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. If nowhere else, you’ve seen it (blowing up your newsfeed) on a meme quoting Rick Warren. But more broadly, you’ve heard it in conversations with people who do not support equal marriage rights. Maybe you’ve even said it, written it, or thought it yourself.
This line of discourse is the new ‘love the sinner/hate the sin.’
Thing is…when you say ‘hate’ in close proximity of gay people, then the sentiment becomes a presence in the room. (Kind of like “I’m not a racist, but…” Once you say ‘racist,’ that word will color whatever thing you say next. Pun intended). Our culture is ripe with hatred toward LGBT folks. It comes in all shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of hostility. And the truth is, you don’t have to be a mean or hateful person in order to be a part of the problem.
And if you’re still saying “lifestyle,” there’s still 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 people, deserving of love and relationship– creates a divisive edge that will forever keep ‘gay-ok’ people and ‘traditional family’ folks from speaking the same language.
A promiscuous ‘lifestyle’ can damage our bodies, our souls, our communities, and separate people from God in ways that, yes, are ‘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; neglect their children; overeat; and/or spend all their money on frivolous, selfish things while their neighbors go 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…That is lifestyle. Each of us can choose a combination of things that give us life; or else, 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. We now know 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. To keep saying ‘lifestyle,’ in spite of all other evidence, reduces people to a single quality of themselves. Like skin-color, income, or gender. Of course, we still do that, too…
Saying that you don’t “accept” or “believe in” part of a person’s being, is to say that God somehow dropped the ball while knitting that person together in the womb. The sentiment implies that the Creator left something broken and unfinished. Like gay people are 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!
Many churches and church-going folks set out– with the best of intentions–to love gay folks as broken, imperfect products, and not as the whole and God-shaped people that they are. But the language of lifestyle will always create an ‘us/them’ gap that prevents real connection and real ministry.
“Just because I don’t accept a person’s” ________(quality of your choice), also 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 sister,” or “Approve of your brother,” or “mildly tolerate your neighbor, as long as their lifestyle choices don’t bother you too much.” Jesus said to love them. And not just in a vague, “you are a child of God” kind of way, but as yourself.
As ourselves. In all our broken, needing, loving, hurting, imperfect and seeking ways. All we can do is love each other to the full extent of being and hope that, somehow, we manage to embody the love of Jesus in our time. Living that kind of love is, in fact, a lifestyle choice. And while there will be many who ‘don’t accept it’ or ‘don’t believe in it,’ it’s kind of what we signed on for when we up and followed Jesus.