Unstoppable Grace: Thoughts on the Gay Christian Network Conference

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We have a saying in Christianity that “you will know them by their fruit.” Drawn from Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 7, the expression means that the true test of faithfulness to Christ is not in simply believing or saying the right things, but in displaying the fruit of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. 

“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,” said Jesus, “and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”

I spent this past weekend with Christians bearing very good fruit. 

I went to the Gay Christian Network’s “Live It Out” conference in Chicago a little unsure of what to expect, a little perplexed that someone like me would be invited, and a little freaked out about what to say as a straight woman to a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians—many of whom have been severely wounded by the Church. 

But within a few hours of arriving, it became apparent to me that I had little to teach these brothers and sisters and everything to learn from them. 

I speak at dozens of Christian conferences in a given year, and I can say without hesitation that I’ve never attended a Christian conference so energized by the Spirit, so devoid of empty showmanship or preoccupation with image, so grounded in love and abounding in grace. 

As one attendee put it, “This is an unapologetically Christian conference.”

Indeed. There was communion, confession, powerful worship, and fellowship.  There was deep concern for the Word. (The breakout sessions about the Bible and same sex relationships were by far the most popular, with Matthew Vines’ session so packed there wasn’t even standing room!) There was lots of hugging and praying and tears…and argyle. 

I spoke with attendees from a multitude of denominational backgrounds—Catholic, Southern Baptist, Nazarene, Churches of Christ, Pentecostal, Mennonite, you name it.  I met gay Christians who felt compelled by Scripture and tradition to commit their lives to celibacy (Side B) and gay Christians who felt fee in Christ to pursue same-sex relationships (Side A).  And I heard story after story of getting kicked out of church, of being disowned by parents, of losing friends, of moving from despair to hope. 

“I think we connect with your work because you write so much about Jesus,” a man who came all the way from Australia said. “For a lot of us, everything about religion has been taken away. All we have left is Jesus. So we love to talk about Jesus.” 

The event wasn’t perfect, of course. As with any conference, there were tensions and disagreements, a few awkward moments and misunderstandings. But these were handled with such profound patience and grace I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. Many of these folks have every right to walk around with permanent chips on their shoulders, but over and over again I encountered nothing but grace….big, wide, unstoppable, unexplainable grace. 

I suppose this is what happens when a bunch of Christians get together an actually tell one another the truth. 

About our pain. 

About our sin. 

About our fear. 

About our questions. 

About our sexuality. 

About ourselves. 

Telling the truth has a liberating effect on everyone else in the room, and this was evident in the final night of the conference when we listened to one another’s stories: 

From the young woman who had been called vicious names since grade school and who told us that this was the first time in her life she felt safe among other Christians. 

From the brave mom who, choking down tears, told us that before this weekend she had been ashamed of her son, afraid to tell her Christian friends and family that he was gay. Now she had the courage to tell the truth and love him better. 

From the man who, after twenty years of trying desperately to force himself to speak differently, dress differently, move his hands differently, and love differently decided to finally tell himself the truth. 

From the conservative pastor who used to be an apologist against homosexuality, but whose friendship with a lesbian woman slowly, over many years, changed his mind. “Her life was her greatest apologetic,” he said, before openly weeping. “I was wrong. And when I hear about the pain many of you have experienced, I know that I was the cause of some of that pain. I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry. Please forgive me.” 

From the man in the wheelchair who, with words he struggled to form, declared, “I’m black. I’m disabled. I’m gay. And I live in Mississippi. What was God thinking?!” 

From the lesbian couple whose conservative church chose to break with its denomination rather than deny them membership. 

From the young man who said that when he finally worked up the courage to come out to his parents “it didn’t go as well as I hoped,” and in the painful silence that followed, far too many understood. 

From the denominational leader whose peers wanted him to “see what these people are so angry about" and who choked up as he said, “I’m going to go back and tell them you’re not angry. You weren’t anything like I expected you to be. I’m going to go back and tell them you’ve been hurt and it’s our denomination that needs to change, not you.” 

From the parents who said they learned, too late, to love their gay son “just because he breathes.” 
 

It was church if I’ve ever experienced it. And as I wiped tears from my eyes, I became as convinced as ever that if the Church continues to marginalize and stigmatize LGBT Christians, then the Church as a whole will suffer. It will miss out on all this energy, all this wisdom, all this truth, all this fruit. It will miss out on these beautiful people, these beautiful families, these beautiful relationships. 

I was in a conversation with someone the other day who said he wondered if perhaps LGBT Christians have a special role to play in teaching the Church how to engage thoughtfully around issues about sexuality. 

I think he’s wrong. After this conference, I’m convinced LGBT Christians have a special role to play in teaching the Church what it means to be Christian. 

After all, movements of the spirit have never started with the “right” people. The gospel has never made as much sense among the powerful and religious as it makes among the marginalized.  As I said in my keynote, what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out but who it lets in. 

…And who it calls to lead. 

I realize that standing with and affirming LGBT Christians—both those who identify as Side A and those who identify as Side B (though, for reasons I can explain later, I'm personally inclined toward A)— puts some of my work in jeopardy. I realize that this post will be used to discredit me and that I may lose readers and opportunities as a result.  But here I stand—not to lead, but to follow; not as a mere “ally,” but as a sister; not because I have it all figured out or have all my questions answered, but because I know in my heart it’s the right thing to do. 

I’m so grateful to GCN for welcoming me into your family last weekend. You told the truth. You extended grace. You let me ask dumb questions.  You loved me well. 

And as long as you are part of the Church, I think her future is bright. 

***

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Homosexuality, Evangelicalism, and The Danger of a Single Story

My favorite TED talk of all time was delivered by the brilliant Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s entitled “The Danger of a Single Story,” and Adichie, a Nigerian writer, thoughtfully and humorously describes the human tendency to project a single, simplistic story onto groups of people who we perceive to be different than ourselves. 

She uses several examples—the story that all Africans are helpless and in need of white saviors, the story that all Mexicans are sneaking across the American border to steal jobs, the story that all writers must have difficult childhoods to write well, the story that people in poverty are to be only pitied, etc. One of the funniest examples is when Adichie’s American roommate asked to listen to some of her “tribal music” and was disappointed when Adichie produced her favorite Mariah Carey album! 

 “I recently spoke at a university where a student told me it was such a shame that Nigerian men were physical abusers like the father character in my novel,” says Adichie with a wry smile, “I told him that I had just read a novel called ‘American Psycho’ and that it was such a shame that young Americans were murderers.” 

“The problem with stereotypes,” Adichie concludes, “is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” 

You really must watch the whole video. It’s the best 18 minutes you will spend today. Trust me. 

It occurred to me recently that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are often subjected to this single-story treatment, both from myself and from other people. 

I bumped up against this recently when a local pastor invited me to attend a lecture by Rosaria Butterfield. Ever since her story was featured in Christianity Today nearly a year ago, Butterfield has become something of a celebrity within the conservative evangelical world, and every time I’m in conversation with someone about the potential dangers of “conversion therapy” (which seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation through counseling and prayer), her name invariably comes up. 

“Rosaria is proof that gay people can change!” they say. “If she can change, anyone can!” 

In her testimony, Butterfield describes leaving behind her partner, her feminism, and her liberalism to become a Christian, married to a man. “As a leftist, lesbian professor, I despised Christians,” she said. “Then I somehow become one!” 

Her story left me feeling unsettled the moment I read it, not because I didn’t believe Butterfield, but because I didn’t like that she drew a dichotomy between liberalism and Christianity, feminism and Christianity, and lesbianism and Christianity…as if converting to Christianity requires leaving all those other things behind too.  

But the story appeared over and over again in my Facebook feed, as Christians used it as an example of what it means to convert to Christianity and as definitive proof that all gay people can change their sexual orientation if they just want to badly enough. My friends had taken this single story and projected it onto all gay and lesbian people, and it was unfair. 

Because there are other stories too—like the story of the gay teenager who begged God to make him straight and when his prayers went unanswered killed himself in despair, or the story of the parents who were taught that it was their “fault” their child was gay and were ostracized by their church because of it, or the story of a popular Christian ministry that shut its doors when it became clear that changes in orientation are in fact rare and that “reparative therapy” has no scientific basis, or the stories of gay and lesbian couples who have formed faithful partnerships with one another and remain committed Christians. 

One doesn’t have to doubt the truth of Butterfield’s story to see the danger in projecting it onto all gay people. 

Justin Lee expresses the danger of the single story in his book, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate. Justin grew up Southern Baptist and certainly didn’t choose to be gay…and yet, he was (and is) attracted to other guys. Upon first facing this reality, he wrote: 

“I already had an image of what gay people were like. They were sinners  who had turned from God and had an ‘agenda’ to mainstream their perverse lifestyle. I didn’t actually know any gay people, but I had seen them in video footage of Pride parades, where they were dressed in outrageous outfits or wearing next to nothing at all, and I knew that they engaged in all kinds of deviant sexual practices. I had nothing in common with people like that, so how could I be gay?” 

Justin’s own story didn’t fit the narrative with which he had been presented. And this single story proved truly dangerous in his life, as it does in the lives of many other LGBT people who are told by their pastors and parents that their sexuality represents deliberate rebellion against God and that if they would just try hard enough, they can be delivered from this "deviant" lifestyle."  

Justin expresses frustration with many of the testimonies with which he was exposed, where men spoke of being “delivered” from homosexuality—which they tended to define not as same sex attraction, but as engaging in gay sex with multiple partners outside of marriage—only to learn that many of these men were in fact still attracted to other men. But their pictures were splattered across brochures and Web sites as examples of how gay people can change. 

Indeed, my alma mater, a conservative Christian college that has shied away from bold conversations around homosexuality, will be hosting Christopher Yuan as a chapel speaker next semester. Yuan’s testimony is about how he indulged in a promiscuous, drug-fueled lifestyle with multiple same-sex partners and contracted HIV until encountering Christ and turning his life around. 

Now, I don’t want to cast doubt on Yuan’s story; it’s an important one to hear. But I fear that if his remains the only story presented about what it means to be gay…or what it means to have HIV, for that matter….then it will continue to perpetuate the sort of stereotypes that prove seriously unhelpful in this conversation. 

I love it when my friend Kimberly, a lesbian and fantastic writer, posts her “gay agenda” on Facebook. Here’s what she wrote yesterday: “As for the whole gay agenda thing, here's mine for tomorrow: tomorrow my agenda is to get up early enough for a walk with the dogs (plus make breakfast and pack lunches), get to work a little early, eat a healthy lunch (NO FRIES DAMNIT), pick up kids from school, make a nominally healthy dinner, help my wife get ready for travel, watch the day-after episode of The Walking Dead, read a little Nadia, write, pray, kiss my family good night and sleep to be ready to start all over again tackling the big fat gay agenda the next day.

Kimberly's point is that not all "gay lifestyles" look the same.  

Can you imagine if people spoke of the “heterosexual lifestyle” and pointed to footage of women flashing their breasts at men to receive beads at Mardi Gras as the single example? Or if they spoke of the “heterosexual agenda” and used Miley Cyrus as the single spokesperson? 

If it bothers us when atheists use Pat Robertson as evangelicalism’s “single story” or abusive churches as Christianity’s “single story,” then it should bother us when Butterfield’s story is used as the single story of what it means to be gay…particularly when, statistically, changes in orientation appear to be rare. 

Of course, there is always a tendency to highlight and endorse the stories that fit most comfortably into our worldview. I am as guilty of this as anyone else. Whereas conservatives tend to ignore stories that suggest sexual orientation is not usually a choice, progressives tend to dismiss stories that suggest sexuality may be more fluid in some cases. 

But anytime we take a single story and use it to make a statement about an entire group of people, we have to ask ourselves—who really has the agenda here? 

 

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Does the Bible really condemn committed gay relationships?

For a lot of Christians, particularly evangelical Christians, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? 

Most of us who grew up in a conservative church environment are familiar with the texts typically associated with this question—found in Genesis 19, Leviticus 18 & 20, Romans 1, I Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1—and their interpretation from the traditional perspective. 

So how do Christians who believe in the authority of Scripture and who also support committed gay/lesbian relationships interpret these passages? 

I’ve read several books and articles exploring both the traditional and affirming perspectives, but perhaps no one else so succinctly, persuasively, and carefully presents the affirming view than Matthew Vines in his now-famous no-frills, one-hour lecture on the topic, delivered at a church in his Kansas hometown. Upon confronting the reality that he was gay, Matthew, a committed Christian, left college to devote two years to studying the topic. Now he has launched The Reformation Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to changing church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity. He is currently writing a book for publication by Random House in early 2014.

While Matthew is essentially just presenting the same arguments various biblical scholars have been making for decades, he summarized the position so well, it’s worth sharing for discussion. So I’ve embedded the video and linked to the transcript below.

I know it’s a bit long, but if we’re going to discuss this issue, it’s only fair to familiarize ourselves with both “sides” in the discussion and, unfortunately, what I hear most often from evangelicals is that the Bible is absolutely unambiguous on the topic and that those who would deny that are simply denying the authority of Scripture. I think this shows that there are thoughtful Christians who are both committed to Scripture and unconvinced that all gay relationships are sinful. You don’t have to agree with them to take them and their perspectives seriously and respond to them charitably. 

Here’s the video (with captioning): 

Here’s the transcript: 

The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality

You can read a conservative critique of Matthew Vines’ presentation here and here. 

A few questions for discussion: 

  1. What most resonated with you from Matthew’s presentation? Which points were the strongest, and which would you say were the weakest? 
  2. Which traditionalist response offered the best crituqe? Did the responses adequately address the challenges to the traditionalist viewpoint raised by Matthew? How so? 
  3. How do you interpret these passages and how did you arrive at that posture? What would you say is the strongest point made by those with whom you disagree? What is the weakest? What are you most unsure about? 

[I'll share some of my thoughts in a comment below.] 

Let’s keep the conversation civil and constructive, and please take the time to read/watch before weighing in. (I realize this requires some time commitment, but given the intensity of this debate and the profoundly personal nature of it, I think it’s worth taking the time to seriously consider the various viewpoints—whether through these resources or others; don’t you? I’ll make sure to check the comments throughout the week so you have plenty of time to read/watch before weighing in.) 

 

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From the Wife of a Queer Man...

Today's post comes to us from a friend and fellow writer who wishes to remain anonymous. The author attends graduate school and works for a non-profit. She has been a member of the RHE community for a number of years now.

I'm so grateful for her openness and wisdom in sharing her story with us. She will be available for interaction in the comments, but asks for patience as she may not be able to respond to all of them. 

 ***

American Christians are in the midst of a conversation about sexuality. This conversation is important (yet heart-wrenching) to gay Christians for obvious reasons. Among straight Christians (with whom I identify), some of us have the conversation for ministerial reasons. Others have it so that we can know how to better love our friends and family members (which in my opinion, is ministerial!). And then there is a small contingent of us who approach this conversation from a unique vantage point--we are in a heterosexual marriage with someone who does not entirely identify as heterosexual. 

Today, I speak into this conversation as the wife of a queer man.

I don't know how to tell our story. If you know us personally, you probably know it already. We're fairly open about it. (We were conflicted about whether or not this should be anonymous. We finally decided that it would be most loving and protective of certain family members who are ashamed of this part of our story to remain anonymous at this point. We hope you understand.) 

My husband and I were friends long before we dated, and I've nearly always known about his attraction to men. It was part of who he was, but never the defining thing. He was always kind, smart, fun-loving, generous, and more. When we were friends, he was wrestling with his sexuality, and we talked about it fairly openly among our close group of friends. He was a Christian and did not feel at peace with his attraction to men. He felt even less at peace when he was in relationships with men. They were hard, hard years for him. 

It's hard to explain briefly, but here's my best attempt: Our friendship led to a tentative romance. And then our romance led to sexual attraction. (This applied on both counts. I was not aching for him when we were friends.) There were bumps and bruises along the way, but eventually we decided that we wanted to swear off all other romantic and sexual interests for life and commit completely to each other. We were married and have enjoyed an amazing marriage since.

(Now, I want to pause to say this loud and clear: My husband is not all queer men. His story, our story, is unique, and we do *not* want it to be used to guilt, shame, or condemn anyone. If you want to share it with a gay friend/son/brother to motivate him to find a wife, you are not loving him well. This story is intended to explain my perspective as the wife of a queer man, not provide any sort of template for healthy sexuality. Far be it from me.

Today, my husband has come to peace with the reality that he is a queer man. He is attracted to men and me, so he doesn't consider himself gay, nor do I. Our "heterosexual" marriage has provided him a safe space from which he can advocate for LGBTQ individuals who are both inside and outside the Church. He advocates for them because he identifies as one, even though it doesn't appear that way to many outsiders. I am so proud of him for this, yet I also know how hard it is for him at times.

There's a lot I could say about my experiences, but as his wife, I would like to make a few points for everyone to consider as we continue discussing sexuality in the Church:

1) In any conversation, you should not assume that everyone who "passes" as heterosexual is in fact heterosexual.

I cannot tell you the number of conversations we have sat in on that left us clutching each other's hands in frustration. Those judgmental things you say about LGBTQ people, they hurt us both. Those judgmental things you say about people "trapped in false marriages," they hurt us as well.

2) My marriage is real and healthy and blessed by God.

Please do not mock me or it. My husband and I are not in denial, nor are we "just roommates." I hate that I feel the need to tell you this, but, for what it's worth, we have great sex. Just like most of our married friends, we have periods when we have sex every day, and periods when we have "snack" sex between less frequent "banquet" sex. And then there are the times when sex doesn't come so easily--when we're both too busy, I'm struggling through pregnancy sickness, or following a birth. In short, we are more sexually normal than you think. 

3) I am convinced that there are millions of spouses like me, but most live in secret.

I think all of our stories are different. Some of us are Christians, many are not. Some of us found out about our spouse's sexuality before marriage, some after. Some of our spouses are at peace about their sexuality, many are not. Some of us have been lied to or cheated on, many have not. Some of us have happy marriages, some do not. All of these differences create a world of varied experiences. But we are here, even though we don't often speak up. I personally know many wives in a situation similar to mine, but I only know one other couple who lives openly amongst friends as my husband and I do. I wish more of us could. 

4) The "Side A" and "Side B" dichotomy that is often talked about is not exhaustive of the experiences of gay Christians.

These sides can even encourage a false dichotomy in our conversations. I don't want to imply that everyone has other options, because that would be false. But the story I've lived and the stories I know don't fit into "Side A" or "Side B," and it is somewhat frustrating to feel as if our stories not real, recognized, or legitimate. 

5) My husband and I are both convinced, largely because of our experience, that sexuality is more flexible than many people are admitting right now.

We completely understand why there is such vehement rhetoric that people can't change. We do not believe in or support gay conversion therapy. But we have lived a story of flexible sexuality. He was sure he was a 6 on the Kinsey scale before he fell in love with me. But fall in love he did, and it changed him. This observation feels like a betrayal to many people we love, so I don't know what to do with it. But it's the reality of our stories. 

But those observations aside, when you click away from this post, what I want you to hear loudest from me is this: My husband and I are both blessed by our marriage; it is not a burden. I have in no way married a second-rate man, and he has in no way settled for second-rate sex. Christian marriage should be a closing off of oneself to all sexual options save one, and in embracing that reality we have experienced shalom. 

 ***

I'm so grateful for this story. I'm starting to wonder if, because sexuality has become so politicized and such an unfortunate theological line-in-the-sand, we tend to brush aside stories that don't fit our preferred paradigm for fear they will provide "ammunition" to the other side. In so doing, I wonder if we've veered too far from the reality that human sexuality is indeed very complex. It's so tempting to take one person's story and use it to make a point while simultaneously dismissing another person's story because it doesn't line up with my assumptions. This happens on both "sides" (or, perhaps more accurately ALL sides), and I'm not sure how to stop it. What do you think? How do you respond to this story and how can we make more space for people whose sexuality doesn't fit in a box?

[See also: "On Mixed Orientation Marriages: Four Stories"

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Responding to homophobia in the Christian community

Recently, Thabiti Anyabwile wrote a post entitled “The Importance of Your Gag Reflex When Discussing Homosexuality and ‘Gay Marriage’”, which was posted on his Gospel Coalition-hosted blog. 

I debated whether to engage a post that is just as disturbing as the title suggests, but after speaking with an editor and several writers at The Gospel Coalition, as well as some of my gay and lesbian friends, I’ve decided it’s important to offer an alternative to the attitude presented in this post and, perhaps more importantly, to explore/discuss how Christians ought to respond when we encounter homophobia in our own faith communities. 

Now let me be clear: I believe the post exhibits homophobia, not because of the author’s conservative position on same-sex marriage, and not because the author intended to be hateful, but because the post employs degrading, fear-based language to dehumanize gay and lesbian people. 

Responding to New Zealand’s recent legalization of gay marriage, Anyabwile laments the fact that pro-gay-marriage advocates have effectively argued their case by appealing to civil rights and by emphasizing loving, committed relationships between gay and lesbian people. Confessing with some agitation that he too found one gay advocate to be “ kind, winsome, insightful and reasonable,” Anyabwile concludes that the best way to turn the tide back against gay marriage is to “return the discussion to sexual behavior in all its yuckiest gag-inducing truth.” 

Christians should indulge their “gag reflexes,” he says, and “return to the yuck factor” when they think and talk about gay and lesbian people, particularly in the context of gay marriage.  

He then proceeds to graphically describe gay sex before telling the reader: “That sense of moral outrage you’re now likely feeling…that gut-wrenching, jaw-clenching, hand-over-your-mouth, ‘I feel dirty’ moral outrage is the gag reflex. Your moral sensibilities have been provoked–and rightly so.”

He concludes: “That reflex triggered by an accurate description of homosexual behavior will be the beginning of the recovery of moral sense and sensibility when it comes to the so-called ‘gay marriage’ debate.” 

Obviously, the post fails miserably in the logic department by arguing that because some people have a “gag reflex” when they think about gay sex, then gay sex must therefore be immoral. Let’s think about this. A person might get a bit squirmy at the thought of his parents having sex, but it does not then follow that his parents’ sex is inherently immoral. Furthermore, there are heterosexual acts that can be considered immoral—adultery, for example—but that might not induce Anyabwile’s handy “gag reflex.” (Not to mention the fact that much of what he describes as “gay sex” happens in heterosexual sex as well and that any sort of sex, when described purely biologically, can sound kinda gross; let’s face it.) So positioning “icky” as the barometer for morality is just poor argumentation. If, as Anyabwile suggests, this is really the best argument those opposed to gay marriage have, then the movement is in serious trouble. 

But far more serious than Anyabwile’s logical failings is the failure of this post to extend any sort of grace or dignity to the LGBT people in question. Instead, he invites those who may already have hostile feelings toward gay and lesbian people to indulge their revulsion and anger. 

Concerned that the civility and decorum exhibited by many LGBT rights advocates might make their arguments more persuasive, Anyabwile suggests that the key to “winning” the same-sex marriage debate is speak more graphically about gay sex in order to induce the “gag reflex.” When discussing homosexuality, Christians should seek to create “gut-wrenching, jaw-clenching, hand-over-your-mouth, ‘I feel dirty’ moral outrage” regarding gay and lesbian people seeking to get married. 

This is why the post is so damaging and potentially dangerous. Sensing that the consideration of full personhood might sway the gay marriage debate toward legalization,  he suggests we should deliberately move away from speaking of gay and lesbian people as multi-dimensional human beings and instead reduce them to sex acts in order to make others more repulsed by them. It is an unabashed attempt to single out, stigmatize, and ostracize an entire group of people, which is the exact opposite of what the gospel calls us to do. Anyabwile frequently uses terms like “dirty,” “yucky,” “repulsive,” “disgusting” and “icky” to describe fellow human beings, created in the image of God, and this is unacceptable. 

Can you imagine Jesus reducing those with leprosy to their disease? Or the bleeding woman to her “impurity”? Can you imagine Philip reducing the Ethiopian eunuch to his anatomy or Peter the gentile Christians to the food they ate? Can you imagine God reducing us to our sin? 

And what’s with this idea that our impulses necessarily lead us to truth? Are we justified in indulging our gag reflex when we encounter people who are sick, or homeless, or different from us? What about our violent reflexes? Or our indulgent reflexes? Or our racist reflexes?  Our greedy reflexes? 

Reflex doesn’t make right. And anyone who believes in the pervasiveness of sin within our hearts should agree. 

[For those eager to defend Anyabwile, I recommend reading this post from Richard Beck, in which he anticipates such defenses and responds well to them. Please also consider reading Beck’s book, Unclean, which discusses how disgust is a dehumanizing emotion.]

Responding to Homophobia.... 

Not everyone who opposes same-sex marriage is homophobic, of course. But I do come across what can only be described as homophobia and I suspect I am not alone. I suspect you too may have been in the presence of Christians cracking crude jokes about gay and lesbian people or muttering under their breath about a “disgusting” gay co-worker.  Or perhaps you’ve been in a Bible study where it is suggested that all gay people are pedophiles or watched as kids who bully effeminate classmates are given a free pass. 

(How easy it is to forget that there are gay people sitting in the pews of our churches. This is not an “us-vs.-them” thing; this is an “us” thing, a humanity thing. Many gay people are Christians, and many Christians have children, parents, friends, and loved ones who are gay.) 

So how should we respond when fellow Christians engage in name-calling, bullying, lying, or hateful attitudes like these? 

Four things come to mind: 

1. Call it out.

Ignorance and hateful attitudes thrive when they are normalized and accepted without pushback. Your friends may just assume you agree with them when you don’t speak up about their homophobia.  On more than one occasion, I’ve heard Dan calmly respond to a crude homophobic joke with something simple like, “Hey, man. That’s not funny. You’re talking about real people here. Please don’t say that kind of stuff around me.” It’s awkward for about 10 seconds. But it’s better than replaying that conversation over and over and wishing you had said something. And it sends the signal that not everyone is okay with crude jokes or ugly language at the expense of gay and lesbian people.  More often than not, there will be someone else in the group who is relieved you said something and may even offer support. And sometimes, there will be someone in the group who is relieved to know he or she is not also hated or despised by you. Try thinking ahead of time about a line or two you can use in situations like these so you’re ready. 

(A more personal, and perhaps more effective, response is to talk about the people in your life who are gay. Perhaps your friends will think twice about mouthing off about their “gag reflex” toward gay and lesbian people when they know your brother is gay.) 

In the case of this article, it would be appropriate to leave a comment saying you do not accept gay and lesbian people being spoken of in these terms, especially by those waving the banner of the “gospel,” or by urging editors at The Gospel Coalition to remove the post entirely. Or, if the article is shared by your friends, speak up. It would be especially helpful if more conservative folks would push back a bit. Remember that silence in this regard can often communicate approval. 

2. Be informed.

Hate grows in the soil of ignorance, and when it comes to sexuality, there’s a lot of ignorance to go around. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a well-intentioned Christian say something about how children in gay families suffer (this is not true) or how all gay people are pedophiles (also not true).  We can debate the merits of same-sex marriage, certainly, but let’s do it based on facts, not myths. And we can discuss how the Bible and Christian tradition factor into things as well, but let’s be informed about our convictions. 

Check out 10 anti-gay myths debunked at The Southern Poverty Law Center to get started, and then follow the links to the various studies and scientific research that is cited there. For books, The Marin Foundation has a handy list here that includes perspectives from both conservative and progressive Christians. 

3. Get to know some LGBT people and read their perspectives on things.

One of my gay friends said that Anyabwile’s article was the most overtly hateful thing he has read about homosexuality from a Christian blog.  My guess is Anyabwile probably didn’t intend his post to be hateful, but had he taken a minute to imagine how it would read to a gay or lesbian teen, for example, he might have chosen his words more carefully. 

Deliberately listening to and considering the perspectives of LGBT people can make a huge difference in how we engage conversations around marriage, the Bible, and church. You will learn how phrases like "the gay lifestyle" and "love the sinner, hate the sin" sound to those most impacted by them and your stereotypes will be shattered. (You will also learn why Anyabwile' statement that “'gay' and 'homosexual' are polite terms for an ugly practice" is wrong. Those terms generally refer to sexual orientation.) 

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Torn: Rescuing Christians From the Gays vs. Christians Debate by Justin Lee, my favorite book on the topic from a gay Christian’s perspective. For a more conservative viewpoint, you might like Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting. I’d also recommend Does Jesus Really Love Me? by Jeff Chu. Some of my favorite blogs in this regard come from Kimberly Knight, Registered Runaway, and Grace Is Human.

This also might be a good time to connect with (or donate to!) the Gay Christian Network, a wonderful group that provides fellowship and resources to gay Christians, both those who feel they are free in Christ to pursue relationships with the members of the same sex and those who feel they are compelled by Christ to pursue celibacy. 

4. Preach and live the gospel.

Of course, the very best thing we can do in response to any sort of fear or hate or stigmatization is to preach the gospel like crazy, to spread the good new that, through Christ, God is making all things new and the Kingdom of Heaven is open to all who long for it. 

For those who are weary and burdened by religious rules and expectations, Jesus promises rest. For those who hunger for righteousness, Jesus promises satisfaction. For those who are thirsty for refreshing, life-giving, truth, Jesus promises streams of living water. For those who have been marginalized and cast aside, Jesus promises a banquet and a place of high honor. For those who long for reconciliation and forgiveness of sins, Jesus promises mercy and grace. For those deemed “unclean,” Jesus promises embrace.  For those who long for communion, there is bread and wine. And for those who long to be baptized, there is water. 

The good news is that we aren’t welcomed into God’s family based on our merits or our skills. We aren’t welcomed based on which theological beliefs we can check off a list or how well we fit the religious mold. You don’t have to be straight to be part of this family. You don’t have to be a Republican or a Democrat or an American. You don’t have to be rich. You don’t have to pray just the right words or know all the right answers. You don’t have to be sinless. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You just have to come.  It’s an adoption, not an interview. 

The good news is that God doesn’t reduce us the way we reduce one another. God does not see dirty people and clean people, good people and bad people. God sees beloved people. And nothing can separate us from that. Nothing. 

Now be warned: Some people find this gospel offensive. They don’t like the idea of sharing a table with all these undeserving, messed-up, “icky” people. They don’t like the idea of this grace thing getting out of hand. But for the suffering, for the hurting, and for the ones who have nothing left to lose, this is very good news. 

So preach it like crazy, and if you dare, live it. 

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Let's try to make this conversation as productive as possible:

What are some other practical ways to respond to homophobia in the Christian community? What sort of assumptions, hurtful language, and hurtful actions do you encounter most often and how have you learned to respond to them well? 

Note: I plan to shut down the comment thread after 24 hrs. 

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See also:  

Everyone's a Biblical Literalist Until You Bring Up Gluttony

"All right, then, I'll go to hell" 

Posts on homosexuality

 

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