Christ welcomes everyone to his table in their humanity and brokenness. Therefore, we invite all people, whatever their age, faith position, or cultural, gender, or sexual identity, to participate fully in the life of the church. We acknowledge that many churches claim to welcome all, yet exclude those who identify as LGBTI+; and that many Christians condemn both LGBTI+ people and those who walk with them. This cultural moment leads us to address why we believe LGBTI+ people are among the saints and sinners welcomed by Jesus.
Jesus did not offer explicit teaching on sexual or gender identity, but invited us into a way of life which demolishes human boundaries through love. Again and again, he sought out people who were excluded from the mainstream by reason of gender, sexual history, ethnic background, political allegiance, mental illness, other disability, or age, and drew them into community. Through the power of his loving acceptance, their lives, and the life of the new community, were transformed.
His priority was to reach out to people who were marginalized by Jewish law, for he argued that the law was created for people, not people for the law (Mark 2:27). In other words, the law exists only to help people enter ever more deeply into the life of God. When the law no longer serves this purpose and instead drives people away from God, it must be revisited.
This understanding informed Peter, when he dreamed that all things are good to eat (Acts 10). He subsequently observed Gentiles, who ate food which did not meet Jewish purity laws, being filled with the Holy Spirit (10:44-48). Realizing that the Spirit must be at work even in those who live outside the Jewish law, Peter baptized them into the body of Christ. The same reasoning is evident in Acts 8, when Philip was sent to encounter a eunuch from Ethiopia. Eunuchs were explicitly forbidden from worshipping at the Jewish temple, and were physically disqualified from insider status under Jewish law. Yet when the eunuch asked Philip, “What is to stop you from baptizing me?”, Philip recognized the work of the Holy Spirit in him and baptized the eunuch into the body of Christ. The eunuch went on his way rejoicing, the first ever missionary to Africa. These stories suggest that, whatever their identity, anyone who manifests the work of the Holy Spirit should be welcomed into the life of the church, and entrusted to share the good news with others.
As Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits … every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:16-17). So we should look for the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). If those fruits are present, then we can be confident that the Spirit is at work in that person.
Currently, most Christians who identify as LGBTI+ feel they either need to hide their identity in order to remain in the church, or leave the church in order to live openly and honestly. Many thereby lose their faith. This suggests that our traditions on human sexuality are, in fact, leading to bad fruit (dishonesty, hypocrisy, loathing of self and others, exclusion, and/or loss of faith). Since both Jesus and the early church critiqued traditions which produce bad fruit, so too must we critique our traditions on human sexuality.
Ultimately, of course, God is the judge: not us. And we can risk being accused of “tying up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and laying them on the shoulders of others” (Matthew 23:4) by judging LGBTI+ people and preventing them from living openly and freely among us. Or, like Jesus, we can risk being accused of “welcoming sinners and outcasts” (Luke 15:1-2), and get on with loving one another, sharing one another’s burdens, and engaging in the work of justice, mercy, and peace together. As we seek to stand with Jesus, instead of upholding traditions which lead to marginalisation and condemnation, we invite LGBTI+ Christians to live freely, wholeheartedly, and honestly in their identity, that they may grow in faith, hope, and love as members of the body of Christ.
Image shows a panel from the Gospel of Saint Mark Commemorative Screen at the Athol Gill Centre in Clifton Hill. The artist is David Wong. Used with permission.