Love & Discernment: Hospitality and the LGBTQ+ Person
“Hi, I’m Lauren, and this is my partner, Kendra. We heard about your church from a friend who attends here, and she told us your services were open for all to attend.”
In our current cultural climate, it’s easy to envision a Sunday morning conversation starter like that. Knowing how to address situations like these with wisdom and grace will be a key to extending hospitality to those interested in your church. How do we love genuinely (Rom. 12:9) and show true hospitality (Rom. 12:13) as living sacrifices to the Lord (cf. Rom. 12:1-2), all while maintaining clear, biblical convictions on issues related to sexuality and gender?
Surely, these two goals are not mutually exclusive. To that end, here are four pieces of counsel.
1. Clearly State Your Beliefs About God’s Design for Sexuality and Gender.
Loving our neighbors well demands that we clearly state our beliefs and convictions. Most often, this comes in the form of a statement of faith or a doctrinal statement. These statements, rather than being staid and stoic, should be positive, clarifying declarations of what we believe.
The late Howard Hendricks put it well, “We should not be ashamed to discuss what God was not ashamed to create.” When we are clear about something, it helps eliminate confusion, thus avoiding a more awkward situation further down the road.
There are a variety of ways your church can faithfully and openly talk about these issues so visitors may know where you stand:
- Church website: Is your doctrinal statement posted somewhere easy to find online?
- New members classes: Is there space in your membership process where you talk about issues related to sexuality and gender?
- Regular preaching from the pulpit: In your preaching and teaching, are issues of sexuality and gender clearly and compassionately covered?
- Children’s Sunday school classes: Are children taught from an early age about God’s design for sex and gender in a way that is developmentally appropriate?
- Written statements or documents: Are there opportunities for your church leaders to produce biblically sound content on this issue for people who have questions?
In short, members should be equipped through the church’s teaching to know precisely where the church stands on the basic principles of gender and sexuality, even if they don’t know how to answer the host of more nitty-gritty application questions.
2. Consider Factors That Make People in General Feel Welcome, Not Just an LGBTQ+ Person.
LGBTQ+ people are people. They are made in the image of God and worthy of dignity and respect (Gen. 1:26). So, when we think of hospitality, don’t overcomplicate things. What are ways, in general, we can grow in making people feel welcome?
- Greet people with a firm handshake and introduce yourself.
- Grow in listening and asking thoughtful, non-invasive questions. (“Tell me a little bit about yourself”, “What area of town are you coming from?”, “I’d love to meet these other people who are with you”, “What line of work are you in?”)
- Pay attention to non-verbals, as a significant amount of communication happens in our posture and body language.
- Ask them to sit with you during the service.
- At the conclusion of a service, invite them to join you for a meal or coffee.
- Offer your phone number or email for a chance to connect.
Help connect them to any other relevant resources your church might offer that could be helpful to them.
3. Be a Learner, Not a Stereotyper.
I often say in counseling that if you’ve met one gay or lesbian person, you’ve met one gay or lesbian person. Each story is unique because every person is unique.
Too often, we can cut off meaningful opportunities for engagement and discussion because of preconceived notions based on misconceived stereotypes. Not every LGBTQ+ individual is an activist like you see on television. So aim to know the person. Aim to know their heart through thoughtful engagement and interaction.
4. Navigate Tough Issues with Wisdom, Tact and Kindness.
Being winsome is not being woke. Kind speech is not a modern technique to soften the edge of our convictions. Rather, it makes our convictions more intriguing, persuasive, and engaging (Prov. 16:21). There could be a variety of situations where individuals come to church asking questions that immediately put you in an uncomfortable situation:
- How do you handle gender-specific pronouns?
- Is there an all-gender restroom available?
- Do you allow gay or lesbian couples to use your building for weddings?
- Doesn’t God love all people regardless of their sex or gender expression?
In any of these cases, a conversation might go something like this, “Thanks, _____, for asking that question. I appreciate your honesty and curiosity. While my beliefs might be different than those you currently hold, I wonder if you’d be willing to grab coffee or lunch with me so I can learn more about where you are coming from?” Or, if you aren’t an elder and don’t know the answer, you might say something like, “Thanks, ______, for asking me that question. While I’m not entirely sure as to how to answer that specific question, I wonder if you’d be open to me reaching out to one of our pastors or church leaders to get clarification?”
While these responses will not solve every difficult situation or conversation, they at least provide a conversational path, so we are ready and open to engage visitors. Too often, when we feel caught off-guard or uncomfortable, those responses can register in our posture, and those responses can derail a conversation right out of the gate. May we all be ready to answer visitors with gentleness and truth. “God may perhaps grant them repentance, leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25).