In 2018, my church landed in the local LGBTQ+ press for hosting a conference of Christians who are gay or same-sex attracted and committed to the biblical sexual ethic.
It was not good press.
We were promoting Conversion Therapy 2.0, they wrote. We were encouraging LGBTQ youth suicide. We were shaming and manipulating people into mandatory celibacy. We were just like Exodus International.
A group of local affirming churches posted a press release and open letter denouncing us, saying we were not welcome in St. Louis. An activist called on people to picket the conference, but admitted there was too little time to plan it.
There is no community on the planet that longs more deeply for what only the gospel can give. But there is no community on earth that feels more threatened by biblical Christians.
Beyond caring for the same-sex oriented Christian, what calling does the church of Jesus have to reach the secular LGBTQ+ community? What can we as pastors do to help our churches and ministries bring the welcome of Jesus to gay people? How can we train congregants to love and welcome gay people without compromising our biblical convictions?
Following the example set by evangelical greats like C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham, Francis Schaffer, and John Stott, I’d like to offer three practical thoughts for offering “care” instead of a “cure” for the LGBTQ+ individuals in your congregation:
1. Listen first and offer a safe space for conversation with non-straight people.
I reached out to the young man who had the bad experience with a counselor working out of my church. I suggested meeting at an LGBTQ-owned coffee shop frequented by gay and straight alike. I wanted him to feel like we were meeting on his turf, not mine. I asked him what happened, and he told me his story of growing up Christian and being driven into St. Louis as a teenager again and again to meet with an independent counselor then working out of an office in my church. He described the shame of being the queer kid whose parents were trying to fix him.
I asked him whether what happened in my church building increased or decreased his shame.
“Increased. Really bad.”
2. Approach discussions with humility, and apologize for times the church has gone wrong.
I listened. I heard. I said I was sorry for what happened. Then I asked his forgiveness on behalf of my church for not protecting him from what he went through.
“It’s no big deal. I’m not mad at you,” he said.
“No,” I replied. “It is a big deal. I’d much rather you be angry with me—and then hear us asking you to forgive us.”
He got misty eyed, and he forgave us.
He told me hadn’t given up on Christianity just yet, though. There was something about Jesus that he couldn’t seem to shake off. He also said that he knew Side B Christians took a lot of heat, and he appreciated our trying to care. At the end, I offered a hug and told him to feel free to reach out if there was any way I could help or if he needed to process further.
He at least had the opportunity to hear a non-affirming Christian pastor ask his forgiveness. Not many LGBTQ people have had that experience. The only path to evangelizing the LGBTQ community is by humbling ourselves beneath them. We minister from below, by deliberately placing ourselves beneath people.
3. Resist the urge to turn to theology and instead turn to grace.
This should be second nature to followers of Jesus. Jesus has impacted my life more than anyone or anything. And he has done this not by being a Lord over me. He is certainly that. But that’s not how he changed my heart. He changed my heart when he put himself beneath me, suffering and dying for me. He washed my feet so I can wash the feet of others. It’s a family resemblance that develops when the gospel comes crashing into our lives.
This requires a humble heart and a readiness to learn, listen and care.
Greg Johnson is lead pastor of historic Memorial Presbyterian Church (PCA) in St. Louis, where he has served on the pastoral staff since 2003. He holds a PhD in historical theology with a concentration in American religion from Saint Louis University and an MDiv from Covenant Theological Seminary. He is the author of The World according to God: A Biblical View of Culture, Work, Science, Sex and Everything Else.