LGBT+ outreach and inclusion has been a major challenge for the Christian church as a whole. Whether interacting with LGBT+ members and youth who grow up in church and then come out or LGBT+ individuals outside the church, the church has struggled with its posture. A new aspect of this challenge for many churches has been caring for their members who hold to a traditional sexual ethic by living celibate and also, because of their attractions or gender dysphoria, identify as LGBT+. This community of LGBT+ people has slowly grown a stronger voice yet remains elusive and largely unknown to many inside and outside the church.
For this reason, Mark Yarhouse, PsyD, and Olya Zaporozhets, PhD, did a study on what they refer to as the “celibate gay christian community” and their relationship with both the conservative church and the larger LGBT+ community. The book has many great insights for pastors and ministry leaders who seek to understand this community of LGBT+ individuals who attend and also serve as volunteers and staff in many of our churches. Here are just a few of the many insights we found in this book for church leaders:
#1: Congregants often mimic the posture of their leaders
Not only did Yarhouse and Zaporozhets survey celibate LGB Christians but they also pastors of churches who hold to a traditional sexual ethic. One important finding from their study of conservative pastors and their churches is that
“Congregants who feel unsure of what to believe or how to respond on this topic often mimic the posture of their leaders.”1
This is an important point for us as pastors and church leaders. Our congregations are watching what we say and how we act. If we want our congregations to take a posture of compassion toward LGBT+ people, we must lead by example.
#2: On average, celibate LGB Christians have a span of 7.5 years between initial awareness of attraction and when they come out to someone.
This is a staggering statistic as it means these individuals are, on average, attending and serving in our churches for close to a decade, processing their sexuality without support. It is critical that church leaders be aware of this ‘disclosure gap,’ especially because of the high vulnerability of LGBT+ youth to depression and suicide when they lack emotional and communal support. We must work to make our churches places where LGBT+ people, and especially youth, feel safe to disclose about their sexuality so that we can help them develop a support system.
#3: Celibate LGB Christians long for the church to create culture that values singleness and spiritual family
Chapter Five explains how celibate LGB Christians feel their churches could better minister to them. It is essential that we listen to those to whom we are ministering. One of the main needs which these Christians shared was that churches create a healthy culture that values singleness and spiritual families. They many times feel out of place in churches which highly value marriage and biological families. Many LGB Christians who live celibate lives find community by forming spiritual families outside of the church and feel that their own churches do not support or recognize them.
#4: LGBT+ Christians bring value to our churches
The last chapter of the book talks about some of the ways this unique group of Christians can strengthen the church.Many of these individuals are exhibiting ‘costly obedience’ for the sake of the Gospel and bring a stronger value for authenticity and community. If we really want any LGBT+ person to feel they belong in our church, we must recognize the unique ways they can strengthen and support our church family. There are many ways that all LGBT+ Christians can uniformally strengthen our churches, but also we must recognize the unique value and talents of each individual. When we recognize their God-given purpose and value, we are truly equipped to help them find their place in our churches and nourish their faith identity..
A Great Book to Understand LGBT+ Christians in our Church
Any effective ministry always begins with understanding and compassion. We come to understand people by listening to them and trying to gain a window into their experiences. This book provides such an opportunity for pastors to listen and hear the experiences of a group of LGBT+ people in our churches which many times remain quiet. If we want them to trust us enough to share with us their experiences, we must first show that we are safe people. Altogether, this is a book that definitely has great insights that align with Posture Shift and can be beneficial to church leaders around the country. You can buy a copy of Costly Obedience on Amazon or wherever you purchase books.
1. Mark Yarhouse and Olya Zaporozhets, Costly Obedience (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019), 36.
Josh has an M.A. in Biblical Literature, and his greatest passion is help people grow in their relationship with Jesus.
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