As I begin to unpack my thoughts regarding how church leaders can best care for the hearts of those who may or may not consider themselves gay Christians or in the LGBTQ community, I have to admit that writing about the subject is weighty. I have friends in so many different arenas, people that I admire and care about, so I want to enter into the discussion with sensitivity.
Nevertheless, I write about this because of the increasing number of friends and acquaintances who are rallying behind the idea that the gospel tells us to support the gay community at any measure–that the gospel of love is to truly accept sexual orientation, regardless of what that looks like. In other words, many are believing that the church is evolving as the culture around it embraces a growing acceptance of the diverse LGBTQ community. And while I would agree that our methods of outreach towards a culture involving sexual identity are changing, I do not believe that the church is evolving into an age of “enlightenment” where there are no established safeguards or truth that are based in scripture.
For weeks now I’ve camped around the story of Jesus in Luke 7:36-50.
36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[a] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
The fact that this woman braves such a harsh religious culture to encounter Jesus is astounding to me.
Jesus is invited to dine with Pharisees because more than likely they’re looking to fault his teachings. Then a hooker walks into their religious mess and begins to weep over her conviction of sin and adoration of her all-embracing savior. Here’s a woman who is only identified as a prostitute. Whose sins are many. It’s like Jesus gets invited to Downton Abbey for a cup of tea and a porn star busts in and kisses his feet. He has every right in that setting to put up a strong boundary after she extravagantly begins to worship him. But Jesus the Christ brings conviction to this woman by loving her instead of having her thrown out. His goodness brings conviction to her heart, and she’s freed from the identity that she believed to be true and accepts the identity He gave her.
Simon of course whips out his sin measuring tool and begins to make snide remarks that if Jesus were a true prophet he would know the sins of this woman. And then we hear the parable of the two debtors and Simon gets served in royal Jesus-style. The great multitasker Jesus brings a rebuke to the religious pharisee who sees no need for salvation from his sin and projects some sort of nonsense of measurement onto this woman’s failures.
Both needed a savior.
Both sinned against God.
Jesus points to this woman’s worship and says that she was forgiven much, so she loves much. Jesus restores this woman’s dignity by forgiving her sins. The pharisees banter and scoff all the more, but He ignores them and says to the woman “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”
The word saved in the Greek is sozo, which translates to, “to give new life” and “to cause to have a new heart.” To save, heal, cure, preserve, keep safe and sound, rescue from danger or destruction, to deliver. It saves from physical death by healing, and from spiritual death by forgiving sin and its effects.
So what does all this have to do with how church leaders love the LGBTQ community or those who identify themselves as gay Christians?
I think this example of Jesus loving someone that religious leaders had deemed an outcast, unworthy, and undeserving is very fitting in terms of how we’ve seen the public nature of many evangelical movements mark the gay community. One example being when the AIDS/HIV epidemic first hit the gay community in the 1980’s. Preachers publically condemned those who were infected by the virus to hell, stating that it was God’s judgment of their sin.
My question is, why weren’t we sitting with the dying?
If we truly want to follow the example of Christ then we must admit when we’ve allowed our own Simons to run the show as we watched in fear at what was taking place. That’s what happened in the 80’s, and it’s not hard to see that this lack of compassion and christlikeness led to a great disconnect between the church and the gay community. Our actions spoke even louder than our words.
So as church leaders face the ever-changing tide of American law and culture in the matters of gay rights, there is a tendency to respond with a lot of fear. Fear tells us to run from conflict or from what we don’t understand. When you aren’t sitting at the table with people, it’s difficult to love them and to listen. With that being said, leaders do have a responsibility to anchor in the truth of God’s word.
When Jesus saw the injustice of the pharisees’ reaction toward the prostitute he responded by forgiving her sins and setting her soul free from the things that bound it. Jesus didn’t dismiss her as the pharisees did, but he also didn’t see her social outcast status and respond by insisting that her life was actually fine. He didn’t see her sexual brokenness and think that to bring her to a place of dignity he would have to sleep with her. Her sin came from a need for intimacy, but her creator didn’t answer that need on her terms. Jesus embraced her AND set her free to sin no more. He addressed the perception that was holding her captive rather than accepting it and giving her what she needed in the way she thought she wanted it. This thing about Jesus not sleeping with her sounds a little weird, but there’s an important point I want to make here. Jesus responds to a prostitute by restoring her identity in Him, and freeing her to go and sin no more. He responds with His love and forgiveness–not with the law as the Pharisees did, and also not with an embrace alone.
He brought her into her identity amidst the scoffers.
In an attempt to defend the disenfranchised (which is very Christ-like) sometimes people operate in their God-given gift of compassion and need for justice over religious systems, but stop short of the transformative power of Jesus, which requires everything. Some desire so much to bring others into intimacy who have been rejected that they end up sleeping with prostitutes, so to speak. Intimacy untethered to truth is just as much a sin as operating in prideful religion. The truth of the gospel is the answer to social injustice, but there has to be light penetrating the darkness. You can’t serve two masters, and when we sacrifice the truth of what our sexuality is based in, we as believers begin to accept error in people’s lives. This pertains to all sexual expression outside of God’s boundaries. These are clearly laid out in the Word.
If you desire to lead in ministry or direct a movement, you are held to a higher standard in representing the Lord. If you’re not sure about that, read James 3. God is not the author of confusion. We do need to break this notion of fear over the church outcasts in the world; yet, I see many people my age who are responding to the injustice by abandoning the scripture that clearly guides us in these matters. With this often comes the mistrust and sometimes abandonment of fathers and mothers in the faith who have faithfully studied the Word and given themselves to the gospel. I believe doing this will lead to great error. We are made to be in relationship with those that have gone before us, even if God is calling us to a new battle. Without their covering, things get weird.
You hear so many times that we are not to judge others but to love them. Yes! Absolutely true. However, when you are in church leadership and lovingly laying your life down so others can grow, you are called to judge fruit. You are called and required by a higher standard when your hands are involved in the care of others’ hearts. This means that truth is spoken in the tension of love and that you don’t run from those who need care and direction. It’s the higher requirement of ministry and those who see transformed lives don’t take it lightly.
Truth and love is the person of Jesus.
Who is sitting at your table?
Liz Flaherty lives in South Carolina with her husband Andy. They’ve been married since 2005, and have spent the majority of their marriage ministering to and mentoring people in areas of sexual wholeness and identity. In her book, The God of My Parents, Liz shares her powerful testimony in which she faced immense grief, rejection, drug abuse, pornography, and homosexuality. Her heart is to inspire the Christian community to address these issues with love, respect and honesty.
Liz and Andy have two cats, named Paddie and Ginger.