When I go around to talk to youth groups I have learned over the years not to start with “Hi my name is Brian, and I’m gay!” The issue of homosexuality is one that Christians have learned to be defensive about and as soon as the hear “The G word” many of them put up a mental barrier or distrust that makes it hard to get them to challenge any of their presuppositions. So when I am talking to church groups I instead start with a bunch of humorous stories about what it was like growing up in church.
In many ways this portion of my talk resembles a stand up comedy routine but it tends to gain the attention of the audience and more importantly it builds a feeling of commonality and familiarity. When I get people laughing about the stress of getting ready for church, or how silly Sunday School songs are when you stop and think about them then they begin to identify with me. There is something that happens where the audience goes “He is one of us! He understands us!” which allows me to bypass some of the defenses of people, so that when I get to the part of the story where I say “and then I realized I was gay” it changes their assumptions about gay people. It allows them to feel that gay people are REAL people like them, rather than “those people out there”. Once this has happened, getting them to think about how they treat gay people, and whether that honors God or not is much easier to do.
Often in evangelical circles there is a feeling that when dealing with the issue of homosexuality the way to best follow God is to keep people’s stories out of it, and just focus on “what scripture says”. However as I was recently rereading through the gospels it struck me that this was the opposite of what Jesus did. In Matthew 12 Jesus is confronted because his disciples who were hungry were plucking grain and eating it, which was against the Sabbath law. Jesus doesn’t defend them by explaining that what they are doing is lawful, he reminds the Pharisees how David also broke the law by eating the temple bread. Jesus’s then quotes Hosea 6:6 which says “I desire mercy not sacrifice”. By ignoring stories we keep people in the safely theoretical space. But people’s stories matters to God. Their circumstances, their pain, their experiences are all known by Him, and he cares about them. The debate about homosexuality that rages on in the church can never be allowed to be a war of ideas…it is about people.
When people of whatever stripe allow themselves to dehumanize those who disagree with them, to make those people into an “other” that they do not have to care about the same way they care about those that agree with them, we they lose the heart of God. This is why it is so important for us to make the effort to befriend those we disagree with , it helps us to remember that other people are people with loves and lives, challenges and circumstances beyond the issue that we disagree on. It helps us see people as more than people we disagree with, but as co-bearers of the image of Christ, just like us.
So as you encounter people who you disagree with, whatever side you are on, take time to get to know them. Listen to their stories. Get to know their families and communities. Ask what circumstances and experiences have shaped them into the person they are now. After all, how do you love someone if you don’t even know who they really are?