All God’s Children: Loving Our LGBTQ Friends As We Love Ourselves

By Sean Palmer

I love gay people.

For many, it’s surprising to hear a Christian minister say that—especially an Evangelical minister from a fundamentalist background and with fundamentalist theological training—but I do love them. I really can’t help it. And I don’t love people because I’m a saint. I love them because I know so many by name.

I know Jesus asks me to love everyone, but I must be honest; I have trouble loving people I don’t know. A plane crashes in Asia, and I’m saddened for the families of the dead, but I don’t grieve. I don’t love them as Jesus does, because I don’t know them. Jesus knows them.

I know many gay and lesbian people. I love them.

For a decade and a half I was a youth minister. I took teenagers to Six Flags, to summer camps, on mission trips, to countless retreats and rallies, and I loved every minute of it—well, most every minute of it (I could have lived with better sleeping conditions on many of those retreats and mission trips). But I never complained, because I always loved my kids. And they were my kids.

We shared our lives together. We joked. We cried. We served. We worshipped God. And we loved each other. I can’t recount all the late-night conversations and heart-to-heart talks on long rides. Conversations about life and faith, God and evil, and the purpose behind our existence peppered and seasoned my life as I walked alongside teenagers. They walked alongside me too.

Some of those teenagers are now ministers themselves—both inside and outside of churches. Some adopted needy kids while they were still basically children themselves. Some of my kids have set out to change the world, while others are just trying to hang on and save themselves. Some are therapists; others wait tables. They’ve become teachers and lawyers, accountants and musicians. Each one has chased God to the best of his or her limping abilities.

And some of those kids are gay.

Not Shouting

These kids aren’t celebrities parading their relationships in publications and in front of the cameras. They aren’t activists working to bring disquiet to little old ladies carrying King James Bibles. They aren’t shouters or screamers; they’re not dancing in the street. They never wanted to throw their identities into someone’s face, as some of my Christian friends have accused them.

07_Palmer_JNThese are my kids.

They have faces and names and stories. They have moms and dads and brothers and sisters. They have hopes and fears. But mainly they want to live quiet, peaceful, and useful lives.

My kids aren’t stereotypes. They’re not caricatures. They’re flesh and blood, alive and kickin’ people.

Regardless of your biblical or political convictions regarding homosexuality, I think you will agree that the way many of us in Christian communities have spoken to and about people in the LGBTQ community is wholly and fundamentally un-Christian.

And I know when something is fundamentally wrong.

Remember, I was raised a fundamentalist.

We have not hesitated to mock, abuse, degrade, and humiliate God’s creation. We have chosen the sins of division, blasphemy, stone throwing, bearing false witness, and judgment, while simultaneously accusing people in the LGBTQ community of choosing a “sinful lifestyle.” We are hypocrites and liars and afraid of our own humanity. And we have tried to blame our gay and lesbian friends for our sin.

There is no excuse for our words of degradation, no excuse for our venomous attitudes, and no excuse for our failure to love our neighbors. It’s no wonder, then, that hundreds of gay teenagers committed suicide in the past year. The most chilling sentence in Justin Lee’s tremendous book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate is this one: “During the day, I daydreamed about ways to kill myself.”

I cannot tell you with certitude that these tortured young souls killed themselves because of the words of Christians, but I can assure you the “hands and feet of Jesus” have not helped. My guess is that few of them saw the church as a place to turn for comfort, solace, and love.

Critical Moment

At this critical moment in time, what is required of the church is nothing short of repentance. Our repentance need not necessarily be for wrongheaded views about homosexuality, but it most certainly must encompass our hypocrisy for not treating all sex outside of marriage equally. Our repentance should be for angry words not spoken in love, and for not coming to the aid and defense of the LGBTQ community when it has been attacked.

When I preached a message close to my heart about Christian speech ethics, my heart was again pricked by James, the brother of Jesus, who wrote, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (James 3: 9, 10).

The simple truth for the Christian community is this: We can no longer refer to the LGBTQ community the way we have. We cannot say, “God hates fags.” We cannot tell jokes mocking who they are. We can no longer do so, because the Scriptures instruct us not to.

James reminds us that all people are made in God’s likeness and image. All people are God’s children. They, like we, are God’s kids. How would you feel—what would you think—if someone spoke about your kids the way some of our Christian brothers and sisters speak about God’s kids?

The men and women you shame, devalue, and humiliate sat in my youth group and struggled quietly and patiently with feelings they neither wanted nor understood. Because of our words and posture, they believed they had no one to tell.

They are trying their God’s honest best—as we all are—to be God’s woman or man. So please, be good to my kids.

And if you can’t . . . be good to God’s kids.

Sean Palmer serves as lead minister with The Vine Church in Temple, Texas. This piece originally appeared as a post on his blog, http://bit.ly/1ENDqxR.

________

We asked three leaders to react to Sean Palmer’s article advocating “loving our LGBTQ friends as we love ourselves.”

(from left) Caleb Kaltenbach, Andrew Wood, and Josh Cadwell
(from left) Caleb Kaltenbach, Andrew Wood, and Josh Cadwell

By Caleb Kaltenbach, lead pastor, Discovery Church, Simi Valley, California, and author of Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others without Sacrificing Conviction

CAN I JUST SAY I love Sean Palmer? I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him, but I love his heart. Sean has made a huge point that many of us need to pay attention to. Too often, we politicize the LGBT community as a group that is “out to get us Christians.” True, there are some people on the extreme left of the spectrum with political ambitions, but they’re not like most of the LGBT people I know. Sean has done something very few pastors do when talking about this community: he’s given them a face. He’s made them human. In this community, we see our family, friends, and coworkers. 

He’s also called us to repentance for the way the church has interacted with the LGBT community. Many of us do need to ask God’s forgiveness for the way we’ve characterized these people and for not treating them with the loving kindness that God expects. In no way does Sean suggest that homosexuality isn’t a sin. Rather he points us toward looking at the gay person in our life as a human being who needs the love of Christ—and the companionship of the church.

____

By Andrew Wood, associate professor of world missions, Nebraska Christian College, Papillion, Nebraska

REMINDERS LIKE THIS to behave lovingly toward all people are necessary and welcome. But we do need to put thought into what biblical sexual purity means, whether the moral issue is homosexuality, premarital sex, or divorce. How can the church assist everyone who professes to be a Christ follower to honor God with our bodies? Do we have any hope to offer homosexual or heterosexual Christians who struggle to live a life of abstinence? I would like to see the conversation move lovingly but boldly into these countercultural
waters.

____

By Josh Cadwell, lead minister, Franklin (Indiana) Memorial Christian Church

I AGREE WITH PALMER that the church has not done what Jesus has called us to do. “Love one another,” Jesus said. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.” 

But that is not what the church is known for. In fact, the posturing of the church has pitted us against people Jesus died for. Jesus loved and cared for people who were nothing like him. He showed love to people who didn’t measure up to the religious standards of the day. The Corinthian church shows us that the gospel message was appealing to people who struggled with, and walked away from, all kinds of sin. 

The amazing power of the gospel is that every follower of Jesus in the New Testament experienced radical life change, but it did not happen all at once. Their love of Jesus changed their identity and affected their real struggle with sin. 

As the church, may we love well, live well, and experience the life-changing love of Jesus.

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4 Comments

  1. mary kerr
    June 29, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    I like very much your admonition to the Christian community to love people in the gay community. Your exhortation to seek forgiveness wherein there have been judgmental, hateful, unloving, and unkind words and/or characterizations of those in the gay community.

    As far as God is concerned, we are all sinners in need of a Savior, who is Jesus; therefore the ground is level at the foot of the cross. Being a sinner, therefore, is not what I do, say, think. The sinner is born without a love for God, and without a way to save himself. As such, good deeds, loving a person, treating them kindly does not make one a Christan. Only in recognizing my sinful condition and accepting the death of Christ as payment for my sin do I become a Christian. This makes me a child of God.

    I have the physical characteristics of a human being, just like my neighbor next door and my cousin in Indiana. They, however, are the children of their parents as I am the child of my parents. As a person cannot be the child of anyone other than their parents, so a Christian can only be a child of God when spiritually born into God’s family: Christian. (It seems the use of the word “Christian” is far too loose these days).

    As for actions, those are either godly or ungodly (for the Christian)–acting according to God’s ways or against God’s ways. There are specific behaviors that show forth in a Christian (see Galatians 5:22, 23; Ephesians 5:3, 4).

    Because Christ comes to live in the Christian, the actions should be different. The Christian, therefore, should base his judgments on what God’s Word says about people without God–people who are not God’s children, i.e. Christian. And as you mentioned, that behavior does not give the Christian license to be unloving.

    So perhaps the main issue to clear up is whether we are true children of God, or just have the physical characteristics of what God looks like (Revelation 1:13-16).

  2. Cynthia Malcolm
    July 1, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    I agree that we are commanded to love everyone, just as Christ loves us. This is for the gay community as well as the straights. I have always treated the gay people the same way as my straight brothers and sisters. I believe that gay people can be saved, but that afterwards they need to cease their gay lifestyles, as this is an abomination in the Word. I realize that the attraction to people of the same gender may still be present, but there is healing in Jesus Christ.

  3. Doug Edens
    July 24, 2015 at 10:22 am

    With all due respect to the burden Sean Taylor feels for the LGBTQ, I have to wonder why any believer in Jesus Christ would give a pass to this iniquity clearly condemned in both Biblical Testaments unless they’ve bought the world’s view that ‘they can’t help it’? Science doesn’t bear that out and neither does God. Had Jesus been confronted by a homosexual scenario His command would have been the same as to the woman caught in adultery about to be stoned, “Go and sin no more”. And, if Jesus would approve same-sex marriage as the obviously confused former President Jimmy Carter has asserted in a recent interview, He would have mentioned it when He reiterated God’s definition of marriage in Matthew 19, when He was condemning divorce. He didn’t. The tragedy is that many of the young in our churches buy into the notion that what critics claim we’re “known for” regarding presenting the truth in love overrides presenting it due to fear of ‘offending’ people. They are offended by what is said, but claim how it’s presented is upsetting, so don’t talk about it. Since I have to assume that Jesus is our ideal regarding witness with love, I have to ask where Jesus failed regarding the rich, young ruler? How about the crowd of followers who, after a lengthy discourse by Jesus, they collectively turned and “followed Him no more”, could Jesus have done anything differently? And then there are the Pharisees. Where did Jesus miss the boat with them? Some believed on Him, but many more didn’t and led the charge to crucify Him. Have we forgotten that Jesus said we would be hated just as Christ would be hated? I believe that those of the LGBTQ who charge us so simply don’t want to hear the truth just as Christ was hated for what He said, not how He said it. I’m sure there are many in church across the nation who’ve been less than gracious in their witness in this issue. But we have an obligation to discern what criticism is legit and what criticism is of Satan. Satan, after all is the great accuser and that’s what criticism basically amounts to. The only disrespect I’ve ever heard or seen regarding homosexual stereotypes has come from secular radio, TV or movies. I have yet to see or hear it from a fellow christian. Again, with all due respect to Sean Taylor, he’s not speaking about me or anyone I know regarding this issue. I love anyone God has created but will not hesitate to point them toward the only One who can save them from any and all iniquity, regardless of the world’s consequences.
    Doug Edens
    Plainfield, IN

  4. July 27, 2015 at 10:10 am

    What an encouraging presentation Sean makes! We have always felt that the Lord directs us to minister to those around us without regard to their ethnicity, religion or gender.

    We also have had coworkers, customers and family members from the LGBT community. How can we witness if we are busy demeaning. It is NOT ours to judge.

    James 4:12 clearly says “There is but one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor.”

    While I may not be typical of our senior membership, I certainly believe that there are many of us who truly feel called to love and minister to all in our community in the name of our Lord.

    Jan Vinyard
    Blue Springs Christian Church
    Blue Springs, MO

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