I was 19-years old when I was invited to a gay wedding. Due to prior commitments I wasn’t able to attend. Fortunately, I was able to go to their engagement party and be a part of their celebration. I still remember when a scrapbook was passed around for friends and family to write words of encouragement to the new couple. When it was my turn, I remember feeling a bit panicked. I didn’t know what to write. At the time, I was a second-year Bible College student training to be a Pastor. I was eager to be a witness of Jesus but also believed that homosexuality was a sin. What could I write that would communicate both of these sentiments?
I was 16-years old when I wrote in an assignment that, “homosexuality is wrong because it’s a sin”. My answer got read aloud by a student from the class in a mocking tone and everyone laughed in return. I blushed and felt humiliated. Not necessarily because they were laughing, but because how incongruent and grave my answer sounded in contrast to my classmates “liberal” view on the subject.
I was 22-years old when I worked at a bank. I became friends with the co-worker who shared a cubicle with me. He was gay, married, and happy. Through our friendship I came to see the other side of everything I had been taught. I saw a person behind the label; a heartbeat behind the “sin”; a human behind the statistics.
I’ve read a lot articles, websites and books dedicated to understanding the causes of same-sex attractions. I’ve heard sermons, rants, and theological explanations of why homosexuality is wrong and why Christians should be wary of the “gay agenda”. I was part of that fray.
Yet, the one voice missing from the conversation was the very voice everyone seemed to have an opinion on-a gay person. It’s for that reason alone that I recommend the book TORN as a “must-read”. Justin Lee will break the stereotype many of us are fed by media outlets. He also defies the long-held assumptions of why people have same-sex attractions. But beyond that, you get to feel the heartbeat of someone who’s faced judgement, rejection, and exclusion from those who claim to follow the one who said, “Love your neighbour as yourself”. But you won’t sense bile or resentment. Instead, he brims with joy, hope, and love towards Jesus and his church. You may not agree with the conclusions he comes to, but he deserves to be heard. Not only because he has a story worth listening to, but because there are many sitting silently, full of fear, in the pews of your church who share his story.
I recognize this is a polarizing issue to many people. But as Justin Lee demonstrates in his book, it’s divisive for all the wrong reasons. Primarily, the journey begins by listening and being willing to challenge our assumptions. For example, I’ve accepted that same-sex attractions are not chosen. I’ve also learned that people are born with these attractions. Both of these statements might alienate Christians because it runs contrary to what some of us have been taught. However, I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s said to me, “I’ve chosen these feelings.” Instead, I’ve heard the laments, tears, and prayers of many who’ve tried everything (prayer, fasting, counselling) to rid these attractions.
Perhaps, what’s most painful about this conversation is the belief that society is accepting of the LGBTQ community and that Christians are the real victims. This narrative only hides the painful reality of the bullying, threats, violence, and derogatory words against LGBTQ people in settings like schools, locker rooms, and workplaces. Then you see the horrific brutality of governments in some countries that promote shame, violence, and death penalties to people who identify as gay. It’s essential how we engage in this conversation and how we further it through our words and actions.
Do you want to know what I ended up writing on the scrapbook for the gay couple? I quoted 1 Corinthians 13:1-8. I think those are pretty good words to remember when we speak about this issue with others. Otherwise, we’ll just be adding another decibel to the sound of clashing cymbals.