The story that many people in America are finding themselves in—particularly Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians (which I identify as)—is similar to the story of the early church that we read in the book of Acts. The beautiful thing about the book of Acts is that we—non-Jewish people (a.k.a. the Gentiles)—would not be here without this story. As much as the church is made up of mostly non-Jewish people today, this was not always the case. In fact, Acts is in many ways the story of the church becoming more inclusive and the Jewish church learning to embrace those that were different from them—namely, the Gentiles.
Luke records Jesus leaving the church with this promise: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). While this might sound insignificant, it’s not. Jesus is first of all reminding his disciples that the Holy Spirit will be essential to their mission. They cannot move forward and do what they ought to do without the Spirit guiding them and empowering them. This is a significant theme throughout Luke’s Gospel and Acts. Jesus is not just giving them this reminder, but he is also telling them that their mission will certainly start in the familiar town of Jerusalem but will extend beyond Jerusalem to other Jewish territory and then to Samaria (not a favorite place for the Jews) and eventually to the “ends of the earth.” While the Jews held Jerusalem as the place where God dwelt in his Temple, Jesus is in fact telling them that they will continuously spread out from Jerusalem and God’s Spirit will be there with them as they go.
Something significant happens as these Jewish followers of Jesus fulfill his words: they encounter people who are different from them—people that they think are impure and not worthy of having a meal with. Yet Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit would empower them comes through and these Jewish followers begin to experience God at work among people that they were not so sure about. In fact, Peter—a mover and shaker in the early church—has an experience where he believes that God is telling him that it’s okay to break the kosher standards from the Jewish Law that the Jews had been following since the time of Moses (if you want the full story, check out Acts 10). This is a big deal! How does Peter come to the conclusion that this is God telling him to do this? Well, for one thing, some men show up at the house where Peter is staying and ask him to come to their master Cornelius who is one of these non-Jewish people that many Jews would not have been so sure about.
Thus, Peter’s experience is confirmed by circumstances. Not only do these men come, but also Peter goes and shares the good news about Jesus with Cornelius and his family and God shows up in powerful and meaningful ways. It becomes clear to Peter that he was not just hearing voices but God was really at work outside of the Jewish people—at least this is how Luke tells the story in Acts. From that moment forward Peter would never be the same.
So what do we do about those LGBTQ people out there? Well, we begin by recognizing like Peter that “God shows no partiality” in terms of whom he loves and desires to be in relationship with. LGBTQ people are people that Jesus died for. So perhaps the next step is to do what Peter did and begin to create relationships with these people. Learn their stories and discern where God is at work. Surely the Holy Spirit today is the same Holy Spirit that was active in Peter and Cornelius’ lives. Surely the Holy Spirit is working in the lives of LGBTQ people all over the world. It is the job of the church to connect with the Spirit’s work in their lives in the same way that we connect with the Spirit’s work in everyone else’s lives.
And so we love the LGBTQ people in tangible and meaningful ways. Reach out today beyond yourself and learn to listen and build relationships for surely this is where the Spirit of God is found.