Queering the Pulpit

Rainbow spectrum on church pillar (keyword: Queering the Pulpit)
Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

Much has been said over the years—in preaching books, classes, and conversations—about the importance of contextualization in our preaching. We’re challenged to know our audience, to speak to the current realities of those present, to address the pain and grief in those who receive our messages, to address the chaos in the world, and to “preach the damn Gospel.” Dr. Timothy Wengert used this last phrase to encourage preachers to always and in all places proclaim the Gospel, plain and simple. It was his way to remind his students that doing that hard work to preach the Gospel is the primary role of the preacher.1

Many preachers find it hard to address current conflictual or problematic issues, like the Israel-Gaza war or gun culture in the United States. But for some, those topics are easier than preaching about issues related to the Queer community.

(I use the word Queer intentionally. Growing up in West Texas, the word was thrown around as an ultimate insult and a threat. When I heard it, as someone who was hiding in a closet, that phrase was painful and brought about deep fear. But 40 years later, we live in a different world. The Queer community, writ large, has reclaimed that word.)

Context matters

Putting these two realities—contextualization and Queer issues—means preachers are called to talk from the pulpit about the hard truths of the Queer community, who are all too often in deep pain, pain often caused by the church. This task is one many preachers are uncomfortable with and one that occurs in places that also may be uncomfortable. Sometimes, though, the context and the occasion mean preachers have to stretch themselves and their listeners to address Queer issues.

How to approach this is inherently contextual. Many churches are officially welcoming and affirming of Queer persons, like the Reconciling in Christ process in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.2 This designation means the pastor and congregation have done the hard work of determining their status as affirming and open to all. Other churches have an informal welcome that can be messy at times for the Queer community to trust. However, many churches in the U.S. have no designation and are potentially unsafe for the Queer community.

Steps toward Queering the pulpit

To take the first steps in “Queering the Pulpit,”3 the preacher must understand their context.

  1. Are there gay folks in your congregation, in the community, or part of the extended family of your members?
  2. Next, find ways to start the conversation. That may simply be calling out transphobia, homophobia, and anti-gay behavior in our prayers. To speak those words from the pulpit can be a chance for a Queer person to hear words of hope in the worship services they attend. It may also mean gathering with pastors from other churches or religious groups in your context to see how to begin working together on outreach or advocacy issues for the Queer community.
  3. Other steps might involve a Bible Study or an Adult Forum designed to talk about the connections between the Queer community and biblical exegesis. The hard part of dealing with issues of Queer lives is the prevalence of an anti-gay reading of what many call the “Clobber Passages”4 in the Bible that have been and still are being used to condemn those who are gay. Perhaps a session on deconstructing and exegeting biblical passages can teach your community how they are written for a particular place, for a moment in time, for a specific type of writing, and for a particular issue arising in a community.

What might preaching a Queer-affirming sermon look like? First and foremost, it needs to be wrapped in grace with a bow of acceptance on top. The preacher is called to speak boldly not just to those who believe they are accepted. But it also means extending the welcome to those too often pushed to the margins. It may be the first time a grandparent hears words of welcome for the trans child they are struggling to understand.

Delivering a message of love

We must do exegesis and preach sermons that do not bash Queer folks. You may not ever preach on the Clobber Passages themselves, but they are so prevalent in the world at large. Countering those teachings with words of love is a balm so many are waiting for. Some have left long ago. Some are hanging on by a thread. Your preaching may change that.

I saw this meme on my Facebook timeline recently:

“The reason speaking out is so important is that it lowers the perceived risk of those who are still silent and have something to say. Your courage matters. Your words matter. Every voice is a key to unlock another’s.”5

May your voice and your words from the pulpit unlock the voice of others. May they bring hope to those who hear your voice of welcome.


  1. Dr. Timothy Wengert is an emeritus professor where I teach preaching, the United Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg + Philadelphia. He taught this in the classroom, in talks with area pastors, and in sessions on the Bible and theology. The students even had t-shirts made that said “Preach the Damn Gospel.”
  2. Other affirming groups and denominations including Reconciling Ministries in The United Methodist Church and More Light in the Presbyterian Church. Others including the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church have voted and approved the full welcome of Queer persons in their ministry and pastoral leadership.
  3. My new book, Queering the Pulpit: A Sexegetical Approach to Preaching an Inclusive Word, forthcoming by Cascade Books.
  4. The texts that have been used to deny the dignity and worthiness of the Queer community are described in different ways and some include more than these, however these passages are used more often than others. The Story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19); The Holiness Code (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13); Paul’s Criticism of Sexual Activity (Romans 1:26); and Condemnation of the Sodomites (Jude 7).
  5. Facebook meme. https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=735276705366043&set=a.316781747215543, accessed February 16, 2024.
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Festival of Homiletics 2024

May 13-16 | Pittsburgh (or digitally from anywhere)

The 2024 Festival of Homiletics is an invitation to lean into a little self-love. Hear from some of the voices of our time, including Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Pádraig Ó Tuama, Neichelle Guidry, Brian McLaren, and Angela Dienhart Hancock, and more! Experience inspiring worship along with time for reflection, renewal, and remembering – to recall once again the why for what we do.