This has been quite the week! I have read and seen lots of news and lots of interaction—healthy and otherwise—on Facebook and other social media. I have even taken to avoiding riding my bike down 1st Street, past the Supreme Court, like the plague. Why? Gay marriage is in the news, at the Supreme Court, and maybe even next door! Some evangelicals may feel like the Church has lost its fight, like we are being thrown too quickly into a world for which we are not prepared.
Conservative evangelicals, like me and so many others, find themselves digging in for a longer struggle against a culture that largely accepts gay marriage. So, how do we approach the issue with our gay neighbors or coworkers? Do we change? Or, do we need to find a new way to engage?
1. You’re not in Kansas anymore!
Like it or not, the world will never be the same—the Church will never be the same. Saying you’re against gay marriage because you’re a Christian, because the Bible bans the behavior, or because it is “gross” doesn’t even earn you respect in a machine shop, let alone the public square. Everyone knows someone who is gay. And if they don’t, they probably have that uncle who always brings his friend to the family Christmas party—and everybody’s fine.
Being gay is not like being an alcoholic or a cancer patient. Being gay is merely, well, being gay. We need to let go of the analogies that fall far short in helping us understand it and accept it for what it is.
2. Educate yourself.
If you are an evangelical Christian, against gay marriage, and have never read a book on the topic or listened to someone’s story, you are behind—far behind. Watching Modern Family won’t turn you over to the more colorful side, but closing yourself off to the world and not learning about your neighbor will certainly preclude you from being a light in the darkness. Don’t feel like you need to be able to argue in front of the Supreme Court, but also, don’t just sit there.
Challenge your views. Justin Lee and Alan Chambers each have helpful books (and head up great organizations) that will challenge you to consider things you may have not before. Understanding the other side of an issue is not only good for street cred, but grows your level of compassion for Christians who find themselves in what feels like an impossible situation: being gay.
If you’re a pastor, shame on you if your only research on gay marriage or homosexuality is for sermon prep! You are doing yourself and your congregation a disservice by being so small minded. God forbid someone in your congregation actually struggles with unwanted same-sex attraction! How equipped are you for pastoral care? Weave the topic into another sermon on relationships, loving others, etc. If you wouldn’t dedicate an entire sermon to the topic of abortion, you probably shouldn’t do the same with homosexuality or gay marriage!
3. Watch your words.
When it comes to the gay questions, our favorite cliché, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” is hurtful to gay people and is a load of shit. In fact, to steal a line from Tony Campolo, you’re probably more concerned right now with the fact that I just said the word shit than you are with this overly-used phrase being hurtful to gay people! When a gay person hears these words, they do not perceive your love for them, they hear that you hate them and everything they are. Calling sinners to run to the cross in an emerging post-Christian culture is not only ineffective, it is jarring and hurtful.
Homosexuality is a topic of discussion, and a homosexual is, well, an out-of-touch way to refer to a gay or LGBT person. When you say homosexual, you’re identifying yourself as the Golden Girl who didn’t make the cut—prudish, pretentious, and overly Christian—whether you intend to be or not.
Gay is not an adjective synonymous with retarded! Be vigilant when people say things like, “That’s so gay.” It doesn’t matter who you are or what your relation is to the person saying it—speak up! When kids hear this in our churches and youth groups, how are they EVER to see us as safe people to talk to should they find themselves struggling with same-sex attraction?
4. Be the first to listen.
I still remember listening to a friend of mine in high school explaining how he realized he was gay. This was back in 1999, when very few of us were listening. People just want to be heard. When someone asks if you support gay marriage, as Andrew Marin suggests, they are not really interested in you—not yet anyway. Your one-word response to this question allows them to determine if you are worth talking to, what your values are, and just about everything else about you.
Whenever I am asked about gay marriage, I prefer taking the conversation a bit deeper. So, I respond with a question. I ask, “Do you mean gay marriage as a social and legal construct or gay marriage as a Christian sacrament blessed by God?” This lets folks know I have at least thought it through, and with most, it spawns great conversation and healthy dialogue. Everyone has a different story. Even if they’re not gay, they have a reason why they have arrived at their conclusion.
5. Mutual respect is not conformity.
Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) publicly reversed his opposition to gay marriage this month, explaining that something led him to think through his decision in a much deeper way. His son told him and his wife that he is gay.
Honestly, I can’t blame the man. While I do not claim to know or understand his family life, I can be fairly certain that he, like so many of us, failed to really think this through before we started talking.
Where do you stand? What if your son or daughter or best friend told you today that he or she is gay? Have you thought that through? What would you say? Where do you truly stand when homosexuality hits home?
It is tough when someone close to you challenges your beliefs in such a deep and personal way. And if you do not waver, it is painful when they don’t understand why you can’t just be accepting. But, if you give it time and work hard at relationship, love and respect can grow without either side having to “conform” to what the other would have them be. Tolerance is not conformity—that’s too boring. Tolerance is fostered through love that refuses to accept division.
It is true that regardless of the level of compassion we hold for the gay community and supporters of gay marriage, some may view us as bigoted, uneducated simpletons. It is our job to carry that cross, to lovingly stand in a culture that does not understand us, to take outrageous accusations and pejoratives as a slap to the face, and to turn the other cheek.