Can a congregation that defines marriage as a life-long covenant between a man and a woman welcome LGBTQ people the way Christ does?

Dear Friend,

Can a congregation that defines marriage as a life-long covenant between a man and a woman welcome LGBTQ people the way Christ does? To answer that and related questions, I need God to work in me the conversion Paul describes when he writes: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1st Corinthians 6:11 NRSV)

When I participated in ecumenical Bible studies twenty years ago, I had colleagues who divided pretty clearly into two camps. Some said: “Of course the Bible opposes marriage equality. The Bible contains all kinds of primitive garbage that we need to preach against.” Then they would refer to Abraham offering his son on an altar and Joshua practicing genocide against the Canaanites.

Others emphasized the Bible as God’s word and applied 1st Corinthians 6 especially to gay people. They would focus on the word “sodomites” in 1st Corinthians 6:9 and then point to Paul’s statement, “And this is what some of you used to be.” (1st Corinthians 6:11) In contrast to the “welcome and affirm” practices of some congregations, they would seek to practice “welcome and transform.”

With the demise of the reparative therapy movement, the camps have become less clearly defined. Now I have colleagues and friends who view the Bible as God’s word and advocate for marriage equality. Their arguments have not convinced me, but their lives have called me to see conversion and transformation not first for others but as beginning with myself. For example, I ask: During this disputatious time, can a congregation embody the love of Christ by seeking to “welcome and listen”?

On June 3 at Willowdale CRC, we will listen for God speaking in Acts 10 and 11. In Acts 10 and 11, Luke describes the conversion to Christ of Cornelius and other Gentiles. At the same time, he narrates the conversion of Peter and others who believe in Christ already. When Peter and his fellow Jewish believers witnessed the work of God’s word and Spirit among the Gentiles, “they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life.’” (Acts 11:18)

I sense that even as God calls me to preach at 10 am on Sunday, he calls me also to practice “repentance unto life” in the form of silence and listening. Perhaps some form of such practices can help us all “Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7)

Love,
Joel