CMDA's The Point

A Call to Holiness

January 25, 2023

by Autumn Dawn Galbreath, MD, MBA

This week, our kids’ Christian school published The Statement. They sent it out with The Letter. And they asked for The Signature. And once again, our family began the now-familiar dance of shame, grief, anger, prayer, isolation, indignation and so many other emotions that bubble in the toxic stew Christian organizations often throw onto families like us.

What am I talking about? Sexuality. If you have experienced, or have a family member who has experienced, any kind of sexual brokenness, you know exactly what I mean. Your past abortion, your sibling’s same-sex attraction, your young adult child who lives with a partner, your child’s teen pregnancy, your divorce—all of these things are the objects of Statements, Letters and Sermons. And somehow, even though the first paragraph of the Statement always provides a lot of Scripture references explaining how it is written in love and for your good, you finish reading it with a renewed sense of shame and isolation. All the Scripture references in the world don’t make the poor and often condemnatory wording sound nicer or more reflective of your experience. And all the Statements in the world don’t change the fact that you live in the church as a second-class citizen.

As parents of a same-sex attracted young adult son, we have walked this road, and I can tell you that it comes with a level of shame and rejection I have not previously experienced in my 50+ years of life in the church—and our experience is secondhand. I try to imagine how much worse it feels for my son, but my heartbreak at the rejection my son experiences is too painful for me to spend much time thinking about.

Of course, I understand that the culture around us has forced Christian organizations to clarify their stance on sexual issues. And I understand that the people who write the Statements are well-intended. The part I cannot understand is why we keep writing Statements with no input from those who are directly impacted or have walked the road about which we are writing. In the same way that we would not convene an all-female committee to write a statement on masculinity, how can we presume to write statements or preach sermons about things we have never experienced and cannot understand? Our family’s most beloved pastor once taught a series on homosexuality, and the first thing he did as he began studying the topic was go spend an evening at the local LGBTQ+ community center to talk with people. You see, he realized he didn’t actually know any LGBTQ+ people, and in his compassion and maturity, he realized he couldn’t teach about someone else’s experience without any attempt to understand it. Such teaching might be right, but it would not be loving. And Christ Himself said that love of God and love of neighbor should be our priorities.

Right about now, some of you are getting red-faced and objecting to my “progressive theology,” as you read your preconceived ideas into what I am writing. You have learned well from the American Christian culture that we need to be careful not to appear to approve of someone’s clearly unbiblical behavior, and you have learned that relationship with that person could be construed as approval. Well, everyone else around you has learned the same lesson. After all, we’re in a war with the culture and we need to make it clear which side we are on, right? Except that Jesus never called us to a culture war. He called us to love our neighbor and to live holy lives. Never once did He instruct that we are to make sure our neighbors live holy lives, nor did He give any indication that others’ unholiness is liable to rub off on us. Look at His own life—He hung around with the people who were literally not allowed in the churches of the day. Even His best friends were often confused and afraid, and they went so far as to deny that they even knew Him. In fact, He went out of His way to distance Himself from the “righteous” religious people of His day. Certainly, He called people out of their sin and brokenness, but He didn’t do it with Statements issued in the synagogue. He went to the places where the broken people hung out, and He got to know them. He even went home with them and their families for meals. He let them follow Him around as He traveled and preached. And, in the context of the love and relationship, He called them to holiness.

Somehow His modern-day followers have got this backward. We happily call others to holiness, often while ignoring our own less obvious unholy behavior. And only then do we welcome them into our fellowship. While they remain unholy, we let them come, but only with tacit (and sometimes even overt) rejection and shame.

I know, I know. Organizations have to have a stance on issues…we have to hold those we love accountable…I understand all of that. However, the fact remains that we have put the cart before the horse. We are doing a thorough job with our stances and accountability, but we stink at getting to know and showing love to those whose struggles are different from our own. Many of us are even trying to show love, but we have not spent the time entering into the other person’s struggles, so we don’t even know that our “love” does not appear loving. And when the church is filled with Statements and Truth and shame and rejection, while the world around them is filled with acceptance and love, where do you think a broken person will go? If they are normal and human, they will go toward acceptance and love. God made us that way. He intended that we live in community, and He made humans unable to tolerate the isolation of being on the fringes of their community. He also intended the church to be a community for everyone who struggles, sins and is broken, so when broken people need community, that’s where they would turn. The problem is that, since the Pharisees and even before, humans have created a church with walls that keep people out, rather than open doors that invite people in. I believe that the God who entered our world and experienced all of its brokenness as a sign of His commitment to invite us in grieves the human barriers we’re still creating 2,000 years later.

Author’s Note: If you are specifically interested in better understanding the experience of the same-sex attracted people around you as they try to interact with the church, I suggest the following reading list, which I recommend reading in this order. These books take you from an introduction to the personal journey of a gay person coming to Christ, through a deep dive into the two theological stances on homosexuality, to a hard look at how Christian communities have handled this issue and where they can improve and ends with some really deep but practical discussion about how to do life with gay people with whom you disagree.

  1. A War of Loves by David Bennett
  2. Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church by Preston Sprinkle
  3. People To Be Loved by Preston Sprinkle
  4. All But Invisible by Nate Collins
  5. Space at the Table by Brad and Drew Harper
Autumn Dawn Galbreath, MD, MBA

About Autumn Dawn Galbreath, MD, MBA

Autumn Dawn Eudaly Galbreath, MD, MBA is an internist in San Antonio, Texas, where she lives with her husband, David, and their three children. Though they met in medical school, David now owns a restaurant in the San Antonio area. Between the two of them, they have experienced multiple career transitions, and weathered the resultant stresses on their marriage and family. Autumn Dawn speaks to the issues of Christian marriage, being a working mother in the church, and being a woman in medicine with an engaging humor that brings perspective to these difficult issues. Autumn Dawn earned her MD from the University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio, where she also completed her internal medicine residency. She earned her MBA from Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama.


  1. Avatar Carol Brees MD on February 6, 2023 at 6:50 pm

    Autumn, as the mother of a trans-son who now feels totally isolated from the conservative Christian community. Thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU!!!!!

    • Avatar Autumn Dawn Galbreath on February 7, 2023 at 9:48 am

      Thanks for your comment, Carol. I truly do feel your pain. And I believe the church can and must do better! Feel free to contact me anytime if you need to talk. I think it’s critical that those of us who can understand one another’s experience support each other.

  2. Avatar PRESTON R SIMPSON, MD on February 7, 2023 at 11:04 am

    Your essay leaves many obvious questions unanswered.
    How would you write “The Statement”?
    Are we speaking of people who suffer from strong impulses but struggle to resist them or of people who defiantly indulge?
    Do I understand you to say a teacher cannot (or should not) speak against a sin clearly defined in the Bible without consulting practitioners of that sin? Which teachings require these consultations and how does one decide?

    • Avatar Autumn Dawn Galbreath on February 11, 2023 at 4:28 pm

      Thanks for your comments. I think maybe you are missing the major point I was making. My goal in this piece was not to discuss the theology of sexual sin (which is an important, but different, conversation) but to highlight the ways in which sexual sins are treated differently than other sins by the church. These specific sins are treated as if they are worse than others, and people with these struggles are treated as second class citizens within many Christian circles. This is the reality I was highlighting. And I do think it’s true that a Christian leader can’t accurately teach about any life struggle without some context and some effort to understand the experience of those who walk that struggle. I would not call that “consulting the practitioners of a sin.” I would call it a human relationship with broken people.

  3. Avatar Gloria Halverson on February 7, 2023 at 2:13 pm

    so important – thanks for your courage in bringing this to the church. We need to do much better.

    • Avatar Autumn Dawn Galbreath on February 11, 2023 at 4:30 pm

      Thanks, Gloria! You are one of my personal examples the church doing better in so many ways!

  4. Avatar Christian Srp on February 7, 2023 at 3:53 pm

    Your family has held a special place in my heart since 2008 when your boy was in my 4th grade class- he made an impact on me as a young teacher. I might not ever get over (in the best way) the fact that he began his senior thesis with a quote from Clueless!! I love that kid!

    I appreciate your perspective and encouragement in this article.

    • Avatar Autumn Dawn Galbreath on February 11, 2023 at 4:32 pm

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! You hold a special place in our hearts as well!

  5. Avatar Annie Baker on February 7, 2023 at 7:02 pm

    Very nicely written AD!
    Sharing with others too!

    • Avatar Autumn Dawn Galbreath on February 11, 2023 at 4:31 pm

      Thanks, Annie! Missed seeing you at WPDC! Hoping for this year!

  6. Avatar Steven Mull MD on February 9, 2023 at 3:09 pm

    Having been on the board of our local Christian school I understand the need to define where the school stands on biblical issues. We live in a culture where sin is celebrated and often it is demanded that the church enjoin the celebration. Some schools choose to embrace the sin as we have seen with several formerly Christian colleges that openly perform gay weddings and admit openly gay faculty. We have had non-Christian parents attempt to change the Christian school curricula because they disagree with what is being taught. I do not know the circumstances in the above article. I would hope that the school makes allowance for those who struggle with certain behaviors to help them without endorsing the behavior. Christopher Yuan is a homosexual male who teaches at Moody Bible Institute. He is celibate and acknowledges the sinfulness of acting on his desires. There is a balance between supporting the individual in their struggle and endorsing the behavior.

  7. Avatar Ernie Steinle on February 9, 2023 at 7:35 pm


    After reading you essay, it seems your “toxic emotions” of shame, grief, anger, etc. could also be triggered by a Statement of Jesus or a Letter from Paul the apostle. Both routinely taught in places of worship. Jesus also reached out to individuals with love and compassion, but He was not silent on holiness with them either. After offering love and forgiveness, he commanded a change in their life. (Think the rich young ruler or the women caught in adultery.)

    You appear to be triggered by the topic of God’s sexual boundaries as found in the Bible. It is important to remember that other christians may be triggered by the call to holiness in other aspects of their lives. We can not stop discussing what God calls us to just because it is uncomfortable. His path is narrow and it will be seen as unaccepting by some. The Church should be loving and inviting. It should also spur believers on to the life that God has for us. It is clear that God has prescribed boundaries for us in many aspects of life. When we pick and choose, we place ourselves over God.

    As Preston mentioned above, I reject the notion that a person must have personal experience with a topic to be able to discuss it or hold an appropriate position. In medicine, I routinely advise people against cigarette use even though I have not experienced the satisfaction or social shame associated with use.

    I am sorry that you are suffering through this and that your son is tempted to pursue the temporary, false love and acceptance offered by the world. However, to place the blame on the lack of love by the church or christian institutions completely ignores the main problem.

    God is both love and truth.


  8. Avatar Steve Willing on February 13, 2023 at 9:25 pm

    Autumn, in support of your theme, I posted the following on this very site on June 18, 2020:

    3. Refrain from judgmentalism.

    Those struggling with sexual issues are not our enemies and deserve to be treated with compassion. People are lonely all around us. Increasingly, they lack the skills to form stable relationships, and if even if they have the skill, they are challenged to find an equally mature partner. They didn’t choose to have a powerfully alluring sex drive. They didn’t choose their parents. They didn’t choose to be born into a culture flooded with distorted sexual messages and pornography. To the lonely, sex is like morphine. It provides immediate though temporary relief, is highly addictive and usually ends badly. What the lonely need, however, is not sex but family and friendship. (This is not to deny that there are many who are indeed predators—the true winners in the modern sexual ethos).

    4. Choose compassion over control.

    “Christians cannot speak to the world about sex in a compelling way if we merely answer the story with a list of moral imperatives, however Biblical” (PCA Committee Report, p. 35).

    Nothing in the New Testament obliges us to regulate the lives of those outside the church fold beyond the pursuit of justice and mercy. If you are more passionate about politics than people, apologetics may not be your calling. While sexual sins inflict a disproportionate toll on health and relationships, the church has not historically considered them among the gravest. With regard to fornication, Aquinas wrote: “a sin is the less grievous according as it is committed under the impulse of a greater passion…of all a Christian’s conflicts, the most difficult combats are those of chastity; wherein the fight is a daily one, but victory rare.”

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