It was 12 years ago that we began to actively engage the University of Illinois LGBT Resource Center in open dialogue. About what? Trying to lay down decades and centuries old conflicts between our camps. I wanted to see and know first hand why we couldn’t sit down and talk things through.
One of the first conversations I had was with the President of Pride who gave a speech at a 2006 rally. He had come from a strict, fundamentalist background that was less than willing to accept his orientation. I sat with him for 3 hours listening to him recount many of his experiences growing up gay in a Christian home. This new friendship became a big help in meeting many other students with similar experiences, believing that God hated them.
I’ve learned to understand where this perception comes from somewhere beyond our “friends” from Westboro and some outspoken evangelical leaders spouting off on CNN. Beyond the media is the 14 year old boy who’s confused, embarrassed, scared, you name it. If they can muster up enough courage to talk to a pastor or youth leader, then they face condemnation, shame, and alienation. They’ve prayed at the same altars, gone to the same camps, prayed the same sinners’ prayer, and prayed every night for years that God would take “it” away. He doesn’t so they assume: “God doesn’t love me and I’m doomed to hell; or there is no God.”
What didn’t make sense to me was the loathing I sensed among other Christians. I was under the impression that our mission of service was to be of reconciliation and unconditional love. That was quite contrary to the reactions I received when speaking about people who were hurting and confused.
We haven’t listened to the warnings from men like David Kinnaman in his truth telling book UnChristian. Among the top 10 characteristics of Christians from “outsiders” are that we’re intolerant, old-fashioned, out of touch, and too political. 85% view us as hypocritical, 87% judgmental, and 91% think we’re homophobic.
This isn’t just a PR problem, it’s a hindrance to the Gospel. Now, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is very narrow-minded in that He is the only way to be saved (John 14:6). But our view of people can’t be. Do they see in us something worth having and living for? Do we exude with life giving words (2 Corinthians 2:16)?
I was asked by a colleague about the “gay agenda” and how they’re mounting an offensive against Bible believing Christians. I told him, “We created that hostile environment. We told them we don’t want them in our churches, recruiting our children, polluting our schools, spreading AIDS, and cheapening our sacred institutions. Go get your life straightened out first, then you can join our services and become just like us.” Whoa, where do I sign up? We’ve a long way from COME JUST AS YOU ARE (Matthew 9:11-13). These are the usual responses I get from Christians who question my desire to reach not LGBT people, but people.
- “I’m not homophobic.” Now, other than white supremacists, who would really admit they’re racist. We all need to do some soul searching. Self-analysis can often lead to some shocking discoveries. But more importantly, it’s how we’re perceived and the language we use. And it’s ok to be respectful. Being culturally sensitive does not equal political correctness.
- “I have to proclaim the truth.” Yes, I agree wholeheartedly. And it starts something like John 3:16, Romans 3:23; 6:23, 5:8, 10:-9-10…
- “I have to take a stand for righteousness.” We do that by lifting up Jesus. In our own lives, we have nothing to show. If we show Jesus, people will see THE STANDARD (Romans 3:10). Plus, we better make sure our own houses are clean. How we doing when it comes to bitterness, lying, greed, etc. And how does the Church currently treat divorce?
This again is the issue with the younger generations. According to Josh and Sean McDowell in their book “Apologetics for a New Generation” younger Christians are growing resentful because they don’t like being perceived as homophobic and they’re frustrated because their leaders aren’t modeling how to lovingly minister to their gay friends. If made to choose, 9 out of 10 young Christians would pick their friends over the church. I’m not saying we cater or pander to Millennials, but there needs to be a greater awareness of what we’re communicating and if it’s genuine, consistent, and God-ordained or birthed out of fear and insecurity.
It has become my personal mission to begin building a bridge, one of understanding and compassion, where we could listen to each others’ stories. An environment where we could get to know each other as fellow human beings, focus on our commonalities rather than our stark differences. And with many, the opportunity to share about Christ’s love and redemptive plan for ALL people.