It’s not about an issue, but it’s all about persons. I was firmly convinced about my understanding of homosexuality and LGBT people before I met any of them. God used them to open my eyes to His love for all people.
Let me tell you about three gay people God sent me so that I could one day be proud to perform the same sex wedding for my daughter.
I started out on the ‘other side’. During my older youth years I joined the Church of the Nazarene denomination. I appreciated their passion for Jesus Christ and their reliance on the Bible. They taught me from the Scripture that homosexuality was a sin. I never questioned it.
During my seminary days, I switched denominations and returned to the church of my childhood - the United Methodist Church. My understanding of homosexuality didn’t change because the United Methodist Church was clear that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching”.
I was in my first appointment after seminary when I met Drew Hottell. He was a regular visitor to the church. I had just invited Drew to join our next Membership Class, when he asked if we could meet together. Drew questioned me, “Can I be United Methodist if I’m gay?” It was the first time anyone told me they were homosexual. I wasn’t sure how to answer him. Drew talked about his faith and his love for sharing that faith through music. I began to see it was possible to be a Christian and a homosexual. I hesitantly told him, “Yes, we’d be glad to have you join our church.”
A few years later I served a church near South Haven, Michigan where I met Bob and Boots McKinney. Their forty-year old son Roger moved in with them and started attending the church. When I visited Roger he told me, ‘I have AIDS. I’ve come home to die.” He told me his story about another church he once attended in Grand Rapids. “The pastor told me I was living in sin. He said I would probably end up in hell because of my homosexual lifestyle.” Roger opened my eyes to see the painful judgmentalism and rejection that church people heap on the heads of LGBT people. I apologized for the words of that fellow pastor. I told Roger about a God of grace and love.
I had the opportunity to spend time with Roger during that last year of his life. He talked with me often about his faith in God. A month before his death, Roger asked, “Mike I know I don’t have much time left, but I wonder if I could join the church?”
Roger was very weak at the time, but he made it to church that Sunday in November. I received him as a member of God’s church. I welcomed him in as one of God’s people. Fortunately, the congregation was gracious in their hospitality and love as well. A few weeks later, Roger passed away, shortly before Christmas.
The person who compelled me to reflect most intensely on my view of homosexuality and LGBT people was my daughter Sarah.
While Sarah was a youth, we had many conversations about the issue of homosexuality. I didn’t realize at the time that we were talking about her. I told her about the journey I had been on. I told her about Drew Hottell and Roger McKinney. Sarah and I then explored together what the Bible had to say about this subject. We both believe God can speak to us through His Word, the Bible. So we struggled with the Scriptures that specifically mention homosexuality. We looked at those passages in light of the many other scriptures that talk about God’s love and grace.
All of these discussions with Sarah led me to preach a sermon on the subject in 2005. I presented both the conservative and progressive understanding of this issue. But I concluded the message with these words:
“Notice how Jesus loved the unacceptable outsiders of his day. Jesus moved closer to them. Jesus spent time with them. Jesus talked with them. Jesus brought them healing and grace. Jesus touched them.
What might it look like for us to love homosexuals as Jesus does?
What might it look like for you to love a homosexual person during this coming year? Could God be speaking to you now? Could God be speaking to me?"
I finished with a call and response that Sunday:
"As one united people of God in Jesus Christ, we face our frustration and vocation:
We can’t do everything………………but we can love.
We can’t speak the final word………..but we can love.
We’re afraid about being hurt…………but we can love.
We have a low tolerance for stress…….but we can love.
We live with people who are different…but we can love.
We can’t always agree………………….but we can love.”
God had prepared my wife and I to fully love our daughter Sarah when she told us at Christmastime five years ago that she was a lesbian. We cried tears of joy knowing that she trusted us with this ‘secret’. We embraced her with same love we knew God has always held for her.
It’s not about an issue, but it’s all about persons. God sent three people into my life to reveal His matchless love for all. God sent them to me so that I could one day proudly perform my daughter’s wedding.