Monday, November 12, 2012

How "hate the sin and love the sinner" led me to quit "hating the sin and loving the sinner"

Or, my journey from anti-gay-rights to pro-gay-rights, which happened because I actually believed that line about "Christians really do love gay people."

(I apologize in advance for the offensiveness of some of the blatantly ignorant statements contained in this post.)

Image source.

It started long ago, when I heard about this new threat to marriage and families. A minority of vocal activists were promoting "gay pride" and other obviously evil things.

Now we obviously know that God made marriage for a man and a woman. So "sexual orientation" isn't even a real thing. Actually, it turns out a lot of gay people were abused as kids (citation needed). In other words, aha, I've solved the puzzle! Abuse is what causes gayness, and therefore I don't have to actually care about gay rights.

And, as I was told, the whole "gay pride" movement was actually about destroying our society by redefining marriage and families- oh, and restricting Christians' religious freedom. Don't be fooled into having compassion for these people- it's all a clever trick.

Also, why do we keep being labeled as "homophobic" or "hating" gay people? (Oh actually we need to call them "homosexuals" because "gay" is a euphemism that makes it sound less evil. Nope, can't figure out why we're being accused of hate here...) No, Christians LOVE gay people- love them enough to tell them the truth that what they're doing is WRONG.

Yeah, we gotta be like Jesus. Hate the sin and love the sinner. He hung out with prostitutes and everyone else that was judged by society. He would totally hang out with gay people if he was around now. 

So yeah, that's what conservative Christianity has to say about that. And that's what I believed because, how was I supposed to know? I hadn't actually met any gay people or heard their stories.

Though I must say, I never understood the "God hates fags" stuff (nobody does, right? Everyone agrees that Westboro Baptist is totally wrong in every possible way, yes?) and the questions about whether gay people go to hell... dude, aren't we ALL going to hell, if not for the absurd mercy of God? I don't see how sexual orientation has any bearing on that.

But then things started to change.

I heard someone say "'hate the sin and love the sinner' doesn't work." I started to become more and more bothered by the stereotype that Christians hate gay people. What can I do to fight that? Because, you know, we LOVE gay people. We're just trying to restrict their rights because it's for their own good. How can I help them see that we love them?

I went to Urbana, a Christian missions conference, and attended a few talks about this very topic. I heard Christopher Yuan tell his story, about how he used to live a life that was all about promiscuous gay sex, but God saved him from it, and he's now celibate. I heard Andrew Marin talk about building friendships with the LGBT community, and I read his book, Love Is an Orientation.

For the first time EVER, I considered the question "Gay people are gay- now what do you want them to do?" rather than just dismissing it all as something BAD. Gay people are gay. It doesn't matter the reasons why- so, they're gay, that's the way it is, it's not something that's going to change- now what?

What does God want them to do? For the first time in my life, I realized that no, the goal isn't for God to "fix" them by making them straight. I know all about the temptations that come with being straight... I know all about lust, about valuing a relationship more than I value my God, about desiring power over boys. Are we seriously going to celebrate when someone lusts after and objectifies members of the "correct" gender? Really? No, what God wants for ALL people- regardless of sexual orientation- is that they follow him.

But the difference is straight people can date and get married, and gay people just have to NEVER EVER act on their attraction.

And I was still very bothered about this stereotype that says Christians hate gay people. I wanted to combat it by reaching out and making friends with gay people, maybe attending some LGBT-related events to show support- but like, not TOO much support- wouldn't want anyone to get the idea that I actually SUPPORT that LIFESTYLE.

And things continued to change. Motivated by a desire to listen and love people- you know, like Jesus said- I searched out blogs on the internet written by gay people. Hearing their actual stories made me realize how wrong I had been about a lot of things, how I had been just relying on stereotypes and assumptions.

I remember one time I shared a link on Facebook, about how parents can be supportive of their kid who comes out to them. Someone asked me why I posted that on Facebook- what if it made people think I was gay? I said if I'm going to be misunderstood, I'd rather have Christians think I'm gay than gay people think that I hate them because I'm a Christian.

Some Christians say "yes, we accept gay people, but not that behavior and that lifestyle." Forget the "behavior" and the "lifestyle". As far as I can tell, gay people want to know if you accept them for who they are. You don't need to give your opinion on some stereotyped "lifestyle" of promiscuity- what they really want to know is "Can I be honest with you, or do I have to hide part of who I am?"

Image source.

Yeah, so now I think gay marriage should totally be legal, and let's also fight against the other injustices that gay people face. And I've found that there are strong arguments which say that the bible actually supports gay marriage- I honestly don't know if that's right or not, so I will err on the side of being too permissive, and let gay Christians sort it out with God.

I still have a long way to go. Yes, my views have totally changed, but it's because of what I've read online. I should really be talking to gay people in real life about this stuff- you know, my real friends, not internet people. And I'm trying to do that- for the past few months I've been going to meetings of the LGBT student group at my university, and I'm really happy about that.

And I still have some questions I need to face. Yes, I accept gay people, but wouldn't it be BETTER if they were straight? Am I treating this like a problem that I wish would go away? Or is this the reality of how God created them, and should be celebrated and valued? And if it's normal to be gay, then I should support the inclusion of more gay characters on tv, right? And what does this mean for what we teach kids- should we talk about crushes and fairy tales in a way that assumes the kids are all straight, or should we teach that both gay and straight (and anything in between) are normal?

I don't know the answers. I'm still learning.

But this is what we need, on all sides of this issue: A willingness to listen, to tell our stories, to admit we were wrong. I had (and still have) a lot of incorrect assumptions about gay people, and there are also a lot of incorrect assumptions about Christians surrounding this issue. (It's just NOT TRUE that opposing the legalization of gay marriage means you hate gay people, okay? I understand that it's harmful and I understand why it comes across as hate, but I used to believe the same thing, and hate was not my motivation.)

Don't judge. That goes for people on all sides of this.

This post is part of Gays and Christians: A Synchroblog for Sanity, hosted by Justin Lee. Let's have some saner conversations about this.


  1. Very frank and good read. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you for your candor. As a Christian who is gay (you know, one of those internet people), your "before" paragraph perfectly describes hundreds of conversations I have had over several decades.

    You have had past misunderstandings about gay people. Thank you for working through them. People who are gay have misunderstandings about conservative Christians too - myself included. I want to swap experiences with you here because I think it's important.

    Yes, the impact of the conservative Christian community is devastating to gay people and our families. I get that. The feeling that "those people hate us and are trying to destroy us" is palpable and not unfounded. And "hating the sin" is, in fact, hating the person that God created me to be.

    That's exactly where I was too...calling all conservative Christians haters and bigots. But I have come to understand that "those people" - my conservative brothers and sisters in Christ - are individuals. They may or may not understand the impact of their actions (and nothing excuses that impact); but intent also matters. Some people believe I am going to hell and they are trying to save my eternal soul. I'm sure that's better than those who wish for me to rot in hell simply because I'm gay. I now acknowledge that not every conservative Christian hates me for being gay. And I try to approach conversations by assuming good intentions in those who disapprove of homosexuality.

    I also work hard to steer clear of the same moral certitude that I find so abhorrent in conservative Christian circles. The Holy Spirit has led me to a different understanding about my sexuality than others. But who can pretend to have God figured out? Didn't Paul remind us that we see dimly in this life? Hopefully, my faith is not so fragile that it can't withstand a little disagreement.

    But here's where I struggle with the traditional evangelical stance on homosexuality. What happens to the gay kid in the front pew of the church that teaches "gay is sin"? That kid is being told that he is unworthy of experiencing romantic love. He is being told that he has been created "less than" others. And the culture in that church probably would not be welcoming if he were to come out. So he's likely to go deeply into a lonely closet. He's probably going to suffer from self-loathing, depression and detachment. If you spend any time talking to gay Christians, you hear story after story of kids desperate to be made straight even to the point of suicide.

    I think that the conservative Christian message that condemns homosexuality is mentally and spiritually abusive. And when I engage in conversations with that community, I am, in essence, condemning their beliefs. I can't agree to disagree because they are causing real harm to real people - the same harm I endured growing up.

  3. Thanks for your comment. I definitely agree that we should assume the best intentions of other people- though that can be really hard. I think a lot of conservative Christians don't really "hate" gay people, but they're ignorant and it's very harmful.

    And I'm just starting to understand how condemning homosexuality hurts people... people who are trying to follow Christ and come to church, who did not choose to be gay, and they're misunderstood and judged. Seriously, every time I read/hear someone's story of coming out, it makes me sad and I wish it wasn't so hard for them.

  4. Great post. I've walked a pretty similar journey. I think anytime we actually hang out with PEOPLE instead of making decisions about the labels they wear, we open ourselves up for some really positive change!
    My favorite part of this post is the emphasis on our willingness to acknowledge when we are wrong. Well done!

  5. Thanks! I think in any situation where we are trying to love people who are different from us, we have to be willing to admit we're wrong. The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know ANYTHING.

  6. I love your honesty and appreciate that you admit that you don't know all of the answers.
    You write from a really genuine place and that is just beautiful!
    This really blessed me and I am so glad that I read it!
    I look forward to reading more from your blog.

    God Bless,

  7. "Are we seriously going to celebrate when someone lusts after and
    objectifies members of the "correct" gender? Really? No, what God wants
    for ALL people- regardless of sexual orientation- is that they follow

    I loved this. I never thought about this way before, but it's so true. As a Christian teenager, while other girls were trying to manage the crushes they had on guys in order to focus on God, I was trying to get a crush on a guy because I thought that's what God wanted me to do. How ironic.

  8. Yeah, isn't it a little suspicious that the church wants straight guys to NOT lust after girls, and instead wants gay gays to lust after girls?