PLEASE NOTE: I wrote this post primarily for those within the church while still acknowledging the need to continue to grow in our capacity to love and dialogue with gay people outside of the church. I have spent the past month writing this post in cooperation with a respected Christian celibate member of the LGBTQ community. I would appreciate respect and grace in the comments. Thank you.
My heart has been quiet since deleting the letter I wrote from a Christian to a gay Boy Scout.
There was a lot of pressure surrounding that post. Pressure from readers to keep it up, and pressure from readers to take it down, and it was enough to make me lose my mind. My husband wanted to beat up the internet for the way it made me a sobbing mess.
I had to beg God to speak his still quiet voice, and it came through the letter of a kind young celibate Christian gay man who urged me, with great compassion, to consider removing the post:
“I just wanted to say that I believe your tears,” he wrote. “When I read the comments directed at you, I knew you would cry. Who wouldn’t? The anger thrown at you made me so sad. I’m sure you are a gentle, empathetic person, and to know you caused so much pain, and to have it returned with such vehemence, must have been overwhelming. I do not think you were treated with the love and respect you deserve, and I wanted to apologize for that…“So, in what I’m sure has been a small flood of anger and statements about your character, I wanted to say that, as a young gay person, I believe you. I believe you wanted to speak love. I believe in the best of your intentions. You are my sister in Christ…“This is what I hope you see: They understood the letter correctly in a way you didn’t. Please, please, please hear me when I say your language was dangerously imprecise. Certain words or phrases you used did not communicate what you thought they might – that we are all in need of God’s grace – and were triggers for most of the LGBTQ people and those who follow the discussion. We all make mistakes. Please don’t allow the anger directed you to cause you to miss the opportunity to listen and grow. That would turn this mistake into a tragedy.”
After deleting the post, I asked that same young Christian gay celibate man – who had written me urging me to remove it – if he would work with me to write a follow-up post which addressed my concerns while respecting the audience I was writing to. And he promptly agreed.
I have learned such humility from members of the LGBTQ community, especially the celibate who are seeking Jesus’ face and finding no help at all in the church. Please understand, I don’t pity them–I pity myself, for misunderstanding them. And I grieve for them–beautiful men and women who are desperately desiring to follow God and unable to find community amongst Christians because we’re so afraid and judgmental.
But I also grieve for the church, as a whole. Because even though I’ve been humbled over the past month, and I’ve learned a lot, I have not changed my stance on same-sex romance. I still believe it is wrong due to what I have read in traditional translations of Scripture, and I hurt for a church that thinks living in grace means obliterating the word “sin.”
(Please note, this doesn’t mean we can just hide behind platitudes like, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” – words which have for so long been used to justify harmful speech and action against LGBTQ people – but rather, we must rethink how to speak of grace and sin in ways that are actually loving.)
I wonder if it all doesn’t boil down to seeing Jesus for who he truly is.
I travel occasionally for work and when I am away for an extended period of time, my memory of even my closest loved ones grows fuzzy. Sometimes when I picture my husband the edges of the photo are blurry and all I see is the handsome face of a man waiting for me and his arms opened wide. But I can no longer see his eyes. I can no longer see the history of our 10-year-marriage in them, the way I’ve hurt him and the countless times he’s forgiven me. I see someone who loves me unconditionally, yes, but I don’t see the details.
I wonder if this is how we picture Jesus, too.
I fear that that he’s been gone for so long that our image of him is blurry, curled up at the edges, and we can no longer see the way we’ve hurt him. We just see an image of love, but the details–the reality of Jesus’ sacrifice and the way he’s forgiven us over and over, our history with him–are unclear.
Yes, Jesus loves me, but love is not the thing that Hallmark has trademarked it to be.
Love is a mess of sacrifice, blood, toil and tears. Love is what Jesus did on the cross for us, and it is the way we, in turn, die to ourselves so that he may live in us.
Truth (or rather, Jesus) said a lot of hard things before he died.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth,” he told his disciples. “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’[c]37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10)
I think of the rich young man who approached Jesus and asked what he could do to attain eternal life and Jesus told him to follow the 10 commandments. The young man said he did that, but what more could he do?–and Jesus looked at him and loved him. And Jesus told him to go and sell all of his possessions, and the rich young man turned away, sad.
In this passage Jesus calls us to do two things:
1. to love our neighbor
2. to give up our strongholds.
And I fear that we, as a church, are failing in both.
We’re not loving our neighbor. And we’re not giving up our strongholds.
In the month since writing that now-deleted letter, I have been listening to the stories of the Christian gay community. I have been visiting links (some of which I’ll include at the bottom of this page) and learning the reality of the struggle of many of these individuals.
Some of the LGBTQ are celibate men and women who have spent years crying out to God, surrounded by theology textbooks, wondering why their feelings could lead them to actions which the Bible says are wrong and unnatural, yet longing to experience the closeness of relationship with someone.
These are godly individuals who often, upon deciding to remain celibate, turn to the church in the hopes of finding supportive relationships and instead, find a cold shoulder.
And then there are those who are actively engaged in pursuing same-sex romance and we either try to “fix them” with Scripture or we swing to the other extreme and tell them homosexuality is not a sin, both of which are damaging.
As Soren Kierkegaard said, “We artful dodgers act as if we do not understand the New Testament, because we realize full well that we should have to change our way of life drastically… Another concordance, another lexicon, a few more commentaries, three other translations, because it is all so difficult to understand.”
It’s so hard. I get that. This isn’t an issue; it is a person, with a beating heart and God-given soul. A person whom Pope Francis acknowledged with tremendous grace in recent remarks on the gay lobby. (Please note, the pope’s remarks have been grossly misunderstood by media to indicate he does not see homosexuality to be a sin; rather, the pope acknowledges and accepts the celibate gay priest who has repented and is seeking Christ with his whole heart.)
For those in the gay community who wish to live a life of holiness, we must provide support, as Pope Francis has done. Seeking holiness means that one lives in celibacy, yet while people can live without sex, they cannot live without love. We must provide a place, a community, where God’s family is more than enough.
Instead of talking at our LGBTQ friends, no matter what they believe, let’s listen to their stories, their love of God. Let’s encourage them in their pursuit of holiness. Let’s not leave them lonely.
Let’s open our doors and tell them to come over day or night if they need a place to crash. Let’s call them up and see how they’re doing. Let’s tell them they can be honest when they’re having a bad week and let’s share our OWN struggles with them. Let’s ask them to keep us accountable as well, for whatever it may be.
Love hurts. It hurts in that it requires us to pursue Truth first, because we care about not causing someone to stumble.
But love also hurts in that it means stepping outside of ourselves to learn from one another and to offer our neighbor a glass of cold water and a hot meal.
And in the end, it will be love that saves us.
Friends, here are some resources on how to encourage dialogue between the church and gay community, while still holding on to your beliefs:
O’Donovan’s “Church in Crisis” is a short exploration of the Anglican communion’s struggle to maintain its traditional understanding of sexuality amidst a changing England.
And here are some real-life stories that are worth reading:
A story from a Christian gay man with a loving father:
Answers from Justin Lee, founder of the Christian Gay Network:
A story from a gay celibate Christian:
A mother tells the story of her gay son: