When I was in high school, one of my good friends came out to me as gay. And because I was a Christian, I broke off all relationship with him. I did this because I believed this is what I was supposed to do. At least, that’s what I told myself then.
But the deeper truth is, I did it because I was afraid. I was afraid he wanted to have sex with me, and if he did, I didn’t know how to handle that. I was afraid his influence might corrupt me or draw me away from my faith. I was afraid of what my Christian friends would think of me if I kept hanging out with him. Despite how coldly and abruptly I broke off our friendship, he was never harsh with me, and never judged me for my decision. His last words to me? “Anytime you need anything, call me.”
I was 16 at the time, so some allowances can be made for my immaturity, but I know my story is not unique. Even a brief perusal of the “It Gets Better” videos on Youtube will reveal story after story of gays and lesbians who have been in one way or another shunned by Christians and cut off from the Church. Few of us in the Church are aware of just how deep this wound of rejection goes in the gay and lesbian community. So let me tell you another true story to illustrate what I mean.
I have a friend who works with a gay men’s organization in L.A. My friend is Jewish, so has never experienced the painful angst of rejection by Christians in the same way so many of his gay brothers have, but it is nevertheless a constant focus of attention for him and the other leaders of his organization as they try to help men heal from the wounds they carry from their rejection by the Church.
One day my friend and I were talking about this awful wound within the gay community and exploring ways we might be able to help these men begin to heal. Suddenly we had a brilliant idea: What if I were to gather a small group of straight Christian men, and we were to go to the big annual retreat this gay men’s organization held each year. At the retreat, all we would do is serve the men there. No preaching, no attempts to convert anyone, not much talking at all. ALL we would do is fix their meals, clean up after them, and quietly serve them in any other way they needed. We thought this could be a great way to begin to build a bridge of trust between Christians and the gay community, one we hoped would eventually lead to honest conversation, forgiveness, and healing.
But when the idea was floated to the leaders of the organization, I was shocked by the passion and forcefulness of their response. Absolutely not! One of the primary leaders explained their answer this way: “You don’t understand how profoundly our men have been wounded by the Church. At our retreats, we do everything we can to create enough safety for the men so they can talk about their experiences with Christians and begin to heal. If they knew we allowed straight Christians within a hundred miles of the retreat, they would feel we had betrayed them and would never feel safe enough to ever come again.”
After that experience, my friend said to me: “It seems to me that Christians keep wanting to talk to gay people about their theology, but they don’t realize there’s this huge relational wound that has to be dealt with first. I don’t think there can be any discussion of beliefs or God until you first address the relational wound between gays and Christians.”
I think he’s right. Like the Good Samaritan in the story Jesus told, if you want to love your neighbor, start by tending to his wounds.
Twenty years after I graduated high school, I looked up my old friend, the one I’d rejected because he was gay. I found his address, drove to his home (which was over a thousand miles away), and told him face to face that I was sorry. He’d never been anything but a friend to me, and he didn’t deserve the way I treated him. I confessed my judgmentalism and my fear, and asked him to forgive me.
You know what he said? “Ah, don’t worry about it, man. We were all trying to figure ourselves out back then. I let it go a long time ago. But it means a lot that you would come by.”
So let me ask you: Which one of us was the better neighbor?
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”