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Caring well for LGBT people

Jesus calls us to care for others within the church. He tells us that this deep love for one another is what sets us apart from the world:

“A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Within our churches, pastoral care is central as we seek to help each other grow.

Pressure on pastoral care

Some more extreme pressure groups are campaigning to outlaw any pastoral care (or indeed any teaching) that is within the context of advocating the belief that sex is to be kept solely for the marriage of one man and one woman. Whilst it is good for pastoral care to come under scrutiny, this move is clearly an attack on the liberty of conscience. It will be a dark day indeed when any group in society dictates what beliefs another person may hold, or the support they may seek. Some people make their sexual orientation or gender identity the defining part of their identity, while others make their religious convictions uppermost in their lives. We should all respect other people’s freedom to receive the support they seek.

However, it’s easy to dismiss those pushing for a ban on religious freedoms as having a purely malicious purpose. The more uncomfortable reality for Christians to consider is that those who campaign hardest on this often speak from their own painful experiences of church. This might involve having been judged, marginalised or told (perhaps implicitly) that they will only be welcome once their sexuality is ‘healed.’ A desire to avoid the same happening to other people motivates much of this criticism.

It can be easier for us as Christians to fire one another up to fight for our rights, than for us to listen openly to criticism and discern humbly how we can improve the care we offer. This article encourages us to listen to the criticism and perform a health-check on the pastoral care we offer. In particular, we need to review the care that we offer to those struggling with their sexuality or gender identity. The following guidance is for leaders or regular church members who want to provide ethical and godly pastoral care to a person facing same-sex attractions.

COW TAIL: 7 principles of caring

At one level, the way we care for LGBT people within our churches is quite simple: just treat them the same way as anyone else! However, unless your church has a long-standing reputation for being entirely free from prejudice, LGBT people entering your church might have understandable reservations about asking for pastoral support around their sexuality. Keeping both these points in mind, the following table sets out some broad principles for general pastoral care, along with some specific advice for how to tailor the support towards LGBT people. The seven points start with the letters from the memorable words: COW TAIL. Now you can understand the strange picture that accompanies this article!


Caring for everyone...

Caring for LGBT people...


Explain what you mean and ask for consent before praying for, or touching the other person etc.

Design pastoral meetings to maximise safety/respect, and minimise any perceived imbalance in power


Wait patiently for God to work in the person’s life, rather than forcing any change upon them

Reassure the person that there is no expectation that their sexual desires need to change


Seek the person’s physical, spiritual and emotional wellbeing

Recognise that the person may have experienced (including at church) shame, rejection and bullying because of their sexuality

Theological Balance

Provide care that is consistent with the balance of biblical teaching from the church leadership

Avoid elevating the sinfulness of same-sex behaviour above other sin

Accountability & training

Submit to church leadership oversight, receive training and embrace safeguarding procedures

Identify and challenge any prejudice (unconscious bias) across the church towards LGBT people


Confront shame and build the person’s sense of value and belonging within the church community

Aim for godly maturity rather than conformity to gender stereotypes.

Respect an individual’s preferred terminology to describe their sexuality


Listen to each person’s unique experiences, without being judgemental

Avoid making simplistic and unscientific generalisations about the cause of a person’s sexuality

What support do celibate gay Christians actually want?

In their book “Costly Obedience” , psychologists Yarhouse and Zaporozhets outline their research study of 300 “celibate gay Christians”. They asked this group what they need to feel pastorally supported in their churches, and these were the consistent themes:

  • To feel listened to, wanted and have their stories made visible
  • To have churches that feel like family, particularly for single Christians
  • To hear biblical teaching on sexuality that is balanced and consistent
  • To have church leaders focus on helping individual people rather than fighting culture wars

Overall, Christians experiencing same-sex attraction want to feel welcomed and valued. There is implicit criticism in the four points above, showing that this has not been the experience of church for many of these believers.


Those who have responsibility for pastoral care in religious communities needn’t get defensive about what we do. The government recognises that religious communities do a tremendous amount of good in our society, including all those mainstream churches who hold to a traditional view of marriage. We should, though, keep our practices under review. In recent years, the UK church has made huge steps forward in developing and deepening its safeguarding practices. As a result, children and vulnerable adults are safer within our communities. Likewise, we should respond positively to criticisms around pastoral care rather than reacting with fear and defensiveness. We should ensure that all our pastoral care is always seeking the best for the recipient and not giving any fuel for criticism. Like Paul advises Titus,

“In everything set them an example by doing what is good... so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” – Titus 2:7-8

Let’s work hard to train our pastoral care teams in good practice and help our churches grow as communities that welcome and care for the LGBT members of our churches.

This story was originally published in the autumn 2021 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.

Download the autumn 2021 edition of Ascend