outright. Instead one person after another will deliver a sharp and precise punch to their liver again and again, eventually causing serious injury.

That’s what it feels like. It’s taking another blow in the same bruised and battered organ, an organ I need to stay alive.

This analogy breaks down because in my case the injury is unintended, as hard as it is for me to remember that sometimes. But I should remember, because it wasn’t long ago that I probably did the same thing and was equally unaware and full of good intentions.

Still the hurt remains, and the anger that comes with it. I’ve had a hard time even understanding why it hurts so much. Why am I hurt by people who are trying to be kind to me? Am I just sensitive? Am I becoming the charicacture of the angry gay rights activist that I was so often warned about?

Managing my anger has been a big part of the last ten months since coming out. But managing is not enough. I also need to learn to deal with it. Dealing with my anger means forgiving those who have hurt me.

But how do I go about forgiving people who are trying to be caring? How do I forgive them when I don’t even understand the hurt or why it’s so deep and painful?

Often I find myself starting on a blog I’m unable to finish, despite knowing exactly what I want to say. I struggle to call people and having conversations that are important. It’s difficult to even keep up the ties with people I used to be close to when I don’t know how they feel about my life now.

It’s so hard to keep writing, keep working, keep trying to create change around this topic and advocate for LGBT+ Christians. Every act of advocacy meets internal resistance until I feel like I’m trudging through mud.

Why was I so bothered? Why couldn’t I just toughen up? Occasionally someone would even indicate that I needed to do just that.

Then one day it came to me, a thought I’d had a hundred times, but suddenly sharper and clearer: Trauma. I’m dealing with trauma.

Trauma is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot. It’s kind of like OCD in that people say it a lot without awareness of what actual Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is. “I have OCD” they say while they straighen out their bookshelf or pick the lint off their friend’s jacket. But that’s not what OCD is.

It’s similar with trauma. We throw the word around without knowing what it means. Real trauma, the type that is related to Acute or Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, means more than being hurt by something. Trauma is related to a real or perceived threat to one’s life.

I knew coming out was a legitimate struggle. Loss of place I experienced in the denomonination with which my life was inexorably entwined is no small matter. But in my mind it didn’t rise to the level of an actual trauma, not like the real threats that other people survive. I wasn’t assaulted. I didn’t think I was going to die.

But my search to understand my own pain has finally revealed what was perhaps obvious. This is real trauma. It’s serious. Whether I have an actual clinical disorder or not, I have experienced a legitimate traumatic event. Perhaps everyone does who comes out in an environment where their sexuality is not embraced and affirmed.

Being rejected by my community, as I have been and as many queer Christians are, is about more than hurt feelings. It’s a threat to my existance.

There are certain things we require to survive, literally to stay alive. We need water. We need food. We need shelter. And just as surely as we need these things, we also need community. None of us can make it in this world alone.

When I think of what my Seventh-day Adventist church community was to me, it’s evident that most of the meaning and joy I’ve experienced in life has been through them. Most of my resiliency and willingness to press forward and have hope for my future has come from this community as well.

Living my life without this support is something I never imagined. I was Adventist for life. But now, I must admit, I’m an illegitimate Adventist. My name only remains on the church books because church policy can’t always be enforced. I can never be employed in ministry by the church again, I can never be married to a woman in an Adventist church or by an Adventist minister unless that minister is willing to risk losing their job, and even volunteering at a church or getting involved in leadership would be fraught with difficulty and unease.

There are a couple Adventist churches that are exceptionally accepting and welcoming. Other than these churches, second-class is the best an LGBT+ person who is out can hope for in an Adventist church. I’d argue that this is true whether that person follows Adventist doctrine or not. The church doesn’t know how to treat out queer Adventists as equal.

I know queer Adventists who have found churches that are relatively accepting of them, but who know that they are always to a certain degree vulnerable to a new pastor coming in and changing everything. About the only thing I know for sure I can do unopposed is sit in the pew and give money, and even that is sometimes controversial (the sitting in the pew part, every church will take my money).

All of this amounts to a stark choice, participate as a second-class Adventist or don’t participate in the local church at all. So far returning to church has been impossible for me.

This loss may not come with the physical violence that we often associate with trauma, but this apparent innocence doesn’t make it any less potent.

If you know LGBT+ people, especially Christians from nonaffirming communities, they will often speak to you of the constant stress of remaining in relationships with people who don’t accept their marriages, way of dressing, or way of identifying.That can be threatening because community and family support are what we need to get us through times of transition, emergencies, and sometimes to help us get jobs or take care of children.

Too often this stress of not belonging goes unacknowleged or even unknown by those who are causing it. Perhaps speaking of being traumatized brings up defensiveness in those who are part of this rejection, yet who don’t intend to cause trauma, and who believe themselves to be loving and accepting. Many people take it for granted that if they are friendly, care for queer people, and state their beliefs as kindly as possible they are showing love and not causing harm at all.

If this is you, I see your heart, and I see that you are doing the best you can. What would be good for the LGBT+ people in your life is if you would explore this tension between what you believe is happening and what queer people are experiencing. I don’t think the church has adequately dealt with that tension.

Few LGBT+ Christians see this the same way as most nonaffirming Christians do. I think the reason why is that no matter how it is handled, rejection from one’s community is a legitimate threat to anyone’s survival in this world. We feel it. I’ve felt it since long before I could articulate it.

The way forward for me is in finding new ways to survive. I can’t simply grow tougher skin. What I can do is root myself firmly in my identity as a child of God. No matter how I’m treated, no matter where I do or do not belong, I have a place with God. And of course I’m also finding a new tribe who does appreciate me for all of who I am.

Even with all this progress, it’s harder still to learn not to turn to the Adventist community for the help I’ve always sought there. Like an amputee I keep feeling the phantom limb. It’s proving difficult for every part of me to accept the new reality of my outsider status. Yet just as it’s happening slowly, this healing also has an inevitability to it.

The less often I reach instinctively for the help that simply is not there and the more I seek sources of life that are open to me, the more progress I make. I’m gaining a sense of safety and a holistic kind of confidence that I will survive this. I’m starting to care less that I’m not accepted. I’m doing better than surviving. Life gets more beautiful every day.

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.

Today I’m finally going to talk about something that has been conspicuously missing from my blog: the crazy journey I have been on in my faith since coming out publicly as bi. Perhaps I’m ready to talk about it today because I’m beginning to recover some sense of spiritual grounding again.

Before coming out, affirming theology seemed like the missing element to my faith. Things seemed to fit in a way that didn’t before. Affirming theology reconciled elements of the Bible and God that hadn’t made sense. Those things are probably still true, though for a time they seemed like they weren’t.

I realize now that the real change since coming out isn’t about the Bible or God, it’s about the church. So much of it has been about the way people and institutions responded to me coming out. As expected, there was praise from some and attacks from others. What did surprise me is the reactions I haven’t heard, reactions I fully expected to encounter from Bible-believing Christians.

Losing the Beautiful Vision

My whole life I’ve been taught that the Adventist church has no creed but the Bible, that our doctrines are based on scripture more than any other denomination.

When others reverted to tradition, Adventist theology progressed, embracing the Sabbath, new understandings of death and the nature of the soul, new prophets, and new prophecies. We were a faith unafraid to go back to the Bible. We were people of the book.

I was a true believer in this visions of the Adventist church.

Because of this, I had a framework for why it was okay to open myself up to new understandings of scripture. When I studied and changed my mind about LGBT+ affirmation, that wasn’t a big threat to me. It made sense. It’s how Christianity is supposed to work.

Since coming out, I’m unable to believe that this vision of Adventism is true in the present, even if it was in the past. Coming out has decimated my faith in the church.

The response I expected and rarely received was thoughtful, careful engagement with me in study of the text. If Adventist understandings of truth are based on scripture and not on tradition, the first response to my work should be curiosity fostered by a desire to understand the Bible better.

Instead, I found people insisting that this matter has already been decided, that it’s part of settled theology in the Adventist church. In fact, many times I’ve been asked what more an Adventist pastor could do given the limitations of our theology. But why would our theology be excluded from change? This isn’t Adventism at all.

Defaulting to the doctrines of the church rather than the study of scripture isn’t supposed to be what it means to be an Adventist. As one of our most important founders put it:

“There is no excuse for anyone taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed and that our expositions of Scripture are without error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people is not a proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make error truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close examination.” -Ellen White

In stark contrast to this attitude of the early founders of our church, the Adventist church has taken a settled position against same-gender marriage and against transgender people. They’ve done so despite the fact that the Adventist church has never undertaken to study this issue, but instead has assumed itself to be right with zero self-examination.

As one example, when they met at the Andrews University seminary for a conference on the subject of “homosexuality” a few years ago, they began the conference clarifying that the churches doctrine was not up for re-examination. Everything they said would be within those bounds.

This approach is not the approach our church was founded on. It’s not what we are telling people about ourselves and our values. We are telling people the Adventist church is all about being true to the text, over and above any other denomination, even when it sets us at odds with other Christians.

Where Have the Faithful Gone?

I get it. I expected the official church to take this stance. The church is becoming more creedal, theologically calcifying for decades. What I didn’t expect was the lack of curiosity and open engagement from individuals in the church.

I have seen people casually write me off, saying my hermeneutic is wrong without ever expounding. I’ve studied hermeneutics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. I know how it works. The hermeneutic I’ve used in my work is conservative.

No, I don’t use a literalistic approach, but that’s not a conservative hermeneutic, it’s an uneducated one. My hermeneutic has attempted to get at the original intent of the author and to illuminate the work that God is doing in his people through all of scripture and over time. That’s conservative hermeneutics. That’s what I’ve used every time. In every post. In every discussion.

I can understand how someone could see this matter differently than I do, and I would really love to engage in conversation around this, but I can’t see how someone who truly wants to understand scripture would be so lacking in curiosity or a willingness to learn more about scripture through someone who sees it differently than they do.

This has been the source of my frustration. It seems that this unwillingness to return to the text with humility and curiosity has met me at every turn. Nothing seems like a good enough reason to even seriously ask these questions. It doesn’t matter that there has been new and credible scholarship. It doesn’t matter that the current doctrine is doing immense harm. It doesn’t even matter that there are many Adventist pastors who privately believe the church to be wrong.

I’ve spent my time mostly fending off hateful comments rather than thoughtfully engaging and growing from serious dialogue, that in itself is revealing.

Losing My Religion

This failure of self-reflection and scriptural curiosity has been ground zero for the dissolution of my trust in the church, though it’s far from the only one. It hurts.

Before coming out, I expected the pain of the church’s rejection of me, but I’m finding more and more that I’m also rejecting the church, and it’s just as painful.

What happens when you lose faith in the church that introduced you to Jesus, nurtured you, believed in you, gave you a place, gave you a spiritual home, and helped you know God? This is what I’m discovering.

These are the types of questions I’m going to be asking and reflecting on more and more in my blog. Today I want to share with you a bit of hope that’s come my way.

Losing God

Often, in the midst of this disintegrating faith in the church, I was also caught off guard by feeling incredibly distant from God. It was like God was gone. I was trying to seek spiritual solace, but couldn’t find it.

Many times it’s seemed to me that faith, God, and religion bring nothing but pain to the world. I understand why people reject religion altogether. There are many times and many ways in which religious systems are the reason why people are xenophobic, fearing and attacking anyone different than themselves.

In other words, religion often makes people worse instead of better. I’ve struggled with this reality over the last few months. It’s hard to accept it. It’s hard to know what to do with this information when religion has been such an important part of my life.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve begun to see the appeal in being an atheist. I’ve also seen the appeal in rejecting entirely all things conservative. I’ve begun to see conservatives as selfish, afraid, and hateful. I’ve wondered if maybe the one and only thing we need is to stop hurting each other. Can it all be boiled down to that?

The reason I didn’t talk about any of this publicly is because I knew I was still sorting it out. I knew I was reacting, confused, hurting, and looking for some way to safety. Though I’m still in that process, I’ve tentatively figured some things out.

The Fuller Story

I’ve realized that religion is often a tool for oppression, but God (and even religion) are also a source for strength, hope, and the most important movements for liberation in the history of the world. People who are the most despised and feared in society find strength in God. Maybe that’s why so many atheists are straight, white men while those against whom religion has been wielded as a weapon paradoxically tend to believe in God.

As one of those who has been often targeted by religious people and institutions, I’ve found that God can be a source of strength for withstanding assault from God’s own supposed followers. After all, wasn’t Jesus crucified by religious leaders using the power of the state for violence?

Maybe God and Jesus look more like the victims of religion than the most powerful proponents of it. Maybe becoming a victim of religion has made me closer to God and not further away.

Besides, if we give up on religion, it isn’t going to go away. If we give up on conservative values, that doesn’t mean conservatism disappears, it just means it will lack our influence. We need better religion, better conservative values, and better institutions. Without this effort, we lose our influence in these spaces and abandon LGBT+ kids growing up in them as so many of us did.

In other words, I realize that I don’t want to give up on God, and surprisingly I don’t even want to give up on religion. My soul still longs for God. The divine still soothes, fills, and inspires me.

Freedom comes from loss, growth comes from pain, and God has always brought beauty from ashes. When the roof caves in you can see the stars for the first time. Destruction clears the way for growth. Losing my religion doesn’t have to mean losing religion. It could be an unimagined and desperately needed new beginning.

Renewing Faith in God

So I started to do something important. I’m separating myself from the church in my mind, and I’m doing so with great intentionality. I’m accepting the reality of who I am now in the eyes of so many Adventist leaders. I’m not included anymore. I’m a member of the LGBT+ community who affirms and celebrates the way I love. That makes me other.

What really surprises me is that the more I do so, the more aware I am that God is with me.

I am saying the following out loud, “I no longer have a place in the Adventist church, but I have a place in the Kingdom of God, and I have a place with Jesus.”

The more I repeated this phrase, the more healing I experienced. Peace flowed from these painful words, peace between myself and God. It would seem that my concept of God was more wrapped up in the church than I knew. Probably still is.

It’s necessary for me to be intentional about this loss so I can be intentional about rebuilding my life and my faith apart from the Adventist church. It’s something I never wanted to do, but something I find I must do. I can’t make an idol of the Adventist church. I must be willing to let it go.

I suppose losing a church family is like losing a spouse. You don’t realize how many pieces of yourself are wrapped up in the other person until the other person is gone. Also like the lose of a spouse, the more you are able to accept the reality of the loss, the more you are able to heal and become whole. By the grace of God, I’m becoming whole again.

In this series of blogs, we’re examining theology that impacts transgender people. Traditionalist interpretations typically forbid any gender identity that is different from person’s sexual organs at birth, or whatever is on their birth certificate. I don’t see much biblical support for this viewpoint.

For those whose internal sense of gender is out of line with their pysical appearance at birth, or for those who have a sense of gender that is somewhere in between male and female, traditionalist theology demands they live as the gender of their sexual organs and not what their brain is telling them. Trans people are often told that this is the only way to be in harmony with God’s will.

In the last blog we looked at Genesis 1:27, which is the seminal verse used by traditionalist theologians to refute trans and non-binary lives. For those for whom the entire subject might be new, I also wrote an introductory blog about trans lives. In this post we’ll look at a couple other verses and the accompanying reasoning used to support traditional, non-affirming theology.

But God Doesn’t Make Mistakes

Sometimes Psalm 139:13-14 is quoted, as it is in the document from the General Conference of SDAs Executive committee, and in the Biblical Research Institute’s statement from the Ethics Committee:

For you formed my inward parts;

you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works;

my soul knows it very well.

Transgender people are often told that “God doesn’t make mistakes.” This means for the person speaking that are the gender of their anatomy. But it doesn’t take long to realize that there are lots of ways in which humans are born that are not typical. This may mean they are in need of medical intervention, or may simply be a matter of human variation.

No one would bat an eye at removing an extra finger or toe. No one would say in such a situation that “God doesn’t make mistakes.” Sometimes babies are born with cancer, did God knit that cancer into their bodies when they were in the womb? Of course not!

This does not mean that being transgender should be equated to a birth defect or cancer, because it most certainly is nothing of the sort. It’s simply to point out the inconsistency in saying “God doesn’t make mistakes” as an argument that anatomy is supreme, never to be altered, and always the best indication of who we are. That is manifestly false.

When the psalmist wrote Psalm 139, anatomy was not in mind at all. Psalm 139 is a poem about God’s intimate knowledge and guiding of the psalmist’s life. It’s not about the relationship between biology and psychology. The actual message of the psalmist is not negated by someone being transgender or non-binary.

There is the other rather obvious challenge to this view. Some people are born intersex, with some degree of both male and female sexual organs or DNA. The reality of human biology is not compatible with the teaching that God creates only male and female, doesn’t make mistakes (meaning that God doesn’t deviate from this typical pattern), and that the binary distinction of gender are ever-present.

If God’s will for someone’s gender is expressed clearly in their sexual organs, what is God’s will for intersex people? Sometimes, in their misplaced discomfort with anyone who isn’t typical, doctors have surgically altered newborn intersex babies to make them more typically male or more typically female. This has been disastrous for intersex people whose lives and sense of gender often don’t align with the doctor’s hasty decision.

Sometimes people are unwilling to test their particular theology or ideology against the physical world around us, the world God has given us. This is one such example. Only a steadfast refusal to engage with the implications of the truth of God’s creation as we know it can allow a traditionalist understanding to be maintained on this point.

Even though it might make cisgender people uncomfortable, sex organs don’t always fit the binary. And if sexual organs can refuse to fit the binary, why can’t the central nervous system also refuse to fit the binary? Of course it can and does.

Seeing Trans People as God Sees All People

I’m disturbed at how quickly theologians claim to know the will of God, based on so little scripture and with so little understanding of the lives of trans and intersex people.

I’m disturbed by how easy it is to judge intersex and transgender people.

I’m disturbed by how quickly religious people sometimes make decisions about what is best for others without paying attention to medical consensus, the reality of God’s creation, scripture itself, and the wisdom and insight of trans and intersex people.

I’m disturbed that making these judgments come so easily even though they result in severe danger to transgender lives.

Why these hasty decisions? Why this focus on exterior anatomy? Why this cavalier disregard for the psychological impact of our judgments?

And here’s a question you may not have considered, when talking about this issue, why do traditionalists always assume that God will change a person’s mind to match their anatomy? Why not the other way around?

The Bible gives us an answer to this question. It’s because people tend to focus on what they can understand themselves. They tend to focus on what they can see. We prefer to make judgement based on outward appearance, on what we can confirm. Human understanding hates trusting in what we may not see or understand. What do we understand? Externals.

But is this the way that God sees us? 1 Samuel 16:7 says,

“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

So why are cisgender people so confident to say they understand the will of God for transgender people despite the fact that nowhere in scripture is gender defined in terms of sexual organs? Is it possible that, as this verse suggests, this preference for exterior organs that we can understand over another person’s mind that we do not understand is only an expression our fallen nature? Is it our sin that leads us to focus on outward appearances and does not see the heart? Could it be that we have labeled trans people as sinners when we are the sinners?

God Made Us to Be Whole

What the Bible does teach is that we should be whole. The concept of wholeness is used by traditionalists to argue that transgender people should live as the gender of their sexual organs.

Is that a logical interpretations of scripture’s call to be whole? Here’s the statement made by the Executive Committee of the General Conference of SDAs:

From a biblical perspective, the human being is a psychosomatic unity. For example, Scripture repeatedly calls the entire human being a soul (Gen 2:7; Jer 13:17; 52:28-30; Ezek 18:4; Acts 2:41; 1 Cor 15:45), a body (Eph 5:28; Rom 12:1-2; Rev 18:13), flesh (1 Pet 1:24), and spirit (2 Tim 4:22; 1 John 4:1-3). Thus, the Bible does not endorse dualism in the sense of a separation between one’s body and one’s sense of sexuality.

This statement is problematic because it does not confirm, but ignores the “psychosomatic unity” of transgender people. It says that you can be whole by ignoring your own brain and what it is telling you about your gender, or it assumes despite no evidence or scripture to support them, that God will change a person’s brain. This reasoning works by preserving appearances over internal lives. It demands people to present themselves in a way that is consistent with their appearance without regard to their psychology, and paradoxically calls this wholeness.

Is this not a common problem in the church? Who of us has not had the frustrating experience of people wanting us to keep quiet about our ideas, our choices, or our values when they conflict with expectations? Being whole does not mean presenting an exterior appearance that is not a challenge to anyone. True wholeness is being genuine. It’s authenticity. It’s integrity. How I wish we would learn this lesson!

Wholeness is when what shows up on the outside is a true expression of the inside. It’s not the appearance of wholeness in the judgement of those who affirm only what they understand. Such a preoccupation with the exterior is in fact brokenness, dishonesty, and hypocrisy. Wholeness is not the person who makes big public gestures that make people admire them, it’s the person who is true and honest with God who sees the heart (Matthew 6:1-6).

So if transgender people threaten the external appearance too many are focused on, they are not expressing brokenness, but a level of integrity that is extreme. They are willing to defy social expectation for the sake of wholeness.

We who are cisgender must learn to stop focusing on outward appearance and be more like God, who sees the heart.

Instead of trying to make trans people change to be cisgender like us, we should appreciate them for who they are. When we do, we learn from them. We learn how to live with integrity, how to be brave, and how to be whole. Trans people can and should be fully embraced members of our communities. They can build up the church, enrich us, and teach us. They can be a corrective for our fallen tendency to focus on appearance and devalue integrity.

How like fallen humanity is it to vilify those who are most vulnerable in society? How like God is it to use those who are despised and rejected by man (Isaiah 53:3)? If we are not careful, we will fail to see Christ in transgender people. Such is the nature of our obsession with appearance.

***I have many conservative Christian readers who are not used to this type of post. I invite you to walk a moment in the shoes of another. I invite you to suspend your beliefs for a moment and see through our eyes, the eyes of those who fully affirm LGBT love and gender and also fully embrace our faith in God. You’re perspective will be there waiting when you are done reading, you can pick it up right where you left it, but you will be able to better understand us for taking this moment to see the world as we do.***

God’s love is something I see again and again in the queer community.

God is like my two friends, gay men who found each other after years of loneliness. I see them sweetly lean in towards each other during casual conversation, simple acts revealing deep affection. After decades of partnership they were united during the first wave of legal same-sex marriage in California days before prop 8 made marriage illegal again.

God’s affection is deep, and he never loses an opportunity for love.

God is like my friend who holds the tension of being Seventh-day Adventist and lesbian. Her bookcases filled with Adventist commentaries, Review & Herald titles, and shelves of Ellen White; her kitchen full of vegan fair; but she can’t find a church where she’s accepted for all she is. Still she holds the tension.

God holds the tension, believing in us even when we fail his children.

God is like the man I met who was studying to be a Catholic priest. He laughs and tells me half the candidates for priesthood were gay, then talks about the man he met 50 years ago who put an end to his studies and has been his partner ever since. They have loved each other since a time when their love could land them in prison.

God is willing to go to prison for love.

God is like the transgender woman who shows up for church every week, still willing to invest in the denomination that once made her life unlivable. She’s in leadership now, happy to have found a church that is more interested in supporting LGBT people than bowing to the will of the institution.

God forgives.

God is like Harvey Milk, who knew that his political career as a gay man and activist would probably get him killed. Before he was assasinated, he left a last political will and testament for us to follow. He urged us to stop hiding and stand up for what is right, hopeful that his death would be an inspiration.

God died for us and urges us to follow this path.

God is like the thousands and millions of LGBT people and our courageous allies who show up and refuse to hide in the face of bigotry, hate, and violence. We refuse to be silent, refuse to pretend we are just friends, refuse to change who we are to pass as straight. We are not not satisfied with systems that oppress us, religions that shame us, and media that dismisses us. Neither is God.

God’s love is queer.

So where is God in the LGBT community? God is everywhere.

Last night was my dad’s memorial service. I delayed my coming out because of his illness. I knew that he was already struggling with his own mortality and that trying to reconcile the daughter he was so proud of and loved deeply with the ideas he had about LGBT people would be too much for him. He was the kind of guy who, when he saw a same-sex couple on a TV show, would exclaim how gross it was, change the channel, and never watch that show again.

I don’t regret never telling my dad, and I don’t think I ever will. It’s the reality of the situation that what he would think if I told him I’m queer is 10,000 miles away from what I would mean. He would think I was denying God. I know I am following God. He would believe I was embracing sin and sexual deviance. I know I am rejecting hate and embracing the true and good heart I have been given.

It was the right call. But that didn’t change the fact that after he breathed his last breath, I looked down at his body and realized that my father would never know me for who I am. I began to sob. I wanted things to be different. I wanted the world to be different. I wanted the man who brought me into the world and was one of the first two people to ever love me to know this beautiful, wonderful part of myself. But he couldn’t.

Last night we went to the church where I am a pastor, and we honored the memory of my dad. The service was beautiful. People I have known since I was a child talked about what a wonderful man my father was, and every word was true. They embraced me, told me they love me, and told me over and over again how proud dad was of me. He was proud of his little girl who became a pastor.

The outpouring of loved I received these last few days, and especially last night at the memorial, has been exceptional. I can’t recall ever being so loved and supported. I’ve lost track of the number of people who told me they are happy to help with anything I need. Everyone answers when I call. Everyone does exactly what I ask of them. Everyone’s hearts are broken for me. Everyone is anxious to show me how much they love me.

This is Christian community at its best. It is a thing to behold. It is true, it is good, and it is the heart of the gospel. And when I come out in a few weeks, and tell them that I affirm my bisexual identity, it will be broken forever.

Today, my choice to be a pastor affirms everything they want to believe about God and the church. But soon affirmation will turn to threat because I’ve taken a different view on a handful of Bible passages, and more importantly because I’ve come to love this part of myself that loves women.

I won’t be able to pastor this or any other Adventist church after that. These same people won’t listen to my sermons online, praise my ministry, and tell me how proud they are of me for being an Adventist pastor.

My father would not have been proud of me had he lived long enough to see me be honest about what I believe and who I am.

This is perhaps the worst part of the church’s anti-queer theology. It breaks something beautiful. Christian community can be a beautiful thing if you are straight. If you are queer like I am, the cost is silence and shame. That cost is too high. Even those who are a dedicated allies and speak too loudly on my behalf often experience the cost becoming too high for them. Silence is demanded of anyone who would speak out. How could I pastor in a church that is harming people like me? How could I ignore the compassion of the Bible and still pastor with integrity?

If you are queer in a traditional Christian church, your choices are impossible. You must be willing to demonize your same-sex attraction, hide it, or both. The church will offer you shame and disgrace, and you must receive it no matter how you struggle against it. You must live with the constant sense of being other. When people say homophobic and ignorant things, you must hold your tongue. Falling in love must become something you fear. This is the cost of remaining comfortably in this community.

If your experience is anything like mine, you will find yourself desperately clinging to any shred of hope that maybe you can just be same-sex attracted and not queer. Maybe these are just thoughts and feelings and not the truth about who you are, how you see the world, and how you experience love and family.

And all of this will impact your mental health in ways you may not even know. I didn’t know, not until I learned to love the way I love did I finally see how much sadness and loneliness I lived with all my life. Not until I experienced the sharp joy of affirmation from God did I discover that my love for women is a gift.

But I can’t embrace this truth about myself and the world and still have my place in this Christian community. I can’t be queer and have my father be proud of me. These are the impossible choices LGBT people in traditionalist churches face.

Our communities are beautiful, but they aren’t working for everyone. That is a problem. Ignoring this problem is ignoring the heart and soul of the gospel.  The gospel was never intended to be only for the right kind of people, but for everyone.

As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “The problem with sticking your head in the sand is that you leave yourself… exposed.” When it comes to LGBT people, too many churches are fully exposed.

Church members have serious questions. They know that the church is dropping the ball by not talking about something important and relevant to their lives. In the absence of any kind of message from the church, members are left guessing, and LGBT members especially feel isolated and ignored.

I’m here to help you figure out how to courageously and intelligently wade these choppy waters. If you missed the first article, I’ve already shared three principles and you can find them here.

Be Honest

Sometimes when we preach it’s easy to focus on how we want things to be. At times that even means a bit of sanctified imagination about how things are. I empathize particularly with the challenges of being an affirming pastors in a non-affirming environment. I’ve been there.

If you are straight and in this situation, you might be trying to make your church affirming in an under-the-radar kind of way. But if your church or denomination is non-affirming, there will be real, hard limits to that affirmation. It’s important to faithfully describe these limits, no matter how badly you wish they didn’t exist.

What does your church teach about same-sex intimacy and people with gender identities different from their biological sex? Is your church affirming and accepting? Is it trying to be? Or is it non-affirming?

Don’t over promise. If your church requires LGBT to embrace non-affirming theology in order to experience full participation, don’t try to hide that reality. Please don’t use a bait-and-switch tactic in which you are initially accepting but inform them of the real limits only after they get attached to your community. Be honest about your church’s position. Don’t say they are accepted when they can’t be members, help in the children’s department, teach, or pursue ministry.

Here’s an example of what you might say if you pastor an non-affirming church: “If you are here and you are LGBT or questioning your sexuality, I can’t you what you should do. You are the one who is going to have to make that decision, because you are the one who has to live with your decision. This church teaches that God’s design is that marriage is between a man and a woman, sex outside of heterosexual marriage is wrong, and that God gave you your gender through biological identity at birth. It’s the official doctrine of the church. We believe that it’s the sexual ethics taught in the Bible. Not everyone here believes that, but most do. We are here to support you in pursuing that goal, and we believe it is the best, most satisfying, and most holistic way to live. If you believe differently, this might not be the church for you.” This is honest, and it’s only fair to say it.

On the flip side, I am an affirming queer person and trans ally. Any church I pastor would not be a supportive environment for someone pursuing celibacy. It’s important that we not try and hide our cards because we want to attract more people. That’s dishonest and wreaks of manipulation and salesmanship.

Consider Vulnerability & Give Hope

One of the biggest dangers for queer people in traditional churches is isolation. They often feel alone, damaged, and rejected because of the messages they’re received and the silence imposed by the church. As a result, they suffer mental health problems and attempt suicide far more frequently than others in your churches.

Is your sermon going to make this problem better or worse? Is it going to make LGBT people feel more isolated or less? Will they walk away feeling hope and solidarity, or feeling even more alone and scared?

The best way to give hope is by sharing positive stories about queer people. Too often the only narrative heard in churches about LGBT people is how hard it is to be in the church, or what horrible lives they live when they leave the church and embrace their sexuality. This is an impossible choice.

Offer an alternative, and make sure it’s credible. Even if your theology is non-affirming, there are people who choose celibacy and have healthy lives. If you don’t know how to offer hope credibly, you aren’t ready to preach this sermon.

Do Your Homework

If you were to preach a sermon on grace, forgiveness, marriage, the incarnation, the gospel, or any other host of topics you would not only be drawing from your studies that week, but also from years of study both formally and informally. You would have a larger sense of context to put the message into and a basic understanding of the social issues, interpersonal issues, and theological teaching.

But most pastors pastors have never had a class on human sexuality and their understanding of the lives of LGBT people is limited. Perhaps you haven’t read a whole lot on the theological considerations either, or you’ve only read one side. That makes it especially important that you do your homework on this topic, because you probably don’t have the same background of knowledge you have on most topics.

Read some books, get familiar with the language, understand the experience of LGBT people, talk to LGBT people and have them review your sermon. Unless you already have the background, this topic will probably not be one you can prepare for in one week.

Just add some LGBT themed books to your reading, have lunch with someone who can give you some insight, and take your time processing the information before you get down to the actual sermon writing. It will make the preparation much more comfortable and the sermon much more powerful.

Then, when you get ready to write, use the categories of this blog and it predecessor as a checklist to help you prepare. You will end up with a sermon that is well thought out, helpful, and that will be good for your church and for you. You will shed light on a difficult situation. You will give people hope and bring their lives out of the shadows.

I know first hand how isolating it can be to be a queer person in a traditional church. Sometimes it seemed like I was the only one. The church didn’t know what to do with me, that much I knew. My existence in the church was unacknowledged, and for my part I tried to make my sexuality invisible.

Had a pastor had the courage to address me in a sermon in a way that was open and gracious, it would have helped. Instead, the few references to sexual minorities that made their way into sermons did more harm than good.

Now that I’ve accepted myself and educated myself, I realize that things don’t have to be this way. If you’re thinking about preaching on LGBT topics, I’m here to help. Here are three simple things you can do to make a difference.

Acknowledge LGBT People and Speak to Us

While your sermon might be mostly forgotten by the straight people in your church, the queer people will probably remember it forever. I remember all kinds of little things pastors said in sermons and things I read over the years that I’m sure straight people never thought twice about. So please speak to us. We are listening more closely than anyone.

Most sermons I’ve heard about LGBT issues never once addressed queer people in the congregation. We are spoken about as the other, people separate from the group being addressed, as if we weren’t even there.

These sermons were all about what the church teaches or how we should be more compassionate towards LGBT people. But if you ignore queer people in the audience, you have failed to model compassion, and your words are hollow. Don’t tell people to love us while you yourself ignore us.

Here’s a helpful question to ask: What message do LGBT people need to hear? Get that clear. Then I’d suggest you spend some time thinking about what messages you are sending unintentionally. Ask yourself, “if I were queer, how would this come across to me?”

For example, if you spend your sermon talking about how we need to show more grace to LGBT people, you are sending us the message that they will not receive grace in the church. It might not be bad to send that message because it might be true. However, you have a pastoral duty to address the pain of this reality.

Give Voice to LGBT People

What would you think of a sermon about marriage from a single person who never so much as quotes a married person? The sermon would have no credibility. Or how might you feel if the only perspective they shared from a married person was from a miserable married person? Such a sermon would only bring discouragement.

I listened to a sermon promoting greater compassion for LGBT people. In this sermon, the only LGBT voice that was given was the reading of a suicide note from someone who was bullied for years and finally killed himself. The intention was good. He wanted to build compassion, but he didn’t consider the impact on queer youth. He never did talk about the amazing life that gay teen might have had, nor did he talk about the reality that life usually gets better for queer people as they get older.

There are a lot of sources of healthy queer perspectives. Try blogs on this site, try the Gay Christian Network and Justin Lee’s blog, you can always google search, or best of all get to know a LGBT person who has reflected on these issues and is able to help you. You can also contact me through this website if you’d like. There are a lot of resources available if you start looking.

Address Real Problems in Practical Ways

Preaching a sermon on this topic is a golden opportunity. There are clear problems you can address and myths you can clear up. You will help heal families and protect people who are LGBT. Some of these suggestions might seem unnecessary to you, but they are reflective of common experiences for LGBT people.

Here are some guidelines you can share:

  • Don’t use the term “gay” as an insult.

  • Don’t use derogatory terms. “Homosexual” is usually a derogatory term, and you probably know worse terms.

  • When you tell an LGBT person you care about them, don’t add a “but I disagree…” Just love them. If

  • Sexual orientation does not change as a general rule. How you feel is almost certainly how you will always feel.

  • If your child comes out to you:

    • Do not tell them to leave your home or make them feel that you don’t want them there. Homelessness is a huge problem for LGBT youth, especially transgender youth.

    • Be aware that suicide is a very real possibility. If you are highly rejecting of your child, they are 8.4 times more likely to commit suicide.

    • Tell your child you love them, and never stop supporting them as an individual, even if you disagree with their life choices. Don’t remove financial support or try to pressure them to make the choices you believe are right.

  • Listen to the LGBT people in your lives. Honor them and their stories.

By reading this blog, you have already taken one step towards shedding light on a difficult subject, and I thank you. When I preached on this topic, using these principles, I had church members coming to me in tears, sharing difficult situations they’d been struggling with for year without telling anyone. The sermon opened up important conversations that needed to happen, and your will do the same. Take courage, you are on the right path, and even if you get some push back, it will be well worth it.

In the next few days, I will be adding another post with three more principles for preaching on LGBT topics.