A theological discussion group associated with my local church recently discussed how Christians ought to react to friends who “come out” to them as GLBT. The discussion used as a prompt a one-page “position statement” on the subject which was pre-circulated. I thought I’d follow up my previous post on various interesting viewpoints on sexuality by re-posting here (with permission) the one-page prompt from the discussion group. (The author chooses to remain anonymous.) Your comments and discussion of these points is very welcome!
What Do I Say to My Friend Who’s Gay?
Why not start with “hello”? “How are you?” makes a good follow-up.
The hostility of Christians to homosexuals is so well-known in our culture that such conversational pleasantries can be shocking, and the suggestion of using them might even strike some Christians as heretical. Didn’t James describe “true religion,” in part, as “keeping oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27)? Didn’t John warn that “the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds” (2 John 11)? Paul joins the apostolic chorus by warning that “bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor 15:33).
These passages do not in fact teach that Christians need to shun sinners. Paul makes this point explicitly in the same letter: “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world” (1 Cor 5:9-10). Paul regards it as impossible to shun immoral non-Christians; he specifies, instead, that he was referring to avoiding immoral Christians. (Indeed, homosexual actions are not on this list of reasons to shun even Christians.) John’s warning against greeting people refers to those who preach a different gospel (2 John 10). James followed his definition of true religion with a warning against the very worldly practice of favoritism (James 2:1-10).
Scripture teaches that all humans, except Jesus alone, are sinners, so if Christians had to shun sinners, we would have to shun ourselves! Homosexuality is not particularly singled out among various sins for special treatment, so we can rephrase the question, “What do I say to my friend who tells me of their sin?” What are our speaking priorities to all of our friends? We are not called to confront our friends with their sins all the time. Instead, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. (We may tell ourselves that we would like people to confront us about our sins – perhaps we might – but how well did we respond the last time someone confronted us?) Jesus did not immediately confront Zacchaeus with his sins, but instead invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ house (Luke 19:5). Paul instructed speech to “give grace to those who hear” and “thanksgiving” (Eph 4:29; 5:2), and asked for prayer to speak the gospel boldly (Eph 6:19). He also commanded believers’ speech to be “with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how to respond to each person” (Col 4:6). This includes all of our friends.
When someone you know “comes out” to you as queer, they’re probably anxious. They have this identity, which the queer community is telling them is innate, immutable, and very important. (All of these points are debated, but that’s a separate discussion.) Yet if this friend knows you’re a Christian, they probably expect you to reject them. This could end your friendship. This is a test of the strength of your love for this person. How does the gospel lead us to respond? God’s message to humanity is not, “Shape up, and then come to me,” and yet by expecting our friends to reject their sins before we will associate with them, this is the message many conservative Christians send. That is not the gospel, but Pharisaism. Instead, the good news to humanity is that God said, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). The good news is that Christ cleans us up when we come to him with repentance. Paul, having listed homosexuals among varieties of sinners excluded from the kingdom, reports that “such were some of you” before your conversion (1 Cor 6:11).
The bottom line is this: all of our friends, whatever they identify as their sexual orientation, are sinners like us, in need of the only Savior, Jesus Christ. We are called to love all our neighbors, looking for ways to show them Christ’s love and share with them the good news we have received. A friend who “comes out” as gay is no exception to the human condition.