biases and preconceived ideas

neon question.jpg

I realized a few years back that we never come into a situation with a blank slate. No matter what room or space I walk into, I come with a host of ideas, preconceived notions and biases- good and bad. Perhaps you think that’s not true of you. Maybe you are color blind and tolerant of all differences. I know that is not the case with me. I am a product of where I grew up, how I have lived, who my friends have been, and where I spend my time. Not to mention what I read in print and listen to on podcasts! And you’ll have a hard time convincing me you are not the same.

As I’ve thought about topics pertinent to write about related to the church developing a more loving space in regard to the LGBTQ community, I keep coming back in my mind to the preconceived ideas I held about homosexuality, same sex desire, and the host of ideas and issues that accompany this. Many of my ideas, I believe, were incorrect. But it was a long path to that conclusion. A long path paved with pitfalls and missteps, bumbled words and tears.

I’ve written previously that what compels me to sit and type each week is the feeling that many people I sit with in church, and those in the larger body of Christ that sit in other sanctuaries, have a lot in common with me- we are straight and raised up in the Evangelical church. That and the nagging feeling that this is what the Lord wants me to do! Growing into a spiritual adult in the evangelical church is something that I’ve been so thankful over the years. I have come to believe sound doctrine. I’ve been held accountable to walk in a way that represents Christ well in my daily life. And I’ve worked to become biblically literate. There are a lot of people like me in churches each week. People with the intent to love well. And yet, the church is perceived in the broader culture as unloving and anti-gay. How did we get an identity of “anti” anything? We want to be “pro-love”, “pro-people”, “pro-sound doctrine”.

But it’s no surprise how we are perceived if we reckon with the fact that as individuals and bodies of believers we have biases related to the LGBTQ community that we have not uncovered and faced head on. Perhaps we’ve become “anti-gay” simply because we do not know what the “pro’s” are?

We hold some things as true that, I believe, are false. Because of these entrenched ideas, we often relate out of fear to those outside the church. Because of these entrenched ideas we fail to listen to stories thinking that we already know the end, the cause, the root. We spend too much time with people that look and think just like we do and we ideate loving well but are not sure how to get there.

You see, I think we want to love well. I want to love well. But it doesn’t happen overnight or without cost.

In a recent post, I shared about my beginning prayer to understand what it was like to be gay.

Through a friendship I have with a celibate gay friend (I share a bit about her here), many of my biases and preconceived ideas leaked out during chatting. Her surprise and challenge over many of these thoughts drove me to read, to study, to ask questions and to seek out people to talk to.

I don’t recall prior to this ever being exposed to any dedicated teaching in the area of homosexuality. As Evangelicals, we have not done a great job teaching and training in the area of sexuality (straight or gay). This is just my opinion, but I feel strongly about it. I hadn’t heard a sermon in church. I hadn’t received teaching in the college group that I attended. I never attended a women’s study devoted to understanding a Biblical sexual ethic. But somehow I had come to conclusions. It was like it came through the water in the drinking fountain.

I decided that I needed to pay the “brain bill” myself in these areas. Are these ideas and beliefs I held true? Just as the Lord was growing my heart for the gay community, He used my friend to grow me.

As I began to read, study, and research I felt a certain degree of fear (just being honest). What if I studied, read, and came to a different doctrinal conclusion than I held? The more I prayed, the more I saw fear motivating me as well as others like me from loving well. What if we (the church through the ages) had gotten it wrong? What if God did affirm consensual, loving gay relationships. Could I study in honesty, humility and with much prayer?

I also experienced a fear of being perceived as ‘soft on sin’. Fear of affirming sinful behavior in others. Fear of not knowing the answer to someone’s question. Fear of using alienating words. Should I go on :)

The Lord challenges us to fear Him and not men. And that was true for me. The prompting I felt from the Lord grew much stronger than the fear and I moved forward.

I came to see that my biases needed to be seen and dealt with because they colored how I saw life and people. I spent countless days in a small gay burb just north of downtown Chicago. The first of these days I vividly remember getting out of my car by a random Starbucks (in fact the whole location was random) and realizing I was in the minority. That most of the people on the sidewalk and then in Starbucks were gay. My biases came front and center and like any good Christian, I told my mind to not judge. But just as that thought crossed my mind, another powerful prompting came across my mind. I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit say clearly, “think everything”, “think all your thoughts uncensored so we can deal with them.” I spent hours walking, journaling, crying, and processing.I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a day that marked real change in my thoughts and attitudes

My husband and our close friend, Mike helped me process hours of doctrine and thoughts. But most other Christians I tried to share with frustrated me. I would begin to share about how I had come to question my biases and was met with great resistance. There were nuances in this discussion that had been glossed over that I wanted to sit in for a while to understand.

Early on I would just get angry. But soon I began to connect the dots that the biases I had held were widespread and almost unconscious- coming through the water fountain at church. And that a spotlight on them could do a lot of good.

So here is my spotlight. I hope to prod your thinking. I hope to make you uncomfortable. Mostly I hope to spur you on to love and good deeds. Stay tuned.

We are going to tackle biases like:

Is being gay a choice?

Can you “pray the gay away”?

Is the goal heterosexuality?

Can I be loving without being affirming?

Spend some time thinking quietly about the above questions. Begin to examine your biases. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom. Let’s start loving better.

Jacob Titus