A Light+Life Podcast

With guest Bruce N.G. Cromwell

Hosted by Brett Heintzman

Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Light + Life Executive Editor

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.

by Jeff Finley

How can churches reach and serve people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer without compromising the truth of Scripture?

Bruce N.G. Cromwell, the superintendent of the Free Methodist Church’s Great Plains and Mid-America conferences, shares his perspective in the Light + Life Publishing book
“Loving From Where We Stand: A Call to Biblically Faithful Ministry with the LGBTQ+ Community,” which is now available for pre-order at freemethodistbooks.com with shipping to begin in mid-October.

a conversation with Brett Heintzman on “The Light + Life Podcast,” Cromwell said the book emphasizes that a person’s primary identity is not found in a profession, relationship or sexual orientation.

“My primary identity is found in who I am in Christ,” Cromwell said. “No matter what I’ve done, God says I am forgivable. I am redeemable. He sent His Son for that, and so I can look beyond the things the world might label me as, the things I often label myself as, and begin to see myself as someone in whom the Holy Spirit dwells — someone for whom Christ died.”

In past decades, our churches have likely had people with same-sex attraction, but many church members were not aware of that reality while others were not as comfortable discussing their sexuality as they are now.

“It wasn’t as widespread or as widely known as when you start having Ellen [DeGeneres] come out on national TV, and you have ‘Will & Grace,’ and you have things in popular culture that normalize LGBTQ+ issues and persons, and so more and more people feel free talking about it,” he said. “The issue became more and more pronounced.”

Cromwell has both a master’s degree and a doctorate in historical theology, and he serves as a member of the
Study Commission on Doctrine (SCOD).

“We [SCOD members] were asked to look into this before the 2015 General Conference when we passed our resolution on more concretely defining what we believe marriage to be and what Free Methodist elders are allowed to do when it comes to same-sex marriage or, in this case, not allowed to do,” said Cromwell, who was serving during that time period as the lead pastor of
Central Free Methodist Church in Lansing, Michigan, where “we had people who were openly LGBTQ+ who would come with questions.”

Cromwell said he began considering how to get SCOD’s research “out to the general church so that people can read the excellent things that we had on why do we believe what we believe and here’s what the Scripture says, or how do we fit within the church historic, or how do we minister to someone who’s going through emotional and psychological trauma? … I just felt it impressed upon me that I should sit down and write a book.”

Although the book focuses on LBGTQ+ issues, Cromwell noted, “Whatever our struggles, whatever our challenges, whatever those words of condemnation we hear in our ear, it’s that reminder that you are loved by a love greater than anything you’ve ever known. We have but to surrender to it, accept it, and believe that though God can’t love us less, and He won’t love us more, He’s not going to leave us the same. He will love us into the fullness of who we’re called to be in Christ.”

While some portions of the Bible address specific cultural contexts, Cromwell said “there is a universal applicability to the truths of Scripture,” and we should see “one continuous narrative about how God is bringing His people out of exile and returning us back to who we were called and created to be.” Some passages may seem troubling to modern readers, but they “still have truth and bearing on our lives today. We can’t just jettison them because we think we’re more evolved, or we think we understand better, or we think somehow culture has shifted, and our awareness is somehow more enlightened than it was back then. God’s Word hasn’t changed.”

He credited fellow SCOD member
David Bauer, Asbury Theological Seminary’s dean of the School of Biblical Interpretation and professor of inductive biblical studies, for being “incredibly helpful” with how the book addresses Scripture.


Surrendering Our Desires

Cromwell said Free Methodists clearly “believe God’s plan for human sexual activity is between one woman and one man in the covenant of marriage, and anything outside of that is not God’s plan.”

Some church leaders and members are quick to speak out against homosexuality without addressing heterosexual sin such as viewing pornography.

“As we say in the book, there is more than enough heterosexual sin in the church to grieve the heart of God. As important as I think this book is, I also want to make sure we don’t treat same-sex relationships as the greatest sin facing the church today. My hunch is there’s way more heterosexual dysfunction and sin in our churches than homosexual,” Cromwell said.

“How do we live and learn to surrender our desires to the lordship of Christ? That’s the issue. Jesus Himself was tempted. He just didn’t sin, so our temptations aren’t what condemn us. It’s what we do with them, and if someone is tempted toward same-sex relationships, I don’t think that should condemn them either,” said Cromwell, who added that what matters is how a person responds to temptation.

He believes the church needs to allow people to discuss their temptations.

“The majority of people who’ve identified as LGBTQ+ who don’t want to be in the church anymore have left not because of the church’s position. It’s because of more the posture the church has taken towards them. They feel condemned. They don’t feel loved. They don’t feel heard. They most definitely don’t feel safe,” he said. “How do we as the church come alongside them and help them walk in the way of Jesus?”

Cromwell said everyone has struggles, and we must welcome people and help them find wholeness and healing in Christ.

“There’s a reason the book is titled what it is. We have a position we stand on, and we’re going to love from that,” he said. “We’re not going to shake the finger. We’re going to extend the hand. We’re not going to compromise. We’re not going to lie to you, but we’re going to love you and help you become all that God wants you to be regardless of what your temptations are — the same as we do for everybody that walks in our door.”

If we feel called to spread a message of repentance, Cromwell said, then we should “find someone we can
talk with about that rather than telling them. Talk, because I think people are interested in dialogues. Very few of us want to engage in a monologue where someone is just talking at us. So how do we listen in love and do it together in relationship?”

Loving someone does not mean endorsing their actions.

“We’re not trying to condone sin,” Cromwell said. “Nothing in this is giving a pass to what we have said consistently is not God’s will, but it is calling us to be loving in how we call people to this holiness, to this repentance, to this new life.”

Means of Grace

Heintzman asked about how a pastor should respond if an LGBTQ+ couple asks to have a baby baptized.

Cromwell responded that with any baptism (whether for an infant, child or adult), we should understand the reason for requesting the baptism, because the sacraments provide means of grace — ways for us to draw closer to God.

“When you help people understand that this is a way to open ourselves up to what God wants to do in our life, I think from the pastoral point of view, it immediately brings to mind: Why would I want to resist that for anyone?” said Cromwell, who noted the sacraments are not only symbolic acts. “We want a lifestyle change, a full surrender to Christ. This is just one element of that, one way in which we’re recognizing ‘you are part of the greater body of Christ … You are part of something much bigger than yourself, and by this public declaration of faith, you are saying that: I am throwing my lot in with these people as they seek to follow the Lord.’”

The process includes “recognizing that baptism is less about what you’ve done to that point and more about what God is going to do in your life from this point forward,” Cromwell said. “If it’s a lesbian couple, I would assume that the leadership is talking about ‘here is our position on same-sex relationships,’ so that couple will know where the church stands. Again, we’re not shutting the door to them. We not saying ‘you can’t be here,’ but we also help them understand ‘this is what we believe God’s plan for human sexual activity is.’ … It’s not a stamp of approval for what they’ve done. It’s more almost an initiation into the body to see what we’re going to become and how God will still yet change us and move through us and do great things in our lives.”

Cromwell said a challenge for Free Methodists is: “How do we create a denomination filled with lots of local churches where people can come and grow into the likeness of Christ?” He hopes his book will help congregations consider these issues and become places where people of all temptations can “find their identity as a child of God.”


Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Light + Life Executive Editor

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.