Loving LGBT+ People in the Church

Our Name

Lead Them Home originates from a posture of having witnessed the devastating effects of culture war over homosexuality. At the heart of this decades-long cultural divide, many LGBT+ people have been wounded by an us versus them mindset. Some of them have been rejected by families. Others have felt pushed out of our churches. Many have sensed judgment and exclusion in our actions, attitudes and words. We have often said there is no such thing as gay identity — and then treated gay people as if they were nothing but gay. Under the power of this blind spot, it was easy to chop at the roots of their Christian faith rather than nourish these roots.

Our name captures the theme of our ministry vision: to go to those we wounded and lead (or invite) them home. It is inspired by the song “Tears of the Saints” by the Christian rock group, Leeland. In one part of the song, Leeland Mooring sings:

“There are schools full of hatred
Even churches have forsaken loving mercy!”

He then calls out to the church to join his cry:

“There are tears of the saints
for the lost and unsaved.
Father, we will lead them home.
Father, we will lead them home.”

Sadly, it is in schools that many LGBT+ teens are bullied, and it is in many churches that they are condemned or excluded. Those who get bullied and teased and judged and excluded are vulnerable to high rates of suicidality.

How will we respond?

To LEAD is not to stand above others but rather it is a commitment to stand beside others. It takes responsibility for righting our wrongs.

THEM is mentioned not to further an artificial distinction laced with self-righteousness, but rather it is here to remind us that before God there can never be an “us” and “them.” We all fall short of His glory.

HOME means our churches and our homes, the places of spiritual and emotional nourishment where our LGBT+ loved ones belong. They are us. We are them. For we are family, and the love of family when centered upon Christ never disowns, rejects, condemns or fails. Amen.

Fish On The Other Side (FOTOS)

FOTOS, Inc. is the original name of our ministry. It changed when our identity as a ministry became largely displaced by the identity of our radio show, “Lead Them Home.”

In John 21, the Disciples have possibly given up. They watched their Lord die and appear to them resurrected, but Jesus’ appearances are now over. Peter says, “I am going out to fish.” The other disciples join him. These men return to their expertise: fishing. They fish all night and catch nothing. Early the next morning, a man from shore calls out, “Cast your net on the other side.” They comply and immediately their nets are overflowing. Peter realizes it is Jesus and swims to shore where Jesus already has breakfast cooked.

Just like Gideon did not need warriors or weapons to win the battle, Jesus did not need the disciple’s fish to make breakfast. Just as Moses simply lifted his staff into the sky, all the disciples needed to do to catch a miraculous load of fish was to place their net on the other side. Jesus did not need their expertise. Today, Jesus does not need our expertise.

All we need is to hear His ancient call to “fish on the other side.” To do something different. To try something new. To extend the Gospel His way…

The church’s historical witness to LGBT+ people has been one of intolerance and exclusion. Our one-dimensional conversation has revolved around “their” need to change. We did not really care about LGBT+ folks. We moralized them. We fought their activists. We minimized their needs. We devalued them. We did not notice when they committed suicide. They were “the immoral.” It is time we gain a multi-dimensional view of LGBT+ people.

Our theology does not need to change, but our attitudes, actions and words need to radically change. We must “fish on the other side.” We must live out the Gospel His way.

How Lead Them Home Began

These insights were all burned into my conscience in 2003 when I had the honor of flying from Boston to Cleveland to share my faith story at an area liberal arts college. I had shared my faith story at a Christian college a couple of times before, but I was not seeking a ministry in this area. I thought my life would be dedicated to helping the poor in the third world. This tiny opportunity to share my faith story was intended for an evangelical audience of 30 people. After many complaints, the university asked InterVarsity if they would agree to allow others to attend. InterVarsity agreed. They told me there might be 60-70 people.

I arrived campus and was greeted by dozens of protestors. I was filled with intense fear – I did not ask for this. I never wanted to offend anyone. The audience ultimately grew to 750 people, about 350 of which were from the LGBT+ community. It was in this setting that I was brought right to the core of the fruit of Culture War. At this core was fear and anxiety on both sides. I came to share about Christ’s love, but they expected me to share a message of hate. Their anticipation of hatred made me realize that something is NOT working. We are experts at sharing the love of Jesus Christ and they expect us to hate them?

I realized the need for the evangelical community to speak in an honest and authentic voice when sharing Jesus with the LGBT+ community. If they do not hear it from us, they will assume we are excluding them. After all, that is what the culture war taught us to do. That, my friends, is judgment. There is no way around it. For this reason, I was convinced that we must take Jesus to them. We must “fish on the other side.” We must extend the Gospel his way…

That night, they came expecting a message of hate. When they heard my story and realized that it was about the love of Jesus, the mood turned. Most people exited the building that evening in a quiet spirit. Many protestors I spoke with prior to the event came up and hugged me saying, “thank you for not judging me.” That day was November 19, 2003, the day the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled gay marriage legal. While their ruling was hitting the airwaves, I was on a flight from Boston to Ohio to share my story of surrendering my sexuality to Jesus Christ. I cannot escape the irony of all this.

One month later, there was no more irony: it was all part of God’s calling. I sat down around 10:00 pm to journal about my children. When I next looked at the clock, it read 4:30 am. Before me was a 50-page vision statement that soon became Lead Them Home – and later on, Lead Them Home Radio. At the core of the vision was a realization that culture wars never reveal the presence of Jesus Christ. God showed me that He does not need human political power to change human hearts. He can do this. He most often does it when HIS people – the people called by His name – radically repent themselves and radically depend on His power. (2 Chronicles 7:14-15)

Throughout the scriptures I keep hearing the echoes of Moses and Noah and Gideon and David: “Do it your own way and you can expect to be ineffective. But do it the Lord’s way and He will do it — souls will be won for Christ.” I also hear the echo of another man calling out from an ancient shoreline, Fish On The Other Side. Lead Them Home…

In 2004, a 50-page vision statement had to be wrestled over and refined down to several pages. We also began the incorporation process. In 2005, a board of directors search commenced and we received our 501(c)(3) charitable non-profit certification from the Internal Revenue Service. In early 2006, Bill Henson left a 17-year corporate career to devote full-time to the ministry.

1 Comment

  1. May 6, 2014    

    Great stuff! Thanks for this resource and mission! In addition to doing on-air personality ‘stuff’ I am a licensed mental health therapist who loves encouraging teens/young adults & their parents. I’m glad I can forward on this information to my ministry friends, my audience, and my clients!

    Be blessed!

    Paige Clingenpeel, MA
    Teen Therapist & On Air Personality