At moments like these it is tempting to think only in terms of ideology. We are often quick to forget that those celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision on Marriage Equality are actual people. People who have often felt rejected, deprived, and alone. People who have wants and desires, specifically desires to call someone “husband” or “wife.” They have stories, some of which involve real hurt and heartache. Sometimes that hurt and heartache have been directly given by those in the church. It’s tempting, right now, for some Christians to think only in terms of ideology, but we need to think about real people. We must find a way to love our LGBT neighbor in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision.
If I am being honest, I wish I could celebrate with my many gay and lesbian friends what yesterday represents for them. It represents acceptance, love, and affirmation. It represents the one thing for which so many of them have been longing. Morally and Biblically I know it is wrong. I know it won’t really be a resolution to those feelings, and it won’t really solve their internal frustrations. I know too it will have massive implications for American culture, though I don’t know exactly what that will look like. There is a temptation is to join the many who are launching full-scale attacks against Marriage Equality, who are taking up the “war” rhetoric, and who are promoting fear and anxiety in the wake of the response of SCOTUS. Such actions will not, however, prepare us to love our LGBT neighbors. Instead, I believe there are several things we can do to respond well in this moment.
1. Sympathize with your neighbors. We can’t celebrate marriage equality. God has defined marriage a certain way and we don’t have the liberty to redefine it. But even while I can’t celebrate what many of my friends are so overjoyed to see, I can sympathize with them. I can appreciate why they feel the way that they do. I can appreciate why this momentous occasion brings them such joy. I can appreciate their earnest want for recognized marriages. It’s something I want in my own life, and they have long been denied such. They have often felt rejected, hated, and isolated. I can’t celebrate with them, but I can sympathize with their wants and understand their joys. Be sensitive, friends. Think about how you speak about your LGBT neighbor. Think about how they feel and how they’ve felt. Try to be understanding even while you disagree, and even while you voice that disagreement.
2. Don’t assume the worst of your neighbors. Here is a truth that many Christians don’t realize: there is no such thing as the gay man or woman. That is to say, there are only people. People are all different and all have different thoughts, experiences, motivations, and designs. Not every gay man or lesbian woman is out to destroy the church. In fact, most aren’t. Most of my gay and lesbian friends have one agenda: live quiet, simple lives, with the people that they love. Don’t get me wrong there are some people who are out to crush organized religion, and some of those people are gay. There is also a whole social/political group within the LGBT community that is very much against Evangelicalism. I get the frustration, worry, and tension that many of my Christian friends feel in the face of such realities. Yet, it is important to remember that people and lobbying groups are different. We don’t need to treat people with hostility, frustration, or suspicion. People are people. They deserve respect and consideration. All people, especially those who are in the minority, deserve to be listened to, heard, and understood. So, even while you disagree with the gay marriage decision, disagree with people as people. Don’t treat all your gay and lesbian neighbors like they are nothing more than an ideology, they aren’t.
3. Recognize that your beliefs are offensive. Here’s the hard truth for Christians: our beliefs about traditional marriage are offensive. We, of course, don’t intend them to be so, and we certainly don’t desire to offend. That, however, does not negate the reality of the offensive nature of our beliefs. We believe many things that are offensive. Worse still we know, from Scriptural teaching, that we are called to say such offensive things. We can’t neglect to preach the gospel, nor can we neglect to call sin “sin.” The worse thing that we can do, however, is pretend like those who are impacted by our words shouldn’t be upset by them. We can still be friends with those with whom we disagree. It is possible. I’ve experienced it firsthand. Yet, this happens only as we seek to be thoughtful in how and when we communicate such offensive words. Here’s one suggestion: social media is probably the worst place to share such offensive statements. Social media does not lend itself well to understanding, nuance, communicating compassion and sensitivity. Furthermore, it’s not really necessary. My Facebook friends know where I stand on these issues, they know my thoughts and convictions. I don’t need to throw them in their face. Instead, I should seek to have personal conversations where I can communicate more carefully and personally. My beliefs are offensive to my gay and lesbian friends, I know it. The best thing I can do is think carefully about how and when to share those beliefs.
4. Emphasize love. Truth is of paramount importance, and Christians know that there can be no real love without accompanying truth. Most conservative Christians, however, aren’t going to struggle that much with truth. Instead, we are going to struggle with love. Yet, the gospel puts love on display very clearly. Christ was willing to lay down His rights (Phil. 2:6) and humble himself to death (Phil. 2:8). Jesus says love is at the very heart of what it means to be a follower of God (Matt. 22:36-40). I appreciate the concerns that many Christians have over the Supreme Court decision. It is right to worry about religious liberty, about the state of our country, and about our future as Evangelicals. Yet, love is more important than all these things. Pastor Bob was right to remind us on Sunday that God does not need religious liberty, nor America, to advance His Kingdom. Love, however, is part of His plan to advance the gospel. Love should be the emphasis of our response. Even as we pursue whatever opportunities lie before us to protect religious liberty and to push back against the SCOTUS decision, love should be our emphasis.
There is much, much more that can be and should be said about the Marriage Equality decision handed down to all 50 states. But what weighs heaviest on my heart today is the ways that the church can continue to build relationships with the LGBT community. A community that is full of hurting people, full of hurting people who need the love of Jesus. I love my gay and lesbian friends, part of me even wants to rejoice with them. My commitment to the Biblical teaching keeps me just shy of doing that, but such commitment should never keep me from loving and serving them.