Gay Christians Go to Your Church. How Should the Church Engage Them?

Five ways churches can better address the realities of gay people in their congregation.

generous“Gay Christian” is not an oxymoron. Many gay women and men hold on to a resilient faith despite hostile religious environments and culture war complexities. It isn’t easy to be a Christian in the gay community; it isn’t easy to be gay in the Christian community.

Among gay Christians there can be a fair bit of diversity. Some experience God’s grace in a mixed-orientation marriage (that is, they are married to an opposite gender spouse, despite being same-sex oriented). Others have committed to a celibate life. Many are searching and struggling and unsure of what to believe about the potential of a committed same-sex relationship. Yet others have promised to be faithful to one life-partner in whatever civil capacity is available to them.

Regardless of how they are navigating their life of discipleship, these men and women and fellow-followers of Jesus need the fellowship of a hospitable church community as much as any other Christians do. Some make the decision to attend an overtly affirming congregation. But for others, for a variety of reasons, that is not an option.

As I talk with gay Christians, I am often surprised at their interest in being part of churches that are welcoming but not officially affirming of same-sex marriage. They’ll often tell me that they don’t necessarily need agreement, but that they are looking for a safe place to dialogue and to have the space to own their own convictions.

Early in my tenure with New Direction Ministries and connecting with gay Christians, I sensed the Lord say to me, “I’m jealous for them. I am jealous for their gifts, their creativity, and their beauty. I am jealous because my Body is not complete without them.” I am convinced that the church is impoverished when we choose to exclude.

So how can churches more effectively engage gay Christians?

Open the conversation.

A lot of Christians will tell me that “the Bible is clear” in its prohibition of homosexuality. But when I probe a little deeper, I often encounter folks who have not really done their homework. They might mumble something about Sodom and Gomorrah, but they are not remotely current on the work of Bible scholars who are engaging this matter. If we want to demonstrate to gay Christians that their lives really do matter, then we should go and study. Read diverse perspectives. Engage in conversation with others. Listen to people’s stories. One place to start is with these three books: Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill; Torn by Justin Lee; and Bible, Gender, Sexuality by James V. Brownson.

Move from theoretical certainty into the questions real people face.

The majority of people in the church have never really thought about their own sexual orientation or God’s intention for them as heterosexual people. Many straight Christians are completely unaware of the privilege and power that affect their reflections on these matters. This lack of connection and empathy can make a place of fellowship seem unsafe for a gay Christian to really express needs, questions, and struggles. What straight people need to do is suspend their position temporarily so that they can really enter into the dilemmas that gay Christians face: “Celibacy is seen as a gift in Scripture — so why is it imposed on me?” “Paul said it was better to marry than to burn — why doesn’t that apply to me?” “God said it wasn’t good for man to be alone — yet I’m supposed to go without a life companion, intimacy, or a family of my own?”

Challenge your assumptions about how God will move in a gay person’s life.

I often hear straight Christians make the simplistic assumption that God will change gay people who are truly repentant and who ask Jesus to transform them. I hear comparisons made with alcoholism. I hear testimonies regurgitated from last week’s Christian radio program. The truth is that God can do anything. The reality is that God does not always do what we want or expect him to. In my twelve years in ministry, I have very, very rarely encountered an individual who says that God took away his or her same-sex attraction. I’m not saying it is impossible. But I am saying that it is most definitely not the typical experience, despite people committing themselves to prayer, exorcisms, support groups, and therapy for years of their lives. What is much more typical is that people need to be helped to shed their self-hatred and to move into a place of acceptance where they can truly experience and believe that God loves them just as they are.

Confront the shame about sex.

There’s no question that we live in a very sex-saturated culture. Christians are bombarded Monday through Saturday with the sexualisation of everything from shampoo to cars. Yet the church is often strangely silent on the matter of our sexuality. A church that risks having frank discussions about sexuality — both from the perspective of God’s good gift and of the challenges we face — will be much better equipped to provide a safe place for the gay Christian who is seeking God’s guidance in the expression of their sexuality.

Commit to journey as mutual pilgrims.

Nobody wants to feel like a special project. People come to church to be part of a community of believers, where the ground is level at the foot of the cross, where we all come to the same place needing the same mercy and grace. Who could experience the encouragement and healthy accountability of community if they felt under constant scrutiny and judgment? We don’t do that to overweight people, people who gossip, or people who fail to tithe — we give them space to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling” and trust that “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13). We need to learn to give gay Christians space, too — to live consistently with their conscience — even if we disagree with their decisions. As Tony Campolo says, “God never said to love the sinner and hate his sin. God says love the sinner and hate your own sin!”

The reality is that people who love Jesus deeply and who honor the authority of the Scriptures can come to different conclusions about whether or not God extends his grace to gay Christians to pursue a committed same-sex relationship. Even gay Christians themselves disagree about this. And while this dilemma can create tension within the church, if we consider these five invitations, we can move forward together in humility, nurturing a generous spaciousness and ensuring that no one who desires to pursue relationship with Jesus Christ will be turned away.

  • kdbrich

    How about calling them to repentance, just like every other sinner?

    • Lisa

      or… how about reading the article again?

      • Victoria

        You can love someone straight in to hell…

        • Dee

          So the part where Jesus says to love your enemies…??? Victoria your logic isn’t biblical or logical. You love wouldn’t send someone to hell. According to the Bible a persons blasphemy of the Holy Spirit would These trite phrases need to be put to rest.

          • Victoria

            I don’t view gay or bi believers as my enemies at all. I’m sorry that you feel that way Dee. And you’re correct, my love won’t send anyone to hell, but I also never said that. God can’t be in the presence of sin which means that unrepentant hearts living in sin will go to hell (not only those that have blasphemed the Holy Spirit. We need to love people but we shouldn’t love them to the point that we aren’t being honest with them.

          • wendygrit

            Victoria – the reality is that if God could not be in the presence of sin – God would not be present in our world at all. And we know that God is fully present in his sin-ridden creation. God shows up in imperfect churches, imperfect families, imperfect individuals – all marked by sin. If our salvation was dependent on our perfect repentance we would all be in major trouble – for how could we ever be sure enough that we had fully repented? No – it is fully God’s gift of grace given to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that has expunged our sin past, present and future. We are reconciled to God because we gratefully receive this gift – not because we have repented in just the right way.

    • Christine

      It is not a choice; it is not a sin.

      • Ryan

        What does choice have to do with it? We were all brought into this world as corrupt because of the sin of one man. We had no choice. The love of God provided the only begotten Son of God that we might be reconciled to Him. God’s love gave us Jesus. Our love for Him calls us to repentance from sinful and rebellious ways to obedience to Christ… Or as Paul says, “perfecting holiness out of reverence for Him.”

  • Rebecca Erwin

    Well said. Walking together as Jesus as our focus.

  • William

    The so-called gay gospel/gay Christian agenda is compromise and unbiblical. There are valid points above as to dialogue, love, walking with people, but misinterpreting and misapplying authoritative Scripture is not helpful. The issue is being a disciple of Christ, not elevating sexual identity issues. It is about transformation (I Cor. 6:9-11 note the past tense and BUT), not affirming what God plainly considers sinful and harmful. We need to walk with people through this, not affirm them any more than we coddle adulterers (heterosexual immorality).

    • Don

      From Wendy’s article: ‘As Tony Campolo says, “God never said to love the sinner and hate his sin. God says to love the sinner and hate your own sin!”

  • Eliel Cruz

    Thank You Wendy. As a Bisexual Christian, I completely agree with this piece.

  • John

    Thanks for your perspective Wendy. Another book that I’ve found helpful for my own understanding of the hospitality we are called to show to all is Cody Sanders’ “Queer Lessons for Churches on the Straight and Narrow.”

    • wendygrit

      Thanks for that reference John – I’ll be sure to check it out.

  • Ryan

    God cannot compromise with sin. That is why he sent His Son into the world. His moral standards are unchanging as he does not change. The message of Christ as well as the apostles and those who followed him was “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Wendy is woefully misinformed of the nature of the Gospel message and, as such, she is leading a great many people into a false understanding of the message of grace. People with “itching ears” will be glad to receive her message. But, as one who has come out of a life of living apart from Christ and dead in my sinful behavior for 19 years, I am so glad that Jesus saves AND sets us free from the bondage of sin. As Paul the apostle said, “it was for freedom that Christ has set us free. No longer to be subject to the yoke of slavery.” As for the subject of homosexuality, homosexual behavior was sinful before the law, during the law, and under the new covenant of God’s grace in the New Testament as well. He has not changed his mind on the subject (though there are many in this world that would like him too). Our God is an awesome God. He paid a debt to provide a way for man to leave his rebellious ways and return to Him. To do this, there is only way. Repentance and faith in the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.

    • Don

      Ryan, I’m sure that you’ll agree that Christ has not changed his mind on remarriage after divorce, – that it is adultery, pure and simple. I do hope that you are as fervent with your message of repentance to these sinful divorced people who remarry as you are to gay people.

      • Ryan

        You are right, Christians should not get divorced unless they have Biblical grounds to do so. Jesus said what he meant and meant what he said. The good news here is that there is still room for God to forgive if the person repents. We have all sinned. God is gracious and willing that none should perish. We must repent and turn to Him to receive his wonderful grace. I hope that helps you.

  • JoMae Spoelhof

    Thanks for posting this important article, Wendy. I first saw it from Christian Feminism Today’s page and shared it on FB.

  • Xander Gibb

    Great article Wendy, thanks for sharing.

  • Jennie Horten

    Thank you for taking time to write this article. As a chosen to be celibate lesbian, you hit every thing right on. Thank you for showing your compassion and being willing to be put down for your thinking. God’s grace is beyond anything, but the could shoulders can wear a person down to the point they do NOT go to church

    • wendygrit

      Thanks Jennie. Many courageous gay Christians are telling their stories and persevering in the church, despite the challenges, to break the hard ground for all the young LGBT kids coming behind them. The times they are a’changing. And it is for the better – the church is being called to more radically follow the outrageous example of Jesus who threw wide the doors to the Kingdom.

  • Joseph

    As a Christian in the LDS faith I agree with the need to love each individual and treat each person with dignify and respect. Each should be welcome to attend his or her church services without fear of intimidation or disrespect.

  • Phil Merrill

    Although I completely agree that we should welcome with open arms Gay people into our Church and spend time with them and disciple them, I certainly think we are missing the mark if we ignore Gods word about the sin of homosexuality, but in that same breath we cant ignore other sins of people that claim Christ as their savior. Please remember when we come to Christ and accept his sacrifice on the cross that we are to die to ourselves and live for him and that means we are slaves, plain and simple. He died for us and we agree to live for him for this very short period of time we are here on earth and that means following what he commands of us and that is to put aside ourselves and live for him and follow his scripture. I certainly am not advocating judging homosexuals or getting on them about sin if they are not claiming Christ as their savior as it is not our job to be the morality police of the world and that has caused trouble for the Church before. I am saying that if someone is claiming Christ as their savior and is a practicing homosexual he or she and I are going to have a conversation cause that does not work in Gods economy. But I will have the same conversation with the Woman or Man who wants to divorce their spouse cause they don’t feel in love anymore, or someone who is cheating on their taxes and claiming Christ. I feel the Church has homosexuality issues and says way to much about this particular sin and is in error because Jesus would certainly be spending time with them, but I feel he would say they same thing to the people he said at the well with the woman, he would tell the men that wanted to stone her “ye without sin cast the first stone” and he would tell the woman “go and sin no more”