Last year, sitting at a McDonald’s with a group of young people, one of my close friends timidly shared that he was gay. The others jumped in with words of affirmation and support, but I didn’t know what to do. This had never happened to me before. I hadn’t seen it coming. I remembered the conversations he and I had had about my beliefs on homosexuality; I’d never even considered what he might have been feeling as he listened. I knew I’d heard all these apologetics responses, logical points regarding the issue, but they all seemed moot at that moment. This was my friend. This is how he felt. He was scared and just needed acceptance. It was time for me and God to take it back to square one.
Over the next year, he and I became even closer friends. I met more people who identify as gay, lesbian, or other identities. In the course of a matter of months, this has all gone from a political issue in headlines, to the faces of people I love. I’ve struggled through a lot of what I believe, and while I’m not all the way there yet, this piece is my heart. I've spent more time preparing, writing, and re-writing this post than I have for a long time. I want to share where my experiences, thoughts, study, and prayer have brought me to regarding how to address homosexuality and gender issues as a modern follower of Jesus.
First, it takes identifying who we’re talking about and putting ourselves in their shoes. This could be anyone from those two women riding a tandem bike with a rainbow flag through Portland, to a man whose secret struggles have chained him his whole life. These are people who have same-sex needs, meaning that something in them just craves intimacy with the same sex. There’s a common misconception among Christians that these people choose to feel this attraction. While there may be exceptions, the people I’ve met never chose their desires. Stand to Reason, a Christian apologetics organization, puts it this way:
“Don't call homosexuality a choice. It's not. This is hard to swallow for many Christians. Although homosexual behavior is a choice, homosexual attraction is not. I have no reason to think there's a ‘gay gene,’ but I don't believe people choose to be attracted to the same sex. Homosexual attraction … often begins to develop at a very young age—too early to be a product of choice.” [emphasis mine]
Same-sex needs, though not genetic, can and most often develop through a person’s childhood, personal experiences, and needs that were unmet in adolescence. Telling someone to “just stop it” is not only ineffective, but feels like a rejection of who they are. Tim Timmerman is a friend and a Christian man I highly respect who has struggled with same-sex needs all his life. He wrote an amazing book about his journey and says,
“I believe that no one has a choice as to whether they are going to have stronger desires to connect on an intimate level (and I’m not talking about sexual) with a man or a woman, but I do believe that it is a choice whether one chooses to try to fulfill that need in a sexual manner.”
More and more people in our society are expressing their same-sex feelings because, honestly, that’s how they really feel deep down. To ignore it would be shallow, and to condemn it would be shattering. And when they speak out, we cannot view these people as the enemy, because they are not.
They are not our enemies. They might even be your best friend.
I asked a friend of mine who identifies as gay if he would write down for me something that could help us understand a little of how he thinks and views the world. Even if you don’t completely agree with him, I’d ask you to really place yourself in his shoes as you read.
“For me, it has been crucial to develop an understanding of the diversity of experience each of us possesses. When the individual I am — a gay man — has been met with intolerance and hate, the most pivotal and difficult task has been to set aside my emotions and understand the origins of intolerant ideology. I believe the suite of beliefs each of us bears with us is no more than the product of our environment and formal education. As such, I can impose the veracity of my beliefs upon another (irrespective of what they are) no more than anyone else can assert theirs upon me. What follows is a deep respect for the unique perspectives of each individual. Differences I encounter, including irreconcilable ones such as intolerance toward the LGBTQ community, I can only meet with attempts to understand. What I cannot do is assert my own beliefs as objective truth. My experience is no truer or less true than any other. I can only ask: what good does intolerance beget?”
So my question is this: What would Jesus do in my situation? I do still believe homosexual behavior is wrong because God clearly tells us that it doesn’t align with His design for us. But I’m 100% sure Jesus wouldn’t be holding up signs saying “God hates gays,” or any signs for that matter. Jesus wasn’t leading an anti-sin protest when He came. He was loving, healing, and teaching all who were willing to listen (“willing” being key). Jesus hung out with sinners, and He didn’t seem to make a big deal about it. The adulterous woman was brought to Him and instead of condemning her like everyone else was, He literally saved her life, and then told her to “go and sin no more.” I’d rather be like that than the Pharisees on the other side of the line.
I just want to picture Jesus walking up to someone identifying as homosexual. I picture him talking, looking into their eyes, and feeling out their heart just like He would with you or me. When they felt how much He loved and knew them, then He could teach. Just like He did with me. It might be within minutes, it might be years. That’s how much He loves us.
So what should I do? How should I act? In my interactions with LGBT friends, I have to understand my goal. My goal is not to be right. My goal is not to make a gay person straight. My goal is to bring a friend to Jesus, nothing else considered. This is my goal is all relationships, and that is only accomplished through love.
Christians are often offended by how the culture stereotypes us as homophobes or haters. But perhaps our greatest weakness is how we also stereotype and falsely generalize these people with same-sex needs. If I want them to believe their deepest identity can be found in their Creator, then why would I shun them because of their sexual identity? My friend Tim Timmerman wrote,
“Christendom, as of late, could be divided into two camps regarding homosexual identity. One side of the valley says, ‘You know I have no idea what to do with you and your “sin,’” and the other side of the valley replies, “Look, God made you this way. Just find that gay lover.” Honestly, I don’t believe either response in the long haul is very effective, and the man in the middle of that valley is left to venture on alone.”
I want to be a safe person, a friend with whom someone can share the depths of their being, no matter what it is. I want to help fulfill the needs people may have from their childhood or life experience. I don’t want my love for someone to be dependent on the person to whom they are attracted. I want to defend my friends from those who hate and humiliate. I want If anything, what I’ve learned through all of this is that my friendships with these people should be no different from anyone else, unless more intentional.
I’m still learning, still trying to understand. But here I feel like I’m finding the steps of Jesus, the one who lived and died and rose for every single one of us. The one who said, “By this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” He is ultimate, He satisfies, He fulfills, and He is the One I want to share.
So if I were in that McDonald’s again, what would I say? I would honestly and sincerely thank him for telling me, acknowledging that it can be really hard to share that kind of thing with someone, especially when you know they believe otherwise. I would tell him that even though I may have different beliefs, I will stand by him as a friend no matter what. I would ask him his story. I would ask about his struggles. I would ask how I could pray for him about anything in his life, related or not. Mostly, I hope I could just listen. And then I would just go about life together.
I’m probably not quite right somewhere in all this. I may not be directly in Jesus’ steps yet. But that’s what I want, and I believe He honors that desire. I know that He said to love my neighbor as myself, regardless of who that neighbor is. That’s what I intend to do, and I hope you’ll join me.