Dear LGBT Friend,
First of all I want to say that I am deeply sorry for what my attitude has been toward you in the past. Although I have never verbally insulted or physically harmed anyone from your community, I must confess that I became “homophobic” growing up and wanted to have nothing to do with you because it made me feel uncomfortable to associate with you. I now realize how thoroughly insulting and harmful my conduct has been to you. My stance was not only extraordinarily immature, it was also sinful. I have repented and asked God to forgive me. I am sincerely asking for your forgiveness as well.
I now see clearly that you are just as valuable to God as I am. You don’t have to change your sexual orientation for God to love and accept you, and you don’t have to change your sexual orientation for me to love and accept you. God doesn’t require you to be a heterosexual in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. All you need is a relationship with Jesus (see John 17:3).
By telling you this, some will immediately assume that I am condoning same-sex intimacy. By now, I am sure you have read or heard what the Bible has to say on this topic. You have likely identified yourself with the LGBT community after a long and very personal struggle, often marked by shame and guilt, and not because somehow along the way you may have missed the information contained in the Bible on this subject. I am aware that by even mentioning the Bible, I may be causing you to recall those intense feelings of shame and guilt. Shame and guilt do not come from God. Only conviction (a desire to do what is good and right) comes from God.
If you have ever believed that you are not good enough for God, I want you to know that this is a total lie. The Bible actually says that you are no different from me or anyone else in this world. All of us have fallen short of God’s ideal in some way (see Romans 3:23). So while I do understand the Bible to teach that God’s ideal for humanity is a lifelong union between a man and a woman, I also recognize that all of us have fallen short of God’s ideal in different areas and that we live in a world that is far from God’s ideal. Therefore I will not put you in a separate category, different from everybody else. You deserve to be treated like everyone else, with compassion and acceptance, not just tolerance.
As a pastor I want to personally invite you to join my church, no matter where you are regarding your LGBT identity. I will do everything I can to ensure that you feel welcome. I think you will meet people who are going to care about you and offer you genuine friendship. However (I have to be honest), at times you may feel judged and condemned by some of my members. This brings great sorrow to Jesus, and also to those of us who want to follow His example. All I can ask of you is, please be patient with these individuals. We are all sinners who are hurting and therefore prone to self-medicate in destructive ways. Those who love to criticize others, because it makes them feel better about themselves, desperately need a relationship with Jesus. Their outward behavior may conform to traditional church standards, but in reality their hearts are far from God. I believe the Holy Spirit is working on their hearts, otherwise they will never recognize their true condition. They judge all of us. Perhaps, by being there, you will help expose their bigotry.
I have been asked, “What happens next?” Once you feel loved and accepted at my church, what happens then? In other words, how do I get you to change your behavior (assuming that you are engaging in same-sex intimacy)? My response is that this is not my role at all. As a pastor I cannot change anybody. My job is to point you, along with everyone else in my congregation, to Jesus and to show you how you can have a relationship with Him. What happens next is between you and God. As you grow in your relationship with Jesus, I need to trust that Jesus is working everything out in your life and not try to take His place. Everyone else is treated this way, and you are entitled to receive the same space and privacy.
If God is convicting you that same-sex intimacy is not His ideal for your life, and you would like my help, I would encourage you to seek professional counseling. As you know, LGBT issues can be very complex and are influenced by many factors (spiritual, psychological, environmental, and possibly biological). Every person is different. We are not made up of separate compartments. Everything is integrated. I don’t have expertise in all of these areas, but I would be happy to walk beside you as you seek to follow Jesus.
If you are comfortable in a same-sex relationship, I will respect your stance (although I see God’s ideal differently). Please don’t let my theological understanding regarding same-sex intimacy keep you from coming to my church. I will treat you with dignity, the way I would want to be treated. You and your partner are human beings who have eternal value. Whether or not you ever change your mindset on same-sex intimacy is between you and God. If the Holy Spirit hasn’t convicted you to change your perspective regarding this issue, then in your circumstance, I don’t see how same-sex intimacy can be viewed as rebellion against God. God knows your heart.
In the remainder of this letter, let me briefly address those who will accuse me of excusing sin by referring them to James 4:17: “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (ESV) Knowing the right thing to do requires conviction from the Holy Spirit, not just hearing persuasive arguments. Christians will not always agree on what is right. We can learn from each other through dialogue. The dialogue with the LGBT community has helped me tremendously. It took me a long time to realize how my attitude towards them was profoundly sinful. I needed to change.
Don’t Adventists believe there will be many Christians in God’s kingdom who have never kept the Sabbath day holy (our view of God’s ideal)? Even those who have been informed about the Sabbath are not automatically excluded from heaven because they may not have been convicted by the Holy Spirit to change their view on that teaching. One of our founders, Ellen White, believed that William Miller was saved. Miller never accepted the Sabbath, although he knew about it (see Early Writings, p.258).
We cannot assume that everyone engaging in same-sex intimacy is motivated by rebellion against God. Those who look at Scripture and God’s ideal on this issue through a different lens because of their circumstances and experiences are not automatically lost — not if their hearts are in the right place.
Dear LGBT friend, I hope my church can be a safe place where all of us of can experience spiritual growth. All of us need to give the Holy Spirit room to work in our lives, and in the lives of others. As we follow Jesus, all of us will change our views and behaviors in some way. He will show each of us clearly what that means in our particular situations. I trust Him.
Pastor Sam Millen
Sam Millen pastors the Luray Seventh-day Adventist Church in Virginia, in the Potomac Conference. He grew up in Australia, moving to the US to study for the ministry at Andrews University. He and his wife Angie have a six-year-old and two-year-old twins.
AUTHOR'S UPDATE August 21, 2014: I want to clarify one point - I deeply regret that I made it sound like I might be advocating for "conversion" therapy when I mentioned professional counselling. That was not the case at all. I understand that trying to change a person's sexual orientation can be very damaging. I was only pointing out my limitations on counselling someone who wanted to abstain from same-sex intimacy because of his or her theological convictions.