It was 3 am and I should have been in bed. Instead I was sitting inside a Denny’s eating pecan pancakes and talking with a friend. She and I had recently developed a friendship over music and enjoyed driving around listening to old Jeff Buckley songs. But it was this particular night at Denny’s that I found out she was a lesbian. I wasn’t sure what to say. I had been raised in a Christian home and been part of a church growing up that acknowledged that homosexuality was a sin, but this was my friend.
It was one of the more interesting and fascinating conversations I remember having during my whole college experience. It turned out that my friend had grown up a Christian too. So we talked about why she left the church, how she became a lesbian, what she thought about God, the Bible, and Jesus. She was honest, a bit teary, and I was quiet…a lot. But looking back I think my response was, in many ways right. I loved my friend and I wanted to continue to love her, despite the realization that we disagreed on something that was very important to both of us. That’s a lesson I want to keep with me even today as I think about, write about, and especially minister to my gay and lesbian friends.
It’s not that our convictions about homosexuality should change, or that we should never be honest about those feelings. But even as we do that, we must remember that fundamentally gays and lesbians are people made in the image of God and worthy of our respect and affection. Christ has called us to love. So the way I interact with those I disagree with must evidence His love. This means, fundamentally, a few very important things.
1) Listen first. It’s so important for conservative Christians to listen to gays and lesbians in conversation. Most of us do not know what it’s like to feel attracted to someone of the same sex. Many in the LGBT community did not wake up wanting to feel this way, despite what you think it’s not always a choice. Some people do struggle with their attraction. We should not assume we understand, or assume that we can fix any problem they experience. We need to listen. Be a good friend in that way. To allow them to tell their story. Sometimes it may be a very heartbreaking story, but we should also not assume that they are all telling the same story. Listen, don’t preach at them, don’t lecture them, learn from them.
2. Treat them as a friend. The LGBT community is not our enemy. Satan is our enemy and he wants to distract us into fighting with real people so that we are less focused on fighting against the powers of spiritual darkness. Gays and lesbians are our neighbors. We ought to love them, care for them, and regardless of their sexual orientation treat them with respect. Not all gays and lesbians are hostile to people of faith, we shouldn’t treat them as if they are. And even if we do meet someone who is, we should show them the same kind of love that Jesus shows to those who were hostile to him.
3. Don’t Be Self-Righteous. I believe that the Bible is clear when it says that homosexuality is a sin. But it is also clear when it says that hatred, laziness, gossip, and lust are sins. The Bible clearly calls out lots of things that you and I do and struggle with. We have no “higher ground” to stand on when it comes to engaging people of particular proclivities. The ground at the foot of the cross is level, as the old adage goes. We should love as we want to be loved, we should remember we are saved by grace through faith. We should remember that if people are apart from Christ they can’t change without him. And we should remember that people in Christ still struggle with sin.
4. Focus on the gospel. If the particular person you have built a relationship with is not a Christian then you don’t need to focus on their sexual orientation, you need to focus on the gospel. Our goal is not to enforce morality on people. It’s to introduce them to Jesus and trust that the Spirit of God can work on their sinful practices just as he does our own. Far too many conservative Christians expect that gays and lesbians should just change. But apart from Christ none of us can abandon sin.
5. Be Sympathetic. Recognize that even if someone from within the LGBT community wanted to change, what is being asked of them is very hard. For many, their sexual orientation is part of their personal identity. They are being asked to give up part of who they feel they are. That is very hard and can cause a great deal of psychological and emotional pain to them. We need to be sympathetic. We also must recognize that you can’t change who you are attracted to. So for many, the reality of change would mean a life of celibacy and that too would be very hard. Don’t call people to change as if it is no big deal, don’t be callous and cold to their emotions. As we listen to them and learn from them, we must recognize the pain and difficulty associated with what the Bible urges them to do.
6. Finally, Be Open Minded. Let me carefully navigate this final point. I believe the Bible is 100% clear on this issue: homosexual practice is a sin. I don’t think any interpretation to the text that glosses over or reinterprets what is obvious is a fair reading of this text. But I also know that there are many Christians who love Jesus and yet have adopted sinful practices. Some are deceived into thinking that their sin is not actually a sin, some are simply indulging where they shouldn’t. But who am I to say that someone who acknowledges and says they believe the gospel is not a Christian. That doesn’t mean that it’s okay to practice homosexuality, or that God approves of it. But it may mean that my gay friends are in fact Christians. Again, this is not to say that homosexuality is acceptable, but it is to reassure people that we get to heaven not based on our sexual orientation or abstinence, but based on what Christ has done for us on the cross.
This last point is a difficult one, and lots of good people disagree on it. I am simply asking you to be open to the possibility that the gay or lesbian you are talking to may actually be a Christian if they claim to be one. Your goal then should be to help them grow in Christ. It’s okay to confront their sin, just you would confront the sin of any brother or sister. But part of helping them deal with sin is to get them plugged into Bible studies, and prayer groups, and godly relationships, etc. Christ is what makes a Christian, keep that in the forefront of your mind.
However you relate to those in the LGBT community let me urge you to relate to them in love. Love is about having the right attitude towards others that Christ has had towards you. It’s about living humbly, patiently, and graciously with those who disagree with you. Love your gay and lesbian friends, that is what they most desire from conservative Christians, and it’s part of how we demonstrate the gospel.