A word of advice to The Gospel Coalition: if you’re sincere about being a “safe space” to the “same-sex attracted,” start by not referring to them as “same-sex attracted.”
Campus Crusade for Christ (“Cru”) director Rachel Gilson intended to teach church leaders how to create a welcoming home for LGBTQ people, but that’s a tough sell when you start with the premise that being gay is like getting struck with leprosy.
According to one recent study, 83 percent of LGBT people grew up in a church. One obvious implication is that there are youth in your church right now dealing with these feelings. There are adults as well, and if they’re in a conservative church, odds are they’re hiding this part of their lives.
I wonder why…
Humans like to be normal. This means most same-sex-attracted people in conservative churches don’t look or act any differently than others. Because they’re committed to the Bible’s sexual ethic, there’s little about their outward lives that would reveal this inward battle. You would have to be told. But the church often hasn’t been safe for those who experience same-sex attraction. Ugly assumptions are made and spoken; misunderstanding and suspicion abounds. Therefore, many stay hidden in fear.
It’s true. We “humans” enjoy being “normal.” We also don’t appreciate being told that our identity, if it doesn’t happen to fit a conservative Christian ideal, is an abomination. I suppose Gilson deserves credit for saying we can’t assume people’s sexuality by their outward appearance, though that implies an unpleasant truth about her fellow evangelicals: They assume every LGBTQ person resembles a stereotype, as if all of them walk or talk or look a certain way. It’s a small consolation that she’s not advocating for distributing conversion therapy pamphlets to every non-feminine looking woman or slightly effeminate man.
It’s not your responsibility to guess who’s same-sex attracted, just like it’s not your responsibility to know all the struggles of your church. Your opportunity is to become a safe person for disclosure. Ask the Spirit of God to help you identify false stereotypes you may hold.
The problem with this vague advice is that it never condemns those Christians who believe they are already “safe spaces” for the LGBT community by telling them they’re going to hell because of who they are. They believe showing “love” means saving those people from eternal torture, which means their goal is to make LGBTQ people so ashamed of themselves that they stay closeted (and repressed) forever.
I have no clue what that even means. Someone feel free to decipher Christianese.
In your speech at Bible studies, in one-on-one conversations, or any church context, discuss what you’re learning with humility and honesty. You don’t have to know everything to start a conversation about how your church can be a safe place to not be okay, to be growing together toward holiness.
You may be the key to helping other Christians recognize ways they’ve been (wrongly) off-putting while trying to (rightly) hold to Scripture’s truth about sexual morality.
This is the hidden truth in the whole article, isn’t it? When it comes down to it, Gilson wants Christians to get credit for being loving while maintaining a belief that is downright despicable. They want LGBTQ people to know there’s something wrong with them if they act on their sexual orientation the same way straight, cis people do… but, you know, in a nice way.
By the way, Christian history is full of “Scripture’s truth” about many issues that were later proven wrong by science, psychology, and advancements in civil rights. I would bet good money that, fifty years from now, Christians will insist they were on the front lines for LGBTQ rights all along… just like they say they were always on the front lines for abolishing slavery and Jim Crow, conveniently ignoring all those Christians who used the Bible to justify their racism.
Gilson concludes her piece with a bit more specific advice on what to do if a friend comes out to you:
The first thing you should do is look your friend in the eye, thank her for her trust, and affirm that you love her and that Jesus loves her. Give her a hug; reach for her hand.
The next thing you should do is listen, and listen, and listen. When she gets to a pause, ask her to tell you more. When did she first know? What’s her experience been like? Has she felt wounded? This is not the time to run a theological litmus test or demand linguistic perfection. This is the time to bear each other’s burdens in love (Gal. 6:2); perhaps this is a burden she’s been shouldering alone, silently, for decades. Don’t make assumptions; ask how you can serve.
But therein lies the problem: asking “how you can serve” is pointless if the person bearing her soul to you just wants to be accepted and not condemned.
Christians like Gilson can’t do that; their theology requires them to condemn homosexuality, and that can’t be done without condemning the person that the orientation belongs to. If a student came to Gilson and said, “I want you to respect my relationship with my same-sex partner,” Gilson would have no choice but to refuse.
There’s nothing safe or loving about that.