I regularly find myself in conversation with people who feel deeply conflicted about how to love and respond to LGBT people: conservative minsters whose hearts have softened towards LGBT people, but whose theology has not; college chaplains who are suddenly finding themselves flummoxed by trans, queer, and gay students sitting in their office, struggling with faith and sexuality; parents, friends, siblings of gay people who see the damage done by the church and don’t know how to stop perpetuating that damage.
I often find it hard to sit with people in such cognitive dissonance. I find their theology destructive, their unwillingness to fully embrace LGBT people morally bankrupt. And yet, I also see the yearning within them for a better way forward than what they were given by their religious traditions. Many traditional people are ill at ease with their theology, and that is an uneasiness I can work with.
Every time I have one of these conversations, the question is the same: what do I do? How do resolve this?
For years now, I’ve been giving the same answer:
Read and learn as much as you can
The topic of gender and sexuality is gigantic, and you are fooling yourself if you think you can skirt by without adequate reading. An unbelievable amount of ink has been spilled on this subject, and the sooner you wade in the better. If you are not willing to make time to read and learn, then I beseech you to claim modest agnosticism on this subject, as true knowledge is earned, and chances are that you know less than you think you do. A few suggested entry points for reading:
Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon
Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill
Changing Our Mind by David Gushee
What’s Wrong with Homosexuality? by John Corvino
This is just a modest introduction, and I expect that you will explore far beyond the books recommended here.
Get to know LGBT people and become deeply engaged in their lives
Presuming, of course, that they are willing to have such a relationship. Many LGBT people are so wounded and done with Christianity that they may want nothing to do with you. Don’t take it personally, and cherish the relationships you can foster with LGBT folk.
As you get to know the LGBT community, you will discover the unimaginable diversity of the human race within our fold. You will find conservative trans people and boring cat people like myself. You will find radical nationalists, Trump supporters, Centrists, Marxists, radical leftists, monogamists, polyamorists, and disabled people. You will find the whole gamut of beliefs, race, culture, experience, health, and lifestyle. The more LGBT people you know, the better, as all the preconceived and dehumanizing narratives of what an LGBT person is or ought to be will start to melt away.
Be in it for the long haul
It will be all too easy to decide you’ve put in your credit hours on this subject and then call it case closed. I ask that you resist this impulse.
For those of us born into a sexual or gender minority, we never have the opportunity to turn it off. Even in our rapidly humanizing culture, LGBT people are still confronted with our difference every day. I could still get evicted from my apartment for being gay, and I could still lose my job for my orientation. I still confront deep wounds on a weekly or daily basis because of my past in church and ex-gay therapy. Many LGBT people are still caught in the death grip of reconciling gender and orientation to faith and religious community. For those of us who have found some measure of peace, it is hard earned — a peace attained with long suffering work and anguish.
The least you can do to stand in solidarity with us to refuse to disengage. Commit to learning and engaging with this subject for years, if not decades.
Let it fuck up your life
Being born into a gender or sexual minority has complicated our lives. The least you can do is to let it complicate yours, because if you engage with any measure of integrity, it will. It will devastate your theology, your clear-cut answers, and your certainty. It might make you question who and what God is, what the Bible is, and what it means to be human. It may give you sleepless nights. It may destroy your career — I have friends who have lost churches, teaching positions, and financial security because of how deeply their engagement altered their lives. Let it shake your faith, upend your life, and challenge your worldview. Anything less is not enough, and most significantly, is not Christlike.
If these 4 steps of solidarity with LGBT people seem like too tall an order, that’s ok. But don’t pretend you can speak with any sort of legitimacy on the subject if you haven’t undertaken this commitment.
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