Monday, February 9, 2015

Sexuality and the Bible, Part 4: How to Disagree and Still Love

Today we're going to look at a very important question. "How can I best love those I disagree with, without acting like I agree?" Specifically when it comes to the non-affirming church and LGBTQ Christians.

Most queers have experienced pain where the church is concerned. From hearing shouts and seeing protest signs at gay pride, to staying closeted at church for fear of rejection, to experiencing deep pain at the hands of family and friends who tell you that you're worth nothing, you're built wrong, and God cannot love you. Understandably, queers tend to approach the church with all defenses on.

That may not be your fault, personally. You might never have inflicted pain, nor reinforced these painful messages through inaction or silence. It feels unfair that you're saddled with the baggage caused by other people in other places.


But someone must extend a hand first. Love and friendship are worth the risk once you have them, but building that friendship initially often isn't worth the risk. When you've been hurt so much and so often, it's masochistic to leave yourself open to more pain. That's why so many queers aren't willing to take the risk with Christian groups.

But there are many of us who yearn for church. Because many queers are Christian. (Check out the hashtag #LGBTChristians.) Being queer doesn't make you godless. Many of us believe in God, and we want a place to learn, love, be loved, and be challenged. Unfortunately, that growth can't happen without trust and love, and those things aren't available to us in church.

But that can change.

Firstly, churches need to stop saying that queerness and Christianity are at odds. It's said that unless queers renounce our orientation and divorce same-sex spouses, we're not loving God. That's simply not true. But we show up wanting to worship and are treated like outsiders. "You're gay; you can't be a believer," is one of the most harmful things you can say to a queer Christian.

As we've seen, there are many interpretations of Scripture on this issue. Some queers believe they are called to celibacy, and some believe their orientation isn't wrong at all. Moreover, repentance from every sin in one's life has never been the test of validity for one's faith. Most of us go to the grave still justifying some of our wrongs. Even if queerness is a sin, repenting of it should never be a requirement to participate in church.

We also need to stop being silent on the issue of queerness. Many churches want to be non-affirming yet loving, and so say nothing. This isn't good enough. We may not like divorce, but we still welcome divorcees, talk about divorce and marriage, and provide support. We're not silent in saying that we love divorcees. But I've never heard a pastor say from the pulpit, "If you're queer, you're welcome here."

Why not? The answer is fear. Christians fear that if we show love to queers, our church will think we're supporting them and we'll be ostracized or disciplined. Anyone who welcomes openly queer individuals into their homes, biblestudies, or churches is seen as a radical supporter.

I want to hear someone say, "You're welcome here; we won't judge you." That doesn't mean you have to agree. It doesn't mean you can't challenge me either--when we've built up a rapport and have the sort of strong relationship where we can challenge one another on points of doctrine. But before anything comes love. Conversation. The willingness to listen.

Churches need to say, "Tell us your stories." They need to say, "We're sorry if you've been hurt; we won't hurt you." These are messages queer Christians don't get to hear, and they're messages every human being needs.

Milford, OH.

When we come in and you get to know us, allow your stereotypes to be broken. Most people have an idea of the "gay lifestyle" that doesn't exist. We picture someone (usually a dude) sleeping around, working out all the time so he can look good at the bars, and caring overly much about fashion, cooking, and "girly" occupations.

I don't know any queers like that. Most of my queer friends are so normal you wouldn't know they're queer until you met their partner or heard their story. We sleep, go to work, read books, eat dinner. I don't know any gay dudes who are excessively into fashion, and all my female friends who are into "male" hobbies are straight.

That's not to say that there aren't butch lesbians and feminine gays out there. They exist. But they are by no means all of us nor even a significant portion of us.

Most importantly, we don't sleep around any more than straight people do. I know queers who didn't have sex until they married and plenty of straight people who did. None of the queers I know are strange kinky people who bring up sex at every opportunity. They don't have inappropriate conversations in front of kids. They treat sex the same way you do. When they talk about their orientation, they talk about falling in love, that time their spouse surprised them with flowers, their awkward first date.

Makes me think of that little Android commercial, Friends Furever...

Coincidentally, please don't shelter your children about queer issues. I can only speak from personal experience here, but what I heard about queers from church people was only a repetition of the stereotypes we just talked about. I went to a church that stayed mostly silent about sexual orientation, so all I knew was what I'd read in my 1984 NIV translation. When at the age of 14 I first met someone who was queer, my first instinct was to stay away.

I didn't know how behave toward queers. I'd been taught that (a) homosexuality is a sin and (b) we love everyone, but I'd never seen that lived out. I hadn't seen anyone in my church showing that radical love to anyone who was queer. We stayed silent on the issue of queerness, and thus we had no queers in our congregation. I had no experience.

Please don't let that be your child. Show them how to treat queers. Talk about the issues. If they have questions, answer them. Educate your kids, and if you don't know enough to do so, educate yourself too.

There's this idea that if you expose your kids to queers, they'll become affirming, or possibly even gay. The second is definitely false. People don't become queer by exposure. If your child is queer, there's nothing you can do to change that. But if they're queer, it's far better that they see you interacting lovingly with queers. They won't be afraid to come out and won't experience as much confusion, fear, and pain. You'll save them a lot of heartache.

Let us serve alongside you. Please don't relegate us to be uninvolved congregants who sing, listen, and leave. You might disagree with us about queerness in the Bible, but there's far more that we agree on. Grace, godliness, the kingdom, the incarnation, discipleship: important stuff.

Let us get involved in church projects, small groups, or ministries. Let us lead your creative team or be your retreat coordinator. Love does not equal agreement. Love does involve trust. 

Personal growth will happen when queers can take part in the life of the church.

In sum:

- acknowledge that a person can be queer and Christian
- vocally welcome us in
- listen and allow your stereotypes to be broken
- don't shelter your children
- let us serve alongside you

Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network blogged a great little list that adds to this one (things like supporting my rights and using the right words to describe me). I highly recommend it.

Next up we'll take a look at grayromantics in the Bible and in church.

Word count: 1,348.