who attends your church?

Written by Mark Lafler

B.A., Global University; M.C.S., Regent College I am currently serving as a youth minister at our church in Sarasota, FL. I am married to Tera (15 Years +) and we have 3 beautiful daughters.

June 3, 2011

In a recent conversation with a friend I heard of a man who was asked to leave a local church because he was a cross-dresser and was unwilling to change his clothes when he came to church.

Obviously each situation in a local church is different and should be handled according to what the Holy Spirit is leading the leaders and the congregation to do (from a Biblical standpoint).

However, this got me thinking…

Who attends our churches?

Do the people who attend your local church look like eveyone else who attends the church?  Does everyone fit the bill – that is nice, well-managed families and elderly folk who dress the standard North American clothing styles?

Do the people in you church basically emphasize the need to repent from similar sins (anger mismanagement; lust; gossip; etc.) that most people in the church struggle with; yet reject people that have other sins (cross-dressing; homosexual activity; pedophilia; etc.) that are foreign to the “norm” in the church?

It seems to me that people for the most part reject what is different and accept what is similar or comfortable to them.  When it comes to sin, many Christians might seem able to help a sinning brother who confesses lust or anger problems, but perhaps most Christians seem unwilling or unable to help a brother who struggles with sins that even secular society refuses to deal with.

So should a local church allow a practicing homosexual or a cross-dressing male attend  the church?

If they get rejected in the local church where or how will they hear the gospel?

Are we to rely on the church’s evangelistic efforts toward the homosexual community?

If this is our hope, we might want to consider how the local churches (in our neck of the woods) are already ministering to the homosexual community and support them.  If you cannot think of how they are ministering perhaps that will answer the question above.

Perhaps the church should be the place where homosexuals, cross-dressers, and other people with “alternative” lifestyles should always feel welcome.

Is there harm in these people sitting in one of the seats on Sunday morning listening to the Gospel message by which the Holy Spirit can minister to their soul?

Did not Christ Jesus minister to the outcasts of society (i.e. lepers, tax-collectors, etc.)?  Is his example in the Gospels appropriate in this contemporary situation?

I know that there are not neat and orderly answers to these questions.  Nevertheless, the issue is not going away anytime soon and we should give much prayer, thought, and conversation to the evangelism of people who have “alternative” lifestyles.

What do you think?

What does your local church do?

What does the Bible suggest about this issue?

42 Comments

  1. Kelly

    A brave post – I’ll be interested to see what response you get…

    Reply
  2. Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    The only difference between me and that cross-dressing man is that my sin is not immediately apparent when a stranger looks at me.

    I would not want to be a part of a church that fancies itself a museum for saints. I need to be in the hospital for sinners!

    Reply
  3. Jezamama

    Growing up in the church I never knew a “practicing homosexual” or a “cross-dresser” at least I didn’t think I did. I didn’t even know what gay was. But then as I grew older
    and became an adult in the churched world truths started to be revealed that left me disillusioned. Not only were the drunks hiding their truth, and the affairs were going unconfessed… there were practicing homosexuals and pedophiles. They were all hiding their sin and lives. There was/is no living in truth. If we can’t bring our truth to church even as a crossdresser… then why would anyone want to come to Jesus?

    Church was/is the perfect breeding ground for sexual repression, denial and hiding in the proverbial closet. Instead of promoting a healthy community that sees each sin as sin, we HIDE big time. We hide the booze. We hide the lust. We hide the “darker stuff” this is beyond acceptable.

    I grew up believing that Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed because of their sexual perversion… and it wasn’t until recently that God opened my eyes to the truth:
    “As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, Sodom and her daughters were never as wicked as you and your daughters. Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door. She was proud and committed
    detestable sins, so I wiped her out, as you have seen.” (Ezekial 16:48-50)

    These sins sound familiar, don’t they?
    If pride and gluttony and laziness were the downfall of Sodom…
    If neglecting the poor and the needy were the primary reasons for the destruction of Sodom…
    And it wasn’t primarily about their sexual perversion… then what does that say about the church? What does that say about the body of Christ who ignores and turns their faces from these needy ones in our midst…in our world who are afraid to be in our church buildings and to gather with us because they don’t look like us, dress like us, or SIN lies us. Isn’t sin, sin?

    Didn’t Jesus come to save the sinner?

    Reply
    • @bibledude

      Sounds to me like someone needs to do some guest posting here at bibledude.net! Seriously, let me know if you’re interested! I always LOVE it when you drop by and share what breaks your heart about the church like this.

      Related to the sexual sin, Dr. Ted Roberts shared some numbers with me that blew me away. In all of the churches that he’s ever worked with, he hasn’t found ONE church deviate very far from these numbers…

      67% of men in churches struggle with sexual addictions
      40% of women in churches struggle with sexual addictions
      OVER 50% of pastors struggle with porn

      Boom… sounds to me like the issue (as you indicate) is MUCH larger than just a single cross-dresser…

      Reply
      • Andy Carlson

        So, perhaps because of the sin in the church, the church is afraid to converse about these kinds of sin….for fear of revealing their own troubles? 

        Reply
        • Nikole Hahn

          Or fear of being sued. In this age, any church preaching against that particular sin could become a target by militants interested in shutting down churches. :o( So very difficult. So complex.

          Reply
    • Mark Lafler

      Thanks for bringing up Sodom and Gomorrah and the Ezekiel text.  I believe many Christians are not familiar with this text and that this text is not taught much (if at all) in the North American church.

      Thanks for adding to the conversation!

      Reply
      • Andy Carlson

        Actually, I think there has been much teaching on Sodom and Gomorrah….and all of it out of context….and simply wrong……we have been mislead by incomplete teaching….by leaders who should know better…..It has been used as a dividing rod or fence….and has had the result…it (wrong teaching) has been a diving place…..part of the polarization……part of the Scandal…

        Reply
      • Nikole Hahn

        Except the New Testament has words speaking against sexual perversion splattered throughout. Bottomline, sin is sin, but to tolerate sin is bad, to teach the truth in love is good.

        Reply
    • Lyla Lindquist

      Seems that despite Mark’s sensitive writing on the issue, it’s still tough to ask the question without having to use the “these people” or “those people” phrasing. And I think that until we can do that — realize that we’re all “these people” in one way or another — we can’t get through this conversation. 

      I love my church family. But I recently told my adult Sunday morning class that “if you knew who I really am you wouldn’t let me teach this class.” Because I know who I am and I know my sin and I look at it every morning when I get up. And I know the list at my church of which sins we understand and which we don’t, and which qualify you as one of “these people.” And that doesn’t have to be what we’d consider sexual sin — it just has to be the sin we’re comfortable with because it’s not ours.

      I’m looking forward to the day when we recognize that WE are “these people” and just get used to sitting with each other. I’m confident that day will come.

      Reply
      • Jezamama

        oh that’s such a good point. When I was on my way out of church… it dawned on me that I had been living a ‘them” and “they” and “those” mentality. I remember sitting with a woman who had so much stuff she couldn’t tell anyone and she just blurted it all out. I sat there with all of this sin and secret junk…and I knew that something inside me had changed. I didn’t see her as a “them”…she was me. She was we. She was us. And I was heartbroken.

        I think that is a huge part of why I had to walk away… because God was beginning to show me that he is so much bigger then we allow him to be. It’s like going through a detox: getting all the toxic junk and thinking and phrasing and beliefs out of your system.

        When we begin to think of “them” as “us” and “we”  then I think we’ll be able to recognize we are headed down the right path.

        So good, Lyla. Thank you for adding this.

        Reply
        • Nikole Hahn

          That’s why you sit with them. :o) You create a connection. I admit sitting with a cross dresser would be hard. I would hope that if that person were looking for change and not just there to prove a point or be militant or political that the spirit would lead me to sit with him/her.

          Reply
      • Mark Lafler

        Great point!  Thanks for pointing the “these people” language out.  We truly need to start our own evaluation with the fact that we are no better than anyone else.  It is only by the grace of God.

        Thanks for your comments!!

        Reply
        • Lyla Lindquist

          And Mark, just to be clear, my comment was not meant as criticism of your post or how you framed the issue. I think it’s just something we all, including me, do.

          Reply
          • Mark Lafler

            Got it.  I did not realize I did that.  Again, thanks for pointing it out.  Your comments are very helpful.

          • Nikole Hahn

            Kind of like that sin and this sin as if sin is catagorized into big and small?

  4. keri field

    thank you for this post-this exact topic has been on my mind and heart for the last 3 years–it brought about a crisis of belief which has totally changed the way i think about Jesus now (to the horror of my fundamentalist friends, i might add:)-looking forward to the comments..

    Reply
    • Mark Lafler

      Thank you for sharing and joining the conversation.

      Reply
  5. Megan Willome

    I’d love to find a church that was cool with that, but believe me, there aren’t any around here.

    Reply
    • Mark Lafler

      It seems to me that it is hard to find “these kind” of churches.  The ones that do seem to accept anything under the sun.  Perhaps in our frailty and fear we have moved so far from a middle point – to the point where everything is polarized. 

      Reply
      • Andy Carlson

        I totally Agree….it has become, “become like me”…or flee….complete polarization…..as the work by Mark Knoll reveals, it is “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”.

        Reply
  6. Andy Carlson

    Kelly said “a brave post”…true.

    Which came first, the permissive family
    or the permissive church?

    Which came first,
    the fundamentalist division of “right and wrong” or the
    sociological desire not to harm the “self image” of
    another?

    Which came first, Dr. Spock (not of
    Star Trek) or the loss of 

     the ability to have common dialog
    among differing points of view without judgment or condemnation. 

    Now we gravitate to those
    “like us” to the exclusion of others…yielding a greater divide that
    becomes a battle of governmental laws trying to legislate what should be a
    cultural playing field.

    We (the Christian community) no longer
    have the opportunity for conversational or relational input to the social pattern of the
    changing times because we have withdrawn from the wider range of
     culture into the security of our “church cocoons”. We have
    abdicated the earned right to a conversation with the wider range of society,
    hence the world moves on without us. This abdication is reflected in our fear
    of others not like us, who may want to come among us.  We not longer know
    how to love, care or serve others without judgment and condemnation.  Even
    our churches refuse to have open discussion on the social concerns of the day,
    or the changing mores of our denominations.  We continue to overlook,
    ignore, shy away from and disengage from activity, conversation or
    relationships with those taking different paths than us. Your question Mark is.
    What do I think?  I think there is no leadership within the Christian
    community broaching these topics. Way to go Mark for initiating a conversation!
     I think there is a difference between caring and agreement.  I can
    love and care for another, that does not mean I have to “accept –
    agree” with all characteristics or choices of another. I am called to
    accept others as God’s creation.  I am
    not called to accept incorrect behavior.   It is precisely those
    opportunities for conversations which we do not know who to enter into.  I
    am very frustrated with not being able to have those conversations.  I am
    frustrated with a Christian community which itself does not know how to have those
    conversations, let alone initiate a conversation within their own
    communities.  What does the Bible suggest, simply put, that we love out
    neighbor as our self.  Yet, we too are called to acknowledge error or sin,
    to converse one on one, to call on others who see an error in another’s
    life…and to take corrective actions.  The difficulty is in
    the transition of relationships from encouraging and welcoming, then
    into correction, which in itself is judgment.  I personally want to
    welcome all into my world, my space, my church…however, I do have a standard
    to set…which mean’s in the long run, a line will be drawn in the sand on some
    issues….but, I can associate,  love and
    care just the same…it is not balance of equality….it is a balance  of
    love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness without accepting as
    “ok” errors that I see as contrary to the standards that I know from
    scripture.  Right and wrong can not find
    a middle ground,, there is no place of equality on those two ends.  Yet I can care for both ends of the spectrum.

     

    Reply
    • Mark Lafler

      Thank you for your thoughts, Andy.

      There surely is a difference between love and agreement or acceptance.  Christ Jesus loved but did not agree with the positions of those he ministered to.

      Good comments.

      Reply
    • J.Armstrong

      I think Andy, here, makes some good points, which are stated far better than I ever could. The point of your post, Mark, is both relevant and insightful, and while I agree with everything you wrote within, as well as with most of what’s been written in these responses, my only addendum might be to ask where that line is, between loving, serving and accepting all into the Church body — and necessarily approving or condoning of sin? We should, as you all here say, surely be comfortable to confess personal troubles with any sin, as they are all equal… not to mention being open to listening to and helping people with any variety of sin, however uncommon in our colloquial experience (something painfully hard to do in many of today’s Churches, as you so bravely and profoundly pointed out). And most surely we are called to love and serve all, whatever may be their ‘faults’. But in your last column, even you, Mark, addressed the need for accountability as it relates to the Church body and reading scripture in a communal environment (ie, the Church). This would seem to beg the need to acknowledge sin in the first place. 

      Let’s take an example of a person attending your Church, who, symbolically speaking, is wearing a mask, who is behaving (sometimes quite publicly) in a decidedly un-Biblical manner (let’s say, openly having an affair despite being married, for arguments sake), but then attending Church every Sunday and putting on a good face that everything is good and fine. Now, I know that we should love them anyway, serve them anyway, and help them anyway, for their sin is no worse than any of our own. And of course, only God can know a person’s heart and their own level of repentance or true acceptance of Jesus Christ, not we. But if one were to take that scenario further, to a point where the person doesn’t even accept or acknowledge that what they are doing even IS sin in the first place, or worse yet, openly flaunts it as acceptable, surely we would have a responsibility to *lovingly* try to address that with them as it relates to scripture? Just as surely as we would confess our own shortcomings and failures of the heart and flesh to them, for illustration of our being no better than they, right? 

      I’m all for fostering a more open environment where any and all can and should feel free and unafraid to come and confess any and every thing, and trust that they will be loved and accepted regardless. This should most certainly be the charge of any and all Churches, though sadly one in which seemingly most these days have failed. But I would only suggest that the very openness which we all here seek, should also — necessarily — not edit, camouflage, or dilute God’s Truth, purely in the name of acceptance. Not judgmentally, of course, lest we be treated the same. But lovingly, nakedly in our own confessed sin, humbled and meek before them, just as frail and flawed and in need of Grace as they or any person. Surely?

      Reply
      • Mark Lafler

        Thank you for sharing J.Armstrong.  Good Comments!

        It seems to me that the Church should be a place that all people can come to and hear the Gospel being preached and practiced.  The message should never be watered down for any purpose.  If someone wants to come and hear and see the gospel message then let them come – no matter their situation.

        If they do not change over a period of two years or five years – when do Christians say that they should have changed by now?  The Holy Spirit brings conversion and change, not me.

        However, I do believe that their is scriptural basis for persons being asked to leave the church – or shunning communication (1 Corinthians 5:4-6; 1 Timothy 1:20).  This has to do with someone purposely trying to bring factions within the church or to bring division in the body of Christ.  That is a serious problem in the church. 

        Nevertheless, this does not mean that you ask people to leave a church because someone is offended or even a group of people.  If people are offended because of someone’s sin and cause division within the church than they are at fault of what I suggest above.

        We should bring people in the church to hear the gospel.  If someone comes and tries to bring division in the church then that is different.

        Reply
  7. Julie63

    and that is why most go to The Unity Church in this area, their very public sins are accepted there.. no condemnation because the Holy Spirit is not there..no condemning words from the Pastor.. because he or she is also like their congregation.

    Reply
    • Mark Lafler

      It seems that many “churches” that do allow homosexuals (etc.) to attend lack the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  They become labled as a homosexual church. 

      I would suggest that the church should be open to all people, but the pastors, teachers, and leaders continue to preach the gospel presented in the scriptures regardless of who comes.

      What do you think?

      Reply
      • Andy Carlson

        I am ok with that…however, what do we share with our Teens, our young adults…our children….our “other friends”…..or the congregation. At what point does our tolerance become “acceptance”….with the perceived acceptance yielding to active support…and therefore support for others that want to follow (become like) the alternate or “sinful” lifestyle (dressing, GLB, Adultly, premarital living together and so on…).  How can we be both loving and encourage change?  I think we can…I know we can…I know it is possible…..Jesus did….how do we?  I think the pastors, teachers and leaders should be both living active examples, not just in their teaching, but in their active lives…and they should be giving us the skills to be doing the same…..

        Reply
  8. osc_hobb

    Fantastic post. I really enjoy this blog. 🙂

    Reply
  9. Michael Hale

    It’s an “owwie” to say the least. Great article, and thought provoking. Discrimination in a place that calls for Discernment. Hm. Meh. Guilty.

    On several counts, guilty as charge. Been going through a grape crushing process. I’ve been gratefully wounded as I’ve prayed, “Lord, what can we do to help our local body get past their bevy of pet sins?” Answer: acknowledge my own junk in the trunk. Reply: “Lord, I don’t have that much junk in the trunk, and besides, it’s not that bad.” Rebuttal: Have a trial or two and stew.

    =====

    Oh God… help us to be better stewards of the souls we’ve been given to help, to love, to care for. Cheerfully I’ve quoted, “owe no man but to love him”, but – following your own Word – that’s all you did. And it cost you your life. I know this flesh must die, and Lord I believe, but help my unbelief.

    Father help me and my brothers and sisters realize how seriously you take the value of even one soul. When we demean or set at nought another person because we fail to believe that you will give us the grace – and the means – to help them, we have already judged ourselves.

    And help us not to be afraid to go through the fire that will surely burn away the unlovely things. For you have spoken to my heart, O Lord, and having found my works lukewarm, You then called me closer to you, O Consuming Fire, that I would be purged of those things unpleasing in your sight.

    Bless You, O God, Maker and Great Shepherd of All.
    Amen.

    Oh my brother, Oh my sister: draw closer…

    Reply
  10. Taranto6

    Though each of our sins are differnt,we all need the same forgiveness!church is a sacred place and we all should hold it to a high standard,I would not like someone who is drunk or high,or a woman in a bikini,or a guy in a thong,or a crossdresser in my church!church is holy ground,even Moses was told to take of his shoes!

    Reply
    • Jezamama

      Who sets the standard? Is it about our dress when we come to God? Do we hold those who don’t know Him to this same standard? Do we all come to church without our shoes?

      We had a women come into our church visibly drunk…and no one knew what to do with her. And so they didn’t. She got a card to AA and was sent on her way. Out of sight. Out of our comfort zone. Alone. Discarded. We turned our faces. (she was my neighbor and even I ignored her for a while too.)

      My mom told me a story about a man who came into her church when she was young. He walked into a revival meeting drunk and smelling like the gutter, he looked a mess… but something about that service drew him in and he was led to Christ literally in his filthy rags.

      Would most churches stop him at the door? Give him a card to AA. Tell him to clean up first. Turn their faces?

      And what would Jesus say… where is the scripture to support that stance?

      Reply
      • Andy Carlson

        And that is the conversations we don’t have: What would Jesus do?  I don’t think we know….I think the answers are in Scripture…but not explored, not confronted, not discussed….We keep the “truth” “in the closet”…because we (the church) do not know where or how to “shine its light”……

        Reply
        • Andy Carlson

          If I sound like I condemning the church, and church leadership in particular…I am….Condemning may be too strong a word…certainly I am admonishing..but who am I to do so….I am a sheep…lost awash in this sea  of unspoken troubles…with no conversational leadership….I am not looking for a formula…I am looking open scriptural conversation and the subsequent following exploration of  practical application…..show me examples…show me leadership that I might learn….kind of a call for help….but there seems to be no “life guard”…

          Reply
  11. Terry

    Two different perspectives. Man always seems to be more concerned
    on what image is or is not presented. In contrast, the Holy Spirit is always
    dealing with the issues of the heart.

    I think it is foolish to think that a person needs to get cleaned up before they
    come to Christ. “While we were yet sinners, He (Christ) died for us. Light always
    triumphs over darkness. The Word discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart.
    So how does one change if they are not exposed to the Light or the Word. “Come to
    Christ, all of you who are weary and heavy laden, and He will give you rest.”

    On the flip side, we are called to be watchmen who walk in all wisdom and discernment.
    Our houses of worship should always be a “safe place” which means that we have our eyes open at all times and that are children always protected and never close to danger.

    Reply
    • @bibledude

      “it is foolish to think that a person needs to get cleaned up before they come to Christ.” #fistbump 

      I, for one, am grateful that Jesus accepted me just as I am. 

      Great thoughts… thanks!

      Reply
  12. Tammy Hardin

    Wow really you think church is supposed to be open for sinners not just the shiny people with the plastic faces set in a permanent fake smile???  Sorry for the sarcasm.  When I was struggling to overcome my alcohol/drug/man addiction back in the late 80’s I couldn’t find help in the church.  The arms of AA were open wide and non-judgemental.  Eventually I went back to church but never really felt good enough to be there.  It took me almost 20 years to overcome the lie that I wasn’t good enough for the front row.  My heart today is for the disqualified for Jesus. I was one of those people and I now sit where He put my place setting at the head table where the daughter of the King sits!

    What I have found to be true is …it is all  level ground at the foot of the cross.  People are spiritually dying, they want real, authentic fellowship.  The church as we have known it is dying, there is new church being born.  Praise the Lord!

    Reply
    • @bibledude

      the “shiny people with plastic faces” reference made me chuckle… i working on a review and the posting of an interview on a book called “Veneer” that deals with that very issue. Totally agree with what you say about the ground at the foot of the cross being level…. and I’m grateful that He accepted me when I didn’t deserve it. Can’t imagine a God that would turn someone else away… that’s just not the God that accepted me…

      And thanks for sharing your (mini) testimony here! Praising God for the good work that He’s done and continues to do in your life!

      Reply
    • Nikole Hahn

      I go to a baptist church. No baptist sits on the front row. ROFL. :o) Don’t know why. The first few rows are empty near the front.

      Reply
  13. Nikole Hahn

    That’s a tough question. I once got into a debate with a homosexual online. He and his “partner” adopted a child and attended church. He was militant about staying in his sin. I asked him, “Why are you attending church if not to expect transformation from knowing Christ?” He then got mad. What was he supposed to do with the deed done and the child a part of this all? I said, “That’s not my fault, nor is it Jesus’ fault. Sin does have consequences.” If a cross dresser doesn’t want to change and wants his cake and eat it, too, then what? There are many former homosexuals who are witnessing to ones still stuck in that lifestyle. But how do you reach someone who thinks cross dressing or homosexuality or pedophilia is normal or a part of their “identity?”  Some churches may even go as far as to embrace it when biblically we can’t embrace it. I don’t think I could ask a cross dresser to leave, but I would definitley pray he would use the correctly marked bathroom as that could be a danger to our children. But very good question. A difficult one, but a good one.

    Reply
  14. Nikole Hahn

    Crossdresser or homosexual comes into church. Takes a seat.

    How do we preach the truth in love without getting sued? The new hate law that came into effect this year or last year makes it very difficult to preach the truth in love. The law has really tied our tongues and so we have to move carefully, advisably with the Spirit’s leading, because we really can’t leave it alone. But as someone once said in a blog, you can’t throw a catapillar into the air and expect it to become a butterfly immediatley.

    Reply
  15. casandra

    theres a guy who runs a weely food thing called chiliwagon in Vancouver who supposedly a Christian and for the lasy couple years has been dressing as a woman and the vineyard church he goes to seems to be okay with it

    Reply

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who attends your church?

by Mark Lafler time to read: 2 min
44