If you want to give an authentic response that is comforting and welcoming, an excited “I love gay people” response doesn’t really do it. Why? Because you may like some gay people, but you certainly don’t like all of them. And neither do I. So what does a genuine, authentic response look like when someone tells you they are gay?
It seems accurate to say that in the sexuality conversation condoning sin is the “#1 evangelical fear”. This is where we get hung up and this is often why we don’t enter into relationship and conversation easily with LGBT folks. We’re constantly torn between being the loving reflection of Jesus and feeling we need to make our values known (or God might be disappointed with us).
But what if you don’t actually have the power to condone sin? And where did we get the idea that we do?
Asking about the person’s significant other seems like a bold move to many conservative people I meet. There’s fear that you might send the wrong message. But asking about the people & events in someone’s day to day really says one thing very loudly: “I’m interested in the details of your life”.
A safe space allows people to be where they are. It sounds simple enough but in practice can really challenge the “evangelist” or “truth teller” inside all of us. People rarely sin because of an intellectual deficit or lack of knowing the truth. But people more often sin because they doubt God will be more satisfying than what sin has offered them. So I spend less time trying to convince someone to move from the place they currently are and more time asking how they got there.
So in conversations where someone is asking questions they feel they already know the answer to, LGBT people most often respond with defensiveness. This isn’t because “they love their sin”, but more because they’ve been put on the stand and told to “defend your case”.....But if I will simply choose to adopt a posture of humble curiosity, I will be giving someone the space & permission to let down their defenses.
As a counselor, pastor, disciple, and disciple-maker, it seems crucial that with every person I sit with that I take time to listen and discern what God might be doing in that person and how I can aid in helping him/her take that next step. What this implies is that I surrender any agenda I may have to try to make someone turn from an ideology or behavior before God may be “touching” that area of their life. To be more pointed, what if God isn’t even interested in convicting or dealing with someone about their sexuality or gender expression at the moment you are talking with them?
When I’m freed up to not feel like I’m responsible to “create faith” in people, I can enter into people’s questions, accusations, & doubts with shared humanity and my limited perspective yet still be confident that God will use our time together to reveal Himself. Jesus often answered with questions in order to get to the heart of what was behind the inquiry in the first place.
So, very practically, what does that look like?
When I'm so busy thinking about my defensive response, I don’t have the capacity to feel the pain of your story or appreciate the uniqueness of how God has worked in you thus far in your journey....We often feel the pressure to “tell the truth” to people. We see it as bold and courageous. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s cowardice.
So growing up, I didn’t hear much about “how awful gay people were” but more about “how disgusting they were”. I’m not sure which was more damaging to my identity and how I saw myself. What was even more hurtful was my inevitable conclusion that if my community was repulsed by the thought of gay people, then my family & friends were certainly going to be repulsed by me as well
We get so hung up on the sexual attraction piece of a person’s LGBT identity that it’s hard for some to see that person as anything more than same sex desire. We have to get a bigger vision OF & FOR people if we ever want to help people see, feel, and know the love of the Father.
The fact remains though that some gay people may be attracted to you and navigating this well will prove to be a significant sign that you are a safe, stable person with which to build a deeper friendship. So what if the person is attracted to you? ......
I’ve noticed that even when we are not using the 6 verses on homosexuality, we can sometimes use portions of scripture to paint a picture of God where He is fundamentally opposed to a person until they repent which then causes God to completely change His posture and then pours out every blessing from Heaven. We try to lure people into repentance by saying that God will bless them. This would make sense if I had never met Jesus.....But Dad isn't like that.
Sometimes “love the sinner, hate the sin” is rejection that masquerades as acceptance, fooling us into thinking mere words are equivalent pursuing & being present with people. Part of the good news is that I don’t have to hate sin. If I’m honest, I don’t know that I can truly say I’ve even hated my own sin.
I often meet Christians that, during conversation with their LGBT loved one, struggle to get the picture of two men or two women being together out of their heads. The person’s being is somehow swallowed up by who they are sexually and romantically attracted to. I find it a little humorous (and maybe even a little sad) that we have tried to convince LGBT people that they are more than a label, feeling, attraction, or behavior when we have often failed to truly see them that way as well.
Jesus didn’t spend time with people to “get them saved”. He spent time with people to show the heart of the Father towards them...... If my neighbor never wants anything to do with Jesus, would I still see the point in loving a fellow fallen image bearer and see the value of loving others simply for the reward of knowing I loved another person?
The church has expected the gay community to bow their knees to truth without receiving the investment of relational trust. If the God of the universe does not expect our obedience until he has earned our trust, Christians should do the same.
Do you fidget? Back up? Go silent? Change the subject? Or just generally look uncomfortable? The way you initially react in these first moments will either invite the person to tell you more or let the person know you’re not interested or uncomfortable.
Understand that hurt and judged people easily anticipate condemnation.
The gay community has historically been approached as a community that “needs the truth told to them”, rather than a people to be loved, reached, and cared for. It’s important to shift our perceived role in an LGBT person’s life from “truth teller” to “relational missionary”. Theology is important, but if I lead with theology (what I believe about sex and sexuality) then the person is likely to feel judged and assume I have one agenda in their lives – to make them feel conviction. The truth is, I have no power (nor am I called) to make anyone turn from any sin. The only agenda I want to have is to show someone the goodness and abundant life that comes from walking with Jesus.
.....This is what the church has been saying for a long time – and it hasn’t produced the fruit of Christian people being safe, empathic, disciple makers of the LGBT community. Where is the part that shows me how to (or at least gets me started) loving gay people that are interested in Jesus? How do I walk with the transgender person that was raised in church, loves Jesus, and feels that the only viable way forward for her is to transition her body to match what she feels inside? How do I encourage the man that feels called to celibacy, experiences exclusive same sex attraction and feels the church to be a relational desert rather than an oasis?
Wondering how you can love the gay people at your dinner table over the holidays? Your greatest act of faith this holiday season may be starting the conversation you have been fearing...
Showing empathy isn’t saying you voted similarly or differently than they did. It’s not saying you wish the results of the election were different. It’s saying, “I see that you are hurting and disappointed, and because I care about you, my heart hurts for & with you”.