I’m working on a new blog post for you on one of my favorite topics (hint: it involves Disney villains), but while I put the finishing touches on it, I wanted to mention that the annual Gay Christian Network conference is coming up, and I’d love to see you there.
As I’ve mentioned before, the GCN conference is the world’s largest annual LGBT (and friends) Christian conference, featuring incredible worship, fellowship, speakers, workshops, entertainment, and more. This is going to be our largest conference ever, and we’re going to include special tracks for parents, pastors, and others, so whether you’re LGBT, know someone who is, or just want to learn more about how the church can support LGBT people, come to the GCN conference and see what God will do in your life!
The 2015 conference is January 8–11 in Portland, Oregon. Already, we have people registered from 41 states and 9 countries, and that’s only going to grow between now and January.
Don’t forget, prices will go up as the conference time approaches, so register now and I’ll see you there!
Did Daniel Pierce's coming-out video upset you? Here are 5 things you can do.
Last week, I posted a viral video of Daniel Ashley Pierce, a young man who recorded his family’s violent reaction to his having come out as gay—yelling about the Bible, physically assaulting him, and kicking him out of the house. Daniel’s boyfriend posted the video online, and people across the internet were horrified by what they saw.
In less than a day, kind-hearted people on the internet donated over $50,000 to Daniel for living expenses. That’s a beautiful gesture, and it warms my heart so see that kind of outpouring of generosity. But it’s also important to realize that Daniel is only one of the many, many kids in situations like this, and we can’t give $50,000 to all of them. Even if we could, money can’t replace love, security, or self-worth.
We have to stop this from happening. Unfortunately, much of the problem is religious in nature, and a lot of LGBT-affirming folks aren’t sure how to combat that. (As shocking as this may be, arguments about God and the Bible aren’t very effective in these situations.)
Here are five practical, effective things you can do to make a difference.
1. Donate to organizations that can change minds in religious communities. When many people think of donating to LGBT causes, they think of political organizations fighting for legal equality. But that’s only one side of the coin. There are a number of organizations working specifically to end religion-based homophobia and transphobia, and they need your support too. The Gay Christian Network, which I work for, is one of these organizations (and one I’m very proud of, having handled countless situations like this over the last 13 years), but there are many others. I’ve listed a bunch of them at the bottom of this post.
2. Donate to local youth shelters and organizations providing services to LGBT youth. Changing minds is important, but young people also need support in the here and now. LGBT youth make up a disproportionate number of homeless youth, and even those who aren’t homeless need support networks. LGBT youth without support are much more likely to turn to self-destructive coping mechanisms. Brandon Shire has a good list of organizations around the world, but you may also want to search the web to see what’s close to you.
3. Support local affirming churches. Many churches are afraid to take the step of being openly affirming of LGBT people, because they’re worried about losing donations and members. But local churches have the ability to do a lot of the key work from both #1 and #2 above. Your encouragement and support is crucial, socially as well as financially.
4. Talk to your pastor or religious leader. Tell them how important this is to you, and engage in dialogue with them about the treatment of LGBT people. You’d be surprised by how many pastors I’ve heard from who are privately supportive but are afraid to say anything because they don’t think their congregations are ready for it. They need to know you’re out there, and that you care. On the other hand, if your pastor isn’t there yet, you can help educate them.
(Also, if you are a pastor or ministry leader, please contact me. We’re working on ways of getting ministry leaders together to address some of these things, and I’d love to talk to you about it.)
5. When you hear people make anti-LGBT comments, don’t just dismiss them as bigots. Educate them. I know it’s hard; sometimes people say or do things that make it hard to see them as anything other than monsters. But I used to say some of those hateful things myself, and at the time, I honestly believed I was being loving. So much of what passes for hate is actually ignorance, and the best antidote to ignorance is a patient, compassionate teacher. Listen carefully to understand what they believe so that you can gently correct their misconceptions. I’ve been doing this stuff long enough to know that it really works.
If you don’t know what to say, give them your favorite blog posts or books on the subject—something appropriate to their level—and offer to discuss them. I’ve been part of helping to create a few resources aimed at Christians, including the Through My Eyes DVD and my book, but again, there are lots and lots of resources out there. If something has been particularly helpful to you, offer it to them for their feedback, and stay in conversation.
A video like Daniel’s breaks our hearts because we don’t want to believe things like this happen. But they do happen, and the best thing we can do is to let that heartbreak move us to action. We can change the world; we just have to open our eyes, acknowledge the problem, and work together to fix it, not just for Daniel, but for everyone who suffers in silence.
Don’t be discouraged. Take heart—and take action.
P.S. Here’s the list of LGBT-affirming religious charities I promised. I’m sure I’ve left many out, so add your own suggestions in the comments, and let’s work together for a better future for all of us.
This video of a 19-year-old being kicked out of the house (and physically assaulted) for being gay is extremely disturbing to watch/listen to, but it is the kind of story I have heard many, many, many times over the years.
This is why I do what I do and the reason I’ve worked so hard at The Gay Christian Network for so many years, giving up free time and a social life, donating everything I can back to the organization I work for. THIS HAS TO STOP, and we have to be the ones to make it stop.
A year ago, I went through one of the most painful experiences of my life when my mother passed away. She was an incredible person, and I miss her terribly. Now, a year later, I realize something about painful, traumatic experiences: They don’t really go away. The pain moves from public to private, but it doesn’t disappear; you just talk about it less, you learn to move forward with life, and people assume things are “all better.”
Time does bring healing, and pain becomes less raw. But what most people think is evidence of things being “all better” is really just the evidence that you’ve learned to cope with the pain and not let it rule you.
Yes, I’m fine. I still joke around and successfully navigate life experiences of all sorts. But just because I don’t go through every day talking about missing my mom doesn’t mean the pain isn’t still there. It is. It probably always will be.
That pain isn’t all-consuming, but it’s also not all better.
Everyone has their private pains and challenges, and most of us don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the pain everyone else is facing. To be honest, it can be easy to assume everything’s great for them unless they tell us otherwise.
In some ways, that’s perfectly understandable. If we went through life feeling everyone else’s pain at every moment, we might find ourselves paralyzed, unable to move forward in our own lives. But we need to be careful, because this natural tendency of ours can easily turn into self-centeredness and a lack of compassion. The people in our lives may not constantly remind us of the pain and challenges they continue to face, but that doesn’t mean everything’s great, or that past hurts are all better.
And sometimes, the things that aren’t all better are things we need to be aware of. Like when an entire group of people is suffering from the daily impact of prejudice, while some of us remain blissfully unaware.
I’ve been reminded of that over the last few weeks, as news stories including the police shooting of Michael Brown have reignited a national conversation about racism. Michael Brown, like Trayvon Martin before him, has become a symbol of a community’s fear: that in a world where racism is a reality, it’s too easy for misunderstandings or conflicts to turn deadly and for the victims to wind up maligned or forgotten.
It’s a fear that exists even when it’s not spoken. It’s a serious, serious problem, and I’ve seen many Americans—of all races—willing to continue this conversation and work together on what can be done to improve things. But I’ve also heard some people react as if this conversation were an inconvenience at best: “Seriously? We’re talking about race again?! Haven’t we moved on from that by now?” In their minds, racism is a problem that has already been “fixed,” something that’s “all better,” and bringing it up is only a way of getting sympathy based on injustices of long ago.
Those people couldn’t be more wrong. Racism is far from fixed. Racism continues to this day, and we have to acknowledge that. Those who suffer from it can’t ignore it; they face it constantly, though they may not bring it up. Only those of us in the majority get the privilege of forgetting about it.
Even if all racism ceased to exist tomorrow, it would still show its effects for many, many years to come. Just think: If a single traumatic event can affect the rest of a person’s life, how much more can someone be affected by a lifetime of poor treatment! Even with no more racism, the emotional wounds of racism would last for people’s entire lives. Those made to feel like second-class citizens would still struggle with feelings of inadequacy; they would still find themselves distrusting certain institutions and authorities, wondering if they were being singled out.
More importantly, the toll of racism extends far beyond emotions. There are social consequences of racism that would persist long after the racism itself ended. There would still be inequalities in who had been promoted to high positions, which families had more money, which neighborhoods had more resources, which kids could afford to go to nicer schools. Those inequalities would breed more inequalities, even in a world without racism.
The impact would remain even if the prejudice disappeared tomorrow. But it hasn’t disappeared. The situation has improved, yes, but it’s not fixed. Racism isn’t gone. It’s just become less overt.
I’m ashamed to admit how often I forget that.
As a white man in America, I don’t think about racism much. When I do, it’s usually as something in the past—Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in Hairspray fighting to keep her 1960s TV show segregated, as Queen Latifah bravely leads a march for social change. (Yay, feel good movie!)
But that was before I was born; that’s not now. Today, my circle of friends is racially diverse, and I can’t imagine any of my friends disparaging another person based on their race. I mean, really, who does that anymore? As an employer, I’d never make a hiring decision based on race, and it’s hard for me to imagine a police officer, salesperson, landlord, or government agent treating someone differently because of their race. I mean, I’ve never seen it happen. Surely, I think to myself, that kind of thing doesn’t go on anymore.
But then, as a white man, how would I know if that kind of thing still happens?Of course it doesn’t happen to me; I’m a member of the white majority. I could look at how the world has changed since the 1960s and say, “Thank goodness! Racism has been eradicated!” but that would be a lie. A glance at world events should instantly tell me that racism is a very real problem around the globe (yes, even genocide still exists), and a brief conversation with any person of color should instantly tell me that they experience racism on a daily basis in ways that I can’t even fathom.
Take, for instance, this recent story of a woman who was stopped on the highway and handcuffed in front of her young children for no apparent reason other than her race:
The video is worth watching, but in case you’re not able to play it for technical reasons, here’s what it depicts. Police in Forney, Texas, had received a tip about a reckless driver waving a gun out the window. They were given a description of the vehicle: a beige Toyota carrying four black men. Instead, they pulled over someone entirely different: a law-abiding mother in a red Nissan with four young children. In the video, we see the woman, Kametra Barbour, forced out of her car at gunpoint and handcuffed. She is clearly terrified and confused, as are the children, but the police won’t explain what this is about or why she’s being handcuffed. Eventually, once they realize they have the wrong person, she is let go—after the crying children ask if they’re all going to jail and a six-year-old comes out with his hands up.
If you’re like me, your first reaction to a story like this is to want to believe that race wasn’t a factor: Maybe it can all be explained as a misunderstanding, and it could have happened to anybody. Okay, maybe. But even I have to admit that it’s hard to imagine the same kind of thing happening to a white mother with four young children. Ms. Barbour wasn’t a criminal; she wasn’t resisting; she wasn’t even driving the right kind of car. She was just black. And while we could debate the details of any specific situation, there’s no question that my black friends have way more stories like this than my white friends do. Like it or not, racism is still a factor in American society.
I try to imagine being a child and seeing my own mother pulled out of the car and handcuffed at gunpoint, and I just can’t. When I try anyway, I’m left wondering how it would affect my view of the police as I grew up. I wonder how well Kametra Barbour’s kids will remember this incident years from now, and how it will affect them. The incident itself is over, but how long will its impact last? Will it ever be “all better”?
Because of their direct experience with racism, my African American friends have a very different response to the Michael Brown shooting story than I do. As a white man, I hear the story as just another news event: A guy was shot by a police officer. Maybe it was justified; maybe it wasn’t. The truth will come out eventually. I can be patient. It doesn’t really impact my life much one way or the other.
But to my black friends, this is a very scary story. They’ve experienced racist treatment over and over at the hands of supposedly impartial institutions. Many of them have experienced racism at the hands of police, as hard as that is for white guys like me to understand. Now here’s a story—not an isolated incident, but the latest in a long line of such stories—of someone being killed by the very folks we rely on for protection, for no apparent reason other than judgments made based on his race. If that race is also your race, that’s frightening.
My friends don’t hate the police, or government, or laws. They’re not criminals or thugs. They’re not whiners complaining about past injustices. They’re reasonable, law-abiding citizens who want to know that incidents like this are taken seriously, that there’s transparency in the process, and that the same thing couldn’t happen to them or their loved ones. Because their own life experiences—experiences I have never had—have proven to them that when someone with a gun is making a split-second decision, race matters.
Was race a factor in the treatment of Kametra Barbour, the killing of Michael Brown and Kajieme Powell, or the trial of George Zimmerman? I don’t know. It’s hard to imagine otherwise, but I wasn’t there and I can’t see into the minds of the people who were. What I do know is that these are traumatic events for an entire community, and traumatic events leave scars that may never heal. We have to take them seriously, to continue the conversations about how we can do better as a nation, and to remember that when it comes to life-altering events, the past is only truly past for those who didn’t live through it.
Because it’s not all better. And understanding that is key to moving forward together.
Christians disagree on many things: How should we interpret Paul’s comments on gender roles? Is the Adam & Eve account history or metaphor? What is the “unforgivable sin”? Which biblical rules apply to us today, and which ones are cultural?
But with all the places we may disagree, one thing in the Bible is indisputable: Jesus taught us to show love and grace to one another. If you can’t do that while arguing your point on something else, you’ve missed the message entirely.
Hey Justin I was wondering from a christian perspective what is your opinion on being transgender
Thanks for the question! The answer could get complicated, though, because “transgender” is a broad term, and transgender Christians have many questions to consider about how they will live their lives.
Since I’m not transgender, I haven’t had to wrestle with all those difficult questions, and I wouldn’t dream of pretending to have all the answers. I do have a Christian perspective on transgender people, though, and it’s the same as my view on all people: God created us all, God loves us all, and if God loves you, then it’s my job to love you too. That means treating you with respect, kindness, and compassion, just like I’d want to be treated. Period.
At least, it should be that simple. But this is a subject that makes a lot of people—even a lot of gay people!—feel confused and/or uncomfortable, so let’s talk about it.
“Transgender" is an umbrella term for various situations in which a person’s gender identity or expression differs from what is typical for their birth sex.
This can sound confusing, because many of us use the words “sex” and “gender” interchangeably to mean whether you are male or female. But for students of gender, these words actually have different meanings.
“Sex” refers to your biology: When you were born, the doctor looked at your genitals and announced “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” That’s your sex.
“Gender,” on the other hand, is largely in your brain: It’s that internal sense you have of your own masculinity or femininity.
A transgender person’s internal gender identity and/or outward gender expression can differ from what is typical for someone with the sex organs they were born with. And yes, the word “transgender” (not “transgendered”) is an adjective, so you would refer to someone as “a transgender person,” not as “a transgender.”
Readers, is this discussion already starting to feel a bit overwhelming to you? If so, you’re not alone. Most of us aren’t used to thinking about things like “gender identity” and “gender expression.” For us, the world is simple: You’re male or you’re female. Men have XY chromosomes, facial hair, deep voices, and penises. Women have XX chromosomes, breasts, higher voices, and vaginas. Simple, right?
So when someone starts talking about how their “gender identity” is different from the sex they were “assigned” at birth, or when we see someone with an obvious Adam’s apple wearing lipstick and a dress, or when someone says they’re “genderqueer”—it’s easy for us to think they’re just ignoring the obvious realities of the world. “Stop playing this game,” we may be tempted to say. “If you’re male, you’re male. If you’re female, you’re female. There’s no middle ground.”
We may be tempted to say that. But as hard as it may be for us to realize, the world isn’t quite as simple as we think it is.
Sometimes, for instance, a baby is born with genitals that aren’t typically male or female, so the doctor can’t easily say “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” This condition is called “intersex.” (The old term “hermaphrodite” is no longer considered appropriate.)
And if we know those things don’t always line up, then what about our brains? Men’s and women’s brains are different, on the average. So isn’t it possible that some people’s brains might not be fully in sync with their bodies—that someone might, in a very real sense, have a male brain in a female body, or vice versa?
I’m oversimplifying, of course. There are transgender people who describe themselves as being “trapped in the wrong body,” but for many others, it’s far more complex than that. Just for the sake of argument, though, let’s consider that idea as a simple illustration. Suppose someone is born with a body typical of females and a brain typical of males. Is it fair to call this person “she” even though he has a male brain? Isn’t your identity more in your brain than in your body? And if someone’s body and brain are out of sync with one another, isn’t it reasonable for them to consider physical modifications to help bring them back in sync?
Some transgender people go through hormone therapy and surgery for that very reason. Others don’t. Just as there are many types of intersex conditions, there are many different situations that fall under the transgender umbrella. One thing they frequently have in common, though, is struggle: Transgender people are often misunderstood, ridiculed, or even feared by others. Something simple like using a public restroom can be a nerve-wracking proposition for them. And if we keep them at a distance because they’re different from us—or worse, joke about them behind their backs—we’re contributing to the problem.
The confusion many of us have felt is understandable: Most of the time, we instantly identify the people we meet by categorizing them as male or female. When you see someone and can’t tell right away if they’re male or female, your brain isn’t quite sure how to categorize them, and it feels weird, right? Years ago, Saturday Night Live had a recurring character named Pat built on this premise; all the comedy revolved around the idea that no one was sure if Pat was a man or a woman. We joke about things like this because they make us uncomfortable.
The joking is understandable, but it’s wrong. Jokes like this are actually very hurtful to a lot of people. Someone may look to you like a “man in a dress,” but if she presents herself to you as female and wants to be called “she,” common courtesy says that’s how you should refer to her. You don’t know her story: She might be intersex; she might be transgender; she might be neither. It’s not your business or mine what she looks like under her clothes, and gender is way more complicated than that anyway. All you need to know is that she is a human being, created and beloved by God. Whether she chooses to share more of her story with you at some point is entirely up to her. If she does, listen. If she doesn’t, just love her the way Christ would.
I don’t know what it’s like to be transgender, but I have seen how depressed someone can be when their body and brain are out of sync, and I’ve seen how much happier someone becomes when they’re able to be honest about what they’re experiencing. I don’t have to live their experience to see the impact it has on them. And in the end, I find that very few transgender people are interested in my personal opinions about how they should live or identify themselves. They’ve already made their decisions; what they want from me is the same kindness and respect I’d want from anyone else, whether or not that person agrees with everything I believe or do.
Basically, the Golden Rule.
So maybe it’s really not that complicated after all.
Anyway, if you’re trying to order a book and Amazon shows it as having a 2–3 week wait, check other sites like BN.com, which is currently shipping many of the same books within 24 hours, and often for less.
Update: Stephen Colbert is having the same problem, and he talked about it on his show:
VIDEO: You've never heard me make this argument about same-sex marriage.
On this blog, I write a lot about how both sides can have more gracious dialogue in the debates about homosexuality and Christianity, but I don’t often spend time making arguments for my own personal view. (Anyone can argue for a position; showing grace to your opponents is harder.)
So for those of you who have always wanted to hear me make a passionate argument for my side, drawing on history and Scripture—followed by a passionate but gracious rebuttal from the other side—here’s your chance, because last week I made that argument in a way I’ve never made it before.
Background info: My friend Ron Belgau and I often speak together on Christian college campuses. We’re both gay (same-sex attracted) Christians, but we have opposing views on marriage and the morality of same-sex sex.
Usually, we speak for two nights: one night about how we agree, and one night about how we disagree. Last week at Seattle Pacific University, though, we tried something new: We condensed it all into one presentation.
Because of the change, I decided to present my view a little differently, combining Scriptural analysis with historical perspective and cramming it all into a short period of time. I’ve made some of these arguments before, but never all together in rapid succession.
I didn’t know how it would go over, but I think it went really well. In fact, I think the entire presentation was awesome. You should totally watch it.
So here it is: Two friends making an audience (and each other) laugh, talking about Christian grace in the midst of the gay debate, telling stories, and passionately debating each other about whether churches should support same-sex marriage. This is loving dialogue in action.
For your reference, the presentation went like this:
We spent about 10 minutes each sharing our personal stories to humanize the issue. (I made lots of jokes, as always.)
We took about 20 minutes together to explain how we agree: jointly presenting 8 tips for showing grace and love in the midst of disagreement.
And then we each took about 15–20 minutes to present how we disagree: each arguing for our own theological view of gay relationships, sexual morality, and the church.
After that, we took Q&A from the audience.
If you’ve heard me do a presentation like this before, you can skip ahead to marker 47:47 to see the new stuff; you’ll get to start with the last tip, which helps to set up the “disagree” portion of the presentation. (If you’ve never heard me speak and haven’t read my book, though, I strongly suggest watching from the beginning. I know it’s tempting to jump to the disagreement, but trust me: A lot of the best parts are near the beginning!)
Enjoy! And please share!
If you would like to have a presentation at your church, school, or group, contact GCN at 919-786-0000.
As a first-time author, there are a few special moments that you never forget. They’re moments that feel surreal because you’ve always thought of them as things that only happen to big, important authors, and you don’t think of yourself that way. So when they happen to you, it’s like…
So far, I’ve had four such moments. I feel so privileged, because some authors never get to experience any of these:
1. The day you first get to hold an actual, physical copy of your book. This is becoming rarer as more books come out in electronic versions only. I’m especially lucky because I got to have a hardcover version of my book, which is, like, the coolest thing ever. Here’s video evidence of me being a complete dork the first time I got to see it.
This will forever rank as one of the most awesome days of my life.
2. Your first book signing. “Wait… you want my signature? Me?” My first signing was before the official release, at BookExpo America. I got to sign next to Jay Bakker, Shane Hipps, and Brian McLaren, who is one of the most gracious authors I’ve ever met. I wish I could be as friendly as he is.
3. Seeing your book on a shelf in an actual bookstore. I used to say that if I ever wrote a book, I would always want to go in every major bookstore I passed to see if they had my book in stock. Do I still do that? Yes. Yes I do.
(Hey, there it is, between Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer!)
4. Recording your own audiobook. Very few authors get the opportunity to record an audio version of their books. When my publisher asked me to, I was on cloud nine. And, I’m not gonna lie, every time someone tells me they listened to the audiobook and liked it better than the print version because of the emotion in my voice, well, that just makes my day a million times better.
Also, I meant to write a blog post about the experience! I need to do that.
And this week I added a fifth:
5. The first time your book gets translated into another language.My book is now available in Dutch! This. Is. Amazing. There’s now a version of my own book that I can’t read because I don’t speak the language. Do you know how amazing that is? (Hint: It’s pretty darn amazing.)
Actually, there’s one more cool author experience I should mention, because it transcends all the others: Hearing from all of you. Although I don’t always have time to respond, I do read the wonderful messages you all send me—on the blog, on social media, in private messages—and they mean so much. I wrote this book (and this blog) to make a difference, and every time I hear from someone that I’ve done that, it thrills me to the core.
So thank you. Thanks for your support, for your encouragement, and for letting me share this amazing journey with you. You all rock.
Even if I never write another book, this has been by far the most amazing author experience I could ever have imagined.
The first time I heard of “homosexuals,” I was completely confused.
I was a sheltered Christian kid and I’d never heard the term, so I asked a more worldly friend about it.
As my friend explained it, homosexuals were men who put their you-know-what in another man’s you-know-where, which was probably the grossest thing I’d ever heard.
“BUT WHY?!” I wanted to know. Why would anyone want to do such a thing?
“I have no earthly idea,” my friend replied.
For many years, that’s what I thought homosexuality was. I thought gay men were perverts who weren’t content with God’s design—and had therefore decided to push the sexual envelope by engaging in male-male sex. (Why? I didn’t know. Maybe for the sexual thrill? Or to rebel against God? I wasn’t sure.)
In my mind, “homosexuality” was some form of bizarre, kinky sex for crazy people.
But then something happened.
When I’d hit puberty and all my friends had started to feel attraction to girls, I hadn’t. I had started to feel attraction to guys instead. For years I’d denied it to myself or written it off as a phase, but finally, I had to face the truth: that in spite of my strong faith and the fact that I was dating girls, I had never been attracted to women, no matter how hard I tried.
It took me many years and many prayerful, tearful nights to admit that my brain is wired differently from most guys’. What they feel for girls, I feel for guys. And what they feel for guys, I feel for girls. I can be great friends with a woman, but I can’t fall in love with her. A close female friend feels like a sister, not a lover.
And that’s when I realized:
So that’s what people mean when they say they’re “gay.”
It’s not about sex at all.
It’s about what you feel inside. It’s about how you relate to other people. It’s about who you’re attracted to—not just physically, but romantically and emotionally. It’s about who you could—or couldn’t—fall in love with.
And this is why people fight so much about homosexuality.
As I’ve written before, “homosexuality” isn’t a helpful word, because it’s far too vague. If you believe, as I did, that homosexuality is something people do—a sex act—then a lot of stuff about gay people seems silly or senseless. Of course you wouldn’t compare a sex act to marriage. Of course you wouldn’t talk about a sex act around children or in polite company. Of course you wouldn’t ask for public endorsement of a sex act.
This is how I saw the gay rights movement for many years: It made no sense to me, because I thought homosexuality was about a sex act. And lots of people still do. You can tell because of the comparisons they make—comparing it to sexually abusing animals or children, for instance—and because of the questions they ask, like, “Why can’t you just keep it in the bedroom?”
They’re not trying to be mean. They’re really, genuinely baffled by it all. Just like I was.
But here’s the truth: I’m gay, and my life isn’t about sex. Some of my gay friends are having sex, and some aren’t. What we have in common isn’t sex; it’s that our brains are wired differently from our straight friends’ brains. We didn’t ask for it. Some of us fought for years—even decades—to try to become attracted to the opposite sex. Others accepted themselves early on. All of us are faced with the same situation: We can fall in love with the same sex, but not the opposite sex. We could choose to be celibate, but we can’t choose to be straight.
Is it any surprise, then, that most gay people—like most straight people—want to fall in love and have a romantic relationship with someone? Is it any surprise that physical intimacy, including sex, is usually a part of that relationship?
“But Justin,” some Christians say to me, “maybe you didn’t choose your feelings, but can’t you just treat them as a temptation and abstain? I chose to abstain from sex until I got married.”
Well, yes, I can, but that’s exactly my point. Even if I abstain from sex for my entire life, I’m still gay, and I’m still alone. That’s not actually a solution to anything; it only seems like one if you think this is all about sex.
As a gay Christian, I have a lot of questions about my future: What if I fall in love some day? What if I don’t? If I end up alone—by choice or by chance—what happens to me if I get sick and there’s no one to take care of me? And if I do fall in love with a guy and decide to build a life with him, I’m pretty confident that 99% of the questions and challenges I’ll face will have nothing to do with sex. Relationships are hard, no matter who you are. So if your only concern about my life is whether I’m having sex, it sure doesn’t seem like you’re thinking very much about me as a person.
Yes, sex and sexuality are part of life. But now I understand something I didn’t understand before: Gay, straight, or bi, a person’s “sexual orientation” isn’t just a sexual orientation. It’s how you’re wired: sexually, yes, but also emotionally, romantically, relationally.
Homosexuality isn’t about a sex act any more than heterosexuality is. Some gay people never even have sex, and those who do, don’t all have it the same way. But we’re all human, we all feel loneliness, and we all crave love.
Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people out there who think homosexuality is a sex act. As long as that misconception exists, they’ll keep right on being baffled by my calling myself a gay Christian, and my gay friends will keep right on being frustrated at what seems like a total lack of human compassion.
And me, I’ll just keep right on saying, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
I just got an email from Tumblr that my blog is trending.
So to all my new readers out there, hello!
Let’s catch you up.
My name is Justin Lee. This is me:
Fun facts about me:
I don’t have hair because of a genetic disorder called alopecia areata.
I’m a geek. I’ll admit it.
I’m a Christian. And I’m embarrassed when I see some of my fellow Christians being jerks. If you sometimes wish Christians would be nicer, keep reading this blog. We talk about that a lot here.
I’m also gay. Growing up, I thought gay people were sinners who chose to be gay. When I realized I was gay at 18, my whole world was turned upside down. We talk about that a lot here as well. Some of my readers are LGBT or very LGBT-supportive, while others believe homosexuality is a sin. I welcome everyone to engage with me in conversation, as long as they’re willing to be kind.
So why is my blog trending? Well, here are a few things I wrote that have been popular.
You love gay people? That’s great. Prove it. - This is one of the most popular things I’ve written. I wrote it to my fellow Christians about how they can treat gay people better, even if they don’t necessarily approve of homosexuality. It’s been going viral in LGBT circles and in conservative Christian circles. So… that’s cool.
CNN.com asked me for my feelings as a gay Christian about the death of Fred Phelps, the notoriously anti-gay preacher famous for the phrase “God hates fags.”
Here’s what I said.
The words and actions of Fred Phelps have hurt countless people. As a Christian, I’m angry about that, and I’m angry about how he tarnished the reputation of the faith I love so much.
But as a Christian, I also believe in showing love to my enemies and treating people with grace even when they don’t deserve it. So I don’t view Fred Phelps’ death or the suffering of his family as a cause for celebration. Instead, I pray for his soul and his family just as I pray for those he harmed.
It’s easy for me to love someone who treats me kindly. It’s hard for me to love Fred Phelps. To me, that’s the whole point of grace.
Here’s the article in which they quoted my reaction along with others’:
But sometimes you can’t avoid the comments—especially if it’s your blog or article or Facebook page. So since a lot of you have been asking me about this lately, here are my personal tips for responding to internet comments that make you want to throw something.
1. Force yourself to stay outwardly calm, even if you don’t feel calm.
People always ask me how I stay calm in the face of angry or hurtful comments. The truth? I’m not impervious to harsh words; I feel them just like anyone would, and I get angry, hurt, and upset just like anyone else.
But I’m in a public position where I get attacked a lot, so I’ve practiced staying outwardly calm and taking time to think, breathe, and pray before I respond. What’s amazing is that staying calm on the outside actually helps me feel calmer on the inside. Try it.
2. Try to understand the other person’s point of view.
This one is tough, but it’s so worth it.
Put aside your own frustration for a moment to try to see things through their eyes. Think: Why did they post this? What’s their motivation? What are they feeling? If it helps, close your eyes, imagine that you’re them, and imagine what you’re going through that would cause you to write what they wrote.
Did they, perhaps, misunderstand the point? If so, maybe you could explain it another way.
Or might the thread have touched on a subject that has emotional baggage for them? If so, maybe you just need to forgive their overreaction.
Remember, everyone sees themselves as the protagonist of their own story. That means that in this person’s eyes, their comment makes perfect sense. If you can figure out why, you can respond with grace.
3. Consider your own emotional baggage.
Stop and think for a moment: Why did their post make you so angry? It might not just be the other person; some of it might be your own baggage.
My grandfather was shot and killed when I was a baby, so I get emotional on the subject of guns. Does that disqualify me from having opinions on the subject? Of course not. But when I find myself getting angry in conversations about guns, I need to remind myself that this subject has baggage for me that it doesn’t have for the other person, and they’re not responsible for my emotions.
Otherwise, I might wind up sounding like the crazy ranting guy when someone accidentally pushes my buttons—or misinterpreting others as trying to stir things up when they’re not.
4. No matter what they say, always treat the other person with respect—even if they didn’t treat you with respect.
Yes, we all like to imagine our snarky revenge, but in real life, treating people respectfully is always the right thing to do.
And if that’s not enough reason, here’s another: On the internet, other people are always watching. You may not ever be able to win over that frustrating commenter, but by responding with kindness, you’ll influence countless others who see you demonstrating grace.
5. Be willing to apologize, even if you don’t think you should have to.
Have you ever been in an internet argument where someone accuses you of saying something inappropriate or offensive, when they’re clearly the offensive one, and you’ve been a model of restraint and civility?
In situations like that, it’s easy to become defensive and make things worse—especially when you feel like you’re being misinterpreted. But you know what? Just offering an apology makes things so much better, and it costs you nothing other than your pride.
6. Don’t post while you’re angry. Ever.
Make it a hard and fast rule in your life: When you feel your blood pressure rising, step away from the keyboard. You can come back to it once you’ve calmed down.
If a post has gotten under your skin too much for you to put aside your frustration, just ignore it and let someone else respond or let it go entirely.
In the heat of the moment, it can feel like terrible things will happen if this jerk’s wrong comment goes unchecked. But however important that comment seems at the time, nothing you post in anger is going to make the situation any better. Seriously.
7. Remember to respond to positive comments, not just negative ones.
If the only comments that get responses are the negative ones, they’ll take up a disproportionate amount of space, and you’ll be sending the message that people have to make waves in order to get noticed.
Besides, responding to positive comments makes you and the other commenters feel good. Give positive comments more attention and let the negative ones wither and die from lack of interest.
8. Don’t feed the trolls.
Sometimes, someone is just looking for a chance to stir up controversy and make people angry for their own amusement.
If you try once to engage respectfully with someone and they don’t respond kindly back, just let them have the last word and move on. Winning the argument isn’t worth poisoning the comment thread for everyone else.
Hi! You've probably gotten this question before, but I didn't see it on the FAQ. I see in your photo that you don't have hair or eyebrows. As a leukemia patient, this entrigues me- do you have alopecia? Or is it by choice? Thanks!
I do have alopecia! Good catch!
For my other readers, I should explain that alopecia areata is a genetic autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. I first lost my hair when I was four, and it’s come and gone throughout my life. I usually keep my head shaved, because it makes my life simpler. :)
Also, it means I can pretend to be Patrick Stewart when I order a cup of Earl Grey. ;)
When conservative Christians find out I’m gay, they almost all say the same thing: “I know gay people think Christians hate them, but I don’t. I love gay people. I may not agree with them, but I love them.”
You’d be surprised how often I hear this. Christians are constantly telling me how much they love me.
If they treat me disapprovingly, it’s because they “love the sinner and hate the sin.”
If they preach at me, they’re “speaking the truth in love.”
If they distance themselves from me, it’s because they’re showing “tough love.”
Yet they wonder why gay people don’t feel very loved.
It reminds me of a scene from the 1960s musical film My Fair Lady. Eliza Doolittle, a poor flower girl, has worked hard to overcome her Cockney accent and pass as a proper English lady, but she eventually tires of being treated as a trophy by her diction teacher and others. So when a young suitor named Freddy—who barely knows anything about her—begins to sing a song professing his love, she humorously interrupts him with a song of her own:
Words, words, words! I’m so sick of words! I get words all day through, First from him, now from you! Is that all you blighters can do?
Don’t talk of stars burning above; If you’re in love, show me! Tell me no dreams filled with desire; If you’re on fire, show me!
“Show me,” she says. As a gay man, I feel the same way.
Do you love me? Don’t talk about it. Show me.
You know why LGBT people have such a bad impression of Christians? It’s not because of protesters with “God hates fags” signs. We know they’re extremists. It’s because of daily being dehumanized by the Christians who lecture and preach at us, treating us as issues instead of as human beings—and because of the Christians we know who stand idly by, thinking that if they’re not actively hating us, that counts as loving us.
That’s not love. Talk is cheap. Telling me your opinion on my life is easy. Real love takes more than that.
Sing me no song; read me no rhyme! Don’t waste my time! Show me! Don’t talk of June; don’t talk of fall; Don’t talk at all! Show me! Never do I ever want to hear another word. There isn’t one I haven’t heard…
It’s true. Anything you could say, all that “speaking the truth in love,” I’ve heard it all before. So if you’re really serious when you say you love me, you’re going to have to prove it. Show me.
Not sure how? Here are some ideas.
Support my rights. Okay, maybe we don’t agree on the definition of marriage, but can we at least agree that people shouldn’t be able to fire me or kick me out of my home just because they found out I’m gay? If you agree, help me make those legal protections a reality. If you don’t agree, it’s hard to believe you really care that much about my well-being.
Stick up for me, even when I’m not around. Don’t let people make gay jokes or speak derisively about LGBT people. You never know who might be listening. I was, before you knew I was gay.
Invite me to dinner. Or a party. Or a movie. Or a game night. Or to hang out at the mall. Make it something I enjoy, and don’t use it as a pretext for anything other than having a good time together.
Take an interest in my life and relationships. Ask about the person I’m seeing, or the person I’d like to be seeing. (No need to tell me how much you disapprove.) Find out about my hobbies, favorite movies, favorite music, and other things I’m passionate about. Learn to see me as a multifaceted human being.
Ask about my experiences as an LGBT person. Don’t comment. Just listen.
Learn the language I use for myself, and use it. For instance, I don’t call myself “homosexual”; I call myself gay. If you call me “homosexual” in spite of my disdain for that term, it doesn’t feel very loving to me.
Get involved in causes LGBT people care about. Join the fight against LGBT bullying in schools. Learn about the homeless LGBT youth population in your city. Volunteer at a charity serving people with AIDS. Don’t bring attention to what a good Christian you’re being; just do it because it’s the right thing to do.
Instead of asking me to join you in settings where you’re most comfortable, look for opportunities to join me in settings where I’m most comfortable. Maybe I have a favorite coffee house, or I love to hike a local trail, or I go bowling with friends every Friday night. And hey, maybe you could get to know my friends instead of expecting me to fit in with yours.
Be the conservative Christian in my life who doesn’t quote the Bible at me. I know; you’re worried that not expressing disapproval will make me think you approve of all my decisions. It won’t. It just shows me that you care more about me than about our differences.
Most importantly, don’t do any of these things with a hidden agenda. Do them because you love me. You said you love me, right? Okay, then. Show me.
A note: I’m now getting a lot of visits to this post from people who have never read my blog before. If this is your first time, I suggest visiting this welcome post to learn more about me and my blog before commenting. Welcome!
Since God created Adam and Eve in the beginning and told them to procreate, why would God create as you say a person with an orientation toward the same sex?
Thanks for the question! I have a couple of thoughts on this.
First, I can’t begin to speak for God; I don’t know why God does certain things or doesn’t do others. Some people say that a same-sex orientation is a gift from God, because it provides a unique perspective on the world, among other things. Others see it as a challenge, not a gift—something that’s a result of living in a fallen world. (Interestingly, if you ask members of the Deaf community why they think some people are born deaf, you’ll hear a similar spectrum of answers.)
Personally, I have no idea why gay people exist; all I know is that we do, and that we don’t choose our orientation. I can say that I’ve experienced many blessings from being gay, including the fact that I’m able to understand and speak to a lot of people who are angry with the church in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
As for procreation, I’d say that it was important for Adam and Eve to procreate when they were the only two people on the earth, but that doesn’t mean that God requires every human being to procreate. We’ve done a pretty good job of populating the earth at this point, and in fact, many of the Bible’s most important heroes either weren’t married or didn’t have children. My biggest concern is with sharing Christ’s love with the world, and if being gay helps me do that, then I’d count it a blessing.
I read your book in October and it seriously has rocked my worldview so hard, we have so many of the same views and I would love to talk to you! Where are you from? Do you meet with people to talk? Also, do you have to answer all of these publicly or could I come off anonymous and ask you things to have you answer them privately?
Thanks! I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. :) The easiest way to contact me privately is through my Facebook page. (Keep in mind, because of the way Facebook handles messages, I’m more likely to see your message quickly if you add me as a friend first, but you don’t have to do that; I still try to check my “other” box regularly.)
Sometimes I miss Facebook messages, so if you have trouble getting a response, need to hear from me quickly, and/or have a question about something work-related—like booking me for a speaking engagement—contact my office instead, and they can get in touch with me.
VIDEO: TV host Michael Coren asked me if I can be gay and Christian. Here's what happened.
First, a little background. Michael Coren is a conservative Catholic TV host in Canada. He’s known for being deliberately provocative at times, and he doesn’t shy away from controversy. He’s been called “Canada’s Bill O’Reilly” at least once, though he doesn’t see himself that way; he says he’s less polarizing than that.
But when he recently took a public stand against Uganda’s vicious new anti-gay law (and rightly so!), some of his viewers balked, saying he wasn’t being conservative enough or Christian enough, even claiming he must be secretly gay himself. (He’s not.)
So tonight he invited me on his show to continue the discussion and hear a gay Christian’s perspective. Some of my friends were nervous for me, but Michael was actually super nice, and I really enjoyed the conversation. Check it out.
VIDEO: CNN asked me if Arizona's bill is about Christians vs. gays. Here's what I said.
So, I was on CNN this morning, and they were super nice. They were asking me about a new bill in Arizona that would allow anyone—not just churches and religious organizations, but anyone at all, in just about any situation—to claim exemption from anti-discrimination laws by appealing to their freedom of religion. In my view, the wording of the bill actually harms our freedom of religion. Check out the video to see what I said.
Here are the rules for calling an introvert like me on the phone.
Rule 1. If you just want to communicate a piece of information, send a text message instead. That’s what it’s for.
Rule 2. If you really want to chat on the phone, send a text, email, or message FIRST to find out when a good time would be. This gives us a chance to mentally prepare for the call. Trust me, that’s important.
Rule 3. If you disregard rule 2 and decide to just call us without warning, we will either avoid the call (and feel guilty) or else answer it out of obligation (and feel irritated). In either case, please spritz yourself in the face with cold water and say, “BAD friend! BAD friend!”
Calling an introvert without warning is basically the equivalent of showing up at someone’s house without being invited. They might open the door, but it doesn’t mean they’re not secretly resenting it.
In the 18 years since I first came out as gay, I feel like I’ve heard discussions on “Is it a choice?” about a million times.
And for 18 years, my answer has continued to be the same: You can choose your behavior. You cannot choose your orientation.
People can choose who to date, kiss, or sleep with. They can also choose not to do any of these things.
But people don’t choose who they’re attracted to. Many people have spent their whole lives trying not to be attracted to the same sex. That’s not a choice.
So if we define “gay” as “someone who is attracted to the same sex,” then no, being gay isn’t a choice. A gay person could choose to be celibate or choose to hide what they feel, but their orientation would still be the same.
Pretty clear, right?
But if that’s true, then why are there a few gay people out there who say they “chose” to be gay?
I’ve seen it happen from time to time; someone will write an article or make a public statement claiming that they’re “gay by choice.” And people freak out: Gay folks get angry, anti-gay folks say, “I told you so!”, and the person in question gets lots of attention for a little while.
But if it’s not a choice, why would someone say that?
Well, there are a few reasons:
1. They don’t want to be perceived as victims. For some people, saying, “I didn’t want to be this way,” sounds like there’s something wrong with being gay. They don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, so they choose a message that sounds stronger: “Hey, there’s nothing wrong with being this way! Actually, I like it! I choose it!” But what they’re really saying is that they choose to embrace their sexuality; they didn’t choose their orientation in the first place.
2. They might have had a unique experience. Some people experience “sexual fluidity” (an orientation that changes with time), or bisexuality (attraction to both sexes). They may mistakenly think this is how everyone feels, and this may actually be what they mean when they talk about “choice.” Of course, even these people didn’t choose to experience fluidity or bisexuality, because someone who isn’t bisexual can’t choose to become attracted to both sexes by force of will. (Many have tried!)
3. They’re conflating behavior and orientation. Often, it’s just a matter of confusing their terms. When you hear such a claim, look for how the person defines “gay.” If they talk about being gay in terms of sexual activity, for instance, what they’re really saying is that people can choose who they sleep with. I agree with that, but that’s not the same as choosing your orientation.
4. It’s psychology. Psychological concepts like cognitive dissonance and the illusion of control suggest that even when events are out of our control, we humans are very good at convincing ourselves that we were in control the whole time. It’s like Aesop’s fable of the sour grapes: “I can’t reach those grapes, but that’s okay, because I didn’t want those anyway. It was my choice all along.”
But imagine people making statements like these:
“I love coconut pie! And I choose to like it, because it’s delicious!”
“I don’t like coconut pie. But that was my choice, because it’s disgusting.”
What would such statements even mean? It’s easy to see how someone who loves coconut pie might believe he chose to love it, but the reality is that if he didn’t already like it to begin with, he wouldn’t have made that choice, would he? (Trust me, there are some foods I really want to love, but no matter how many times I eat them, I still hate them.)
Anyway, does it really matter if orientation is a choice?
Yes. It does matter. Here’s why.
Around the world right now, there are many people being abused, tortured, imprisoned, and even killed for being gay. A few days ago, I talked to a man whose good friend in Cameroon died earlier this month—starved to death by his family in an attempt to make him straight.
Even in America, where we have it comparatively easy, there are people contemplating suicide because they couldn’t change their orientation, and there are people who have experienced severe psychological and even physical trauma at the hands of those who believed that putting enough pressure on them could convince them to make a different “choice.”
Claiming that being gay is a choice causes two terrible harms: It convinces some straight folks to try even harder to pressure people into making a different choice (such as through Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” legislation), and it says to the gay victims of such abuse that they could have “chosen” not to experience that abuse at any time by just “choosing” not to be gay.
This is wrong. It’s dangerous. It’s deadly.
And it’s just not true.
Yes, if you’re an openly gay man in New York City, I understand that you don’t want people to see you as a victim or to give you equality just because you “can’t help” being gay. I get that. But claiming that being gay is a choice is not the way to solve that problem.
So let me say this one more time.
Yes, you can choose how you live—who you have sex with, who you date, what you wear, where you go, and whether to tell anyone the truth about what you feel inside. You could choose to marry or sleep with someone you’re not even attracted to. Many people do.
Want to understand your gay family member? Go see Frozen.
There are a lot of things to like about Disney’s new film Frozen:
Idina Menzel. ‘Nuff said.
There are two strong female protagonists, neither of which is a damsel in distress.
The central conflict isn’t between a “hero” and a “villain.” It’s between two likable, empathetic characters, each of whom is doing what she thinks is right based on her own experience. This is how conflicts work in real life, and it’s a much healthier way to see the world than the typical good-guys-vs.-bad-guys narrative.
It’s genuinely funny, with some quirky Arrested Development references thrown in for good measure.
The film plays with some typical princess-movie tropes and dares to call them into question. Notably, when a princess character falls instantly in love with a dashing prince, other characters question her judgment, reminding her that in the real world, it takes time to really get to know someone. (When’s the last time you heard THAT in a Disney movie?) It already inspired this hilarious meme:
But one of my favorite things about this film is that it works exceptionally well as an allegory for LGBT people and their families.
I hate spoilers, so if you’re planning to see Frozen and don’t want anything spoiled, all I’ll say is this: Many LGBT viewers have said they feel a strong connection to Elsa, the older sister. If you’re a straight family member of an LGBT person, you may find yourself relating to Anna, the younger sister. Keep that in mind as you enjoy the film.
Beyond this point are some spoilers, so stop reading now if you don’t want to know the basics of the plot.
*** SOME SPOILERS AHEAD ***
Frozen is about two sisters, Elsa and Anna, daughters of the king and queen of Arendelle.
Elsa, the older sister, has a magical gift: She can summon ice and snow. (A troll later asks if she was “born” or “cursed” with this power, one of many lines hinting at an allegory for LGBT people. The answer: She was born that way.)
After an accident, though, Elsa’s parents come to view her power as a curse, and they encourage her to keep her difference hidden from the rest of the world. “Conceal; don’t feel,” they tell her, and she attempts to do just that, withdrawing from the world to wrestle alone—with her secrets, with a powerful sense of guilt, and with this part of herself she doesn’t fully understand.
All of this happens very quickly in the early part of the film, but as a gay man, I found these brief scenes resonating with me in a powerful way. I know that feeling: The sense that not only what you’ve done, but what you are, is something terrible, shameful, and abhorrent to your own parents—but you have no idea how to change it, and you don’t know if you can hide it forever.
A later scene, in which Elsa must make it through a coronation ceremony without letting anyone glimpse the truth about herself, is positively gut wrenching. I know that feeling, too, and all too well. It’s how I felt year after year, at every family gathering, in every church service, any time I was in a social setting and people were asking about my life and whether I’d met any cute girls lately.
Recurring lyrics in Elsa’s songs highlight this struggle:
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see Be the good girl you always have to be Conceal, don’t feel Put on a show Make one wrong move and everyone will know…
“Conceal, don’t feel,” indeed.
But what’s interesting about Frozen is that it’s not, ultimately, Elsa’s story. It’s mostly Anna’s, her younger sister.
Kept in the dark about her sister’s secret, Anna doesn’t understand why Elsa has grown so distant from her. She feels confused and shut out, but the more Anna reaches out, the more Elsa pulls away, afraid of what would happen if the truth were known.
Any of this sounding familiar? It’s a common story in families where one member discovers themselves to be gay, bi, or trans. And that’s part of why I love this film. Because as you relate to one side of this equation, you also get to experience the other side, and you can see what a challenge it is for all concerned.
Eventually, of course, the truth comes out, and everything blows up into an emotional—and literal—storm.
Driven by panic and self-preservation, Elsa leaves Arendelle, setting off on her own journey to learn about the parts of herself she’s been afraid of for so long. Finally free of everyone else’s expectations, Elsa sings the song that is sure to be an LGBT anthem for years to come:
The snow glows white on the mountain tonight Not a footprint to be seen A kingdom of isolation And it looks like I’m the queen The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside Couldn’t keep it in; heaven knows I tried…
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see Be the good girl you always have to be Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know Well, now they know…
Let it go, let it go Can’t hold it back anymore Let it go, let it go Turn away and slam the door I don’t care what they’re going to say! Let the storm rage on The cold never bothered me anyway…
It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all It’s time to see what I can do To test the limits and break through No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free…
Let it go, let it go And I’ll rise like the break of dawn Let it go, let it go That perfect girl is gone…
You want to know why so many LGBT people run away from the church and/or distance themselves from their families? This is why. After years of trying to be “good” by hiding the truth, sometimes the only way people know to cope is to let go of those pressures and stay away from anyone they fear might judge them.
And yes, sometimes people go overboard. “No right, no wrong, no rules for me” isn’t a very healthy life philosophy in the long run. But if, when you watch this film, you can experience the tremendous relief Elsa feels in this moment, then you can understand why this is such fresh air after years of “conceal, don’t feel.”
Finally! She can be herself!
What Elsa experiences as a refreshing release, though, hits Anna like a punch to the gut. After all these years of wanting to be closer to her older sister and knowing something was wrong, she learns the truth only in time to watch her sister run away and cut off all contact.
Anna wonders to herself the same things many family members of LGBT people wonder to themselves: Why couldn’t she tell me the truth? Did I do something wrong? Did I push her away somehow? Why won’t she talk to me now?
Anna sets out on a quest to find her sister and bring her home, but Elsa is all too happy to leave Arendelle and everything about her past behind her. All those years of locking away her emotions have made Elsa bitter. She’s ready to be selfish for a change, and she doesn’t want to go back.
Now look: I’m not saying Frozen is a “gay movie.” It’s a fantasy story, an escape from reality, just like, say, X-Men. But just as the creators of the X-Men films admitted that they drew intentional parallels between the film’s mutants and real-life LGBT people, I’m pretty sure that the parallels in Frozen were deliberate (though Disney wouldn’t likely admit it, for obvious reasons).
Still, you can enjoy Frozen perfectly well without thinking about any of this. But what I’m suggesting is that there’s an extra layer of meaning here for LGBT people and their families—a chance to get a peek at how these challenges feel on the other side.
In an interview about the film, Idina Menzel—the voice of Elsa—talks about how the complexity of her character can teach us to develop empathy for others. That’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?
And, I’d add, perhaps the ultimate resolution of the story (no, I’m not going to spoil it here) will provide some food for thought about how we can, and should, treat each other.
I’ll be back to posting after the conference, but in the meantime, you can catch up on some of my favorite past posts by visiting my Tumblr homepage and clicking some of the image links on the lefthand side.
Every year around this time, I hear the same Christmas myths over and over, repeated by people who honestly believe them. They show up in my Facebook feed, in conversations with friends, and in public discourse.
So let’s put these 6 myths to rest, shall we?
Myth #1: According to the Bible, baby Jesus was visited in the manger by three kings.
Nope. All those nativity scenes are wrong. The Bible story says that a group of magi, or wise men, visited Jesus as a child in his house—long after his birth—bringing three gifts. But the story doesn’t say how many wise men there were, and they were more likely astrologers, not kings.
Myth #2: Candy canes were invented as a secret Christian symbol.
Have you heard the story about the candy cane? See, it’s a “J” for “Jesus,” and the red and white stripes represent blood and purity, and…
Myth #3: The “12 Days of Christmas” song also has a hidden Christian message.
Sorry, but this one isn’t true either. This is another great read on Snopes, where I learned something I didn’t know: Apparently the fourth gift was originally “colly birds,” meaning blackbirds, not “calling birds,” as many of us learned it. Some scholars have even suggested that the “gold rings” were also supposed to be a reference to a type of bird, so that the first seven gifts were all birds—though that’s apparently in dispute.
Anyway, it’s not an encoded message, but it’s still a fun song. The Muppets’ version is my favorite.
Myth #4: It’s hard to be a Christian in America at Christmas, because no one wants to admit the spiritual significance of the holiday.
As a Christian, I just don’t buy this. Yes, there’s consumerism and Santa Claus. Yes, there are some anti-Christian messages too. But if you just look around, there are people everywhere talking about Jesus at Christmas. Even secular radio stations and popular malls play religious Christmas carols this time of year: “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”—I’ve heard all of these out in public in the last few days.
Even Walt Disney World, our #1 tourist destination, brings in celebrity narrators all month long to read the story of Jesus’ birth—from the Bible!—as a choir sings about Jesus. At Disney World.
So I don’t buy this whole Christian oppression stuff. Yes, it’s hard to focus on the faith message in the midst of all the consumerism, but let’s not pretend that’s the same as oppression. It’s way harder to be an American who doesn’t celebrate Christmas—for religious or other reasons—than it is to be a Christian who does.
Myth #5: If you say “Happy Holidays” or write “Merry Xmas,” you’re declaring “war on Christmas.”
This means you. It also means that person who looks nothing like you.
And in that spirit, this video is worth a few moments out of your day.
Often, when people spend a lot of time talking about the needs of those who are different from the majority, we dismiss them as giving in to “political correctness.”
But there’s nothing political about taking time to care about people who are different from me, and noticing when they’re being left out. In fact, I’d say that’s close to the very heart of what a Christian life is all about.
Did I mention the awesome conference happening next month?
Every year, the Gay Christian Network puts together a big conference of Christians who care about LGBT people. This year’s theme is "Live It Out," and guess who’s going to be there!
Author/blogger Rachel Held Evans will be keynoting.
So will Rev. Dr. Christine Wiley, pastor at the first black Baptist congregation in DC to call an equal husband/wife pastoral team.
And Rob and Linda Robertson, whose powerful story “Just Because He Breathes,” about their gay son, was a viral hit on Huffington Post this year.
Did I mention the concert by popular singer/songwriter Derek Webb, formerly of Caedmon’s Call?
That doesn’t even count more music by Bobby Jo Valentine, a women’s retreat featuring Rev. Audrey Connor, workshops by a bunch of amazing people, powerful worship, fellowship opportunities, and more. Oh, and I’ll be there also.
This year will be our biggest conference yet, January 9-12, 2014, in Chicago. The current online registration rate ends December 15, so if you think you, your family, your church, and/or your friends might like to go and meet all these awesome people, head to the GCN conference website now to register!
Hey Justin. A friend and were discussing Torn recently and we was noting that nowhere in your book did it mention whether or not you yourself are in a committed relationship (although obviously you are Side A and support that.) He thought that you probably were but didn't want to share that as it might alienate some of your readers who would automatically dismiss you as a gay man having gay sex. Care to comment?
Thanks for the question! I’m actually still single, but you’re right that I do want to get married someday. :)
Still, the organization that I run has people on both sides (“A” and “B”), and I have a number of readers on both sides as well, so I try to write in a way that is accessible whether you agree or disagree with me on that point.
In your "9 ways your church can better support singles" post, you said "handicapped." That term is actually outdated and offensive to disabled people. It originated in the early 1900's when disabled people were forced to be beggars and have their "hand in their cap"to beg for money. The word "disabled" is very much accepted by the disability community. Really appreciate what you do with GCN! :)
You’re absolutely right; “disabled” is the most widely accepted term, so thanks for pointing out my mistake! I’ve corrected the post.
Incidentally, the “hand in cap” (or “cap in hand”) begging story is an urban legend, but the mere fact that many people believe it should be enough to keep folks from using the word in a way that might unintentionally offend people. (There are also other reasons why many people prefer the term “disabled,” of course.)
While people with disabilities (as well as African Americans, LGBT people, little people, and other groups) may not all agree on the terms they prefer to use for themselves, it’s important to make an effort to use the language a particular person prefers when speaking to that person and the language that the majority of the community prefers when speaking of the community as a whole. In this case, the best term is “people with disabilities” (which also puts the person before the disability).
I love my readers! You guys keep me constantly learning. :)
Because when you’re a single person in a church full of couples and families…
…after a while, you begin to feel…
…a bit superfluous.
And it’s a real problem in churches across America. I’ve heard from so many singles who have told me they think their churches have no place for them.
This is ironic, because the Bible spends a lot of time talking about the need for God’s people to focus specifically on caring for the widows and orphans among them.
Why those groups? Well, they were the people who didn’t have the support of an immediate family structure. They had unique financial needs, of course, but they also had unique emotional needs. When you preach a sermon full of references to us as husbands, wives, and kids, the widows and the orphans are the ones you’ve left out. They’re not someone’s husband or wife or child. In a very real way, they’re on their own.
This is the reality for singles of all ages in your church: The 40-something who hasn’t found the right person yet. The 70-something whose spouse has just died. The 50-something still reeling from a nasty divorce. The 20-something who is gay and facing a life of self-imposed (God-imposed? church-imposed?) celibacy.
Some people are single by choice; others by circumstance. Whatever the case, being single in our culture can be lonely, and church can feel especially so.
The challenges we singles face go beyond financial considerations and how to abstain from sex. In a church culture that emphasizes the family unit above almost all else, where is our identity? How do we spend our time as we age and so many of our peers are busy with their families? And what do we make of the fact that even our Christian communities sometimes treat us with condescension or suspicion for being single?
These are much bigger questions than we can address in one blog post, but for now, here are 9 ways your church can begin ministering better to single people.
1. Include singles in your church leadership. Not only does this send a powerful message; it also helps ensure that someone sensitive to the needs of singles will be part of the decision-making process.
2. Talk openly about singles—in sermons, in staff meetings, in church literature, everywhere you do ministry. When you do, think about how what you say and do affects different groups of singles, from the celibate gay man to the widow. Don’t let “singles” be code for “young people.”
3. Go out of your way to get to know the singles in your congregation—old and young. Have dinner with them. Get to know them as people, not just as singles, then ask about their experiences and get their feedback on how your church can better minister to them. I bet they’ve got some great ideas, but you might have to take some time before they’re comfortable opening up.
4. Have a singles ministry at your church that is not focused on marriage. Some of us may never marry, and all of us could use a ministry that focuses on where we are right now, not just where we might be in the future. It’s great to have classes for people preparing for marriage, but that’s not a singles ministry. Remember: We’re whole right now. We don’t want to be seen as the not-yet-marrieds or the used-to-be-marrieds.
5. Give singles the opportunity to lead the singles ministry. Many pastors think they’re avoiding potential problems by having married folks lead the singles ministry, but honestly, that feels so condescending. It also gives the distinct impression that we’re all just supposed to be on a journey toward marriage, at which point we’ll be taken more seriously.
6. Look for every opportunity to create community among the singles in your church—as well as between singles and non-singles. Even nuns and monks, dedicated to celibacy for God, still live in community together. People need community, and it can’t be limited to Sunday mornings. Offer regular social opportunities for singles of all ages, and don’t let them be perceived as matchmaking events.
7. Be particularly cognizant of the times many people gather with their families—holidays, important life moments, illness, etc. Create opportunities for your church to be their family in those times. You know all that love, support, companionship, and stability you get from having a spouse and children? We need those things, too. Think about how your church can fill those gaps.
8. Reach out to singles with special needs. For instance, singles who are elderly, disabled, or without a car may have difficulty making it to your church—not only for Sunday worship, but for social events as well. Make a point of reaching out to them and offering them rides.
9. Offer singles lots of opportunities to get plugged in. When you have opportunities for volunteering or leadership, don’t just post something in the bulletin; go out of your way to reach out to people personally and let them know how much you’d appreciate their time and talents. Even if they say no, they’ll be honored that you thought of them and asked.
Singles: Why are churches so bad at dealing with them?
Being single is weird. Sometimes it’s like:
But other times, it can be… well… discouraging.
When you’re single and feeling lonely, some things only make matters worse.
You know, like… - Facebook status updates about your friends’ new relationships. - Love songs on the radio. - Romantic comedies. - Romantic subplots in movies that aren’t romantic comedies but manage to remind you of your singleness anyway. - Friends’ Facebook profile photos that include their significant others.
But wait, there’s more…
- Relatives who want to know if you’ve met anyone yet. - Parents who want to know when they can expect grandchildren.
- Being home alone when your friends are out on dates. - Falling for someone who is unavailable, uninterested, or otherwise not an option for you. - Not falling for anyone and wondering if you’re too picky. - Falling for everyone and wondering why no one reciprocates. - Weddings. - Funerals. - Reunions. - Facebook. Did I mention Facebook?
Being single in a relationship-obsessed culture can be a challenge. But as bad as all of those situations can be, in my own personal experience, one of the most frustrating places to be when you’re single is church—especially in American Protestant churches.
Yeah, I said it.
As a single guy, sometimes I hate going to church.
(Just imagine he’s in a pew and you’ve got it.)
Right now, some of you are saying to yourselves, “Oh, now, it’s not really all that bad in churches, is it?” If you’re saying that, well, there’s a good chance you’re not single. Because every time I mention this around single people—especially single Protestants who have made it past their 20s—I always get the same response: wide eyes, vigorous nodding, and comments like, “OH MY GOSH YES.”
See, American Protestant churches are great at supporting families. If you want to know how to be a better, more godly husband, wife, parent, or child, we’ve got you covered. We’ve got books. We’ve got classes. We’ve got sermons. We’ve got small groups. Here, have a special edition Bible.
But too often, we don’t seem to know what to do with single people other than somehow shove them into that frame.
It’s not that churches don’t know they have single people. The trouble is, many churches think about singleness only as a young person’s issue. And what do single teenagers need? Lots of advice on controlling their sex drives until marriage, apparently. But single adults need a lot more than that.
Single adults aren’t just coping with singleness for a few more years; some of us are facing the possibility of a lifetime alone. We want to know how to deal with our need for companionship. We wrestle with loneliness and depression. We crave a community of people who won’t be too busy for us because of kids and family obligations. We worry about what will happen to us in illness, old age, or dementia without a spouse and children to care for us. And yes, we have questions about appropriately handling our sexual desires as Christians, but for most of us, that’s far from the toughest thing about being single.
All of these are things our churches could help us with. Instead, though, many of us attend week after week only to hear sermons about families and spouses and parents, coupled with lots of well-intentioned questions about when we’re going to find someone and settle down.
No one means for this to happen, of course.
Some of it is the fault of a culture in which churches are reluctant to hire single people as pastors. When the church’s top leaders are all married, they’re often just not as aware of the unique needs of the single people in their congregations. Their sermon illustrations are all about married life because that’s the life they know. They’re certainly not trying to exclude anyone.
But all of this leads to silly situations like a church “singles ministry” that’s led by a guy who married right out of college and has no idea what it’s like to be alone at 45. These ministries typically focus on young folks and build their curriculums around preparing these singles for marriage and offering mingling opportunities to help them get there faster. Rather than a focus on the unique needs of singles as singles, the focus is on helping singles stop being single.
Which is weird. Because Jesus was single. Paul was single. Many of the church’s early leaders were single. But somehow, single people aren’t treated as very valued in these churches. Our own churches don’t really know what to do with us.
Do you relate? What do you wish your church would do differently? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments, and next time, I’ll share what I think needs to be done.
This may be the most powerful song you hear all year.
Last week, I had the privilege of speaking, alongside my friend Ron, at Gordon College, a Christian school in Massachusetts. We were there to talk about faith and sexual orientation as part of “Sexuality Week,” a week of presentations addressing issues from rape culture to LGBT dialogue.
But one of the most powerful things I heard there wasn’t about sexual orientation. It was about sexual abuse.
On Friday night, several Gordon students shared their own stories and challenges. One of those was Aaron Hicks, a young singer/songwriter, who has given me permission to share with you something deeply personal he shared that night.
Through tears, Aaron stood at the mike and publicly opened up about something many of his peers hadn’t known: He had been molested over a period of years by a trusted youth leader, a master manipulator with multiple victims.
Not only had Aaron had to deal with the abuse and resulting feelings of shame and betrayal, but once he confessed the truth, he had to spend three more months with his abuser, pretending nothing was wrong while the investigation continued—before facing him repeatedly in the courtroom during the ongoing trial.
Aaron’s gifts as a songwriter allowed him to pour some of his anger and pain into music, and this tragic but beautiful song has been haunting me ever since.
You know why I post stuff like this? Because in many churches, we’re afraid to talk about sex except for in its ideal form (loving, mutually selfless, in the context of a marriage, etc.) and we allow people like Aaron to feel like they’re alone.
No, Aaron, you’re not alone. There are a lot of Aarons out there—feeling hurt, feeling shame, feeling nothing. Feeling like nothing. And we, the church, can’t let them suffer in silence. We need to feel something. We need to do something. We must work to prevent abuse in any way possible. But when it does happen, we must also work to remove the stigma abuse victims so often face, and to make sure our churches are safe spaces to talk about the reality of our lives.
Because I want to be part of the kind of church where people like Aaron share their stories—where all of us share our messy, complicated stories—and where we as a body of believers say, “This is why God put us here: To hear you, and support you, and walk down this painful road with you. Because God loves you, and we love you. And we’re all in this together.”
I talk to a lot of Christians about LGBT issues, and I always encourage them to ask the questions they’ve been afraid to ask. One of the most common is this one:
"Why do gay people make their sexuality the core of their identity?"
Um, we don’t. At least, most of us don’t.
In my experience, it’s usually other people who make the biggest deal out of our sexuality.
One of the reasons many gay people prefer to be called “gay” rather than “homosexual” is that the term “homosexual” seems to focus unnecessarily on our sexuality, as if being gay were all about sex. (This is exactly why some anti-gay groups like to use that term so much, which just makes us dislike it all the more.)
As a gay man, I don’t want to be defined by my sexuality. But I keep getting this question anyway from people who insist that if I describe myself as gay, my identity must be in my sexuality—and not in Christ.
So let’s clear up three myths on this subject.
Myth #1: If your identity is in Christ, you shouldn’t describe yourself with any other label.
"You shouldn’t call yourself gay," a friend once said to me. "You should just say that you’re a Christian, and nothing else. I don’t call myself a straight Christian, or a white Christian, or a male Christian…"
But wait a second—if I asked that same friend “Are you straight?” or “Are you white?” or “Are you male?”, he would surely say “yes.” We all use many different adjectives to describe ourselves, and that doesn’t mean our identities aren’t still in Christ. People are complex.
I do agree with him on one point, though: There’s no such thing as a gaychristian, some scary, one-word mythical being distinct from regular Christians.
I’m not a gaychristian. I’m a Christian who also happens to be gay.
Myth #2: If your identity is in Christ, you shouldn’t talk about the things that make you different.
So what about my friend’s other point? He doesn’t go out of his way to call himself a “male Christian” or a “white Christian,” so why do I need to bring up the fact that I’m gay?
I know where he’s coming from. As a white guy in America, I hardly ever think about my race. It almost never comes up in conversation. But if I walk into a crowded room and I’m the only white person there, I suddenly become very aware of my race. Similarly, I don’t think much about being male—until I find myself in a group where everyone else is female.
When you’re in the minority, you think and talk about the things that make you different. That’s not a bad thing; it’s actually really great for the broader Body of Christ, because it lets other Christians hear new perspectives.
It also gives you a chance to connect with others in the same boat, which is important. I can’t imagine anyone telling a Christian women’s group that their identities aren’t in Christ because they talk about their gender.
Myth #3: If there’s any example of gay people obsessing over their sexuality, that means all gay people do, all the time.
I know, everyone’s got a counterexample: "I’ve seen the way gay people act in pride parades! Gay people are all about sex!" "I have a gay friend who talks about sex nonstop! Gay people are all about sex!"
But it’s never that simple, and gay people, like straight people, are very different from one another. It’s easy to stereotype a whole group based on one person or event, but as I wrote before, hypersexualized pride parade images don’t represent the average gay person’s life any more than Mardi Gras represents the average straight person’s life.
Gay people’s lives are multifaceted, just like straight people’s. I’m a Christian. An American. A writer. A speaker. A Southerner. An evangelical. I go grocery shopping, watch TV, read the Bible, chat with my siblings, play games with my friends, listen to music. I’m human, and a sexual being, no more and no less than my straight Christian friends. My life is interesting, and it’s boring. Most of it has nothing to do with being gay, and even the gay stuff has very little to do with my sexuality.
I’m all of these things… and my identity is still in Christ.
(By the way, it’s National Coming Out Day! Why do I need to come out as gay at all? I covered that here.)
Some of you have been telling me that the electronic version of my book hasn’t been available in your part of the world, which is as frustrating to me as it is to you. Well, that’s finally changing! If it’s not available now, it likely will be in the coming weeks, so keep checking.
Depending on your country, the book may be called Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate or Unconditional: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs-Christians Debate. If you can’t find it under one title, check the other.
And don’t forget, it’s also available in print or audiobook, read by me!
My "debate" (dialogue) with Christopher Yuan at Malone University
I’ve just gotten back from speaking to a packed chapel at Malone University, and I had a blast!
If you’re not familiar with Malone, it’s a Christian school in a more conservative denomination; their official view is that gay relationships are sinful. They’ve been sponsoring a series of “Worldview Forums” in which proponents of diverse viewpoints are offered a chance to debate in front of students, and yesterday, they held a forum on the subject of homosexuality (and, more specifically, gay Christians).
I was speaking along with Christopher Yuan, whose story is very different from mine: He lived a promiscuous life of gay sex and drugs before coming to Christ and leaving that life behind. He continues to be attracted to men, but he’s committed to celibacy, and he typically doesn’t identify himself as “gay.” Christopher and I have very different views on the Bible, being gay, and other topics, so a debate between the two of us seemed a natural fit for this forum.
The thing is, neither Christopher nor I like to do debates. So although our event was set up kind of like a debate, we framed it as more of a gracious conversation with two divergent points of view. We each answered a series of pre-determined questions, and then the audience was offered an opportunity to ask impromptu questions of their own.
Going in, I was incredibly nervous… about trying to fit my answers into the short time for each question! But in the end, it went well, and you can watch a video of the event below.
Of course, if you’ve heard me speak before, you might hear me reuse a few jokes. Shhhhhh! Don’t tell, and we’ll just pretend I’m always that witty off the top of my head. ;)
In Jesus’ famous story of the Good Samaritan, a Jewish man is beaten and left for dead on the side of the road, and it is a Samaritan—a man he wouldn’t normally associate with, someone from the other side of the tracks—who stops, cares for him, and pays for his recovery.
"Who was this man’s neighbor?" Jesus asks. His point is clear: If we are supposed to love our neighbors, often the "neighbors" we’re called to love are the people most different from ourselves.
This isn’t just a story about overcoming racism. The issues between the Jews and the Samaritans were as much theological and philosophical as cultural. For us to understand the story today, we need to replace the Samaritan with the people who most frustrate and anger us: Republicans. Democrats. Fundamentalists. Gays. Christians. Muslims. Atheists. Whoever you don’t like or don’t understand, that’s the Samaritan for you.
Or maybe, just maybe, you’re the Samaritan, and the person you don’t like is the one lying on the side of the road, needing your compassion but expecting you to just walk on by.
We live in a world where people look out for themselves, their interests, and the people they know well—and expect us to do the same. It’s a world where nations broker deals based on self-interest and politicians hold entire governments hostage because they refuse to give in and let “the other side” score a political point.
It’s a world of suspicion and hostility: If you’re lying on the side of the road, it’s your own fault you’re there. Or maybe you’re just trying to trap me. Either way, I certainly can’t be bothered to stop and check on you, much less use my own resources to help you out. After all, you’re the other. You can’t be trusted. You deserve what you get. I have my own circle to worry about.
Jesus calls us to a better way of living. Jesus says that the people we have the least in common with are our neighbors. We are called to love them. To care for them. To seek to understand them. To treat them with grace and compassion. And yes, that includes the folks on the other side of the political aisle from you. Especially them.
This doesn’t mean we act foolishly, of course. Jesus told his disciples to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” But it means that when the world tells us to solve problems by demonizing our opponents and overcoming them with our power, Jesus tells us “those people” are still our neighbors. They have needs, wants, fears, and hurts, too. Dehumanizing them is damaging to our own souls.
[Gifs from this scene in Searching for Bobby Fischer]
A culture-war mentality isn’t in anyone’s best interest, but it’s infected American discourse and politics in a major way. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of seeing our politicians getting more and more polarized, demonizing one another and refusing to see things through each others’ eyes or make compromises—even as they know that people all over the country are suffering from their inaction.
Every time these stories pop up, I find myself thinking about the Good Samaritan. And I find myself thinking, I wish those politicians who trumpet their Christian faith so loudly would show a little more willingness to live out the principles Jesus taught and modeled.
It’s not just good religion. It also makes the world a better place.
A few days ago, my amazing mom died from a progressive brain disease. We were very close, and I’m still in shock.
As I’m going through the grieving process, I’m discovering that a lot of very good people are very bad at knowing what to say at a time like this. So over the last few days, I’ve been making a list of things I wish people would do when they find out I’m grieving. (It’s one of the weird ways I’m working through my emotions right now.)
Everyone grieves differently, but maybe this list will prove helpful to you next time someone close to you has a tragedy and you aren’t sure what to do or say.
1. When you see me, ask how I am. A simple “How are you doing?” or “How are you holding up?” works wonders. It shows that you care, and it gives me the freedom to respond with a simple “Fine, thanks,” if I don’t want to talk about it—or to give more detail if I do.
2. Pay attention to the mood I’m in. I’ve come to realize that I have three different ways of handling grief:
Sometimes I want to talk through it.
Sometimes I want to get my mind off of it for a while.
And sometimes I just want to be alone.
The best friends are good at noticing which mode I’m operating in at any given moment. If they aren’t sure, they ask. “Would you like to talk about it, or would you prefer a distraction?” “Would you like to get out? Or do you need some space right now?” These are wonderful questions.
3. Let me decide what I need in the moment. At times, I’ve said I wanted to get my mind off of my grief, only to have someone say to me, “No, you need to talk about this to work through it. Avoidance isn’t healthy.” That doesn’t help me. Yes, I will talk through this at some point, but this may not be the right time for me, and you might not be the person I choose to talk through it with. (I might choose a therapist, family member, or pastor, for instance. Please don’t take it personally.) Remember, everyone grieves differently, and only I know what I need at any given moment.
4. If I want to talk, let me talk. Don’t worry about saying the right things; there aren’t any magic words you can say to make me feel better, and we both know it. Just listen. You don’t need to say anything at all beyond “I’m sorry.”
5. Don’t try to fix it. I don’t want to hear about how she’s in a better place. I don’t want to hear about how “God called home an angel,” or how it’s good she’s not suffering, or how she’ll live on in our hearts. I already know these things, and I might say them myself, but when you say them, it feels a bit like you’re trying to cheer me up and stop me from grieving. Right now, I need to grieve, so let me grieve.
6. If I don’t want to talk about it, you can help by being a distraction. When I’m in distraction mode, it isn’t the right time to ask for details about what happened, how the funeral went, or what she was like, even if you’re insanely curious. Right now, I want to make jokes, go for a walk, watch a movie, or something else. Don’t treat me like I’m fragile, and don’t worry if my mood seems to shift a lot. I might laugh one minute and cry the next. It’s okay. I’m glad you’re with me, and I still don’t want to talk about the other stuff. Not right now.
7. If I want to be alone, let me be alone. Don’t take it personally; it’s not about you. I just need some space to process my grief. Don’t try to cheer me up. That only makes me feel worse. Let me know you’re intentionally giving me space and that you’re available when I want to call on you—that lets me know you’re not just abandoning me—but then leave. Let me have the time and space I need, without my having to worry about what you are thinking.
8. Don’t tell me you “know how it feels.” You don’t. You can’t know how it feels to be me right now because you’re not me. One of my best friends also just lost his mom to a similar neurological disease, but even he doesn’t know exactly how I feel, and I don’t know exactly how he felt. We’re different people, our moms were different people, and our experiences of grief are different.
What is appropriate is to relate: “I’m so sorry. My mom died years ago and I still cry when I think about her.” That tells me that you understand that this is difficult, but that you don’t necessarily think your grief was equivalent to my grief. If you’ve never had a serious loss, just say something like, “I can’t imagine how you must be feeling right now,” and follow it up with letting me know you’re here for me.
9. Instead of asking if there’s anything you can do, offer something specific. In the past, I’ve been guilty of asking people, “Is there anything I can do?” But I’m discovering I don’t like it much when people ask me, because I really don’t know what to tell them.
I know, when people say this, they just want me to know that they care and that I can call upon them. But when my friend from many states away asks me what she can do, I don’t know what to tell her. She can’t bring my mom back. She can’t take away my grief. She can’t make it all better. And when I’m already feeling emotionally overwhelmed, it’s easy for her well-intentioned question to come across to me like, “Knowing you’re sad makes me feel helpless. I don’t like feeling helpless, so I’m now transferring the burden to you to find something I can do so that I’ll feel less helpless, or so that you’ll say there’s nothing I can do and I can feel better and know that I’ve done my duty.”
That might sound strange, but I’m amazed at how often I find myself, as a grieving person, having to comfort other people for their feelings of helplessness and discomfort surrounding my grief. It’s okay that you don’t know what to say or do. I don’t expect you to. And if you can’t think of anything you could do in this situation, there’s probably not anything. It’s okay to just be a good listener. I’d rather not be tasked with the responsibility of finding something for you to do.
On the other hand, if you can think of something specific I might need, it’s great to offer that: “Can I bring you dinner?” “Can I finish that project for you so you can spend more time with your family?” “Would you like to get out for a while for coffee or drinks?” I appreciate the offer, and I might take you up on it. Just be sure not to pressure me or be offended if I decline.
10. Understand that this is a slow, difficult, often confusing journey. Sometimes, I might seem very inconsistent in what I want. As I write this, I’m feeling fine. That’s no guarantee I’ll be feeling fine ten minutes from now. The day after my mother died, I poured myself into work like nothing was wrong. Today, I’m taking the day off to be alone. Months from now, when you’ve forgotten this post, I may still be grieving and have times when it seems like more than I can bear—but feel awkward bringing it up for fear of being a downer.
Don’t assume everything is fine just because I seem to be my usual cheerful self, and don’t assume I’m not fine if I say I really am. Sometimes, grief comes in waves.
The grieving process is a weird thing. But if you are comfortable enough to let me grieve in my own way, you can make it much easier for me to do what I need to do and keep moving forward. And that is one of the marks of a true friend.
An open letter to Christians everywhere about the “adulterous Christian” analogy.
Dear Christians of the world:
Please, please, please don’t use this analogy. I know what you mean, but this one really ticks gay people off, and it gets you nowhere.
First of all, there is a huge difference between a loving, monogamous relationship—gay or straight—and adultery. One of them is two people selflessly promising love and faithfulness to one another; the other is the breaking of that vow through cheating. Even if you believe that gay relationships are inherently sinful, it’s not a fair comparison.
For “Side A" gay Christians in committed relationships, the analogy itself comes across as offensive. How many straight people would be happy to have their marriages compared to cheating?
I get it, though. People who ask this aren’t saying gay relationships and adultery are the same thing; they just believe both are sinful, and they’re asking why Christians would identify themselves with a sin.
But here’s the thing: Even celibate, “Side B" gay Christians like Ron Belgau and Wesley Hill—who both believe acting on their same-sex attractions would be sinful—still refer to themselves as gay Christians. So why do they do it?
Because there’s another big difference between adultery and being gay.
Adultery is an act. It’s something a person does: cheating on their spouse. But being gay isn’t an act. It’s what you feel, not what you do. A gay person can be celibate or promiscuous, but they’re still gay.
You commit adultery. You can’t commit “gay.”
At most, you could say that gay and straight people have different sets of temptations. (I have never in my life been tempted to lust after a woman. Straight guys can’t say that.) This is very different from calling yourself an “adulterous Christian,” which would suggest that you’re cheating on your spouse.
And in case you’re wondering why I even need to tell you that I’m gay or straight at all, that was the subject of question #4 in this series.
So, my fellow Christians, please help me educate our brothers and sisters so that I don’t have to keep answering this question for the rest of my life. With your help, someday I can introduce myself at church without having it turn into a 3-hour conversation about adultery. And that would make me so, so, so happy.
Your non-adulterous, Jesus-loving, Clue-playing, musical-humming, gay-and-shockingly-boring brother in Christ,
P.S. I apologize to all of my fellow grammar geeks out there who noticed the missing period in one of the gifs and couldn’t concentrate on anything I said after that. I promise to make it up to you somehow. Someday.