Last month, Pastor Jonathan Henderson, a chaplain at a Seventh-day Adventist educational institution, Pacific Union College, gave a theologically traditional yet loving sermon on homosexuality. Titled “Adam and Steve”, the sermon was grace-filled, showed an understanding of the LGBT community and the missing stories not typically allowed in churches, and was an example of how traditional Christians can still speak about this subject in a loving manner.
I’m used to hearing sermons about homosexuality that are rooted in condemnation. These sermons typically refer to LGBT people as an abomination or even “demon-possessed.” Pastors who preach this type of sermon feel it’s their God-given duty to never let people forget that homosexuality, in their understanding, is an abomination. If these pastors were to give a sermon that didn’t mention this, they fear they might be seen as “condoning” this abomination. Non-affirming, “The Bible is Clear” Christians refuse to acknowledge anything besides this approach, and it’s this approach that has left thousands of LGBT people spiritually and physically homeless.
I understand why having full theological affirmation is important to many LGBT friends of mine. A theology that says intimacy between same-sex individuals is a sin is a theology that considers LGBT people as second-class children of God. Yet, there will never be a full theological consensus on same-sex sex for all of Christianity. We’re too diverse in our hermeneutics, backgrounds, and beliefs to ever all agree. But can someone have a traditional stance on their understanding of this topic and still be a loving and safe person towards the LGBT community? I believe we can and Henderson’s sermon is a prime example.
There are a few things I disagree with that Henderson said in his sermon. Most notably, is the idea that some people can “choose” to be gay or have a non-heterosexual orientation due to sexual abuse is egregiously inaccurate. Although prominent “ex-gay” groups have promoted this theory widely, there isn’t a single reputable medical or psychological institution that would back those claims; in fact, they have all denounced it. But that was just a passing inaccuracy and was completely overshadowed by his overall loving approach.
Henderson first prefaced his sermon encouraging the congregation to listen directly to LGBT people: “You need to hear the perspective of those who have walked this journey,” he said. Second, He humanized LGBT people in a conservative culture that sexualizes us. “You create all these images as if they are not people that are having soul connections—relating to one another, identifying with one another,” he said. “You need to understand the foundation of relationships…and it’s not sex! It’s heart to heart connections.”
Next, he acknowledged that spiritual spaces aren’t usually safe for LGBT people – and that in itself is shameful. Pointing to the unofficial gay-straight alliance, GASP, on campus that promises to be a “safe place” for non-heteros students, Henderson reflects that the fact it has to exist is a “tragedy.” “How do you have a sanctuary within a sanctuary?” he asked. Lastly, he acknowledges the pain the church has caused, and continues to cause, in the name of God making LGBT people feel alienated from our religious spaces and sometimes even from our homes. His point, over and over, was that it is not our job to judge others, but to love.
This wasn’t a “liberal” sermon, but it was radical in the same way that the Gospel is radical. It was about trusting God and loving others — without the caveats that so often come with “love” in Christian churches today. It wasn’t about pointing fingers or policing other people’s bodies or bedrooms. It was about being a force for good—a force for a loving God—in the world.
This sermon was seen over 33,000 times in over 140 different countries from the church’s LiveStream channel before the school administration had it removed without explanation (though most likely due to conservative pressure). It has since re-appeared on YouTube and I want to share it with you all.
This message shouldn’t be too politically dangerous for any Christian. But because it didn’t include direct condemnation, and in today’s fraught political climate, that wasn’t “clear” enough for too many of them. This is the same backtracking we’ve seen with the Vatican’s statement from the synod and in the World Vision yes-we-do-wait-no-we-don’t fiasco. And that’s the problem that is driving my generation out of churches in an unprecedented way. If non-affirming churches won’t let pastors preach from a traditional theological understanding in a way that humanizes and shows actual love towards LGBT people, those churches aren’t even following their own theology.
Watch the sermon below. What do you think about it?