How the Church Should Welcome All People

This week I received a very colorful and beautiful brochure inviting me to join Reconciling Ministries Network “in making all our congregations, even if we disagree about human sexuality and gender identity, places where all God’s children are welcomed, love and grace are unconditional, and every person’s gifts are affirmed.”  Rev. Dr. James Howell of Myers Park UMC in Charlotte, NC was prominently pictured and quoted in three different places.  The theme of each quote from Dr. Howell and the brochure in general is that all people should be welcomed in our churches.  One of Dr. Howell’s quotes even seems to imply that not being open to LGBT behavior as a good thing, at least a possible good thing, would put one in the same category with those who killed Jesus instead of welcoming him because “his way was so out of their holiness box.”  In so many ways, however, it was Jesus’ intensification of holiness, especially when it comes to sexual ethics regarding marriage, adultery, and divorce that put him at odds with other religious leaders. Jesus didn’t really lower the bar.  He called his disciples to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, after all (Matt 5:20).  Nonetheless, I don’t think the question is whether all people are welcomed, but exactly how the church should welcome all people including people who identify as L,G,B, or T.Welcome to Church

Should the church welcome a bisexual, for instance, the same way they should welcome someone with green eyes, or should the church welcome the bisexual the same way they should welcome the unmarried young man who is having sex with his girlfriend?   Should the church welcome the bisexual the same way they would welcome someone of another race or the same way they would welcome the couple who enjoys having an open relationship and, as a matter of fact wouldn’t mind including a couple of other people that they really “love” in their relationship?

The premise underlying much of the rhetoric that we hear from the LGBT activists is that being L,G,B, or T is a heritable trait along the lines of eye color, 100% genetically predetermined and absolutely immutable.  This is most certainly a false premise, but it’s one that’s been repeated often enough and loud enough that it has become an unquestionable presupposition in some quarters. Just a few months ago while watching the Winter Olympic games I saw this same premise promoted shamelessly on an official spot on one of the channels carrying the games.  This premise is also repeated quite frequently when gay marriage is compared to interracial marriage.  It’s the “born that way” argument. Of course people in the LGBT community didn’t choose their desires, just like none of us choose our desires, whether they be good, bad, or morally neutral. We don’t, neither can we choose our desires, but we all choose whether or not to act on unchosen desires all the time.

The logic is that since a person is born homosexual or bisexual just like someone is born with blue eyes then it must be an immutable trait and accepted as such without question.  We even have at least two states now that use this line of thinking to ban teenagers who experience same sex attraction from receiving any kind of change therapy.  However, quite often the same people argue that a transgender man, for instance, who was clearly born with male genitalia, should be allowed, encouraged, and supported to go through therapy and even surgery to change the body that they were quite obviously born with.  Political momentum aside, the premise is still false, and provably so, and our bodies do matter and should not be disregarded as if they really tell us nothing about our created identity.

The plan B argument seems to be the one of “love = love.”  The premise here seems to be that you can’t help who you love and if you’re in love with someone, even if they are of the same sex then it must be ok to have sex with them and marry them.  This was the argument of the preacher at my Divinity School graduation in 2012, Rev. Dr. Sam Wells, when he chastised the 2012 United Methodist General Conference, and all of us, including Dean Richard Hays, in the audience who agreed with the UMGC, for “discriminating against people because of who they love.”  Many progressives insist that they just want to allow for “loving, monogamous relationships” between any two people regardless of gender.  There is a glaring problem with this however on two counts.  The first being if you assume that “sexual orientation” is absolutely predetermined then what would you say to a “bisexual” who would like to marry a man and a woman?  Based on the premise, assuming for examples sake that it’s true, how could you deny such a person the ability to be able to marry two people?  What’s more based on the “love = love” argument how could you deny polyamorous marriages in general, such as the recent case of the three lesbians in Massachusetts, or marriage between two brothers or two sisters for that matter, or any other possible permutation of consensual union?  We’re already seeing that the slippery slope, which progressives used to insist didn’t really exist, is looking more and more like a water slide at an amusement park.

Another major problem is that the so-called moderate “agree to disagree” ideology assumes that the disagreement is really over an indifferent matter on par with the issue of food sacrificed to idols that you find in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8. But we are most certainly not talking about an indifferent matter.  According to 1 Corinthians 6:9 sexual immorality in general and homosexual behavior in particular without repentance will keep people from inheriting the kingdom of God.  Doesn’t sound at all indifferent to me!  What good is it to welcome people to church in a way that will leave them comfortable with sin of any sort that could exclude them from the kingdom of God?

I know, I know, that’s just Paul. I know many progressives don’t take him all that seriously, at least on this controversial issue.  “It’s just Paul, it’s not Jesus”, as Tex Sample would say.  Others, undoubtedly, will argue that we have just misunderstood Paul for the past 2000 years, and Paul never had consensual forms of homosexual relationships in view.  Believe that if you want, but you will have to do so against a mountain of evidence from the historical context to the contrary (see the exhaustive work of Robert Gagnon http://www.robgagnon.net).  Progressives seem to forget that Paul claims to have been called, commissioned, empowered, and guided in his ministry by Jesus himself; and Luke, whose Gospel is usually a progressive favorite because its tone is a bit harsher toward the wealthy, corroborates this regarding Paul’s call and ministry in Acts.  Considering the historical context and Jesus’ own intensification of sexual purity and reference to marriage as God’s created design for a life-long union between a man and a woman (Mark 10; Matt 19), there is no good reason to believe that Paul somehow went off the rails with regards to sexual immorality in general or homosexual behavior in particular.

Yes, the church should welcome all people.  No one should be left out of the invitation and nobody should be singled out as worse than or less deserving than others.  All should be welcomed to hear the good news that Jesus Christ died to take away the sin of the world, not to make us more comfortable with it.  We should welcome all to hear the good news that God raised him from the dead, thus vindicating him as the world’s true Lord and rightful judge, and that in him we can have forgiveness of sins and receive the power to be born again from above and become a new creation fit for the new creation.  Yes, we should welcome all to join us as we follow Jesus on the hard road that leads to life (Matt 7:13-14) with a cross of self-denial in tow (Matt 16:24), knowing full well that it’s not going to be easy for any of us.  We should welcome all sinners to receive new life in him, to become more than we ever imagined we could be, through being washed, sanctified, and justified “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11, also see the wider context).    If we fail to do this, then we ourselves may find anything but a welcome when we stand in judgment before the Lord of all the earth, who warns:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23 NIV)

May we be faithful not to bury the gospel with which we have been entrusted out of fear, but to invest it through bold proclamation so that one day we may hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:14-30).  That’s the ultimate welcome I want all people to receive.

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7 thoughts on “How the Church Should Welcome All People

  1. After much research isn’t it becoming more and more clear that the homosexuality “sin” in Biblical times is about the act of sex out of hedonism and/or an attempt to dominate or exert power over the other same-sex partner?

    The modern word and understanding of Homosexuality as a committed, loving relationship did not exist in those times. I cannot condemn another for a “sin” so poorly justified by reference to the clobber verses! A basic education on what was going on culturally at the time it was written freed me to follow my heart to no longer judge someone for being gay! ❤️Ann

    • I agree with Ann and would like to say that Paul’s writing must be read through the lenses of Jesus. This is why I am thankful for Paul’s writing and fully believe, Biblically, that same sex relationships are a gift from God. I realize this counters the author’s Biblical understanding, but I believe God works in ways with Godly people that I have serious disagreement with. I’m so thankful for my Methodist heritage and for the ability to discern through Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.

  2. Hi Ann, Thanks for the comment. I’ve done a lot of reading and research on this topic and I have to say that I disagree with your assessment. Of course the issues you mention make sex of any sort sinful, that is selfish hedonism or any kind of coercive domination, but the basic issue with homosexual relations is that it is considered to be against nature (gk. para physin) as you find in Romans 1. If you haven’t worked through Robert Gagnon’s book, “The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics” then you really should. Without is I don’t think one can say they have had a “basic education” on the subject. And yes the ancient world did have similar understandings regarding the nature of homosexuality and there were plenty of examples of “committed, loving relationships” among homosexuals. In fact, this was probably the most common in lesbian relationships in antiquity, which Romans 1:26 condemns. N.T. Wright, an expert on ancient history, says that it is completely untrue to say that committed homosexual relationships did not exist in antiquity, and that Paul would have been exposed to and aware of these types of relationships as well as exploitative relationships and like all other Jewish moralists, and many Roman moralists for that matter, condemned all forms of homosexual behavior because he believed it to be contrary to nature, God’s creative intent that Jesus affirmed as well in Mark 10 and Matthew 19. (See Wright talk here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpQHGPGejKs, especially at around 5:30 in). (Definitely read Gagnon too). Gagnon actually did a book with a progressive scholar, Dan O. Via called “Two Views” where the progressive, Via, argued in favor of accepting homosexuality as a created good, while also admitting that the Bible condemned all forms of homosexual behavior including consensual, committed relationships. Via just basically argued that the Bible was simply wrong not that we have just misunderstood it for 2000 years. Other progressive scholars and even some who are themselves homosexual and activists at that recognize the same. Gagnon refers to them in his book.

  3. Hi! I’ve looked for a way to contact you all and there are no email addresses on your blog site. I sure enjoy your writings! Keep up the good work. Rev. Randy Little, Elder, Oklahoma Annual Conference, Harrah Charge.

  4. To “thank you for the dialogue” thank you for the input. As you might imagine I do believe that I read Paul through the lens of Jesus as he is depicted in his fullness in the gospels. I think the short piece I wrote above make that clear. We just have different understandings about what Jesus was all about.

    To Randy Little, I’ll shoot you an email. Thanks for the encouragement.

  5. Thank you for your thoughtful piece. Clearly, the modern church has a very checkered past with respect to dealing with the LGBT community but, IMO, that does not change the biblical witness about such behavior as being contrary to God’s will and design. I would like to believe otherwise, but I simply cannot in good conscience.

    How should we welcome gays and lesbians? I feel confident that we should but I often have more questions than answers. It seems to me that much of the answer depends upon the posture of the person. Are they convinced that their behavior is good, right, and God-given, and therefore in no need of healing and repentance? Or do they see themselves in an honest struggle with sin and in need of the church to help them along the journey to wholeness (as we all do in one way or another)? Just some thoughts.

    We are told in the Scriptures that Jesus was full of both grace and truth. May we live into that same tension.

  6. Good questions for sure, Chad. The state and organizational structure of the modern church make wrestling with these issue all the more difficult. At what point is a unrepentant sinner of any sort no longer welcome? I guess that would depend on a lot of different things. Thanks for your thoughts.

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