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Principles for reaching the LGBTQI community

We tend to instinctively separate our families, friends and neighbours into mental lists of ‘likely’ and ‘unlikely’ people to want to be introduced to Jesus. Top of the ‘unlikely’ list are often those who self-identify as LGBTQI. Here are some principles that challenge us to change our mindset:

1. Realise there is no LGBTQI community for us to reach

There is so much talk of the ‘LGBTQI community’ that it often sounds as if there is an actual clubhouse, a rule book, prescribed uniforms, official representatives, and rainbow-themed membership cards that are sent to all those from sexual minorities when they ‘come out’. The reality is that no such homogeneous community exists in the UK today.

Instead there are multiple LGBTQI communities: sometimes uniting around shared experiences of being lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer or intersex but, more often now, actually wanting to clearly distinguish themselves from each other (thus the growing number of identity labels used). And then even amongst those who have chosen the same identity-marker, plenty of different ‘lifestyle choices’ have been made (thus any talk of ‘the gay lifestyle’ is also massively unhelpful).

Christians need to better appreciate the diversity of opinions and experiences amongst sexual minorities…

Christians need to better appreciate the diversity of opinions and experiences amongst sexual minorities: listening to individuals, reading contrasting accounts, watching a variety of stories. Too often crude stereotyping has attached certain behaviours to, for example, all lesbians, in a way that doesn’t reflect the reality of individual lives. So please educate yourself on the huge differences between LGBTQI people in our local communities today and realise that we need to stop trying to reach the ‘LGBTQI community’. There is not one to reach.

2. Remember LGBTQI people are no different to us

The contemporary cliché that ‘more unites us than divides us’ needs to be constantly recalled when interacting with LGBTQI family members and friends. You are not having to appeal to totally alien experiences and values whilst seeking to connect the gospel to their lives today.

You are not having to appeal to totally alien experiences and values whilst seeking to connect the gospel to their lives today.

My experience of same-sex attraction does not fundamentally change me in ways that you cannot relate to: we share the same God-given desires for intimacy, beauty and family. As you have found the ultimate fulfilment of these needs in your relationship with God and his people, you can help me see and hear how I can best enjoy those life-giving relationships too.

The fact that your neighbour is transgender does not mean she is more or less likely to respond to the gospel

The fact that your neighbour is transgender does not mean she is more or less likely to respond to the gospel than your cisgender friend who lives across the road – or, indeed, you! The gospel truth that we are all rebels against God in need of restoration by Jesus puts us all in the same position: none of us are more or less likely to respond to his call to repent and trust in him – it takes a miracle every time. Remember how Paul puts it: ‘There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus’ (Romans 3:22b–24).

3. Recognise LGBTQI people have been discriminated against by Christians

We have often been guilty of a lack of love towards our LGBTQI neighbours – especially those of us from older generations: 

  • When the HIV epidemic was at its height we walked by on the other side of the road
  • We have demanded more change in the lives of gay Christians than we’ve asked of others
  • We have silenced open and honest conversations about same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria within our church communities

Most shamefully of all, we have too often acted as if LGBTQI women and men were beyond the powerful reach of God’s Holy Spirit. We have held back from sharing Jesus and our lives with them because we’ve wrongly presumed they won’t ever respond. From the perspective of eternity, one of the greatest acts of discrimination are any times when we have not invited someone along to hear about Jesus, not even prayed for their conversion, simply due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. We need to repent and make sure we are genuinely reaching out to all with the love of Christ.

4. Rejoice that LGBTQI people are becoming Christians today

Every evangelical church I know well has members that could identify as LGBTQI. Recent books by Rachel Gilson, Becket Cook, David Bennett and Rosaria Butterfield chronicle both their conversions to Christ and their recognition that following him means accepting that sex is just for the lifelong marriage of a man and a woman. There are many others like them. 

Common to all of the LGBTQI testimonies I have heard or read are Christians who have relentlessly and radically loved them:

  • The family member that prayed for them each day for decades
  • The pastor and his wife who served meal after meal and answered question after question
  • The believers that did not see their sexuality as the big ‘issue’ in their lives, but their lack of a living relationship with Jesus
  • The church that had the courage not to compromise on Christian sexual ethics
  • The friends who patiently persisted when they kept wandering away
  • The gospel of grace preached into the varied experiences of LGBTQI people in a way that made them feel unexpectedly included
  • The genuine experience of a church family that helped them see the plausibility of the single life in a Christian community

Let’s be praying that we’ll all be hearing similar stories in our local churches soon.

Ed Shaw

Ed Shaw is the Pastor of Emmanuel City Centre in Bristol and Ministry Director at www.livingout.org He loves his family and friends, his church and city, gin and tonic, music and books. He’s the author of The Plausibility Problem and Purposeful Sexuality (both IVP).

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