Mike Erre is the senior pastor at the First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, a mega-church in California. Responding to last week’s controversy over the withdrawal of Pastor Louie Giglio from the Inauguration ceremony over his past anti-gay remarks, Erre posted an “open letter to the LGBTQ community” on his Facebook page. At first, it seems Erre is truly apologizing for the harm done to LGBT people by the condemnations of Christian conservatives:
I want to begin by simply confessing the great deal of harm that we Christians have done to you in the name of Jesus. Our anger, hostility, and antagonism toward you have no place in the community that is supposed to represent Him. I am so sorry. Far too frequently we in the Christian community are rightly characterized as homophobic, mean-spirited, and narrow-minded.
I have several friends who are gay, and they have enlightened me to the heavy burden that many of you carry when you are rejected, mocked, and discarded by those in the church. Instead of offering helpful care, wisdom, and encouragement, we have often turned you away in disgust. We have done too much talking and not enough listening. I grieve this. And I know that Jesus does also. He had a very tender place in His ministry and priorities for those who were marginalized by the religious leadership of his day.
Unfortunately, Erre isn’t really interested in righting wrongs. He goes on to subtly double down on the belief that gays and lesbians have to abandon their attractions in order to be right with God:
Some of us have also said to you that salvation or coming to Jesus means being automatically transformed into a heterosexual. I do think transformation is possible, but often we seem woefully naive of all the factors involved in this issue. As far as I can tell, one’s sexual orientation is not the determining factor in one’s eternal destiny. If my friendships are any indication, many yearn to follow Jesus fully and completely and yet continue to struggle to reconcile their faith with their desire for intimacy (sexual or otherwise) with someone of the same sex. We have failed to live out the good news of Jesus. Please forgive us.
I also believe that, at times, the homosexual community isn’t entirely truthful to you either. For one thing, the gospel of Jesus Christ announces that our desires are not our destinies. They can be overcome and placed in their proper context. Our wants don’t have to become our needs. Entrance into the kingdom of God through Jesus makes possible those things that, prior to Him, were thought to be impossible. We don’t have to live at the mercy of desire. Salvation isn’t found in self-gratification, nor is it found in unhealthy repression or denial. Jesus offers a third way.
One last thing. I disagree with those who think your sexual orientation is the most important thing about you. The most important thing about you is that, as a human being, you are made in the image of God. As an image bearer, you are a person who has intrinsic dignity, honor, and worth. You, like the rest of us, are also broken and bent toward what is worst for us. But the good news is that Jesus has come to make things right. He invites you into that redemption. Please don’t hold the sins of the church against Him.
Erre seems to recognize that condemning homosexuality is harmful to gays and lesbians, and yet he proceeds to do so anyway. He fails to recognize that sexual orientation is experienced at all times, not just when individuals are being intimate. Expecting gays and lesbians to repress their identities to find “transformation” is the very harmful message Erre claims to be distancing himself from.
Last week, Terry Gross spoke with retiring Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson on NPR’s Fresh Air, and he provided a stirring response to the suggestion by Christians that gays and lesbians are somehow not gay or lesbian if they simply don’t act on their attractions:
ROBINSON: I’m not just gay when I’m making love to my husband. I’m gay all the time. I’m gay right this minute talking to you. And it affects how I relate to the world, how I relate to people. And it comes out of this notion that, you know, it’s OK to be gay as long as you don’t act on it.
Well first of all, I don’t think that’s — I think that statement is disingenuous because the people who say that don’t act as all as if it’s OK to be gay. But taking them at their word, you know, when do you become gay? I laughingly will say to a more conservative audience, you know, OK, so if it’s OK to be gay but not act on it, could two men live together? Could we sleep in the same bedroom if we slept in twin beds?
Well, could we sleep in the same bed if we didn’t touch each other? Well, could we touch each other as long as we only held hands? I mean, at what point, at what point is it gay? Do you know what I mean? It just doesn’t make any sense. And it comes out of what I think is a very male understanding of sexuality, which is you’re only being sexual when you’re making love.
But the fact of the matter is we are sexual all the time, and this bifurcation of, you know, being gay versus acting on it just seems to me ludicrous at best and cruel at worst.
Erre may want to do right by gays and lesbians, but his letter suggests he doesn’t even have the most basic understanding of their lived experience. If he truly wants to show them his love and support, he needs to learn how to respect their right to be whole beings. He can’t expect forgiveness if he’s still denying the reality of who he’s talking to.