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Posture Shift – A Review of Bill Henson and Lead Them Home Ministries

by | May, 10, 2018 | Blog

Photo provided by Ty Wyss and Walls Down Ministry

Is Lead Them Home’s Posture Shift leading Evangelicals in the right direction?

This June will mark the two year anniversary of the Orlando Pulse Night Club shooting. In so many ways, the shooter changed my city. In a few hours, he revealed how ill-equipped Evangelicals were, and still are, to love LGBT+ people and families.  

Sadly, I did not respond well. Even though I had written and defended a doctoral paper addressing this issue, I still had not found a satisfactory way forward. I still responded from a tired narrative leftover from the cultural wars. And I was rightfully called out on it. 

My philosophy on ministry changed when I crossed paths with a man named Bill Henson and his work to reach LGBT+ people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ through his ministry, Lead Them Home Ministries.

I first came into contact with Bill through a training seminar he led at one of the large evangelical churches in the area. Through an invitation by one of the staff pastors, I was allowed to sit through Bill’s 1-day workshop, “Posture Shift.” That day transformed my thinking and provided a capstone to a research question I had proposed five years earlier:

“How do evangelical churches cultivate ministry to LGBT+ people and families while maintaining faithfulness to the Gospel?”

Bill’s answer is straightforward. Churches must shift their posture from judgment to love.

“How do evangelical churches cultivate ministry to LGBT+ people and families while maintaining faithfulness to the Gospel?”

The Church Is Not Safe

While this seems straightforward and almost a generic response, Bill is quick to point out that there is a long history of discrimination, abuse, and violence by the church against LGBT+ people. Further, the cultural wars of past generations led to the church becoming an “unsafe” space for most LGBT+ people.

What should have been a “sanctuary” became ground zero for people working through sexual identity issues. Unfortunately, I still hear stories of well-meaning parents rejecting their LGBT+ son or daughter because they think it is “the biblical thing to do.”  

Nothing could be further from the truth. When this happens, the risk of suicidality significantly increases in the LGBT+ teenager. When the church is not safe, lives are in danger.

Three areas of safety concerns are worth noting: ostracizing, bullying and teasing, and suicidality.

My research confirmed this phenomenon. As far back as the 1970’s, sociologists have been studying the phenomenon of the development of Gay neighborhoods and cities. According to a team of sociologist led by Edward Laumann, the development of these communities was born out of the need for LGBT+ people to meet others, share likeminded values, feel social support and form social bonds (Laumann et Al, The Sexual Organization of the City, 2004).

There is a dark side to the formation of these communities. Very often when parents learned or discovered their child’s sexual interest in the same gender, they were ostracized from the family and kicked out of their home.

Bill notes that homeless teenagers are at times those who disclosed their sexual orientation. When their parents learned about their kids, they ostracized them and kicked them out of their homes.

Not only did this behavior contribute to the development of gay communities but also explains the present tension felt by LGBT+ people in the church. Social ostracizing and psychological alienation is a form of bullying that can be significantly damaging to an adolescent and young adult.

Christian families are not the only ones that contribute to social alienation from communities. Often when adolescents note that when a peer acts and behaves contrary to gender norms, they become targets of bullying and teasing. Bill shares the story during his Posture Shift program of a young teenager who experienced social media bullying. A group of boys in his church youth group created a fake Facebook account with the young gay teenager’s picture and then posted gay pornography to the page. The teenager was publicly humiliated in front of his church and peers.

What kind of church culture produced this kind of behavior?

Bullying in any form is unbiblical, unwarranted, and denies the very Gospel we hold sacred. 

Very often the lack of compassion towards LGBT people mixed with a cultural war mentality leads to the perception of risk in the church. Offensive language, “us verse them” rhetoric, and misunderstanding of the delicate issues surrounding sexual identity development leads to social taboos imposed on the church leadership.

Pastors and leaders not only are incapable of responding well but in their silence unintentionally create conditions where such horrific events can happen.

As a result, a “spiritual wedge” develops inside young adults where they feel not only rejected by their church but also rejected by God (Chu, Does Jesus Really Love me, 153 c.f. Laan and Olsman, 2011). That leaves the person effectively cut off from the one true transformative source of love and hope, namely a relationship with Jesus Christ.

How can Evangelicals change?

Shift Our Posture

First, according to Bill, churches must first examine their posture.

Are pastors and leaders working to create safe spaces within their bodies to address the complexities of sexual identity? Have they contributed to environments where LGBT people are forced to the margins? One place to look at is the use of language.

LGBT+ people do not live “lifestyles” or have “orientations” any more than straight Evangelical Christians. Both the LGBT+ and Evangelical are human beings, all sharing the same concerns — the need for friends, support, and community.

Both groups share the common ground of asking similar human questions — why are we here, why am I the way I am, and what hope is there? Within these questions is the latent issue of human sexuality — why am I attracted to this person or not? Does God bless this relationship or not? Sexuality is far more complex than just social/political issues alone. They are human issues shared by all.

We must learn the language of those who we are trying to reach by speaking human. Denigrating language communicates judgment, hostility, and rejection. LGBT+ people are very sensitive to words we choose because of painful experiences they have gone through. We should not judge a person for the feelings they have. Right or wrong, their experiences are their own. When we use language that is vulgar — Fag, queer, lesbo, tranny — we are failing them and the Gospel.

If the Gospel is “good news”, then how is our use of offensive language sabotaging our Gospel efforts?

LET Go of Our Agendas

Second, we must set aside our political agendas.

Evangelicals must sacrifice their political desires for power and shift to issues of justice and compassion. On this point, Evangelicals have a very poor track record.

Politics and evangelicals have blended together, but not well and not to the advantage of the Evangelical. We must put down our lust for power to preserve the Gospel cause. Far too often LGBT+ people have been portrayed as archetypes of evil rather than fellow human beings in need of the Gospel. We must repent of this tendency and remember Jesus himself forbade Peter from taking “action” into his own hands (John 18:10). Instead, we must assume the posture of Jesus Christ who in amazing humility descended from his position of power and hung on a tree on our behalf (Phil 2:6–12).

That does not mean we must park our brains. But instead thoughtfully consider how our political rhetoric may impact the Gospel message we preach.

Confess Our Hypocrisy

Third, we must repent of our hypocrisy.

The Apostle Paul brings this stinging rebuke in Romans 2:1–4 where he points to the hypocrisy of judging a person of their sin while embroiled in their own. Our hypocrisy rests in the use of pornography, even among pastors.

Over and over again, we hear of sexual misconduct by Christian leaders and pornography consumption by Evangelicals. How dare we point our fingers at others when we have failed ourselves. Our struggles with sex and media are nothing but a reminder that sexuality is not a “Gay Issue” but a human issue, one in which we are all in it together.

Pornography distribution is an epidemic far more destructive and threatening than the gay man wrestling with faith identity issues. Yet when a man is “struggling” with pornography, we declare him an “addict,” but to the gay man, we declare him an “abomination.” Such discrepancies are intolerable and strongly rebuked by the Apostle Paul. 

We must remember that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:13-17).

Remember the Gospel

Finally, we must embrace the Gospel message.

Bill stresses a simple message: We are all equal at the foot of the cross.

Remarkably, the Bible does not point to homosexuality as the greatest sin but instead sharply indicts human pride and idolatry. Yet in our hubris, we have created tiers of depravity arrogantly communicating, “thank you God that I’m not a sinner ‘like them’.”

The justice of God condemns us all — “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” As Bill Henson continued to preach, “We are all equal at the foot the of the cross.” Romans 1:18-2:4 is an indictment of all humanity.

But the love of God rescues us from judgment — “the gift of God is eternal life.” Between these two poles, God’s justice and mercy stand all of humanity.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ perfectly balances God’s love with God’s justice. As an Anglican minister, I’m reminded of the comfortables words found in our liturgies. “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ,  and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2). Such is the simplicity of the assurance we enjoy through faith in Jesus. 

Conclusion, My Endorsement

On all four points, Posture Shift profoundly caused me to reassess my thinking and approach. Even further, it prompted me to revisit my conclusions from prior years research and assess my assumptions.

In short, Henson has brought a needed paradigm shift to the way Evangelicals approach ministry and going forward certainly shifted mine. I’m thankful for Bill’s ministry and heartily recommend Posture Shift to any person willing to attend. 

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About The Author

Jonathan G. Smith

The Rev'd Dr. Jonathan G. Smith is the Senior Minister of Redeemer Church in Orlando, Founder of Grace Nation, and owner of Higher Purpose Coaching. His passion is to see people transformed by the Gospel, the liberating power of Jesus Christ.

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