Speaking Persuasively of LGBT+ Inclusion

Hey Friends,

This week I have the exciting privilege of featuring another guest blog by my friend, Alicia Johnston. Alicia was a pastor in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church before coming out as bisexual in 2017. Here are some tips from her about how to engage in the important dialogue of LGBT+ inclusion.

Enjoy and share around!

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna


When I came out about a year ago, I did it in the most explosive way possible, with a video I shared on social media. I followed that up with my website, blogging about LGBT+ affirmation in Christian spaces. Before coming out, I was a pastor in a conservative denomination, the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Losing that career and becoming an advocate for change has meant a lot of conversations with people who do not affirm any but heterosexual relationships. I have made so many mistakes. If you’ve been following me, you will probably have seen some of them. And I have learned so much. I would like to share some of those things with you today.

In sharing these lessons learned, I make no apologies about one thing: I am trying to be persuasive. I want people to change their minds and be affirming. I think this is a holy pursuit.

1. Are You Okay to Have This Conversation?

This will always be the first step. You are under no obligation to engage in any conversation no matter what the circumstances. This is even more true is someone is pressuring you. Hold your ground.

It is very difficult for those of us who are LGBT+ to have conversations with people about the legitimacy of our lives. It’s emotionally taxing, and for many of us it brings up past wounds. How healed are you from those wounds? How are you feeling today? How do you feel about this person? Is this the right conversation for you?

You cannot count on your conversation partner to understand what it’s like for you, especially online. In my experience, most of the straight/cis people who understand are already allies.

Christians are told repeatedly that they can love people even if their theology is different on this matter. In real life, that translate into a sense that they can say what they believe without expecting it to hurt you, as long as they aren’t too harsh. Sometimes even if they are harsh. I’ve seen it again and again. In most cases, I really do think they don’t know what they are doing.

So you can’t rely on them to protect your feelings. You have to know if you’re ready. Keep in mind, if you are LGBT+, the best thing you can do to change the world is be a healthy, happy, and unashamed person. Live well. Live out. Be open about your faith. Guard your own health and happiness.

2. Is This Person Already Convinced?

You must know who you are talking to and why. Most people can are in one of three camps. They are either totally on board with LGBT+ inclusion, totally against it, or in the moveable middle.

Those who are totally certain will not change their viewpoint.

You can kill yourself trying to explain the same thing for the hundredth time and they will still somehow not understand it. They will say things that are stigmatizing or pejorative, and they will never come to acknowledge or change this. You could pour out a heartbreaking story and they would just say feelings don’t matter and we have to do what’s right. You could talk about suicide statistics and mental health and they would feel like you’re manipulating them. They compare your love to pornography and adultery and think it’s compassionate. They won’t read any books. They won’t question what they believe.

You will not convince these people. They will be convinced only when their friends who are in the moveable middle change their opinions, or if someone they love and respect comes out. Even then they often stick to their guns. You can’t do it, especially if you’re LGBT+. Just accept that and be okay with it.

Unfortunately, these people are most vocal online. The people who are open to change usually don’t comment much.

I propose two different strategies for the people who are totally against LGBT+ affirmation:

In person: Don’t give them your time and energy. Suggest they read an LGBT+ affirming book or two, but don’t let them suck you in unless for some reason you’re feeling like a vigorous and unproductive debate about your legitimacy as a person. They won’t read the book unless its to get you to read one of their books. If they were open to change, they would read the book.

Online: Don’t try to convince them of anything. You might want to engage, but only for the sake of those who are reading. Be reasonable. Be kind. Make good points in a way that is brief. Be confident about both your faith and sexuality or gender identity. Remind them of the existence of LGBT+ Christians.

3. Is This Person Open to Learning and Growth?

Thank God, there are people who are open to change. These people are worth talking to.

Most of the people in the moveable middle are kind of like undecided voters. They usually haven’t thought about it enough to form a strong opinion. Though some have thought about it and are conflicted. They will probably not be well informed, but they won’t be purposefully dismissive or pejorative like the other group, at least not on purpose. They will be more responsive to a well-spoken correction if they say something disrespectful.

What works really well for these people is talking about your similarities. LGBT+ people have families, work hard, have children, go to church, etc. I’m going to level with you and tell you that it really bothers me that this is true. We should be respected and cared for whether we are similar to someone else or not. Yet it’s undeniable that the best way to remind people about the humanity of queer people is to show them that we are similar to them. It works very well.

These are people who will care about your story, and you should tell it to them. Much like the undecided voter, what some of them need most is a reason to care. If they have questions about theology, answer them if you can, or give them a source to turn to such as a book, website, or organization.

Sometimes all these people need is to get a few questions answered and they are onboard. If that’s the case, say hallelujah! Many have put in work before you and you got to see the transformation.

4. Show Respect, Expect Respect

The first person to say “you obviously” loses. Seriously. When someone feels attacked they will get defensive. If you’re at the place where someone is attacking you and you feel yourself getting defensive, you probably want to extract yourself from that conversation.

When I first came out, which I did so publicly and jumped right into online advocacy for LGBT+ people, there were a lot of people who were deeply disrespectful. As time went on I got more and more comfortable with the reality that the block button was my friend.

My list of blocked people is probably a lot longer than a lot of people’s friend list.

I’m not exaggerating. My coming out video was spun into a crazy conspiracy theory by a fringe religious extremist group. Their video about me was seen tens of thousands of times. As a result, I had a lot of people looking me up to tell me I was leading people to hell. Some of them come right out and say it. Some of them try really hard to act reasonable to make me feel like I couldn’t block them.

They would say things like, “you don’t want discussion on this group or you wouldn’t delete comments.” Or “I bet you’ll just block me.” At first I let this manipulate me, not wanting to prove them right. Now I just block them.

People will also say things like, “you shouldn’t post things on facebook if you aren’t willing to have a conversation about it.” So I just kindly but firmly tell them that I don’t share things on facebook for debate; I share them to share them. I don’t believe that facebook is a good forum for genuine conversation, so that’s not how I run my page.

It’s totally okay to do this. Those people are trying to hijack your platform to say something to your friends and followers. At the risk of sounding disillusioned, I can tell you that case after case after case has taught me that they are not being genuine. So don’t hesitate to push block.

That’s level one respect, but to be truly impactful in a conversation you need a whole new level. You need to understand them. If you have found someone interested in real dialogue, do spend time trying to understand them. If you are writing persuasively, don’t use straw man arguments and don’t assume people have bad motives.

Most people are doing the best they can. Foster compassion in yourself. If you’re like me, you’ve been on the wrong side of this in the past. Try to be patient, especially with those who genuinely do love you, like family and close friends, while always balancing that patience with caring for yourself. Sometimes you will need more distance from people.

Remember, people are not an obstacle to over come, they have lives, feelings, fears, and hopes. They bring all those things to each conversation. You can’t persuade someone against their will. You can’t force anyone to see things differently. Sometimes being too strong will only cause them to fight back harder.

The hardest thing Jesus commanded was that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. This doesn’t mean we can’t step away if we aren’t receiving respect, but it does mean we should foster a heart of grace and understanding.

5. Give Hope and Security

With the incredible efforts of LGBT+ people and allies, the lives of queer people have improved exponentially over the last several decades. Many churches have even gotten much, much better. There are many reasons for hope. So embrace hope.

When you’re talking to others, realize that if they were raised to fear what churches refer to as homosexuality, they are probably afraid for you, afraid for society, and afraid to affirm LGBT+ people for fear of cooperating with the forces of evil. That’s a lot to be afraid about. You can give hope.

Tell them about the great things queer people are doing and how they have wonderful lives, families, and faith communities. Cast a different vision than the vision of fear they have been given. And reassure them that God’s ability to save is not dependent on our ability to be right.

Perfect love casts out all fear, and fear has always been the greatest tool of those who are anti-LGBT+. That’s why it’s called homophobia. So remind them of God’s love for everyone. Remind them that God is not looking for us to mess up, but is leading us patiently and gracefully to greater love.

Alicia Johnston was a pastor in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church before coming out as bisexual in 2017. She is now an advocate for LGBT+ inclusion in the church. You can visit her website at aliciajohnston.com

Why I Believe In, Support, and Advocate for Church Clarity


A few years ago, my wife and I tried an experiment. We went to visit a sister church of the church I grew up in. On our first Sunday there, the pastor preached a sermon about their doors being open to everyone in the community. “Everyone is welcome,” he said. He went to extensive lengths to explain that no matter what your background or financial status, no matter where you lived or what “sin” you committed; whether you were a single mother, or had been incarcerated, or lived on the streets, you were welcome and belonged here.

My wife and I sat listening carefully to that list, but (not to our surprise) heard no mention of the LGBT community among the people listed. I knew this pastor and his wife from the parent church we had all previously been a part of. So following the service, I decided to challenge him on it.

I wrote him a letter, mentioning my background, my long involvement at our parent church, and my recent marriage to my wife.

I asked him if he truly meant all were welcome, or if his statement meant everyone…except me.

He didn’t remember me at first. But upon agreeing to meet us both for coffee to discuss the matter, he remembered both me and my family very well. Our mutual connection to a former church world and memories we both shared softened his heart toward us a bit, and the door seemed to open a little as we sat and dialogued about the journey my wife and I had been on. He asked questions with a fairly open mind. He seemed open to learning. He admitted that he didn’t necessarily feel “called” to minister to the LGBT community (whatever that meant), but that his church was rather neutral on the subject and that we would never hear him preach about it from the pulpit one way or the other. He wanted us to feel welcome in his church.

So then the real question came.

“So if I wanted to join the worship team, or lead a small group, would I be allowed to do that?” I asked. He paused, and admitted he wasn’t sure. No one had been gutsy enough to ask him that point blank before. He said he would pray about it, talk to the church leadership, and let us know.

Any of you who have been through a similar process know what the answer was. Like many other churches, we were “welcome” to attend, to give our money, to volunteer our time, but not to lead. Leading as a gay Christian woman wasn’t a risk they were willing to take or theologically support.

For some reason (perhaps longing, perhaps nostalgia…perhaps stupidity) my wife and I decided to visit just one more time. The day we decided to go, we ironically ended up in the middle of a two weeks sermon series on sex. The first sermon (which we had missed the previous week) had been on “Good Sex” and the week we showed up, was the discussion of “Bad Sex.”

A knot began forming in my stomach from the moment I heard the title and continued to church with every passing minute. I waited, in fear and anticipation of what may come.

To my shock (but sadly, not my surprise), when listing out the examples of bad sex (among which were pedophilia, pornography, and incest), this pastor – the same pastor we’d just had coffee with only weeks prior – also listed homosexuality.

I wanted to stand up and walk out right then and there.

But, attempting to give him the benefit of the doubt and the chance for some caveat that would redeem his statement, I stayed glued to my seat. But that statement never came.

I left feeling so deeply hurt that day.

I was hurt because he told me to my face that we’d never hear him talk about this from the pulpit. I was hurt because I felt like we had established some kind of rapport and respect for one another, yet he still listed my beautiful and pure marriage to my wife as defiled. I was hurt because I felt betrayed yet again by someone that knew my history, my family, and with whom I shared years of mutual memories.

We never again went back to that church again.

I marinated on that service for weeks. Finally, I felt like I needed to tell this pastor how his words affected me. After pouring our my pain and heartache, his response was short and simple: he wasn’t going to apologize or alter what the Bible clearly stated as truth. We never spoke again.

For this reason, and many others, I am excited about the launch of this new project of Church Clarity that is advocating for transparency regarding church policies of LGBTQ inclusion in the church. It is so very needed.

It’s needed because the difference between “welcoming” and “affirming” matters. I matters a lot.

It marks the difference between “you are equal here” and “you are welcome despite the fact that you’re flawed.” It marks the difference between “we celebrate who you are” and “we want to fix who you are.” And it marks the different between “we embrace you” and “we love the sinner, but hate the sin.”

Church Clarity is needed for so many reasons:

It’s needed so the LGBT person knows what to expect before they walk through the door.

It’s needed so that we feel safe.

It’s needed so that we know where we belong and where we will feel sub-human.

It’s needed because we don’t need any more spiritual trauma than we’ve already experienced.

It’s needed because we need to feel equal, and included.

For these reasons, I stand with Church Clarity. And I encourage you to do the same.

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

Eugene Peterson and My Grandmother: A Double Dose of Heartache

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On Wednesday morning, the LGBT Christian community experienced a wave of excitement and encouragement as Eugene Peterson was quoted in a Religion News Service article by Jonathan Merritt as being supportive of same-sex marriage.

Whenever an influential Christian leader comes out as affirming, it feels like we’ve inched one step closer to having a more loving, more equal, more inclusive place to belong. But with a name as big as Eugene Peterson, who has written over 30 books and has also penned “The Message” translation of the Bible, we knew instantly, that this had the capability of creating a large shift for inclusion in our Christian communities. Perhaps, Eugene’s affirmation would lend courage and strength to others who, up to this point, have held back due to fear of backlash? Or perhaps this would challenge the minds of unaffirming believers to look at the issue more deeply?

We had hope. We felt encouraged. We thought we were one step closer to a fully inclusive church.

But all that came crashing down only 24 hours later when Eugene Peterson “after reflection and prayer” changed his mind and retracted his statements saying he would not perform a same-sex wedding. Adding further salt to the wound, he said that he’d never been asked to do so and “frankly, I hope I never am asked.” This sent a shock through us all that resonated in the pit of our already aching souls. The wounds that we as the LGBT Christian community have faced have already left us bloody and bruised. Therefore, when a leader with such influence and ability to change our culture speaks up, only to then crumble under the weight of the cost that comes with those words, is not only disheartening for us, but is also deeply painful. In turn, it causes many to become more angry, more cynical, and more distanced from the very thing we are trying to reconcile with: the church.

The greatest tragedy of it all is that in so doing, it not only distances many LGBT people from the church, but it also causes many to distance from God as the church and God become blended as one in their experience of pain and disapproval.

It would have been better for Eugene Peterson to say he was not affirming of same sex marriage from the beginning than for him to say that he was affirming and then retract his statements. While his words can be rescinded, the damage that has now been done in the hearts of thousands of LGBT people cannot.

For me, I received a double dose of pain on Thursday when, after already hearing of Eugene Peterson’s retraction, I later received a group Facebook message from my grandmother.

My grandmother and I haven’t spoken in several years, but Thursday, she took it upon herself to include me in a group Facebook message that she sent out to the family:

The movie “Corpus Christi” is due to be released this August. It is a disgusting film which depicts Jesus and his disciples as homosexuals! It’s a revolting mockery of our Lord. But we Christians can make a difference.  Let’s stand for what we believe and stop the mockery of Jesus Christ our Savior. I am forwarding this to all I think will respect and appreciate being informed. Please help us prevent such offenses against our Lord. If you are not interested and do not have the 2 minutes it will take to do this, please don’t complain if God does not seem to have time for you. GET THE WORD OUT! Will God be able to find at least 50 righteous people who are willing to express their concern and voice their opinion against this act of blasphemy?

There was more, but…you get the point. I don’t know where to begin to tell you how aghast I was to read this. First, I was appalled that my grandmother would send something so strongly worded and full of hate. It was proof to me of how easy it is to bully from behind a computer screen as opposed to a person’s face.

Second, I was deeply disturbed that my 80-year-old grandmother would believe something like this at face value without researching to see if it is even true (which, by the way, it is not. Snopes says that ongoing claims to this movie are false and that letters and emails like this one have been circulating for over 32 years). While it doesn’t surprise me, it does disturb me. This is exactly how rumors and fall information are spread.

The clincher in all this for me though was the fact that, even though my grandmother hasn’t spoken to me in years, she went out of her way to make sure I was included in this family message. It was deeply painful on so many levels. But in the midst of that, I found myself longing for someone else within the family to speak up and say something.

If they don’t stand up to her false accusations, surely someone will at least defend me and call her out on her insensitivity, I thought. Yet sadly, there’s been nothing but silence. Not a word has been said by anyone in reference to her false claims or her cold-hearted gesture. Both my grandmother’s words and the rest of my family’s silence hurt in equal degrees.

It’s made me painfully aware of just how far I’ve come. As much as it hurts to be shunned from the family I once loved and held so dear, I’m so grateful that I am no longer part of a tribe that spews hate and tries to disguise it as love. I’m ashamed that I ever was. Dear God, forgive me.

So this weekend, my view of the world is a little more jaded, and a little less hopeful. My heart has been wounded again by both the family of God and the family I’m related to by blood.

But come Monday morning, I will once again get out of bed and work for equality just as hard if not more than I did before. Stories and experiences like this are why I do what I do. We need to press on. We need to hold tight to each other. And we need to keep sharing our stories…there is still so much work to be done.

If you’re feeling downtrodden, anger, or cynical this week because of this discouraging news, know that your feelings are valid and that you are deeply and fully loved. We will get there, one person, one story, one life at a time.

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

*For a thorough summary of the events regarding Eugene Peterson this week, read this very poignant TIME article by Matthew Vines.