The dust is settling from the cultural upheaval of the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision that established marriage equality across the United States and, in my Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the almost simultaneous adoption of a description of marriage as “between two people,” which permits pastors to preside at the weddings of two people regardless of gender.
Amidst these changes, one serious challenge has come into focus.
Many in the church—mainline, evangelical, independent, Catholic, Orthodox, you name it—continue to be skeptical of these developments. They feel more and more deeply each day a tightening vise regarding the place of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) people in God’s heart.
On one hand, these Christian brothers and sisters are encouraged by some leaders to dig in with the long-held standard of judging LGBTQ people. For example, in his 2015 book, We Cannot Be Silent, Albert Mohler goes so far as to counsel Christian parents to shun their child’s wedding if they marry a person of the same gender.
On the other, an increasing number of evangelicals have direct experience with LGBTQ people whose lives and relationships display clearly the fruits of the Holy Spirit. These individuals might be their own children, their colleagues at work, or fellow parishioners. They see clearly that these people are both LGBTQ and faithful to Christ.
And they see the damage done to the body of Christ by the rising disgust at church severity toward LGBTQ people—especially among our own church youth. Christian young people of all denominations can’t abide the disconnect between “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know” and Christianity’s treatment of our own LGBTQ children. Many walk away.
I know these Christian friends yearn for a way out of this squeeze. We can help.
We must help them, for every day that goes by with this unresolved is another day when LGBTQ people are harmed by disparaging talk and punitive rules. It’s another day lost to a gospel message weakened in the ears of any listener.
How can we encourage our non-affirming sisters and brothers? The story from Matthew of Peter and Jesus out on the stormy water (Matthew 14:22-33) offers some clues.
You remember how the disciples went before Jesus in the boat and how, early in the morning, Jesus came walking on the turbulent sea to the disciples. Out of their fear that this might be a ghost, Peter puts Jesus to the test by asking Him to invite him to join Him on the water. Peter does walk, then feels afraid, starts sinking, cries out, and is caught by Jesus.
They get safely into the boat. The wind ceases.
We all know that revisiting Scripture is necessary if our conservative brothers and sisters are to move toward embrace of LGBTQ people. It strikes me that a fresh look at the Bible is as bizarre and frightening for some as seeing Jesus walking on the water was for the disciples in the boat.
We can remind our conservative friends that Jesus, in His time, walked on those stormy waters of Biblical interpretation—a primary source of His conflict with the Hebrew authorities. We can suggest that it is fine to test Him, as Peter did, by asking Jesus to invite them into this reconsideration, just as Peter asked Jesus to bid him come onto the water.
But how can Jesus do this beckoning of conservatives out of the boat? Thanks be to God it’s already happening through the courageous coming out of their LGBTQ loved ones that prompts their discomfort! After that nudge out of the boat what they need is a companion in their study of Scripture. That’s us.
We can walk with them on the water because most of us have taken these exact same steps.
Many of us also began in the boat of judgment, stepped out onto the water of inquiry, reached for Jesus’ hand, and it was there, guiding us to the boat and the firm ground of a Gospel of abundant embrace rooted in Scripture.
Being Jesus to our conservative neighbor is as simple as inviting one you know to lunch.
In conversation, acknowledge the dilemma you see them facing. Ask how they are feeling about it. Share some of your story. Ask what troubles them most? Ask what Bible passages trouble or help them most. Listen carefully.
Then, share the passages that have helped you on your journey.
If you want some help to take this on, Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network and Matthew Vines with The Reformation Project are leaders at this within the conservative Christian family. But this cannot be just conservatives talking to conservatives.
The Building An Inclusive Church program of the Institute for Welcoming Resources shares the wisdom gained from decades of experience of LGBTQ people and allies in 11 different denominations. It helps us avoid the mistakes we can all make in this difficult effort.
However daunting the task, we must walk toward our conflicted friends in Christ just as Jesus walked on the water toward the boat. We must reach out the helping hand to our frightened brothers and sisters who are no happier to see us than the disciples were to see Jesus emerge from the morning mist.
My heart grieves every time a conservative colleague shrinks from me.
Jesus’ words in John 12:32, “I will draw all people to myself,” apply just as much to non-affirming Christians as it does to me and all LGBTQ people.
I can think of that fear in my conservative friend’s eye as comparable to the fear of the disciples in the storm-tossed boat. Then I can reach out my hand and say, “Come.”
Photo via flickr user Tastwo