Building Bridges With the Gay Community

The marginalization of any group of people should disturb The Salvation Army, since one of our core values is to promote the dignity of all persons.

August 13, 2012 by Major Juan Burry


Pastor Charles L. Worley is a North Carolina minister who caused an uproar in May when a segment from his sermon was caught on video and posted online. Worley, infuriated by U.S. President Barack Obama’s proclamation that he supported gay marriage, called for the entire homosexual population to be gathered in an electrified enclosure until they perished from lack of reproduction. This was a Christian pastor saying this to his 1,200-member congregation. It’s hard to fathom that the sheer contempt and genocidal intimations that spewed from his mouth occurred in North America or a Christian church.

It’s easy to distance ourselves from this preacher and pretend that because his comments do not echo the feelings of most Christians, that we have no investment in this news story. In fact, when it hit the news, I noticed that my Christian friends and colleagues (who love talking about how the media represents Christianity) were unusually silent. If this pastor had said something similar about women or a specific ethnic group, I can guarantee you there would have been more Christians talking about it—in church, coffee shops and on Facebook. People in the church would be up in arms.

And so they should be. Murder is diametrically opposed to the kind of lifestyle that Jesus preached about. Jesus not only condemned murder, but declared that anyone who expressed hatred and anger against another person, such as Pastor Worley did, sinned against God (see Matthew 5:22). One would think that we should have pounced on this opportunity to speak about the love and kindness of Christ and rectify any misconceptions that Pastor Worley created. From my experience, Salvationists often push to the front of the line to tell people just how friendly our churches are and how we would love to see them come visit us on Sunday. So, why didn’t we in this case?

The Salvation Army prides itself on its service to the poor and marginalized. But what does it mean to be marginalized? We see that word used in Army publications and articles, but who are we talking about when we speak of the “marginalized”? We are talking about people who have been excluded from significant participation in society and have been consigned to the cultural fringes. They are people who walk into the same places as you and me; the only distinction is that they have the nagging feeling that at least some of the people in those places don’t want them there. In my missional context as the executive director of an addictions and rehabilitation centre, I cannot think of a people group more marginalized than those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

The marginalization of any group of people should disturb The Salvation Army, since one of our core values is to promote the dignity of all persons. Marginalizing people inevitably leads to oppression. Did you know that 30 percent of the suicides in Canada are committed by LGBT people, while most estimates figure that LGBT people make up only five percent of the total population? Did you know that LGBT students in this country hear on average 26 slurs each day? Or that more than a quarter of the young people who tell their parents that they are LGBT get kicked out of their homes? Recent studies have demonstrated that the number of youths living on the street in Victoria (where I live) is growing and a disproportionate number of them are LGBT. As the Army’s sheltering representative in this city, what do I have to say to my community about this? More importantly, what can I do? I can provide a temporary roof to put over their heads, but shouldn’t I also be concerned about attacking the fundamental causes of this marginalization and not just the symptoms?

Which brings me back to my original question after the Pastor Worley video went viral. Why don’t we react as swiftly or significantly when marginalization happens to those in the LGBT community as compared to other groups? Is it because many Christians believe, as the Army’s positional statement says, that gay marriage is not something the Bible supports and, therefore, they’re not sure how to bridge that gap? Or maybe that’s a convenient pretext and the fact is that many of us still hold prejudices towards our LGBT neighbours that we don’t want to confess exist. Or maybe I’m wrong and we really are doing our best to provide dignity to all.

But if what I am saying reflects the reality in your own corps or church, I would encourage you to start talking about it. Talk to your corps officer or leadership team. Ask them what can be done. Get the discussion started. Because if The Salvation Army doesn’t extend hope to everyone in our society, then our promises are just words.

Major Juan Burry is the executive director of Victoria’s Addictions and Rehabilitation Centre.

Comments

  1. Donald Jefcoat says:

    A couple of years ago I sat down with my bible, my dictionary, Google, and prayerfully questioned many of christian teachings. Some of those teachings were in some cases a direct violation of scriptures. And some where miscommunications or misguided attempts at good.

    In this time I came to the conclusion that most of what we think and how we act in many conservative, fundamentalist, and holiness movements need to unfocussed. Jesus sat down in his first training college and really put the action requirements of his followers in clear direct teaching. We call this the Sermon on the mount. The sermon on the mount went past the beatitudes. It taught us to forgive others including our enemies. It taught us to never cast judgement. It taught us to not worry about who is included in Gods Kingdom as we will screw it up. We are to plant seeds, share the good news, and be living testaments to Gods love. God will do the rest.

    I believe that we need to lovingly welcome Gays Lesbians into our family. With that said I believe what is expected of them and their behavior should be the same as we expect of heterosexuals. A sense of respect of others. No excessive displays of affection (no sexual activity). Jesus himself said there will be people in heaven we didnt expect to see. There will be people not in heaven we thought we would. Many people think that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of the homosexual acts. They seem to forget that it was destroyed because of all the sinful activity. The worst wasnt the sex but the mean spirited hearts. They just didint love God or his people. Homosexuality has been in our world since the beginning of time. However in this time we are not forcing it to be a hidden dirty secret that breads in ones heart they need to lie. But rather we want to embrace the person and show them they dont need to lie. God will deal with them. And really if a person accepts Christ as lord in savior because of the ministry of a homosexual will that nullify there acceptance?

  2. Christina says:

    @Brad….oh really…Have you read Romans 1:26-28 and 1 Cor 6:9? they are very clear. You cannot open the house of God to unrepentant sinners.

    Let me give you another example, not of homosexuality per se but fornication of another kind

    1 Corinthians 5:1 It is reported commonly [that there is] fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.

    1 Corinthians 5:2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.

    1 Corinthians 5:3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, [concerning] him that hath so done this deed,

    1 Corinthians 5:4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,

    1 Corinthians 5:5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

    1 Corinthians 5:9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:

    1 Corinthians 5:13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.

    Later on it tells people to keep their hearts open to forgiving that person and welcoming him back is is right to do if he repents.

    But what, first and foremost, does it tell people to do with that person? CAST HIM OUT.

    God’s word does not change. We are not to have unrepentant fornicators in His house

    What I said doesn’t go against God’s word at all. I am sorry if you cannot see that. God’s word is more than abundantly clear.

    @Donald

    God will deal with them. And really if a person accepts Christ as lord in savior because of the ministry of a homosexual will that nullify there acceptance?

    Absolutely not. I pray for gays all the time that they repent. I want to see them in heaven and if they repent and choose to live celibately, then God bless them.

    PS….I know we are all sinners who are bound to slip up now and again. I don’t pretend to be perfect myself.
    But still there are certain standards that Christians must uphold when it comes to who to allow in God’s house, in His church services.

    I would like to add…

    2 Corinthians 6:14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?

    I should clarify something too, sorry, don’t meant to babble on like this. I am not in any way saying that gays should be shut out of any of the social services offered by the S.A. Not at all. I would never treat them as many in Jesus’s day treated lepers.

    I was speaking strictly of Sunday gathering services. I know that isn’t going to sound much better to most of you here though.

    I love you anyway Brad…

  3. Royal senter says:

    Christina, do you realize that the argument that you are making affectively says that a person needs to become a wholly sanctified Christian before they can come to church?

    The relationship a person can have with the church will vary depending on many things and not everyone who comes to our meetings can become a member or give a testimony or take some leadership or other things, but everyone is welcome to come to the meeting, even week after week for years. They don’t have believe what we believe or live as we teach to come to our meetings.

  4. Christina, my heart goes out to people like you. You really are trying to be a “good Christian;” especially at the end when you say “I love you anyway Brad.”

    I have come to learn, as a born-again believer, I am already accepted by God. I don’t need acceptance from anybody else. Jesus Christ loves me just as I am! As a matter of fact, Zephaniah 3:17 says He takes great delight in me and that in His love he will no longer rebuke me. That verse also tells me that the Lord rejoices over me with singing. Imagine that!

    God knows me and loves me AND while I may not be welcome in your church, I know I am welcome in His presence.

    I don’t have all the answers and I don’t need to have all of them. What I do know is that I am blessed, loved and highly favoured by the same God who created the universe.

  5. christina says:

    Brad…you said

    Christina, my heart goes out to people like you. You really are trying to be a “good Christian;” especially at the end when you say “I love you anyway Brad.”

    I thank you for that because I DO love you anyway, regardless of whether I actually know you or not.

    I do apologise if I am coming across rather harshly. I don’t mean to but I am just that kind of shoot from the hip person. I believe in the uncompromising truth and am not afraid to say it.

    I don’t wish to continue this discussion any longer but will finish off with this.

    I do believe without a doubt that God loves gay people just as passionately as he does the rest of us and would want us to do the same.

    But you are living in a fantasy world if you think that God wouldn’t expect you to leave the homosexual life if you want to be an active participant in serving His church.

    EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US, GAYS OR WHOMEVER, is expected to leave behind that old man of sin when we accept Christ as our Lord and Saviour. And although being saved makes us forgiven sinners, not perfect people, we are called to draw upon the strength of God to help us avoid falling back into sin

    I believe God makes gay people gay but not the the reasons many think. God tests us all in different ways for reasons known only to Him. God makes gay people gay to TEST them to see if they would choose a few years of sin over eternity with God.

    I once knew a young gay man in his late teens from Australia, a really nice young guy, the kind you could just love to pieces. He was a devout christian who abandoned homosexuality and chose a celibate life BECAUSE HE SAW THE TRUTH. He knew that homosexuality was an abomination as the bible says it is, and chose willingly to stay celibate although I know it must have been very difficult for him.

    Its too bad we sort of lost touch over time.

    Jesus came into this world fist and formeost to save the lost, not judge and condemn them which He will not do till He comes again.

    His is why He said to the adulterous woman Neither do I condemn thee.

    But too many people like to ignore the second part of that passage where Christ says Go and SIN NO MORE.

    Jesus also said to the paralytic man in John 5

    John 5:14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.

    Not that his illness or whatever would come back to him but that he could die in his sin

    Now I would not be very loving to you if I did not tell you, in Jesus’ name Go not and SIN NO MORE. Leave the homosexual life lest you die in your sin.

    Also as a forgiven sinner who has no right to judge you. I do not judge you or condemn you but am only speaking the truth as God has taught me over intensive Bible study of more than 15 years.

  6. Hi Christina,

    I wasn’t going to respond to your litany of verses, but I was intrigued by something you said after one of those lists. You said, “What I said doesn’t go against God’s word at all. I am sorry if you cannot see that. God’s word is more than abundantly clear.”

    Let’s assume that you are correct in your notion. I disagree with your statement. The Bible is clear on many overarching themes, but on many things it is very unclear. That is why we have theologians and scholars who devote their lives to understanding it. Even our own Wesleyan heritage tells us that we have to examine the Bible through the lenses of logical reasoning, church tradition and personal experience. Nevertheless, let’s assume you are correct – the Bible is more than clear and can be taken on its face.

    In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, the writer says, “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” Under your paradigm, in which the Bible is more than clear, it is clear to me that women should not be instructing men about spiritual and ethical matters. Therefore, your other comments about scripture and homosexuality are ipso facto nullified because everything you say to the men, such as Brad and Donald, in this conversation is subsumed under the paradigm which you have created. So, essentially, if we accept the foundation of your argument, then your argument collapses on itself.

    If you want to engage the debate from a different perspective, other than the “Bible is clear” point of view, then you may have a leg on which to stand. But for now, the argument doesn’t hold up.

  7. Juan, best answer I’ve seen yet! Made my day.

    Anyhow…..

    Whenever someone says “The Bible is Clear,” The FIRST thought that follows should be the question: “Why is it clear?”

    Considering that Scripture was not written in English, or in any modern language, then our English versions of Scripture are translations that may or may not be right. So, as Paul tells us, we have to study. You cant just look at something and say ‘its clear,’ if it seems to be so, then you have to be able to prove WHY it is….

    It has long been my opinion that the ‘traditional’ interpretations of these Scriptures fail miserably in application. I have never read or heard about an interpretation of Scripture that has led nearly an entire group of people [possibly anywhere from 210 – 490 Million people, worldwide] to believe that not only do Christians hate them, but the Church hates them, and God hates them. [So much for being Ambassadors of God’s love!]

    Liars, drunks, thieves, murderers, rapists, pedophiles and just about anyone else who commits a sin not only KNOWS they’re doing it, but also gets the feeling that God, even though He loves them, is disappointed in them. Some may believe they are so far gone that there’s no hope of forgiveness, but they dont believe God hates them. [ok, there may be a few exceptions to the rule, and I will grant you that..]

    What is the supposed sin of a homosexual? Loving someone of the same gender, and expressing that love in sexual acts. Which is basically what heterosexuals do all the time, seemingly, according to some, with God’s seal of approval reserved ONLY for the heterosexual. [Which leaves the question of whether or not God’s a bigot, and I really don’t like that idea!]

    What if the only sin surrounding homosexuality is the way Christians react to it? In many cases, Christians don’t seem to be reacting to homosexuality in a loving or compassionate manner. Some will even fabricate or exaggerate facts in an attempt to demonize homosexuals [read: bear false witness against their neighbour]. Doesn’t sound very Christlike to me! Do we protest liars? What about the “No-tell Motel” where the married men are committing adultery? Do we stand on street corners holding up signs that say: “God hates Audultery?” Do we enact laws that allow people to discriminate based on their ‘deeply held religious beliefs’ that allow us to stop offering our services to people who drink? [I do realize this is a Canadian site, but some of this is what is happening in the USA..]

    As Christians, we are the representatives of Christ. The things that He would do if He were incarnate in our world today are the things WE are supposed to be doing. He isn’t here right now [physically], but He once walked this Earth, and during His earthly ministry Jesus often called-out the religious leaders of His day that got God’s message wrong.

    Today, people are getting the message wrong. Instead of reaching out in love to a group of people who find themselves on the margins of society, we reach out with condemnation and bigotry. Instead of trying to find ways to build bridges to these people and bring them into the family of God, we look for excuses and Biblical references to keep them out. [Do we hate them so much? They certainly seem to think so!]

    Regardless of whether you want to believe it or not: God is reaching out IN LOVE to the gay and lesbian community. He has already found people who are willing to re-examine what they think about 5 [Sodom & Gommorah isn’t about homosexuality, its about hospitality] Verses of Scripture: FIVE.

    Are these 5 verses of Scripture and their seemingly misinterpretation so important that we are willing to let people believe God hates them?

    At the beginning of The Salvation Army, we were one of the most innovative and forward-thinking churches of the day. William Booth and his helpers went where God led them, ministered to whomever God brought them, and ALWAYS worked to find ways to evangelize the people the other churches wouldn’t dare minister to.

    Not any more. Today, we’re respectable, set in our ways, and not willing to do anything WE think is going to damage our good reputation, or our relationship with other Evangelical churches. Well… If our reputation and our alliances with other churches gets in the way of doing a simple thing like finding a way to love and accept people whom other churches reject… then.. we can do without them!

  8. Ray Simms says:

    I found the original article to be very informative, thought provoking and presented in a spirit of love. What followed only reminds me of the continued controversy. While controversy can be healthy within a closed discussion, in this forum, anyone outside of the group only heard the the negative judgmental arguments which do nothing to reach out to those who are marginalized. It certainly does not encourage them to seek any sort of comfort or feel any love or desire to be part of “the church”. I am not sure how any of the Christina’s of the church would reach one person for the kingdom. Most would go running in the opposite direction.

  9. Ira Barrow says:

    About CASTING people out of the church. If worthiness were the key to unlock the church doors we would all be outside– every one of us.

    I don’t think the writer who demands that on the basis of scripture does not understand what the Bible is saying. I always tell people, “Never mind what the Bible says; but mind carefully what the Bible means!” Interpretation is vital!

    It is too bad people do not read more of the Army’s early-day history. Kate Booth, when in France, had some pretty low-down characters in her meetings. In fact, she encouraged them to come in. And during the meeting some of them swore at her and acted in ways that would demand TV networks of today to inform viewers it is 18+ viewing. But Kate’s love for those people and for their souls was primary in all she did and said. So, don’t talk about barring the doors to anyone lest we ourselves be found wanting.

    What hypocrites we would be to do take control of the keys to the church in that way! After all He who we claim to follow and emulate said when a woman was being condemned by religious folks of that day, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” (I can almost hear stones being dropped on the ground.)

    Lord, bless ALL the dear children (and adults) in Thy tender care, is my prayer of inclusiveness.

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