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Why “Welcoming, but Not Affirming” is Not Welcoming at All

why welcoming but not affirming

We sat in a circle in our living room, drinking wine and laughing together in the warm light of the Christmas tree that my friend had just put up in his living room. I shake my head sometimes and wonder how it is possible that I lucked out with such wonderful people. I can honestly say, these are the people who have become my family. These are the people who my roots are integrating with.

At some point in the night, we started sharing parts of our stories. Stories are my favorite, as you know. What makes our stories so different is many times they are wrought with pain of being a part of churches that either completely reject us or are “welcoming, but not affirming.”

What I mean by “welcoming, but not affirming,” is the approach many churches take to LGBT individuals: LGBT people are welcome to come and worship with them, and sometimes even participate in some ministry teams, but because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, they would not be able to participate fully in the life of the congregation. However,

A church can say they’re “welcoming, but not affirming” but, truly, I don’t think this is welcoming at all.

It always comes with boundary lines and boxes that LGBT individuals are put in.

One may be allowed to serve on behind-the-scenes service teams, but not be allowed to serve on a worship team despite their obvious giftings. Sometimes they might be allowed to be a part of a small group, but never able to lead one. Other times it’s being disallowed from joining the married couples small group because a same-sex marriage doesn’t fit into their paradigm. And sometimes it’s just being able to come worship services and that’s it.

Last night I heard stories from my friends who were once leading yearly mission trips all over the world, and after they came out were no longer allowed to do so.

The other was a youth pastor and lead the worship team. AND was over their café. AND a thousand other things. But the moment he even hinted at having a differing opinion, or that there may be a different way of presenting the conversation on same-sex orientation, he was asked to resign. He didn’t challenge the leadership or even want to push back, but just wanted them to consider looking at it from a different angle.

One person in the room recounted how she was continuously dogged and questioned about her sex life and made to defend herself. This was when she was pursuing lifelong celibacy, before she finally felt liberated to be who she really was.

It's strange behavior to welcome someone into your house if you are going to treat them like a stranger. Click To Tweet

LGBT Christians are continuously relegated to places out of sight and out of mind because most churches dunno what to do with them. They don’t want to kick them out because that’s not what Jesus would do, but do they really have a place in the congregation? Even some of the most progressive churches I’ve been to will dance around the issue, never saying “homosexuality is a sin” but not quite including LGBT folks when we talk about the “justice issues” facing our country. 

And all the while, I’m called “brother.” Meaning I am part of the family.

But if I am truly a part of the Family of God, why is my participation in the Family limited?

We hear it often. “Oh, I love my LGBT brothers and sisters.” If you truly love your LGBT brothers and sisters, treat us like family.

It makes me livid that I get treated like a second class son in the Family of God. Truly. I mean, look at my life. Look at the fruit of my life and see that it is good. That should be proof enough that Christ is present in my life. I know that me being gay and Christian is weird for you and that you aren’t sure where you land in all this but can we at least discuss this?

You can look at my life, and the lives of others like me, and see that the Holy Spirit is at work in us. We’re being made new, constantly, just like our straight brothers and sisters. We’re learning what it means to die to ourselves everyday, just like our straight brothers and sisters.

LGBT Christians have gifts, talents, and stories that are being underutilized by the Church because people are afraid.

Afraid because our lives are outside of the norm. We’re outside of the box of what most people think it means to be a Christian. It’s new and scary and most haven’t taken the time to really wrestle through this question of how best to love someone or what love really looks like. and I can tell you this:

True love and true welcome doesn't mean putting undue boundaries on people. Click To Tweet

LGBT people, me and my friends, have compassion and a zeal for the Kingdom. And we’re hungry to be equal members of the body. We are eager to see the Kingdom here as it is in Heaven. We’ve got stellar stories and abilities. 

If I am truly a brother in Christ, I have a place at the table. And it means that we can disagree with each other and not break fellowship. And it means that I should be allowed to participate fully in the life a church. If you are going to welcome me in but put up the red tape around something just because I’m gay?

I think it’s bullshit. And I think it’s heartbreaking.

Here’s the truth about churches that are “welcoming, but not affirming:”

There is going to come a point when you’re not going to be able to dance around the topic. You’re going to have to have to decide what you believe about this. Because people will only be pushed to the sides for so long before the go look for family somewhere else, and it isn’t always in another church. Sometimes it’s leaving the Family completely. Sometimes the rejection is felt so deeply felt that people choose to end their life. Is the possibility of someone losing their faith in God worth it? Is the risk of someone ending their life worth it?

There will come a point when the children of those gay couples you welcomed in are going to grow up and hear a lesson on traditional marriage and be severely confused. Are you really going to tell those children that their parents who have loved them, raised them well, instilled the love of God in them, their parent’s marriage and love is sinful and wrong in the eyes of God?

There will come a time when a kid in your youth ministry will come out and feel afraid and alone. Are you really going to tell them that the only redemptive path for their life is to forsake any possibility of love and romance and to commit to celibacy?

Call me extreme, demanding, or overbearing. Tell me that I’m taking this too personal or that I’m not thinking of the whole body or whatever, but why shouldn’t this be personal? This is my life and who I am and

It sucks that I can receive the Body and Blood of Christ but I can't serve my local church. Click To Tweet

We can do better. We have to do better than welcoming, but not affirming. We need to be a family: brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, all daughters and sons, welcome at the table. No lines drawn. No parameters. Pure, unfiltered and unbiased welcome.

why welcoming but not affirming churchesWhat do you think about this? Are you part of a church that is “welcoming, but not affirming?” What do you think we can do to elevate this conversation? 




  1. GREAT points, especially about the children of LGBT parishoners. Even if we allow them to be a full member, what will their kids think if we continue the current rhetoric. Something to be weeping and praying about, for sure!

  2. Hello. I am not gay but I advocate for Christians who are gay to be accepted as Christian. I was asked to step down from leading a ministry for saying you can be a “practising” homosexual Christian. My question after reading this is: if they believe this issue is a salvation issue, that being gay (“practising homosexual”) truly excludes you from God’s kingdom, how can they not draw lines around you? If they are trying to save you from this alleged sin, how can they condone it?

    Does that make sense? Is your article more about Churches that wouldn’t actively preach against homosexuality?

    1. I feel like if that’s the case, those churches need to also take the same stance on all sin. There’s not ‘one sin’ that is greater and separates us from God –save rejecting Jesus. So the gossipers, the liars, the idolaters, the promiscuous, the proud ect….these all need to be treated the same if that’s the stance…and in doing so…in seeing the sheer hatefulness in the approach, one must ask; why is it allowed to happen to anyone at all? Why do we not trust God to be God of all people? If people profess a relationship with Christ, and they are moving towards a holy life and reading the word and serving others, why must we make a checklist? Jesus says “I am the way the truth and the life” not ” I am the way if you’re not struggling with anything” or “I am the way if you’re straight” or “I am the way if you’re not addicted” —he’s just plain the way.

  3. I don’t think the issue of homosexuality is going to be fairly dealt with in the church until the modern Bible translations that insist on using the word “homosexual” are brought to task and changed in line with what the original Greek word seems to have sensibly meant. So long as a persons Bible says “homosexual” then they believe that is what God says and will continue to use these clobber Scriptures to clobber gay folk with and to try and rescue them from their sin. It is very difficult to reason this one out as folk are not willing to research it beyond what “my Bible says”.

  4. I think “welcoming but not affirming” is a good thing, and the right thing, for dealing with this issue. What you want is for the church to wholesale adopt as non-sinful that which is clearly, repeatedly said to be sinful in scripture. This is what you ask for, plain and simple. I understand why you want this. I really do. But wanting something, even wanting it really, really bad, does not make it a good thing to have.

    I struggled with very strong same sex attraction in the past. Thank God the church had not so declined back in those days, or I might have been told to embrace who “God made me to be” rather than to fight against this like we are told to fight all other temptations. Those feelings are long gone now, and I am happily married with kids. It would have been an awful tragedy if the church back then had turned me towards temptation, instead of away from this temptation. God did not make anyone to be a person who identifies him or herself with the celebration of indulgence in one particular sinful act, yet that seems to be what you want the church to say God did in fact make us to do. This is wrong.

    We need to make sure our personal feelings and wants do not cloud how we see each other and God. It makes everyone, myself included, feel uncomfortable to know we are all sinners and struggle against sin. All of us. I don’t think we do any good by unilaterally declaring that this one special sin should no longer be considered sinful because feelings. We don’t get to decide what is what, God does.

    Peace and grace to you.

    1. So you are bisexual. Many people are not. Most people are strictly heterosexual, would never experience same-sex attraction. Some people are homosexual, would never experience opposite-sex attraction. God does not reject any of the people whom God creates, some with heterosexual orientations, some with homosexual orientations, some with bisexual orientations, some transgender, and some intersex. The sin is to declare that certain people are unacceptable due to their God-given sexuality or gender identity.

      1. If I was you, I wouldn’t sit and put a label on some one and a whole nearly 90% of the population.

    2. “God did not make anyone to be a person who identifies him or herself with the celebration of indulgence in one particular sinful act, yet that seems to be what you want the church to say God did in fact make us to do. This is wrong.”

      Actually, that’s not what he is saying. If that was the case then he would advocating for people with a homosexual orientation to be promiscuous without consequence.

      What he is saying is it’s time to stop holding onto prejudices, which the church has been VERY good at in its history: endorsing slavery, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, encouraging people to go back to their abusive partner… All of that “encouraged by the church.

      Whether you still have your same sex attraction anymore is irrelevant, quite frankly. What is relevant is are you choosing to hold onto world prejudices that divide an conquer, or choosing love and welcoming all people?

  5. Thank you for this message. My denomination, The Salvation Army, has also tried to be welcoming, but not affirming. In this they have failed and have spiraled down a PR nightmare every Christmas with the LGBT community. I was terminated as an officer (pastor) in part because of my views on LGBT inclusion. My being bisexual complicated matters, too.