This is a guest post by Kate Vosburg. She has been on IV staff for almost 15 years, on 6 different campuses. She loves serving alongside her husband, Dave, who is a professor on the campus where she serves. With him as a faculty, on the inside of campus, there have been some amazing opportunities to share the gospel. Kate is an evangelist who loves to be on the front-lines with her students, finding ways into unreached communities and sharing the Gospel. Dave and Kate have 3 kids (Nate 6, Isabella 4, Diego 4) who keep Kate on her toes and laughing at their creative, crazy antics.
So, is reaching LGBTQ (Lesibian, Gay, Bi, Transgender, Queer) people worth it? Many evangelical Christians seem to say no. Not explicitly, of course. But when we don’t actively reach out to people in the LGBTQ community and proactively address homosexuality in all its complexity, we basically opt out of LGBTQ ministry. There are very few LGBTQ people who will enter a Christian space that has not made it clear that they’re welcome. And I don’t blame them; everyone “knows” how Christians treat gay people (a stereotype that is grounded in many years of countless experiences).
The Deep Need
However, there is a deep spiritual hunger in the LGBTQ community, as far as I’ve found. There are many gay people with Christian backgrounds, but they feel they were ostracized from Christian community once they came out. There are many other gay folks who are spiritually curious and hungry, but they discount Christ because they have heard that his followers don’t want them unless they’re straight. (And of course, there are also many of us Christians in Christian communities who have LGBTQ sexual desires and don’t know how to work deal with these desires, fearing to ask our Christian communities for help.)
Who will reach this lost group of people? These people whom Christ loves and has come to rescue? Who will help our Christian brothers and sisters who struggle alone?
Straight non-Christians discount Christ
What adds to this need is that many straight non-Christians discount Christ for the same reasons: who wants to follow a god that is hateful to people because of whom they love? Many Christians (straight and gay) wrestle with this question as well. As our society becomes more comfortable with and supportive of almost all forms of sexual expression and intimacy, the question of Christ’s goodness in light of his “restrictions” will be pressed deeper and deeper. If we don’t begin addressing questions around sexuality regularly, honestly, and thoroughly, we will be passively undermining the faith of Christians as well as neglecting the spiritual needs of everyone else.
What Kate is Doing
I’ve become increasingly convinced that each of our Christian communities needs to address sex, sexuality, homosexuality, and identity each year. And in much more complex ways than a moralistic sermon against pre-marital sex and condemning homosexuality. Rather, we need to create space in our Christian community to wrestle with what it means to be sexual creatures, what are God’s intentions for our sexuality, what is marriage and its purpose, how Christ interacts with our many sub-identities, and what we do when we find that our sexual desires don’t match God’s commands (which is the situation for about 99% of us).
To really create space for this larger conversation takes TIME. If you’ve never led your community through this, it takes A LOT of time. But as I’m entering the third year of leading my college community through this, here is what I’m finding that makes it worth my time:
- Authority of Scripture: We wrestle deeply with what it means that Scripture has authority.
- Interpretation of Scripture: We struggle with how to interpret Scripture consistently and in submission to Christ, rather than our own preferences.
- Purpose of marriage: We have to ask what is God’s intention for marriage, which turns out to be counter to the pervasive and degraded picture the American media gives.
- True fulfillment: In a culture that screams that true fulfillment is found in an exciting sexual encounter, we seek out what truly fulfills.
- Unity through conflict: A typical response to conflict in Christian community is to avoid it or leave the community, but as we wrestle through this together, Christians experience what it means to have unity in Christ, not consensus.
- Homophobia exposed: The sin of homophobia is alive and well in Christian communities, and it’s always good to repent of sin (1). Even some of our hetero-normativity is not helpful and should be eliminated (2).
- Preparation for LGBTQ ministry: Understanding more about LGBTQ beliefs and issues, talking openly and respectfully about beliefs Christians have, and addressing homophobia and unhelpful hetero-normativity all make space for the closeted-LGBTQ folks already in our midst and space for others to start exploring faith.
Conversation Paved the Way
In our community, this conversation paved the way for LGBTQ ministry. First, my Christian students were equipped with the language and understanding to start or deepen friendships with LGBTQ students they knew. Trust was fostered as my students were better able to listen sympathetically to people’s stories. Trust deepened because my students had learned to keep the focus on Jesus and people’s need for him, rather than pressing for a specific sexual behavior.
But many LGBTQ folks still were wary of coming into our Christian space because of how they might be received. God then led us to start an LGBTQ Bible study, where LGBTQ people knew that they were welcomed and would be safe. Some critiqued this: why would we make a Bible study specifically for a group of sinners because isn’t that condoning sin? Well, if a bunch of prostitutes wanted to get together to study Scripture in a setting where they felt safe and accepted, I would happily create a Prostitutes Bible Study. If a bunch of greedy folks wanted to find out about Jesus, I would not have a problem starting the Money Lovers Bible Study. If a bunch of sinners with various sins wanted to learn about Christ, I would gladly start a Bible Study For Any Kind of Sinner (which I usually just call “Bible Study”).
Before this LGBTQ Bible Study, there was 1 openly-gay student in our group. There have been 5-10 regular members of this LGBTQ Bible Study with 5-10 more hanging around the fringes. From this group, 2 students became Christians. We are praying to start 2 more of these groups because the spiritual need and desire is there in the LGBTQ community on our campus, if only someone will go to them.
Here I am, Lord. Send me.
If you’re ready to be sent as well, here is some advice for the road.
- Pray. Pray for God to give you a heart to love people in the LGBTQ community like he does. Pray for wisdom to know where to start. Pray for a Christian partner to help you, gay or straight. Pray for salvation for lost people.
- Read helpful books like Love is an Orientation (on keeping the focus of gay ministry on Jesus), Washed and Waiting (a gay, celibate Christian man’s struggle with sexuality), and Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views by Gagnon and Via (two writers with opposing views interact over homosexuality). You don’t have to agree with everything in these books to learn more about homosexuality, LGBTQ people, and the Bible.
- Start talking openly in your Christian community about homosexuality AND reaching LGBTQ people. Pair the two together, so that your discussions are tempered by a love of those you wish to reach, and so that you can focus on the unifying point of reaching the lost, even in the midst of controversy. Make real space for there to be discussion and disagreement so that you can work out your issues together. Even without full agreement, you can still move forward in outreach; just keep the focus on Christ and pray, a lot.
- Keep your eyes open for opportunities God brings your way, to start a friendship with a gay non-Christian person, to be the first person a gay Christian confides in, to offer to study about Jesus with a curious gay person. Likely, each opportunity will involve risk of failure or controversy. Such is life when we follow Christ.
- Contact me to talk or pray (khvosburgATgmail.com). I am just a beginner, but I am happy to give what I can. I have written a paper outlining my approach to LGBTQ ministry which my Christian community is putting into action, which I’d be happy to share with you.
- Don’t use certain Christian terms and catch phrases when talking with non-Christians, and even in talking in your community. For example, don’t talk about “homosexuals;” talk about “gay people.” And NEVER use the phrase “Hate the sin but love the sinner.” We need to understand the common LGBTQ worldview enough to know that such a phrase sounds hateful. Rather, adapt your language to reflect terms and ideas used in the LGBTQ community, while still speak of Christ, his love, and his truth.
- Don’t be deterred when you don’t know what you’re doing or when people in your Christian community start to get upset. Remember the trouble the Jewish disciples had as they reached out to Gentiles in Acts?
- Don’t forget to pray. The Spirit was able to guide a bunch of bumbling fishermen into world-wide mission as they depended on God. Don’t get so busy “doing” that you forget who really is “doing” it all anyway.
(1) I am using the term “homophobia” in the sense of an unfounded fear or antipathy towards LGBTQ people. An example of this could be if we’re worried about LGBTQ people joining our community because weird sexual tensions might arise when LGBTQ people start hitting on straight people. I think this is an unfounded fear because in my experience, LGBTQ people don’t try to hit on straight people. And also, we don’t limit the number of straight people coming into our community because of the fear that weird sexual tensions might arise when straight people start hitting on straight people. Why do we fear the one sexual tension more than the other? That seems like homophobia.
(2) “Hetero-normativity” basically means assuming that everyone is and should be straight and then acting accordingly. Part of hetero-normativity I think is appropriate in that my understanding of Scripture is that the only permitted sexual activity is for a married man and woman. However, some of hetero-normativity is not true or helpful. For example, when I give a talk on dating, I should not assume that everyone who’s listening is straight because they’re not. It is more helpful, I think, to give a short disclaimer and say something like “Tonight I’ll be talking about dating, and I’ll be speaking about dating in a straight context because that’s the context that the Bible most often addresses.” A comment like that does not affirm or condemn homosexuality; it merely acknowledges that my talk is limited in its focus. My LGBTQ students find simple acknowledgements like that to be affirming because I’m saying that I know they’re in the room, and I know that there is more to the subject than I’m addressing, without getting into the complexities of homosexuality in the wrong setting.