You Were Born What Way?
He walked into my office, a junior high student in my student ministry – a young man that I had led in the salvation prayer several years ago when he was still in our children’s ministry program.
This was my first year as a student pastor – a novice. A newbie. I thought I knew all there was to know and thought I was prepared for any situations that came my way.
I was not.
He sat in my office and quietly began to tell me that he was unsure of his sexual identity.
This was the year 2000 – quite different from 2011, where Lady Gaga is largely applauded for preaching her “Born This Way” gospel to the masses. Homosexuality, to me, was something that was confined to certain neighborhoods in far off metropolitan cities. Not in suburbia and especially not in my church or in my youth group. I was taken aback.
I did what I knew to do. I asked him questions. I prayed with him. I quoted some scriptures. And I assured him that God has “better” for him.
I continued to be his pastor and the closest thing he ever had to a spiritual mentor in his life. I walked through life with him, but I don’t know that I ever truly allowed him to further grapple with his internal mixed feelings about his sexuality. Why? Because I pretty much tried to encourage him to bury it. I’m pretty sure it was because I didn’t know how to “deal with it” myself. I was uncomfortable with the whole thing.
At that meeting, I remember challenging him – that what he was feeling was not “who he was” and that I would valiantly defend him against any jabs from other students who called him “gay”, a “fag”, or any other number of derogatory names that had been thrown at him. Long and short, I don’t think I listened long enough. I often wonder if I left him feeling abandoned.
From that day on in my ministry, if words like that were used at all. I took a very personal offense to it (and still do to this day). I couldn’t stand to see people hurt with those words. For me, it was hatred at the most offensive level: prejudiced, bigoted, short-sighted, and ultra-destructive.
Homosexuality and the church’s response to it have since then taken on a platform that is larger than life, both politically and in culture at-large. There are guys like Jay Bakker, son of televangelist Jim Bakker, and Christian artist, Jennifer Knapp, who would argue that homosexuality isn’t clearly defined as sin in scripture. On the opposite end of the spectrum are those who stand loudly and proclaim the sacredness of marriage and the relationship between a man and a woman as holy. Regardless, I think our response to the issues of sexual identity in the church has largely created more hurt than healing.
As a father, I hear my daughters talk about several of their classmates who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bi. As a youth worker, I have encountered several students who tell me they are struggling with their sexual identity. Maybe more than those outside of the field would think. As a district leader in a denomination, I’ve sat at tables with other pastors and leaders who are honestly struggling with how best to respond and/or reach out to the LGBT community.
How do we? I’m not an expert, but I do remember stories of Jesus sitting at dinner tables those on the outskirts of what was considered normal or acceptable.
Fast-forward a decade. I’m a volunteer youth worker at a local church and my daughter tells me that she needs to work on an up-coming science project with a friend after school. He’s openly bi-sexual. My wife and I decide to invite them to work on their project at our house. He knows that I’m in ministry and even though he’s never been to our church, tells my daughter that he assumes that I already hate him because of his sexual identity. She tells him, “No, it’s not like that.”
Now, before this time, she has already been telling him about how cool our church is, how much she loves going to youth group, and about her personal relationship with God. She’s a genuine friend to him. They hang out at school. They have fun. They laugh.
He doesn’t understand why anyone would want to go to church. His view has been that it is an institutional place with a long list of rules that aren’t relevant to him. But that’s changing. He’s been asking lots of questions now. He’s very curious.
Anyhow, I picked them both up from school, introduced myself, and engaged in some small talk until we got to our house and they started work on their project. We offered to let him stay for dinner, if he’d like, but he declined. They finished their project and I drove him home. My daughter told me the next day that he said something like “Your parents are pretty cool.”
I share this out of a desire to see the church learn to love well. That doesn’t necessarily mean morphing your theological position on homosexuality. But it does mean that we need to get over our fears if we desire to seriously engage with a generation who is growing up in a largely different culture than what most of us are familiar with from the days of our youth.
If I could do anything differently… if I could somehow go back in time to that first encounter in my office, I think that I would want the first and last words out of my mouth to somehow communicate that I loved him. And then I’d take him out for a coffee or soda and try and let him know that I’d be with him for the long haul.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.