This week the video above of a North Carolina Pastor has gone viral and North Carolina passed an amendment defining marriage between a man and a woman. This has brought, once again, the issue of the church vs. the LGBT community to the very front of most people’s minds. What is the role of Christians when it comes to issues like this?
When I was 14 I was in the play A Christmas Carol with my older brother, Richie, at the Alley Theatre. The Alley was the first place I had extended exposure to any LGBT person and my experiences there have helped to form my opinion on the current debate around gay marriage.
My brother and I look a lot alike. I was cast to play a younger him (not for my acting skills) and over the course of my life had become accustomed to people just assuming we were brothers. But a couple of people didn’t realize we were related and when I told one middle aged man that we were brothers his response was, “You’re brothers? How did I not know that, y’all have the same little cutie booty.”
I was 14. He was at least 40.
When he found out some of the other kids and I were a little sheltered he would come up behind us right before we had to go on stage and say, “You guys know what anal sex sounds like?” And continue to act it out for us.
The youngest of those kids was 12. This is what I thought gay men were like. So obsessed with sex they didn’t let the fact that I was 14 stop them from checking me out. So enamored with controversy and making people feel uncomfortable they would tell 12 year olds about the details of gay sex. Basically, he confirmed every stereotype I had about him: any LGBT person is a pervert.
When I was 19 I waited tables. A coworker in her mid 40s asked me how old I was. I told her. She responded, “I love 19 year olds. I love having sex with them . . .” and went on to tell me all the reasons. Later that night I asked my manager to adjust my schedule so I wouldn’t have to work with her anymore. When I explained to him it wasn’t a big deal but that she had come on to me he told me, “Wil, that’s sexual harassment.” A couple other people reported similar experiences and she was fired that night. She was so obsessed with sex she didn’t care I was more than 20 years younger. So enamored with controversy she told me about the details of her sex life. But this isn’t what I thought all women were like.
She was just a regular pervert. The guy at the Alley was just a regular pervert. But I didn’t put that together until recently.
I spent a lot of my young adult life being afraid of any LGBT person. After the story I just told I don’t think anybody can blame me. In my first years of college I dropped a lot of my southern evangelical beliefs about war, politics, women, the poor, but I could not change my opinion on same sex attraction. It left me without a place to feel at home. There isn’t a lot pacifists who want women to preach about caring for the poor that also have a strong aversion to being around gay men.
Then after I graduated one of my closest friends came out of the closet. And all of a sudden a friend that had taught me so much about spirituality, respect, decency, scripture and the love of God was gay. But it wasn’t all of a sudden. He had dealt with his same sex attraction since before we met. While he was teaching me those things he was dealing with it. It turns out, people are incredibly complex and can not be judged by the action of one person you met at 14 who shared one thing in common with them.
In the years since then I’ve had to work through my opinion on the LGBT community and the church over and over again. As I see it, there are three ways for Christians to respond to LGBT persons.
Alienating: A hateful (whether subtle or extreme) response to the LGBT community that judges people on only one aspect of who they are. Phrases like “the homosexual agenda” or the rhetoric about how proponents of same sex marriage are attacking marriage are on the subtle end. While “God Hates Fags” or the video aboveare on the extreme end. People who hold this view actively object to the legalization of same sex marriage.
Accepting: This response maintains that same sex attraction is a sin yet concedes that LGBT persons may have even been born with same sex attraction. It views same sex attraction as a sexual sin that Christ has come to help man over come. It is treated the same as adultery or pornography addiction. People who hold this view may object to or support the legalization of same sex marriage.
Affirming: This response affirms same sex attraction as a God ordained romance. God has given man marriage not just between man and woman but between all consenting adults, regardless of gender. People who hold this view support the legalization of same sex marriage.
I try my best to have an accepting stance. Christ spends very little time (read: none) talking about same sex attraction and a whole lot of time talking about loving those who are different from us. It’s clear that the anger, fear, and unforgiveness I held for years was not that love that Jesus taught. But I also believe that encouraging behavior you believe to be detrimental to the spiritual health of a friend in the name of equality or justice is not love. I feel this exact way about divorce* and that has gotten me in more trouble than any other view I have.
It is such common knowledge that the divorce rate in the church is as high as outside the church. I read an article this week saying that Christians (Pastors especially) are more prone to sexual addiction than any other group. We allow the first and ignore the second. Why?
Because they hit close to home. We see in our own marriages the anger and bitterness that leads to divorce. We have thought about how our spouse has ruined our life, how we could have done better, how we’d be happier without them. We see our own lust and sexual desires taking us down paths we don’t want to go down. We have been addicted to pornography, we have been promiscuous, we have entertained thoughts about our coworker we should not have. These things can’t be too bad, because we do them.
But that’s right. We do them. Because we are broken fragile people who need the grace of God and the grace of our worshipping community. We need to be loved within our weakness and our wrongdoing. We need those who understand our experiences to help us along and to help us learn to look more like Christ. This is for the adulterer and the pornographer, the greedy, the alcoholic, the thief, the one who takes advantage of others. The grace of God knows no bounds so why should our grace?
I used to let my fear and bitterness lead me to unlove. But I am forgiven of that. That is the thing I am more convinced of than anything. We are forgiven. Perhaps I am still wrong. Perhaps I should affirm same sex attraction. Perhaps I should adamantly oppose it. But I am forgiven for being wrong. Even if I never realize I am wrong, I am forgiven.
Perhaps people with same sex attraction will realize they are wrong, perhaps they will not, perhaps they are not wrong, perhaps they are. None of these things put them outside of God’s love and grace.
Perhaps those who are unloving to the LGBT community will realize they are wrong and perhaps they will not. That does not put them outside of God’s love and grace.
Some object to this and call it universalism. That is not what I mean at all. The prodigal son returned to his father to manipulate him and to satisfy his own hunger. HIs need drove him to his father, not repentance. We do not see true repentance until the father runs to him and lets him know what has been true since the moment he left: his father loves him and forgives him. When the son accepts this love and forgiveness he is welcome to the party. It is love and grace that leads to repentance, not the other way around. Love is a better manner of influencing behavior than legislation.
I sincerely hope there is room in heaven for LGBT persons and those who are unloving to them. I hope there is room in heaven for all manner of sinners so that there is room for me.
*I recognize that divorce is not a black and white issue, I’m referring here only to the “we don’t get a long now that the kids are gone” kind of divorce and not the kind that are necessary for emotional and physical health of spouse and children.