Sitting in church amongst fellow believers, who are mostly straight in sexual orientation, I have often felt like I needed to be incognito regarding my growing love for the LGBTQ+ community. So many questions to answer, so many puzzled looks. I wrote previously about how the Lord, over the course of one year, grew my heart and my head knowledge of “all things gay” (as a former pastor referred to it). And that in in general made me feel like an odd duck amongst my church community and many of my friends. But then, life settled into a routine, and I wondered what the Lord would do with all that I had learned and all the ways I had been changed.
As I spent time weekly at a local gay bar, I built relationships. Genuine relationships. And the thought was always rolling around in my mind, “what does it look like to love well without an agenda?” My friend Mike (the single guy I wrote about here), was always challenging my “agenda driven” tendencies. I am purposeful and intentional by nature, and this is generally a great trait. But sometimes, my purposefulness can be hurtful. I am still reaping painful side effects from unintentionally conveying to a close friend that she was a project. That she needed to be helped. Was that what I intended to convey? Nope. But often, we don’t get a chance to explain our actions. Assumptions are made, and we are judged.
And that has made us afraid to act. I know it’s sometimes made me afraid to act. Regardless of the fact that we all need to be helped along, people are to be loved, not to be seen as projects. And yet, somehow, I conveyed “project” when I so much wanted to convey love.
In evangelical circles, I feel like this idea (people are projects) can be fed by the notion that I am building relationships in order to get opportunities to share the gospel and introduce people to a relationship with Christ. There’s a lot of truth to that. People desperately need Jesus. I cannot forget that.
But ultimately that is the job of the Holy Spirit. The Christian group I attended in college taught me to “share the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit and leave the results to God.” If I have a relationship with someone where my only “plan” is to quickly share the gospel, that person is my gospel project—not a real friend.
But what happens when my relationship with a person doesn’t lead to sharing the gospel?
What if my friend at the gay bar never wants to hear about how Jesus died for her so she could have a relationship with Him? Can I continue to love and walk alongside her if she shows no spiritual interest? Is my time better spent elsewhere? How do I assess how to invest the limited time I have?
When I spend time talking to a gay friend about healthy relating styles and general emotional health within his gay marriage, but we never get to the gospel, have I failed?
How do I walk alongside the friend who responds to the gospel when I share it, but years later decides that God is pleased with him pursuing a gay marriage? Can I walk alongside him? What does it look like?
To me, the crux of these questions is the idea that loving my friend at the gay bar will convey to him/her that I affirm gay relationships and gay marriage. Stink! What do I do? I am clearly not affirming in my theology, but do I need to always lead with that?
I’d like us to consider these two ideas:
Can I continue to invest in relationships that seem to go nowhere spiritually?
Can I love someone and not affirm their choices?
Let’s start with the second question first (loving and affirming), because it teases itself into a couple nuanced ideas. Popular in Christian circles in the phrase “love the sinner and hate the sin.” This phrase is hated in the LGBTQ+ community. And while I understand this is often well-meaning, its meaning is largely lost and ambiguous to people who do not have the indwelling Holy Spirit. And it’s extremely offensive.
So I try to never say that. But there is tension in the idea that if I act in loving ways towards someone and do not immediately state my thoughts about sexuality, I will lead them to believe I condone things I don’t.
Can I risk that perception?
Can I ask my gay friend about his relationship and partner? Can I ask about his upcoming marriage?
First, I think that we need to know or discern whether or not a person is a believer. Do they have the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide them? If so, I am going to have a different discussion with that person.
I cannot hold my unbelieving friend at the LGBTQ resource room to the same standard I would hold a brother or sister in Christ. The Holy Spirit is huge in us, leading/changing/counseling/prompting, and I need to remember that.
People make choices all around me everyday that I do not agree with. I play Uno at lunch with some teens weekly. They are sophomore guys, and they act like they are sophomore guys. None of them is a believer. And though I’ve explained to them in the past that I love Jesus, they probably don’t really have a paradigm for me. I rarely correct their foul language. I sometimes comment on their relationships. I ask about their parents and their social activities. I challenge their thoughts about grades and attending class. :)
I always tell them that they are delightful to me and that I love them.
I am praying that I get an opportunity to share the gospel with them, but that invitation hasn’t been given yet (though I was invited to play Super Smash Brothers, and they brought me my own controller!). They know that I particularly look out for the gay and trans students at school. They probably do not understand why. They do not know my theology on sexuality.
But one day, I believe, when they have a question about the relationship that they are in, they will know that I love them, that I’ve played hours of Uno to demonstrate that they are valuable to me, and we will get to talk.
I have another young friend who is a believer. I have known her for years. Recently, she spent a night getting drunk and partying and then skipped attending church with me. When she brought up her weekend, I asked if she really wanted to hear my thoughts. She said she did. And I gave them freely and passionately. I want to see her walk faithfully with Jesus. And I won’t pretend that she is right now. Loving her means being honest about her choices.
I do believe I and you can love people without agreeing with their choices. And that loving looks different depending on whether or not person is a believer or not. And even within the believer category I want to distinguish someone’s sexual ethic- do they hold to a conservative sexual ethic? I’ve written previously that we as believers do not have a great paradigm for Christians experiencing attraction to the same gender but holding to a conservative sexual ethic (Side-B). My questions, conversation and relationship ideals change with Christians depending on their sexual doctrine- but that’s it’s whole own post!
I also believe I do not have to always lead with my thoughts about their choices. Sometimes I do need to lead with this, but I ask the Holy Spirit to prompt me to know the difference.
The first question I posed (investing in relationships where there may not be spiritual interest), is a little more individualistic. When I lived in Ohio, I had a friend who, through her various connections, had many relationships with unbelievers. Way more than I had. In the past 25 years, I’ve watched her lead her friends to a relationship with Christ. I’ve also watched her lead her friends’ kids to Jesus. But she’s had many relationships that went nowhere spiritually. I have to trust her to know where she is called to invest her time.
For me, I realize more everyday that I have a limited amount of time to spend daily and lifelong. Every minute of my day is a choice for me. Where do I spend my time, and who do I spend it with? I love and have a huge passion for discipleship and spiritual formation. But I’m also fairly gifted in hanging out with teens. So who gets my time?
This used to be stressful for me! But now, I have simply reconciled it with the thought that Jesus gets all of my time. He is the boss of my time and the one to whom I am accountable.
And I believe He likes to play Uno at lunch.
I believe He enjoys my completely random job of helping at the pole vault during the spring track season. He also loves the morning Bible study I do with teens from our church.
And I believe He tremendously values the celibate gay Christians that come for dinner twice a month and that have become friends to my husband and I.
Daily, I submit my schedule to Him. Weekly, as I plan, I ask Him to guide my choices. Seasonally, I ask if there are different things that should get my time. My time is important and valuable to the Father, as He has chosen me to be in this time and space with the people around me. I am accountable.
The Spirit-filled life is like an adventure. Jesus, in the gospels, took time with all sorts of people that probably didn’t impress those around them with their “spirituality” or spiritual interest. But He moved at the will of the Father. And so should we.
As evangelicals, we often live in fear of being called “affirming”. And that needs to stop.
We should know our doctrine and be able to articulate it well and invitingly. But we need to stop fearing the opinions of those around us and start loving people.
It appears to me on many days that the church is more concerned with being known as non-affirming than being loving. Shame on us.
People said to Jesus: “You love prostitutes! You love sinners! What the heck are you doing?”
When is the last time you struck someone speechless by who you reached out to in love? I want to be very concerned with loving well, loving often, loving lavishly, even recklessly at times.
What about you? Can we cast off the fear, do some educating in our doctrine, and then head out to love extravagantly?