LGBTQ: Is it possible to be welcoming, but not affirming?

There are three different views Christians have when it comes to LGBTQ individuals and relationships:
1. Christians that support same-sex marriage and relationships, believing God blesses these relationships.
2. Christians who promote celibacy for the same-sex attracted, believing acting on same-sex attraction is outside of God’s best and outside of God’s design for human flourishing.
3. Christians who believe identifying as LGBTQ is sinful and God can heal you of those attractions.

I recognize even stating these three positions could be seen as controversial and could evoke any one of the three groups to want to try to prove their view or rip apart the other views. However, it is not the theological or scientific debate I’m interested in here, today. We do need to examine these things from a Biblical and theological point of view and I encourage you to do that. Lots has been written on that (for a website that seeks to provide a place and logic for those that hold both view #1 and #2 go to: https://www.gaychristian.net/).

Here I want to push us beyond an abstract debate to think about how we, our churches, are treating real, live people in the LGBTQ community. If your church falls in or around #2 on the above list, how do you live that out with love, grace and truth?

Regarding #2, how can we be “welcoming and not affirming?” I know that is the lingo, for those that want to welcome those from the LGBTQ community, but do not want to affirm acting sexually on same-sex attraction. However, upfront, I want to say I do not like that language. We can affirm people even if we disagree with them. We can affirm people even if we don’t agree with everything they are doing. We can affirm LGBTQ as people, as beautiful creations of God, as important contributors to society, as family & friends, and as people with meaningful gifts. We do affirm people, even if we disagree with them or their behaviour all the time – think of parents with their kids, teachers with students, even a co-worker with a co-worker or a friend to a friend. However, I recognize for those who identify as LGBTQ this identity goes to the core of their being and anything short of fully embracing may feel like “not affirming” or rejection.

As much as I struggle with the language, it is the common language being used, so I’ll use it here. How do we be welcoming, but not affirming?

I must admit, I myself wavier between thinking, “It is possible, we can do this. Churches can fully welcome, even while not affirming” and then on the other side, I think “Can we, is it even possible?”
The signs of hope I see that tell me it is possible are the LGBTQ Christians who are faithfully seeking to follow God, are calling me to greater obedience to Christ in my own life, and have managed, sometimes against many odds, to find Christian community.

May I humbly suggest, recognizing I still have a lot to learn around this issue, some ways churches, church groups and Christian leaders, can be welcoming but not affirming to LGBTQ individuals and communities.

1. Make Jesus the main thing – make sure you are sending the message and creating the environment where anyone and everyone is welcome and accepted to come to your church/group to explore Jesus or pursue Jesus. We are offering Jesus, and inviting people to encounter the living God for themselves. Every one of us comes with messiness and needs a place to safely explore Jesus and pursue Jesus together.

2. Beautiful community – offer community and paint a picture of the kind of Jesus community you desire to be. Rather than making lists of what you are against and lists of exclusion, make long list of the kind of positive, life-giving community you desire to be. Describe the kind of supportive, loving, serving, diverse community you want to be. Describe the kind of characteristics you want to see in your community. We all need community and God uses community to transform us, as we build our lives together.

3. Make celibacy a viable option – Everyone needs places to belong and be known. We can live without sex, but we can’t live without intimacy. Are families adopting singles (heterosexual or homosexual) into their lives? Is your church really only catering to families or seniors, or are those that don’t fit that mould given places to be known and loved? Those in the LGBTQ community may have experienced rejection in their own nuclear families; giving people places to belong and be known can mean so much to them and all of us.

4. Paint a picture of the Kingdom – Call people to align their lives with God’s Kingdom. Jesus, by His Spirit transforms us from the inside, out. Jesus decides when and how to address different issues in each our lives. The call to follow Jesus involves each of us, daily, putting to death the things that are not of God’s Kingdom and resurrecting to life the things that are of God’s Kingdom and of life. There are many areas of life where we need to paint a picture of what it looks like to line-up our lives with God’s kingdom ways – our finances, relationships, time, rest, work, and our sexuality. Every one of us has areas of our lives where we still need God’s help and transformation. We can talk about God’s beautiful design for sexuality, and that some things (including pornography, affairs, pre-marital sex, acting on same-sex attraction etc.) are outside of God’s best, not because God is a kill joy but because He cares deeply for us and knows what is best for us and our flourishing.

5. Become friends – get to know someone who is LGBTQ or get to know the LGBTQ community. Seek to listen and understand their life and struggle, as a fellow human being. The statistics show those who identify as LGBTQ are at a greater risk of bullying and of suicide (See for example this CBC news article.) Churches, out of care for human beings, can seek to make society a safer, more welcoming place for those in the LGBTQ community. Churches can make sure LGBTQ have good access to mental health resources when they need these resources. Be a genuine friend, not making the LGBTQ person or community your project, but getting to know them as a fellow creation of God. Beyond just being ready to welcome LGBTQ, invite them into your circle.

6. How will you counsel? – Figure out what it looks like for you to walk with someone wrestling with their sexual identity or with same-sex attraction. Imagine the struggle of feeling same-sex attracted and not knowing where to turn. Imagine the struggle of feeling same-sex attracted and being in a church where you feel condemned. While same-sex attraction may not be your struggle, recognize we all have places where we struggle and need love, support, encouragement and help.
Towards this end, the tribe I am a part of, the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches (CABC), is planning some resources to equip leaders:
• During the leaders track at Springforth this May 13-14, Sid Koop will be talking about how to walk with youth who are questioning their sexual identity.
• Currently a LGBTQ Working Group is working on a resource to help our churches and leaders around this topic. The plan is to have it done sometime in the fall. This resource will have three parts:
Part 1 – a brief theological understanding
Part 2 – an understanding of how we are to engage culture, as Christians, as churches
Part 3 – Table talks – the conversations regarding LGBTQ we need to be having around our tables – church leadership tables, youth leadership tables, camp and facility leadership tables and a shared table with the LGBTQ community
CYWC (Canadian Youth Workers Conference) this November 25-26, 2016 will have a number of sessions equipping leaders to help our youth with their sexual identity

We are seeking to join God in His work in our neighbourhoods – where we live, work, study and play. Your neighbours and mine are LGBTQ. Let’s be good neighbours.

Before you add a comment to this blog, I refer you back to the guidelines I laid out at the beginning of this hot topics series, on handling hot topics with grace and truth (Read it here). Let’s run our thoughts and comments through that grid.

Thanks for joining me on this journey.
Renée
@r_embree

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9 comments

  1. Mary · April 16, 2016

    Thanks for handling this topic with tact and love. I’m a gay Christian woman who falls under #1 of the three views. Just a note about the terminology of LGBTQ. It’s important to remember that the “T” stands for transgender. You use LGBTQ to refer to people with sexual orientations other than heterosexual but “transgender” is a gender orientation. You don’t speak about people who are transgender or how the church can welcome and support them. That’s understandable, because that wasn’t the focus of this blog post, but I suggest changing your terminology to be more fitting. It’s ok to leave the “T” out if you’re not referring to people who are transgender. I would also love to see a post that considers people who are transgender – the church has neglected these beautiful people even more than those with minority sexual orientations.

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    • Renée Embree · April 16, 2016

      Thanks so much! You are right, this blog is talking about LGB, so it’s helpful to know I can leave off the T. I’m learning 🙂 I do think a lot of the same general welcoming principals would apply to transgender. It would be good to see blog posts that specifically consider what welcoming (even if a church is not “affirming”), including and befriending transgender people looks like in churches.

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  2. Jack · April 14, 2016

    This is awesome. Though it seems to only like discuss the first three letters of lgbtq. I’m trans and asexual (not sexually attracted to anybody or interested in having a sexual relationship).

    I find that most churches treat people who feel attracted to the same gender (and others in lgbtqa) as evil sinners, but they treat other sinners as people who make mistakes. Because of this we feel repelled from the church, even if we aren’t acting on our desires. Even when we are a Christian living life for God the best way we can, trying to become more Christ-like. I miss the church, but I don’t feel welcomed in the church anymore.

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    • Renée Embree · April 14, 2016

      I am so sorry you don’t feel welcome in the church. And you make a fair point about trans- and asexual. I agree, it’s fair to say the church has often treated LGBTQA in a different category of sin. Even churches/Christians that believe acting on same-sex attraction is sin have repenting and apologizing to do for how I/we/they have treated human beings, fellow creations of God, in the LGBTQ community. I have a lot of respect for LGBTQ Christians who, out of their understanding of Scripture and obedience to Christ, have decided not to act on their desires. That’s costly obedience. Many Christians could learn from their faithfulness. I pray churches would learn how to embrace people from different pockets of society.

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  3. westheadcsi · April 14, 2016

    Sorry – I meant to say the LBGTQ person is of the #1 theology!!!

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  4. westheadcsi · April 14, 2016

    Thanks Renée for posting this. I appreciate that you genuinely want Christians to grapple with showing love to all people. I have some thoughts on what you have said and I come from a place of having personal experience with what happens when churches are “welcoming” but not “affirming”.
    1. If the LBGTQ person who comes to church has the same theology as the church (#2) then that church can truly call itself welcoming but not affirming in the sense that everyone agrees, everyone accepts the standard of behaviour, and therefore no one is singled out as “unwelcome”.
    2. If the LBGTQ person is of the #3 theology then the church is not affirming and to that person is also not welcoming. I have been trying to think of an analogy to help explain. Suppose you have a daughter and you allow her to have a tattoo which is clearly visible. Your mother is adamantly against tattoos on Biblical grounds and has the scripture to back it up. You have read the same scripture and do not feel your daughter has “sinned” or is “in sin”. In fact, she’s the same person she’s always been. At Thanksgiving your family is “welcome” to come to dinner but your mother tells you that she is going to confront your daughter (lovingly, of course, but publically) about her tattoo and that she would prefer that it be completely covered. At no point is your daughter allowed to talk about or show it to anyone and you are not to show support for her. She is “welcome” to come but she will not be “affirmed” in what she has done. My question is “How welcome is she really?” How welcome are you as the person who affirms her? How delicious is that meal going to be with the conditions that have been placed on being able to partake in it? Will you not be tempted to wonder if your mother might love her other (tattoo-less) granddaughter more than your daughter? Might you think that everyone would just be happier if you didn’t come at all? Welcome is in the eye of the beholder.
    3. As a woman I am “welcome but not affirmed” in some Baptist churches in our Convention. As long as I don’t push the limitations put on me those churches can believe that they are “welcoming”. But it is the churches that accept me as equal who I see as truly welcoming. This does not mean the former churches don’t have a right to stick to their theological position but from my theological position they can’t honestly say they truly welcome women.

    If I have been unkind in these remarks please forgive me. The points you make are things that Christians with the #2 theology should have always been doing and I pray that God will forgive us for how we have seen LBGTQ persons as less than ourselves. We act out of what we know and what we’ve been taught and I guess that’s the best we can do. Maybe if the church that doesn’t accept me as being equal because I’m a wonan allowed me to say how much that hurts, and maybe if they then, with tears, said that they could see my point of view and could understand how I might not feel wholly welcomed and affirmed but they still had to stick to their understanding of scripture I might not feel quite so excluded. Are we able to be that vulnerable with each other?

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    • Renée Embree · April 14, 2016

      Fair points. Thanks for sharing. And that’s why this is not easy. Yet, I do hope we find a way to be more welcoming, inviting and safe for all to come, from a diversity of backgrounds, to explore and pursue Jesus.

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