Recently someone asked me why I talk so much about LGBTQ people in sermons, in blogs and just in life. It was a great question. Three things came to mind.
The First Reason I Talk So Much About These Things
The first is simply the domino effect of being a pastor with a gay son and talking openly about that experience. I’ve come to realize that pastor’s usually don’t do that.
After my son Timothy came out, I talked about it to my friends and family, I wrote a BLOG about the experience, and our church convened the Study Team to talk through the questions around LGBTQ inclusion in the church. At the front end, I mostly needed lots of space to think, to ask questions, to find support, and to process a whole bunch of emotions.
As I talked about the questions, the confusion, and the differing theological perspectives – I tried to do so in a way that honored both progressives and conservatives.
And then word got out.
It turns out, people have gay children, bisexual spouses, transgender parents, intersex friends, or are gender fluid themselves (as it turns out, yesterday, I connected with people who fit each of those descriptions). And they don’t know where to process the impact these relationships have on their faith. But they desperately want to do so. It just has to be in a safe, non-judgmental space where they can explore their own questions and feelings and still stay connected to God.
The Second Reason I Talk So Much About These Things
I just tipped my hand as to the second reason I talk so much about these things: there’s a massive need. A week ago, each day I jotted down just one of multiple interactions that day around LGBTQ people in the church. Here they are.
Friday: Even though Fridays are my day off, I conducted the funeral for the father of a lesbian woman who hasn’t been to church in years (decades?). She couldn’t find a pastor to officiate the funeral so her coworker (who is in a church group I lead) connected us. She said afterwards that she was surprised to be treated so well by a pastor. Hmm… seems like there might be some stories there.
Saturday: At a function in a different city I ran in to three people (all straight, cisgender). The first was a woman I’ve never met who walked up to me and said, “You’re Bill White. I’m E. from Florida. I’ve read your syllabus on conversations about LGBT people in the church.” The second was a denominational leader who a year ago was part of a team that tried to disband City Church and defrock me because we did not hold the same theological position as he does around LGBT people in the church. He and I chatted amiably for a few minutes and caught up. The third was a friend who wanted to set up a meeting with me because a family member told them the previous week that he’s transitioning to become a woman.
Sunday: I met for coffee with a straight couple who were new to City Church of Long Beach. The wife said to me, “Last month I committed to never going to church again because churches are so hurtful and exclusionary.” Fortunately, the Spirit convinced her to try once more. She came (with some lesbian friends) and was shocked to hear a testimony in the sermon about Jesus’s radical call to love our enemies that was shared by a humble, gracious transgender woman. This couple declared over their lattes that they’d found a church home at last.
Monday: There’s a lesbian couple who has sought me out. They attend a local evangelical church and are experiencing a lot of pain because their church’s leaders will neither conduct nor attend their wedding. Early Monday morning I had coffee with one of the lesbian’s parents, who attend a different conservative evangelical church and have been struggling with their daughter’s wedding and needed someone to process with. So I listened, asked questions, shared some stories, and prayed with them.
Tuesday: I got coffee with a gay man to talk about some of the ways God’s been speaking to him through his marriage (to a man). He’s a new Christian and he was so excited to explore the idea of being discipled by an older Christian I know because, he told me, “I want to learn how to talk to God.”
Wednesday: As I was eating breakfast at my kitchen table with a friend who came out to me five years ago, he shared about connecting with a local LGBT Community Center to help him find housing. I remember the night he came out to Christians for the first time – in a bible study I was leading – and the remarkable outpouring of love he received from others in the group. I wished that could be connected in a group like that these days.
Thursday: I caught up with a long time friend who is gay and who serves as an elder at another church. He’s conservative theologically and remains celibate because of those convictions. Because of the way Christians have treated gay people, he’s decided not to come out, except to me and one other person (who no longer speaks to him). So that means I’ve gotten more than one late night phone call from him talking about the sexual temptations and severe loneliness he’s facing. In our interaction I felt no need to change him or his theology, but it breaks my heart even now that there’s no one in his church or even his entire city who he thinks he can safely share his journey with.
Do you see the need? And I could have told two dozen more stories from that same week. So it’s hard for me not to talk about the deluge of conversations like these that I’m having all the time. In part I need to process them, in part it’s just what God’s up to in my life. Which brings me to…
The Third Reason I Talk So Much About These Things
This ministry is not something I planned or even wanted, but it seems to me that God has a call on my life to love and serve LGBTQ people and those connected to them.
I say “call” because God keeps opening doors and God keeps producing good fruit. I say “call” because this is one of the key places in my life where I feel humbled and challenged daily to grow to become more like Christ. I also say “call” because I am beginning to see how the LGBTQ community is saving the church, and I want in.