Lily was crushed. She’d told just a member of her church her secret, and the member warned her that if anyone else found out, she would probably lose her position teaching the youth. What was this secret so deadly that she would be warned to hide it?
Lily is same-sex attracted.
Neither the struggle nor the terror is uncommon. How, then, do we create an environment in our churches, small groups, and families where we can even have this conversation, where Lily can share her struggle without fear?
Here are three places to start.
1. Don’t Assume Anything about Anyone
According to one recent study, 83 percent of LGBT people grew up in a church. One obvious implication is that there are youth in your church right now dealing with these feelings. There are adults as well, and if they’re in a conservative church, odds are they’re hiding this part of their lives.
Humans like to be normal. This means most same-sex-attracted people in conservative churches don’t look or act any differently than others. Because they’re committed to the Bible’s sexual ethic, there’s little about their outward lives that would reveal this inward battle. You would have to be told. But the church often hasn’t been safe for those who experience same-sex attraction. Ugly assumptions are made and spoken; misunderstanding and suspicion abounds. Therefore, many stay hidden in fear.
Your friend and Bible study partner who’s married with three kids might experience same-sex attraction. The single guy who serves faithfully on the hospitality team might have known since he was little that his desires were different than other boys’. The elder’s wife who is every woman’s shoulder to cry on may weep privately about this struggle that just won’t go away. I’ve met all of these people. Start by recognizing that same-sex attraction is in the church already.
2. Create a Safe Space for Them to Disclose
It’s not your responsibility to guess who’s same-sex attracted, just like it’s not your responsibility to know all the struggles of your church. Your opportunity is to become a safe person for disclosure. Ask the Spirit of God to help you identify false stereotypes you may hold. Read a good book like Messy Grace by Caleb Kaltenbach [read TGC’s review], or check out the excellent materials at Living Out. Repent and confess anything the Lord brings to mind.
In your speech at Bible studies, in one-on-one conversations, or any church context, discuss what you’re learning with humility and honesty. You don’t have to know everything to start a conversation about how your church can be a safe place to not be okay, to be growing together toward holiness. You may be the key to helping other Christians recognize ways they’ve been (wrongly) off-putting while trying to (rightly) hold to Scripture’s truth about sexual morality. You may even be the first Christian your brother or sister has been able to share with about their same-sex desires.
3. Be Ready for Disclosure
The scariest thing might be when someone actually tells you, like Lily, that she is attracted to the same sex. What a powerful moment, with the explosive potential of a firework—or a bomb. If someone comes out to you, recognize that this disclosure took incredible courage on their part and that you were picked because you seemed trustworthy.
The first thing you should do is look your friend in the eye, thank her for her trust, and affirm that you love her and that Jesus loves her. Give her a hug; reach for her hand.
The next thing you should do is listen, and listen, and listen. When she gets to a pause, ask her to tell you more. When did she first know? What’s her experience been like? Has she felt wounded? This is not the time to run a theological litmus test or demand linguistic perfection. This is the time to bear each other’s burdens in love (Gal. 6:2); perhaps this is a burden she’s been shouldering alone, silently, for decades. Don’t make assumptions; ask how you can serve. Take a long-sighted relational view. This conversation is the first of many you will have on this topic. While you listen and love, pray for wise and compassionate words.
Christians, we serve a God who casts out fear with love; we worship a Savior who came that we may have life to the full; we are filled with the Spirit who makes all things new. In his power, let’s be quick to listen and slow to speak as we embark on the long road of discipleship.
By Rachel Gilson
Rachel Gilson is director of theological development at Cru Northeast. She holds a BA in history from Yale College and is completing her MDiv at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She blogs at rachelgilson.com. Article originally posted at https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/safe-space-for-ssa/.
[Editor’s note: This article was originally posted at the end of November at www.cpyu.org. While Matt Lauer is no longer at the top of our news feeds, hardly a day goes by without another well-known individual being called out for sexual misconduct. These are points worth reflecting on regardless of the specific name in the headlines.]
Trending. . . Matt Lauer. . . at number one on my news feed. As of this morning, one of the voices that’s been sharing the growing cascade of #metoo stories over the last few weeks is now the subject of those stories himself. I watched as visibly rattled co-workers Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb explained Lauer’s absence on this morning’s Today Show.
How did you react when you heard the story? What thoughts went through your mind?
At times like this, I’ve learned that it might actually be a wiser move to focus on my own thoughts/reaction than on the story and its subject. And I’m not at all proud of the fact that the learning curve on this skill took much more time for me than it should have. And, I’m still tempted to default to focus on guys like Matt Lauer than on myself. That’s a blatant confession.
Upon seeing the news pop up in my feed this morning, I experienced a bit of jolt. Matt Lauer??? Come on. But that jolt very quickly morphed into the thought of “sad but not surprised” . . . a consequence of years and years of watching culture, pondering the reality of human depravity, and looking more deeply into my own broken and messed-up heart. This isn’t the last one of these stories we’re going to hear. . . not at all.
What is that you do with news like this? I think that there’s great value in self-evaluating how each of us evaluates and responds to these kinds of stories. In other words, before getting on with the rest of our day, it’s a good thing to theologize about, to learn from, and to think about how to process these stories with our own selves and with the kids we know and love.
I’ve been working on doing that this morning. In fact, I’ve put other tasks aside for the simple reason that my mind’s been racing. Here are some of my initial, typically-incomplete, and hopefully-helpful thoughts. . .
First, if your initial reaction is a smug, self-assured, disapproving finger wag in the direction of Matt Lauer and others like him. . . well, that’s quite telling. I’m ashamed to admit that in years past I was more prone to head immediately down this Pharisaical avenue than I am now. . . I hope. It’s easy to default into self-righteous finger-wagging when the subject of the story is someone who doesn’t share your views on faith and life, and who is one who sometimes pushes back hard on your views of faith and life. Let’s be honest here. . . if you’re a person of Christian faith you are tempted and even beyond tempted to rejoice in the downfall of folks who think, believe, and behave differently. But when that happens, we really aren’t thinking, believing, and behaving differently. Our actions prove that. Nor are we bringing honor and glory to the One who saved us when we had absolutely no hope at all of saving ourselves.
Second, if you politicize this and other stories like it, then you are making a horrible, horrible mistake.The reality is that this isn’t a political issue. It’s a human nature issue. It’s not an issue for either just conservatives or liberals. It’s evidence of a universal struggle. Sexual brokenness, temptation, and sin in thought, word, and deed is no respecter of persons, faith commitments, or political views. Whenever someone uses the issue as political or ideological ammo. . . no matter who they are. . . well shame on them. And shame on me if I cave into that temptation.
Third, this is a time to remember this rock-solid truth: “There but for the grace of God go I.” While my own human depravity should never be used as an excuse to write-off or justify the sin of others (or God-forbid, my own sin), I must also never forget that if I’m honest with myself, “there but for the grace of God go I.” And while I must reckon with the ever-present enemy of my own depravity and the one who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,” I must always “stay alert” and watching out for this enemy who would love nothing more than to take me down. And, we all need to be reminded that even he might not be successful in taking us down through sexual sin, any self-righteous gloating over the fact is an indicator that he is very sneaky in other ways. . . like taking us down through pride.
And finally, today’s story and others like it offer us great opportunities to teach our kids in ways that will equip them for a sober-minded life which makes them continually aware of the enemy within. It was timely that even before seeing the story on Matt Lauer this morning, I prayed these words from today’s entry in Scotty Smith’s Everyday Prayers book: “Protect us from the evil one, and rescue us from ourselves.”
One good sin never deserves another. That’s why we need to spend so much time looking inward at ourselves. Today’s story is not one that should teach us about Matt Lauer. Why? Because in so many ways Matt Lauer is each one of us. Because of that, this is an opportunity to learn even more about ourselves and to teach our kids the increasingly-forgotten skill of doing the same.
Article by Walt Mueller, founder and President of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. Learn more at www.cpyu.org.