There’s an old adage that goes “God gave you two ears and one mouth and you should use them proportionately”. Sadly, it is one not often heard these days and after two recent experiences with friends, it is a lamentable fact.
Over the years, one of the most common things I’ve been asked by those whom don’t struggle with same-sex attraction is “What should I say?” and my response is always the same: “Nothing.” This often draws a mix of surprise and disappointment, the cause of both, I suspect, being the lack of a more thorough response.
Given the immense weight of the subject at hand, I would feel similarly disenchanted with such an answer if that was all that was said. Of course it should be given in the context of greater information, but why would it be the first piece of advice that I would give?
Wikipedia and Google have made everyone experts and when married with an ever-increasing sense of self-entitlement and narcissism, unsolicited “advice” is rampant and often unhelpful. The expectation to be heard (or, to be fair, an intense desire to help) often succeeds thoughtfulness and the results can be less than ideal.
Unfortunately this can be exasperated by those within the church as they seek to provide the clearest of objections to secular views on sexuality and voice Scripture’s very plain references to such. This is not helpful.
Whilst I agree that faithful Christians should seek to uphold and promote faithful and biblical teaching, like all things in life it needs to be tempered by love and timing. The former is especially poignant as my experiences have shown that one person’s concept of “love” in this context is often radically different to another’s, even when understood exclusively within a Christian community.
In a recent catch-up with a friend from a former church, the conversation – punctuated by the enjoyment of a good beer – turned to the subject of my church attendance. This is a touchy subject for me as some previous encounters within church have been extremely hurtful and painful. Now this friend is a good, godly guy and has known life outside of his current Christian faith, so has some worldly wisdom that brings a measure of humility and understanding sometimes lacking in those who’ve never been outside of the church. However when my lack of current church attendance was explained as being borne out of previous hurts, my speech was cut short with a swift refusal of my friend to accept my reasons. He felt that my objections with the church were “just not the case” based on what he had experienced in the church.
This was the reaction of a friend whom had never struggled with same-sex attraction, is married and has been in only one church and for then only a few years. At the time I just moved on with the conversation, taken aback by the veracity of his response. As I left our social time together and thought about our little disagreement, I began to understand that the response of my friend was actually something I found quite hurtful. A friend and brother with a very different existence sought fit to reject my experience (a lifetime struggling with being gay and Christian) because his experience (no same-sex attraction) was different.
Not long after this, an encounter with a minister friend rubbed salt into this wound. This was a meeting arranged by me to specifically call this man out on the deeply hurtful manner he had recently engaged with a gay, non-Christian friend of his around the subject of gay marriage. After watching the argument over Facebook degenerate to a very hurtful level, I decided my minister friend could do with some perspective that wasn’t found in his life of privilege and the ideal wife and children.
With an unfortunate familiarity, I found my words to my minister friend were often swiftly cut off before my sentences were even finished. This is a man who knew me to have been raised in the same faith as himself, but such was his fetishistic obsession with making sure my theology was right, that he made the same fundamental mistake – rejecting my words and experiences as a gay man within the church, despite it being a perspective he had absolutely no personal experience with. Peppered throughout our conversation were consistent reminders from me that I was not asking him to abandon faithful teaching, only that his methodology was very poor and often divisive and destructive. He behaved in a way I found objectionable and typically Anglican – the theology of the mind is what matters and the feelings of the heart don’t.
Which leads me back to love (and the steamroller). For my minister friend, this was not the first time he’d approached the LGBT issue – and thus me personally – in a way that was deeply hurtful and arrogant. Leaving that conversation mired in disappointment and anger, I found myself picturing him in the seat of that steamroller. The manner in which he deals with LGBT issues is that of a man who takes Scripture, wraps it around the rollers and then drives straight over people whilst shouting “Proverbs 27:6! Tough love!”. People already in pain were the subject of greater damage inflicted by a mix of ignorance and hubris, with their cries of objection seemingly dismissed as though their only source was to be found in clinging to sin, rather than a genuine case of hurt.
When I tell people that they should say nothing, I don’t mean that they should remain forever silent on the subject. Someone who’s willing to open themselves up in such a vulnerable way is hoping for love and acceptance, not indifference. What I am saying is that by keeping your thoughts and opinions to yourself until there has been time to carefully and prayerfully consider what will be achieved by airing them, you could save a lot of hurt.
Don’t start quoting 1 Cor 6:9 or Lev 18:22 simply because you think they need to hear it. Trust me, they have an interest in such passages far beyond what you will ever experience. Don’t tell them “I understand” because you don’t. Indeed, unless you’re actually in a pair of rainbow shoes yourself, you can’t understand! Don’t feel the need to draw on your own struggles in an attempt to minimise theirs, as this can be interpreted as you not giving due weight to how they feel.
Someone who’s struggling with being attracted to their own sex is likely someone who is – or has been – in great emotional turmoil and coming out (pardon the pun) with your views as a straight person may not be helpful or even wanted. Being truly heard is a huge component to being truly accepted and faced with a herculean struggle such as being a LGBT Christian, this is often what is being sought.
Exercise your ears before exercising your vocal chords.