“Step one is to realize that you already have church members who experience same-sex attraction.”
Imagine you attended a church where your life struggle was never mentioned as an area to receive care, and, if it was mentioned, your struggle was the adversarial portion of a culture war commentary. How would your week-to-week experience of church be different? This is the experience of many people in our churches.
If you want your church to be a safe place for those with same-sex attraction (SSA), then step one is to realize that you already have church members who experience it. Just like those who are dealing with any other struggle, we should thank God for bringing them to our churches, and ask God to help us serve them well.
This is an important starting point because it ensures we are not thinking about “those people” who are “out there.” This first assumption moves the rest of this post from a hypothetical to a necessity; it is no longer something that “would be nice if we could get to it” but becomes a pressing need because we realize we already have friends, classmates or colleagues who don’t feel comfortable talking to us (evidenced by the fact that they haven’t).
Think about it this way: What does it communicate when, by our silence, we assume no one in our church experiences SSA? The clear (although generally unintended) message is: you don’t belong here and we don’t have anything for you.
Loneliness is already one of the most difficult experiences for individuals who struggle with SSA. When the church’s silence seemingly confirms the belief that their struggle has to be a secret, we only magnify this loneliness.
So, what would change if we assumed some of our members or guests experienced SSA? I believe one of the first things that would change is that our motivation to learn about homosexuality would change from polemical and political to pastoral and personal. We would want to be able to get to know a person more effectively rather than make a point more persuasively.
That is why I wrote Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends. I want it to be a resource for churches—more specifically, individual Christians—who realize being an ambassador of Christ to every tribe, language, people and nation (Rev. 5:9) is not just a mandate to proclaim the gospel to every geo-ethnic group on the planet, but to be ready to embody the gospel well to the various life experiences of every person we meet (1 Pet. 3:15).
Undoubtedly, this raises many questions:
Can an evangelical Christian develop these friendships without compromising the teaching of Scripture?
How can I have a good conversation that doesn’t devolve into something that feels like a debate?
What if I accidentally say something offensive?
How do I start a friendship if someone has not already entrusted me with information regarding their struggle with SSA?
Can someone experience SSA and be a Christian?
Is there a difference between same sex attraction and embracing a gay identity?
How do we navigate some of the difficult conversations that will undoubtedly arise?
In the remainder of this post, I want to offer a few suggestions for pastors and church members who want their churches to be safe places to discuss a struggle with SSA.
1. Avoid crude humor about homosexuality.
In general, Christians should abstain from humor on any topic that is rooted in shaming or mocking others. This falls short of God’s command, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
2. Avoid utilizing stereotypes about the gay community.
Utilizing stereotypes demonstrates laziness in our professed willingness to get to know people for who they really are. In the eyes of someone who experiences SSA, such laziness is very likely to disqualify you as a safe person to talk to.
3. In our sermons and lessons, we should include SSA in the list of things someone might be struggling with
Just like lust, pride, loneliness, anger or any other common sin. Just as importantly, our tone of voice when speaking of SSA should not communicate disgust, condescension or perplexity.
4. Be careful how you characterize political positions.
How you present the position you are against is at least as important as how you present the position you are for. To be trustworthy, you must represent fairly those you disagree with, neither vilifying them nor suggesting they are unworthy of compassion and understanding.