One of my Christmas presents was a book from my Amazon Wishlist, Love is an Orientation by Andrew Marin. Marin’s passion and ministry is building bridges between the Church and the gay community, and reading this book has opened my eyes in a big time kind of way. One of those ways is to understand the common perception of Christians by the gay community. They don’t generally like us….because they believe we hate them. Because a lot of us do hate them. Because they have been hurt by the Church and by Christians over and over again. We don’t know how to communicate with them, and for all our talk about “hating the sin and loving the sinner,” we don’t know HOW to love them in a way that is measurable and unconditional…the way Jesus loves them. We don’t know what it’s like to be them (and we’re too afraid to find out), so we have no idea how to relate to them in a way that they are able to experience love.
Tyra Banks had a show last week titled “Is Gay the new black?,” and of course I totally tuned-in because I love it when Tyra gets all deep and “let’s change the world!” on social issues. The clip below is from the last part of the show (you can probably find the whole show on YouTube) where I believe they were discussing gay marriage, and there is a panel of people who are for it and a panel who are against it. The audience is divided into gay and straight sections. The whole thing is good, but pay attention just before the six-minute mark, that’s where things started getting interesting. The woman in the blue (against gay marriage) starts talking about how the Bible is her authority for her beliefs on homosexuality, and being gay is a miserable, diseased way to live. Of course this is pretty offensive to the gay crowd, and one guy in the audience stands-up to talk.
He starts telling her about his experience of being brutalized by the world in general and his dad in particular for being gay. His dad literally beat him when he found-out he was gay, and he used the Bible as his justification. This guy was so hurt, so broken, and he could barely finish what he was saying because he was crying. He spoke of how he was hospitalized on his birthday (for being beat-up or for something else, I’m not sure) and he was all alone, no friends or family, because they used the Bible as an excuse to hate him. He told the Christian woman, “How dare you hate me like that! You hate me! You hate me, and that is not a Christian!,” through his tears. So what was the Christians’ response? Something really defensive and uncompassionate about how he wasn’t mentally or emotionally stable. Before she could get very far, Tyra interrupted her and talked about how it’s one thing to differ in opinions, but it’s another thing to not recognize and empathize with someone’s pain. The Christians showed no empathy or even acknowledgement of the gay man’s great pain caused by the Church.
The point is not that this is definitely a talk show where people have strong opinions and don’t usually use their heads or their hearts to voice them. The point is that these Christians could have been any of us and their reactions were not so unlike many reactions to the gay community that I’ve personally heard from fellow believers. The point is that these are very common reactions to people who are gay, this is just a small microcosm of the reality of the Church and its relation to the gay community.
The point is not that, of course, the dad should have never used the Bible as an excuse to beat his son because that’s not a correct understanding of what the Bible teaches. The point is that that young gay man will forever relate the pain and shame of his parent hurting him to the Bible and Christians and probably God.
The point is not his anger and accusations that the Christian woman hates him when, in actuality, she probably doesn’t. The point is that her words and demeanor gave no sign of empathy and love and therefore fell in line with what the young man had always experienced from Christians. She gave him no reason to believe otherwise, no reason to think that maybe she was different, maybe Jesus was different.
The point is not that we talk amongst ourselves about “hating the sin and loving the sinner” (a phrase despised by gays) and pat ourselves on the back for not being repulsed or openly hostile. The point is that in general, the gay community feels no love from the Church. They feel hate, judgement, and hypocrisy. We may think we’re loving them, but they’re not feeling very loved. And when that’s the case, that means it’s our job to change something.
But there is an undercurrent of preexisting negative perceptions of Christianity’s traditional belief system that utterly repulses gays and lesbians. And in turn Christians then spotlight their sexual behaviors as a defense mechanism, rather than looking at their whole person. This impasse will never be breached unless Christians are the first ones to humble themselves.
That starts with acknowledging the GLBT community’s perceptions of evangelicalism. Believers are convinced that they know what gays and lesbians think, but actually, GLBT people’s real thoughts and fears are totally different. This is exactly where the systemic disconnect begins….
Even if Christians don’t agree with the GLBT community or what they might stand for, believers in Christ are supposed to know how to find real empathy for those who are going through things we can never understand. When we get our first glimpse of that genuine empathy, let it soak in until it becomes a real expression of our appreciation of what GLBT people face twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
The GLBT community shouldn’t have to demand that from Christians. We should demand it of ourselves a faithful stewards of the responsibility that they have given us by letting a straight, conservative Christian into their world. Let us then learn and listen and validate the reality of their stories as to what did actually happen in their life. Validation is different from affirmation, and it is an essential starting point to take gay people at their word. The more skeptical we are, the more we doubt the validity of a gay’s or lesbian’s life, the more shallow and ineffective our relationships become.
Love is an Orientation, page 31, 34-35
So when I saw the pain on that young man’s face and in his eyes, it really hurt me that that’s what the Church has done to him. That is what they think of us. I have a responsibility in that because though I haven’t intentionally been rude or hostile to a gay or lesbian, what have I done to give them a different picture of the Church and Jesus? What have I done to love them in a measurable way that they are able to receive? What have I done to defend them against those who shame and ridicule them?
Christians must be the first to apologize, and admit that we have wronged people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. A bridge cannot be built from just one side of a divide, but the traditional paradigm asks the GLBT community to somehow find their way to the Christian side of the divide before any meaningful contact is made. Until we come to the realization that we don’t understand the GLBT community, nothing substantial can occur. My experience has proven that right from the gate Christians can’t relate. Unless you have been sexually attracted to someone of the same sex you can never fully grasp, as a heterosexual Christian, what that means. So pretend like you know, because that is the quickest way to lose credibility in a GLBT person’s mind. pg.33