A year or so ago this blog post, about how I’d respond if I learned that my children were gay totally blew up, allowing me an almost instant audience with millions of people from around the world. My words weren’t revolutionary and they weren’t very different from ones I’d said many times before, but somehow the timing and the tone of the piece resonated with lots of people. As someone with a heart to see issues of sexuality fully and responsibly addressed in the Church, I was grateful.
As the post found its way all over social media and as various news outlets began covering it as a personal interest story, two things began happening almost immediately. Firstly, I was labeled as an LGBTQ ally and secondly, I was inundated with advice from scores of LGBTQ Christians on how I should now speak and behave and position myself in that official capacity.
As all sorts of perspectives poured in, some of the wisest words came from an older gay man who had spent the previous four decades on the front lines in the discussions of faith and sexuality as a pastor, speaker, writer, and activist. When I asked for his suggestions on how to responsibly carry my newly received title; how not to say the wrong things or do unwanted damage or unwillingly be part of the problem, he said something that was revelatory.
In response to my question my new friend replied very matter-of-factly, “The one thing you never want to feel compelled to do, is please the LGBTQ community because it doesn’t exist.”
My silence accurately reflected how stunned I was, and realizing this he continued on.
“Just because someone is LGBTQ and a Christian, doesn’t mean they speak for the entire gay community of faith. They can’t. They only speak for themselves as a queer person and those who might happen to agree with them. There is a huge diversity of belief and theology among LGBTQ Christians, and your job isn’t to make them all happy because you can’t. You are called to listen to them and learn from them, and then to speak your personal heart as a straight pastor and a Christian who loves LGBTQ people. That’s it.”
My friend’s words have been my constant companion over the past year, as I’ve tried with various degrees of success to navigate the complex, important, incredibly tenuous road of being called an LGBTQ ally. I’ve come to approach caring for, advocating for, and loving the gay community, by doing my best not to see it as a thing at all. The people represented by the LGBTQ Community label are far too diverse to really be categorized that way. It may sound like an exercise in semantics, but for me the very heart of being what some might call an LGBTQ ally is seeing those people as individuals, as equals. I don’t lump them all into some massive category based strictly on their gender identity or sexual orientation. That’s why the Church has been so messed-up to begin with.
When I’m sitting with a group of friends at dinner, I’m not separating them along these lines. I’m not using their sexuality to create distinctions or trying to summarize their theology or experience of faith based on one issue alone. I’m simply breaking bread with people I love and welcoming their incredible originality as once-in-history, God-breathed individual creations. This, for me is the essence of how we should all strive to become Christian allies for humanity. We don’t ignore history and we don’t gloss over the differences and the issues surrounding sexualit (or any other distinction for that matter), but we don’t dwell on any one of these as defining any of us either.
At the very heart of the Christian understanding of one another, is that our greatest commonality is Christ.
As I’ve said before, I really don’t like to think of myself as an LGBTQ ally. I’m a pastor. I’m a Christian. I’m an ally for all people; I just consider LGBTQ people, people. Sadly that is still a novelty in The Church and that is why these labels remain relevant. As a straight man, that doesn’t mean I ever believe that I can speak for someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender with regard to their sexuality or their story, but I can try to speak what I believe is the heart of God for all people and make sure that they are fully represented in that all-people advocacy. I can and do fight for the rights of LGBTQ individuals to have a place at the table, where their voices are as heard and respected and valued as anyone else’s, but that doesn’t mean I can make them all happy, nor should that be my goal.
Ultimately as someone who communicates issues of faith publicly, criticism will always come from all sides, and they each need to be equally sifted for truth and processed as individual voices. An LGBTQ Christian speaker, writer, or pastor (even a popular, intelligent, or eloquent one), doesn’t any more speak for all gay people of faith than I do for all straight believers. It’s that kind of thinking that is at the root of the inequality, bigotry, and side-choosing that has horribly scarred our faith tradition, and that is a dangerous way to speak, serve, and minister.
I certainly hope that as I try to personally reflect the character of Christ to all people and champion a fully diverse Church, that both straight and LGBTQ individuals will find themselves encouraged and in some way represented (while others will disagree and get ticked off). But in the same way, I don’t expect that simply because I desire these things, that it exempts me from criticism and scrutiny from gay or straight Christians.
Until we see all humanity from the perspective of God, all our labels will be problematic and ultimately incomplete. On some level I understand the usefulness of these terms, and as a straight pastor supporting LGBTQ people I realize that I am in a position of speaking my support for many whose voices have not been represented or heard. I take that honor and responsibility very seriously but at my core I am working hard toward a Church where such distinctions are unnecessary.
I’ll continue to do what my wise friend suggested I do as I began this journey: keep listening, keep learning, and keep speaking openly and passionately what I believe to be the heart of Jesus for all people. I will continue to be a bold ally for humanity and a willing and committed adversary of bigotry and intolerance wherever they rise up.
As a person of faith, I’ll strive to seek first and see first the Kingdom of God.
I believe that all people have value; individually, personally, fully.
May we who believe this regardless of our smaller distinctions, speak loudly and often.
We’re all in this together.