I have been writing and conversing about homosexuality and faith for well over 5 years now, and over the years I have noticed some trends. Some are very good: when most Christians are confronted with the raw humanity of the LGBT issue, regardless of their theological convictions, they are moved to greater compassion. Many genuinely strive to show greater love and engagement, and this is good.
There are also other, not so good trends, primarily a habit of many Christians to speak authoritatively from ignorance. This is when Christians have done little work, engagement, or long-suffering prayer about the issue, and yet seem to speak with great assurance. Such unearned assurance is damaging – it is condescending, it hurts, and it widens the rift between Christians and LGBT people. Christians from all levels of society do this, from lay people and family members, to Bishops, theologians, and mega-pastors.
This is not to say that people with little experience can’t, on occasion, come up with glittering gems of insight, but rather that, if someone has not put in the work, their words on the LGBT issue will be damaging. In other words, you must earn your right to speak on the LGBT issue. This is a simple request for intellectual integrity, and that you put in a similar amount of work that I and other LGBT people have in understanding this issue. If you, speaking from a place of less experience, study, and engagement expect to contribute to our understanding, than you are woefully misguided and have severe blindspots. If you don’t put in the work, you will say things that are unintentionally destructive, and will contribute to the noise in the Church that makes so many go deaf to the love of Christ.
There are three simple rules of engagement with the LGBT issue, and I, with utmost humility, submit them to fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
1. Engage with as many gay people as you can.
Immerse yourself in the gay community. Soon you will find that it is hardly a community at all, but a constellation full of as many different types of gay as there are gay people. Get to know celibate gays, ex-gays, out and proud gays, gay people from all religious backgrounds, single gays and gay families. Get to know the trans community, and all the other letters in the lgbt alphabet soup.
One or two token gay friends is not enough. You must develop humble conversation and long-lasting friendship with us – with many of us.
In such a context, you will discover ways of communicating that aren’t damaging, hurtful, or blind. You will come to see things about gay people that you never understood before. You will be stretched, and your faith and capacity for compassion will expand.
If you don’t know where to start, I recommend talking to lgbt people at your work place, going to gay-affirming churches, going to online forums (gaychristian.net is a good place to start) or going to local gay events. If you are conservative, intentionally work to lower your apologetics bayonet and come with a flag of humility and peace.
2. Study and pray as much as you can.
Read everything. There are numerous excellent books and blogs out there from a diversity of perspectives. Read books about the theology, the science, the history of homosexuality. I am always stunned by how authoritatively Christians speak on this issue when they have done only marginal work in understanding it. Reading a book or two – even if they are good books – is not enough. Read and read and read, and then reflect and pray about it. A few good places to start: Bible, Gender, Sexuality by James Brownson; Changing Our Mind by David Gushee; Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill; Torn by Justin Lee; God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines.
3. Be in it for the long haul.
The greatest temptation for many Christians, I think, is to treat this topic like a summer college course: read a few blogs, read a book or two, write a final paper expressing your conclusions, and then move on with life. Case closed.
But the case is never closed for us, the LGBT people for whom this is life. We engage with this subject, in some way, for the rest of our lives. If you expect to begin to meet us in dialogue, you must do the same. You must be committed to ongoing investigation. Your willingness to learn must never end; this is the only way you can speak compassionately on the issue. I do not expect such long-suffering engagement to result in people who agree with my theological positions, But it will (for most people) result in a more compassionate, nuanced understanding, which is what the whole church needs.
These three requests are a tall order, yes, but if you do not commit yourself to them, you are disqualified from the conversation, regardless of whether you open your mouth or not. You will spew noise instead of edification; you will be a clanging symbol. This is a matter of intellectual integrity, humility, respect, and compassion. If you wish to have a voice in the LGBT issue in the church, you must emulate these characteristics. Anything less is not enough: it is dishonest, arrogant, and far from loving.
Image credit: Infinity K