If there is one "live" issue today, it is the role of the LGBTQ community in this world. Not only have the Sochi Olympics highlighted this, as Russia is very strict with their laws and policies regarding gay people in their country and thus has attracted a lot of criticism and debate from the international community, but one of the touchstones of the LGBTQ issue is how it relates to the Christian world. As stark evidence of this, evangelicals Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt have just written about how we should support non-discrimination toward the LGBTQ community (they mean this as a civil rights issue, not a theological issue) but many other Evangelicals have raked them over the coals.
Sadly, for much of recent history, the two communities (LGBTQ and Christian) have been at odds with one another (and I also acknowledge the two groups are not mutually exclusive). And I say "sadly" not because of the lack of consensus, but because of the lack of love.
I don't think there needs to be agreement for there to be love. And this is where both sides, I believe, get it wrong.
I heard a pastor say once: "I have a lesbian friend. And one day she decided that I must hate her because I disagreed with her beliefs. I asked her, 'But I believe that Jesus Christ is God and he is the only way to heaven. Do you agree?' And she replied: 'Of course not! That's ridiculous!' So then I asked, 'Does this mean you hate me?' And she said, 'No I don't hate you!' And I said, 'Exactly. Disagreement does not mean hate. In fact we can still be good friends can't we?' And she acknowledged the truth of that statement."
It's not just that I wish LGBTQ people would understand that disagreement doesn't have to mean lack of love, but I wish Christian people would understand that too.
As much of a "live" issue as this is, I have largely shied away from talking about, blogging about, or speaking about this issue, mostly because it's a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't kind of issue. No matter what side you fall on, there will be half the people who hate you and half the people who love you for it. You just can't ever appease everyone, especially with an issue such as this. So I have found it easier just to not talk about it; not because I am in denial but because I don't want to alienate anybody. As someone who studies and does missions, my desire is this, as the Apostle Paul said: "I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings." (1 Cor. 9:22-23).
But I am breaking my silence on this issue because I feel obligated to speak out to my Christian brothers and sisters who have not handled this issue well at all. Because I have learned a valuable lesson in the last couple of years: to be right is not the same as being correct. The previous (rightness) has to do with truth; the latter (correctness) has to do with wisdom and love. One is IQ, the other is EQ; and the latter has been proven to be a far greater indicator of "success" in life than the former.
My sister is not a Christian. And a few years ago she wanted to divorce her husband. When she came to me and my mom (who is a Christian) asking for our support, my mom and I immediately objected. Because, as Christians, of course we would never advocate for divorce! My sister immediately said: "You two are judgmental! I hate your Christianity because you're always trying to shove your moralism down my throat!" And you know what? She was right. My mom and I couldn't see the difference between moralism and Christianity. And we alienated my sister that day. I learned a valuable lesson from that. What she wanted was not our support of divorce, but our support of her, no matter what happened. That's called unconditional love, which is the same type of love that God gives us and thus the same type of love that God calls us to show to the world. My sister needed to know that she would be with people who would embrace her and help her out, much as we would visit her in jail and bring her comfort if she had committed a crime. But my mom and I didn't give her what she was hoping to get from family members-and we failed. We judged her and she realized she couldn't count on her brother and her mother to see her as a person, rather than as a sin.
That's not how Jesus operated. He saw people. Of course he also saw their sin, but he also saw beyond that. Though Jesus never addressed the topic of homosexuality, I'm pretty sure I know how he would react to the LGBTQ community, as he hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors all the time. He would spend time with them, rather than with the religious leaders. And thus he would become a lightning rod for the criticism of the religious leaders; but he didn't care.
One of the problems with the Christian community is the setting-apart of homosexual sin as somehow different from all other sexual sins. I think a lot of (especially evangelical) Christians call out homosexuality because they themselves are not tempted by it. It's easy to blast the sin which you are not subject to. But if you preach a sermon on pornography or adultery in a church, see how many people avert their eyes and start shifting in their seats. Maybe we should apply the medicine where there needs to be the most healing. Because church should not be a place where "good" people go. It should be more akin to a hospital where sick people go to be healed.
Goodness knows we are all broken in this department. Sexual sin includes homosexual actions (not feelings), pornography, divorce, fornication (premarital sex-the vast majority of people, including evangelical Christians, have done this), and adultery. Just because people feel something doesn't mean it is right to act on it. To be driven by our eros as the most important thing above all others is not right-that's the myth that Hollywood wants us to believe. I came across a quote recently: "To people who think with their hearts, life is a tragedy. To people who think with their heads, life is a comedy." But we love to think with our hearts. We prefer Shakespeare's tragedies over his comedies because they're about love and death (we are such melodramatic people)! We can't get enough of soap operas and Downton Abbey (which is, basically, a soap opera). Almost every Hollywood movie has to have a love scene in it, or to have the whole movie all about love. Over 90% of popular songs are about romantic love. We have allowed eros to rule our world and are suffering for it. Let's think a little more with our heads and not as much with our hearts. Maybe then there wouldn't be so much dissatisfaction in our marriages, because ultimately love is an action not a feeling. You have to choose, with your head, to love someone, and you carry it through even on those days when you just don't feel it. If your heart is the ultimate arbiter of behavior, we will live a life forever tossed-about on the waves of whatever we happen to be feeling that day. What a crazy life that would be!
My parents are divorced because my dad was unfaithful. Do I disagree with divorce and adultery? Yes. Do I hate my parents (especially my dad) because of these things? No, absolutely not. I still love them. Because you can love someone and still disagree with their actions. Disagreeing with their actions does not mean you hate them. We all carry baggage and we have to accept each other for our baggage even if we don't like all the baggage. Because that's what God does for us.
Back to my sister. Thankfully she ultimately decided not to get divorced; but this is notbecause of me and my mom, but rather despite me and my mom. Our vehement disapproval of her plan of action did not sway her in the least but actually had the opposite effect. Oh, one can be so "right" but so not "correct" (like the Pharisees). Christians love to preach 1 Cor. 13 in our weddings, but let me quote the first part of that chapter again: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing." Why do evangelical Christians act more like the Pharisees who Jesus blasted rather than the prostitutes, sinners, and tax collectors that Jesus hung out with? Why do evangelicals act more like, in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the older brother who remained stuck in his self-righteousness rather than the younger brother who ran back to the Father?
At the end of the day, we have to love. To my cerebral friends, I want to say: love trumps words. But here's the irony, to my heart-driven friends: love is not a feeling, it is a decision and an action. To people in the LGBTQ community, and to people in the Christian community, and to people who identify with both, it is my hope that everyone can see that we can disagree, but this doesn't mean we hate the other. And above all, we must break this "Cold War" between the two communities. Both sides think that they're "right." I think we need to learn to act correctly.
Here is a wonderful perspective by Evangelicals for Social Action on this issue.
P.S. On the practical level, we can't regulate morality for non-Christians. This is similar to how we Christians view pornography or prostitution: we acknowledge that it exists, we think it's a sin and we don't like it, but we also don't try to fight it. We can only regulate it for Christians. The Bible never says we should change the moral behavior of non-Christians: it says we should win them over for Christ. Once they are Christians, then we can speak into their lives regarding morality, but if we lead off with morality, then we are putting the wrong foot forward. We can't expect them to lead a life consonant with the Kingdom of God without them first submitting to the Lordship of Jesus. That's like expecting someone in a foreign country to follow the laws of the United States. No, grant them U.S. citizenship first, then we can ask them to follow U.S. laws.
Allen Yeh (D.Phil., Oxford) is Associate Professor of Intercultural Studies and Missiology at Biola University in Los Angeles. He is co-author of Routes and Radishes and Other Things to Talk About at the Evangelical Crossroads and co-editor of Expect Great Things, Attempt Great Things: William Carey & Adoniram Judson, Missionary Pioneers. He specializes in the history of missions and geographically specializes in China and Latin America.