The gay community is the first place that I ever felt at home. These people embraced me, a confused 19 year-old struggling to peek outside of the closet for the first time in my life, with arms wide open. They celebrated the parts of me that I had been unsuccessfully trying to conceal and uproot in my lifelong pursuit to “be like everyone else.” The gay community is the very first place that I ever felt free to be myself.
But as my beliefs about God and sexuality started to shift a few years later, I began to see that their acceptance wasn’t as unconditional as they had initially advertised it to be. The gay community portrays themselves to be a people for all people – whatever your sexual preference, skin color, or beliefs may be. They promise to exercise unconditional tolerance, love, and support to all. However, the change in my spiritual beliefs provoked a change in their supposed character as a community as well. I’m not going to say that every gay friend I had rejected me when I became a Christian in 2010, because there were a few that continued to keep the lines of communication open. At large, though, my local gay community cut themselves off from me as soon as they learned that my new, biblical sexual ethic was opposed to the relationships and behaviors that they partook in . . . the relationships and behaviors that I had been partaking in prior to my conversion.
As I began to write about my new relationship with Christ and my new approach to life, including my romantic life (not because I really wanted to, but because I was so open with my sexuality before Christ that I needed to publicly provide answers for the radical change in my life), not only did my local gay friends express anger and hostility toward me, for, in their words, “betraying my community,” but the global gay community began to communicate their disgust with me. In their words, I was “a sorry excuse for a gay man,” “a brainwashed hypocrite,” “voicing a message that made me responsible for gay youths committing suicide,” and so on. Their supposed “unconditional” acceptance of me was obviously totally dependent on my beliefs surrounding sexuality lining up with theirs.
I’m sharing my experience with the gay community not to bash the gay community, but to set before my readers a comparison. I want to compare and contrast my experiences in the gay community with my experiences in the Christian community. So often the gay community is painted to be a comforting place acceptance (and to a degree, it is) while the church is vilified and described as a place of discrimination and hatred. As someone who has now been part of both communities, I want to shed a little light onto these inaccurate stereotypes.
My local Christian community accepted me with arms wide open before I ever began to believe or adhere to the things they taught. Prior to my conversion, you wouldn’t have caught me dead in a church, however I was still exposed to their community through multiple Christian friends in my life. My friends didn’t agree with the way that I was living my life. When I’d press the issue of homosexuality in our conversations, they were boldly, yet gently, clear about their position on sexuality. They were firmly loyal to Christ and his truth. But even though they disagreed with me, they loved me. They hung out with me. They went out to eat with me. They went to the movies with me. They came to my 21st birthday party (but didn’t drink, lol). They were always transparent with their worldview but didn’t endlessly pressure me to conform to their belief system.
When I would go to them distressed over various bad situations that I had gotten myself into, they would gently urge me to seek the Lord and his will for my life. His way is better than the ways we choose, they’d say. They would tell me about the freedom and joy that they had discovered in life through following Jesus. Sometimes I would genuinely listen to what they were trying to say, but most times I would just mock their clichés and christianese sayings (to their faces). Even still, they didn’t flinch in their friendship with me. They loved me with this weird kind of love. This kind of love that was for me, but wasn’t dependent on me . . . if that makes sense.
I converted to Christianity at just about this time five years ago, and in my first couple of years of walking with Christ, I navigated my way through a few different local churches. In every single one of these churches I experienced this same kind of weird love the Christian friends in my pre-Jesus days had shown me. These people knew my story, they knew my struggles, they knew my baggage – and they embraced me fiercely.
From 2012 to early 2015 I was part of a small church plant in New Orleans, LA, and this community of believers was no exception. As I walked through a season of unrepentant sin, explosive anger, and severe doubt concerning God and my faith, they stood by me firmly. They didn’t threaten to cut themselves off from me if my beliefs shifted away from theirs. Of course, if I renounced Christ, I would no longer be able to be a member of the Church, and they communicated that lovingly. But they told me that no matter what path I decided to go down, they loved me and would continue to walk that love out. They proved this as I wallowed in sin and wavered in faith for months.
When I did finally embrace repentance and return to following the Lord, they weren’t like, “God, FINALLY. We were so tired of you and your ‘struggles’.” No, they celebrated! They celebrated the grace of God in my life and praised Christ for His steadfast love toward me and my decision to keep clinging to him.
But I’ll tell you this, if I had decided to leave all this theology behind and taken up a different, gay-affirming worldview, these people would have been in my life. They would have still been texting me, asking me to go eat, and inviting me to church. I know this to be true because I saw them doing it all the time with all sorts and kinds of people that aren’t Christians. My Christian friends’ love and embrace of other people wasn’t dependent on those people’s conformity to a biblical belief system. My Christian friends loved people unconditionally, right where they were.
What baffles me is that the gay community paints the Christian community to be some sort of intolerant and discriminatory group of maniacs who violently reject anyone who doesn’t believe like they believe. But my own experience has proven that idea to be not only fallacious, but flip-flopped! When I left their belief system, the gay community (at large, but not every single gay person) not only rejected me as a person, but has continually demonized and ridiculed me for my holding and expressing my biblical beliefs. Yet the Christian community, even when my belief system was opposed to theirs, loved me, accepted me, and invested themselves into my life. When I thought about leaving them, they didn’t react angrily or criticize me. They loved me still.
The Church isn’t perfect by any means. We’re just a bunch of broken, sinful people clinging to our Redeeming Lord. But over the past six years I have spent time in both the gay and Christian communities and I can say that hands down, the Church takes the gold on tolerance, love, patience, acceptance, and unconditional friendship. And the coolest apart about it is that it’s not Christians in and of themselves who are tolerant, loving, patient, etc. – it’s Jesus in them. Through his people, Jesus has been showing the world for 2,000 years that his love infinitely exceeds all other forms or professions of love.
If you’re someone who is struggling between these two worlds or is just trying to find a place of community and family, I will warn you that all other communities will only love you to the degree that you are willing to adhere to their particular set of beliefs. On the other hand, true Christians will love you with a strange but beautiful, not-dependent-on-you kind of love. They won’t tell you you’re right. They won’t tell you that you’re going to heaven. But they will love you deeply and unconditionally, and I hope their love for you will point you to the Greatest Lover of all . . the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.