Boston Globe columnist Joanna Weiss shared in the Boston Sunday Globe (10/28/12) about author and speaker Shari Johnson’s journey to fully supporting her daughter’s gay identity. Shari, an evangelical, is in town to speak at a Greater Boston PFLAG conference. 

Lead Them Home and PFLAG are each hosting conferences on preventing anti-gay bullying and gay teen suicide, both of which are featuring clinical social worker and researcher Dr. Caitlin Ryan of San Francisco State University. Interested in the “bridge” between evangelical and gay communities, Weiss contacted me curious about our work.

You can read the Boston Sunday Globe article here. We spoke moments before her publication deadline, so there was not significant coverage. For those interested in the entire interview, however, below is a transcript of the questions posed to me and my responses. I hope you enjoy it.        

 1) How, when and why did you start your current ministry?

Them Home was founded in 2003. I left a business career
to devote full-time to our mission in early 2006. We help the
conservative church better reflect Christ’s love for LGBT+ people. I
sensed this calling at the peak of culture war- in the midst of a
huge divide between gay people and the church. We, the church, had
utterly failed to reflect Jesus to gay people. That’s our mission: to
train and equip the church to reflect Christ’s love to LGBT+ folks. We do
this primarily through a church leader training called Posture Shift.

2) What do you find is the most useful, productive way to speak to
Evangelicals about acceptance of their gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgender kids? Which methods of persuasion and discussion work best,
and which methods don’t work well at all?

I enjoy
counseling evangelical families of LGBT+ loved ones, but our core mission is training pastors to
become more effective in responding directly to these families. Many perceive that the church expects them to reject LGBT+ loved ones. Thankfully, the conservative
church is realizing that damaging family relationships is no way to live
out the Gospel. There is much work ahead, but many
positive changes are well underway. 

It is important for these families to understand that I share their moral beliefs. Once they know I am not
suggesting a shift in moral beliefs, then they are open
to a “posture shift” away from
rejection and toward acceptance. I tell them – you do not have to change your theology to love your gay children well.
To gay teens and young adults, I stress that cutting off their parents
hurts the entire family – including them. On both sides, rejection
is damaging to family relationships.

The best way for evangelicals to embrace this “posture
shift” is to listen closer to the stories of Jesus. Over and over again,
Jesus gets angry at the religious leaders who propel people away from God. I try to let Jesus do the talking, but
contextualize “the lepers” and “the outcasts” of his day to those who
bear the brunt of religious people today. With the church’s high pornography and divorce rates, we are the last ones who can
target the bible against gay people. Does this change our beliefs?
No. It does, however, radically change our posture. We must extend God’s love to people where they are, because that is what Jesus
has done for us. If we remember our own need for grace, it is much
easier to freely offer God’s grace to others.    

3) What sort of reception have you received from both families and
officials in Evangelical churches? Do a lot of people tend to shut you
out, or do you come across a lot of people willing to listen and
reconsider their beliefs?

Before I ever arrive, the church
leaders I train already know they need help in relating to LGBT+ folks. In our 7th year, Lead Them Home is rapidly growing as church leaders wrestle between the
truth they believe and the love they desire to offer. Fortunately, our Posture Shift
training gives them biblical and practical answers. I do not see many evangelicals becoming
“pro-gay” in their beliefs, but I do see many evangelicals becoming
“pro-people” in their faith practice. That is great news – and yet we still
have much work to do.

Post Note: The Globe columnist was most interested in how religious people can honor their beliefs while accepting LGBT+ loved ones. Acceptance means many things, and that can lead to confusion. So, for clarification, Shari Johnson is an evangelical who approves of and fully supports gay relationships. Lead Them Home holds to orthodoxy, but we reject any posture that disowns, rejects or condemns LGBT+ people. A desire for biblical soundness collapses into Pharisaism (or legalism) any time we turn our beliefs into a relational or spiritual weapon against loved ones. So while Shari and Lead Them Home have opposite beliefs, our relational posture is largely similar. Please contact me if you have questions.   

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