If you want to stir up controversy in any group of educated secular westerners, whether online or off, just mention that you oppose same-sex marriage. Chances are that you’ll get a variety of responses, from a dumbfounded ‘you can’t be serious‘, to a more pointed ‘you homophobic bigot’. Next, tell them that you believe sex is to be reserved for marriage (traditionally defined), and you’ll have done the verbal equivalent of letting off a live grenade in the conversation.
There seems to be a growing amount of social hostility toward anyone who isn’t willing to celebrate the gay lifestyle, or the agenda to redefine marriage. To put it bluntly, if you’re not fully supportive of the gay lifestyle, and all it’s entailments (e.g. the push for same-sex marriage), then in the eyes of many, you must, by definition, hate gay people.
There’s doesn’t seem to be any middle ground on this issue, at least according to many in the gay community: to paraphrase a previous American President: ‘you’re either with us, or against us’.
Now, granted there will be many genuinely homophobic people who really do hate gay people, and thus will oppose same sex marriage etc out of pure hatred. But here’s the question: is it possible to disagree with the push for same-sex marriage, and the gay lifestyle, and still have a genuine, authentic love for gay people?
It seems that many people in the west would answer an emphatic ‘no’ to that question.
Why is that?
In part, as I blogged about earlier, I think the issue of gay rights has been so politicized that merely expressing any disagreement or dissent is now frowned upon (at least by most of the secular Left).
But I wonder if there’s another reason why many people assume ‘Christian disagreement equals hate’: is it because of the lack of the lack of Christians actively building bridges, and loving the LGBT community around us? I think Christians (at least Christians that I know of) have done well in loving a variety of minorities, whether it be migrants (e.g. my family when we arrived to Australia), and Muslims.
But Christians loving LGBT people? I know it happens. But does it happen well enough, and often enough? Should it not be happening more? I think it should be happening more than it’s happening now.
And so here are 4 brief reflections on the why and how of loving our LBGT neighbours.
1) Jesus Christ died to save gay people.
I’m sure most Christians have no trouble with this statement, but I wonder if we’ve thought long and hard about the implications of this. LGBT people are not in a separate box to the rest of humanity: they’re the very people that Jesus came to love, and to save. The Son of God shed his blood for the sake of our fellow LGBT neighbours: and so we must love our LGBT neighbours as well: both practically, and by sharing the gospel with them.
Thus ignoring them, or putting them into ‘too hard’ basket is not the response that Jesus would commend.
2) Christians must take the initiative to build bridges with the gay community.
As I said earlier, it’s no secret that there’s a great deal of mistrust between the gay community and the Christian community. The reality is that holding to the classical Christian understanding of sexuality will be offensive to many in the gay community, and viewed as wholesale rejection of gay people. Many in the gay community will thus label us as ‘bigots’ and ‘homophobes’, which serves to push our communities further apart.
And so because of their view of Christians, and Christianity, it’s unlikely that gay people will take the initiative to build bridges with their Christian neighbours. Which means that it’s up to us Christians to build those bridges: it probably won’t happen without us taking the first steps.
A great example of this appeared in the pages of the Huffington Post.
Shane Windmeyer, a prominent American LGBT leader, wrote about his unlikely friendship with Dan Cathy, a Christian, who is also the president of US restaurant chain Chick-fil-A. In 2012, Dan Cathy made his opposition to same-sex marriage known publically, and this caused a national uproar.
However, rather than head to the trenches, Dan Cathy reached out to Shane Windmeyer, who had organised a national campaign against him and his restaurant chain. Windmeyer revealed their surprising friendship (as well as his decision to suspend the national campaign against Chick-fil-A) after he attended the Chick-fil-A Bowl Game as a personal guest of the Cathy family:
Throughout the conversations Dan expressed a sincere interest in my life, wanting to get to know me on a personal level.
He wanted to know about where I grew up, my faith, my family, even my husband, Tommy.
In return, I learned about his wife and kids and gained an appreciation for his devout belief in Jesus Christ and his commitment to being “a follower of Christ” more than a “Christian.”
Dan expressed regret and genuine sadness when he heard of people being treated unkindly in the name of Chick-fil-a — but he offered no apologies for his genuine beliefs about marriage.
Genuinely loving those who disagree with us, whilst not abandoning our convictions: that’s what Jesus requires of any who would follow Him.
3) Love Your LGBT Neighbour…by sharing your life with them.
If a cohabiting non-Christian couple moved in next door, would you have them round for dinner? Would you get to know them, and share your life with them?
I think most Christians would unequivocally say ‘yes’, (at least in theory, if not always in practice!).
Now what if that couple were two gay men? Would you still have them round for dinner? Would you still want to share your lives with them, and love your neighbour, as yourself?
It seems to me that many of us Christians would find it harder to love, and build bridges with a gay couple, than with a cohabiting hetero couple. A friend suggested that it’s because it’s harder to relate to gay people: gay people seem to be more different, because of their gay lifestyle. And so we’re more likely to pull back and keep our distance.
However, as New York City pastor Tim Keller notes:
“We instinctively tend to…exert ourselves…for people like us, and for people whom we like. Jesus will have none of that. By depicting a Samaritan helping a Jew, Jesus could not have found a more forceful way to say that anyone at all in need—regardless of race, politics, class, and religion—is our neighbor.”
Speaking from personal experience, we Christians need to do a better job of viewing the LGBT community as people made in the image of God, deserving of dignity, not to mention our love and care.
4) But isn’t disagreement a form of hate?
As mentioned earlier, it’s taken for granted by many that if you disagree in any way with the gay lifestyle, or same sex marriage, then you must hate LGBT people.
But is that the case? Does disagreement equal hate?
If you want to answer that question, talk to the parents of any teenager (the more rebellious the teenager, the better). They’ll let you know in no uncertain terms that you can disagree with someone in the strongest possible way, and yet love them in the strongest possible way. True story. As I parent of small children (who have their rebellious moments!), I can verify that this is emphatically true.
When it comes to the issues of sexuality, or redefining marriage, Christians and gay people will find themselves on the opposite sides of these issues. But that doesn’t need to lead to hate. In fact, Christians must be the ones who reach out, and demonstrate love to our gay neighbour, even though we might disagree on such fundamental issues.
Dale Kuehne of Saint Anselm College recently said that the only way Christians can get ahead of our reputation as “hateful bigots” on these “pelvic issues” like same-sex marriage is to ensure that when people hear that Christians “hate gays,” they’ll know a Christian who most certainly doesn’t.
When enough of them think to themselves something like, “Well, my friend Mary is a Christian and she doesn’t hate anyone; she loves people,” then we’ll be making serious progress in our efforts to care for gay people, like Jesus commanded us. We’ll also have a much better chance of being heard in the public square over ‘pelvic issues’ like same-sex marriage, rather than being automatically written off as ‘bigots’.