As I scan the societal landscape I see that acceptance of homosexual identity and behavior, and same-sex marriage has grown. I now find my biblical point of view is the minority perspective. If a well-known Christian says that homosexual lust and sexual activity is a sin, even if that person urges kindness and respect for all, words like "hater" and "bigot" are tossed around rather freely.
And then, in the midst of all this, Jesus calls me to love my neighbor, which includes those who identify as homosexuals. I can offhandedly note to myself and others that God's accepting, forgiving grace is available to everyone, but it feels false somehow. Love the person who might like to silence me? Offer the message of Jesus' unconditional sacrifice to people who could possibly take me to court because of my beliefs?
Now, here is the weird part — I can like those who identify as homosexuals. I have befriended them. One of my classmates and a co-worker in the residence life system at my college had come out to me prior to graduation. That summer she asked if I'd be her date to her brother's wedding.
"Even though I told them you're not gay, my parents are still suspicious you're part of this somehow," my friend Mindy explained. That was a bit of a shock, but I figured if Jesus could be publicly skewered as a drunkard, a glutton and a friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19), I could take it on the chin as the friend of a lesbian. Better to love my friend and have people think of me whatever they might think, than miss the chance to be there for her.
After that wedding, Mindy went on to a successful career, and presumably deeper and deeper into homosexuality. We lost touch but I wonder about her often.
Several years into my new life in Christ I ran into Jerry. Jerry had an effeminate voice and odd way of acting. We became friends, though I was admittedly cautious, and the Lord gave me the privilege of helping him meet Christ. He ended up departing the gay identity and behavior he'd been toying with, got married, and has been married for over 25 years. I know he's still struggled with homosexuality at times, but I haven't stopped being his friend.
"I think if we get back to the Jesus of the Bible, he offered radical acceptance but not endorsement," noted Doug Pollack, director of evangelistic training for Athletes in Action, the sports arm of international college-focused ministry Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU). "I want to represent Jesus and the way he dealt with people who were far from him."
Doug has met with two leading homosexual activists and heard their stories about Christians attending events, holding signs that say "God Hates Fags" or "All Fags Will Burn in Hell."
"Any Christian that doesn't get why they are angry at us has their head in the sand," he offered. "I apologized profusely to these two women and asked them to not hold Jesus responsible for that.
"These people were hurling judgment and Jesus said he did not come to judge the world but to save it. Most of what the homosexual community has experienced from us is judgment and condemnation, their sin singled out and laser beamed with a target drawn around it."
Have I drawn a laser beam around homosexuality and said it's the big bad sin? I don't think I have. But I understand how gay and lesbian-identified people might feel this way. Is it OK to apologize for some other Christian's horrible behavior for the sake of trying to befriend someone? If I'm genuinely sorry for the way Jesus has been presented and it helps remove barriers, yes.
"I have become all things to all men, so that by all possible means I might save some," Paul said. (1 Cor. 9:22b)
Rosaria Champagne Butterfield was a vocal lesbian activist. She was a faculty advisor for the gay and lesbian student organization at Syracuse University, where she was a tenured professor of English and women's studies. She lived with her lesbian partner, believed deeply in the morality of the homosexual life, and fought hard for homosexual rights.
She had decided that most Christians were sloppy thinkers who often resorted to "The Bible says" as a trump card for any argument. Then she met Ken and Floy Smith.
Ken was a pastor of a Reformed Presbyterian church in Syracuse and reached out to Rosaria via letter after she published a critique of the Promise Keepers in a local paper. Fan and hate mail poured in. And then came Ken's letter which was well reasoned, polite and inquisitive. How had she arrived at her conclusion? How did she know she was right? Did she believe in God?
"It may seem strange to you, but no one had asked me those questions before or led me to ask them of myself," Rosaria writes in her book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. "These were reasonable questions, but not the sort of questions that postmodern professors toss around at faculty meetings or the local bar."
She shared dinner with Ken and Floy and enjoyed a conversation that did not include an invite to church, just to friendship.
"Jesus commands us to be good neighbors and Ken and Floy lived it out," Rosaria told me over the phone as she prepped Thanksgiving for her husband and family and supervised an art project by one of her adopted kids.
The Syracuse winters made that commitment especially meaningful to Rosaria.
"The aggressiveness of the weather pattern there creates a certain intimacy," she related. "If there was an intense snowstorm, they were checking in on me to see if I had power. Ken and Floy made it clear I was one of their people and they were going to check in with me.
"Even if I wouldn't have come to faith, I was on their radar."
Ken and Floy also had an open door policy with Rosaria and often put aside other commitments so they could spend time with her. "Visitors could pour a cup of coffee and settle down in their living room," she told me. "We could ask any question of the Bible and we all did. With Ken and Floy, you couldn't maintain the stereotype that Christians were social prigs."
But they didn't pretend to be something they weren't either.
"Ken made it clear he didn't identify with me and I didn't get the sense he hung out with many people from the [homosexual] community," Rosaria said. "In the world, people from a secular position want you to see them from the perspective of a world-embraced identification.
"But a Christian knows there's only one orientation in the Bible that matters, and it's not sexual; it's the soul. Our souls last forever and that's how Ken always treated me, as a person whose soul would last forever. He let the rest of it go."
After reading the Bible two years, she embraced Christ as savior.
Can I focus on the orientation of a person toward God and let all other worldly orientations, and how I feel about them, fall to the curb? That's the only thing that will matter in the presence of Christ.