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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.