Over the summer, a friend of mine took a job as a waiter in a local eatery in a major city. He kept in contact with me by email most of the summer, and in one of those emails he shared that he was being challenged—the reason being that the majority of the wait staff he worked with belonged to the GLBT community. Actually, six of the 10 wait staff considered themselves GLBT. Yet, my friend did not express the typical Christian response to his challenge. Instead, he talked about how he was able to develop relationships with his coworkers by first laying down disagreements and looking for elements of common ground. Amazingly, some of that common ground happened to be issues of faith and God. He quickly found himself in respectful conversations and building relationships of mutual trust. Not only did he learn the first principles of relationship, he also demonstrated a positive method of communication with people different than he.
Sooner or later, we all personally face the GLBT lifestyle in some vein—whether it is a relative, friend, coworker or in ourselves. Some within Christendom would assume because my friend has a more “free thinking” view of the GLBT lifestyle that the world has broken him down or that “the media has influenced him” over the years. But my friend is not a member of the GLBT community and is not an advocate of a gay lifestyle; rather, he is what I would consider a fairly conservative Christian. He has helped me see the necessity of opening my arms with a loving embrace toward people who may not have my same perspective on sexuality, especially those for whom the concern is not an abstraction but a matter that impacts their daily lives.
As Christians, we should aspire to welcome and create opportunities for dialogue with people who hold differing views on sexuality. Instead of talking so much about the people who consider themselves GLBT, we need to talk with them.
If we end up with differing beliefs about this explosive issue, it should be after we have heard others speak and respectfully talked about our disagreements. German theologian Johan Howard Yoder said, “… the truth about a given matter often emerges slowly, as a gift, as we make ourselves vulnerable through ongoing conversation with one another.”
Christians do not always present ourselves as a gift to our neighbors, especially those who differ from us in belief, lifestyle, denomination, etc. Too often I have seen well-meaning Christians, young and old, close the door on people who are different. They take opportunities to preach or teach against those who are different in safe environments like church services or small groups. Or in passing, they stare and tell inappropriate jokes about them behind their backs. Still some simply ignore “different” people as if they were less than human. Wasn’t it Jesus who took His relationships with people of different lifestyles so far as to visit the tax collector’s home, allowed the prostitute to touch His feet and shared parables where the despised of society ended up being the good guy (or should I say, Samaritan)?
Over the past couple of months, I have found myself asking a multitude of questions regarding the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and lifestyle. Whether the questions came from concerned parents, experimenting youth or activists on both sides of the issue, I have had to do a great deal of listening. My goal is not to present a biblical case for or against the GLBT lifestyle. Rather I want to share some real-life insights I have learned in discussing how to approach this sensitive topic:
Showing humility is not compromise. In respectful conversation, we seek to express our commitment to certain “truths” with clarity. But we must be open to the possibility that our understanding needs fine-tuning. My friend’s eyes were opened to relationships that could meet under common issues of faith and God—that spiritual formation could continue in the midst of trying to understand a person’s gay lifestyle. We need to ask ourselves as Christians how we can be more aware of this conversation and the balance it takes to be effective.
Patience is the hope that through ongoing respectful conversations, a greater understanding will gradually emerge as a gift. It is just like when we give a loved one a gift for Christmas. We have put thought into the gift because we know the person. We know their likes and dislikes. We have spent time with them—maybe over several years.
You and I cannot give a “special” gift to someone we just met. My friend found common ground and slowly, patiently, began making in-roads. It obviously will take time and patience, but how can we work with and give space for people struggling with their sexual identity?
Patience and humility need to be further complemented by love. Love is caring deeply for other persons, which must start by allowing them to express their views and their story. My friend still communicates on a regular basis with that wait staff from the summer. He prays for and even with some of them. He has broken down barriers and misconceptions and has been able to share his faith and differing beliefs with the GLBT community—and they are listening and dialoguing. Are we listening, allowing people different than us to share their views, wrestle with their questions and tell their stories?
It takes patience, but it’s worth it to think through the issues, engage the people around us and seek to find better ways to share the gift of Truth with our community—no matter their lifestyles, beliefs or backgrounds.
Bob Henry is senior pastor of Silverton Friends Church, in Silverton, Ore., and loves spending a day off with his three boys and his wonderful wife. He also likes to wear caps and dark-rimmed glasses, get lost in a good book, drink bold coffee and make stops to take photos of beautiful sceneryand odd roadside vistas. You can connect with Bob at SpiritualInForm.blogspot.com or VewFromThePew.blogspot.com or follow him on Twitter: @rshenry.