The Truest Love: A Comparison Of My Experiences In The Gay And Christian Communities
The gay community is the first place that I ever felt at home. They embraced me, a confused 19 year-old struggling to peek outside of the closet for the first time in my life, with arms wide open. They celebrated the parts of me that — in my pursuit to “be like everyone else” — I had been unsuccessfully trying to conceal and uproot for years. The gay community is the very first place that I ever felt free to be myself.
But as my beliefs about God and sexuality started to shift a few years later, I began to see that their acceptance wasn’t as unconditional as they had advertised it to be. The gay community portrays themselves to be a people for all people — whatever your orientation, skin color, beliefs may be. They promise to exercise unconditional tolerance, love and support to all.
However, the change in my spiritual beliefs provoked a change in their supposed character as a community as well. I’m not going to say that every gay friend I had rejected me when I became a Christian, because there were a few that continued to keep the lines of communication open. But at large, my local gay community cut themselves off from me as soon as they learned that my new, biblical sexual ethic was opposed to the behaviors that they partook in – the behaviors that I had been partaking in until my conversion.
As I began to write about my new relationship with Christ and my new approach to life, including my romantic life (not because I really wanted to, but because I was so open with my sexual lifestyle before Christ that I had to publicly provide answers for the radical change in my life), not only did my local gay friends express anger and hostility toward me, for, in their words, “betraying my community”, but the global gay community began to respond and communicate their disgust with me. I was, in their words, “a sorry excuse for a gay man”, “a brainwashed hypocrite”, “voicing a message that made me responsible for gay youths committing suicide”, and so on. Their supposed “unconditional” acceptance of me was obviously totally dependent on my beliefs surrounding sexuality lining up with theirs.
I’m sharing with you guys this experience with the gay community not to bash against the gay community, but to set before you a comparison. A comparison of my experiences in the gay community and my experiences in the Church.
My local church community accepted me with arms wide open – before I began to believe and adhere to the things they taught. I wasn’t part of a Church or attending Church services or anything like that, but I was I exposed to this community prior to my conversion through multiple Christian friends in my life. They didn’t agree with the way that I was living my life, due to their loyalty to Christ and His Word. But even so, they loved me. They hung out with me. They went out to eat with me. They went to the movies with me. They came to my 21st birthday party (but didn’t drink, lol). They were always transparent with their worldview, but didn’t endlessly pressure me to conform to their belief system.
When I would talk with them about different bad situations that I had gotten myself into, they would gently urge me to seek the Lord and His will for my life. His way was better than the ways we choose, they’d say. They would tell me about the freedoms and joys that they had discovered in life through following Jesus Christ. Sometimes I would listen to what they were trying to say, but sometimes I would just mock their clichés and christianese sayings (to their faces). Even still — they didn’t flinch in their friendship with me. They loved me with this weird kind of love. This kind of love that was for me, but wasn’t dependent on me… if that makes sense.
I converted to Christianity four years ago (this week) and in my first couple of years of this new life, I navigated my way through a few different local churches. In every single one of them, I experienced this same kind of “weird love” my Christian friends had shown me. Knowing my story, knowing my struggles, and knowing my baggage – as some call it – they embraced me fiercely.
For the past two years I have been in New Orleans as part of a small church plant, and this community of believers has been no exception. Even as I walked through a season of blatant sin, explosive anger, and severe doubt about God and the Christian faith, they stood by me firmly. They didn’t threaten to cut themselves off from me if my beliefs shifted away from theirs. Of course, if I renounced Christ, I would no longer be able to be a member of the Church (and if I was going to renounce Christ, why would I want to remain a member anyway?) — and they communicated that, lovingly. But they told me that no matter what path I decided to go down, they loved me and would continue to walk that love out. They proved this as I wavered in faith and wallowed in sin for months.
And when I embraced repentance and returned to following the Lord, they weren’t like, “God, FINALLY. We were so tired of you and your ‘struggles’.” No, they celebrated! They celebrated the grace of God in my life and praised Christ for His steadfast love toward me and my love toward Him. But I’ll tell you this, if I had decided to leave all this theology behind and taken up a different, gay-affirming worldview, these people would still be in my life. They would still be texting me, asking me to go eat and inviting me to church. I know this to be true because I see them doing it all the time with all sorts and kinds of people that aren’t Christians.
What baffles me is that the gay community paints the Christian community to be some sort of intolerant, impatient and discriminatory group of maniacs that violently reject anyone who doesn’t believe like they believe. But my own experience has proven that idea to be not only fallacious, but flip flopped! When I left their belief system, the gay community (at large… but not every single gay person) not only rejected me as a person, but has since demonized and ridiculed me for my holding and expressing my biblical beliefs. Yet the Christian community, even when my belief system was opposed to theirs, loved me, accepted me and invested their lives into mine. When I thought about leaving them – and expressed that angrily at times– they didn’t threaten me or react angrily in return. They loved me still.
The Church isn’t perfect by any means, and I don’t want to prop it up to be as such. But over the past six years I have spent time in both the gay and Christian communities and I can say that hands down, the Church takes the gold on tolerance, love, patience, acceptance and friendship. And the coolest part about it is that it’s not them, in and of themselves, that are tolerant, loving, patient, accepting and friendly – it’s Jesus in them. Through His people, Jesus has been showing the world for 2,000 years that His love exceeds all other forms and professions of love. Unconditional love in its purest form is in Jesus and flows from Jesus into the hearts of all who yield themselves to Him.
If you’re someone who is struggling between these two worlds or is just trying to find a place of community and family, I will warn you that all other communities will only love you to the degree that you are willing to adhere to their particular set of beliefs. True Christians, on the other hand, will love you with a strange but beautiful, not-dependent-on-you kind of love, in hope that their love will point you to the Greatest Lover of all — our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Next week I will follow up with a column about ways the church, as a whole, has failed in the past to represent the gospel and Christ in their interactions with same-sex attracted people. I know that there are gay people who have had permanently scarring encounters with professing Christians in the past and I don’t want to pretend like that isn’t a reality that needs to be addressed. More on that to come next week.
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