We are six days into 2017 and the conversation that has dominated most of my social media in recent days centers around the sinfulness of LGBTQ people. For those who do not know, the presenting circumstance was a sermon preached by Kim Burrell, a Gospel singer and pastor, wherein she said that gay Christians in her church would die in 2017.
This is honestly a conversation I am tired of having, mostly because the conversation does nothing to change hearts and minds. No matter how many times you point out the inconsistency and incoherence of anti-LGBTQ theology, those who hold such views refuse to see it.
I am not writing this article to convince people about the holiness of human sexuality generally, including non-heterosexuality specifically, because that would do nothing to further the conversation. Instead, I am writing this to challenge all straight-identifying Christians who interpret non-heterosexual and non-cisgender (cisgender denotes someone who identifies with the biological sex they were assigned at birth, whereas transgender denotes someone who does not identify as such) identity as sinful to a year of listening and discernment.
As a queer/gay, cisgender identifying man, I have found that most conversations on this particular subject are dominated by a lot of haphazard scripture quoting, mostly out of context, in concert with flat out denial and delegitimizing of the experiences of non-heterosexual, non-cisgender people. Seldom do people listen to understand; they only listen to respond, build a rebuttal, and negate. Since this conversation within the Church is often dominated by voices of negation, and since many of us spend years, decades, in churches who taught us anti-LGBTQ theology, I want to challenge those voices to a period of silence and reflection.
Here are the rules: for the next 365 days you aren’t permitted to speak on the subject – for or against. Instead you adopt the following practices:
- Visit and regularly volunteer at your local LGBTQ Community Center:
This can get tricky. It is a lot like sending the fox into the chicken’s nest. Your role isn’t to change or “deliver” the people who seek services and support from these centers. Your role, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, is to “serve” and “support” them. To be clear, Jesus would absolutley do this. Even if we concede that non-heterosexuality and non-cisgender identity is sinful, Jesus suggests that we ought to serve those who offend us (Luke 6.29). If you are looking for a list of local LGBTQ Community Centers, you can find them here: LINK.
- Find a willing conversation partner who identifies as LGBTQ and build a relationship with them:
First of all, the operative word here is willing. Every LGBTQ person is not your ambassador into the experiences of LGBTQ people and to assume as much is to perpetuate heterosexism. Your task is to find someone who is willing to build the relationship with you and to engage with you as an equal conversation partner. You get bonus points if that person practices the Christian faith. Initially, get together casually. Talk about sports (if you are into that) or board games (if that is your thing). If they have family and friends which whom they are in good relationships, ask if you can meet them as well. Eventually, your relationship will deepen to the point that you can ask real questions about their experiences. Once again, this can get tricky for two reasons. First, and once again, your task is not to try to change them. Your role is to listen. Second, too often the burden of reconciliation and healing is placed on the weak and powerless, while the strong are given a pass. In my experience many people who hold anti-LGBTQ views seldom have open and honest relationships with LGBTQ identifying people. The relationship is always colored by the “love the sinner, hate the sin” nonsense the prevents real relationships from developing. Once again, your local LGBTQ Community Center might be a good place for you to start if you are struggling to find a willing conversation partner.
- Listen to people who work/volunteer with suicide prevention hotlines:
Anti-LGBTQ theologies have real life consequences. This is something many people who hold these views are slow to accept. As Christians, our words and actions matter. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “negative attitudes toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LBG) people put these youth at increased risk for experiences with violence, compared with other students. Violence can include behaviors such as bullying, teasing, harassment, physical assault, and suicide-related behaviors.” LGBTQ youth are twice as likely as their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide. The brave people who staff and volunteer suicide prevention hotlines are often the only people standing between a person and death. If you are looking for more information on this, you can start here: LINK.
- Read one book per month written by LGBTQ-identifying people and/or allies on the subject of sexuality, gender identity, and spirituality:
In my anecdotal experience, many Christians who hold anti-LGBTQ views interpret incredibly thin slivers of the Bible as a complete and authoritative guide on the subject of human sexuality. What they fail to realize and accept is that the world of the Bible was very different from our own. The Bible assumed the subordination and objectification of woman and the existence of human slavery (which also included rape). This part of the challenge asks you to listen to other authoritative voices who have a different experience and perspective. Here is a good list to begin with (you probably won’t find these at Lifeway):
- The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart by Peter Gomes.
- Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective by Kelly Brown Douglas
- Unclobber: Rethinking our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality by Colby Martin
- Defrocked: How a Father’s Act of Love Shook the United Methodist Church by Frank Schaefer and Sherri Emmons*
- God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines
- Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee
- Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America by Jeff Chu
- Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion by Yvette Flunder*
- Plato or Paul?: The Origins of Western Homophobia by Theodore W. Jennings, Jr.
- Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Refraiming the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships by James Brownson*
- Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
- Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation by Dale B. Martin*
Queer Grace has curated a wonderful list of other books and resources including podcasts and vidoes. You can find them here: LINK.
(*) denotes books I have not real yet, but come highly recommended. If you have other suggestions for me to add to this list, please include them in the comments and we’ll curate a list together.
Resources recommended by readers:
- In the Eye of the Storm by Gene Robinson
- Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
- Pray daily for more compassion for people you might not understand, specifically naming people in your life who you know identify as LGBTQ:
Your prayer is not for God to change them. Your prayer is for God to work on your heart. If you know them personally, and know some of the issues (related to their sexuality or not) that are of great concern to them (job, health, money, etc.), pray for those things too. If you are really brave, try praying with your feet and search for ways to be an instrument of God in their life, once again, not to change them, but to mirror the serving love of Christ for them. If they are sick, volunteer to cook some meals or run some errands for them. If they are struggling with stress or anxiety, ask how you might be supportive. Praying with and for people, particularly people with whom we disagree, is a great way to build compassion.
These five suggestions are by no means a panacea. They are just a few suggestions to build greater understanding and awareness. If you hold the view that non-heterosexuality and non-cisgender identity are sinful, I commend these suggestions to you. If nothing else, you will end your season of listening and discernment with insider knowledge that is certain to make you a better witness to “save” and “deliver” LGBTQ people. My guess is that the opposite is likely to happen. You just might grow in compassion and grace for people who have suffered horribly in many of our churches. But who knows, you just might prove me wrong.
Note: due to the unfortunate divisiveness of this subject matter, I will be curating comments closely. The only comments that I will approve are suggestions that we can add to this list or other books/resources you might recommend. As such, if you have suggestions or books/resources you want to recommend, include them in the comments. Other comments will not be approved.