I’ve neglected writing a blog on this subject matter because of how overwhelmingly divisive it is, as a topic, among Christians. In the midst of our battles back and forth with one another, we have piled up many casualties who never saw the love of God because they only saw our wrath. In our pursuit of “being right,” we have forgotten to “be Christ.” We spend our resources on trying to make sure that homosexual marriage never occurs because we believe it will ruin marriage — all the while, we oftentimes neglect to mention the amount of divorces that occur each year, the shotgun weddings that take place, or the abusive relationships that turn into abusive marriages.
Recently, I read the book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gay vs. Christian Debate by Justin Lee. Lee is the founder of the Gay Christian Network (GCN) and works to bridge the gap between the LGBT community and Christians. He works to unite both Christians who believe in gay marriage and those who believe that gay people must remain celibate.
As I was reading through the book, several thoughts came to my mind that I want to highlight as we continue navigating this road:
1.) We need to stop considering those in the LGBT community as obsessed with sex.
We need to stop painting those in the LGBT community as people who only want sex all the time and only hang out to have sex. This is just not true. I know people in the LGBT community who want serious long-term relationships and don’t want to go out every single night to different clubs to hook up. Just like I know many straight people who don’t want serious long-term relationships and go out every single night to different clubs to hook up.
2.) If we believe celibacy is the route, then we must change the way the Church views singles.
This one hits home for me because I am 26 years old, single, and work in a church. By staffing standards, I should be married with 2 kids and 1 in the works (just kidding — sorry for being stereotypical). When it comes to singles, the evangelical church really doesn’t know what to do. Many times, we don’t even really know the damage we are doing in our language. For instance, in church functions, oftentimes we will say “have your family…” or “have your kids…” or “you and your loved one…” We don’t realize that these phrases completely disenfranchise 44.1% of Americans. If you’re a pastor, that number should terrify you a bit. Is your church reflecting this number? Most likely not. Most of our churches probably don’t reflect this. We have spent a majority of our time reaching out to families that we have completely forgotten about 44.1% of the population. And in doing this, we leave out some tremendous people in the Bible who were single (Paul…and well…Jesus). We need to stop asking singles, “so when are you going to settle down and find the right person?” In asking questions like this, we essentially say “when are you going to have a family like the rest of the church?” I know, that’s a pretty sweeping generalization and you probably will disagree with me on it — but that’s okay. As a single person, that’s what I hear whenever I have someone ask me when I plan on getting married.
Right now, the evangelical church is telling homosexuals that they must remain abstinent and take a vow of celibacy. If we believe that is the correct route to take, then we must begin changing the way the church looks. Because right now, it is appealing to families, and if you aren’t a part of a family, we have a secret society that meets for you. Let me say it this way: when we tell someone who is gay that they must remain single, we essentially tell them that they won’t look normal in the eyes of the church. They will always be that crazy uncle at family gatherings who could just never find the right woman.
If you work in a church, take a look at your verbiage that you use. Look at budgeting that goes toward families versus singles. Think about sermon topics that you’ve preached. Think about illustrations (side note: I’ve noticed this one quite a bit after going to several different youth retreats — almost every single speaker gave a sermon illustration about his/her child — darn it, I’ll never win the best youth pastor award without a child). Then think to yourself: if I was single (supposing you are not) and planned on being single the rest of my life, would I feel supported and loved? Try to answer that as unbiasedly as possible.
Lee writes this:
I’ve talked to many single Christians who find the church a challenging place to be at times. But for single gay Christians, there are even bigger hurdles. A forty-five-year-old single straight woman may feel overlooked or misunderstood at her church, but she doesn’t have to worry about being condemned for being straight. Single gay Christians face the difficulties of singleness alongside potential condemnation for their orientation. And while all single people face challenges in our culture, the challenges faced by people who are single by choice or because they haven’t found the right person are different from the challenges faced by those who eagerly desire companionship but believe God requires celibacy even if they should fall in love in the future.
If we believe that gay people should remain celibate, then stop alienating that demographic from the church. Because maybe they have always wanted a family but believe that God has called them to be celibate (which is a high calling — and is spoken of with the highest regard — unlike marriage, which is a failure to control carnal desires) and therefore cannot have those things. We need to stop making those things the idyllic picture of Christianity. And I don’t believe we have necessarily done those things intentionally (or at least I hope not), but we have. And we need to reverse that.
3.) Remove the “Us Vs. Them” mentality.
This is oftentimes the result of not having any friends who are gay (they will say they do, but most likely their friend is an alienated family member or someone they have as a friend on Facebook but don’t talk to them). Just like you wouldn’t say something like, “The drunkards are trying to brainwash our children into believing that getting drunk all the time is alright,” we shouldn’t believe that “homosexuals are trying to make all the straight kids gay.” This whole “gay agenda” thing is ridiculous. Maybe there is a gay agenda…I don’t know. I sure haven’t seen one. But if there is, Christians also have “an agenda.” We would say we don’t, but oftentimes we do. In fact, most people who are passionate about something have some form of an agenda: we want everyone to be about what we are about.
4.) We need to get rid of ex-gay or reparative therapy.
This is where I will probably lose many of you. But I’ll be honest — I don’t agree with this therapy. Reading through studies and testimonials are disheartening at best. From the founders of Exodus going back to their “gay lifestyle” to reading countless stories of kids who commit suicide because they “can’t fix themselves,” I think we can agree that this needs to stop. Oftentimes this therapy tries to pinpoint family issues and says that people are gay because of overbearing mothers or distant fathers. I love what Lee writes in his book:
If distant fathers and overbearing mothers made people gay, there should be far more gay people in American society than there are. Meanwhile, I should have been the straightest guy in the world.
5.) Lead with embrace not theology.
That is the most helpful thing I have learned and it was from Deb Hirsch. While reading Justin Lee’s book, oftentimes I would think, “he really just needs someone in the church to embrace him and show him he is still loved.” Oftentimes in our crusades against theological differences, we neglect embracing those who disagree with us. Some churches even have written out homosexual policies. I love what Deb Hirsch says: “Why do we have policies on homosexuality and nothing else in the church?” Christ embodied this idea of leading with embrace. And that’s what we must remember to do at all times.
My prayer is that we stop choosing sides on this issue — because people should never be reduced to a side. My prayer is that we take a step back and analyze how we might have hurt someone because we wanted to “fix” them when people aren’t puzzles to be solved by us. My prayer is that as we move forward, we seek conversations rather than sermons because most of us can’t hear over our own bullhorn (myself included). Ultimately, my prayer is that God continues to grant us the same forgiveness and grace that He has given us throughout history for neglecting the forgotten, saying the wrong things, bad theological practices, and countless other things.
I hope that this post isn’t divisive. I want to unite as many people as possible. That is my prayer. Perhaps some will see me as wishy-washy because I don’t make a clear statement about where I stand. Or some will see me as too conservative because I don’t push for their reading of Scripture. Some will view me as too liberal because I propose and question some different things. Others will view this as a waste of their time and will stop reading things their friends send to them. But I hope that none of this is true. I hope that we can begin to unite together and converse about serious issues like this. I hope we can begin to understand that many of us don’t have it all figured out and that sexuality is a huge topic that encompasses so much more than to whom you are attracted. Let’s put down our stones and work together to lead with embrace.