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.

I was so encouraged to get this message for a pastor friend of mine recently. He recently reached out with such an open heart and mind, that I wanted to share his questions and my responses. He actually asked a couple other questions as well, and I’ll be mentioning one of those later. I know he’s probably not the only one who’s asking, so that’s why I made it a post. His statements were framed in grace and understanding. I edited for brevity.

How big of a role does experience play in your journey, vs hermeneutics and solid biblical data? Now, just to clarify, I have not been keeping up with your blog, so I’m not implying you don’t have hard hermeneutical data (in fact, it seems that you do have at least some), I’m just asking, from your view, is your journey mostly founded on experience or hermeneutics? I also don’t want to bash experience, as we all have those mystical experiences in Christianity, separate from our intellectually religious pursuits. But I ask because anyone can say they had an experience or a feeling or an impulse, but most critics will care more about the data (scientifically modern people as Adventists tend to be these days).

The short answer is “yes!” I wouldn’t ever have come to the view I did if scripture didn’t allow for theology that affirms LGBT sexuality and gender with a solid, conservative hermeneutic. I don’t think experience would ever have been enough for me in the absence of good biblical “data,” as you say. I was utterly unwilling to go against scripture in favor of my experience. I’m also not sure I would have asked the question as seriously as I did without experience of the reality of non-affirming theology.

I used the hermentutics (the way of interpreting scripture) taught to me at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. I applied the approaches I was taught to test affirming theology, test non-affirming theology, and examine the text for myself. Non-affirming theology fails the test. Affirming theology makes all of scripture make sense, not only the texts applied to LGBTQ people, but the major themes and promises of scripture as well.

In looking at the texts that are usually seen as prohibitions (Gen 19:1-5, Lev 18:22; 20:12, Rom 1:24-27, 1 Cor 6:9-10, 1 Tim 1:9-10), if you focus on the author’s intent it’s not hard to see what they authors themselves had in mind. Applying these texts in ways that are out of harmony with the author’s intent is not sound hermenutics. That’s what non-affirming theology does.

Non-affirming theology also relies on the argument from absence. This argument says that since there are no same-sex relationships or alternate gender identities in scripture they are sinful now. But just because something didn’t happen then doesn’t mean it’s prohibited now.

These are the basic arguments that non-affirming theology are built on, and I don’t believe them to be hermeneuticly sound. In fact, according to what I was taught in my conservative seminary, they are not sound principles.

When I think about the way I thought before this theological shift, my biggest regret is that I relied too much on my social context, a type of experience. Everyone around me seemed in agreement that same-sex relationships are wrong and scripture was clear. Even those who weren’t didn’t speak publicly about their disagreement.

My conclusions at the time did not come from hermeneutics. I never had studied it carefully and prayerfully, because my social context was uniform in this belief. I didn’t realize this until later, but the signs were all there.

Unfortunately, my social context came from an organization that doesn’t base its theology on hermeneutics, at least not in this instance. It has never once in its history made a serious biblical inquiry on the topic, neither have most non-affirming theological organizations. Non-affirming theology has been assumed and scholars have worked to support it.

This is clear from the fact that each time they gather in the Adventist denomination to discuss theology as related to LGBTQ people they begin by saying they already agree on non-affirming theology. You cannot be a professor at the Adventist seminary or a scholar at the Biblical Research Institute if you dissent from the accepted position.

So how can you accept a position as scriptural without ever undertaking to study it with integrity and objectivity? Not based on hermenutics and scripture.

So my shift towards affirming theology is a shift towards greater integrity in my interpretation of scripture. It’s away from a purely experiential perspective towards one that relies on sound hermeneutics.

My ability to move forward on this issue also came from my Adventism and the values of progressive revelation, justice, and reliance on scripture rather than creeds or tradition. In order to move forward, we need only reconnect with these core Adventist values. We need to again think of ourselves as a movement and not an organization.

I could see how someone could read this particular post on hermeneutics and think I’m not using a conservative hermenutic.

I add a caveat. When our theology seems to be causing harm, or when a minority group claims it is harming them, we should be willing to re-examine our theology.

I’m not advocating changing theology to match what we think is compassionate. I’m advocating a humble approach and a willingness to seriously re-examine scripture with integrity and an open heart and mind.

Scripture itself teaches us that we should pay attention to the fruits of our theology and care about the lives of others (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 7:12, 16, 23:4; Luke 6:31, 11:46). Scripture also makes promises about the results of following Jesus (Matthew 7:9-11; Galatians 5:22-23; Philippians 4:7).

Good theology produces good fruit.

In that sense, I’m not sure hermeneutics and experience are ever supposed to be divided. One is the study of inspired words, the other is the study of God’s creation. If we understand correctly, they will be in complete harmony.

I don’t see the authors of scripture burying themselves in the text and failing to look at the world around them, and neither should we.

Neither do I see them using scripture to make excuses for doing whatever they want, and neither should we.

The Bible is not a closed book, and our understanding never arrives at perfection. We need to be more humble and keep searching, praying, and learning until we get it right.

As someone who spent many years closeted in a Christian community that most definitely did not affirm my sexuality, I know more than most what it takes to live life by the principle that your feelings can’t be trusted.

“It’s just a feeling.” These were the words I used to distance myself from the inevitable knowledge that I was in love.

“It’s just a feeling.” I reassured myself when a silent energy passed between me and another woman.

“It’s just a feeling.” I desperately clung to these words when I longed for my friend to rest her arm across my legs, feeling I would crumble inside if she didn’t touch me.

No matter how hard I fought, how persistently I refused to think about women, how many prayers I prayed, how willing I was to be and do anything God wanted, I could still feel in my bones that women falling in love was a beautiful thing and could be a beautiful thing for me. I didn’t want to feel it. I didn’t want to know it was true. I just did. So I told myself, “it’s just a feeling.”

These words are how I taught myself that I don’t matter. They became the mournful refrain that played in the background of my life until I stopped feeling and settled into a resigned depression. I lost myself, but at least I was doing the right thing.

One doubt still haunted me. Where was the abundant life, peace, and joy that I am promised?

Heartless Theology

Devaluation of feelings is part of a particular approach to theology and religion. Religious rules are taught without reference to their psychological impact. The approach is intellectual and philosophical. It has its roots in modernism, rationality, and science (and even further back to Plato). It’s not rooted in Judaism or scripture. Instead of each religious teaching being part and parcel with Jesus’ commandment to love, the rules are supposed to apply no matter how much harm they cause.

Many times since coming out I’ve been reminded of this viewpoint by people who believe I am required to ignore the suffering of my community and abstractly discuss theological issues. They want to compare love between people of the same gender to pedophilia or bestiality, and don’t think it matters that such comparisons are discriminatory. Or they believe that mental health problems aren’t theologically relevant. It’s common to treat theology like arithmetic and people like CPUs.

But our emotional lives matter. They matter not only to us and to those who love us, they also matter theologically. Theology is a spiritual discipline. If the Holy Spirit is required to understand the scripture, that must mean that compassion and suffering matter.

Am I saying that I should get to do whatever I feel like? Does this mean I don’t have to deny myself or do things that are hard? Absolutely not! It wouldn’t be good or right for me to date women only because I want to. Not by any means.

It is not good to live a life ruled by feelings uninformed by goodness and truth. Taking feelings into account is not the same thing as being ruled by them. We should pay attention when feelings go beyond a simple desire and into the realm of significant mental health problems for a group of people. If our theology is causing depression, shame, and suicide, it’s irresponsible to carry on as if feelings don’t matter.

Violent Theology

Jesus said that you can tell whether a tree is good or bad by looking at its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). What is the fruit of theology that says same-sex relationships and transgender identity are sinful? Here is a small sampling:

If you are straight, I ask you to consider what it would be like for you and your friends to experience depression, rejection, and shame every time the church teaches your sexuality is broken. Personally, this was my experience despite the fact that I believed and always followed by what the church taught. I never disobeyed, but that didn’t make the shame go away. Many of my queer friends have told me about being suicidal right after being told their sexuality was sinful. Would you want church leaders to consider these consequences if they happened to you or someone you love?

This is the fruit of a rotten tree. I firmly believe the promises of the Bible still apply to queer people. Fruit like depression, rejection, and suicide are heartbreaking. Those who stay in communities whose theology is a true expression of God should not be 8.4 times more likely to commit suicide than those who are outside these communities.

On the other hand, what are the fruits affirming theology? If LGBT rejecting communities increase harm, affirming communities reduce harm. Supporting same-sex marriage and affirming LGBT people is life giving for us. It’s certainly hard to see who is being harmed by same-sex love. It’s clear many are benefiting from its affirmation.

Elsewhere on this website and through many other resources you will find more sophisticated theology addressing specific texts and theological interpretations, but aren’t these matters of harm, joy, and love the gospel at its core? God loves the world deeply, forgives us for our failures to love, and teaches us how to love completely and fully. The fruits of affirming theology certainly are full of love and life. The fruits of non-affirming theology bring harm and suffering.

Taking Responsibility

If you are non-affirming in your theology, you have a God-given responsibility to resolve this problem. It’s not enough to say, “the church should do a better job of loving people, but we have to follow the Bible,” and move on to other things. Something is seriously wrong. Non-affirming theology does not deliver on the promises of scripture.

If you are straight, and especially if you have a place in an institution that teaches non-affirming theology, it’s easy to theologize about what is right or wrong for people like me who don’t fit traditional theological constructs. It’s easy to avoid getting to know us or to go along with the prevailing culture that does not to respect and believe the things we say about ourselves and our lived experiences. It’s easy not to involve yourself with those whose lives you judge to be unworthy of the blessings of marriage and church membership. It’s easy to dismiss our pain, place our suffering outside the category of worthwhile information for theological study, and ignore the consequences of your theology about sexuality and gender.

It’s easier and feels better to separate theology from it’s impact on real people, but we can’t wash our hands of responsibility. Scrub until our hands are raw, the stain is apparent. Each of us is responsible for the fruit our theology. If we drive people to the depths of depression and self-hatred, don’t be surprised if God doesn’t care for the excuse: “It’s just a feeling.”

People want to know why I have done what I have done—going against the teachings of my church, giving up my career as a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, and losing the only community I have known. That’s what happened when I came out as bisexual.

In some ways, my reasons might be unique. I changed my thinking about God and what the Bible teaches before I changed my thinking about myself. It wasn’t about desire for me, or even about being able to be open about who I am. It wasn’t until later that I saw how important those things are. Only after I knew the approval of God for my sexuality did I dare be honest with myself about it.

In many ways, it was a journey of years, but it culminated in a period of several months of intense study and prayer. I’d like to share with you what that process was like and what drove me to and through it.

Compassion Came First

The immediate catalyst was the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, but all that did was amplify the agitation that already dogged me. LGBT people were hurting, even when they tried to follow the church’s teachings. Christianity isn’t supposed to be easy, we’re supposed to take up a cross after all, but it isn’t supposed to tear you apart from the inside.

Besides, same-sex relationships seemed like a sin that existed only in the abstract, not in the real world. Who did it harm? How does it dishonor God? How does it harm one’s self? How does it harm anyone else? Can you really hurt someone by loving them in commitment and self-sacrifice?

Something wasn’t adding up. What was I missing? How is the gospel good news for people who experience same-sex attraction?

Foolishly, I didn’t see that these were questions about myself. I had long ago decided not to pursue my desire for a relationship with a woman. What I wanted to know was how I could better minister to my congregation, including the members who are LGBT or who have LGBT people in the family.

Psalm 119 describes the goodness of God’s laws. If God is prohibiting this, then that prohibition makes people more spiritually whole, and breaking it is destructive to the soul. I believed the problem was in my understanding, not in the prohibition against same-sex relationships. I expected to find a better understanding of the theology my church teaches. I expected this because of faith in God and his goodness. But I also knew that in the process I had to become better versed on the theological perspectives of both sides, so at the suggestion of Herb Montgomery, a friend of mine, I picked up Gender, Bible, Sexuality by James V. Brownson first, and eventually an entire shelf of books, and started reading.

What Does the Bible Say?

I often heard LGBT apologists say the Bible never speaks to sexual orientation, that none of the passages apply to the current situation. I didn’t find that compelling back then. I wasn’t concerned with what the Bible doesn’t say, I was concerned with what it does say.

So when I approached those six passages of scripture that mention some type of same-sex sexuality, I wanted to know what they were talking about. Whatever they were about, that would be in harmony with the compassionate and loving heart of God.

It wasn’t hard to find out what these passages were talking about. No matter what commentaries or books I read, no matter what conclusions they reached about whether same-sex relationships are wrong or right, I always found that what is being talked about in these verses is exploitative sexual behavior like rape, prostitution, and adultery, and out-of-control lust in the case of Romans 1. There was no limit or concern for marriage and commitment. In none of these verses would the behavior be condoned if it were heterosexual instead of homosexual. These verses are some variation on the theme of men degrading men by using physical or social power to dominate them sexually by treating them sexually like women.

What Did Verses About Same-Sex Sexuality Accomplish?

I don’t have a problem with the rules and statements about slavery in the New and Old Testament not because I think we should live by them today, but because they made life better for the slaves in Israel. Slaves in the Ancient Near East were better off in Israel than anywhere else. The laws affirmed them as a human beings and not mere property. They set significant limits on how slaves were treated.

Similarly, I don’t have a problem with statements in both the New and Old Testament that limit the autonomy of women because the real impact of these scriptures was positive by moving society in the right direction. They accomplished greater freedom and equality relative to their societies. If we were to apply these verses according to their plain meaning today, we would be accomplishing the opposite goal. We would enslave people and take away the civil rights of women. A literal interpretation sometimes undermines the meaning and function of the Bible.

With this in mind, I considered the verses about same-sex sexuality. I took myself out of my modern mindset and put myself in theirs. Instead of asking about sexual orientation and marriage, the question I asked was this:

What would have been the impact of these verses on the culture in which they were written?

They accomplished protection for the vulnerable and accountability for the outrageous, out-of-control lust of men who were almost certainly married to women. It’s unlikely that they would have stopped even one same-sex relationship between adults. Those weren’t happening.

Could it be that these texts prohibiting same-sex sexual exploitation were there for the same reason as verses about slavery and the limitations on the autonomy of women? These texts would be life-giving when they were originally given. It’s not hard to see how they have a powerful modern application as well that supports the sacredness of each person, the value of protecting the vulnerable, and the right that each person has to sexual autonomy against exploitation.

What is harder to see is how they relate to committed, monogamous marriages between people of the same gender. When I finally took the time to read and understand these verses, I had to acknowledge that applying verses about same-sex exploitation to same-sex marrige was a stretch. I was surprised to discover this. It messed everything up for me. All my plans, my career, even my firm and convenient decision to never date women.

Caring About What the Bible Cares About

I have read the verses referencing same-sex sexuality over and over. You could read all the texts in 1-2 minutes. I realized that none of these verses were part of a larger passage where the topic of same-sex sexuality is taken up as the theme. In each of these texts, it is only mentioned briefly and is secondary to the main point. In each of these texts, context shows that they refer to exploitative sexuality or out-of-control lust. Non-affirming Christians want to apply them to all same-sex sexuality, but what if they are stretching too little and too far?

I believe in the inspiration of scripture. Scriptures tells one story. There are places where that story is told clearly and boldly. There are other places where it is more difficult to understand because it’s being applied to people and situations dramatically different from our own. It’s only when we pay attention to the major themes of scripture that this becomes clear. Setting aside the most important principles in favor of a few texts is not taking scripture seriously, it’s explaining away the heart of the gospel in favor of selective literalism.

Gradually, I realized that we allowed a handful of texts to hijack the heart of scripture. Our theology was not leading us to treat LGBT people as we want to be treated. I’ve also come to believe that the traditional condemnation of same-sex relationships degrades the foundational ethics of marriage. You can’t save marriage by limiting it heterosexuals. That’s a distraction. It doesn’t address the real problems of selfishness, adultery, and complacency that are causing divorce and destroying marriage.

What we need is a biblical understanding of sexuality that addresses actual problems not manufactured problems. What we need is the true heart of the verses that address same-sex sexuality, which is to shun sex that is exploitative, selfish, and based on pure lust. Sex is not for that. Sex is meant to be given from the heart in love and fidelity to one’s spouse. Literalistic interpretations are obscuring the real meaning. Sex can be given from the heart in the context of a life-long commitment to a same-sex partner. It happens all the time. Such love is pleasing to God.

Hermeneutics is the study of how we interpret the Bible. I love hermeneutics. For a long time I believed good hermeneutics would save us in the end. That hope has had a slow and painful death. We have lofty ideas of how we can learn to interpret scripture and clear up all our controversy, but that isn’t the way it happens historically. In the real world, hermeneutics are usually the way the church justifies itself after the fact.

Revolutionary Telescope

Take for example the telescope that changed the world. When Galileo looked at the solar system through the telescope he invented, what he saw demanded a new understanding of the universe and our own part in it. It’s easy to forget now, but at the time Galileo’s claim that the earth rotated around the sun and not the other way around was an existential crisis for the church. At least they thought so.

These new theories about the universe were contradicted several passages of scripture. Making way for Galileo’s theory meant making way for new ways of understanding scripture. In other words, new hermeneutics.

Galileo was a deeply religious man and advocated for new approaches. He suggested that passages speaking about the sun standing still in the sky could be understood figuratively instead of literally. The church rejected this idea as undermining the authority of scripture.

They didn’t reject it because of strict literalism, but because for many centuries the church taught a cosmology that conflicted with the heliocentric model.

They believed in concentric circles above and below our world, traveling deeper into hell below and higher into heaven above. The sun was in one of the heavenly levels. If you’re familiar with Dante’s inferno, you’ll recognize his description of levels leading deeper into hell. They believed the universe was best represented by layers, not orbiting planets, and they believed the Bible taught this. And taken literally, they have a pretty good point.

Changing cosmology seemed like a threat to more than just their current way of doing things. It was a threat to scripture itself. If they were to accept that the earth rotates around the sun, where would it all end? Would all credibility be stripped from the Bible?

But they were wrong. Christianity and the Bible turned out to be more resilient than they thought. Their attempts to protect and defend the scripture did more damage in the end when the church lost credibility.

History On Repeat

Again and again this pattern repeated through history. Political ideas about the equality of all people lead to freedom for slaves. Women were given the right to vote as the understanding that they are equal to men in intelligence and capacity as human beings became undeniable. All these changes were hailed by traditionalists as threats to the authority of scripture. They were wrong, though.

It continues in our day. There is a steady erosion of patriarchy and some traditional churches are try desperately to maintain some vestige of the fading system. They say that men are still the leaders, and women are still the followers. They claim the Bible teaches this, and that if we stop believing it, we will no longer have any trust in the Bible. But are they right? Have these claims ever been right?

We must stop this destructive pattern. It is unacceptable for the church of God to continue standing in the way of the work of God in the world.

Things Change, and the Bible Remains

When it comes to specifics, the Bible has shown itself to be more flexible than we realize. After history marches on, God’s people accept new revelations. Then scholars come and explain why these changes were also hermeneutically sound. But hermeneutics don’t drive change.

Living as we do, confined to a moment in history, it’s hard to see it without looking back. And when we look back, we tend to look back from our point of view, and not understand theirs. We shake our heads at those silly Catholics, most of whom didn’t even look through Galileo’s telescope to see the obvious. We don’t do them justice. They were afraid these new understandings would undermine the faith itself. What looks tertiary to us seemed central to them.

By taking a compassionate view towards those who resisted change, we quickly learn the most important lesson there is to learn about hermeneutics: Hermeneutics are better at making room for the past than they are at making room for the future.

Stepping out of our time, and seeing through another vantage point shows us that what seems unchangeable isn’t. Things can change. Things must change. It will be okay.

It isn’t until after their inevitable changes occur that theologians look back, the quintessential armchair quarterbacks, and explain to us how the real problem all along was our interpretation of scripture. So they devise new hermenetics. They teach us new ways of interpreting the scriptures that make way for the changes that have already happened without undermining the authority of the scripture.

But did Galileo do what he did because his interpretive strategy was better? Or because of his insatiable desire to see and understand God’s creation? Did abolitionists in America work to free the slaves because they had a superior hermeneutic? Or because they excelled in compassion? Was any of this really a theological debate at all? Obviously not.

Real Faithfulness to Scripture

Traditionalists are concerned with loyalty to what the church has always taught and believed. They focus on protecting these beliefs against any change that might be threatening. New ways of living and thinking pose a threat to the system, so they defend the old ways. But by defending against these fresh invasions that seem so central at the time, they miss out on what really is central in the teachings of scripture.

In all these cases, the church in its fear of change allowed a rigid understanding of a few Bible verses to undermine the most important principles of scripture. They lost their way. They lost their heart. In their desire to defend the scriptures, they ignored them.

The only reason we have a church to defend is because of people like Galileo, Martin Luther, William Wilberforce, MLK, and so many others who were heretics and radicals in their day. Jesus told the Pharisees in Matthew 23 that though they venerate the prophets now, they would have killed them, and nothing has changed.

The radicals and reformers harmonized with the Bible all along. Motivating these social changes was a deeper understanding of the true principles and values of scripture. Love. Justice. Compassion. Hope. Truth. The creation of all people in the image of God. What are our petty fears in the face of such as these?

Hermeneutics can’t save us from our fears. Only love can. Because love is the true heart of the Bible. A biblical approach to any topic must be drenched in the uncompromising love of God.

If you’re paying attention, you might realize that I just pulled a switch on you, because what I’m proposing is not no hermeneutics, but new hermeneutics. What motivates our understanding of scripture shouldn’t be a desire to defend it’s credibility, but a desire to live out it’s core principles. Religious leaders of old should not be our models in understanding scripture. Prophets, radicals, and reformers should be.

How do we keep from using hermeneutics to serve the status quo, ignoring the pain our theology causes and stubbornly insisting that our rigid interpretations are correct?

We reorder our hermeneutical priorities around compassion and justice. We think long and hard about the lives of people who will be impacted by our theology. We stop getting caught up in the weeds of literalism and reach instead for the principles of scripture that were prioritized by Jesus. This is biblical hermeneutics. We get so caught up in love, compassion, grace, and truth that we forget we were ever afraid.

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.