Bible Study 1: You Are Welcome And Affirmed

Bible study for a church that wants to take the Gospel to LGBT people

Study 1: You are welcome and affirmed

Author: Martin Stears-Handscomb

What would Bible study be like if the church wanted to preach the Gospel to LGBT people?
Would we/they be invited to join the battle, by focussing on 6 or so verses taken out of context? I don’t think so! There is a place for responding to the agenda set by those who want to justify the homophobic attitude the church has often taken, but that isn’t all there is!

Surely we should be introducing people to Jesus – the person that helps make sense of it all

In a world whose gods – money, sex, possessions – do not satisfy, Jesus’ teaching, as we find it in the gospels offers us a way of living that turns that upside down, that puts self-giving love at the centre. And Paul explains how, although we all get it wrong and keep getting it wrong, Jesus, by his sacrificial love on the cross has put us right with God.

In Romans 3 v 23, Paul writes “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. But he doesn’t stop there, he goes on in the next verse to say we are “justified freely by God’s grace through Jesus”. This wonderful explanation by Paul in chapters 1 – 5 is summed up in chapter 5 verse 8 in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

But is this open to LGBT people? Is just being gay sinful? What was Jesus’ attitude?

In Jesus’ day as in all ages there were LGBT people. But they would be likely to be oppressed, repressed, in the closet, at least in Jewish society. For gay men at the extreme of the spectrum there would be the issue of being inadequate in marriage and potentially ostracised. In his teaching on divorce, Jesus speaks of people who were “born that way” (Good News Bible) or “born eunuchs” as well as those “men made that way”. Gay men would be seen as emotional eunuchs. Jesus’ concern was that they should not be forced into heterosexual marriage.

In Matthew 19 vv 11 – 12 “Jesus answered “This teaching (the teaching on marriage and divorce) does not apply to everyone, but only to those to whom God has given it. For there are different reasons why men cannot marry: some because they were born that way; others because men made them that way …” Jesus was certainly not saying that everyone ought to be able to have a straight marriage if they prayed hard enough. His concern was with people as they are. And although there is no similar comment about women, Jesus’ concern for women to be treated fairly and sensitively by men, perhaps gives us a flavour of how he would have treated the lesbian women of his day.

There was however, homosexual practise in surrounding societies, looked down on by those in self-righteous Jewish religious groups such as the Pharisees. For example, Roman army leaders, unable to take a wife with them on their campaigns would often choose an attractive young male servant to satisfy their sexual desires. These young men or boys were known as catamites. Jesus would have known this when he met a centurion who asked him to save the servant who he loves. The centurion has left his “very dear” servant at home in bed. Jesus doesn’t ask if he is the centurion’s catamite, which might be expected – but what matters to Jesus is his love for him and so he heals him. What Jesus is concerned with is self-giving love. You can find the story in Luke chapter 7 or Matthew chapter 8 vv 5 and following.

What about Paul?

Christians argue about what Paul means when he criticises the abuse of sexuality. This is really the subject of another study but a number of brief interesting things can be said here. Because of his initial belief that the second coming was imminent, in his early writings, Paul actually advocated refraining from sexual activity for all Christians, whatever their sexuality but with the concession of seeking a loving partnership (i.e. marriage) rather than “burning with passion”.

In 1 Corinthians 7 vv 8-9 he writes “Now to the unmarried, and to the widows I say that it would be better for you to continue to live alone as I do. But if you cannot restrain your desires go ahead and marry – it is better to marry than to burn with passion” Verse 25 makes clear he is giving opinion, not commands from the Lord.

But more important, Paul makes clear that no one is excluded for who they are.   Turning to Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he reminds them in that wonderful verse at the beginning of chapter 3 “You foolish Galatians, who has put a spell on you?   What is this spell? It is the idea that putting up barriers can restrict the gospel to those who fit, in their case those (men of course) who had been circumcised. No says Paul! Faith in Christ has made us all equal. He concludes with that fabulous and shocking verse to the people of the time, verse 28. He gives three examples, “there is neither Jew not Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but he doesn’t stop there. He goes one “you are all one in Christ Jesus”, so that to the end of eternity when the church tries to set up barriers we can go on adding categories – so there is indeed neither gay nor straight is God’s kingdom!

So you are Welcome, but are you “Affirmed?”

Over the last few years many of those in churches such as ours have drawn the distinction between churches who welcome and affirm lgbt people – which is code for saying you are welcome and it’s okay to have gay sex – and churches who welcome and do not affirm – which is code for saying that you are “welcome” but are expected not to have sex and in varying degrees expected to “repent”, be “celibate”, try to be heterosexual, etc. Someone has described this as “Exercises in Missing the Point”. Once we establish that there are LGBT people, that we are here, churches must stop indulging in the sort of prurience that would be utterly unacceptable if the subjects were married straight people. Let us redefine Affirming as accepting people as they are – as Jesus affirms people – invites us to come as we are. We believe in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so let us leave lgbt people to search the scriptures themselves. Some will conclude that certain ways of expressing their love are inappropriate and refrain from them. Others will not. But that is between us and God.

So the answer is yes – gay man, lesbian woman, transgendered person, bisexual person, intersex person, whoever you are. In Christ’s church you are welcome, you are affirmed, you are a child of God valued by him for who you are. And whatever you have done – and we all screw up – we are made right with God, because Jesus who never got it wrong at all, made us right with God through accepting the worst that people could throw at him for our sakes – Yes! being judicially murdered, despised, misunderstood, taunted, torn from those he loved to die the most wretched death, but yes vindicated by God – for us!!!!! That is the Gospel we want to share with you. And may God bless you and make His face to shine upon you because there is a place for you in His church!

Martin Stears-Handscomb