Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

When Being Anti-LGBTQ is More Important Than Being the Church

 

Theological questions on LGBTQ issues is one of the areas where much of the Church has some serious wrestling to do.

Beyond wrestling with some of the outstanding scholarly work being done (see for instance, NT scholar JRD Kirk) the main question much of the Church must contend with is that of functionality: What does the church do? Why does the church exist?

It is my contention that the Church established by Jesus exists to be a healing agent within cultures, that it exists to be a force which removes barriers to God, and that it is to be a place of worship for all people (Mark 11:17). In this regard, many churches must seriously consider both their theological positions (what we believe) and their missiological posture (what we do) toward LGBTQ image-bearers who are being systematically excluded from the Church. In fact, I think many churches need to actually sit down and answer the following question:

“Is it more important for us to have an anti-LGBTQ posture, or is it more important for us to be the Church?”

 About a year ago I had an experience that reminded me far too many churches are choosing to embrace a hard-line anti-LGBTQ posture– even when such a posture results in them ceasing to be the Church. (Just as a clarification, I don’t think those who still hold non-affirming theology automatically cease to be the church. See Preston Sprinkle for someone who doesn’t hold affirming theology but, in my observation, maintains a loving and nonjudgemental posture.)

At any rate, let me tell you the story and what I’ve learned:

I had been working with a church of refugees from Congo and Angola, and my role/goal was to help the pastor develop leadership from within the congregation so that they would have a self-sustaining structure. We met weekly in the basement of a local church because they simply could not afford their own building, and eventually the hard financial times caught up with the head pastor.

One day I unexpectedly found us having a conversation at my kitchen table where he told me, “I don’t have any money and I have to take another job. I’ve been offered a position in a different part of the country, and I’m leaving in two weeks. I’ll need you to take over the church.”

As much as I loved every last one of them, I gently pushed back and told him that I didn’t think it was right for me– a white guy from America– to be the one teaching and leading a congregation of African refugees. The church needed indigenous leadership, I argued. However, he didn’t feel that such structure existed yet, and that if I said no, the church would just close. I reluctantly agreed to take over with the understanding that I was going to immediately begin training people within the congregation to take over as soon as possible.

As a formality, he wanted to introduce me to the pastor whose church basement we met in (I didn’t know him/had never met him), and he set up a breakfast meeting for a few days later. As I sat down in the Denny’s booth and added cream to my coffee, the first words out of his mouth made me realize that the whole meeting was doomed from the beginning:

“I know who you are. I’ve read your blog. I need you to tell me about your position on homosexuality.” he said.

Ugh. I couldn’t believe the conversation was starting this way.

I tried to be gentle and diplomatic in my reply, not wanting to do anything to unintentionally harm the refugees. Knowing from reading his bio online that he didn’t have a theological education (strangely, we have a lot of pastors in Maine who have never been to seminary) I pointed to the fact that there is some great scholarship on the issue he should check out. He told me that someone once gave him pamphlets on homosexuality and the Bible and that he found the arguments unconvincing, so there was that. I even explained that I too had my doubts on how to approach some of those verses, but that I knew at a minimum I would not condemn LGBTQ people, and that I believe they must be included in the church.

Instead of the theology of it all, he seemed most stressed out by the idea that I’d perform a gay wedding in his church. I couldn’t figure out why this was even on his radar– the congregation was a conservative, Congolese Pentecostal church. If you’ve seen the documentary God Loves Uganda, you’d know that (due to Western influence) many African Christians are anti-LGBTQ to an absolute extreme, and this particular church was definitely not affirming. I explained that since the church itself was not affirming (and that I did not hold an ordination which allowed me to perform an LGBTQ wedding), the idea of an LGBTQ wedding was inconceivable. Thus, the whole thing was a non-issue– at least from my standpoint.

I was there to help them develop their own leadership and to love them– and that was all.

As the conversation ended however, it quickly became clear that my refusal to denounce LGBTQ individuals was a critical issue for him– and that having an anti-LGBTQ posture was actually more important than being the Church.

“I’d be a shame for the refugees to not have a place to meet because of you.” he said.

Ugh. My heart sunk when he said that. How hateful can a person get, that they’d kick out a bunch of poor refugees because the one person directly helping them thinks that LGBTQ people should have a seat at God’s table as well?

I have loved the refugee community, and the idea that they could be refugees once again on my account was actually heartbreaking. I didn’t even know what to say, so the meeting ended with the pastor looking across the table and saying, “you do what you’ve got to do, and I’ll do what I have to do.”

Ending with such a threat was bad news for the refugees, and the Congolese pastor knew it too. Even though he needed the money, he turned down the job offer and stayed at the church– a move that I thought would at least save the day for the congregation, though it came at a high price to himself.

Sadly, it didn’t save anything. Just a few weeks later we had a funeral for a young pregnant woman who was killed when her former boyfriend purposely ran her over with his car. Instead of relegating the African congregation to the basement where we were normally forced to meet, we were allowed to have the funeral in the sanctuary where the white congregation met. However, just a short time after the funeral we got what I had hoped to avoid: an eviction notice. We were told we were being kicked out because we had forgotten to plug their microphone back in, but I knew what it was really about.

It was about the choice to be anti-LGBTQ instead of making the choice to be the Church.

The chief irony however, is that the refugee congregation was able to find new space right away– at a Methodist church who would only agree to share their space if the church welcomed LGBTQ persons. On that day I smiled as I thought about the words of Joseph to his brothers: “What you intended for evil, God intended for good.”

As time and space has come between me and that situation (which definitely triggered my church trauma), I am reminded that the lesson learned is so much bigger than this individual story– because all churches are being faced with this choice. Some are choosing to be the Church, and some are choosing to embrace an anti-LGBTQ posture.

You see, the Church Jesus established is to be a house of worship for all people, and that includes LGBTQ individuals. The Church exists to be a safe place, a place where people can come and connect with God, and a place where people can find love and healing from the wounds of this world– and that too, includes LGBTQ individuals. The moment they’re excluded, ostracized, or shunned instead of being embraced and loved, is the moment such a body ceases to be the Church.

So, regardless of one’s individual theology relating to LGBTQ, we’re faced with some pressing questions:

Do we want to stand against people made in the image of God, or will we include and love them?

Do we want to be a place of healing for some people, or a place of healing for all people?

Do we want to be anti-LGBTQ, or do we want to be the Church?

Me? I choose to be the Church, and I do so without apology.

Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

It's not the end of the world, but it's pretty #@&% close. Trump's America & Franklin Graham's Christianity must be resisted.

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15 Responses

  1. Here’s a great comment on the reality of being a gay Christian..

    “I am a former Baptist Pastor and Missionary, now retired. Still married to my wife for over 44 years. But I am gay, medically proven during electronic shock therapy organized by the President of the Baptist Church with the promise it would change me. It was driven automatically by measuring body temperatures of a persons private parts when seeing about 1000 pictures of men and 1000 pictures of women over about 10 days. When my body temperature rose when I saw the guys which is natural for me, they delivered high voltages of electricity through wires that were also attached. It didn’t work. The machine never recorded anything when I saw all those pictures of nude women. There isn’t anything anyone can do to alter the outcome of those tests. I am not sexually active, but 44 years is a long time to pretend to be someone I am not sexually active. God created me gay and I am now proud of that.
    At church, I was told I was not good enough to turn up for a working bee, be on the cleaning roster or to help take up the offering. But when I was told I was not welcome to even attend church, I left the church, and I shall never return. Enough is enough.

    Comments here about Christians here feeling they will be the victims when gay marriage is eventually passed, makes me smile. For centuries the victims of extreme physical violence, discrimination and abuse have definitely been the gay community.
    “Love does no harm to its neighbour”. Rom 13:10

    The entire medical profession declassified homosexuality as an illness 42 years ago this year.

    I strongly support gay marriage. Loving committed monogamous gay marriage is not condemned in scripture anywhere. Celibacy is not mandated in scripture anywhere. For a gay Christian who holds the traditional view of marriage, the very WORST thing that can happen is to fall in love. They must walk away heart broken, and that has to happen every single time for their entire life. Something is terribly wrong.

    Gay marriage was passed in the UK a few years ago. In 2014, the Baptist Church assembly resolved that any church could conduct gay marriages, without fear of being disciplined. Things change.”

    http://baysidechurch.com.au/thoughts-on-same-sex-marriage/

  2. I used to get bent out of shape over my and my brethrens treatment at the hands of Christians until I read the Bible and realized there are no more Christians.

    “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have
    been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I
    am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)

    No real miracles in millennia. The last Christian died in the first century.

  3. Ben’s article is a little fuzzy; Does he mean being “anti-LGBTQ” as being against LGBTQ activism or LGBTQ people themselves? What does he mean by “affirming”? Does he mean affirming sin or affirming people who sin, as there are no people who do not sin. There are people who recognize they are sinners in need of redemption and there are people who don’t realize they are sinners in need of repentance. How can “being the church” be not recognizing sin for what it is and that there are always consequences? LGBTQ people need the church as much as everyone else; but neither do they need to be mislead. They need to learn of the love God has for them and the love which those whom have been redeemed have for them. It is the love of God that changes hearts and the power of the Holy Spirit that changes lives. When the church gets lost in the culture, however, darkness creeps over the light, but God in His mercy will not put out a flickering flame.

  4. HI Benjamin, Great piece and it genuinely upset me to know that (what I see as) bigotry was the over-riding factor of the issues you faced in your placement in the congo. That said, I don’t personally see you choosing the Church, as I have never seen any scripture where Jesus of Nazareth stated that people must congregate in buildings, despite the fact you were fortunate enough to eventually have a Methodist Church in accepting ALL in this instance .

    If anything I see your choice as being one between a WWJD mentality over dogma. IMO, you did the right thing as Jesus was certainly no conformist and in fact,if Luke 11 can be seen as a tell tale sign, He loathed such a legalist approach.

    A place to help to heal comes from your heart, not a building. A place to love comes from your heart and not a building. It’s usually those with closed hearts who RELY on a building to close others out, as they did you and the basement congregation.

    You however just seem to grow with love and I applaud you for that. In this seemingly crazy world, your love, caring and lucidity shines through. Don’t allow a small few to taint your world view, but instead learn from it to just become a better you. 🙂

  5. God is love – yet He still condemns gay sex because He did not design us for it. Those who are trying to ‘re-interpret’ both Old and New Testaments to make God’s view fit into today’s secular society are doing a great disservice to the Church as a whole. The Church was never supposed to reflect society or its morality – it was supposed to be different – it stood out in Roman times like a sore thumb, hence the subsequent persecution. It is clear, from the gospels and other NT writings, that church leadership took seriously issues of sin. Its a shame many today just either look the other way or deny God’s/Jesus’ teaching. As for ‘scholars’ like Kirk, I suspect you view him as ‘outstanding’ only because he agrees with you (he doesn’t understand justification as a start, never mind God’s view of sexual morality). ‘I don’t think those who still hold non-affirming theology automatically cease to be the church.’ How kind of you Ben! You clearly don’t see the irony of that statement.

  6. As long as LGBTQ people continue to be a ‘theological question,’ or a debate or something for straight white male pastors like Preston Sprinkle to turn into a media platform to sell not one, but two books about how to hate a part of us but still ‘love’ us, there will be no place for most of us in the Church.

    A few LGBT people find enough good in Christianity to whether the constant abuse. Most do not. And the longer the Church struggles to affirm our basic humanity, the more appropriate the estrangement between the LGBT community and the Christian Church is.

  7. When an unexpected pregnancy left me in a financial bind, it was a totally secular guy, a Mormon and a gay guy that came to help.

    It taught me something about grace.

    Ever after, I’ve had a completely different viewpoint on the matter. I’m with Ben on this one.

    Point of clarification: my wife got pregnant. Not me. It wasn’t anything miraculous beyond the regular miraculousness of it all.

  8. The religious right has had a number of litmus tests in the past. Innerancy of Scripture was big for awhile. Many Evangelical seminaries used it as a hiring/firing standard. Then came abortion, which the church on the right rallied around (note: I am pro-life but am not a total turd about it). Being anti-Gay is the latest test and will not be the last. It’s interesting to note that when the right is denied the legal right to persecute others, they claim they themselves are now being persecuted. Pretty sad. Ben, I noticed your comment on Preston Sprinkle, and agree it is good to see a conservative (that does not support SSM) at least willing to admit the church needs to do better. Having read his stuff, though, I don’t see how he and others of like mind have anything to offer Gays, certainly not the Good News. I have given the issue some thought, Preston’s thread mentioned that Jesus’s view of the Law was “stricter” than that of the Pharisees. It was an “ah hah” moment for me. It reflects a total misunderstanding of the Christian’s relationship to the Law. Jesus was not a legalist, this is clearly shown in Mtt 5, in his “you have heard it said, but I say unto you” treatment of the Decalogue. What Preston, and the church in general, does not realize is that Christ calls us to a understanding of the underlying reasons or “spirit” of the Law. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, not because they weren’t keeping the Law, (they did) but that their lack of keeping the spirit of the Law hurt others. This is where we are today, it is not the Jewish leadership and teachers who are Pharisees. The church has become modern Pharisees. Our theology ends up hurting others. Our righteousness ends up blinding us to our own self-righteousness. Preston’s hermeneutical principal of legalism will prevent him from a meaningful application of the Gospel to new, modern circumstances.

  9. What a great story. Being kicked out for an unplugged microphone. Ben Corey is the Ebenezer Elliot of our times

  10. There are congregations, both Christian and Jewish, where same-sex couples, incl. those married with children, are welcome. A congregation that tells the couple that their relationship is sin, and that they should divorce or the equivalent and live the rests of their lives as single and celibate, isn’t going to convince LGBT people that the “love” in that congregation is real.

    Answers that amount to “our love is real, the problem is that you love sin” are not going to convince.

  11. I don’t know if this is the proper place to ask this question or not, but I’ll give it a shot.

    I grew up going to a United Methodist Church. Eventually I came to learn that the official UMC position on homosexuality is that it’s “incompatible with Christian teaching” and that United Methodists both officially oppose same-sex marriage, both within the church and in civil law. Following this (and years after leaving the church), I came to learn that there are Methodists who in fact believe that there’s nothing wrong with being LGBT and actually do support marriage equality.

    So here’s what I don’t get, and what nobody has been able to answer to my satisfaction: How can one call themselves by the label “Methodist” (or any other anti-LGBT denomination) when they don’t actually believe what that label requires them to believe? If you are saying that your church’s official teachings are wrong, then why should you want to be a part of it? To me, it’s like calling yourself a “free-market Communist”. It’s inherently contradictory. Why support a doctrine that you believe to be wrong?

  12. I´m wondering if a Roman Catholic reader might be able to shed some light on this sensitive subject.

    From what I have read, I know that the Roman Catholic Church (for now at least) views homosexuality as morally evil. That said, the RCC doesn´t seem to catch as much flack as the conservative evangelicals do with regard to this topic. Has the RCC found a way to be compassionate to LGBT individuals in it´s theological understanding and outreach in ways conservative evangelicals have not? If so, what can conservative evangelicals glean from this understanding?

  13. I try not to be prejudiced against hard-line “Christianity”.

    I fail much of the time, though fortunately I know enough Christians to realise “they’re not all like that”.

    No, but the politically active ones are, pretty much universally with very few exceptions.

    The ones who are anti-GLBTQ are also anti-GLBTQI. Just as much. Not much difference. Those people born Intersex, with bodies neither wholly male nor female, get just as much crap from these people as GLBTQs. If there’s any difference, it’s that Intersex people get treated worse.

    It has nothing to do with “behaviour” or “sin”. It’s that they’re icky. They make these anti-GLBTQ people feel uncomfortable. So in order to see themselves as being Righteous, it is necessary that they believe that Intersex people are Evil in some way, even if they can’t say exactly why that is. Ask them, and they’ll talk about “gayism” and a “homosexual agenda”, though exactly what the connection is between same-sex attraction and Intersex is, they refuse to say. They just know they’re evil perverted pedophiles in revolt against God and destined for Hell, the sooner the better, and all too many take concrete steps to hasten the process.

    My own philosophy is “Be Kind”. Matthew 22:39-40. 1 Corinthians 13.

    They don’t make it easy. I know I should cut them slack, none are perfect, but Jeez Louise it gets a bit much when Churches band together just to be cruel to those whose existence they find disquieting, and do so with such unctuous sanctimony, in a conspicuous display of piety that brings the money rolling in.

    Which wouldn’t matter, except the laws these people pass kill. Literally. And they take an unholy joy in that.

    It takes a better person than I to swallow that and say “they’re human too… I have my own faults..” and do so with a smile. I can say it, I can believe it, I can act on it, but the smile of genuine goodwill…. no. It’s a duty to me, not the pleasure of charity that it should be. I’m so far from being the kind of person I want to be, but no matter. I’m working on it.

    Anyway, until you realise that mere theological argument won’t reach them, their views aren’t based on anything more than their own discomfort, you’ll be constantly disappointed when exegesis and logic don’t work.

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