I have found it wonderfully rewarding to sit down and have cordial, candid conversations with people who are gay, not as a crusader, or even a convincer, but as a listener. I have not hidden my position; my convictions about the matter have been clear. But neither have I shamed or belittled anyone. I have listened, really listened, to their stories. I have prayed with people who are gay. And I have recognized my own need for ongoing spiritual transformation.
What if you and I were to sit down with someone who is gay and ask a simple question: “How do I represent Jesus to the LGBTQ community?” I believe our overture would be welcomed by most, and we would learn a great deal. From my conversations, I have learned that we, the church, have often gotten it wrong in our interactions with this community. Here are four things we might confess to the LGBTQ community in our conversations:
1) The way we have treated gay people.
The mistreatment of people who identify as having same-sex attraction is widespread and, frankly, some of it is rooted in the church. Young people are being rejected by their families and churches. There is a large percentage of gay young people who are runaways and homeless, mainly because of the way people around them have treated them.
Some of us church folks have pressured our sons to be more masculine and our daughters to be more feminine, and some of us have implied to our kids that God loves only straight people. We have warned our children to keep their same-sex attractions a secret lest they shame us.
Some of us have made fun of those who are different. We have suggested that those who have suffered with AIDS have gotten what they deserved. Some Christian leaders have blamed natural disasters on the gay community. We have, in subtle and obvious ways, treated gay people as “less than.” It’s time to confess that and repent.
2) Our disgust with LGBTQ people.
Truth be known, some of the opposition to homosexuality grows not primarily out of a careful study of Scripture, but out of revulsion. Some are simply repulsed by the idea of same-sex intimacy and respond with what they pass off as righteous indignation. Moreover, some of the most outspoken critics of homosexuality are trying to suppress their own homosexual attractions.
Deb Hirsch has observed:
Some of the most horrific acts of homophobic abuse have been at the hands of those who experience a form of ‘homosexual dread’—a fear of their own latent homosexuality. This is the only way one can understand fallen pastor Ted Haggard’s homophobic vitriol, only to be found himself having a homosexual encounter. (Reedeming Sex)
Richard Lovelace declared the need for a “double repentance,” meaning that gay Christians should renounce the active lifestyle and that straight Christians should renounce homophobia.
3) Our own sexual hypocrisy.
At a men’s retreat, I heard what I understand is a pretty well-known story. A national men’s ministry was holding a stadium event some years ago. A block of rooms in a nearby hotel had been booked for men who would attend the convention. In the morning one of the hotel managers said to the representative who had booked the rooms:
“I thought this was a Christian meeting.”
“That’s interesting. Over half the rooms last night rented an adult movie.”
Maybe we need to confess our sexual hypocrisy.
A Facebook friend of mine recently shared a quote from one of America’s leading evangelical voices who said something like, “America’s only hope is for Christians to speak up!” And we should speak up—against things like racism and unfair lending and, yes, sexual immorality. But the question is how we will speak: with hate and fear in our hearts, or with love in our hearts and with the clear understanding that we, too, desperately need God’s grace?
4) The idea that sexual sins are somehow more abhorrent than sins such as greed and pride.
It would be helpful for us to acknowledge that the Bible gives a lot more attention to matters of poverty, fairness, the Great Commandment (love people and love God) and the Great Commission (Go to all the world) than to the behavior of two people behind closed doors. Of course that doesn’t mean we should ignore the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality, for whenever the Bible addresses the topic it condemns the practice of same-sex intimacy. However, the weight that the Bible gives to this and other issues does serve as a reminder for us to place our emphasis where the Bible places its emphasis. Richard Hays chastises us: “Some of the most urgent champions of ‘biblical morality’ on sexual matters become strangely equivocal when the discussion turns to the New Testament’s teachings about possessions.”
We tell the shameful story of Sodom and Gomorrah as an example and almost forget what Ezekiel declares as the most condemning sin of those two cities: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49).
Homosexuality is just one of the many challenges facing the 21st century church. In my book From the Steeple to the Streets, I explore how missional leaders might forge fresh expressions of the church in order to meet the needs of a changing cultural climate.