With great interest, I read your “Open Letter To My Conservative Christian Family: A Response to the Orlando Shooting.”
Over the last dozen years, I have done my best to listen to the stories of the LGBT community, especially those who profess faith in Jesus, and just as many of those stories touched me deeply, your open letter did as well.
If you don’t mind, I want to recap some of what you wrote for the benefit of those who have not read it, then I’ll share my heart with you.
As the son of two pastors, you’re responding to the question that many of us have asked, namely, “Why are we Christians being blamed for the Orlando shooting?”
It’s a question I have addressed as well.
Your answer is what I have heard from other gay writers, but you explain things extremely well, having been raised in the church.
You wrote, “I fear that conservative Christians are being lumped in with the homophobic shooter, ISIS and religious radicals because, to the LGBT+ community, these are the groups who maintain the system that produces homophobia.
“I’d like you to understand that homophobia is not only demonstrated by the shooter, the boys who punched me in the park, or the uncle who called me ‘faggot.’ Homophobia, at its core, is hatred that changes the way LGBT+ people understand their value.”
This, of course, is the core of the issue, even if there is no direct connection between the Orlando massacre and Christian teaching.
As you explain, “You see, the blossoming of homophobia is violence, while the root system is the cultural/religious mindset that’s comfortable branding an entire group of people as relationally inferior, spiritually immature, as well as socially and sexually deviant.
“When the messages of your churches and the sermons you clap for; when the messages you deliver as our parents, leaders, and well-intentioned friends negatively shift the way we, people of the LGBT+ community, feel about our version of love, our relational offering, or our position in this world [as God’s beloved children], the system of homophobia is working through you.”
I’m glad you also wrote that you know this is not our intention, and I hope you can also realize that, when the church encountered homosexuality beginning in the late 1960s, it was often in its ugliest and most extreme forms. (I wrote about this earlier this week.)
But this is what struck me as most important in your article.
As one who had been raised to embrace the “love the sin, hate the sinner” attitude, when you discovered you had bisexual attractions, you determined to hate your sin, adding, “But when your ‘sin’ is loving, your [sic] left with no option but to hate your entire self.”
Thus, you concluded, “I am not clean emotionally, romantically or spiritually. I am a perverted boy.”
You were sure that, “As a diligent Christian boy, I knew God was going to kill me — an eternal life in hell,” and if He wouldn’t do it, then you should do it yourself, and so suicide was the logical option.
Isaac, although you may only know me as a conservative activist and alleged “vicious homophobe,” I can assure you before God that I have listened to other stories like yours (either face to face or in print), and I have wept at the pain you experienced. And I have sought to convey that pain to others.
In fact, if you read the opening chapter of my book Can You Be Gay and Christian?, you’ll see that I quote Justin Lee and other gay authors to convey these very points.
I truly believe the church must understand your perspective and feel your pain, and when you ask, “Without our sanctuaries, where would you have us turn?”, that is a question I have raised to my conservative colleagues on your behalf as well.
And your request is simple: “Many of us in the LGBT+ community are not bullying you into abandoning your religious values. We’re simply asking for camaraderie.”
As you conclude, “Please, help us build relational and religious paradigms free of hate. If we can accomplish this side-by-side, we could very well eradicate the divisions that keep us attacking one another. We may even save lives.”
So, here are my questions for you, which I write as someone who is absolutely committed to bringing healing and salvation to as many people as possible.
First, how can we “build relational and religious paradigms free of hate” when you are branding our sacred convictions as hateful?
If we are 100 percent sure that the Bible condemns homosexual practice, how can we hold to that teaching without you feeling that we hate you? If we are sure that our heavenly Father does not sanction same-sex relationships, no matter how loving and committed they may be, what would you have us do?
We absolutely want to be true to you, but we can only be true to you if we are true to God.
Second, if we cannot have real fellowship with professing Christians whom we believe are practicing sin– I’m not talking about the people of the world but about people who claim to be followers of Jesus – how can we have true fellowship with you if we believe you are living in sin?
We absolutely welcome anyone who struggles with any sin of the flesh or any fallen desire (and everyone one of us has these in our lives in one dimension or another), but we do not welcome those who celebrate their lifestyle as blessed by God when are we convinced that is not the case.
How do we resolve this?
Third, since you identify as bisexual, what stops you from affirming your heterosexual attraction as God-given and your homosexual attraction as fleshly, whatever its cause or root? Since all of us are called to deny ourselves and take up the cross and follow Jesus, why not deny that aspect of your self?
More fundamentally, why identify as bisexual?
What if you had other, deep, seemingly unchangeable desires that were ugly and shameful? (Again, on some level, all believers acknowledge such desires, at least at some point of their walk with the Lord.) Would you publicly identify as that?
If you truly know the Lord, then that’s who are you: a son of God, washed in the blood of Jesus, even if you struggle with same-sex attraction.
But your attractions don’t define you. The world may think like that, but we who know the Lord should know better than to fall into that trap.
Fourth, what do you say to those who are ex-gay? Do you embrace their stories and thank God for their transformation, or do you deny their stories and even call them liars or self-deceived?
I personally have friends who went from gay to straight, others who experienced partial shifts, and others who are still same-sex attracted but are living celibate and blessed lives in the Lord.
What kind of camaraderie do you have with them?
Isaac, I don’t write these things to argue with you or to win a debate but rather to respond from the heart, as your open, heartfelt letter, merited.
Shall we continue to talk?