This post is one in a continuing series for the month of March that aims to examine the American Church’s response to homosexuals in their midst, whether they be believers, agnostics, or atheists. This month’s series was spawned by the Harding University Queer Press publishing a zine on March 2 featuring the voices and stories of past and present LGBTQ students at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, my alma mater. The zine can be downloaded in its digital entirety at http://www.huqueerpress.com.
The last post zoomed out a bit to take a broader look at why the Church’s reputation has gotten so bad, and I ended it with noting how all eyes are on the Church. People are watching intently. And it’s not just the media, it’s not just scholars, it’s not just cultural analysts—the gays and lesbians are especially watching, and (time to zoom back in) this is true at Harding University.
One of the great things about HUQP’s zine is that, ever since it was published, it has gotten people talking on Harding University’s campus. Have all those conversations been civil? Most likely not, but the fact that people are talking about it period is huge. Why? Because gay and lesbian students have said they’ve been listening in on these conversations, and from hearing what their straight friends are expressing—whether kind or hurtful—they’re beginning to get a better idea of which ones would accept them if they were to come out of the closet.
Straight Christian folk, listen: gay and lesbian individuals are watching you to see if you conduct yourself in a manner befitting of love and acceptance.
Do you understand the gravity of this? When something like the zine occurs in our surrounding pocket of culture, the majority of us are continually on an audition stage, and a whole lot of us have been failing said auditions and will not be getting phone calls asking us to come back. The sad thing is many of us in the Church will not be all that upset or moved by the notion that LGBTQ people wouldn’t want to come out to us. To those of you who would identify yourself by such a mindset, I would argue that you’ve just shown the true colors of your heart and its apathy. Some may respond with, “Look, Nelson, this is obviously something you’re very passionate about, but it’s just not my thing. We all have our own passions. This doesn’t have to be my mantra.”
Wrong again. I’m not asking you to “wave the rainbow flag” here, but if your passion is not people, then your passion is not Christ. Therefore, it should greatly unnerve you if people—gay or straight—are listening in on what you say, watching how you conduct yourself, or picking up on what moves your heart only to find that you wouldn’t care about them. It should break your heart if people deem it fit to avoid you because you wouldn’t accept them. “Well, Nelson, they haven’t actually given me a chance in-relationship yet.” True, but are you even giving them a reason on the surface to give you that chance? Hate exists on the macro level and doesn’t require us to look any further to see if a person would love us; on the other hand, love possesses an immense depth that sinks into the micro level, requiring those intrigued to draw closer.
The straight Christian community is not under the microscope because there’s nothing of depth within its actions when it ostracizes the gays and lesbians. Hate is shallow and never well-thought-out or thickly layered, and this is the norm, and because it’s the norm, we no longer need to take a closer examination of it. It’s so second-nature to encounter it, that upon colliding with it for the umpteenth time, we make the determined decision to rebound off of it and walk away. We have no reason to take a second glance because this is old news. That which is the norm does not demand our attention, especially when it is hate.
But kindness and compassion are what get placed beneath the microscope. They get placed there because they are not the norm, but rather, revolutionary. This is why so many people gravitated towards Jesus—followers and skeptics alike; they had to try and figure out what it was that set this man apart, for standing before them was something voluminous in its depth, gravity, and importance. Hate can be premeditated, but that doesn’t mean it suddenly has significance; on the other hand, love has to be painstakingly calculated and given measured perseverance, or else it will fall apart, and such tenderness given to it fosters an incredible profundity to that person’s reason for living and his perspective on life. It is at this point that a group of people and their actions will be placed beneath the microscope because they have made it necessary for their dealings to take residence under such a lens. This is natural for all humans: we want to know more about that which intrigues us, and that which intrigues is something we may not necessarily understand due to its uncommon nature. Is it any wonder why gay people may take a second glance at someone who truly loves them?
But as already stated, such love requires so much of an individual. The effort behind it is massive. It’s probably because we’re attempting to do something we are physically, emotionally, and spiritually incapable of truly doing due to our imperfections. Thus, many people just give up and create excuses to give themselves wiggle room in the face of not trying to truly love the people around them who may be a tad different than they are. This is pitiful.
Look, we as humans can not embrace unconditional love; I understand that. Such a quality of affection is idyllic and utopian in the sense that only God can express it. But this does not mean attempting to grow in such a discipline is not worth our every effort. However, there is a vein of thought running through the religious that I’ve heard expressed many times, and it has to do with a person’s discomfort at loving “sinners” unconditionally.
Now apply that specifically to this situation: some people say they’re cautious and unsure about loving homosexuals unconditionally because what if their wide-open acceptance only emboldens these people to live in a life of sin? Aren’t we supposed to confront our brother or sister who is caught in sin? Well, let’s consider the ramifications of this dilemma for a moment and put two “what-ifs” out there.
First, if homosexuality is not wrong, as the writers of the zine would maintain, then there’s nothing to worry about. Love them all you want. Invite them over for dinner. Watch football together. Go shopping. Catch a flick. Do whatever.
Second, if homosexuality is wrong, here’s what those people hesitant to express loving acceptance are basically saying: “There is a possibility that homosexuality—which is not a faith issue—is wrong, and given the chance it could be sinful, we’re going to play it safe by not loving those people as much as we otherwise would.”
That’s not playing it safe; that’s being risky. The safe move is to always love people. No, it’s not always the easy move; love is extremely difficult, but it’s always much more emboldening for both parties and highly restorative to build bridges rather than burn them. It’s a copout to say, “Well, since we could be causing someone to stumble here, let’s just back off altogether.” So you’re a benchwarmer?
Could your love send someone “off the deep end?” Okay, yeah . . . anything’s possible. But if it’s a faithful attempt to show that person unconditional love, there are only things of beneficence that will come from that, whether that’s your reminder to them how they matter, whether that’s reinforcement for them to remember they’re cherished, or whether they encounter the true Christ. I don’t see how any of those are ever a bad thing. But if they do, for whatever reason, turn away in the face of you giving them unconditional love, that’s not your fault. That whole “free will” thing.
You are never in a position to deny or withhold love from someone. The moment you begin to believe you do have such license is the moment you’ve lost sense of what matters in life. We love because we see a spark of the Divine in everybody; we love because every individual has inherent worth, potential, and beauty. Loving them calls those things out in them, names them into existence; holding love back quashes those qualities, sends them to a dark basement with a lock on the latch.
Donald Miller, in his book Blue Like Jazz, nails it:
The problem with Christian culture is we think of love as a commodity. We use it like money. . . . When the church does not love its enemies, it fuels their rage.
Miller isn’t saying conditional love is only a problem within the Christian culture; it’s everywhere. But it’s especially devastating when it occurs from within the Church given how she is supposed to help answer the question, “Does anybody care about me? Does anybody love me?”
We are not here to fuel rage. We are here to fuel hope, hope that can only be nurtured, raised, and emboldened by love. If this is not our aim from the moment we wake up, then we should not walk out our doors until it is. That doesn’t go for just Christians. That’s a snippet of truth for all of humanity.
If God is love, and we are to be like God, then we are to be love. And since God is unconditional love, then so should our hearts, minds, and actions be geared to such inclusivity. We are in no position to believe otherwise.
And we are not here to love with an agenda. Over the past three years I’ve had more people than I can count ask me how they should go about informing their gay friend what their views on homosexuality are and how they should tell their friend they believe he is living in sin. I guess I unwittingly begin to look at them with a gaze of hesitation because these people always quickly respond with how they simply want to see people restored from a life of sin. I have several issues with this approach and always feel the need to ask a few questions.
First, what are your real motives here? Or I guess what I’m asking is this: do you genuinely care about this person, or do you just want to see them change their behavior because it makes you uncomfortable? It’s easy to convince ourselves we’re trying to “help” other people, but what if that gay guy in your neighborhood doesn’t want your help? Do you just brush that off and say, “Well, he’s in denial,” because you believe that’s a sign of how far-gone he is? In other words, are you reaching out to the gay people around you because you see them as human beings who need love, or do you reach out to them because you see them as potential projects? I would argue if your motives for reaching out to gay people are, from the very beginning, to “fix them,” then you are not capable of loving them; I would argue they will be able to see right through you; and I would argue you will only hurt them, rather than “help” them like you say you’re so intent on doing from the start.
My second question is what makes you think you’re the vehicle for change? Man can not change man’s heart just like none of us can say with confidence, “I’ve led ten people to Christ.” No, actually you didn’t. You exist as a messenger, and that’s it; the actual changing of a person’s heart is something only God can do. The moment you believe you hold in your hands some ability to reconstruct the inner workings of another person’s outlook on life and the way in which they make their choices, you’ve started to think much too highly of yourself.
My third question is what makes you believe you have a right to comment on a gay person’s sexuality? Here’s a parallel vignette: I went to two weddings this summer, and both were some of the greatest I’ve ever been to because of how close I am with both brides and both grooms. Close as I am to them, though, I would never go up to either couple and begin to inform them as to my opinion on how they should be conducting their sexual relationship. That would be unbelievably inappropriate. If anybody is going to ask me my perspective on that (and I never expect such to happen), I’m still not sure I’d say anything. I’d probably just sit their awkwardly and blush a deep crimson shade.
But for some reason homosexuality is not given that same deference. Whether you agree with the moral aspect of homosexuality doesn’t matter; it’s still a person’s sexuality, and that is an incredibly personal aspect of someone’s life upon which you do not have permission to tread. Now, my approach is to simply love my gay friends, and because of this, I now have a seat at the table with them to the extent they’ll talk to me about things they won’t talk to their other straight friends about (I should note it has taken years to get to this point). This is incredibly humbling to me. But relational proximity aside, none of them have asked me yet what my view is on their lifestyle. And this does not bother me because, as I told a friend recently, their sexuality is not my business. If they do ask, though, I’ll respond. If they don’t, I won’t force it because if I were to do that, it would feel like conversation rape.
And what would my response be? I won’t say. You may have noticed I have purposely not mentioned my view on homosexuality in these posts this month. There are three reasons, and they are all very short: 1) it doesn’t matter, 2) nobody cares, and 3) such things are better saved for face-to-face conversation. To treat this otherwise would be highly indecorous. My aim is to simply love unconditionally to the best of my broken-nature ability. I know my efforts to love wholeheartedly and the efforts of others are a joke most of the time, but it is a must for all of us to unceasingly try at it.
And yet I have heard the counterargument of how the Bible, at times, tells us to be shrewd with whom we draw near to, or that Proverbs mentions how “the fool” should be avoided, and the fool is defined as someone who knows what is wrong, knows he shouldn’t do it, and does it anyway. This counterargument, though seemingly airtight to the religious, lacks any and all substance. Why? Because given that definition of “the fool,” one should realize with the utmost rapidity that he is a fool. The apostle Paul was a fool (see the book of Romans, specifically the seventh chapter), the apostle Peter was a fool (see his denial), and we are all fools (see your entire life). And Christ loves each of these individually, unconditionally. He is a lover of fools, and you have been given the example; now go and do likewise, for such is the heart and soul of the Maker.
Should you believe otherwise so as to separate yourself from other groups of people, the problem is not with those groups that make you uncomfortable, is not with Scripture, is not with God—it resides solely within you, for unconditional love does not wait for people to change. Showing such love is not easy, nor should it be, but it demands our every effort until we’ve breathed our last. That is, after all, the very underpinning of the ministry and life of Christ.