Nothing haunts us like the things we don’t say.
I confess it’s taken me too long to write these words. So first, an apology to my LGBTQ+ friends/family/neighbors:
You are beloved. I hope you already know that.
I’m sorry the Church has caused you so much pain – in word, in deed, in silence.
I’m sorry I contributed to that hurt. I sat quietly in my church pew for far too long.
I’m sorry the Church continues to exclude you and/or debate LGBTQ+ inclusion.
I’m sorry they literally debate whether or not you belong.
You belong. In the Kin-dom of God, we belong if we want to belong.
It’s taken me a long time to hit “publish” on these words. With every attempt, my words have felt inadequate. But the time is now. According to the Human Rights Campaign, there have been more anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in state houses this year than in each of the previous five years.
Hate crimes are on the rise, with some of the highest increases in LGBTQ+ people. There will never be a better time to lift our voices. As imperfect as my words may be, I am reminded that stories change us. Sometimes they get us to think outside of our own lived experiences. So this is my humble attempt to add my voice to the choir of other Christians who stand with the LGBTQ+ community.
Here’s what this essay will not attempt to do: debate Christian sexual ethics. I’ve already tried to do that, and it is utterly exhausting. I’ve spent countless hours and so much energy trying to persuade others who never wanted to be persuaded. It left me hurt, sad, angry, disoriented, and depleted. Pete Enns says, “the Bible doesn’t speak…we interpret.” If Christians do not take on a posture of humility and curiosity, if they hold tightly to the traditional view of marriage (as between one man and one woman) because “the Bible is clear,” then it becomes nearly impossible to persuade them to consider other interpretations. This perceived certainty ends all nuanced conversations. All I can do is share my experiences and perspectives – and leave the real work to the Holy Spirit. I’m convinced that’s how true transformation happens anyway. My job now is to stand as an ally, if you will allow me to call myself that. I stand in solidarity with my LGBTQ+ loved ones. I boldly proclaim that the world is better with you in it, just as you are, with all of the many gifts only you can offer the world.
And I also want to be a friend to the curious Christian – those who sit quietly in their pews with a hunch that the Holy Spirit just might be up to something. Because when you’re sorting out what you’ve been taught in light of new evidence, it can be a lot, it can be lonely, and it can be scary, knowing that these new convictions might mean losing your entire community. That is a legitimate fear, and I will not sugarcoat it: if you follow Jesus into the margins, standing outside the city gates – it will cost you. But I assure you there is goodness there, and there is hope beyond those city walls. I have been convinced that the Kingdom of God is much greater, and wider, and expansive and inclusive than we were ever taught to believe. And I have been convicted for a very long time that being an ally within the Church is important and necessary work.
Church is supposed to be a place where we find community, a place where everyone should find belonging. After considering the statistics on suicide among the LGBTQ+ community, we must feel a sense of urgency. We must be willing to ask the question, “Could we have been terribly wrong about this?” And could we imagine a world where LGBTQ+ people felt safe to come to church exactly as they are, without fear, fully welcomed and accepted and included in all aspects of church life?
In 2021, I walked away from my church. Sometimes I feel like my church left me. I walked away after trying really hard to move the needle forward on LGBTQ+ inclusion, only to find myself at a crossroads. My outsides did not match my insides, and my conscience would not allow me to stay. For too long I was a silent ally in the church, mostly because the church just didn’t talk about it, and regretfully because I didn’t think it impacted me. But I began to understand that when our neighbors flourish, we all flourish, too. “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” -Jeremiah 29:7
I also began to consider what message I was sending to the LGBTQ+ community as I participated in an institution that did not honor them and their God-given gifts, without placing heavy burdens and expectations on them. Knowing and believing what I do now, how could I continue to be a member, and participate in leadership capacities knowing that my LGBTQ+ friends were not afforded the same privileges? I served my church whole-heartedly and with gladness, I loved my church. In the end, we couldn’t agree on the matter of inclusion, and I could no longer hold that tension. I understand that full inclusion for many evangelicals is just a bridge too far to cross, but sadly many of us become church casualties when policies are chosen over people.
In response to George Floyd’s murder in 2020, many churches started recognizing the importance of denouncing racism, as we should. In fact, we need to continue educating ourselves, we must be willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations, we need to confront racism and practice lament, repentance and reconciliation. We need to welcome diverse voices and leadership. This work of course should be ongoing. (Should be.) And as I considered racism in the American church, I began to look around and ask the question, “Who else are we missing? What other voices are not being given a seat at the table?”
I started asking more questions. Just as I was trying to diversify my library with books by people of color, I started reading books by queer authors. I started paying attention to what other churches and denominations were doing, the good and the bad. I listened to podcasts, and followed more LGBTQ+ voices online, particularly queer Christians. We can learn so much from them about faith and hope in the face of persecution. Because even after they’ve been let down by the Church – often misled, rejected and shunned – they still love God. They seem to be able to separate the God who loves them from the Christians who have deeply wounded them. They still want to belong. They still keep showing up. They are some of the most faithful people I know.
What about Scripture?
It’s become clear to me that we can use the Bible to support any argument we want to make. We can find Bible verses that support slavery, and we can find those that oppose it. We can find Bible verses that subjugate women, and we can find verses that liberate us. We can find Bible verses that wage war, and we can find verses that advocate for peace. We can use Bible verses as “weapons” against LGBTQ+ people, and we can find verses that support inclusivity – the “balm.”
In my daily wanderings, I seek to find the balm. I am not a theologian, and the more I learn it seems the less I know – but I choose to read the Bible through a liberating lens, which naturally leads me to texts of welcome. And there is one story in particular that widens the circle of inclusion for me.
In Acts 10, we read about Peter’s vision and his encounter with Cornelius. Cornelius, a captain of the Italian Guard and a “good man,” was prayerful and compassionate, and kind. His faithfulness caught the attention of God, who sent an angel to him through a vision. The angel told him to send some of his men to the town of Joppa where Peter was staying with Simon the Tanner. They were to find Peter and bring him back to Cornelius.
The men did as they were told. About noon the next day, as the men made their way to Joppa, Peter went onto his roof to pray. “He became hungry and wanted something to eat…” (This made me chuckle. A devout Jew, a disciple of Jesus, a leader in the Early Church distracted by food in the middle of prayer time. 🙋♀️) “…and as the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance.” (v. 10) Then the vision:
He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” (v. 11-13)
He resisted. A devout Jew would never eat anything that was not kosher. Levitical law had strict guidelines regarding what foods were clean and unclean. Then Peter heard the voice again: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (v. 15) Three times this message was repeated before the blanket was taken back up to heaven.
As Peter sat there, trying to understand the vision he just encountered, Cornelius’ men approached Simon’s front door and asked to see Peter. They explained that Captain Cornelius was instructed by an angel to bring Peter to his house to hear what he had to say. “Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.” (v. 23) Perhaps this encounter alone reveals the beginning of a transformation. It would have violated strict religious rules for a Jew to invite a Gentile into his home. Perhaps Peter’s thoughts were already shifting and evolving. Proximity does that.
The next morning, they made the long trek to Caesarea where Cornelius was waiting for them. Cornelius greeted Peter and then got down on the ground to worship him. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.” (v. 26) Perhaps Cornelius was trying to show honor to Peter as God’s messenger, but Peter made it clear he wasn’t to be worshipped and that they were on equal footing. Could he have acknowledged Cornelius, a Gentile, as someone who was also created in the image of God?
You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. (v. 28-29)
God had shown him.
Peter was beginning to realize that his vision had greater significance than he had originally thought. It went much deeper than its literal meaning and his limited understanding – it went far beyond the traditional rules and rituals regarding clean and unclean foods. Ethnic divides existed between Jews and Gentiles, often resulting in violence. Here, God was working through Peter and Cornelius to break through that barrier. And through this transformative encounter, Peter began to understand.
Cornelius began to tell the story of his vision with the angel, the one who told him to send for Peter. And they waited for whatever God had put on Peter’s heart to tell them.
I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. (v. 34-35)
Then Peter shared about the good news of Jesus Christ to all of the Gentiles in the home, and the Holy Spirit fell upon them. The believing Jews who had come with Peter couldn’t believe it! The gift of the Holy Spirit, given to “outsiders.” The non-Jewish “outsiders” were now “in.” God was making all things new.
God had shown him. Through this transformative encounter, God revealed to Peter that we are all equal in His eyes. Would we recognize a transformative encounter if God presented us with one? Are our biases preventing us from seeing what God is doing among us? Does the church place barriers to belonging?
This story is repeated in Acts 11. Whenever there is repetition in the Bible, it reminds me to pay attention. It’s like God is saying, ‘Perk up, dear ones. This is important.’ Could he be trying to pull our attention back from our easily distracted minds and hearts and desires, prompting us to consider what we may not be ready to hear? What could this story mean for us in our current time? Isn’t God still making all things new?
And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?” Acts 11:17, NLT
The Character of Christ
As followers of Christ, we should be transforming into His likeness, taking on Christ-like characteristics as best we can within our human limitations. And what is the character of Christ? He is loving, unconditionally. He is humble. He is compassionate. He is inclusive. He is just. He serves the underserved. He stands with those deemed ‘other.’
And how do we know if we are transforming into the likeness of Christ? We look to the fruit. Is the evangelical church bearing good fruit? Who is flourishing under our policies and practices and theology? -not just in our own households, but among our neighbors’ households, too. When we consider the effects of purity culture, sexual abuse and sexual abuse cover-ups within the Church, abuses of power within the Church, restricting women’s leadership potential within the Church, Christian Nationalism, refusing to enact common sense gun reform, neglecting to welcome refugees, etc. etc. – I would say that the evangelical church is producing some really rotten fruit. And yet, we are quick to dismiss loving, covenantal same-sex marriage. We’re so consumed by trying to control trans kids that we haven’t the time or empathy to love them or seek to understand them. And after listening to the stories of gay Christians, I think it’s fair to say that the non-affirming theology is not bearing good fruit. Let’s remember – all believers are members of the body of Christ, the Universal Church. Who are we to tell them they can’t become members of the local church? Who are we to stand in God’s way?
Resources to Consider
I am under no illusions that Church culture and beliefs will change overnight, or that one essay is going to change anyone’s mind. But if you’re unsure of what you believe about LGBTQ+ inclusion in the Church, I ask you to follow that curiosity wherever it leads. There are LGBTQ people in your pews. There are youth who are wondering if it’s safe to come out. Now is the time to choose a position because standing in the center doesn’t help those on the margins.
I am not an expert on any of this, and there’s still so much for me to learn. I share my thoughts and experiences and perspectives here, but they have been shaped (and continue to be shaped) by so many who have been brave enough to share their own stories. A quick Google search will guide you to a variety of resources, but here are a few that have informed me on my path:
Changing Our Mind, by David Gushee
The Reformation Project, Matthew Vines
A Moment of Pride: Jen and Sydney Hatmaker on Being Gay and Loved
Blue Babies Pink: B.T. Harman shares his journey of being a gay Christian in the American south.
I wrestled for a long time with how to end this piece. And then it occurred to me: Maybe this isn’t this end. For some of us, maybe this is just the beginning – an invitation to follow our curiosity toward our own transformation. We can have our own transformative encounters, just as Peter did. When we love, support, befriend and listen to people in the LGBTQ+ community (as well as their families/allies), it changes us for the better. Our lives are enriched by those relationships. Proximity does that.
Love God, love people. It really is that simple.
If you’ve gotten this far, perhaps you too have a hunch that the Holy Spirit might be up to something. And maybe that hunch isn’t just a hunch. Maybe God is guiding us to create a more diverse and inclusive Church. Remember, we were all once outsiders, made insiders through Christ. Follow your curiosity to the margins. And I’ll meet you there.