I read about 100 articles a month, and my favorite piece last month was Girl in The Picture, by Emily Thomes. Originally posted on The Gospel Coalition, Thomes shares her inspiring story of lesbianism to follower of Christ1. Today, Thomes stops by the site to share more of her story and give advice to Christians ministering to those who identify as LGBT. You can read the full interview below.
Emily, thank you for taking time to stop by the site. I’ll start broadly. Tell us a little about your life before God saved you.
Before God saved me, I was an incredibly selfish person. I was pretty well liked by most people but had a tendency to overstep boundaries and act impulsively. I did what I perceived was best for me. This lead me to sleeping around, smoking marijuana, and doing other destructive behaviors. Even when it looked like I was helping and serving others, it was actually for my glory and pride. I had very little respect for others but knew how to act “upstanding” outwardly that few people saw the depths of my poor behavior. In short, my driving factors before conversion were pride and self-exaltation.
Take us through your conversion experience. Do you remember the moment you realized that you had become a Christian?
I was in my apartment sitting on the floor with the book (God: As He Longs for You to See Him) from the Bible study I was participating in when I realized I was now a believer. I had been in a study only for a couple of weeks and was learning about the attributes of God. Slowly but surely my view of God and of myself began to change and the balance tipped to where God was bigger and mattered more than I did.4
I read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and saw that I was in the “will not enter the kingdom of Heaven” group but that He could save me and make me new. In those verses I understood my need for Him and His offer to me; it was really incredible.
I remember feeling terrified and at peace at the same time. I realized where I had been until that instant and that scared me. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t understood before what was so clear to me all of a sudden. But there was no denying it and no suppressing it any longer. I didn’t know what I was going to do or what my life was going to be like but I knew what I wasn’t going to do. I wasn’t going to defy Him any longer. His will was my new life.
That’s very encouraging to hear. Now let’s talk about outreach. When you see the church attempt to reach those who identify as LGBT, what are things that encourage you? What are some concerns?
Seeing the church reaching out with truth and love to the lost has been the greatest encouragement. I’ve seen Christians be humble and open with their struggles against sin with others. I’ve seen them acknowledge their own need for grace with those who have not yet received it. Believers should discuss their own fleshly pull towards sin while making it clear that in Christ we deny ourselves and follow Him.
There are two major concerns I see in how the church reaches out to those in the LGBT community.
The first is when churches speak with no love at all. We cannot approach those outside the church like they’re believers who refuse to repent; they’re lost. We must approach them with the gospel — all of it. We explain that He is holy and that we are fallen and in need of forgiveness and a heart change. Both the law and grace must be presented for either to make any sense.
The second concern I see is when Christians cast aside what His word says on homosexuality in attempts to “love” those who are lost. God’s word stands forever; what He deems as sin will always be sin. To ignore that truth is incredibly unloving. Those who do not repent will not inherit the kingdom of God. Pretending that one can remain in sin and belong to Him is deceptive and cruel.
So what do you think are some of the biggest obstacles in our outreach strategies?
A poor understanding of sin in general, homosexuality specifically, is by far the greatest obstacle I’ve seen in our attempts at outreach.
A mindset has developed (whether Christian or not) that homosexuality is linked to identity. Obviously, the LGBT community embraces that wholeheartedly, but most Christians don’t realize that they have also embraced that idea. Believers inadvertently reinforce an unbiblical understanding of homosexuality when they treat those who are same-sex attracted as a segregated class of sinners who are more depraved than ‘normal’ people. In doing so, well-meaning Christians are unwittingly buying into the notion that homosexuality is part of one’s identity, much like one’s race or gender. Basic Christian principle regarding things like sin, repentance, and obedience are cast entirely to the side when dealing with homosexuality to the detriment of both the lost and those in the faith. An inclination towards a certain sin doesn’t mean that one is destined to walk in that sin; it means that they, like all other people since Adam, are born bent towards sin and are in need of forgiveness and a new heart.10
Thankfully, our God offers us that in the cross. We can be born again and made new.
What are some practical resources you can recommend to help?
The short answer is the Bible. We’ve got to be consistent and biblical in our dealings with all sin.
On another note, some practical tools I’ve found helpful are ministries like Rosaria Butterfield and Matt Moore and Desiring God. Butterfield and Moore were both radically saved out of homosexuality and offer much insight into various circumstances and struggles.
So the three links I’d recommend are:
Finally, Emily, what’s your #1 biggest piece of advice for Christians who are trying to reach those who associate as LGBT?
To put it simply, do not elevate or diminish the sin of homosexuality, and be humble and transparent in your own battle against sin.’
Originally posted as From Lesbianism to Follower of Christ: An Interview With Emily Thomes by Gospel Relevance