Christmas has always been an amazing season in my home. Growing up, I remember waiting for Christmas with intense excitement. Sure, much of that had to do with the latest gift I was anticipating, but as I have grown and have a family of my own, I realize that a deep sense of family and togetherness was fostered in our home. Rituals like Christmas eve candlelight service, Handel’s Messiah with my mom, Advent candles, watching the classic Rudolph, and baking together all served as just part of the many reasons I am so nostalgic this time of year.
I am even more thankful because I see now how hard my parents fought for togetherness even when it was hard. When differences of life between them and their children pushed into the family and threatened the peace, they fought hard to keep it. They didn’t always win, but it was not without sincere effort.
The years I embraced my identity as a gay man were some of the hardest for me during the holidays. Some might expect that to be the case because it is this way for so many LGBT individuals. However, for me, it was not because my parents pushed me away, quite the opposite really. For me, I lacked peace with Christ, and that reality pressed into me deeper during times of deep reflection, like Christmas.
Yet, as I look back, my parent’s home was a place I always could call home and, on a smaller level it demonstrated to me the peace I wanted on a much larger and deeper level. My parents might not have characterized it this way but their home and their fight for their family became a tool that would one day serve the goal of the gospel in my life.
Many families and many LGBT individuals do not look forward to the holidays. This time of year is a reminder of division. Sadly, too many are alone because they are not welcome in the home of their Christian family. Too many parents and siblings will not get to see their LGBT family because they are choosing a new family, one that reflects their life more. This is not the case for everyone, but it is the case for far too many.
As I reflect on these families and individuals my heart wants to love you and serve you. We started the Identify Network to serve the church and this includes families. So I want to take this space to offer you five ways to pursue the posture and love of the gospel with your LGBT family during the Christmas holidays.
Bless Them/ Invite Them Home: It may sound obvious to invite them home, but quite honestly it isn’t. Too many LGBT individuals either are not welcome or do not feel welcome in the one place they always should be! Change that! Judgment or shame is often expected, but you can change that by offering a blessing. To bless someone is to offer relief and encouragement from their burden, to bear the burden, to encourage them. Nothing will do this more during Christmas than to offer your home and your life to the vulnerable and marginalized and this is often so true for your LGBT family. It is important to remember you are not doing them a favor from a place of moral superiority but rather from a place of sincere humility towards the family you love. This may require a heart change for you and if so, I encourage you to spend time asking God to help you bless and not curse, bless from a place of genuine gospel humility.
Demonstrate Gospel Hospitality: The Biblical idea behind hospitality is to welcome the stranger. Your LGBT family are not necessarily a stranger to you, but those they love or those significant to them may be. I have talked with countless parents and families who feel they have to choose between faithfulness to Biblical ethics and loving their gay son or daughter. Often, this choice includes what to say or do about significant others (friends, partners, spouse). I believe, with all Gospel assurance, this to be a false choice! I am thankful the pattern off hospitality in the scriptures didn’t include invitations to those who were deemed worthy. Jesus, again and again, gave honor and demonstrated hospitality to those society deemed unworthy or unfit. When you love this way, you are not promoting over and against your sincere convictions but you recognize what is and choose to love deeply from a deep motivation of the gospel, with a posture that reflects the love of Christ.
Celebrate with Them: The various areas of tensions in our lives do not need to prevent us from celebrating family and the season together. Too many feel that being faithful means turning every conversation into a referendum on the moral choices of their family and this all too true when we consider issues of sexuality that have moral and political dimensions to them. However, when we choose to focus on Jesus and celebrate the incarnation we communicate a greater message. I never failed to see that when I was home. As my family ate together, prayed together, lit the advent candles, and worshiped Christ for his coming, I reflected time and time again on the gospel message. We can intentionally celebrate all that Christ’s coming makes right without having to lament all that we feel is wrong. After all, this is the message of Christmas. “Behold, I bring to you good news of great joy…” (Luke 2:10). What could be more celebratory than that! This isn’t a missed opportunity, instead, it is a focus on celebrating all God does to bring his reconciling love into all our lives.
Go Deeper by Listening and Learning: One of the problems that exist between the Christian community and the LGBT community is an unwillingness to listen. Yes, this goes both ways, but all too often, the church has talked at and to the LGBT community and given families a model to do the same in their home. Love your LGBT family, by listening to them and learning from them. Deeper conversations may happen over the holidays and if they do, it is important to take the posture of a listener and a learner if we want to receive the same respect. Genuinely listening is a habit of humility modeled in the scriptures. If we desire to offer true biblical wisdom to our family it cannot be divorced from knowing and understanding. If we listen and learn we not only know how to help our LGBT family we have the opportunity to correct misunderstandings, assumptions, or hurtful/unhelpful language used by other family members.
Send Them off with a Longing to Return: Following Christ is a lifelong journey and the road to reconciliation looks different for everyone. My parents loved me deeply and never once did I question being welcome in their home. they took the opportunity to have harder conversations with me if the opportunity came. But, they were always committed to the long road of life and reconciliation with me. When we model this, we model a truth about God. God is long suffering and committed to pursuing us. How can we do any less? Our homes should be places of peace, where we bless, encourage, listen, learn, love and humbly speak truth. This is the home that your LGBT family will want to be in regardless of deeply held convictions about life and sexuality. You can be faithful to the gospel while communicating that your life and your home are for them. When I left my parents home, I always wanted to return, but I never mistook that for their agreement with my identity choices, I knew it was rooted in a deep and abiding love for me that wanted the best for me. Years later, I would see the same thing in my savior! Let your life and your home foster a longing to return!