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I’ve been encouraged NOT to publish this article.  “You’re going to get slammed,” a friend warned, knowing well that this topic can turn pacifists into thugs.  But I have to speak up.  I have friends, former students and relatives who are homosexual.  Each one of them is beautiful, valuable and honorable.  I love them.  I want them to know that I do—in all my magnificent cluelessness!  I don’t ever want them to think that their sexual identity and choices make them somehow less worthy of my loyalty than my heterosexual friends. So…thanks for the words of warning, but I need to voice these thoughts.  And if my inbox fills with hate mail again (it has before—it hurts when it does), I’ll deal with it.
Three preemptive explanations for the sake of clarity:

  • When referencing The Church, I am referring to “traditional” evangelical churches, particularly those that have expressed hatred toward the homosexual community.  I know there are exceptions.
  • This article is written from the perspective of this Jesus-follower.  I mention “sin” in the context of the Christian faith, as a conservative interpretation of the Bible defines it.  If you do not believe in the Bible’s authority, I understand that “sin” will sound offensive to you.  That is not my intention.  I am a sinner.  I live in (and can thrive in spite of) that reality.
  • I acknowledge that there are multiple theological stances regarding homosexuality and faith.  This is not a personal manifesto on the topic.  It is an essay about our failure to love.

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It was an honest mistake.  I’d been trying to reach a friend for a few days to ask him if he’d finished writing the article he’d promised about being gay as an MK (missionaries’ kid).  As my own writing deadline was coming closer, I wrote him one last text, not realizing that the number I’d been using all along belonged to someone else.

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Clearly, that “someone else” was not in the mood for a discussion on homosexuality.  His response, when it came, made my skin crawl.  “Let me start by saying I am a homophobe, you damn…”  And it went on from there, not so much a collection of “slurs” as a venomous, scorching litany of hate, much of it R-rated.  As he assumed I was gay, the diatribe was aimed squarely at me, and his contemptuous, cruel words seemed to anchor in my skin like filthy fishhooks.

Shaking and furious, I jabbed at my phone’s screen, composing a vitriolic response of my own.  It was a pathetic, incensed attempt at rebuking him, laced with shame-on-yous and how-could-yous.  I was just about to add a well-aimed, self-satisfying barb about wishing he knew God so he could learn to love others, when I was pulled up short.  Oh, I so badly wanted to launch my arrows from the lofty perch of a loving Christianity, but names like Westboro Church and Pat Robertson (who most recently blamed the Boston Marathon bombing on “gays and liberals”) made the high ground feel precarious.  When it comes to treating everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, with equal respect and honor, much of what we call The Church doesn’t have a leg (or perch) to stand on.

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As family members have come out and friends have revealed themselves to me, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of some aspects of homosexuality and lost any hope of ever comprehending others.  But I’m learning.  I’m committed to learning.  May I introduce you to LG?  I love him.  I love his passion for Christ, his tireless desire to know more, his outrageous fidelity in friendship, his quirky sense of humor and his devotion to Truth.  This is part of his story.  (The remainder will be posted at the end of this article.)

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“Hi. I am a Christian. I was saved before the age of 10. I am an MK. My parents are missionaries. Because of that, I grew up in a country I did not call my own. I went to a Christian high school and a Christian college. I’ve been in church for the entirety of my life.  [At 29], I’m currently a leader at my church. I’m also attracted to the same sex. I guess that means you could call me a homosexual.
Even though I don’t act on my homosexual desires, I wonder how it makes you feel. Does it make you uncomfortable that I have the desires? Is it unsettling if I tell you that I’ve acted on them before? What if I told you that I’m also attracted to the opposite sex?  Would that make you more or less comfortable with me? I really, truly want you to consider it.”

But “considering” anything related to homosexuality isn’t something we do well.  I think it sometimes feels too vulnerable—like letting our minds “go there” might sway our thinking.  We’re afraid that trying to understand the person might soften our stance or confuse our logic.  As Christians, I think we much prefer the comfort of a stark line drawn in the sand from which we can more vehemently condemn.  “This is what I believe,” we proclaim, “and what you’re doing is wrong, wrong, WRONG!”  But as we strut up to that line and open our mouths, we too often surrender our credibility, because we revel like gluttons in the indulgent notion that GOD has called us to accuse, sentence and destroy.  We don’t consider the consequences of even private conversations in which we mindlessly speak hateful, shaming words.

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“My parents are missionaries. I’m pretty sure that being a “sparkling example of a Christian family” is written somewhere in the signed paperwork. But [growing up], I had seen my parents show disgust for homosexual people behind closed doors. I wasn’t taught the blatancy of hate, though. I was taught the subtlety of discrimination and division: two deadly forces I learned to turn inward as time went on.
By proxy, I saw how the distaste of my parents for homosexuals could very easily carry over to me, if I ever chose to share my secret with them. Because of what I had seen and heard, I never felt safe enough to open up to them. I felt trapped and hated in my own home and in my own family. Nobody in the family had to blatantly point the finger at me. They were doing it by pointing the finger at others. I heard cliché phrases parroted to me, like “hate the sin; love the sinner” or “love the person; hate the sin.”  That’s all well and good, but the demeanor and actions I witnessed were teaching me something completely different.”

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Before bringing “sin” into the conversation, I need to clarify a couple personal convictions (you’re entitled to yours too) related to homosexuality, as I’m basing the following statements on them.  I don’t believe that homosexuality is something that can be turned on and off.  And I do not believe that it is sin when in its latent or passive form.  Even when acted upon, it is still “just” sin.  “Just” in the sense that we all sin compulsively and daily, and “just” in the sense that a process has already been put in place to forgive and redeem it.  I think that the disgust so many heterosexuals feel for the act of homosexual intercourse is in part what causes us to so shrilly hate this particular sin…and unwittingly or not, the sinner too.  But here’s the truth:  I am a sinner.  LG is a sinner.  And so are you.

I agree with LG.  One of the most dangerous sayings in Christianity today is “love the sinner, hate the sin.”  It’s dangerous for two reasons: because it sets us up as judges and because it entitles us to hate.  In our jubilation to do the latter, we trash the former.  We destroy the sinner and counter sin with more sin.  We are proud, merciless, angry, abusive and cruel.  But no one holds up Westboro’esque banners to condemn us for those “common” sins.

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My response to the saying is simple and straightforward:
Love the sinner and let God hate the sin.  He’s much better at it than we are.
Loving is just that.  Loving.  It is honoring the person, acknowledging that they are infinitely valuable in God’s eyes and showing it to them through words and deed.  If you’re a believer, I urge you to leave it there.  Let God be the One who loves while rebuking, judging and forgiving.  He’s so much better equipped than we are to lavish grace and mercy while convicting and redeeming.  When we attempt to do His job, we weaken His name.  We misrepresent Him and embarrass Him, just as the Westboro buffoons misrepresent and embarrass me as a Christian.

Does God chastise us for what we do wrong?  Yes.  Is that part of His love for us?  Of course, it is.  But He is God.  He knows when to speak and how to speak.  More often than not, WE DON’T.

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“It is overwhelmingly heartbreaking to me when I think back on the negative responses I received from pastors, elders, and counselors under the Christian umbrella. I have been blatantly told that I was going to hell, that I wasn’t a real Christian, and that I didn’t truly believe when I asked for salvation. The sad thing is that I had been so negatively influenced about myself that I feared all those things were true.

Through it all, I’ve tried to pray homosexuality away, I’ve tried to bargain it away, I’ve tried to beg it away, I’ve tried to cry it away, I’ve tried to sulk it away, I’ve tried to serve it away, I’ve even tried to get rid of it by walking away from church. None of it changed any of my desires. They’re still there. As much as I don’t want them, they exist. And, I still believe there’s a God who loved me enough to send His son to die for me. I believe He loved me then and continues to love and accept me now.”

“Love one another as I have loved you” does not carry a convenient caveat.  Yet “love one another unless his/her lifestyle is repulsive to you” seems to be the man-made verse we live by.  God loves us in spite of the insult we are to His very nature.  We are an affront to His Holiness, yet He loves us.  But from the insignificant and imaginary moral high ground of our flawed humanness, we give ourselves license to indict and dismiss an entire community.  We have made “…as I have loved you” irrelevant and have dishonored God with our pathetic and abusive imitation of His loving rebuke.
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Don’t get me wrong.  Loving doesn’t necessarily mean endorsing.  It doesn’t mean condoning.  But it does mean obeying the John 13:34 commandment in a life-transforming way.  And if you develop a relationship that is trusting enough that your gay or lesbian friend asks you what you think about homosexuality, that’s the time to carefully and graciously offer your opinion—not out of an impulse to condemn, but out of a desire to express.

Remember this: God is big enough to make those moments happen without us having to force them.  And He is big enough to follow through.  So often, we want to manage the outcome—find a measurable proof of instant success (whatever “success” is!).  But how our gay friends respond to our words is up to them and the Holy Spirit, with His prompting and in His time.  We’re too quick to try to assume His role and attempt to convict…and in that process, we usually do more to drive a wedge between God and our LGBT friends than to open an honest and redemptive conversation.

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So…  Love the sinner, hate the sin?  It’s all good and well—in theory.  But until we master God’s ability to love extravagantly while judging purely, we’d do better to just focus on loving the sinner—friend, family or stranger.  It might not feel as inspiring as a good old, self-righteous rant.  It may even feel a little too vulnerable, too uncontrolling for our liking.  But God doesn’t need us to usurp his Judgment Seat.  And if, in doing so, we drive the gays and lesbians in our lives farther from Him, we commit a sin that feels almost unpardonable.

God loves them.  He yearns for them.  He died FOR THEM just as He did for us.  May our hearts for the beautiful, precious gays and lesbians in our lives be driven by that truth.

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If you’d like to join this conversation about how Christians can better reflect God to the gay and lesbian people in our lives and you’re willing to do so in a thoughtful way, I’d be honored to hear from you in the comment section below.  And don’t forget to share, using the social media links at the bottom of this page.  Please also read the entirety of LG’s story here: LG’s JourneyHe gives wise counsel to parents whose children are gay and to anyone who is trying to understand his/her own homosexuality.
If you’re thinking of leaving incensed comments about my theology and LG’s conclusions, please don’t.  Let me remind you of two things:

  • This article is not about the nature or theology of homosexuality.  It’s about the lost art of loving others.
  • I will delete any comments and block any reader who uses vulgar or hateful speech in the comments he/she posts.  That’s it.  That’s all.

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Comments

Comments(13)

    • Dianne Couts

    • 9 years ago

    Thank you for tackling this difficult subject. I too am an MK. One of my three siblings is gay. When he came out to our parents over a decade ago – before blogs like yours and numerous books and essays on the topic – they did not preach and they continued to love him. This example means more to us as a family than all their years of “overseas missionary service.”

    • MLPS

    • 9 years ago

    I feel moved to respond to this article for three reasons–I am a Christian Musician and have many artistic friends who are homosexual, yet are beautiful people; I have lived quite a long time and have learned the wisdom and tolerance that come with age; I, myself, have been the victim of irrational hatred, and similarly to homosexuals, know the hopelessness of facing an insurmountable wall of condemnation and disdain. I agree fervently with this article, that it is only God who has the right to judge or condemn and the platitude of ‘loving the sinner and hating the sin’ is very often merely a platform on which to build unchristlike attitudes. There is no hierarchy of sin in the eyes of God and in judging LGBT individuals with our finite minds, we end up committing the personal sin of equating ourselves with God, which stance we are not sanctioned to take. The strength of this blog lies in its stress that the love of God, from Him or expressed through His declared followers, covers all and every sin. “Judge not, that you are not judged.” My commendation on daring to address a difficult subject with compassion and understanding.

    • shary

    • 9 years ago

    Thank you Michele for a wonderful article. So often I find I want to play God when it comes to another person’s “sin” that is something I think is sin. I found great freedom when I realized the only sin I need to hate is my own. When I hate my own sin and go to God I never find condemnation but grace and mercy. Even in that I have realize I can not hate myself. As humans we can not separate sin and hate. So I try to leave the sin in others out of the picture in my relationship to them. The freedom to just love others removes such a weight of responsibility.
    Hope you don’t get a lot of hate mail. Am posting this on FB.

    • ellzee mason

    • 9 years ago

    I also have friends and relatives who are homosexual, and I definitely love them. (And they don’t seem to have a problem with me saying I love them but totally disagree with their lifestyle.) But here is my question about how we approach this issue at large:
    Does this love include correcting the sinner? Because if we continue to allow them to live contrary to God’s laws then we are doing a poor job of loving them. But in today’s society that correction is labeled hate so what then shall we do?

    1. Hi, Ellzee. You’re right…it’s a really hard thing to balance loving our homosexual friends with wanting to encourage them to get right with God. I think the principle in the article holds true even in this situation. If we can love them so well that they know we’re a safe person to talk to, that might in time open conversations in which we can slowly and thoughtfully express what our faith tells us about homosexuality. The misstep Christians too often make is in feeling that it’s our responsibility to barge into their lives, preach at them about how wrong them are, and set ourselves up as judge and jury in an almost arrogant way. That severs the very relationships that could otherwise lead to honest and meaningful conversation.
      I think the approach I would take is love (love, love and love some more) and trust God to create opportunities to speak of a Biblical view of homosexuality IN HIS TIMING and in the context of a relationship that is already trusting and secure. We can’t discount the Holy Spirit’s powerful role in inspiring our homosexual friends to broach the topic either! God wants to use US to reveal Himself to others, but we tend to use HIS name to hammer through our own agendas in our own way. I don’t think we go wrong when we exercise intentionality in our loving and patience before speaking. But that can feel uncomfortable if we approach our friends/relatives as projects that needs changing.

    • Cactus

    • 9 years ago

    I’m so glad you brought this subject up. So many non-heterosexuals have been hurt in churches, and also leaving churches because of getting tired of hiding or being treated in an unloving way.
    I know you didn’t go into theology, Michele, and I won’t either, but realize that I come from a different point of view than most of the readers of this blog. I would hope that many gay people would go and find an accepting church, one that receives them when they have a commited same-sex relationship. I honestly don’t see any other answer to this problem, not in our lifetime anyway, in many (most) of the present churches.

    • rgarza

    • 9 years ago

    Thanks for your message of love.. I posted quote from your article to my facebook and got over 100 comments..lol it was awful..:-)

    1. Rgarza, you should have also posted the excerpt that tells people that only polite and thoughtful responses are allowed! 😉 (I’m assuming the 100 comments were not all supportive…)

    • ellzee mason

    • 9 years ago

    Thanks Michele. You are obviously a very deep thinking person. I appreciate your reply.
    I agree wholeheartedly as well.
    I posted the quote “Love the sinner, let God hate the sin” and it started a very interesting discussion about how to love others and whether we’ve been doing a very good job at that in the American church. And what is our responsibility in the political arena, even? (Do we even belong in the political, law-making debate about this?)
    Self-examination is never a comfortable process, but I think we all need to do it a little more! 🙂

  1. I appreciate your heart in writing Because I Love My Homosexual Friends. And, I thoroughly agree with your attitude towards the Westboro group. Plus, you gave me a different and helpful perspective on the phrase, “hate the sin but love the sinner.” However, its important to fully understand what was included in Jesus saying, “Love one another as I have loved you.” In a blog post entitled Opposing Views of “Like-Minded” People on “Fair Marriage” – http://ebenezerposts.com/2012/08/19/opposing-views-of-like-minded-people-on-fair-marriage/, I addressed the story where a woman “caught in the very act” was brought before Jesus. His loving her ended with Him telling her He didn’t condemn her but He told to “go and send no more.” So, while you have a point about “hate the sin but love the sinner”, maybe the better approach is “love each other without accepting their sin”.

  2. Thanks so much for joining the conversation, Gary. I love the story of the woman being brought to Jesus. I think it’s important to note that it’s JESUS who does the speaking to her and encourages her to “sin no more.” As I stated in the article, He is SO much better at doing that than we are. To quote two sentences from above, “Loving doesn’t necessarily mean endorsing” and “Until we master God’s ability to love extravagantly while judging purely, we’d do better to just focus on loving the sinner.” For most even well-intentioned Christians, the safest thing is to focus on loving. Some are good at speaking truth wisely, but we too often try to force our message on people in a way that actually pushes them farther from realization, reconciliation and redemption. When in doubt, we’d be wise to “love people toward God” and let Him do the convicting. That’s why I put the emphasis on creating a loving and trusting relationship first. Even if we’re good at imparting truth, if we’re going to do so effectively and convincingly, any talk of sin and redemption will need to come OUT OF a trusting relationship…and in God’s timing, allowing Him to direct the process. I think we agree more than we disagree! I’ve just seen too many Christians “bludgeoning” the homosexual people in their lives with no intention of loving them at all.

  3. Because I Love My Homosexual Friends is now cross-posted on Here I Raise My Ebenezer – http://ebenezerposts.com/2013/08/28/because-i-love-my-homosexual-friends/
    Gary Wiram, Editor of Here I Raise My Ebenezer, says:
    The aim of Here I Raise My Ebenezer is to serve as a platform for presenting views that support America’s founding ideals, rooted in Judeo-Christian values, relative to issues impacting our community today. I see this article as a great fit for that, in terms of working towards drawing us all closer together, rather than continuing to beat up on each other.

  4. Allowing God to do the judging while you focus on the loving is a nice sentiment, but you fall short on both counts.
    I think you would agree with me that a very beautiful aspect of the human experience is our ability to fall in love with someone, share life’s struggles with that person, and exist in a community that finds joy in those two people’s love and supports their growth.
    I think it is a very fundamental and important part of the human experience that most aspire for – I’d venture a guess that tends to be up there in most people’s top three things that make them happy whenever they manage to find it.
    I do not think that LGBT individuals can enjoy this kind of relationship within most contemporary christian communities, and from the sound of it you would probably shy away from supporting the growth and love that might blossom in LG’s life with the same enthusiasm, joy and yes, love, that a straight couple in your community would receive from you.
    I am making this assumption based on your need to not endorse and not condone. It sounds like an impossible balancing act to withhold endorsement and support someone.
    So yes, you are not judging them in a hellfire and brimstone sense, but you are definitely judging someone else’s very prominent, very consequential and very innate attribute in a way that has real and negative consequences for that person’s wellbeing. You are doing your part to foster a culture that limits their ability to pursue something that eventually becomes a big part of most people’s sense of happiness in life.
    At the very least, that’s not very equitable.
    I’d argue that that’s not love.

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