The earliest indication I received of what my church felt about gay people came when I was probably in 4th grade. It’s funny, because I remember nothing else about the service that Sunday. I don’t remember what I was wearing, whether our whole family was there, or what the main point of the message was. It’s a memory that in my mind looks like a macro photograph. Everything in the background is blurred, but one point was razor sharp. Still stings today.
The pastor pointed up to the high overhead screens, they were flashing one of the toughest “clobber passages” about gay people. I remember he had bolded the words evil and sinful out of the selected scripture. I remember looking up at him, a man I had grown to respect (and still do) just waiting to hear what his next words would be. With a gentle gesture he pointed again at the screen then looked at the rest of us. He almost looked disgusted as he thundered:
“This is SIN people! It’s right there in word. People say its not, but it is! Just look.”
Although I am not sure whether I knew I was gay at the time, those words troubled me deeply. My heart sped. My world started shrinking in on me. An alarming realization rose. I was the sin. I was the evil. Father Jesus hated me because I was evil and I was sin.
The disgust became overwhelming. I couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t escape it. With a few words I went from beloved Church boy to the boy behind enemy lines.
Before we left, I took a mental note of what passage he referred to. Upon reaching my bedroom I pulled out my Bible, hopelessly wishing it wasn’t really there. Was I actually an evil person?
Then there it was. It was right there. As my pastor had said, “just look”.
So I was evil and I was sin and that was that.
For the rest of my life a wall slowly started to build between this God that hated gays, and me, the sinful evil gay. I didn’t create this wall, in fact, I spent over a decade of my life scratching at its surface. Knocking. Pounding. Yelling from the depths of my soul. Picking up pick axes of good deeds, long nights of prayer and high hands in praise and worship. I sent my piggy bank money to charity and wrote psalms in my journal.
Yet I still knew I was evil, because I was still gay.
This is what happens when words are thrown recklessly.
It is true that there remain a few on the extreme side of things that hold that orientation is inherently sinful. That gay people cannot be Christians because they refuse to give up their attractions… Mmkay, I won’t give them much more space here than this because the notion is at best, delusional, and at worst, spiritual abuse.
I have said it before and I will say it again, folks that believe that same-sex relationships are wrong are not hateful, they are not bigots nor are they necessarily wrong. You might be wrong, they might be wrong, I might be wrong. We just don’t know on this side of heaven.
Collectively though, I think we have arrived at a place where we can all agree that someone’s unchosen sexual orientation is not sinful. Most pastors and Christians I have spoken to fully agree on this tenet. And while they agree… they never really make that point clear. It kind of gets lost in translation. This is a big problem.
For example, they may address homosexuality as saying:
I don’t think it is God’s best.
And leave it at that.
Even as this is a more gentle way of putting one’s convictions, explanations should never be so vague. Little eyes are watching and little ears are hearing, and when those words fall upon them, it can feel like a ton of bricks. It can instill an identity of being an outcast. It can make them feel like Judas.
Clearly that pastor meant same-sex relationships aren’t God’s best, but… it sounds like having same-sex attractions are sinful. Which I think we can all agree aren’t.
Pastors too often fear the backlash from backdoor meetings with clergy more than the effect upon the psych of a child. I’m guessing this is more about being unaware of the implications of their words on youngins than a conscious choice. Angry elders are much more visible than quiet children.
If this is to change, I think we can save a lot of souls from spending their lives sitting inside the closet. While it sounds so simple on a blog post, it is much more difficult to put into speech. Everything from tone to language to posture has to be taken under consideration, because to a child, perception is everything.
No arguments are needed here, just explain that sexual attractions are not chosen. That gay people whether actually born this way or through the result of other factors, are discoverers of their sexuality not choosers. If you hold that same-sex relationships are sinful, that is fine, but,make sure you explain the difference of the two. Explain the difference between orientation and behavior. The difference between status and sin.
Also, avoid saying things like, “I think thieves are sinners too” or “I don’t believe in polygamy either”. All this does is establish a bridge where one is not appropriate. It’s misrepresenting the facts.
Engaging in the conversation with LGBT folks requires this admission. Many of these people like me paid dearly because of reckless words. This is common ground that everyone can feel comfortable on. It is critical to our commitment of upholding truth about a community that already feels slandered by the Church. It is paramount. It is the right thing to do. Any bridge to be built between us has to have this change to ensure that it stands on steady ground.
Until this happens, don’t expect much progress.