responses to coming out

This post is about good and bad responses I’ve received from people I have come out to.  These responses should help inform most with how to respond to a gay Christian who is committed to the traditional sexual ethic. I will write in the future about how I think a Christian should respond to a gay Christian who upholds gay relationships.

Jordan’s post on “Listening” provides guidelines and principles we should always use when interacting with people. Check it out.

A Good Response

The first straight Christian I ever told about my sexuality responded perfectly.

I was pretty terrified the first time — I thought my heart was going to jump through my chest, and it took every ounce of energy to sound at least somewhat coherent. I told half-truths and fudged my experience with homosexuality — claiming I was “no longer” attracted to men and it was no longer an issue for me. This was sort of a “fail safe,” just in case he had a bad reaction. He did not.

In fact, he picked up that I was not being completely honest. He told me it was okay if I was still attracted to guys because he still accepted me. He also told me it did not matter to him to whom I was attracted, as long as I loved and pursued Jesus.

This type of response validated my Christian faith. As I mentioned in “some of Tony’s story,” I was fearful people would think I was not a Christian since I was attracted to guys. But when my friend told me it mattered most to him that I was pursuing Jesus, he affirmed he still thought of me as a Christian.

He did not say much more to me; we finished the conversation with a huge hug. After that I looked for him to give some sign that he thought less of me — if he avoided me or refused to hug me again or something — but he did not treat me any differently from then on. He was just as encouraging and loving as before.

His actions towards me after our conversation were crucial. The way he responded gave me the confidence I could still be loved and accepted, despite being gay. It is important to note this: I would have been crushed and thought bad of myself if he had unintentionally avoided me. It is very important to go out of your way to encourage and show love to someone who has recently come out to you, especially if you are one of the first few people he or she has told.

His response gave me confidence that God still loved me. Why? Our interactions with others shape our view of God.  As children, before we have any concept of God, our parents are the closest thing to Him. If our parents are unconditionally loving and accepting of us, we will probably view God as the same. If our parents withhold love or make us feel worthless for every mistake, we will also probably feel that God views us the same. Although we may be able to rationally articulate that God unconditionally loves us, emotionally we will feel and operate in ways that prove this is not true. In psychology, this concept is called Correspondence Hypothesis.

The Correspondence Hypothesis also has relevance for how people internalize God based on how the Church treats them — and this may have an even more direct influence because Christians are to be Christ’s representatives. Growing up, I had never seen any evidence of the Church loving gay people and all I heard was negative rhetoric about homosexuality. Naturally, in line with Correspondence Hypothesis, I began to internalize that God did not love me either.

Thankfully it did not have to stay that way. Many individuals reoriented my view of God through their love to me.

Countless people who knew about my sexuality gave me some of the best hugs in the world and told me that they and God love me. And then they did it again the next day. And the next day. These people proved to me that God does love me. And now, because of these people who were filled with the Holy Spirit, I never doubt that God loves me.

A Bad Response

Fortunately, I’ve had few bad responses. But I have heard horror stories — of people being kicked out of their houses, of friends never talking to him or her again, and of people going and telling others.

I hope I do not have to explain why these are terrible, completely un-Christian responses. These stories grieve me.

The few bad responses to me came out of good intentions. These people genuinely wanted to help me, but their misunderstanding of homosexuality caused their bad response.

A good rule of thumb: if you do not understand something, do not give advice.

Again, do not give someone advice about homosexuality if you have no experience understanding it.

Some people told me God would change my gay orientation if I pray harder and believe He could do it.

Never say this. It isn’t true. And it could cause someone to question their faith.

Yes, all things are possible with God, and it is okay to believe that God could change someone’s orientation. But it is not okay to believe God will change one’s orientation. This is simply a Gnostic belief that denies the importance of our human body. If you read “My Gay Theology,” you will see why it is entirely possible someone may have a gay orientation their entire life. Just as someone born without an arm or who has their arm cut off will not grow a new arm, a person’s brain could be permanently wired to be gay. I do believe that there are different degrees of hard-wired gayness; some people’s brains are likely more malleable than others, and there are definitely people who have experienced change. But there are also people that no matter what they go through, they will always be gay.

Also please do not quote Romans 1 or 1 Corinthians 6 as proof that God would completely heal gay people. For starters, probably just about everyone who is gay already knows these verses. And secondly, all of these passages refer to gay sexual behavior or gay lust; they do not refer to being gay (having strong same-sex attractions).

The danger in telling someone that God will heal them if they have enough belief is that if change never occurs, the person might begin to think that God does not exist or the person might begin to think that he or she is not a Christian.

Another unintended consequence is that the person might start to think that God did make him or her gay and thus, God must want a gay relationship for him or her.

In one of my theology classes I read a book where the author claimed people struggling with homosexuality simply need to repent and pray to God for change. He specifically said this about same-sex attraction, not just gay sexual behavior. Now, I had heard this claim before and I thought I had a pretty firm grasp of my theology of being gay… but to hear a famous theologian say this put me in a panic again. If he was right, I was not a Christian. With tears streaming down my face, I immediately called one of my good friends in the class (at one in the morning!). After finally getting out what I wanted to say, he told me the theologian was completely wrong and that I was not crazy. Those verses really do refer to just gay sexual behavior and not attraction.

So please never tell any gay person that God will heal them of their same-sex attraction if they pray hard enough or have enough belief. Every time I hear someone say this, I die a little bit inside.

(Ironically, this blog may give you enough information to give someone advice; you may even know more than the person who comes out to you. But make sure the person is open to this advice, and please make sure they agree with your belief system if your advice is religiously informed — read “interacting with gay non-Christians”).

-Tony

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