I have found it wonderfully rewarding to sit down and have cordial, candid conversations with people who are gay, not as a crusader, or even a convincer, but as a listener. I have not hidden my position; my convictions about the matter have been clear. But neither have I shamed or belittled anyone. I have listened, really listened, to their stories. I have prayed with people who are gay. And I have recognized my own need for ongoing spiritual transformation.
What if you and I were to sit down with someone who is gay and ask a simple question: “How do I represent Jesus to the LGBTQ community?” I believe our overture would be welcomed by most, and we would learn a great deal. From my conversations, I have learned that we, the church, have often gotten it wrong in our interactions with this community. Here are four things we might confess to the LGBTQ community in our conversations:
1) The way we have treated gay people.
The mistreatment of people who identify as having same-sex attraction is widespread and, frankly, some of it is rooted in the church. Young people are being rejected by their families and churches. There is a large percentage of gay young people who are runaways and homeless, mainly because of the way people around them have treated them.
Some of us church folks have pressured our sons to be more masculine and our daughters to be more feminine, and some of us have implied to our kids that God loves only straight people. We have warned our children to keep their same-sex attractions a secret lest they shame us.
Some of us have made fun of those who are different. We have suggested that those who have suffered with AIDS have gotten what they deserved. Some Christian leaders have blamed natural disasters on the gay community. We have, in subtle and obvious ways, treated gay people as “less than.” It’s time to confess that and repent.
2) Our disgust with LGBTQ people.
Truth be known, some of the opposition to homosexuality grows not primarily out of a careful study of Scripture, but out of revulsion. Some are simply repulsed by the idea of same-sex intimacy and respond with what they pass off as righteous indignation. Moreover, some of the most outspoken critics of homosexuality are trying to suppress their own homosexual attractions.
Deb Hirsch has observed:
Some of the most horrific acts of homophobic abuse have been at the hands of those who experience a form of ‘homosexual dread’—a fear of their own latent homosexuality. This is the only way one can understand fallen pastor Ted Haggard’s homophobic vitriol, only to be found himself having a homosexual encounter. (Reedeming Sex)
Richard Lovelace declared the need for a “double repentance,” meaning that gay Christians should renounce the active lifestyle and that straight Christians should renounce homophobia.
3) Our own sexual hypocrisy.
At a men’s retreat, I heard what I understand is a pretty well-known story. A national men’s ministry was holding a stadium event some years ago. A block of rooms in a nearby hotel had been booked for men who would attend the convention. In the morning one of the hotel managers said to the representative who had booked the rooms:
“I thought this was a Christian meeting.”
“That’s interesting. Over half the rooms last night rented an adult movie.”
Maybe we need to confess our sexual hypocrisy.
A Facebook friend of mine recently shared a quote from one of America’s leading evangelical voices who said something like, “America’s only hope is for Christians to speak up!” And we should speak up—against things like racism and unfair lending and, yes, sexual immorality. But the question is how we will speak: with hate and fear in our hearts, or with love in our hearts and with the clear understanding that we, too, desperately need God’s grace?
4) The idea that sexual sins are somehow more abhorrent than sins such as greed and pride.
It would be helpful for us to acknowledge that the Bible gives a lot more attention to matters of poverty, fairness, the Great Commandment (love people and love God) and the Great Commission (Go to all the world) than to the behavior of two people behind closed doors. Of course that doesn’t mean we should ignore the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality, for whenever the Bible addresses the topic it condemns the practice of same-sex intimacy. However, the weight that the Bible gives to this and other issues does serve as a reminder for us to place our emphasis where the Bible places its emphasis. Richard Hays chastises us: “Some of the most urgent champions of ‘biblical morality’ on sexual matters become strangely equivocal when the discussion turns to the New Testament’s teachings about possessions.”
We tell the shameful story of Sodom and Gomorrah as an example and almost forget what Ezekiel declares as the most condemning sin of those two cities: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49).
Homosexuality is just one of the many challenges facing the 21st century church. In my book From the Steeple to the Streets, I explore how missional leaders might forge fresh expressions of the church in order to meet the needs of a changing cultural climate.
I agree with much of this post but I also find that it is somewhat of a caricature. I worked in a large factory for 8 years and I experienced something very different from the picture here. The people who were most hateful and mean towards those who identified as “gay” were lost people (NOT Christians). On the other hand, the response I heard from Christians in the prayer groups that I was a part of said things like, “there sin is no greater than any other sin; they need God’s salvation too; God loves them to and can save them from anything.”
I’ll add this little caveat as well. The Christians who said these things were the Spirit-filled/Pentecostal/charismatic type. People who identified as Christians but were spiritually cold, identified with their political party more than Christ (Republican and Democrat), would not pray with us in our prayer groups, would not talk about Jesus, etc. – those folks acted like the negative examples of Christians in this article. Thus, perhaps the best thing to do would be to seek spiritual renewal in the church.
I found a lot of truth in this article and I agree with most of it . . . but with an experience such as mine, these articles rub me the wrong way. People who identify as “gay” do need a listening ear and compassionate hearts but they also need to hear the Gospel and be transformed by the Spirit of God.
I appreciate Dr. Collins attempt at confession. Sentences such as “Some of us church folks have pressured our sons to be more masculine and our daughters to be more feminine,” however, perpetuate the stereotype that gay men aren’t or can’t be masculine and that lesbian women aren’t or can’t be feminine. More than that, what do we mean by masculine and feminine? Dr. Collins also perpetuates the discredited exegesis of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah that sees the sin of those cities as that of homosexuality rather than what it really is, the base dehumanizing of another person created in God’s image through brutality, sexual assault and rape. Equating homosexuality with brutality, sexual assault and rape is yet another stereotype that we need to confess and set aside.
At the same time, people in the Church are quick to say “well sin is sin.” as to attest that all sin is the same, and thus equal. But the Bible clearly says that some sins hold greater consequences.
“Run away from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body.” 1 Corinthians 6:18
Thanks for the thoughtful words. Those who are not necessarily in favor of behavior have missed the opportunity to serve. I remember one of the things one of my professors in urban ministry said back in the 1980s, one of the most important things a straight, orthodox Christian can do is offer friendship to those who are gay, something his gay brother-in-law had told him.