From what I understand, there are two main beliefs within evangelical Christianity in regard to the process of sanctification.
1. The process of becoming more like Christ as a result of
abiding in the Holy Spirit’s presence, reading God’s
word given in Scripture, and living in community with
2. The process of becoming more like Christ as a result of
conviction through reading God’s word, and obeying the
authority of prominent evangelical church leaders past
Looking at the early Church from a biblical standpoint alone, it seems that the first definition of sanctification is the most accurate. There seems to be a dynamic interplay between the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and the community of believers that is essential to the process of sanctification. For the purposes of my comments, I am going to focus on this model, as I believe it is closest to that of the first Christians.
Many modern Christians, in their attempts to make amends with the LGBTQIA community, claim that being non-heterosexual “misses the mark” (hamartia) of God’s design for sexual, romantic, and married relationships. They may not quote the six or seven verses found in the Old and New Testaments, but they say that the modern institution of marriage is modeled after Jesus’ relationship with the Church. Jesus is a man, and the Church is described as a woman. Therefore, the New Testament sets up a perfect design of heterosexuality in marriage relationships.
In this worldview, a homosexual, bisexual, or polysexual orientation is a direct result from the Fall of Man.1 When Eve and Adam disobeyed God, they became infected with death – a disease they passed on to their offspring. This disease ravages our bodies and makes us, both physically and spiritually, die.
Jesus came to Earth in human form, became a scapegoat for the death disease, and defeated it by resurrecting himself three days later. In evangelical tradition, all who accept the sacrifice of Jesus have been cured from death in their spiritual bodies.
However, death’s symptoms ravage us. We are selfish, backward, rebellious children that destroy ourselves repeatedly. Sin – “missing the mark” of God’s design for living life abundantly, or being separated from God – coexists with death. It brings death; it is brought by death.
Sanctification, then, is the process that purifies our spiritual bodies. It gets rid of death’s symptoms, bringing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in place of spiritual decay. It happens as a result of abiding in the Holy Spirit’s presence, spending time reading Scripture, and participating in community with other believers.
At this point, I want to point out something that has been increasingly obvious to me. The evangelical church is terrified of the real Jesus – so much so, they take control of the sanctification process.
Definition 1. churches are, outwardly, more welcoming of LGBTQIA Jesus followers. They promote abiding in the Holy Spirit’s presence, and spending time reading Scripture. But, often, non-heterosexual and non-cis Jesus followers are not permitted to participate in community with other believers.
By “community,” I mean a group of people that love like Jesus. Often, LGBTQIA Jesus followers are taken out of leadership positions, stereotyped, marginalized, disempowered, discredited, or worse. Phrases like, “we don’t condemn but we don’t condone,” or, “love the sinner but hate the sin,” or, “it’s a sin to say a sin is not a sin” are used constantly. The thing that makes LGBTQIA Jesus followers different from heterosexual and cis Jesus followers becomes their defining characteristic, because it disqualifies them from leadership.
Although LGBTQIA Christians are allowed to attend places of worship, the bond of community has already been destroyed. By refusing to grant LGBTQIA Christians a place in church leadership, the church is communicating that heterosexual and cis Christians are inherently superior.2
Authentic community for LGBTQIA Christians is disrupted intentionally by heterosexual and cis Christians. We must either be silent about the way we live and love, or give up our respect and leadership within the church.
This practice – Definition 1. churches’ disruption of community, an essential part of sanctification – contradicts a fundamental difference which distinguishes Definition 1. from Definition 2.
Definition 1. churches do not believe the sanctification process is a result of human effort, but of a natural purification that accompanies being transformed into the image of Jesus. Sanctification molds followers of Jesus into God’s life-filled designs before the Fall of Man.
Simply put, sanctification should, in theory, naturally make an LGBTQIA believer become heterosexual and cis.
The only problem is that it doesn’t.
Most often, sanctification actually makes sexual and gender orientation stronger.
It shouldn’t, but it does.
It seems as though Definition 1. churches are afraid the real Jesus would affirm non-normative relationships and gender orientation. If they weren’t, why would they feel the need to limit authentic community for LGBTQIA Jesus followers?
There are many great arguments for and against same-sex marriages and relationships, and while I have obvious viewpoints about one side, I can (and frequently do) entertain the idea that my views are flawed.
But that’s what sanctification is for. It is a process of learning and loving, of dying and resurrecting, of sleeping and waking, of falling and rising, and it is entirely in the hands of Jesus Christ.
1. I am not sure about the evangelical church’s views on trans* issues, or genderfluid/genderqueer issues. From what I have witnessed, I think they believe non-normative orientations with regard to sex and gender result from the Fall of Man, as well.
2. “Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, ‘Wait.’ . . . [W]hen you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television. . .and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people. . .when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair” (Martin Luther King, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”).