Welcoming All – LGBTQIA+

Invite All: LGBTQIA+ 

Hope’s Vision for Inclusivity of the LGBTQIA+ Community

We at Hope Presbyterian Church consider our PC(USA) denomination’s Overtures related to the LGBTQIA+1 community as a starting point to engage with and embrace the LGBTQIA+ community within the greater Austin area.

The PC(USA) Overtures related to the LGBTQIA+ community were passed unanimously in 2018 and state:

  • Overture 11-04, On Clarifying the Position of the PC(USA) Regarding Appropriate Boundaries of Religious Liberty: Acknowledges the misuse of the term “religious freedom” in denying basic human rights, and reaffirms that faith and religious liberty cannot be used to discriminate against anyone simply because of who they are.
  • Overture 11-12, On Affirming and Celebrating the Full Dignity and Humanity of People of All Gender Identities: Acknowledges the church’s past mistake in being unwelcoming to transgender and non-binary individuals, encourages the welcoming and acceptance of all gender identities, and affirms their right to live free from discrimination in any arena; this overture also specifically mentioned the rights of transgender students.
  • Overture 11-13, On Celebrating the Gifts of People of Diverse Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities in the Life of the Church: Apologizes for the church’s previous unwelcoming stance on LGBTQ parishioners, celebrates LGBTQ church pioneers, and states the church will welcome, lift up, and fight for the human rights of all people created in the eyes of God.2

At Hope Presbyterian Church we will strive to build upon those general Overtures and pursuing the following goals within our church in relation to engagement with the LGBTQIA+ community:

Specific Topics

Membership

We invite all people—including those in the LGBTQIA+ community—to participate in active membership as their whole self at Hope Presbyterian Church. 

We will seek to reach out to and actively engage with the LGBTQIA+ community across the broader Austin area, both individually and collectively, encouraging membership at Hope Presbyterian Church. We believe that the family of God is all-inclusive, and the Kingdom on earth is stronger when all in the family are engaged and participating as one body. We will challenge our current congregation members to be open and to engage with their LGBTQIA+ siblings in Christ, regardless of pronouns, in order to better understand, love, and walk together in our faith and life journeys. Likewise, we will challenge our new LGBTQIA+ members to reach out and engage with our current congregation members to educate them on the LGBTQIA+ community and its norms and conventions, and to understand and love them when they fall short in that initial understanding.

Church Leadership

Leadership within Hope Presbyterian Church, both formal and informal, is open to all members.

We actively seek to elect and install Ruling Elders and Deacons that are representative of the diversity within our congregation. To this end, we currently have a member of the LGBTQIA+ community serving as a Ruling Elder on our Session. As the LGBTQIA+ community within our congregation grows, we will look forward to a corresponding growth within our leadership positions. While Hope’s direction is guided by our pastoral staff, it is determined by our elected leaders. Our goals of outreach to and inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community can only be best realized with an active presence by LGBTQIA+ persons in our church leadership. Hope leaders will actively recruit and mentor LGBTQIA+ members for such critical roles from within our congregation.

 

Marriage

We believe marriage is the spiritual union of two persons in love, and before God.

The covenant of marriage reflects the covenant between God and human beings, and strengthens human relationships in the world. The world needs visible examples of strong and healthy marriages and families operating within a supportive faith community, regardless of the composition of the individuals within them.

Our pastors are personally prepared to officiate all marriages after discerning that the union is being undertaken for the right reasons. Marriages requested to be performed on the campus of Hope Presbyterian Church will be submitted to our Session (body of Ruling Elders) for approval upon the recommendation of our pastoral staff.

Why Now?

Members of our congregation have inquired about our position and policy around the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly over the last nine months. We believe now is the time to have clarity on where our church stands on the topics listed above. Recently, Hope Presbyterian Church elected to self-identify as a Matthew 25 Church, a key tenet of which was to “Welcome the Stranger.” This action, coupled with the recent climate of social unrest (albeit over issues of race but still with issues of systemic and structural discrimination and lack of engagement and understanding at its core) and a growing and active LGBTQIA+ presence within our congregation, has caused our leadership to recognize that we must take a much more active and intentional role in engaging with the LGBTQIA+ community in order to live into our core beliefs.

This clarity would also help us align with the stated PC(USA) position on membership, church leadership, and marriage. The Overtures presented above were passed unanimously by the PC(USA) General Assembly in June 2018, but were a product of decades of labor within the denomination. In the same way, the clarity proposed by this document is a product of over ten years of reflection at Hope Presbyterian Church. Since 2010, our mission has involved inviting “all” to worship God, although we haven’t spelled out precisely what that means. Offering this policy is the first step toward aligning ourselves with our denomination’s clear position as well as expressing the clarity necessary for continuing the journey alongside our siblings in Christ from across the LGBTQIA+ community as we realize our vision for God’s Kingdom.

The Bible

According to 2 Timothy 3:16 (NRSV), “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” which means that for any doctrine of the church, there should be a basis in Scripture. Scripture is clear that God welcomes all types of persons. The early church wrestled with whether God’s grace should be extended to Gentiles, and arrived at inclusion (Acts 10:1–48; 15:1–21). In the same way, today we read Scripture as tending toward inclusion for all persons.

“The witness of Jesus Christ:

Jesus consistently welcomed, indeed sought out, persons who were labeled outcast by his society. Criticized himself as a lawbreaker, he challenged self-righteousness, judgmentalism, and legalism, making it clear that the purpose of the Law is the protection of human welfare; human beings are not made to keep the Law regardless of its detrimental effects on the wellbeing of people (Mark 2:23—3:6). Jesus summarized the Law as loving God with one’s whole being, and loving one’s neighbor as oneself.”3

John 3:16 (NRSV)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

God so loved the world, not just straight people or cis-gendered people, but the whole world—each of us. If you believe in him, no matter your sexual orientation or gender, you may not perish but have eternal life.

Psalm 139:13-14 (NRSV)

“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works;

that I know very well.”

God knows us before we know ourselves. All persons are created in God’s wonderful image. All persons were knit together by God’s creative hands, including folks in the LGBTQIA+ community. We are not mistakes.

 

Galatians 3:28 (NRSV)

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Our differences are important on a worldly level, but because of Jesus these differences don’t matter when we look at things through a heavenly lens. Because of Jesus, we are all included in God’s heavenly works, no matter your sexual orientation or gender (or class or race or ethnicity) and we are all equally God’s beloved children.

 

Genesis 2:18 (NRSV)

“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”

People are not meant to be alone! God wants us to have partners in life!

Six different passages in Scripture are generally referenced in opposition to congregations offering full participation to LGBTQIA+ individuals and have been used to actively harm our siblings in the LGBTQIA+ community. While space is too limited to offer a full explanation of each of these passages, we will offer a short justification for a broader reading of the text.

Genesis 1:27 – Male and female God created them “So God created humankind in his image,

in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Instead of limiting God’s creativity to two sexes/genders, this passage celebrates full equality of men and women based in creation—a stunning revelation in the ancient world. Indeed, Paul continues this liberative thought in Galatians 3:28, where he proclaims that in Christ Jesus, there is no male or female. In other words, these physical differences are not written into our souls.

 

Genesis 19:1–29 – The story of Sodom and Gomorrah

While “sodomy” now refers to homosexual acts, in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah the primary sin of the Sodomites was a complete failure of hospitality. Less in view was the desire to take the angels who came to Lot and “know them”; rather, the offense was a failure to truly welcome the stranger and care for the oppressed (see Ezekiel 16:49–50).

 

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 – Prohibition of men sleeping together

“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”

“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between what carries forth forever from Israel’s Law and what was particular to Israel. Sometimes, the specific words used in a commandment can help us with this task. In these two Levitical laws, the word used for “abomination” is a special term to discuss ritual uncleanliness, much like kosher laws. Therefore, this prohibition is as binding for Christians as the prohibition against bacon.

 

Deuteronomy 23:17–18 – Cult/Temple sex work

“None of the daughters of Israel shall be a temple prostitute; none of the sons of Israel shall be a temple prostitute. You shall not bring the fee of a prostitute or the wages of a male prostitute into the house of the Lord your God in payment for any vow, for both of these are abhorrent to the Lord your God.”

Historically, these verses used the term “sodomite” (KJV) to refer to a male prostitute. Instead of having same-sex acts in view, this passage instead sets boundaries around how people interact with the temple of God.

 

Romans 1:26–27 – Exchanging the natural for the unnatural

“For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.”

Paul’s context for writing his letter to the Romans is important. Sex and worship were tied together for many of the Roman and Greek gods, and those who dedicated themselves to serve these gods would worship by using and abusing their bodies in painful ways. Very different than a monogamous, committed, same-sex partnership today, these same-sex acts were located in temple orgies Paul rightly condemned.

 

1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 – Condemnation of pederasty

“Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites,”

“fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching”

In these two passages, Paul condemns malakoi and arsenokoitai, two terms difficult to translate. Malakoi were likely boy sex slaves, and arsenokoitai those who would pay for their services. Paul’s condemnation in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy names the cultural practice of pederasty (rape of a boy by an adult man) as sinful, and we can agree with this.

If you want to explore any of the above passages in more depth, a pastor would be happy to discuss them more with you.

Footnotes

    1. “LGBTQIA+”: Lesbian, Gay,/Genderqueer/Gender fluid, Bisexual/Bigender, Trans*(as an umbrella term)/Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual/Aromantic/Agender/Abrosexual/Abroromantic and the + is meant to represent those not fitting into these.
    2. Presbyterian Church (USA) statement on Sexuality and Same-Gender Relationships.
    3. Tricia Dykers Koenig, “What Does the Bible Tell Us About LGBT Inclusion?”, Covenant Network of Presbyterians (PDF)