In session three of the Fall 2017 Talking Points event at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, Dr. Preston Sprinkle and Laurie Krieg engaged in a dialogue to help attendees understand and join the LGBT+ conversation. They talked openly and honestly about how churches can come alongside people who struggle with same-sex attraction so that they do not have to struggle alone.
Many attendees found the frankness of this session to be helpful. As one person commented, “They just went there, which was refreshing.”
Throughout the session, they touched on several practical ways churches can understand and step into the LGBT+ conversation. Here are just five of them:
1. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR CHURCH’S ATMOSPHERE. IS IT HOSTILE OR ACCEPTING?
They began by exploring Krieg’s experience in her late-teens and early twenties as she struggled with her sexuality. Although she had grown up in the church and, on the outside, looked like a model Christian, she felt like a complete outsider. At one point, she even wrote in her journal, “It is harder for me to stay in the church than to leave.”
She felt this way because of the atmosphere of the church. People made off-handed comments with a clear “us versus them” tone. They assumed that she would laugh, along with everyone else, at effeminate men and “the gays.” Yet, the people at her church had no idea she was wrestling with her sexuality, and that she felt, in some ways, more like the people they were laughing at than like them.
The result of this hostile environment was that she felt devalued as a person.
2. BE CONSISTENT. MAKE SPACE FOR PEOPLE TO STRUGGLE IN COMMUNITY—JUST LIKE OTHER SINS.
Krieg was quick to point out that the unsafe atmosphere was not the worst part of her experience. Rather, it was the hypocrisy she saw. People were open to hearing and helping men who struggled with pornography, but same-sex attraction was taboo. On the surface, the church said, “We’re all broken,” but in reality they added “but not like them (LGBT+ people)!” They could talk about sexual sins and give each other space to struggle, but they had no room for Krieg’s struggle with same-sex attraction. It was this hypocrisy—more than anything else—that alienated Krieg and pushed her to the verge of leaving the church.
The sobering reality is that Krieg’s experience is not unique. Sprinkle noted that many people have similar stories, people we might not even imagine because there is no one “gay profile.” Statistically speaking, Krieg said around 10-11% of church attendees experience same-sex attraction at some level, so there are most likely several people in your church who are in this boat. Therefore, it is imperative that we think about how we can do a better job of coming alongside our Christian brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attraction so that they no longer have to struggle alone.
3. WATCH YOUR WORDS. IT’S ABOUT HOSPITALITY, NOT POLITICAL CORRECTNESS.
Sprinkle and Krieg emphasized throughout this session that language matters. The words we use can build up or tear down. Thus, it is of the utmost importance that we choose our words carefully. Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction are often listening closely to what we say and how we say it. They often desire to find safe people with whom they can share their struggle. They need a community to come around them and support them in their pursuit of holiness. Yet, when they hear terms like “gay agenda,” “gay lifestyle,” and statements like “love the sinner, hate the sin,” they naturally feel ostracism and rejection rather than love. Krieg noted that these types of comments and harsh tones would often lead her to put up “a metaphorical brick wall.”
Therefore, Sprinkle and Krieg challenged us to be careful about the words we use, to be specific rather than general—e.g., “same-sex sexual relations” rather than “gay lifestyle”—and to accommodate our language to the needs of those with whom we are talking.
Krieg recognized that conservative Christians often find this level of semantic nitpicking to be disgustingly politically correct. However, she powerfully explained that it is essential and God-honoring to be sensitive to the ears and feelings of others because we are called to be effective missionaries. Therefore, she said, we should be “willing to use the language of the day all day to preach the gospel.” Language truly does matter.
4. MAKE CLEAR DISTINCTIONS: ATTRACTION, ORIENTATION, IDENTITY, LUST, SEXUAL BEHAVIOR.
Sprinkle went on to explain that the term “gay” can be used to refer to four different things: attraction (or orientation), identity, lust and sexual behavior. Too often, Christians conflate these terms and say “it is a sin to be gay.” However, this is not accurate, or at least, it’s tragically unclear. While lust and same-sex sexual behavior are called out as sin in Scripture, attraction and identity are not. A person can be attracted to people of the same sex—this can be a part of who they are—and still be a faithful follower of Jesus.
Sprinkle said that these distinctions are important because they make room in the church for gay people. They, along with straight people, can repent of lust and sexual behavior that deviates from the Scriptural model of marriage. Yet, they should not be condemned simply because they are attracted to people of the same-sex.
5. PREPARE YOURSELF TO SPEAK WITH HUMILITY.
Finally, Sprinkle and Krieg talked about the importance of actually speaking about same-sex attraction in church. Too often pastors and churches shy away from this topic, which often does more harm than good. Sprinkle and Krieg encouraged pastors to prepare well and to speak with humility, recognizing that they do not have all the answers. As they do, they should speak from a place of personal and relational burden, knowing that their words and tone will impact real people.
From beginning to end, Sprinkle and Krieg emphasized that, as Christians we are called to love. This will often take us out of our comfort zones. However, as missionaries called to share the love of Jesus, we can joyfully accommodate our language, speak precisely and love bravely the many people, including LGBT+ people, that need Him.
The following resources were recommended by the conference speakers for further reading:
- “Is God Anti-Gay? And Other Questions About Homosexuality, the Bible and Same-Sex Attraction” by Sam Allberry
- “Same-Sex Attraction and the Church: The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life” by Ed Shaw
- “Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church” edited by Preston Sprinkle
- “Talking Points: Transgender” by Vaughan Roberts
- “Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture” by Mark Yarhouse