As a man who once fully identified with the LGBTQ+ community and embraced homosexuality as an identity I have also experienced the power of a God who never gives up and a God who insists on working through His imperfect sons and daughters to love powerfully, restoring all kinds of broken boundaries, broken relationships, broken people, and identities.
Sexual sins, relational fractures, and hidden struggles are very common in the church universal, and The United Methodist Church is no exception. In fact, it has been our lack of lovingly and clearly addressing sexual sin and addiction that has harmed our witness. Many churches fail to offer, with integrity, a life-giving and hope-filled way for addressing sexual brokenness. This has had a devastating impact on the church’s witness in the wider culture. They see one-half of the church capitulating to the wider culture’s sexual mores, and the other half only prepared to say what it will not stand for. What is lost is the hope of transformation found in the redemptive cross of Christ.
People in the LGBTQ+ community should not be singled out as uniquely flawed and somehow further from the grace and mercy of God. On the other hand, it is neither loving nor just to give people in the LGBTQ+ community a “pass” on repentance and God’s call for holiness. A pass might seem gracious in the short-term, but it has devastating eternal consequences for those who allow their sexuality and sense of identity to define who they are in relationship to Christ and their brothers and sisters in the faith.
Rather, people in the LGBTQ+ community, no less than others, should be warmly invited into the journey of sanctification as the church forthrightly and honestly contends with sexual struggles and sexual sins. It would help everyone if the Body of Christ could start speaking the truth of what are common human struggles – Christian or not.
From my perspective as a once-gay man, what people in the LGBTQ+ community need is to hear Christ followers transparently testify to their hard-won victories over porn addiction, sexual impurity, or adultery. They need to hear faithful disciples be real and transparent about those sins Jesus has liberated them from. And they need to hear from us a warm, humble, and non-judgmental invitation to join us on the journey to Christian maturity.
People in the LGBTQ+ community need to hear from those of us who take seriously the spiritual gifts of hospitality, encouragement and exhortation. They need far more than a Sunday morning service once a week, they need spiritual family – homes where they are welcome with all their questions, doubts, fears, loneliness and frustrations. They need what everyone needs, but few truly experience, they need a sense of belonging. Yet, in many churches this need to belong has been confused with acceptance and celebration of sin and personal identity that sets itself up against the clear teachings of scripture.
I am so thankful for the group of Christian men that God worked through to bless the true man in me; I wish it were a more common experience for people who come to our churches. I’m so thankful my friends did not affirm me in my sin or bless a broken “gay-Christian” identity. Rather, they saw me as a man among men. They believed God could restore what the enemy had stolen. In many ways, God used this company of men to re-father and restore me to an authentic sense of self and re-envision an understanding of who I was and am as a man and son of God.
While I still experience same-sex attraction, the power and intensity of those attractions have greatly diminished. I no longer define myself as LGBTQ+ or conflate a gay identity with who I am in Christ. Instead, I am simply a man made in the image of God, a Christ follower, who experiences temptation toward a variety of sin, but of course freedom isn’t the absence of temptation or struggle, it’s the ability to yield to God’s design and purposes.
I have been married to my wife, Melissa, for nearly twelve years now. We have two boys who are seven and nine; I love being a husband to Melissa and a father to them. This would have never happened had God not intervened through His church to begin a gradual process of transformation of my life. Truly, with God, all things are possible.
Melissa and I know hundreds of men and women who have decided to follow Jesus out of LGBTQ+ identity. Some have married and now have families of their own. Some have remained single. The power of the Gospel and the grace of God to radically transform lives does not surrender its potency at the threshold of the LGBTQ+ community. God is still at work.
With all the UM Church has experienced in its long debate regarding its sexual ethics, my hope is that it would become a vibrant place of intentional healing and transformation. My prayer and work within the UM Church through Transforming Congregations is to equip leaders, pastors and congregations to offer real hope and authentic love to those who struggle with sexual sin, pornography addiction, and unwanted LGBTQ+ feelings and identity.
We must do more than stand on the fringe of one of the most divisive issues of our time. We have to do more than either bless sin or only stand against it. As the church we must offer more than, “Just say no.” We need to offer real Gospel hope, a place of belonging, and a chance to be loved well enough to experience the transforming power of God in each of our lives.
By Garry Ingraham
May 24, 2019
Garry Ingraham is the executive director of Love & Truth Network, equipping Christian leaders to develop safe and transformational environments for relationally and sexually broken people and Transforming Congregations – a ministry outreach of Good News.