Are gay people thriving according to God’s wisdom in your church? Check out this list of five common challenges churches face and five proven strategies for becoming churches where LGB people flourish according to a traditional sexual ethic.
#1 Sexual Stewardship for All Christians
CHALLENGE: Many churches inconsistently apply the Bible’s wisdom about sexual stewardship. These churches lead straight Christians to assume that they will get married, teach that we need romantic companionship to be happy, and ignore the Bible’s teachings about vocational singleness and divorce. This leads to high divorce rates and a void of theology and practice of vocational singleness among straight Christians. But then we call gay Christians to a higher standard of sexual stewardship by allowing straight Christians to misuse marriage for their romantic fulfillment while asking only gay Christians to consider vocational singleness. This is hypocritical, and churches lose any credibility to ask gay Christians to live according to biblical wisdom.
STRATEGY: Instead, our churches need to invite all Christians to think theologically about their sexual stewardship. We must teach that God first calls everyone to a period of temporary singleness during which we discern whether we are called to a lifetime vocation of singleness for the sake of the kingdom or a lifetime vocation of Christian marriage with someone of the opposite sex. Our churches should teach that every Christian has the same inherent capacity for both vocations and that every Christian, gay or straight, should offer the question of vocational singleness or Christian marriage to God.
#2 Public Teaching on LGBT+ Topics
CHALLENGE: Many churches avoid the topic of God’s love for gay people, so the average church-goer doesn’t know how to have compassionate and theologically accurate conversations with friends. As a result, gay people don’t know whether it is safe to share their story. Churches that refuse to speak publicly about God’s love for gay people hurt gay Christians and their indecision limits their ability to invest in something better.
STRATEGY: Instead, churches must talk publicly about the cultural questions in the intersection of faith and sexuality. With compassion and theological accuracy, churches need to explore the following questions: How does same-sex attraction develop? What part did God play and why? Does same-sex attraction change? How should gay people meet their intimacy needs? How do gay people fit in God’s story? How is God’s invitation to gay people good?
As a result, everyone in a church would know how to love gay people well and reflect the love of Christ in conversations about sexuality. Plus, gay people in a church who are not out yet would know what the church believes and that it is safe to share their story.
#3 Educating Kids to Prevent Harm
CHALLENGE: Many churches wait until a kid shares that he or she is gay to address the topic of homosexuality. This is a problem. On average, teens wait five years after first recognizing their same-sex attraction to talk to a parent or pastor. That’s five years that a teen makes sense of these questions alone. This leads teens to develop shame + depression + suicidality, adopt a progressive sexual ethic, or both.
STRATEGY: Instead, churches need to talk about the possibility of same-sex attraction in age-appropriate ways across the lifespan. Before teens realize they experience same-sex attraction, teens need to hear that gay people don’t choose who they are attracted to, that they have nothing to be ashamed about, that we won’t try to fix them, that we don’t love them any less, and that God has good and beautiful plans for them. Then, when teens realize their same-sex attractions, they would quickly share with their parents and pastors, inviting them to help them learn how to steward their sexuality in God-honoring ways.
#4 Pastoral Care for Gay People
CHALLENGE: Many parents and pastors first react to teens sharing about their attractions by sending teens to a therapist or a para-church ministry outside of the church to be “fixed.” Parents and pastors don’t know how to minister to gay people well, so they outsource the care. The shame and loneliness of gay people is amplified because their challenges are treated as weird problems that need special treatment. They are told to make sense of a key aspect of their personhood away from the church family they worship with, pray with, and take communion with.
STRATEGY: Instead, churches must provide effective pastoral care to gay Christians. They need to do what it takes to gain the competency to provide pastoral care to gay people. While licensed counselors still may be included to help address clinical levels of anxiety or depression, these churches must recognize that same-sex attractions are not a mental illness to be cured. Parents and pastors should help gay people integrate their faith and sexuality in ways that lead to thriving in this life and deep relationships with God and friends.
#5 Thriving in Singleness and Marriage
CHALLENGE: Many churches may have the right beliefs about sexual ethics, but the pathways for sexual stewardship they offer are inviable. They are places where few are thriving in vocational singleness or the complexities of marriage with someone of the opposite sex. In response to the ways many have misused mixed-orientation marriage, the pendulum has swung the opposite direction and many churches teach that vocational singleness is the only option for gay people. But these churches never teach about lifetime singleness, there are no models in their church for doing this well, and they don’t invite straight people to consider vocational singleness. It begs the question: if we aren’t offering vocational singleness to straight people, do we really believe it is good?
STRATEGY: Instead, churches need to become places where gay people could thrive in vocational singleness or Christian marriage with reasonable effort. These churches should teach about the theology of vocational singleness in Scripture, adults should model thriving in vocational singleness and be celebrated in the church, and the church should invite all people—gay or straight—to discern whether God is calling them to vocational singleness or marriage. Most importantly, these churches must be places where celibate people can find the same depth of family that married people find, whether that be through intentional Christian communities living with a married couple. Then, these churches need to teach about the possibility of mixed-orientation marriages for gay people, cautioning against getting into these recklessly while highlighting the beauty and brokenness of real stories.