Letter to a Friend: A discussion about the Church, LGBT individuals, and how we move forward.

 A few weeks ago, I began a conversation with someone in my life whom I care deeply about, someone who has been a friend to me for some time. While we have great affection for one another, we differ on an issue that has been tearing the Church apart for some time now. While we occupy different sides of the issue, we still wish to come to the table and break bread together in the name of Christ. The following is my response to my friend. The letter was written in love, with the intent to heal, not harm. I share it because it is my sincere hope to all who have been hurt by this issue that we, somehow, come together as the body of Christ with the spirit of inclusion, rather than exclusion. This spirit of unconditional love is what Christ exemplified. May we honor him by extending the same form of love to others, even in disagreement. 
 
 
     Good to hear from you. You’ll have to excuse the delay between our correspondence over the past few weeks. I want you to know that I love you, no matter what, and nothing about these difficult conversations is going to change that. Will there be issues we inevitably disagree on? Absolutely. Will we have topics arise that we’re very much on the same page about? I’m confident we will. That being said, I would like to share a few thoughts below. The words I share are in love. I do a disservice to the Gospel and to the nature of Christ if I write from a place of anything apart from compassion, mercy, and kindness. If my words are harsh, forgive me. The intent is not to harm, but to heal. I want you to trust me on that. I love you.
 
     
     As you and I have discussed at length over the past few months, this topic of homosexuality is one that has torn apart families, churches, denominations, and organizations. From where I stand, it’s readily apparent that the Evangelical/Baptist world has made this issue (along with abortion) to be the hill that it is ready to die on. I’ve don’t see Christians denouncing the fact that so many of us are caught up in a covetous relationship with consumeristic American culture. I don’t see blog post after blog post denouncing the gluttony of Christians as we consume beyond acceptable limits and suffer the consequences with our poor health. I don’t really hear Mark Driscoll or Francis Chan or John Piper talking about how terrible it is that we spend millions upon millions of dollars on unnecessary church additions when there are people dying of AIDS around the world and countless children suffering from hunger (I know some of these men are out in the field ministering towards other causes, yes, but I think you understand where my point is being made about priorities). 
 
     
     My point is this: of all the issues that the Evangelical church has decided to focus on, it picked homosexuality, and indirectly, gay marriage. Why the church ultimately decided to make this its pet project, out of all the pressing concerns we face in the world,  I’ll never know. From where I stand, this is the situation at the moment: the Evangelical community looked at a minority group that has traditionally been ostracized and shunned, and for whatever reason, decided to add to that struggle. With respect to you and I, we’re in agreement that being gay is a reality that someone cannot change, any more than you and I can change our heteroseual nature. Where we diverge is on the issue of how to proceed.
 
 
   You made a point in your letter to me where you stated that you think my perspective is this: that we have equally valid perspectives on this issue. I wanted to set the record straight: If there is a perspective that causes more suffering, more harm, and more division in the Church, I don’t really see much validity in that. I could cite a host of statistics, but I’ll save that space for another time if need be. I’ll simply share a few points to provide perspective: gay youth, specifically youth from religious backgrounds, are 8 times more likely to commit suicide. They are much more likely to inflict self harm than teens who are accepted by their communities. They are more likely to cause harm to themselves via abusive substances than straight individuals. Gay kids make up 40% of all teens and young adults served at homeless shelters, and 60% of those youths have been sexually assaulted either at the shelter or while homeless. The list goes on. The world is filled with story after story of kids who have been rejected by their parents, rejected by their churches, and don’t where they fit in. 
 
     
     Does the church play a part in this? Tragically, it continues to do so. I have many gay and lesbian friends who could never be honest about who they were because of the messages they would hear from the pulpit. From their friends. From the adults in their lives whom they previously trusted. Their lives are lived in the shadows, and to, that certainly seems like a miscarriage of justice.
 
   
      Do I claim to know everything about this issue? I certainly dont. But as believers, when we’re on a journey of discovery and exploration, we always need to rest on the side of justice, mercy, and compassion, especially when it involves our brothers and sisters in Christ, gay or straight. You’ve mentioned the fact that you believe the Bible to be crystal clear on certain issues, and murky on others. For many evangelicals, this is a clear issue. For others, it’s much more difficult to understand fully. When Evangelicals say that they want to love people, yet create a culture of exclusion for their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, they don’t really mean that. Love is an action, not a statement of being. We lose nothing if we extend grace and kindness to all LGBT individuals; in fact, I think we grow in love as a community. 
 
   
       You and I have played this game before. “Cherry Pick your Winners”. You send me bible verses that support your position, and I send you verses that support my own. I send you articles and books to read, and you return the favor. We each lob quotes and sayings from people who share our interpretations, and then we go back into our own camps, shaking our heads at how misled the other one is. Nothing is accomplished by this. Nobody truly, ultimately wins. Only more harm is created. If we need to take some time and table this issue for now, we can. We can always come back to it in time. 
 
     
     It’s very evident to me that the culture around us is actually moving much more quickly into the future than the Evangelical church is. Full civil equality for LGBT couples, a pipe dream but a few years ago, is now becoming a reality in many states. There’s much work left to be done. But progress is being made. The Evangelical church insisted on making this a battle, and they got one. They lost. The question now is this: how does the church move forward with love and grace and kindness into a future where there is equality for all individuals to be honest about who they are, and who they love? How does the church process this new reality? These are important questions to think on.
 
     
     When I think of my friends who are part of the LGBT community, my heart is stirred, with a mixture of both joy and sadness. Joy that some of them found faith communities who extended unconditional love to them in the vein of Christ himself. Sadness for those who were rejected by their church families simply by existing authentically and honestly in who they really were as Christ created them. It’s not too late for the Evangelical church to repent for its sins against their LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ, praise God for that, and to begin the process of reconciliation, so that we are once again united as a family in Christ’s church.
 
     T
     There is one verse that comes to mind as I write these words. Micah 6:8 seems appropriate for such an occasion:
 
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.”
 
 
     Is there much we have yet to discover about human sexuality? Certainly. But while we continue to learn, may we take the words of this scripture to heart, and hold them close, and meditate over them, and live them out by extending love and mercy to all members of the body, regardless of how they define their sexuality or sexual expression. 
 
I love you. Looking forward to hearing from you soon. 

Ryan

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