After wrestling, studying, meeting, praying with, fearing, and listening to LGBTQ people, I realized they are not hurting anyone. We are hurting them. And we are the Church.
I’m not attempting to be the expert in the field of gender and sexual orientation. I grapple, research, and try to understand people that until recently I said that I love, but I really condemned and feared them. Yes, feared. As I wrestled with LGBTQ people and what I thought the Bible said, a friend said to me, “What are you afraid of? They are not hurting you. They are not hurting anyone.” Their words prodded and haunted me while I wrestled with LGBTQ people and God. Were they hurting anyone?
Think About It
“I’ve read the Bible and I’m doomed. But this is who I am, and if God cannot accept me for who I am, then I am doomed.” A person I love very much said this to me at a local diner one day. A small fundamentalist Baptist church accepted and loved this man and his partner. He attended regularly and served in that church for decades. But on that day, he still felt doomed. After grappling for 30 years and trying to make homosexuality the ‘abomination’ that it was supposed to be, here sat a person I loved. Here sat a person who loved God. Here sat a person who loved others and did not hurt them. Here sat a person who felt he was beyond God’s love according to modern scripture interpretation. During our ongoing conversations, I realized that something was just not right in how we were treating LGBTQ people. Something needed to change.
When websites popped into existence, I started reading biblical arguments against and for homosexuality. I remember commenting to my wife over a decade ago, “I wish even one group against homosexuality could produce a biblical study as competent and convincing as the sites that were pro homosexuality.” That statement stuck with me and motivated me to dive deeper into this ‘issue.’ I continued running into my fear of homosexuality. What if the teaching I had accepted was not really biblical? Fear caused me to treat LGTBQ people like issues. But were they hurting anyone?
Can being LGBTQ be ‘healed’, converted, denied, or cast out of a person? Therapies, casting out demons of homosexuality, and denial overwhelmingly do not help an LGBTQ person become straight. They overwhelmingly cause emotional and social distress that hurts families and often ends in depression, suicide, and more. Do the research. Better yet, talk to LGBTQ people. If you have nothing to fear, then listen to them. If you are fearful of affirming queer people, face that fear and listen to them.
“What are you afraid of? They are not hurting anyone.”
Getting to Know LGBTQ People
‘There is no substitute for experience’ rings true. I decided to continue researching but also to talk to people instead of hypothetically talking about LGBTQ people like they were issues.
Meeting LGBTQ people changed everything for me. I continue to meet LGBTQ people. I no longer talk about them generically. I cannot talk about scripture without people coming to mind. They have names, faces, hopes, dreams, hurts, and personalities like me and everyone else. They are friends and family. They are peers in ministry. People. They are not any more or less deviant than the rest of the population. But I, we, are afraid of them. I see and hear fear in the comments, discussions, jokes, and ostracization of LGBTQ people. But their lives impact me.
I watch the fear and agony, not just frustration, but agony that LGBTQ people live with. They are shamed. They are ridiculed. They are denied positions they are the most qualified to hold. They tried for all they were worth to be ‘straight’ and to fit in. One man told us that he begged God every day to take it away but God never had.…and never did. That man died alone and ashamed, isolating himself from his best friends. I witnessed incredibly talented and compassionate people denied acceptance, ministry positions, fulfillment, respect, and love because they could not exorcize, sanctify, eradicate, or reprogram who they were. Their constant fear and agony troubles me.
I tried to help queer people heal from their hurts and “go straight.” I thought they must have been abused as a child, or maybe just neglected. Something had to have happened, right? Wrong. Not every abused, neglected, or humiliated kid ends up gay or promiscuous or any other thing. So, I stopped trying to ‘fix’ LGBTQ people. Then I started ‘seeing’ LGBTQ people.
When I gave up trying to fix LGBTQ people, I started to see LGBTQ for who they really are. For decades, I thought they were hiding from their hurts and true selves. Then I saw differently. A loved one who is gay told me, “Kenny, do you really think I had a choice, that I chose this life? Do you really think I chose to live this difficult of a life? Look at my life. It was not a choice. It is who I am.”
LGBTQ people define courage. Do you really think a teenager is going to come out as gay and take all the peer abuse for the fun of it? Not the ones I’m meeting. They know they cannot hope to be what everyone wants them to be, so queer people decide to just say, “Here I am. I’m LGBTQ. I can’t do anything about it. If you don’t like it, I can’t do anything about that either. Now let’s get it over with and get on with life.” They choose to be courageously authentic because they were dying trying to be anyone else.
They are self-aware. Really. I’m not sure why, but queer people know themselves as well or better than I know myself. They wrestle, compare, read, study, and do whatever they need to do, but they come to grips with who they are. By the time a person comes out, they have done so much self-work that I find them incredibly self-aware and refreshing to be around.
“What are you afraid of? They are not hurting anyone.”
The Bible Tells Me So
Again, I go back to an early fear and feeling that I had about Bible studies for and against homosexuality. The pro-homosexuality studies always seemed more logical, more in depth, and more honest. So I started doing my own research and continue today. I am not going to walk through every Bible passage that deals with sexuality. However, I do want to share a few things that led me to seeing and reading these scriptures with a new understanding.
Ultimately, I do not believe that scripture deals with our concept or definition of homosexuality. It does not prohibit or endorse homosexuality. Here are three realizations that opened my eyes and heart to new understanding:
- The etymology of the words ‘homosexual’ and ‘homosexuality’.
- Not one scripture deals with our concept or definition of homosexuality. Instead they deal with the different problems of power, extramarital sex, predators, and sexual abuse.
- Scripture shows a tradition of adapting and changing from generation to generation to love and to include people.
In biblical history, the term ‘homosexuality’ was not a known term or concept. English translations that use the words ‘homosexual’ or ‘homosexuality’ are inaccurate. They project our modern concept of homosexuality back into a history that viewed sex and sexuality differently. The words ‘homosexual’ or ‘homosexuality’ were not coined until the mid to late 1800’s. After that, in 1946, English translators exchanged words like ‘fornication’, ‘sexual immorality’, or ‘perversion’ for homosexual and homosexuality. But our concept of homosexuality does not translate to the problems that the scriptures were talking about with those words. Scripture never talked about our concept of homosexuality. It never talked about two men or two women being attracted to one another, being in love with one another, and being in a marriage relationship. If scripture did not talk about our concept of homosexuality, what was it talking about?
Scripture references deal with sexual perversion. You might say, “Yes, like homosexuality.’ But no, they never talked about homosexuality. Scripture never says to deny two people of the same sex the possibility of marriage or to permit it. Men used sex to overpower and dominate over each other, boys, conquered enemies, subordinates, and women. Men often dealt in perverted sex for power, domination, self-gratification, temple prostitution and money. The passages of scripture that we use to clobber and shame LGBTQ people really do not address LGBTQ people. They address different situations and the problems of greed and power. They address people who are hurting other people. LGBTQ people are not hurting anyone. I could go on, but I started to realize that scripture was not dealing with our concept of homosexuality and LGBTQ people in 2021.
“What are you afraid of? They are not hurting anyone.”
In my relationships and conversations with LGBTQ people, the Church of Jesus Christ saddens me the most. Of the LGBTQ people I know, the worst abuse and rejection comes from those growing up in Christian families and churches. And I mean real abuse! It breaks my heart to see and feel the damage caused by people carrying Bibles and spouting off a few half verses crammed full of their own fear. And I confess, I championed the company line many times. Forgive my fear. As a youth pastor, I met LGBTQ teenagers. I remember one young man who was a great guy and a good athlete. We were goofing around in the gym sometime after this young man “came out.” It broke my heart to see the other guys in the gym. They were his friends until he came out. No matter how open this young man was, they would not pass him the ball. What were they afraid of? Was something going to rub off or would he take it wrong if someone passed the ball to him? Broke my heart. I knew something was wrong. What scares us about LGBTQ people?
Scripture and history demonstrate a tradition of applying scripture to the changing culture. Each new generation in scripture was tasked with applying God’s love and image to their generation. Someone said scripture was not meant to be the last word but the first word. We have a tradition of evaluating and applying the love of God and the image of God in each person to each new generation. Change is not bad. Everything that grows changes. Changing just to change is not wise. But learning, loving, and changing shows maturity, humility and wisdom.
“What are you afraid of? They are not hurting you. They are not hurting anyone.”
Experience matters. Some people tell me I only affirm LGBTQ people because I have family members and friends who are LGBTQ. On one hand, no. Believe me or not, but no. On the other, you bet your eternal life on it. Experience matters. And meeting and knowing people matters. If you do not know a LGBTQ person, you should not judge them. Experience matters because it becomes tradition. It becomes how we read scripture. We cannot read scripture outside of tradition. Everything filters through experience whether we want to admit it or not. My experiences lead me to affirm LGBTQ people.
“What are you afraid of? They are not hurting you. They are not hurting anyone.” We are hurting them and we need to stop.
Ken Garner grew up in the Church of the Nazarene. He was educated in Nazarene universities and served as an ordained Elder in the Church of the Nazarene until April 1, 2022. He was a Youth Pastor, Executive Pastor, and Lead Pastor. Now he and his wife, Teresa Beth (Ulmet) Garner, live in Ohio and try to love more with less fear as they connect with spiritual wanderers through their venture, Love More Less Fear, LLC, lovemorelessfear.com, and their podcast.