Yes, you can relate to their struggles.
What do I say to my gay loved one?
I get asked this question all the time. It comes out of diverse situations that are always changing and throwing new twists into the problem. That's why, no matter how many experts offer their answers, the question keeps being asked.
After one of my previous articles incurred numerous such questions, I thought rather than trying to answer some or all of them specifically, I would address some of the more general issues that "straight" Christians have in common when homosexuality comes up.
You can relate
If I had to pick a No. 1 reason why Christians have such a hard time reaching out to their gay (or struggling) loved ones, it's because of this cloud of mystery surrounding the issue of homosexuality. It convinces most people that they have no clue what life with same-sex attraction (SSA) would be like. And those with SSA will often insist that you can't relate to what they're going through.
That seems to be the right way to look at it. After all, if you've never had a homosexual thought in your life, how could you understand?
This idea began to erode from my mind, however, the more I stepped out of my protective circle of people who were "like me" and got to know some of the so-called normal Christians who I thought had life so much easier.
What makes the collision between Christian doctrine and SSA so difficult for the struggler? The bottom line is, it's no picnic having urges and emotions that draw us so strongly toward something the Bible says is unacceptable.
Isn't that something you can relate to, though? After all, when it comes to sexuality, a prefix of hetero is not the only requirement for godliness. At the very least, we can agree that chastity and life-long monogamy are just as important for the Christ-follower. How many of us find those commands natural?
As we give ourselves more fully to the heart of Jesus, we learn how much higher the bar actually is. We aren't just prone to sexual perversions; relationally, we gravitate towards everything that intimacy is not: manipulation, self-centeredness, possessiveness, etc. I can only imagine the struggle it is to live with sacrificial, servant-hearted, meek and Kingdom-minded love within the marriage relationship. It's difficult enough just in the context of friendships.
I don't mean to say there's nothing unique about the homosexual struggle. Surely there are aspects of it that you might not understand. Reading a good Christian book on the topic can go a long way toward demystifying the issue.
But don't try to outline or explain your gay friend's experience to them — instead, lay yours out in the open. Let them see how God is transforming your heart and mind to be more like His. Have the courage to share the struggle you face in submitting to Christ in the midst of your naturally tempted self — your orientation, if you will.
I've known so many SSA-strugglers (including myself) who thought that everybody else was on easy street when it came to relationships, sex and intimacy. That attitude creates a crippling hopelessness and a self-pity that sours the soul — all for a lie. Transparency humbles us, and it heals others.
Another common quandary I've seen is when a person claims to be "at peace" with living a gay life and simultaneously professing faith in Jesus. Sometimes that person will even tell you they have gone before the Throne and been given God's blessing for their gay identity and/or relationship.
I think this is so confusing because we assume that all peace comes from the Holy Spirit and that peace of any kind is not possible when we are living in sin. Neither of these things is necessarily true.
For a long time, the debate about homosexuality was bogged down in arguing who was more miserable. Gays said that ex-gays were miserable, hopeless people; many ex-gays said the same thing about those who embraced their homosexual tendencies.
The truth is that people can find ways to be happy on either side of the fence; what really makes a person miserable is being double-minded. These are the people who know they can't deny the truth expressed in Scripture, yet also refuse to let go of their on-again, off-again romance with sin. However there's a natural relief a person experiences when any internal conflict has been settled.
I know people who have since come out of the gay life who would tell you that their first experience upon entering a gay bar was like "coming home." Despite being raised with Christian doctrine and loving Jesus, even the wrong choice brought to them a season of joy and peace.
Split devotions lead to instability. Resolve — whether it's to do wrong or right — brings relief. That relief can easily be mistaken for holy peace — especially by someone who desperately wants it to be just that.
The difficulty then is being the person who disturbs that fragile calm. Now, I'd never tell a gay non-believer that they weren't really happy. But if a person is claiming faith in Jesus, and it's someone you are in relationship with, you can't be silent. To just go along with it would be to disregard the duty that Christian love calls you to.
I'm not encouraging you to go charging into debate whenever it comes up. Such debates are often fruitless. But we know God's voice on the matter is clear when we let Scripture speak for itself.
And that's not our personal preferences reading that into Scripture. Believe me, my personal preferences never got a break there. Likewise, I'm sure you'd rather not have to disagree with your loved one or have them be upset at you. And you can tell them so.
The bottom line is a difficult truth for every Christian: The Bible says many hard things, but where the Word and I disagree, it's me that has to change. And there's grace for the process.
The Never-Ending Gay Debate
Even if you resolve to set aside the debate over sexuality, that doesn't mean the debate won't get thrown at you — a lot. Family and friends of gays often find themselves faced with challenges over what they believe, whether or not they loudly proclaim it. This can manifest as anything from the gay family member who can't sit down to a meal without debating the Bible, to a coworker who half-jokingly says, "So, you think I'm an abomination, right?"
So what do you say? I wish I could put together a point-by-point response sheet that would help you get through to such a person — and still express the love of Christ. I've honestly tried many times to sit and come up with something, to no avail.
Then I found myself wondering if the argument was even the issue.
In the dialog between my colleagues at Exodus and the culture around us, the same questions always seem to be on the table. I've known more than a handful of young men and women who came to us in the beginning stages of facing their SSA. Some of them chose to sacrifice the gay life for Christ, but many have not — at least, not yet.
The ones I've known who embraced and obeyed gayness will often parrot all the old arguments as if they hadn't heard it all before. They didn't come up with the challenges, and they already knew the answers. So, why?
I am willing to bet that, in many cases, the contentious gay person doesn't believe what they're saying. Why else the persistent need to argue, to get other people to approve of their inner truths?
At the root of all the convoluted arguments is a deep unrest. Somewhere inside, they know what's right, but they can't bear to face that inner truth. So, they take the fight to your doorstep. The irony is, this could very well be the same person who swears up and down that they are at peace.
This isn't a gay thing; we've all done it. I'm sure you could remember a season of rebellion in your life, and how during that time something (Somebody) inside was not letting you live with it quite the way you wanted to.
How did you feel about "good" Christians then? What did you think of people who, while probably not voicing disapproval openly, by their very virtue reminded you of the persistent warnings inside?
I bet nobody ever said anything that got you to "come around." I doubt you repented because you lost an argument. A heart-change is a more gradual process, and the people most influential in that process are the ones who keep pursuing your heart, keep lavishing that infuriating yet irresistible kindness on you — despite not playing along with your rebellion.
It's so easy to get sidetracked arguing over theological, social and political aspects of the homosexual issue. I know because I've been down that road a few too many times. I'm not saying these things are not important or should never be discussed; they simply must not become a distraction from loving.
Even if you knew every relevant Scripture backwards and forwards, had a response to every challenge, never had a doubt or lost your cool; even if you could argue a wayward friend's mind into a corner, that doesn't mean their heart will follow. I can pretty much guarantee that it won't.
So how do you love your gay friend, sibling, cousin or coworker? Pretty much the same as anybody else is my guess.
Oh, and if anyone ever says to you, "You think I'm an abomination, don't you?" just say no.
Love Endures Hate
My last point is sad but true. You need to be prepared for the person you love to hate you. They will probably insist that it's you who hates them. This is their last line of defense against the truth, and it's a strong one.
The culture we live in tells the gay person that you are the reason they are unhappy. It's your refusal to celebrate homosexuality that is responsible for pretty much everything that goes wrong for them. Even when you refuse to debate or argue, even when you open your home and your heart to them, your love may be counted as hate.
I once read an article on a gay news site. It was about Gloria Gaynor, one of many disco divas adopted for some reason as a gay icon. In the article she said she was thrilled to be embraced by the gay community because she wanted so much to bring the love of Jesus to them. The interviewer asked again and again if she thought homosexuality was a sin, but she wouldn't say.
Gloria only answered that those issues were between a person and God, and her only place was to share the love of Jesus. The interviewer then spoke with a lesbian activist about this interview. The activist ranted about how "homophobic" Gloria had turned out to be.
Sadly, this is an attitude that creeps into many hearts to turn them away from those who love them.
I think this falls into the category of what Jesus warned about when he said he came to bring a sword, not peace. Since He walked the earth, countless families and friendships have ended because some followed Christ while others refused. We are still called to choose Him — and to endure a world whose pride is offended by His gospel.
We must continually pray for the Spirit to melt the hearts of the people we know — and to keep ours soft, fresh and resilient. No matter what we say, whether it is a keen insight or a humble, "I don't know," it's God — not us — who changes hearts and minds.
Copyright 2009 Mike Ensley. All rights reserved.