My Walk with Jesus and his LGBTQ Followers

I’ll be offering a few reflections in advance of General Conference 2019. In some, like this one, I will share memories of my own journey alongside LGBTQ siblings in the Church. In others, I’ll work to answer questions that I am hearing in my role as your bishop. I hope each will offer you some insight into my thinking as we walk this road together over the coming months.

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:10-6   

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

Let me take you back to 1971, when I was a 17-year-old high school senior at Bellevue High School (go Wolverines!). It was two years after the Stonewall Uprising which protested a police raid at a gay bar in Greenwich Village and marked the beginning of the gay liberation movement in America. But I didn’t know anything about that. It was a year before the General Conference of The United Methodist Church would adopt language stating that it considers the “practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching.” I would attend that conference as a young adult observer. But that’s a story for another time.

I was just an awkwardly tall, unusually curious, teenager. A member of Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF), I served on the district youth council. We planned retreats and fun events and studied the issues of the day. As I got to know youth from many backgrounds, life experiences, races and cultures, my horizons expanded quickly, and my faith was tested and stretched in a thousand ways. I never felt far from God during these years. I never felt I was being pulled away from faith. I always turned to my personal faith, and the community of faith to help me understand what I was experiencing, and to respond as a follower of Jesus.

One day I was on the phone – you know (or maybe you don’t), the one-and-only-heavy-black-dial-phone that sat in the living room, where anyone in the family could hear your side of the conversation and speculate about the other side. I was talking to a 16-year-old boy from a neighboring church on youth council business. We were both sexually inexperienced, but through youth ministry, we had become aware of the emerging struggle of lesbian, gay and transgender people to be understood and accepted. Somewhere in the conversation, Michael said, “I think I might be gay. And I don’t know if there is a place for me in the Church.”

Michael didn’t find his gay identity outside the Church. He didn’t come to the church as an invader or a reformer, trying to change the Church. He grew up in the Church. He was baptized in the Church. He was formed and shaped by the Church. And as he began to understand himself as a sexual person, before he had been in a sexual relationship, it was within the church that he searched to find his place in God’s good creation. I didn’t know how to respond, but I knew that in the Church we embrace one another, and we stay in relationship, and we walk together. So, I found Michael some gay Christians to help him find his way. And I knew from that moment on, that I would work in the Church to understand and to welcome, and to learn from brothers and sisters who did not fit the sexual norms I had grown up with, but who loved God, wanted to serve God, exhibited life-giving loving relationships in their lives and were members of the household of the Church.

Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

I hear people claim that the movement for full inclusion of LGBTQ people is a secular movement, driven by outsiders who want to control the Church. I don’t know many secular people who care very much about what the Church thinks or teaches. But I know lots of LGBTQ Christians like Michael, whose sexual identity unfolded right alongside their Christian identity, as they grew into adulthood as members of the Church. Because I know this, when I go to a General Conference, and I see people with anguished faces, mouths taped shut with rainbow duct tape in protest of the Church’s persecution, I see Michael, and other dear sisters and brothers in the family of Christ, weeping and yearning to be heard, understood, embraced, treasured, included.

Michael taught me that the Church’s struggle to understand God’s will regarding human sexuality is not a struggle of US vs THEM. It is a struggle of US with US. It is a family struggle. Baptized children of God talking to other baptized children of God, with Jesus as mediator.

Comments (13)

  • Some might make the road by walking. Others follow Christ and, God willing, walk the difficult way that leads to life and enter through the narrow gate. Few will enter with them. – Matt 7:13-14

    Some read the Bible. Others hear the word of God and listen to He who has the words of life and speaks the Father’s words. With God’s help, they do God’s will (not their own) and glorify God.

    Some fashion gods in their own image. Some fashion golden calfs to please the many. Others know they were made in the image of God, then failed God. Being full of remorse, they seek to die to their sin nature and invite Jesus into their heart and life. They invite God to redirect their life into the path He intended. They receive God’s truth and obey God out of gratitude and love. Glory to God, peace is given.

    As Jesus of Nazareth, God-with-Us, the Christ said, “The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. . . .
    “But the ones (seeds) that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.” . . .
    “Therefore take heed how you hear.” . . .
    “My mother and My brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” – Luke 8:11-18 [NKJV]

    “He who is of God hears God’s words;” . . . – John 8:47 [NKJV]

    Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen. -Jude 24-25 [NKJV]

  • Granted, no reasonable person would argue against the fact that those practicing life styles strictly prohibited by God’s Holy Word are the target of much ridicule. Christ’s church should be seeking their redemption to salvation not violating His Laws to bow toward culture.

    However, rebelling against God by putting a stamp of approval on their conduct is an abomination.

    Jesus more fully explained God’s Law but did not destroy them. Do you think that there are only 2 laws now?

    Should we encourage alcoholics to drink and make them Bishops, Elders, District Superintendents and Ministers?

    Should practicing petafiles be welcomed into the leadership of Christ’s Church since Jesus and the Ten Commandments do not specifically prohibit their actions.

    We can hate the sin and still love the sinner as God does for all of us sinners.

    God had much to say in His infallible Word about sexual sin. Genesis 6:21-29, 19:1-29,
    Leviticus 18:22-30 and Romans 1: 2-28. His Law is crystal clear to all readers.

    By all means, the church must love all people and seek to lead them to God’s Narrow Way. Not to the way that leads to destruction.

  • Just as people of color and even left-handers were excluded at one time because of scripture, LGBTQ+ Christians are being “othered” with scripture. Why do we allow women to teach and lead? That is denounced in scripture as well. Our beliefs and understanding must evolve on the side of love.

  • Thank you so much, Bishop Elaine, for this personal reflection. A clergy friend once said, “What part of all do you not understand?” I think our Lord must weep when a member of the household of God is excluded in any way or place. I am praying for our General Conference leaders and delegates that they lead the way for our denomination to be truly “Open.”

  • I respectfully disagree where you are going with this. I have no problem with anyone of any background in the pews with me growing in God. You turn people away who want to be ministers for all sorts of reasons. I know many good Christian people including myself who should not be a minister for one biblical reason or another..
    To change how you follow scripture without a honest reasoning is deceitful. Just say we no longer are following this part of scripture in our church because it hurts people. Do not say we will let each group decide. Then you are no longer United. Do not say if I do not follow a cultural law why I’m I following a universal law.

    Be honest.

  • Thank you Bishop Stanovsky. Holding you and the rest of the COB in the Light of
    Christ’s love. I pray all those who attend this conference will open their hearts to the grace of the Holy Spirit. It’s time to truly be a church with open doors.

  • I don’t think anyone should be excluded if they are a child of God and they are
    If they are allowed in the congregation I had to pay ties then they are welcome to hold a job that’s what it is a pastor is paid a bishop is. If they are allowed in the congregation and to pay ties then they are welcome to hold a job that’s what it is a pastor is paid a bishop is paid in the United States you cannot exclude someone from a job due to their sexual preference

  • Marilyn R. Glasscock

    Thank you, Bishop Stanofsky, for such a beautiful, moving statement on the LGBTQIA issue. During the conference in February, I hope the attitude you express will be accepted. All our brothers and sisters need acceptance of themselves (ourselves) as the loved, wanted, and needed beings we all are.

Leave a Reply

© Copyright 2023, Greater Northwest Episcopal Area. All Rights Reserved.

%d bloggers like this: