You’ve obviously gained a lot of experience working in this area, in what ways have you found that Christians and Christian churches need to change in order to reach the GLBT community?
Three things immediately come to mind.
First, one of the questions I frequently get asked is, ‘How do I live out the truth in love?’. My experience has shown that there are actually two potential underlying questions here. The first is: ‘When do I get to tell them it’s a sin and how quickly can I help them change?’. The second is, ‘I am literally just trying to figure out how to live, and how to learn, and how to love. And I don’t know how to do any of that with the GLBT community’. For me, there is no better place than to come to somebody in the gay or lesbian community that we love and say, ‘I am trying to learn how to live and how to love and I don’t know and I don’t have the answers. And unless you let me into your life, and we do this thing together with Christ rooted in the middle, nothing is ever going to change [with me]’.
Second, I never want to sit here and say that I have all the answers. I never want to know what every step along the journey is. That’s not my job. Christians feel pressure to know and solve everything. Believe me I know. Pastors in particular are approached all of the time for answers to all of life’s unanswerable questions. And anything less than a good answer reflects poorly on their Christian leadership. That pressure to be ‘in the know’ trickles down from the pulpit to the laity so most people make an automatic association that being a good Christian also entails being definitively knowledgeable about every issue of importance to the outside world, even those issues that no one has figured out. That pressure is perceived by the broader GLBT community as arrogance. In the minds of many GLBT people, Christians believe they have all the answers, not only to life in general but to gay sexuality in particular.
It’s alright, in fact it’s ideal, to know that you don’t have to know everything or have all of the answers to every potential aspect surrounding the topic of human sexuality. I fight almost daily the urge to come up with some theory that addresses each of the hotly contested questions of human sexuality. Our thought is that if someone would just come up with a few key answers, life would be so much easier. But God’s ways are higher than human ways; the path he calls us to take often looks to us like it goes nowhere, even goes in circles. And from God’s perspective, there is no better place to be. In order to sync in to God’s direct path, then, sometimes we have to let our human understanding and need for concreteness with constructs such as sexuality go a little blurry.
Third, just because we validate someone’s life and experience as legitimate to them does not mean that we believe in a ‘pro-gay’ theological belief system. There is a difference between validation and affirmation. Yet when people in the broader church look at me, or people like me, they often say, ‘Whoa, wait a second, you’re flying off the handle! You believe in a pro-gay theology!’. The point is that I’ve never said that. Since I live my conservative faith out differently it scares a lot of people. That’s because many in the church have not been equipped with the correct language or understanding to be able to wrap their minds around Christlike Christian living in today’s context.
There was a large Christian magazine that recently asked me, ‘Let’s say, Andrew, that everyone buys into what you say. Let’s say every church buys into what you say. What’s going to happen forty years down the road? Tell us, why should we believe you?’. Here’s the exciting part and the scary part: I don’t know what it’s going to look like forty years down the road.
The majority of the church has been so concerned with X, Y, and Z, that very few have ever focused intently to work on A, B, and C in the right way over a sustainable amount of time so that we can figure out what X, Y and Z will look like. If people want to talk to me in forty years, when I’m 68, I’ll be able to look back and definitively say, ‘Here’s where culture shifted. Here’s where the church shifted. Here’s where the gay community shifted’. But until that point I am working every day to encourage Christians and the broader church to stop putting the carriage before the horse because God doesn’t only work when we know what the outcome is going to be.
What ways have you found that Christian and Christian churches need to change to be able to build bridges with the gay community?