Last Saturday afternoon, I hosted a conversation about homosexuality with the Navigators’ 20s Mission: Chicago in downtown Chicago. Fourteen of us met at Big Bricks Chicago on N. Lincoln Ave. to talk about potentially awkward questions including, "Is homosexuality a sin?" "Can someone be both gay and Christian?" and "How can the church love gay people better?"
These questions have been flying all over the American church in light of gay marriage coverage in the media recently, and, in my opinion, this means it's time Christians started entering into these conversations the way Jesus would - lovingly and compassionately.
So naturally I was ecstatic when the Navigators, a Christian organization focused on discipleship that reaches out to 20-somethings in colleges, cities, and military all over the world, caught wind of the feature article I wrote for Christianity Today this year (“Hope for the Gay Undergrad”), and invited me to share what I had learned in the reporting process with a group of 20-somethings who meet in the city once a month to discuss culturally relevant topics.
We framed our conversation around the following three points:
1) What has the church (and you personally) done right in addressing homosexuality?
2) What has the church (and you personally) done wrong in conversations and situations involving homosexuality?
3) What can the church (and you personally) do better moving forward in conversations about homosexuality?
As a group, we started with a few things we felt the church has done wrong:
1) The church has created a culture of silence and ignorance surrounding the topic of homosexuality. Over and over again we hear stories of individuals who waited until they were 26, or 28, or married with three children before they "came out" to their Christian families, pastors, close friends, and communities for fear they'd be rejected or ostracized for their sexual sin or same-sex attractions.
2) The church has responded abusively and/or violently, to gay individuals. Again, over the years, individuals representing the church have hurt people who have "come out" to them. This stereotype instills fear in people of faith who love Jesus but are afraid to be honest about their homosexual attractions with fellow believers for fear of violent or adverse reactions (neither of which are Christ-centered, loving responses).
3) Hyperbole: the church has made homosexual sin seem "worse" than other sin. For some reason, homosexuality has become something people feel is a "worse" sin than pride, greed, or stealing, and therefore, don't feel like being honest about their sexual orientation as readily as others who may "struggle" with more normal things like pride, arrogance, or greed.
Then we decided the church has done some things right:
1) Stating there's a difference between same-sex attraction and homosexual behavior. Same-sex attraction is not inherently sinful. Homosexual behavior is. As soon as churches can get this message out to congregations, the sooner freedom can be found for individuals who find themselves attracted to members of the same sex.
2) Using inclusive language. It's not "I vs. you," "us vs. them," or "gay vs. straight," or "Catholic bishops unite against gay marriage:" it's we, and us, as a collective church body and/or community created in the image of God.
3) LOVING well. Chad Thompson puts it best in his book title, Loving Homosexuals as Jesus Would. Andrew Marin also says it well: "Live in the tension." And, I would say also, "Love in the tension." Churches who are willing to sit with and love gay individuals are the ones reflecting Christ's love to the world - NOT the ones proclaiming hell-fire Scriptures with megaphones on street corners.
Based on what's gone right and wrong in the past, we went on to develop a few recommendations of what the church can do better to address homosexuality going into the future:
1) Host community groups/dialogue. Encourage church small groups to discuss this topic more often.
2) Clarify the difference between same-sex attraction and homosexual behavior in youth groups and sermons. This clarity is crucial for the well-being of congregants who have same-sex attractions to know their emotions will not damn them to hell. Acting on them is a different story.
3) Host educational forums for congregants and communities. Ignorance leads to fear, and vice versa. Bringing the truth into the light, and providing opportunities for congregants to ask questions in a safe space, is important for the well-being of the church in conversations on this topic.
We closed our time together by challenging ourselves to pick specific things we can do to approach the topic of homosexuality more like Jesus would:
1) Gay = straight. No matter what your sexual orientation, God sees us all the same. Period. The second you think you are "superior" to someone who is attracted to members of the same sex is the second you need to go wash the plank out of your eye.
2) Don't develop canned responses. It's okay to say "I don't know" to someone's questions about sexuality and Christianity. You can't save anybody, and God will ultimately be the judge of their sins. All we're called to do as believers is to intercede in prayer and love.
3) Admit you yourself are a broken person. Be a doormat for others struggling by opening up first and telling people why you need Jesus. Your vulnerability and authenticity will inspire others to search and reveal their hearts as well.
4) Admit your own ignorance and naivete. If you don't know anything about homosexuality, don't be afraid to admit it.
5) Do not pity someone for their sexual orientation. "I'm so sorry you're gay" won't score you points with anyone.
What do you think the church has done right or wrong in this conversation, and what can be done better in the future?
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