Is your church a safe place for those who experience same-sex attraction?

Imagine you attended a church where your life struggle was never mentioned as an area to receive care, and, if it was mentioned, your struggle was the adversarial portion of a culture war commentary. How would your week-to-week experience of church be different? This is the experience of many people in our churches.

If you want the answer to the question that titles this blog to be “yes,” then step one is to realize that we already have church members who experience same sex attraction (SSA). Just like those who are dealing with any other struggle, we should thank God for bringing them to our churches, and ask God to help us serve them well.

This is an important starting point because it ensures we are not thinking about “those people” who are “out there.” This first assumption moves the rest of this post from a hypothetical to a necessity; it is no longer something that “would be nice if we could get to it” but becomes a pressing need because we realize we already have friends, classmates, or colleagues who don’t feel comfortable talking to us (evidenced by the fact that they haven’t).

Think about this way: what does it communicate when, by our silence, we assume no one in our church experiences SSA? The clear (hopefully unintended) message is: you don’t belong here and we don’t have anything for you.

Loneliness is already one of the most difficult experiences for individuals who struggle with SSA. When the church’s silence seemingly confirms the belief that their struggle has to be a secret we only magnify this loneliness.

So, what would change if we assumed some of our members or guests experienced SSA? I believe one of the first things that would change is that our motivation to learn about homosexuality would change from polemical and political to pastoral and personal. We would want to be able to get to know a person more effectively rather than make a point more persuasively.

That is why I wrote Do Ask, Do Tell, Let's Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends. I want it to be a resource for churches – more specifically, individual Christians – who realize being an ambassador of Christ to every tribe, language, people, and nation (Rev. 5:9) is not just a mandate to proclaim the gospel to every geo-ethnic group on the planet, but to be ready to embody the gospel well to the various life experiences of every person we meet (1 Pet. 3:15).

Undoubtedly, this raises many questions:

A blog post is too brief of a forum to address all of these questions, but I would encourage you to read my book Do Ask, Do Tell, Let's Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends, Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends by Mark Yarhouse, or The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield for guidance on these questions and the many other questions that have popped into your mind as you read this post.

But in the remainder of this post, I will offer a few suggestions for pastors and church members who want their churches to be safe places to discuss a struggle with SSA.

Most importantly, when you have the opportunity to become friends with someone who experiences SSA, invest in that friendship in at least three ways.

First, have fun together. Mutual enjoyment is a good indicator that a friendship is not devolving into a project relationship. Mutual enjoyment builds memories and stories. Mutual enjoyment strengthens the relationship. And the stronger the relationship is, the less likely either of you will be to give offense or take offense. What the fun looks like will vary in every friendship, but try to see the fun for what it is—the mortar between the bricks, rather than merely the icing on the cake.

Second, go broad, not narrow. If SSA is the majority topic of conversation, your relationship will become more therapeutic or polemical than friendly. So spend the majority of your time talking about subjects other than SSA. This is how you make the friendship about life and shared interests, not about SSA as such. For example, if the two of you have this kind of discipleship relationship, study a book of the Bible together or a mutually relevant Christian book. Seek what God says about all of life together, not just SSA.

Third, allow your friend to speak into your life as well. The most effective way to gain the right to be heard is to listen. Particularly if your friend is a Christian, they have something to offer you. Even if they’re not, they have a life experience that is different from yours and can offer a fresh perspective. Much can be learned about how someone thinks by asking, “How do you see my situation? What would you do and why?” Asking these kinds of questions will likely bless you and advance the friendship you want to build.



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