Not just your clothes – though that could be part of it. Has anyone ever asked you to change your behaviour?
Has anyone ever asked you to change not just your behaviour, but the way you think?
Has anyone ever asked you to change not just your behaviour and the way you think, but also the things you believe and the feelings you have?
To change your behaviour, the way you think, your beliefs, your feelings, the people you hang out with, the places you go, and the dreams you have for the future?
To dump your partner, to ditch the friends who love you the most, to turn away from the only people who seem to understand and support you, and to eradicate pretty much everything that makes you you – your entire identity?
If you can answer “no” then you are probably not a gay person investigating the Christian faith.
We all know that homosexuality and Christianity are not particularly amicable companions. While tempers are especially high at the moment, in the wake of the government’s proposals to allow gay marriage, historically neither side has tended to come to the debate demonstrating a great deal of tact, respect or understanding. In a recent article on the Guardian website, one group’s viewpoint was described as a rampant, sickening plague. In this particular case, that was the author talking about a church – but we’ve all seen the same sort of language wielded by self-professed Christians against the gay community. “Objections to equal marriage rights are, as ever, only bigotry hastily smeared with religious justification”, claims the author of the article, and, sadly, that can often be the case. Even smart, well-educated, Biblically-knowledgeable Christians can be hopelessly bigoted, ignorant, or just painfully insensitive when it comes to issues of same sex attraction.
Which is why every evangelical Christian should read Alex Tylee’s short book “Walking with Gay Friends“.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t have any.
For one thing, you may. Same sex attraction issues are common, and most Christians who wrestle with them don’t tend to shout about it. Would you?
For another thing, the storm brewing around the marriage proposals means that more and more people are going to be taking note of what the church has to say on the subject. It is vital that there are at least a few Christians out there who can navigate the turbulent course between the twin evils of Bible-denying liberalism and Bible-distorting homophobia.
Thirdly, even well-meaning Christians, who have thought through the issues, and know how to argue against homosexual practices from the Bible (which means not just crying “The Bible says it’s wrong”, but being able to show how the Bible says it’s wrong), can still be guilty of gross insensitivity toward their struggling brothers and sisters. If you can’t see how the questions at the start of this post relate to this topic, for instance, then you definitely need to read the book. Telling someone that they need to “stop being gay” if they want to become a Christian is not like telling someone they need to stop swearing, or wearing short skirts, or beating up pensioners. There are deep issues of identity involved that will require huge amounts of love, support, understanding and encouragement to work through.
(It’s worth saying that even the top guys mess this stuff up. Around three thousand Christian men recently went to the London Men’s Convention, for an excellent day of Bible teaching, praise and fellowship. Estimates vary hugely as to what proportion of the population experience homosexual urges, but in a group of three thousand there could have been anywhere from 30 to 300 (or more) men there for whom this is a painful battle. Inside the complimentary booklet, Evangelicals Now chose to run a full-page advert featuring a buff, topless man. One of my friends commented that it looked like the cover of a gay magazine.)
Walking with Gay Friends is subtitled “A journey of informed compassion”, and it’s the word informed which, I think, is this book’s strongest recommendation. Written with an insider’s perspective on same sex attraction issues, the book gives the heterosexual reader an eloquent and frank insight into the pains and sacrifices a homosexual person faces when called to be obedient to the Bible’s teaching on sexual morality. Alex includes many quotes from Christian strugglers, highlighting some of the good and bad experiences they have had at the hands of their church families, and while there are some encouraging descriptions of things going well, the overall picture that emerges is of a church family that doesn’t seem to know how to understand their struggle or how to support them in it. A church that is generally ill informed.
In all the debate, it’s easy to lose sight of an important truth: the greatest problem that a gay person faces is the same problem that faces us all. We are all equally guilty in God’s sight – all of us, straight or gay, need to turn to Christ for forgiveness. Gay people need the gospel as urgently as everyone else. And this is why the church desperately needs to be better informed. Because someone who is dealing with the burden of homosexuality naturally wants to find a group who will care for them, encourage them, understand them, and make them feel accepted and wanted. And at the moment it’s the gay community who are fulfilling that role, not the church.
Please read this book.