Not long after linking to this post on facebook, a good friend of mine voiced his concern with my stance on homosexuality (and let the record show that I appreciate him for doing so – rather than just rolling his eyes and blocking me or something – immensely!). He happened to mention having friends who are homosexual, and as I responded to him I tried to think whether or not I, myself, have friends who are homosexual. I couldn’t think of any as I typed, so I let that go, but within the next few hours I did indeed come up with a list of names.
Now, I think this is interesting for two reasons. The first being the answer to the question: why does it matter whether I have any homosexual friends?
It matters because of a little thing called empathy (specifically, empathy with the person who identifies as homosexual).
You see, the closer you are to a given issue, the more you know how to act with love and compassion (which is always, always the goal) towards those the issue affects most. There is a danger present in speaking about something you have no experience with, because by-and-large you will expose a lack of empathy that will merely drive away those who actually deal with it.
An example for you: when I was a young boy my grandfather dealt with chronic back and knee pain, which made him more than a little cranky at times. My response then was, “tough it out and man-up. It can’t be bad enough that you have to let it ruin your day!” Years later, I have dealt with my own periods of chronic pain and I can tell you: yeah, some days it is just that bad. Would I have ever come to that understanding without my own pain? Unlikely, at best. The principle is that the greater the degree of separation between a person and the issue, the less empathy that person will have for those more affected by it.
All that is to say, were I to have no friends who are homosexual to show me that they are human beings and worthy of love and respect like anyone else, it could actually be more destructive than constructive for me to speak on the topic. This is because, without that experiential context, I would run a great risk of being a mere clanging gong instead of showing grace and acting in love and compassion. That’s the last thing I want; it should be the last thing any Christian wants (I’m looking at you, Fred Phelps).
The second reason I think the above story is interesting is this: it took me some time to even remember which friends are homosexual, or whether I have any at all!
Okay, so why is that interesting? Precisely because it demonstrates clearly that homosexuality is not the defining thing about these people in my mind.
Let me take just one individual (of several) as an example of this. I’ve known this person well more than a year and they are someone I see and interact with 3 to 4+ days a week. We keep each other sane and have even been known to burst into simultaneous song together. This person has helped me out in more ways than I can tell you, on more occasions than I can recite, and I have done my best to do the same for them. If a week goes by and I don’t see this person, I truly miss them. I am happy and proud to call this person a friend.
And this person is an out-and-out homosexual.
But see, when I was trying to remember if I had any homosexual friends, I couldn’t. Not for not remembering this person or considering them a friend, but because out of all the things that define this person in my mind, homosexuality is not anywhere near the top of the list. More than anything, it was an afterthought.
Now, that might come as a shock to some of the militant pro-homosexual activists out there (and here I’m talking about folks like Dan Savage and ilk), who would have us believe that sexual orientation is the defining characteristic of a person. One reason such umbrage is taken by Savage and company to the idea of homosexuality being actually sinful is the prevailing mentality that, “If you reject my homosexuality you are rejecting me as a person.”
But what I have shared above should completely put that to bed. Not only do I unequivocally accept my friends-who-are-homosexual as persons (even though I categorically reject homosexuality as sinful in the eyes of God), but I do so without even having reference in my mind to their sexual orientation whatsoever!
Anyway, 2 morals to the story:
1) Make sure and certain that you are prepared and able to be reasonable and compassionate in dealing with this and any issue where people are involved (1 Cor. 13).
2) Recognize that it is possible (nay, necessary) to understand that what defines a person is not, at root, their sinful actions, but their status as one created in the image of God to be looked upon with love, and treated with dignity. The Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins is for us and our sins every bit as much as it is for them and theirs.
Remember, in any context, you are the worst sinner. Make sure you treat others like you believe that.