Times have changed, and yet they haven’t. While each of us are sorting through what it looks like to interact with friends, families, and co-workers who openly embrace an LGBT lifestyle, we have been interacting with sin and sinners since the day we were born.
Each day, as we look in the mirror, we see a sinner who desperately needs the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to pursue holiness. The issues represented by the LGBT people we know are different, but not so different.
This week, I interviewed Glenn Stanton, the author of Loving My LGBT Neighbor, on our Java With Juli podcast. I asked Glenn to share a few nuggets of practical wisdom from our conversation for this blog. Glenn has spent much of the past decade debating on LGBT issues on university campuses. In the process, he has gotten to know and respect men and women who are on the opposite side of the issue, many of whom themselves identify as LGBT. Glenn is a wonderful voice of wisdom on how to hold to truth without neglecting Jesus’ : “Love your neighbor as yourself.” - Juli
How do we interact with our gay or lesbian neighbors, family members, or coworkers as faithful Christians? How do we get the grace/truth balance right, as Jesus demonstrated and taught?
These important questions become easier to navigate if we remember what I call “the five great equalizers.”
1) Everyone is loved by God. No exceptions.
2) Therefore, everyone is of inestimable worth. Everyone.
3) Everyone is plagued with a terminal illness: sin. Everyone.
4) Everyone is therefore separated from God, none more or less than another.
5) Everyone is in desperate need of repentance, forgiveness, healing, and a new life in Christ. Everyone.
Sinners in need of a Savior—this is the only kind of people you will ever find living on planet Earth. So your gay or lesbian neighbor, family member, co-worker, or child should always be considered in light of these five truths.
Truth says we are sinners in great need of repentance. All of us.
Grace says we can find healing and hope in the cross of Christ.
It is simply not loving to compromise on either truth or grace. Let me bring this home: it would not be loving for a friend to give me a pass on my own sin, be it infidelity, arrogance, gossip, anger, lying, and so on. I want my friends to confront me on such things with kindness and grace. This is evidence of their love for me.
One of the problems many Christians have in interacting with those in the LGBT community is that we often approach them, first and foremost, with a focus on their sexual identity. This is a big mistake. As we befriend those who struggle with any other kind of besetting sin, we don’t first connect with them based on their sin or struggle. We connect with people based on their humanity!
You don’t have to get someone’s sexual choices all “settled” in your mind before getting to know him or her. Accept him or her as a person—a potential friend—and such discussions will come later when that friendship and love have been established.
Beyond friendships with others, there are also very personal situations where the issue of sexuality comes up within our own families. How do we deal with these in proper balance of both grace and truth? When a family member announces their news to you, it’s reasonable to expect that it will take you time to adjust to that news. While you may feel pressured by the line “If you love me you must accept me,” accepting someone’s sexual ethic and loving them are two separate issues. Love them without compromise, even as it brings considerable disagreement. To disagree is not to withhold love. And to love deeply does not require we always agree. No relationship can have such requirements.
I often get asked about specific decisions you may have to make, like if your sister wants to visit your house with her partner. Or if your uncle invites your family to his same-sex wedding. Or if a gay couple wants to start attending your church. These can be very difficult and confusing situations to navigate as you seek to cling to both grace and truth.
Here is a good litmus test to run such questions through: How would you react in the same situation if your loved one was cohabiting in a heterosexual relationship? Would would you invite your sister and her live-in boyfriend over for dinner? Probably. Would you let them sleep in the same bed if they stayed the night? You should not. Guests should honor your values when visiting your house, just as you should honor their values when you visit their home. The same is true here. Using the cohabiting illustration helps because it shows your decision is not about “who they are” but simply about your convictions regarding sexuality.
Should you attend a same-sex wedding? Many Christians draw a very hard line here. I respect those who have decided that they would never attend a gay wedding under any circumstances. Other Christians have a different opinion and make choices based on varying circumstances. For example, they would consider the impact on and depth of their relationship with that person. If it’s Frank from accounting work who’s invited you to his gay wedding, that’s a very different situation than if it is your son or daughter. The bottom line is that you need wisdom. Seek guidance from your pastors and spiritual leaders. Each of us have to seek out God’s wisdom given our particular situation and not feel compelled to apologize for our decisions.
Should same-sex attracted individuals and couples be welcomed at our church? Absolutely. We must realize that sinners are the only raw materials the church knows what to do with. The church did not demand immediate confession and repentance of us when we showed interest. Those Christians walked with us, loved us, cried with us, supported us, cared for us. And then as we pursued the Christian life and our relationships grew, they taught us the Word, told us what God expects, and gave the Holy Spirit room to convict us of sin. The same is true for our gay and lesbian neighbors.
Attending the church and leading there are very different things. Should teach Sunday School? Not unless they live as a disciple of Christ. Such tasks require some level of spiritual maturity and growth. But could they manage the clothes closet and food pantry ministry of the church? If they are administratively gifted and proven responsible, this could be a great way to have them serve the community.
The Tricky Balance
These are indeed difficult issues, often without clear black and white answers. A true guideline that can serve us well is to remember the nature of Christ. He treated people—the humble and needy—with absolute grace. And he dealt with issues and ideas with absolute truth, never compromising on either.
We must do that same. Love the gay or lesbian person in boundless grace. Deal with the issue itself in absolute truth. Getting this balance right can be tricky, but it’s what each Christian is called to. And our current cultural situation gives a remarkable opportunity to do exactly that.
Glenn T. Stanton is the director of family formation studies at Focus on the Family and author of many books on the family, most recently Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor: Being Friends in Grace and Truth (Moody, 2014). He blogs at glenntstanton.com.