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Rainbow flag - how should the church reach the LGBTQ+ community?The incredible growth of the LGBTQ+ movement over the last few years has completely changed cultural attitudes towards marriage and sexuality, particularly in the western world. This has been the result of a determined mission to campaign and lobby for LGBTQ+ rights by organisations such as Stonewall, which has led to sweeping changes of legislation, practice and general acceptance across society. The rights and struggles of the LGBTQ+ community now dominate public life with any dissenting voices being quickly snuffed out under the banner of political correctness. Much of this is a good thing given that we live in a free and democratic secular society and discrimination against anyone should be firmly opposed.

Understandably, the church has been caught on the back foot due to the sheer speed and determination of this movement and has lacked a coherent response as a result. For the majority of the mainstream church, this has led to compliance to the LGBTQ+ agenda which has resulted in affirmation and endorsement in an attempt to be perceived as inclusive and tolerant to today’s culture. This has inevitably led to a capitulation on biblical definitions of human relationships, in some cases led to the church fully embracing members of the LGBTQ+ community within its leadership structures.

At the other end of the spectrum, some churches have drawn a line and stood firm on biblical morality but unfairly implied that those who fall within an LGBTQ+ category are worthy of special condemnation. When issues of sexuality are given more exposure and attacked more ferociously than other moral issues from Christians, it is hurtful to those concerned and detrimental to Christian dialogue – not to mention the fact that this fuelling anti-christian stereotypes.

How should the follower of Christ approach this explosive issue in a compassionate way that demonstrates Christ’s unconditional love without compromise?

Biblical parameters for sexual relationships

It is vital to start by defining a biblical position on God’s ideal model of marriage and sexuality. We would suggest that Scripture makes it crystal-clear that ANY sexual activity outside of monogamous heterosexual marriage is contrary to God’s boundaries on a relationship.

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24 NIV)

But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfil his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. (1 Corinthians 7:2-3 NIV)

Furthermore, the institution of human marriage is the closest idiom used in the Bible to help us understand the spiritual relationship between Jesus Christ and His church.

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32 NIV)

Jesus is pictured as the groom and the church is pictured as the bride. The groom (Jesus) has sacrificially and lovingly chosen the church to be his bride and is away preparing a home before his great arrival.

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2-3 NIV)

The bride has accepted the proposal and ‘set herself apart’ or ‘sanctified’ herself in submission to her groom as she looks forward to the upcoming wedding day.

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.) Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ And he added, ‘These are the true words of God.’ (Revelation 19:7-9 NIV)

If the biblical concept of marriage is distorted, this pollutes the symbolic relationship between Jesus and the church. The church must preserve and uphold the biblical marriage model as is God’s intended way of giving the church a small insight into the dynamics of its relationship with the Lord.

Everyone falls short in this area!

However, it is crucial to point out that this is an issue that affects EVERYONE – this does not apply more to certain individuals within society that others. Rather than denounce those within the LGBTQ+ community of falling short in this area, it is critical to point out that everyone falls foul of God’s standards on this issue. Consider the following examples:

  • Sex before marriage (1 Corinthians 7:2, Hebrews 13:14)
  • The use of pornography (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, Galatians 5:19-21)
  • Marital unfaithfulness (Exodus 20:14, Proverbs 6:32)
  • Looking ‘lustfully’ at someone else (Matthew 5:29, 6:22-23)
  • Marrying someone outside the Christian faith (2 Corinthians 6:14)

Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. (Hebrews 13:4 NIV)

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:18-20 NIV)

Can anyone honestly say they have not fallen short in one of the above? This is all defined as sexual immorality. Yes, this includes those with an LGBTQ+ orientation, but their transgression is no worse than anyone else’s from God’s perspective. Unfortunately, we are all programmed to be sexually deviant.

We suspect that in the Garden of Eden, before the fall, humanity was programmed by God to only have sexual attraction for one person – their spouse. Unfortunately, this all changed at the fall and, as a result, this programming was corrupted in all humanity remaining that way ever since. This corruption expresses itself in a variety of ways, but a lustful look is still a lustful look whether it is directed towards someone of the opposite sex or the same sex. A heterosexual couple involved in sex outside of marriage (which is the norm in society) is no different to sexual activity within a same-sex relationship – it all deviates from God’s model of sexuality and relationship. For this reason, it is disappointing when those within the church view same-sex attraction as a worse example of sexual deviance.

Now it is true to say that same-sex marriage is a very significant (and defiant) step away from God’s prescribed boundaries – a heterosexual couple who are engaged in sexual activity before marriage can repent of this and marry. The person using pornography can repent and immediately stop. It is much harder for someone within a same-sex marriage or with same-sex attraction to simply repent and walk away. However, those who fall into an LGBTQ+ category should not be held to a higher standard than anyone else – sin is sin no matter how it expresses itself.

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:10-11, 23 NIV)

Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20 NIV)

Now, some within the LGBTQ+ community will understandably take great exception to the suggestion that same-sex attraction is evidence of the corrupted programming with all inherit. After all, how can being born with a particular sexual orientation be wrong in God’s eyes?

Although we are extremely sensitive to this and we take no pleasure in affirming this view, it is impossible to reconcile an affirmation of the LGBTQ+ categories without literally tearing pages out of the Bible – both in the Old and New Testament. The fact remains that everyone has been born with an orientation that strays from God’s blueprint for us. Whether it is a same-sex attraction or opposite-sex attraction, the Bible indicates that any sexual attraction that expresses itself outside of heterosexual marriage remains outside of God’s parameters for human relationship. However, the LGBTQ+ person is no different to anyone else – the issue of sexuality will be a struggle for everyone and we all need the forgiveness and transformation of Christ in this area.

This does not mean that Christian’s cannot maintain close friendships with people who are LGBTQ+. We both have a number of friends who identify is one of these categories – however, within the prism of the Christian faith, the LGBTQ+ lifestyle is at odds with a faithful walk with Christ, along with many other expressions of heterosexual lifestyle.

What would Jesus do?

It is worth asking how Jesus would have handled this issue if he lived within our culture?

We suspect Jesus would show deep and compassionate love for the LGBTQ+ community and achieve this in a way that prompts a response to respond and follow him. He would certainly not ostracise anyone from the church and would most likely make special efforts to reach out in love to the LGBTQ+ community. In the process, rather than an endorsement of this lifestyle, we suspect many would abandon their LGBTQ+ identities as was almost certainly the case in equivalent situations in Jesus’ time.

In fact, there are numerous accounts of people who previously identified themselves within the LGBTQ+ community who have experienced a transformation through Jesus Christ. They now have chosen the identity of Christ rather than be identified by their sexuality – we recommend reading some of their stories – CHANGED Movement.

How should the church respond?

Churches should welcome and reach out to the LGBTQ+ community in the same way they would for anyone else – we are all sinners in need of the forgiveness and grace of God. It is a scandal that many within the LGBTQ+ community have, at times, been made to feel so alienated from the church by an excessive focus on this issue while often being far more accommodating to other areas of sin.

However, this does not mean the church should redefine the boundaries of marriage or affirm the practice of LGBTQ+ relationships. The church can wholeheartedly maintain the biblical model of marriage and sexuality while remaining completely accepting of the LGBTQ+ people in the church. This is not endorsing or affirming sinful behaviour – it is simply ensuring that everyone should be treated equally within the church – an issue does not have to become an identity.

What about the attitude of the LGBTQ+ movement towards Christian’s?

It must be pointed out that this is no easy task given the often belligerent nature of campaigning and lobbying from some parts of the LGBTQ+ community – this can lead to an obsession on ‘identity’ that creates unnecessary barriers. The militancy and intolerance that is often shown against those who share sincere (but unpopular) convictions can be very distressing for those within the church landscape. Christians who (correctly) cannot affirm the LGBTQ+ lifestyle can be subjected to a torrent of abuse and accusations of discrimination and bigotry which is often not the case at all – in fact, many Christians reluctantly hold the view that an LGBTQ+ lifestyle is outside God’s relational barriers and are left with a choice of either compromising their faith or becoming very unpopular.

However, the Christian community have to accept that there has been a monumental change within society in recent years. It would be great if we lived in a Christian country that promotes biblical values, but this is no longer the case – with live in a culture predicated on a secular humanist worldview and the church needs to accept this. It is true that some members of the LGBTQ+ community have been unfairly discriminated against by society and it is only right that, within the secular environment, everyone is treated equally. The Christian faith is intended to be counter-cultural and it should not come as a surprise when this applies to definitions of human relationship and sexuality. Jesus often said the gospel message would offend and it will be impossible to remain immune for being misrepresented and maligned no matter how carefully a view is articulated.

However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:16 NIV)

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (Matthew 5:11 NIV)

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, (2 Timothy 3:12 NIV)

However, when Christian’s are criticised for simply being rude and obnoxious to those who identify as LGBTQ+, this is not persecution and it is certainly not what Jesus would have done!

What about church leadership?

This raises another important issue which is equally contentious and that has to do with church leadership – this is where things should be different.

While the church must remain unequivocally welcoming to anyone who walks through the door, it is imperative that a high bar is set for church leaders and this is where the mainstream church has often got things so badly wrong on this issue.

Church leadership has to remain only for those who are beyond reproach from a biblical perspective. Now, this is not to say that church leaders are perfect – they could never be perfect – but they must not be involved in a lifestyle that openly compromises the integrity of the New Testament model of church leadership.

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:2-3 NIV)

It is imperative that church leaders are role models and for this reason, churches should not accommodate those who identify as LGBTQ+ among its leadership. Again, this view is likely to generate outrage from some, but societies standards cannot be imposed within church leadership structures without serious implications for the church. Churches are accountable to God alone, not the culture they exist within. Can you imagine a mosque or a synagogue recruiting an imam or a rabbi who openly identifies as LBGTQ+?

The church must not capitulate on this. The church is to remain counter-cultural and be ‘salt and light’. If this does not start with church leadership, then there is very little chance of harnessing God’s power in reaching the lost and motivating a holy lifestyle among followers. When a particular church accommodates all lifestyles within its leadership, it is time to walk away from the church – it cannot maintain its integrity and will be on a collision course with God.

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17 NIV)

Church leaders rightly have an incredibly high bar when it comes to the attributes required to qualify if you are to take the Bible at face value.

An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:6-9 NIV)

Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. (1 Timothy 3:2-7 NIV)

Summary

This LGBTQ+ issue is an incredibly contentious area at present and it is very difficult to articulate a position in writing that will avoid upsetting everyone.

The key point is that no-one escapes the scrutiny of Christ in the area of sexuality – even someone in a happy and fulfilling heterosexual marriage will have to exercise constant restraint which will require discernment and a disciplined approach to life – particularly with our choice of entertainment. We should take great care with anything we choose to use our eyes for as they act as a gateway into our minds and hearts.

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23 NIV)

The LGBTQ+ community must always feel completely welcomed and accepted within the church environment and shown the unconditional love of Jesus Christ. However, it is imperative that the church remains faithful to the clear teaching of Scripture in this area – judge the sin, but not the sinner. The capitulation of the church to cultural standards on the issue of marriage and sexuality will lead the church on a direct collision with God and do irreparable damage to the church.

Wherever possible, bridges should be built with those who identify as LGBTQ+. There is not a person on earth who cannot be reached with the gospel and our job is to invite whoever is willing to be reborn into the kingdom of God through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3 NIV)

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