Thoughts On The Gay Community, Humanity, And Why I'm Not An LGBTQ Ally

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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.

 

 

34 thoughts on “Thoughts On The Gay Community, Humanity, And Why I'm Not An LGBTQ Ally

  1. Beautiful.

    And I can testify…you have never ever related to me as Charissa your transgender christian friend…

    …but rather as jus me…Charissa Grace who loves Jesus and you do too

    <3
    Always, John
    <3

  2. John, I concur, as there is no monolithic ‘straight community’ either. I will tell you here that when we skyped, for the first time in this life of mine, a Man Of The Cloth looked at me, truly regarded me, and spoke with me, as an equal or better.
    I struggled to contain my feelings and maintain our conversation. I fought back some very powerful tears, and a whole bunch of somethings deep in my past suddenly and abruptly balanced, healed, or mended, and I felt WHOLE in a validating spiritual sense I wasn’t aware was missing. I felt Recognized. Apologies, it’s still new and I have yet to find the right words, but this will have to do.

    • It’s amazing how tricky so many seemingly-intelligent people find this concept of diversity to be, how many times I have had to explain that there is no “gay lifestyle” and then explain to otherwise kind people the horror that is the myth behind the words “gay lifestyle”.

  3. I have to admit, when I saw this post and the title I was a little bit afraid. Years of constant disappointment from the Christian community regarding this very issue have taught me to be wary. But as always Mr. Pavlovitz, you do not disappoint. This post was wonderfully written, well thought out, and a view that I would hope to see in many other Christians someday. Thank you for always being a kind and reasonable voice, and for sharing your grace with the rest of us. It is more appreciated than you know.

  4. As a gay Christian, I totally understand where you’re coming from, and I think your friend is spot on. I’m sorry for the pressure you must have felt from the LGBT community, or even especially the affirming Christians who think it their duty to uphold an entire people’s well-being. And as a gay Christian, I will do what I can to project the all-enveloping and blindingly brilliant light I feel from the Spirit within. I will delight in those around me in their moments of triumph AND their weakness. I will carry in my heart the warmth of God’s love for His children. I will hold myself in opposition of hatred, discrimination, and oppression. But I will also acknowledge that I cannot defend an entire population. That ability lies only with an all-seeing, all-powerful God.

    I know He looks upon the goodness you send out to the world and the support you show for your fellow man and smiles more radiantly than the sun. Thank you John Pavlovitz. You’re alright in my book.

    ~Andy

  5. “As I’ve said before, I really don’t like to think of myself as an LGBT ally. I’m a pastor. I’m a Christian. I’m an ally for all people; I just consider LGBT people, people. Sadly that is still a novelty in The Church and that is why these labels remain relevant. ”

    Brilliant.

    I think of you as an awesome Christian LGBT ally.
    I agree, attaching to that, trying to please queers… that doesn’t work.
    And I agree seeking first the Kingdom of Heaven / Reign of God, and being in right-relationship, in line with God’s will… that does work.

    Blessings!! w

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  7. I agree and I disagree. You are right when you say that all LGBT people are different and can only fully represent themselves as individuals. I am transgender, and am different from every other trans person I’ve met. So in that sense I can only speak up for myself. But I also feel it important that I make a stand on behalf of all trans people, remembering that these variation exist. I am able to share with people what it is to be trans and how devastating it can be when we meet opposition, abuse and condemnation, especially from Christians. I am also able to speak out on behalf of LGB people as well, albeit to a lesser extent.
    I wholeheartedly agree that ultimately we should look those who are different from us as individuals, not people with issues, problems or afflictions. That is the heart of the matter, and you have stated this very powerfully in your blog, for which a huge thank you.
    Elaine Sommers

    • “stand on behalf of all trans people” He is Elaine, or says he is – “I’m an ally for all people” You are special, and you may feel you need recompensing, but what you need is acceptance which I sense John is offering.

  8. My true belief of why you resonate and why you ‘blew up’ with so many interested in what you have to say is twofold:

    1. You’re a very good writer, and you put into words thoughts and ideas that people find very hard to articulate.

    2. You’re a kind soul. People are tired of the shouting, posturing and arguing. You are a breath of fresh air my friend.

    Peace

  9. Dear John,
    Thank you for putting into words all the feelings I have had over the years but was not able to articulate as beautifully as you. I am a pastor and I have a gay son. Of course, loving him as I do, I welcomed his friends into the house and into our lives. When I moved away for a job, but then returned to permanently move my belongings, all my son’s friends came to “hang out” with me. I asked my son, why would they want to hang out with me? (A middle aged, boring mom.) He said, because I treated them as people, I loved them as my own. So, thank you for the wonderful reminder of how we are called to love all individually as God’s unique creations.

  10. Please pardon all my grammatical/general writing mistakes. The above should read, “This is ONE of the finest articles I’ve ever read.”

    In my opinion, you don’t really know what advocacy work is like until you have people on both (all?) sides of an issue angry at you and/or trying to manipulate you.

    Which is what always happens when you’re truly being fair to everyone.

  11. I think this goes back to a comment I made on an earlier piece you wrote – we need to stop putting people into boxes. They are people, not some conglomerate entity that acts like the Borg from Star Trek. Christ dealt with people. Yes, he addressed societal issues at large, but it’s when he went one-on-one and met them where they were that true transformation and love happened. It doesn’t matter what “group” you’re talking about – only conversing with them as a group will not get to the heart of things nor will it ever reach the level that God is asking us to reach.

  12. I fully disagree. This is the equivalent to the popular retort (by mostly white people) to the black lives matter movement of “all lives matter.” Yes, they do…but there is a particular reason we are talking about certain ones at this moment. They are the ones that are marginalized and consistently oppressed.

    By and large, the same is true with Christians and the gay community. Simply reminding Christians that they should treat everyone with love fails to place a spotlight on an area that is severly ignored, or worse actively antagonized.

    So, please. Don’t underestimate the inportance of using a label that pays special recognition to a group that faces special harm.

    • The Christian community is marginalized and oppressed? Well, I guess that depends on how you define “Christian.” In the broadest sense here in the United States and around the world, Christianity is doing just great. Now, if you are talking about the little jars of Jello huddled up in a knot down at the IFB church, you guys are marginalized—but not because you follow Jesus. You guys are marginalized because a lot of what you believe is just plain silly and wrong—and riddled with DS ignorance—like when a toddler thinks he is big enough to take over and run Microsoft.

      • I think you misunderstood me and that we are on the same page. I was saying in many cases Christians are the ones doing the oppresing and that it behooves them to use the term ally to pay special recognition to the fact that some groups are more disadvantaged and more unloved than others.

        Sorry if that was unclear.

  13. What a good view and outlook, Jesus was considered a friend of sinners, and sin reigns in ALL our mortal bodies…..everyone deserves compassion and mercy shown to them by ALL.

    • Except the fundies. They don’t give any out—and they would never accept any if you offered it to them when they needed it. Indeed, I doubt that they would even recognize it if it were delivered to them on a silver platter with a sign stuck in it. Just sayin”

  14. Exactly this John! I love your phrase about seeing people “from the perspective of God”…when you think about it from God’s perspective, things like sexual orientation, race, denomination, culture, and a host of other things, are very superficial. Just like my black Christian friends don’t want to be known as my black brothers and sisters, gay Christians don’t want to be my gay brothers and sisters…they are all simply all my brothers and sisters from God’s perspective which is the perspective we/I need to keep foremost in my mind.

  15. I love this post and your perspective, you know I do, and I understand and agree, almost entirely … but … don’t shy away from the label, “ally.” For many LGBT people, the notion of Christian allies is an entirely new and novel concept.

    Many, if not most, of LGBT community has no knowledge of the radical and swift shift that is going on in the Christian church. As we await the Supreme Court decision, we’re reading article after article, and watching soundbite after soundbite, of the despicable things said about the LGBT community by guys like Huckabee and the Republican clown car of candidates, the Family Research Council, Franklin Graham, and too many right-wingnuts to count. They say outrageous things in hopes of getting the sound bite, or the invite to CNN, or a successful money-beg. And the LGBT community drowns in that sea of publicized hate.

    Having sat in on several of Tony Campolo’s addresses, and knowing the kind of close friendships and support he has enjoyed from highly conservative right wing and from mainstream evangelicals, I was shocked and my jaw dropped to learn he is a new ally. However, most of the people in my world have no clue who he is.

    We need allies. Guys who will counter the Rick Warrens of the world.

    I work (successfully, to be immodest and honest) in branding/marketing and help my clients raise their brands above the noise that is today’s marketplace. Sometimes we avoid labels and go for the abstract, i.e., “Think Different.” On other occasions, one throws all the labels at something, i.e., “New MacBook Air, Thin, Light, Powerful, 12 Hours of Battery!” (it is awesome, btw) because we want to quickly communicate a clear message, a specific message.

    The single word “ally” quickly and simply communicates who you are to, literally, millions of people, gay and straight, who don’t yet know that loving awesome guys like you exist.

    With much love to one of my favorite allies, mike

    • Hey Mike. I hope you are having a great day. I think what John is saying is not that he is a gay ally—but rather—he is an ally of human beings in general like Jesus was. Remember: “God with us.” I still go back to the statement Jesus made about his own mission on Earth. Maybe you recall the Jesus mission statement:

      The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
      because he has anointed me
      to proclaim good news to the poor.
      He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
      and recovery of sight for the blind,
      to set the oppressed free,
      to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

      This was reiterated in “The Grapes of Wrath”:

  16. The oldler get, the less I want to be involved with church. I’m so sick of labels. Morgan Freeman was asked what he thought of Black History Month. He said as long as we acknowledge our color differences by creating a special holiday or time for them, racism will never go away. I don’t want to hear the terms gay, LGBT or the such anymore. All it does is draw lines and distinctions that hurt us all.
    Eric

  17. Here is the great 50 percent failure of Christan fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism in the United States. They are just like dogs when you show them a treat. The dog immediately fixates his mind on that one thing and nothing else in the whole world. You move the treat and you move the dog’s head. Back and forth. Forth and back. This is what Satan has done to Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. Gay marriage and abortion is the “treat” they are so fixated on that Satan can make them ignore all that you see in these pictures as if they are unimportant and have nothing to do with Jesus. It shows how thoroughly under the control of Satan that they really are;

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