What comes to mind for you when you think of Peter in the Bible?
His denial of Jesus after he swore he would never leave, even after Jesus predicted it?
Jesus forgiving and calling Peter to take care of and feed his sheep, after his resurrection?
His first “sermon” proclaiming God’s fulfillment to his people, and the falling of the Holy Spirit on many people, in the book of Acts?
Or maybe it’s the vision God gave him where he showed him all sorts of animals that were unclean according to Jewish law, and yet God told him it was ok to eat them (which shortly thereafter Peter understood God was showing him He was no longer calling non-Jews “unclean” and that everyone should have a chance to hear the news of Jesus, follow him, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
There’s a passage in the Bible that you might be less familiar with. It’s found later, in one of Paul’s letters to the Galatians, and its an example of how even in the early days of the church, leaders had to be called out for their fear.
You see, after his vision, Peter understood that God fully accepted non-Jews. Whereas Jewish law prohibited Jews from eating with non-Jews, Peter no longer held to that law because of what God had showed him. He fully accepted the non-Jews in fellowship and celebrated their inclusion in the community of God. Yet at some point, Jews who followed Jesus came to visit Peter in Antioch – and, fearful of their judgement, Peter began to follow that old law again, separating himself from the Gentiles. Paul confronted him publicly about it (Galatians 2:11-16), because he believed Peter was not acting in line with the truth of the gospel. People are justified by faith in Jesus, not following the law, Paul reminded him.
Ouch. How many of us would like to be called out in front of a crowd by another believer (or even a non-believer?) for not acting in a way that is consistent with the gospel?
I recently experienced that in a heart to heart conversation with my oldest the other night. Without her knowing, the Lord used the conversation to challenge me in a few things that only I would understand. I walked away convicted, finally feeling what Peter must have felt.
You see, growing up what we had modeled to her and all her friends was unconditional acceptance of anyone who identified in the LGBTQ+ community. Some of the kids’ friends who were coming out were being rejected by their families and we felt the best way to reflect the love of Jesus was to create a safe space for them and treat them no differently than before they had come out. I have never stopped doing that.
That being said, my question had shifted some as I worked through the theology side of it. My question was no longer “should we love them” (of course), but it became research on both sides of the coin regarding the question of “how does God really see LGBTQ relationships – specifically faithful monogamous ones.
I found myself in some really gray space, not because of what scripture says (yes I know the few specific scriptures used to condemn LGBTQ relationships) – but because of equally convincing evidence on both sides in the scholarly realm as well as some more recent personal experiences. Note: The scholarly discussion is too lengthy to include here, but I have listed it as a book reference at the bottom of this post.
In the gray space, I had been guarding my words carefully, yet she perceived them (and some silence on my part as well) as judgement, and thought I had moved away from a position of grace and mercy…. Just like Peter had done.
Now in saying all this, I know that I can’t be responsible for everyone’s perception of me. I have to make sure I am being obedient to the Lord in my actions and walking out His love and grace above all. But this was convicting, because maybe there was some truth of it. Maybe in some way I had stopped having such a graceful heart about things, and I needed that reminder. I needed to go back and read what God had already taught me, just like Peter..
There are so many layers to this whole question for those of us in the church. I don’t think any of us would deny that Jesus has called us to love and show grace to our neighbors, no matter who they are. Where I think we go next is that we know he has called us to holiness as disciples, and we know his constant challenge once he has healed someone in the gospels is to “leave your life of sin” and follow him – so there is the expectation of a changed life in response to the forgiveness and love of Jesus. I think we are guilty of thus assuming that someone who is LGBTQ should then trust God for working through their attractions to others and to submit their desires to him.
Interesting. I would tell someone who is not LGBTQ the same thing. Why do we think we know exactly whether or not Jesus wants this to be addressed in their life? How do we know its not him setting them free to know who they really are?
As you consider whether someone can identify as belonging to the LGBTQ+ crowd and also be a faithful Christian, I would offer up a few thoughts and questions, especially if your first response is “of course it’s wrong”:
1. Do you actually know any people that are gay, lesbian or trans, and have you ever tried to really get to know them and hear their story?
2. If they are Christian, are you able to see them as followers of Jesus, or do you only see that they are LGBTQ? If so, have you done any self inventory to figure out why that is the first thing you see?
3. Are you willing to recognize there are some things that you might not understand about their experience?
4. Are you willing to take a journey of discovery in this, and not just settle for “but there are 6 verses that say this is a sin”? To do that is to fail to consider cultural considerations when those verses were penned, as well as to potentially ignore understanding that has come over time around gender and attraction.
I have had a few experiences with folks in the LGBTQ community that I have had to take into my process in forming a view of how God might see this. They have left me saying “If I am going to say relationships are wrong…. what the heck do I do with all this evidence that God is not asking them to change?” They are like puzzle pieces and I can’t see how to fit them together. Maybe that’s not my job.
For example: I have had a lesbian friend who has been married for many years message me out of the blue on a day that was very hard for me and say “The Lord put you on my heart today in my prayer time. Everything ok?”. I have seen how the Holy Spirit has filled and begun to change a young woman AFTER she could finally be honest with herself that she is bi-sexual. The transformation from death to life over the next year was amazing to watch. I was speechless. I have had conversations with a gay couple down the street from me who, although they never felt comfortable in church, listened to church podcasts faithfully so they could grow in their walk with Jesus. I have been served communion by a gay couple and worshipped with others in the LGBTQ community, hands held high, celebrating the forgiveness and mercy of Jesus on their lives.
Yes, I have also read the very public stories of how others who were in gay or lesbian relationships have left them and found Jesus calling them to either celibacy or marriage with someone of the opposite sex. They are beautiful stories too.
Hence, for me, both sides of this only show me the mystery of some things I cannot understand. God is moving in all of their lives.
Please understand that there is so much more around this topic that can be explored, this is not near doing it justice. There are so many books and blogs and stories that add much more to the questions I am asking here. But this is what God is teaching ME. I could still be wrong about my conclusions. I realize each of us who follow Jesus must seek Him on this and come to our own conclusions… so I share to peak your curiosity, that you might also say, with Peter:
“So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17)T
Thanks for stopping by, and blessings my friends!
Book reference: Two views on Homesexuality, the Bible, and the Church by Zondervan publishers (Counterpoints Bible & Theology series)