I love gay people.
For many, it’s surprising to hear a Christian minister say that — especially an evangelical minister from a fundamentalist background and with fundamentalist theological training — but I do love them. I can’t help it really. And I don’t love people because I’m a saint. I love them because I know so many by name.
I know Jesus asks me to love everyone, but I must be honest; I have trouble loving people I don’t know. A plane crashes in Asia and I’m saddened for the families of the dead, but I don’t grieve. I don’t love them as Jesus does because I don’t know them. Jesus knows them.
I know many gay and lesbian people. I love them.
For a decade and a half I was a youth minister. I took teenagers to Six Flags, to summer camps, on mission trips, to countless retreats and rallies, and I loved every minute of it — well, most every minute of it (I could have lived with better sleeping conditions on many of those retreats and mission trips). But I never complained because I always loved my kids. And they were my kids.
We shared our lives together. We joked. We cried. We served. We worshiped God. And we loved each other. I can’t recount all the late night conversations and heart-to-heart talks on long rides. Conversations about life and faith; God and evil; and the purpose behind our existence peppered and seasoned my life as I walked alongside teenagers. They walked alongside me too.
Some of those teenagers are now ministers themselves – both inside and outside of churches. Some have adopted needy kids while they were still basically children themselves. Some of my kids have set out to change the world while others are just trying to hang on and save themselves. Some are therapists; others wait tables. They’ve become teachers and lawyers, accountants and musicians. Each one has chased God to the best of their limping abilities.
And some of those kids are gay.
These kids aren’t celebrities “parading” their relationships in publications and in front of the cameras. They aren’t activists working to bring disquiet to little old ladies carrying King James Bibles. They aren’t shouters or screamers or dancing in the street. They never wanted to throw their identities into someone’s face, like some of my Christian friends accuse them of.
These are my kids.
They have faces. And names. And stories. They have moms. And dads. And brothers. And sisters. They have hopes and fears. But mainly they want to live quiet, peaceful, and useful lives.
My kids aren’t stereotypes. They’re not caricatures. They’re flesh and blood; alive and kickin’ people.
Regardless of your Biblical or political convictions regarding homosexuality, I think you would have to agree that the way many of us in Christian communities have spoken to and about people in the LGBTQ community is wholly and fundamentally unChristian.
And I know when something is fundamentally wrong.
Remember, I was raised a fundamentalist.
We have not hesitated to mock, abuse, degrade, and humiliate God’s creation. We have chosen the sins of division, blasphemy, stone throwing, bearing false witness, and judgment while simultaneously accusing them of choosing a “sinful lifestyle.” We are hypocrites and liars and afraid of our own humanity. And we have tried to blame our gay and lesbian friends for our sin.
There is no excuse for our words of degradation; no excuse for our venomous attitudes; and no excuse for our failure to love our neighbors. It’s no wonder then that in this past year hundreds of gay teenagers committed suicide. The most chilling sentence in Justin Lee’s tremendous book, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate is this one: “During the day, I daydreamed about ways to kill myself.”
I cannot tell you with certitude that these tortured young souls killed themselves because of the words of Christians, but I can offer the assurance that the “hands and feet of Jesus” have not helped. My guess is that few of them thought the church would be the place to turn for comfort, solace, and love.
At this critical moment in time, what is required from the church is nothing short of repentance. Our repentance need not necessarily be for wrong-headed views about homosexuality, but it most certainly must encompass our hypocrisy for not treating all sex outside of marriage equally. Our repentance should be for angry words not spoken in love and not coming to the aid and defense of the LGBTQ community when they have been attacked.
This past Sunday I preached a message close to my heart about Christian speech ethics. My heart was again pricked by James, the brother of Jesus, as he writes,
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. (James 3. 9-10)”
The simple truth for the Christian community is this: We can no longer refer to the LGBTQ community the way we have. We cannot say, “God hates fags.” We cannot tell jokes mocking who they are. We can no longer do so because the scriptures instruct us not to.
James reminds us that all people are made in God likeness, His image. All people are God’s children. They, like we, are God’s kids. How would you feel; what would you think; if someone spoke about your kids the way some of our Christian brothers and sisters speak about God’s kids?
The men and women you shame, devalue, and humiliate sat in my youth group and struggled quietly and patiently with feelings that they neither wanted nor understood. Because of our words and posture, they believed they had no one to tell.
They are trying their God’s honest best — as we all are — to try to be God’s woman or man. So please, be good to my kids.