Valentine's Day, if we're honest, is an irritating holiday even for Christians. Everywhere we look there are baked-goods and candy hearts expressing their eternal love for us in pink frosting. For those of us struggling to keep up with New Year's diet resolutions, the temptations can be downright maddening. But all the talk about love and affection got me thinking. What if this year I asked my homosexual neighbor to be my valentine?
This radical thought might come as a shocker, since it's no secret I'm a die-hard conservative culture warrior. Marriage, sexuality, and family as divine institutions established by God in Genesis, affirmed by Jesus in Matthew and supported again by several Pauline texts are what I spend my days defending in the public square. But recently, I faced the fact that homosexuality is not only a public policy issue. It's also a deeply personal matter that leaves many Christians asking the question, "Can I uphold my convictions and love my homosexual friend?"
Last weekend I participated in Evangelicals for Social Action's (ESA), "Oriented to Love" retreat. The purpose of the retreat was to bring together twelve individuals who professed faith in Christ but held differing moral values, politics, and of course, sexual orientations. Despite being questioned as a "spy" and told I wanted to "bring America back to the 1950s" over lunch, I'm thankful for the experience. It was here that I saw the tough face of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community actually consists of real, broken, vulnerable, thoughtful, creative, kind, and emotional individuals struggling to navigate through this earthy life just like the rest of us. As such, they are deserving of our respect.
Demonstrating unconditional love to our homosexual neighbors, however, is not easy. Beware that it requires more than just a few kind words. First, we have to tear down some really tall walls.
While at ESA's retreat, I wriggled through several hard discussions in order to learn how, or if, Christian parents, family and friends can maintain biblical principles on sexuality and marriage and still love those dealing with same-sex attraction. The consensus among those I asked was that homosexuals know that conservative Christians will always have an "endgame" and will hope and pray for their transformation. So to show love, it was encouraged by some that we check our convictions at the door and simply walk through life with them. This information was not very helpful, nor hopeful.
Leaving our biblical principles behind is certainly not an option. Worse, is that the LGBT community hurls verbal attacks and fear-mongering tactics on young Christians who uphold biblical marriage (just Google me and the word "gay" to see what I mean).
So I searched for more answers until I came across Nancy Heche's inspiring story. Nancy is a popular Christian author and speaker who knows firsthand the heart-wrenching experience of having her child tell her, "I'm gay." Nancy is the mother of actress Anne Heche, most notable for her relationship with Ellen DeGeneres during the 1990s. After an awful public spectacle, Nancy remembered asking God what she could possibly do to help her daughter. Nancy recounts her "aha" moment as:
I could confess my own sin. And I could bless her [Anne]…to bless is to ask God to interfere, to take action in one's life to bring them to the desired relationship with Himself so that they are truly blessed and fully satisfied. When God blesses He releases His power to change the character and destiny of the one being blessed.
Not missing a beat on this topic, Nancy also said, "Sure, there's a place for discussing things, speaking the truth in love, and putting boundaries in place when you need to." (emphasis mine)
To be perfectly clear, this piece is not a thinly-veiled call for Christians to retreat from the marriage front-lines. Contrarily, the Church must speak up louder as same-sex "marriage" bans in Indiana, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, and Oklahoma are under siege this week alone. But the point is that while fighting for our convictions, we can still treat our homosexual neighbors with unconditional love through prayer, gentleness and compassion.
By demonstrating God's truths with a loving spirit, we don't succumb to pride or hate. Remember that Christ's model for love and respect is not reflected among groups like the Westboro folks who picket with signs reading, "Death penalty for fa**." The Apostle Paul was clear that these expressions are not pleasing to God nor the characteristic of a Christian when he wrote, "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar." Paul went on, "And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also." (1 John 4:20-21)
So this Valentine's Day (and every day) as you purchase those delicious heart-shaped boxes of candy or march for marriage in your state capitol, let us demonstrate unyielding love and prayer to our homosexual neighbors.
As the new evangelical campaign Imago Dei pledge goes, "I recognize that every human being, in and out of the womb, carries the image of God; without exception. Therefore, I will treat everyone with love and respect."