I want to talk about how Christians can show love to gays. And I want your opinions too – from Christians and non-Christians, gays and straights, fundamentalists and liberals. I’ve already mentioned in my previous post that I hold to a more progressive and liberal view of homosexuality than most Evangelical Christians. I’m not particularly dogmatic about my view because I’m quite open to the fact that I may be wrong. The issue is complex. But let’s just for a moment (throughout this post) assume I’m speaking as an orthodox (conventional) Christian – as most Christians in Singapore are. As such a Christian, I would still be thoroughly unsatisfied with how many Christians have related to gays and continue to do so. As I mentioned before, we can say that we love the sinner but hate their sin, but in general gays certainly don’t feel love from Christians.
My 4th and 5th point in my previous post was about the importance of showing love to gays. I mentioned how Jesus related to sinners, how he was known as welcoming and accepting, rather than judgemental and condemning. And I talked about how it was the power of His love that transforms lives. That’s how I feel we should relate to gays. We should be first and foremost known as a people who love them. But how would that work out practically? How can we demonstrate love to them and be known as a loving community? This is what I’d like to explore in this post – or more accurately, what I’d like you to explore with me because I don’t have a lot of answers.
Some Christians may say that when we tell them God is angry with their sin and they have to change, we’re not being mean to them but actually loving them because we’re being concerned for their souls. This argument is used very often. I reject that because that’s clearly not how Jesus related to sinners, nor the woman in adultery. Jesus didn’t use fear to drive them from sin to God. He used love to attract them to Himself.
Let me just turn a bit to another issue that’s very controversial – abortion – to illustrate what I mean by showing love. I hold to a more conservative view of abortion in that I think abortion is wrong. But like the issue of homosexuality, this is an area I’m thoroughly dissatisfied with the Church’s response. In both issues, the Church tends to talk a lot, but do very little. And if there’s any doing, it’s in the form of protests – i.e. the doing is negative. So the words and actions are negative, and they’re not backed up with positive actions of love. Is it any wonder gays and women seeking an abortion don’t feel the Church or Christians love them? Like the title of this post, I propose we Christians ought to speak softly and love loudly. At the moment, the Church is shouting (condemnation and judgement) and not loving at all. When we start speaking softly (i.e. you do not have to let go of your belief that homosexual acts are sinful or that abortion is wrong, but just tone it down a little) and loving loudly (doing positive actions of love that touches people and speaks louder than your words), I believe we’ll see more transformation in lives. Like I wrote before, love always wins out in the end simply because love is the most powerful thing in the world and love transforms.
Going to the abortion issue and how the Church can demonstrate love. There is so much we can do to try and prevent abortion besides protesting outside abortion clinics or trying to use political force to make abortion illegal. These things are hardly going to reduce the number of abortions. What can have the double effect of actually reducing abortions and also showing the world that Christians are a community of love?
The Liberals tend to focus on reducing poverty as a way to reducing abortion because one big reason (not the only reason, admittedly) for women aborting their babies is the inability (financially) to take care of the child. Studies tend to agree that reducing poverty will reduce abortion. So even if Liberals are wrong in placing women’s choice above the baby, at least their focus on poverty alleviation reduces the need for abortion. Conservatives (Christians), on the other hand, mainly focus on political action to outlaw abortion, thinking that this is the best way to do so. Christians are known for their anti-abortion political rhetoric, not for their actions to reduce poverty in order to reduce abortion. Yet, why don’t we focus equally as much, if not more so, on reducing poverty and helping women bring up their child? This, to me, would be an awesome demonstration of the love of God. If Christians focused most of their energies on doing these positive actions that would save babies and demonstrate God’s love, and less on political action against abortion, I think our actions would be closer to what Jesus would do.
Let me quote from this brilliant website called All Expenses Paid (hopefully it’ll be developed!) started by a friend of mine. He is passionately pro-life, but so different from most pro-life Christians. Just read on:
The vision:…a network of pro-life Christians across the USA who are prepared to cover any and all expenses (and to sacrifice in myriad other ways) to ensure that every woman has every reason to “choose to keep” her baby rather than to kill it. This includes readiness to open our homes to provide short or long-term food and housing, readiness to pay for all medical costs from prenatal checkups through birth through postnatal care, readiness to adopt 20 kids per family as needed, readiness to not adopt if mothers decide to raise their own babies, readiness to provide vocational and career training that a woman (rightly or wrongly) fears she might miss out on due to an unplanned pregnancy, and readiness for such generosity to be taken advantage of. Finally, this network of pro-life Christians makes its offer known continuously in front of every abortion clinic in America and through the media in such a way that no parent could ever again claim financial burden as a motivation for killing their baby.
Fuel for the vision: For those who have trusted in Him, Jesus Christ has already paid all the expenses (our infinite sin debt) on the the cross to make us right with God. Thus as beloved children of the Creator and King of the universe we have no need to seek our own in anything but rather are free to become slaves and servants to all men.
Wow! Can you imagine that? If Christians rose up like this against abortion, you can bet that the number of abortions will be reduced and people will stop thinking of Christians as hypocritical and judgemental. To be sure, abortions won’t totally disappear because there will still be those who choose an abortion for reasons other than financial reasons. But what a witness that would be! What an expression of sacrifice and love which I think would win the world over and reduce abortions.
I brought up the abortion issue here because I’m a bit clearer as to how the Church can show love in practical ways. The above actions are very radical, but that’s how we’re called to love others as Christians. It’s easy to shout and demonstrate and all. It’s so much more difficult and sacrificial to take the above steps. Yet if Christians are really as concerned about the dying babies as they say they are, I’d like to see them channeling their energy into something positive (like the above actions) that actually helps reduce abortions, win lives to Christ and brings glory to God.
If the above are good and positive ways of showing love to women who are considering abortion, what positive actions can be done by Christians that will demonstrate our love to homosexuals and see them won to Christ and transformed? I’ll mention 3 things we shouldn’t do because it doesn’t show love at all, but rather the opposite, then 2 things I think we should do:
1) Don’t use dishonest means. I will try not to say a lot more about the AWARE saga here, but the whole incident gave a really bad name to Christians. It’s a lesson in what actions shouldn’t be done. The ends do not justify the means. Even the Anglican Bishop Dr. John Chew said:
Their “takeover” actions, though not contravening AWARE’s Constitution, nevertheless raised ethical and proprietary difficulties and challenges even in the minds of many Christians.
Even if the means were legal, the spirit of it all was not. You don’t just want to be right, but to be perceived and seen to be right so that you don’t provoke anger in those you want to reach out to.
2) Don’t use fear and alarmist tactics. The accusation and fear that there’s going to be a generation of gays raised if we don’t stand up against the gays is plain stupid and dishonest. And it’s not a fear that was expressed only during the AWARE saga. Such imaginary fear is also what makes Christians dishonestly claim that there’s a gay agenda which seeks to to promote the gay lifestyle and make straights become gay. This is just so ridiculous. I hope we Christians think before we say such things. It’s dishonest, it doesn’t help and it’s not loving.
3) Don’t use the law unfairly. When some Christians rose up against the repealing of Section 377A (which criminalizes gay sex), what were they trying to achieve? Is that the way we show love to gays? Would Jesus have tried to get the law to criminalize adultery or prostitution or divorce? Do we want to win them with our love or do we just delight in getting rid of them and putting them into jail and seeing them suffer?
4) Understand gays. I don’t claim to understand gays fully even though I’m sure I have more experience with gays than the typical conservative Christian out there. I attended a gay-affirming church in Singapore for about a year or so and I’ve read a bit about homosexuality. But I’ve still so much to learn.
I think most Christians do not know what they are talking about when they think it’s so easy for gays to change or that the homosexual lifestyle is always a lifestyle of choice. We can debate whether there’s a gay gene or whether homosexual tendencies are a result of nature or nurture, but ultimately all these studies are inconclusive. I’m sure both play a part, and nature may play a bigger part in certain individuals, with nurture playing a bigger role in other individuals. Pure common sense tells me that because gays are a marginalized group, it would be foolish for gays to choose to become gays and thus become marginalized. Gays have committed suicide due to depression as a result of being gay and rejected by society. If it were so easy to turn straight, they would have done so already! Nobody yearns to become marginalized and rejected! Of course there are some who don’t struggle as much. But there’s no doubt that there are many who, if given the choice, would not choose to have such gay inclinations and for us to not recognize the struggles of the many is not being understanding.
As a Christian who believes in a loving and powerful God, I believe by faith that God can transform a person from gay to straight. I’m sure there are many of such testimonies, as there are wonderful testimonies of other forms of healing – physical and emotional. But again, a simple search on the Net will show us that it’s not as easy to change and remain changed as we’re made to think by most Christian leaders. Many who have gone through programs in ex-gay ministries have fallen back into homosexuality, even the leaders of such ministries. What does this tell us?
Remember that throughout this post I’m speaking as a conventional Christian. You can be such a Christian who believes that homosexual acts are sinful and yet still treat homosexuals with understanding and empathy. Some of the above facts are things that many Christians are ignorant of or things they choose to ignore. Ignoring them doesn’t help us in our understanding of the complex situation gays are in. Understanding the above would make us treat homosexuals with much more compassion. And I think gays would appreciate that we took the time to understand their situation and the difficulties they face.
5) Understand our God of love and grace. I think this is one of the most important things we can do – if not the most important thing – if we want to learn how to demonstrate love to gays. The more we understand how loving and gracious God is towards us, the more we will love God and others. The more we understand how much we’ve been forgiven, the more we’ll love God and others.
I already mentioned a bit in my previous post about how Jesus treated the adulteress woman and other sinners. To me, the way he related to sinners is a stark contrast to the way many Christians relate to gays. Love comes first, not judgement. Jesus was so empty of self-righteousness and so full of a non-judgemental, non-condemning and non-fear inducing attitude that sinners were not afraid of relating to Him. Jesus never condemned sinners but He rebuked the Pharisees who were self-righteous and condemned and judged others. They were the ones who were so concerned about rules and laws that they missed the whole spirit of love. They were the ones He rebuked, and not the sinners. If Jesus were here today, I have no doubt which side He’d be welcoming and accepting towards, and which side He’d be rebuking.
Love and grace are so powerful that it transforms. If we focus on God’s love and grace, it’ll transform us. And I believe if we tell gays about God’s love and grace, rather than speak messages of judgement, condemnation and fear to them, it’ll transform them.
[I didn’t originally think of bringing in my church here but I’m going to anyway :) This is more for any gays – Christian or otherwise – who are reading, than for other straight Christians reading this. Christians who get easily offended may skip this part. But this is what I have to say: I would recommend attending New Creation Church for any gays who want to overcome homosexuality. It’s not a perfect church, but it’s the perfect environment to understand and experience God’s love and grace. It’s a place you will not get judged or condemned. I’m speaking here more about the message and the whole service, than about the people you’ll meet. In a church of about 18,000+ people or so, you’ll meet all sorts of people and many of us are still learning how to show grace and love and acceptance to others.
Pastor Prince believes that homosexual acts are wrong, but he also realizes that victory over sin comes through experiencing the love and grace of God in Christ, and not through feeling condemned and fearful. It is through hearing the gospel of grace that will give you power over sin and heal you of everything. So you won’t get any condemnation there. You can just experience the message of God’s love and I believe that’s the best environment to be transformed.
In New Creation, you won’t hear about what’s wrong with you, about how sinful you are. The focus is different. It’s not on sin or judgement or fear. And as Pastor Prince always says, we focus on Jesus, and not on sin, not because we make light of sin. Rather, it’s because we make much of Jesus. If we focus on what’s right with us in Christ, what’s wrong with us will fall away. You’ll hear a lot about Jesus in New Creation and very little about man and how sinful he is. The reason is because the more we focus on Jesus and understand everything about Him – the more we behold the glory of Jesus -, the more we’ll be transformed into His image (2 Cor. 3:18).
I didn’t forget what I wrote above about the difficulty of change. I believe change is possible, though a quick survey of people’s past experiences tell me it’s not easy. But if there’s any place I’d recommend first and foremost for gays who desire to be transformed, then it’ll be New Creation Church. I’m not ignorant that the whole issue is complex and change is difficult, but on the other hand I do believe in the power of love and grace and the importance of being in an atmosphere of love and grace so that it’ll inspire faith. Condemnation and judgement don’t inspire faith. Only the power of Christ’s love does.]
I’d appreciate the opinions of others on more practical ways we Christians can show love to gays.
PS: Books & Culture just posted a review of Andrew Marin’s Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation With the Gay Community. Andrew founded the Marin Foundation, whose mission is “to build a bridge between the religious and GLBT communities through scientific research, and Biblical and social education.” I don’t think it’ll definitively answer our theological questions (the book probably wasn’t meant to do that anyway), but I’m guessing it’ll be a good read for most Christians just to get to know more about the gay community.