To My Non-Affirming Friends
Before you read the #content for which you came, I want to first give a word of thanks. To the thousands – that’s not an exaggeration – who’ve been reading what I’ve had to say all over the world, thank you for taking the time, putting in the effort, and oftentimes responding in love to what I’ve written. I really don’t deserve it.
I decided to take some time since posting last in order to rest, process, and allow space for the subsequent conversations taking place. This blog takes a lot out of me, if nothing but for the exposure it necessitates – exposure to both incisive encouragement and, in some cases, very direct and personal criticism. Writing has brought with it much joy and much pain, so bear with me as I post in series, sometimes taking breaks for self-care.
This post is intended to address what I’ve thusly assumed to be the majority of my readers, non-affirming Christians in predominantly conservative environments. (Now, I don’t know this for a fact, but that doesn’t change what I’m writing.)
Given the events of this week, with Hurricane Harvey devastating the Texan coast (if you’re able to contribute, visit this helpful GoFundMe page for specific avenues by which to give), the nation still reeling from Charlottesville and the fallout from our leaders’ incompetence, and the collective ire directed at misguided evangelical Christians with much to say on sexuality and seemingly little else of greater urgency, I didn’t quite know how to frame this.
This is not exclusively a take on or response to the Nashville Statement.
It’s much more than that, with many instances wherein far more eloquent and qualified church leaders are cited for having drafted helpful statements in response.
This is, instead, a hopeful means of addressing those of us who cannot yet fully affirm the lives and identities of LGBTQ Christians. As I’ve already written, I came to the point that I could affirm myself even as it precipitated a swift deconstruction of my evangelical faith. My hope is not to do that to you, but to nonetheless invite you on a little escapade.
So, instead of berating you with my righteous indignation, I’m going to graciously critique specific ways non-affirming Christians speak about, directly address, and “challenge” their LGBTQ siblings – which, no matter what Article X of the Nashville Statement asserts, we are – without regard for the ways in which these phrases or behaviors can actively harm those to or about whom they are directed.
Before you think I’m trying to summarily reject the premises of the following assertions, understand that is not entirely my point. Rather, it is to shed light on how LGBTQ Christians interpret these statements, and how you can better love us in the midst of disagreement. You needn’t compromise your ethical convictions to make these requested adjustments.
What you say to us, no matter your intention or method, can have profound and long-lasting implications in our lives. Your words are powerful, and as Scripture often reminds us, can bring life or death. The same is true of ideas and ways of thinking, with our beliefs having practical ramifications for our neighbors.
This is true of everyone, but especially true for those already experiencing the deadly effects of systemic, religious marginalization. The implicit meanings of these recycled platitudes – formally understood as micro-agressions – can have devastating consequences even if you think they’re the best way of “loving” your LGBTQ neighbor.
While I recognize and respect the ways in which non-affirming Christians endeavor to build bridges without attempting to harm LGBTQ Christians, the following are some of the prominent Christian-ese abstractions that make for poisonous darts lobbed recklessly at the already-wounded.
I do wish to tread carefully at this juncture, and I want you to anticipate my take on these phrases and statements will be followed by a series of kind suggestions – more thoughtful ways of addressing us, even in the midst of dissension, that will help all of us better love one another and our Creator.
Hate the sin – love the sinner. Depending upon one’s hamartiological predilections, this can be an appealing way of dissecting an individual into two parts – person and behavior. Its inherent dualism aside, what this ultimately neglects to consider is the way in which sexuality is a permeating, complex component to our identities affecting every aspect of our lives. In lacking specificity, “sin” can be interpreted as simply the state of being “not straight” or the many behavioral patterns naturally arising out of being LGBTQ.
You’re not simply hating a behavior, but an entire foundational element upon which that which is me rests. Who I am does not exist without my sexuality, and the same is true of any straight person. The difference is, by simply being straight, one is not confronted with the “other-ness complex” sexual minorities experience in innumerable capacities.
I’m left asking – which part of me do you hate?
I love you, but I disagree. Though in close relationship with the preceding statement and far less vindictive in its implicit meaning, this brief assertion can hurt. If you have to qualify the simple statement that is “I love you”, perhaps it is not wholly love. You needn’t disavow the premise for disagreement, but you must understand that stating the negative as a means of proving or qualifying the positive doesn’t adequately make a positive case. You may disagree earnestly and with as much grace as you can muster, but to remind us – already profoundly aware of our minority disposition – that you disagree with what is, to us, our very “being”, is supremely unhelpful. I’ve heard this many times, and while I’m reticent towards being jaded, I’m pretty tired of it.
We know you disagree ideologically. We know you think we’re wrong on sexual ethics. But you needn’t keep reminding us that who we are is something with which you think you can simply “disagree”. It’s not as simple as that. What you call love is not love if it must be qualified.
The Bible clearly says. No. It does not. Hermeneutical distinctions notwithstanding, when you say this, you’re assuming some premises that absolutely demean those about whom you speak. You assume we – LGBTQ Christians and, to some extent, their allies – are not deeply and intimately familiar with the sacred texts you contend outrightly condemn us. To make this implicit assertion is to belittle our faith journeys, and by extension, our identities. Thus, you assume we haven’t wrestled as profoundly and deeply as we have, and in doing so, you undermine our personal journeys.
Scripture is not an easily-comprehended series of uniformly consistent ethical and ideological mandates. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have untold thousands of loosely associated Christian sects all reading the same book with radically divergent interpretive practices over the preceding two millennia. Regardless of one’s biblical convictions, you cannot assert your perspective as “the” interpretation. That’s not how this works, and it’s devoid of humility. You are not the gatekeeper to Scriptural interpretation.
I’ll also say this: the Bible does not clearly (key word) condone or support same-sex relationships and LGBTQ+ identities. Again, that’s not how this works. It’s complex, culturally contextualized, rooted in fundamentally different views of reality, and must be understood with as much nuance as can be appreciated on the topic of ethics. I’ve already written on this, to some extent, and many more qualified individuals have great things to say.
Before you belittle your LGBTQ neighbor on the basis of your Scriptural interpretation, remember that you don’t know everything.
Nor do I.
Your identity is in Christ, not your sexuality. Ignorantly pedantic at best, this statement assumes a mutually exclusive relationship between “Christian” and “gay”. In much the same way “straight Christian” is not an oxymoron, “gay Christian” is equivalent in implicit meaning. You can be a black Christian, a Latino Christian, a tall Christian, a short Christian, and amend that statement with any number of representative qualifiers which collectively, though not in totality, define your experiences – at the end of the day, each may be true without any usurping the transcendence of the other. I, as a gay Christian, am a Christian. I follow and believe in the incarnate Christ, the redemptive force at work in the cosmos. You cannot assert otherwise.
But I’m also gay, and my sexual orientation very fundamentally influences my relationships, ways of experiencing emotions, interactions with others, understanding of my environments, and any innumerable factors themselves subject to the nature of being “not straight” in a straight person’s world. Whether you like it or not, any straight person experiences life from a majority perspective with profound advantages. The same cannot be said of a sexual minority individual.
The biological and psychological implications of one’s sexuality cannot be overstated. Our experiences are informed by it, both in conditioning and the formulation of cognitive biases – your consciousness cannot be objectively separated from your sexuality.
Straight or otherwise, that remains true.
When you try and convince an LGBTQ person that their identity is pedantically removed from what makes them, on a fundamental biological and psychological level, them, you are undermining the totality of their personhood by presenting a false dichotomy. The premise is dangerous, as any LGBTQ Christian can tell you, and has been too often brandished as a means of diminishing sexualities of all kinds.
Our “identity” is the sum total of many parts, some more foundational than others, but who we are “in Christ” includes these things; the capitulation of oneself into the Christ-event does not negate the essence of personhood, as abstract as it may seem.
The Nashville Statement. Though not yet (and hopefully never to be) in the subconscious arsenal of conservative phraseology, it’s all over our timelines with close friends and public figures either supporting it in totality or rejecting it – at the very least – for the deeply divisive lines it draws in the sand between non-affirming evangelicals and literally everyone else.
On Tuesday, August 29th, a collective of prominent evangelical and reformed Protestant Christians – themselves at the intersection of minority Christian theologies – put out what they entitled the “Nashville Statement”, by proxy of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, as a way of univocally condemning the “spirit of the secular age” and the statistically verified encroachment of LGBTQ affirmation in American Evangelicalism, made more pronounced by recent changes in position by prominent evangelical leaders.
I’ll be forthright – I’m angry. Anger not directed at any one person, but at the insipid arrogance it takes to make sweeping assertions that have devastating, harmful effects on some of our world’s most vulnerable individuals whilst attempting to cast aside affirming straight evangelicals.
It is a categorical condemnation of a minority within a minority.
So tone-deaf, so ill-timed, so poorly conceived was this declaration of feckless theologizing that the rebuke shortly following its publication was swift and justifiably harsh, emanating from Christians, non-Christians, and public officials from all over the spectrum of thought.
Of the many consequential crises the world now faces, this was deemed foremost in cruciality?
Not only is this devoid of pastoral compassion to any great extent, startlingly divisive in content, lacking in corporate repentance for past abuse, and retributively vindictive in approach, but it goes so far as to implicate affirming straight Christians as being “out” of the fold, even demonizing self-identifying gay Christians who have chosen life-long celibacy.
Thus “good news” is conflated with conservative sexual ethics, a form of penal semantics glaringly absent of the gospel this coalition seeks to promote.
To those evangelicals whose propensity is to stand at the gates of their Cardboard Box Kingdom:
May your heart be broken upon cognizance of your callousness, and may the God whose love surely casts out fear so wean you off the narcotic of certitude that you open your tightly shut arms to the victims of your recklessness.
We’re not interested in your platitudinous abstractions. We’re not interested in your hermeneutical tradition, your theologizing, or your hamartiological convictions.
We’re interested in your love.
This is life and death.
I will always love you, I will always be willing to converse with you, and I will not hesitate to speak out when boundaries and grace are trespassed in the name of ideology, particularly when the latter is placed over and above the very real lives of human beings, your siblings.
And we’re not going anywhere.
As a form of gracious response, my long-distant faith community of diverse thought formulated its own statement, A Liturgists Statement, as a means of countering those who would suggest a self-giving God considers self-giving love as anything but holy. Another prominent refutation exists in the Christians United Statement, where prominent affirming Christians, preachers, and theologians have publicly affirmed their LGBTQ neighbors.
Both share that which the Nashville Statement does not: minority representation.
If you wish to participate in a minority-led refutation of this horrendous miscalculation, this is your opportunity to add your name to the list.
You’ll find mine in both.
Collectively, these statements are of particular notoriety within the LGBTQ Christian’s mind, both for the sting of resentment they bring with them, and for the frustration that our Christian peers refuse to listen when we’re hurt through their passivity.
Nonetheless, I believe there are ways we can move beyond the flimsy rhetoric into more holistic integration within one another’s religious lexicon. Foremost, this requires a willingness to abandon the stalemate of a culture war liberals and conservatives continue to fight.
This is not so much a “third way” of sorts, but a chance to make linguistic adjustments and avoid harming your neighbor – even if you assume the aforementioned assertions true – out of love. Micro-Aggressions are dangerous, no matter the context.
Each of the following statements or postures do not require you to change what it is you believe. Bear that in mind as you interpret what I’m about to say.
I love you. That’s it. Unconditionally, wholly, and without reservation, you can love us. You needn’t love through conspicuous dissent, but through unrestrained grace. For many of us, that kind of unconditional embrace is something for which we deeply yearn, and it can be hard to find. If you’re willing to love without condition, you may find Christ in the relationship, as this was always his approach.
I don’t expect you to change. If you’re willing to love unconditionally, you must forsake your desire to change us. For those who have walked through this journey and find ourselves on the affirming side, your chances of convincing or persuading us back into the constriction from which we’ve been freed are greatly lessened, at best. Too many queer Christians have been treated as projects, whether explicitly or subconsciously, by their conservative peers.
We aren’t a people to be fixed. We aren’t in need of your salvation from our errant ways. Instead, love without expectation of change. This can be especially difficult, but you mustn’t pursue a friendship if your intention is “evangelize” or “witness” to the other party. That’s not a friendship, and it’s consequently dangerous; false pretenses do not give rise to loving relationships.
I want to listen. You may not be entitled to our stories, and we are not required to share them, but you must begin to ascertain how important “listening” is when loving your LGBTQ neighbor. And before you think “that means gay people have to hear what I’m saying”, remember:
We’re the minority – you are not.
We’ve heard you our whole lives.
By listening and hearing our stories without rendering judgment, you’ll be giving us something far too often missing from these “conversations”: silence. Love by listening. It goes the distance in reminding us we’re loved, we’re human, and our stories matter.
How can I help you feel more included? While you may disagree with the premise of affirmation, surely you can find reason to affirm our inclusion within our shared contexts. Queer Christians are far too often discriminated against in our communities due to our distinguishing qualities, and because of this, many end up outcast from families, churches, schools, and institutional environments that should otherwise love and edify them.
By seeking ways to include – again, unconditionally – you can affirm our humanity and love us in community.
What do you need? This is simple and needs little qualification, but if you care enough about us to seek ways in which to meet our needs, you’ll demonstrate that same love Christ offered in abundance.
I’m sorry. Repentance, in its centrality to the life of a Christian, must be seen as both personal and corporate. While you cannot personally repent for the sins of the corporate Church in totality, you can make an effort to participate in that reconciliation through your own repentance.
For any ways in which you’ve judged, ridiculed, or harmed your LGBTQ neighbors, apologize. Reconcile. And keep learning how you can better practically love and support those you may not fully understand.
I’m more than aware of the many things I’ve left out, but this can be a good frame of reference. My sincere hope is that you’re not left with a bitter taste from reading these points, but empowered to assist in making the world a better, more loving place for those of us left behind.
If you’re willing to love us without condition, without passive-aggressive platitudes wrapped in the typically subtle package, I believe you’ll be genuinely surprised at how much we have in common. By sacrificing micro-aggressions and undertaking more edifying language, you’ll aid in healing deep wounds far too often exploited.
We are, no matter our differences, human beings. And we’re loved by the same God.
Gospel, the love of Yahweh, is most effective when we can let down our walls and be bettered by our collective witness. Without intending to, we can refine one another in real and helpful ways.
If you, non-affirming Christians, can listen to what we’re saying from your margins, you’ll be better for it.
So will we.