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.

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.

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.