“Can I validate my LGBT friend’s pain if I believe in a traditional sexual ethic?”

Often, we receive questions from people who hold a traditional sexual ethic and are wondering whether it’s possible for them to validate the harm LGBT people have experienced within the Church and maintain their current beliefs. Many of these queries come from people who have taken the time to educate themselves about LGBT Christian issues, where they consider what other messages they might be sending if they show any signs of solidarity with an LGBT person’s experience of pain. Recently we received the following question from one of our readers:

“When I go to work almost every day a nice young man comes in. We talk some because I think he doesn’t have any family and he likes hanging out there at the restaurant where I’m a server. He told me he is gay and his church has treated him badly. He gets sad about it and it looks like he’s about to cry sometimes. I want to give him a hug and tell him I love him and God loves him, but I’m worried if I do that he will think I am ok with his sex life or him getting married, and I really think those things are against the Bible. But it’s against the Bible too if I don’t show him love and I don’t know what to do. He said I was the only Christian he ever trusted and I think it’s awful how some Christians were yelling at him when he was a boy. I don’t know what to do. Do you have advice?”

We think this question raises an extremely important issue for all Christians to consider. Because postures towards the LGBT community are often politicized, many straight people who are kind to LGBT people get labeled as “liberal” while many LGBT people associate the words “conservative” and “traditional” with “mean and nasty.” This particular reader does not have a modern, liberal sexual ethic but wants to treat all LGBT people with respect, kindness, and dignity. In short, this reader wants to love all people as Christ loves them.

We’ve heard much advice offered to others in our reader’s shoes. Most of the time, the advice goes something like this: educate yourself about LGBT people. Go to a meeting of a local gay organization. Search the Scriptures for yourself to discern what they might actually be saying about God’s heart for LGBT people. Read books that offer arguments in favor of gay marriage within Christianity. Consider that perhaps this encounter with your gay friend is an invitation to change your views on homosexuality.

There is merit in the customarily given advice, as numerous LGBT stereotypes run rampant in Christian traditions. Many people like our reader have followed all of the suggestions and and returned to their original position: they believe that same-sex sexual intimacy is outside of the boundaries God has set for Christians. From the perspective of these folks, the question becomes, “Now what? I’ve searched the Scriptures and explored my Christian tradition more fully, but I am convinced more now than ever of my traditional sexual ethic. Am I being duplicitous when I give my gay friend a hug and tell him ‘God loves you’?”

Our post today is directed to straight people who hold a traditional sexual ethic and are also committed to seeking God’s heart for LGBT people. We understand that you probably feel lost amidst all the politicization, and we commend you for reaching out to initiate this conversation.

We’d like to begin by reminding everyone that even if someone identifies with a term like lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, it’s impossible to tell immediately if that person is having sex, is in a relationship, or is interested in marrying a person of the same sex. You don’t know anything about someone’s sexual ethic until he or she decides to tell you. LGBT people are just as diverse as straight, cisgender people. There’s considerable variation in how LGBT people even look at the questions, a diversity that only increases when LGBT people start to live out their answers. When offering empathy to your straight friends, do you consider agreement on sexual ethics a prerequisite? Most likely, you don’t. And most likely, not all your straight friends hold to the same sexual ethic as you.

Our next bit of encouragement is to think about what it means to you to hold a traditional sexual ethic. Is your traditional sexual ethic about living out what you believe fully, or is it more about establishing yourself as being “right” so you can look down on others who are not living according to that sexual ethic? We acknowledge that many Christian traditions use a traditional sexual ethic as a yardstick by which to judge the world at large. We’ve heard far too many churches teach that the only “loving” approach to an LGBT person is to sit down with him or her and “share” some verses. Might it be possible to read Romans 1 differently while still maintaining a traditional sexual ethic? Take heart, and know that it’s good and proper to hurt with the hurting. Never forget the words of Jesus who answered the question of “Which is the great commandment?” with “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Offering empathy, support, and encouragement is indeed one manner of loving your neighbor as yourself.

As a final bit of advice, we suggest that you ask yourself “How would I want a Christian friend to respond if I shared with him or her that I was feeling hurt by the Church?” When the question is posed this way, many of us experience a knee-jerk towards a response of “Please listen. Ask questions. Give me space to share my story.” So many of us carry around all kinds of hurt. It’s next to impossible to predict what has caused the hurt in the first place. Chances are extremely high that an LGBT person has been hurt by something other than a church’s refusal to bless a same-sex marriage or a church’s disapproval of same-sex sexual activity. Many LGBT people have been subjected to Christian speakers spouting outright lies when teaching on homosexuality. Even when LGBT people have been hurt by their churches’ refusals to bless a same-sex marriages, there’s often much more to the story than, “I don’t agree with the traditional teaching and I want my way.” How have you experienced pain within your faith communities, current and past? What does it look like when another Christian hears and validates your own story of being hurt, even if they haven’t had the same experience? Model the response you would like to see others give to you when listening to how an LGBT person has been hurt by the Church. Seriously, we can’t recommend listening highly enough.

There’s no reason that a person with a traditional sexual ethic should feel unable to validate the pain experienced by LGBT people in the Church. Show interest. Ask questions. Be present. And do inquire to see if the person you’re conversing with would like a hug. If the answer is “Yes,” then let Christ use your arms to enfold your new friend in a hug. You don’t need to agree on sexual ethics (or morality in general, or theology broadly) in order to provide this kind of care and support to another person. After all, God gives us opportunities to show this care so that we learn to extend God’s love to everyone we meet.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

11 thoughts on ““Can I validate my LGBT friend’s pain if I believe in a traditional sexual ethic?”

  1. If your friend the server had the same situation with someone who was divorced, or divorced and remarried, I doubt this question would even be asked.

    Of course she/he should tell the boy he is loved! And if a hug is appropriate in that situation, yes, hug him too!

    It is not our job to control or judge the lives of others, but to love them.

    If he questions whether he should marry a guy, and asks the opinion of the server, the server is free to say that she/he is personally traditional on those questions, but that she/he loves the young man nevertheless.

    Bit really, would the server be in doubt as to whether to hug or comfort a divorcee?

    • Hi Michael. It’s likely that most people just don’t think of that comparison. It probably doesn’t cross their minds. Thanks for bringing divorce up as an example. It’s quite fitting for this issue. And yes, we are firm believers in the healing power of hugs!

    • We love each and every moment of our lives and yes we love int the midst of sin. Love does not change the wrong doing. Drug abuse, alcoholism, divorce or same sex marriage does not alter by meeting a person where they are in their pain. Yet, sin should never be mistaken for a goal. I have been told by someone close that they love their addiction and would do nothing to change it, while I see and experience its destruction. And while I love them and pray for them. I so desired for the end of this destructive behavior.

      • Hello, and thanks for your comment. We’re glad that you’ve chosen to read a bit on a A Queer Calling. We hope you’ll stick around.

        One thing that we noticed about your comment is that at the first mention of a gay person, you jumped immediately to “drug abuse, alcoholism, divorce, or same sex marriage.” As we stated in our post, a person describing himself or herself as LGBT says nothing about whether he or she is having sex, is in a relationship, or is interested in marrying a person of the same sex. If we’re labeling anything a “destructive behavior,” then it needs to be a behavior in the first place.

        Elsewhere on the blog, we’ve talked about comparing homosexuality and addiction. We’d urge you to take a look! We welcome your further comments.

  2. We’ve noticed that many people are finding our blog today for the first time through this post. Because we’ve seen (a very small amount of) Facebook comments that seem to miscategorize this post and misinterpret our bigger blog project, we’d urge you to get in touch. We noticed in particular some commenters suggesting that we personally encourage people “to read books that offer arguments in favor of gay marriage in Christianity.” However, this counsel is not our counsel. Rather, it is the counsel primarily provided by people who want others to arrive at a modern, liberal sexual ethic. Our noting that “There is merit in the customarily given advice” is not the same as us offering an unconditional endorsement of these approaches.

    If you’d like to hear our perspective on any specific questions, please consider commenting or contacting us privately. We’re always happy to sit down and enjoy a cordial conversation over a virtual cup of tea!

  3. I was just about in tears by the end of this. Great post. 🙂

    You spoke with a better understanding of the questioner’s position than I probably could have, even though I’ve been where your reader is. When I first read the question, I couldn’t see past a desire to yell, HUG THE POOR BOY! OH MY GOSH!! But one statement I would recommend reconsidering–if I may–is this:

    Is your traditional sexual ethic about living out what you believe fully, or is it more about establishing yourself as being “right” so you can look down on others who are not living according to that sexual ethic?

    While I do know a few people whose commentary on the subject seems to primarily involve taking delight in their own cleverness and disgust for LGBT sexualities (which Christianity seems to justify to them), I believe that more commonly–and especially in the case of someone like your questioning reader, for whom natural compassion has already begun to kick in–the motivation has nothing to do with an arrogant need to be proven right, and everything to do with a deep fear of being wrong in the eyes of God.

    Whether that amounts to the same thing is arguable, perhaps, but it’s certainly perceived differently. You don’t want to get in trouble with God. You don’t want to lead someone astray.

    When the difficulty is a fear of being wrong, well–what I’d say is, Did God wait for you to live up to all of His standards before comforting you and showing you love? Is it maybe worth considering whether an instinctive need to protect your ideals and defend your beliefs is getting in the way of you offering someone God’s healing mercy? Can you hope that by the power of God, a little open-hearted Christian lovingkindness might aid your hurting young friend in eventually finding some reconciliation with God and the Church?

    And then everything else that you two said. 🙂

    It’s a place to start, anyway…

    Questioning reader, from one Christian who has wrestled ideas of moralism and love under biblical dictum to another: Please go give your gay friend a hug! And then please give him an extra one from me.

    • Hi Jen, thanks for your comment.

      We can appreciate that many readers likely saw the question and had the same reaction “JUST HUG THE POOR BOY!”

      To clarify a bit about establishing yourself as being “right” :: One thing that we’ve noticed with many cisgender, heterosexual friends is that they have done everything possible to live rightly by the traditional sexual ethic. They did what they needed to do to abstain from sex before marriage, married, try to honor their spouse and grow a family, and then encounter situations like our reader poses. If you regard yourself as having followed a sexual ethic “properly,” then situations like this one may threaten your notion of what is proper to do. Because doing things right can create a sense of pride, one might find oneself judging those who have gone about matters the “wrong” way.

      You are absolutely right to point out that the natural outgrowth of compassion is to spur us towards asking the question, “Might we be approaching these questions the wrong way?”

      • (^^^ Me commenting while not logged into my WordPress account–sorry!)

        And you are absolutely right that “situations like this one may threaten [the successful traditional ethicist’s] notion of what is proper to do. Also, that doing things right can create pride, which easily turns into judgment. I totally agree. The wording seemed to me to suggest a strongly negative motive that I don’t think would be perceived in the self; I mentioned it because in your post you were obviously working around your reader’s defenses, and I thought that might act against your goal.

        But reactions vary, and I am very capable of being wrong.

        Either way–as Church, as a society, oh, have we ever been approaching these questions the wrong way!

  4. The difficulty with internet commenting is that at some point you hit post, and then you can’t edit anymore…

    …so to clarify: I might be wrong about the commonness of respective thought patterns. I hope I didn’t come across as invalidating your experiences of facing bigotry, because I certainly didn’t mean that! I only spoke because your reader struck me as someone possibly caught, like I was for years, in a judgment/fear-based defensive stance on Christian morality. When I say “a deep fear of being wrong in the eyes of God,” I mean a primal thing, something that’s as involuntary and overpowering as a fear of heights. It tends to be linked to scrupulosity, I think… or maybe that’s just me.

    Also, my pronouns and antecedents are all over the place. I hope my first comment even makes sense.

    Anyway, for the question-writer again: Hugging a friend–gay or otherwise–can be a good way to understand something of how much God loves them. <3

    • We understand how pronouns and antecedents can get all over the place. Lindsey is so very grateful that Sarah is the better editor of the two of us.

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