I’m going to say a thing. Stop me if you’ve heard it: “Just because I don’t accept someone’s lifestyle, doesn’t mean that i hate them!”
I’ve heard it before. So have you. Most recently, as a direct quote from Rick Warren. But more broadly, coming from folks in conservative settings all over the place. And chances are, if you’ve heard some version of this line, the conversation was about gay people. Everywhere you look these days, churches, pastors and fundamental Christians are getting more and more vocal about all the ways they “love the sinner/hate the sin.”
Thing is…when you say ‘hate’ in such close proximity of gay people, then the sentiment becomes a presence in the room. (Kind of like saying “I”m not a racist, but…” chances are, whatever’s about to come out of your mouth is pretty much racist). And furthermore: if you’re still saying “lifestyle,” we’ve still got a problem.
Sexuality is an expression of the whole self. If you are part of a married, committed, hetero-couple, the Church (most any church) is willing to acknowledge this. God made us for love, for passion, to be one flesh and to share our lives together. To say that homosexuals have chosen a ‘lifestyle,’ rather than to acknowledge that they are whole and dignified people, deserving of love and relationship…there is the divisive edge that will forever keep ‘gay-ok’ people and ‘traditional family’ folks from sitting down and having a real conversation.
Sure, there is a certain promiscuous ‘lifestyle’ that can damage our bodies, our souls, our communities, and seperate people from God in ways that the Church would call ‘sinful.’ But this kind of ‘lifestyle’ is by no means reserved for LGBT folks. Straight people can sleep around; cheat on their partners; do drugs; stay out all night and flake on their responsibilities; and/or spend all their money on frivilous, selfish things when their neighbors are going hungry.
The word ‘lifestyle’ speaks to many elements of one’s life. Not just who you love, but where you spend your time and money; what you talk about over dinner; what gets your blood pressure up, and what speaks beauty to your soul. Music, diet, geography, recreation, spending habits, technology, wardrobe, living space…This is a lifestyle. And each of us can choose a combination of things that give us life, or enter into a pattern that slowly drains us of all goodness and hope. We choose our paths every day.
To say that you don’t approve of the gay ‘lifestyle’ is also to say that you still don’t buy the science or the sociology: that same-sex attraction is nature, not nurture; and that trying to suppress or change a person’s sexuality–whether by prayer or ‘therapy’–leads to depression and suicide. These are truths that–thanks to God-given evolutions in the medical and psychological fields–have been revealed to us in recent decades. To keep on saying ‘lifestyle’ in spite of such evidence, is to keep reducing whole people to a single quality of themselves. Like skin-color, income, or gender… Of course, churches still do that, too…
To my ears, saying that we don’t accept this part of a person’s being, is to say that God somehow dropped the ball while this person was being knit together in the womb, and left something broken and unfinished. Like gay people are somehow a defective batch of Cabbage Patch kids, coming off the line with some part or piece missing. No signature on the butt…we’ll put this whole line out at 40%-off!
Anyway, I kid… But I really feel that many churches set out–maybe with good intentions–to love gay folks as broken, imperfect products, and not as the whole and God-shaped people that they are. The language of lifestyle will always create an ‘us/them’ gap that prevents real connection and real ministry.
Meanwhile, “Just because I don’t accept a person’s” anything, sort of implies that the person asked for your critique and approval. In most cases, nobody did. Not the LGBT seeker, not the Muslim neighbor, not the single mom or the snarky teenager. And, most especially, not Jesus.
Jesus never once said “accept your neighbor,” or “Approve of your brother.” Jesus said to love them. And not just in a vague, “you are a child of God” kind of way, but as yourself.
As yourself. Amen.