In the early 1990’s, I made my first adult decision to attend church and soon became an active member of a church in Houston, Texas. The church was not “open and affirming” but the membership process did not ask about sexual orientation. I innocently felt no need to tell people about my same gender relationship. I did not intend to be deceptive. I simply felt that God was seeking me, so I showed up. My passion soon grew.
There is one other thing you should know. I was a Christian. No seriously: I was a Christian. That had been my “religious identity” since I was a boy. Growing up in the south, is there anything but Christianity? Yet had church leaders known one detail about my life, my entire faith and membership status would have been called into question. Instead, not knowing about my sexuality, people saw me as a whole person and involved me in the whole mission of the church. As the years passed, I slowly encountered God’s call to surrender my whole life to Jesus. This personal, revelatory, repentant encounter with Christ was part of my faith journey that started as a child and continued as I was welcomed as a full participant into the church.
Reasonable self-determination implies that we are given a degree of latitude to know and follow God based on our conscience. At times, our conscience may trump conventional wisdom. In some seasons of life – particularly early in life – our conscience may even trump the Bible. Mine did, anyway. I am not suggesting for one moment that this is “right.” I am suggesting that – by God’s grace – He seems to tolerate “prodigals” who move according to their own will before surrendering to His.
My point is this: I lived a sincere life of loving God and sensing God’s love for me without any conviction that my same-sex relationship was sinful. Once the conviction did arrive, it took years to work out my beliefs and how to handle the spiritual anxiety that I was feeling inside – to say nothing about my intense fear of losing the only life I had ever known (including a partner I dearly loved). During this difficult season, the church got it right; they included me. That may be too controversial for many readers to accept. Yet allow me to make this very important point: most LGBT+ people are rarely granted such latitude, so not many come to Christ in our midst. Instead, we often chop at the roots of their faith. My friends, that is not Jesus.
Many LGBT+ people are distracted from an authentic search for God when we look at one aspect of their lives and respond by questioning everything about their faith – not to mention their ability to add something of value to the church. We say there is no such thing as gay identity, but we propel people further into gay identity when we see them as only gay and then exclude them because of it. Something about our model simply does not work. This, I know…not because I was excluded – because I was included! It worked…
Principle Two: The second key principle to guide “reasonable self-determination” for inclusion of LGBT+ people in evangelical churches is this – we cannot expect LGBT+ people to possess a Kingdom identity beyond sexuality until WE begin to see them as whole people whom God wholly seeks and loves. We must afford them a journey in our midst. Any church can do this for one Sunday. Is your church prepared to do it for years?