By Con Campbell
A few years ago, I received a phone call from a reporter who was writing a piece for the Atlantic magazine. He wanted to interview me about the Christian view of gay marriage. The reporter was well informed about Christian theology, and probably expected a certain kind of response from me.
Christians often come across as judgmental on such issues, so I wanted to be clear about the most important truth right upfront. What I said surprised him. I said, “The first thing I want to say is that Jesus loves all people—gay or straight. Whatever else I might say about this issue, that is the first and most important thing to stress: no one is beyond the love of God, and Jesus loves all gay people.”
There was a long pause. And when the reporter responded again, it seemed as though he had been crying. It became clear to me that the man I was speaking to was himself gay, and—I later discovered—was married to another man. He was genuinely moved by what I said and, I suppose, had not encountered that kind of response from other Christians. Later, I was glad to see that his piece in the Atlantic made the argument that some Christians might not be able to support gay marriage theologically, but it doesn’t mean they’re homophobic.
That experience reminded me of several things:
1. Sometimes we get caught up in a kind of “tribal warfare”, where we want to defend the Christian position. And this causes us to think more about issues than about people. But Christians should not treat the LGBTQI community as though they are an “issue” to be discussed and debated. They are people. And all people are created and loved by God. We have no business making anyone feel they are outside God’s love, and that starts with the way we treat and speak with them.
2. Another point to keep in mind is that most people in the LGBTQI community already feel judged by Christians. Their default position is to expect something harsh to come from our mouths. But that is totally unacceptable. If we follow Jesus’ example, we are to love and accept people as they are. We are to show God’s love and mercy regardless of their orientation or how they live their lives. After all, isn’t that exactly what God has done for us? Sure, knowing Jesus leads to transformation, but acceptance is itself a redemptive act, and it may move someone to consider God more seriously.
3. It also reminded me that the LGBTQI community is made up of people who just want to be loved—like everyone else. Whatever views Christians may hold on sexuality and gender (and not all agree), we can understand the need for love. Without love, we all wither and die. We should not condemn someone for seeking love—even if their search has led to a conclusion others are uncomfortable with. The most helpful thing a Christian can do is not to judge someone’s desire for love, but rather point to the God who is love. In Him, our deepest desires and longings are met.
I think most people—gay or straight—need help in understanding two central things about God. The first is our view of who God is. Many of us hold a mistaken view of God, thinking of Him like a traffic cop just waiting to arrest us. Or He’s simply a stern judge waiting to condemn us. Or He’s a harsh parent figure waiting to chastise us. But the God revealed by Jesus is, above all things, a loving Father. God is love. He loves us and wants us to flourish and thrive. He is for us, not against us. And He has demonstrated this profoundly through the gift of his Son, Jesus. If He has not spared His own Son, how much more will God give us all good things, and everything we need (Romans 8:32)? Anyone who comes to this understanding of God will feel liberated to approach Him as they are. They will learn to relish being near Him, rather than keep their distance out of fear.
The second thing we need to know about God is that being with Him satisfies our deepest desires and longings. Our greatest need is for love, and human love—in any form—is imperfect and will often fail us. But God is the source of love, and Jesus is love incarnate—His love does not disappoint. If we continue to seek fulfilment only from human relationships, whether same-sex or heterosexual ones, we will not find what we’re looking for.
Alongside these two things we need to understand about God, there’s one central thing we need to understand about ourselves. We are not usually won over by the most compelling arguments—even if they are correct—especially regarding issues that are deeply personal and experiential.
As much as we might claim to be rational, logical creatures, we are ultimately creatures of the heart. We are won over by our affections, not by logic. Our inner desires are much more powerful than arguments and reason—even if we don’t like to admit it. So, when we are talking with people from the LGBTQI community, we must remember that arguments and debate will not prove decisive. Instead, we ought to point people to the loving fatherhood of God. And we ought to do that in such a way that might cause them to want to draw closer to Him.
People tend to judge God by the quality of His representatives (us!). If we are not loving, kind, warm, compassionate people, it will turn people from God. Our best “argument” for God is to represent Him faithfully with the love, respect, and compassion He has shown us—and wants to show all people. Let’s love as God loves. And let Him take care of the rest.