Last week, our brother Joel Rothman had an article published in ABC Religion & Ethics. He shows how the Bible’s descriptions of homosexuality do not match lived experience; reminds us that the church has changed its position on several significant issues of morality and Christian faithfulness; and calls us to remedy the great suffering caused by the church’s historic condemnation of LGBTQI+ people. You can read his article here.
Meanwhile, over at Eureka Street, Sanctuary friend and sometime visitor Chelsea Candy also weighed into the Israel Folau debate. Her long experience as a community lawyer led to a different, but also challenging, take, as she outlined the ways the money raised by the Australian Christian Lobby could be used by a community legal centre to radically improve thousands of people’s lives in ways which sound suspiciously like Jesus-priorities. Read her piece here.
This Thursday, I am off to the Great South Coast LGBTQ Inclusion Workshop to hear more about the lived experiences of local LGBTI+ people and to help workshop what LGBTI+ inclusion means in this time and place. The event is open to the public, but I was specifically asked to go by members of the LGBTI+ community as the pastor of a church which is known for being actively inclusive and which has been identified as part of the solution. Therefore I will appreciate your prayers, especially for knowing when to listen and when to speak.
So this week is a great week to remind you of our church’s position on LGBTI+ welcome. You can find it here, but I have also reproduced it below. If you know it by heart, well done; if you think it will be good news to your social network, share it on Facebook.
LGBTI+? You are welcome here (reproduced from here)
Our pastor is a member of South West Victoria Pride; and Sanctuary is recognised as a Safe and Welcome Place by Safe in the South West.
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. (Read more about the eunuch, vasectomies, and trans identities here.)
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 not for human identity markers, but 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.
And ultimately, of course, God is the judge: not us. 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, with 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. Because 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.
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