You may remember my recent series entitled “What If I’m Gay?” chronicling my struggle with homosexuality. Since then, I’ve reviewed those posts and thought about what was or would have been most helpful to me during that time in my life. In light of that, this post will discuss caring for a friend or family member who may be going through the struggle. Since my Christian culture is the Mennonite culture, this post will be approaching the topic from that angle
Don’t react with shock or horror, or worse yet, uncomfortable silence.
If they are telling you about it, or even just hinting at it, they are extremely courageous. Because homosexuality feels so taboo in the conservative Mennonite culture, they are expecting your condemnation and horror and silence. Tell them, “This must be so hard for you. I’m glad you spoke up. Want to tell me more about it?” React with grace and love and compassion.
Listen to them.
Don’t quickly change the subject. Don’t give pat answers, such as “It’s a sin. Repent of it. Don’t focus on it. Confess it. Memorize Scripture. Claim victory etc.” Chances are, they have done all that a thousand times, and they are exhausted with getting nowhere. If they are talking about it, it’s because the silence has become more painful than the risk of rejection. So, listen with an open mind and without judgement. Don’t condemn. Don’t let whatever preconceived notions you have about homosexuality make you shut them down. Let them spill it out, even if they sound really confused. That’s normal. The person probably does feel confused and upside down. I know I did. Talking about it may be the first step on their long process of sorting it out.
Remember, homosexual thoughts or attractions are not sin and are not wrong.
What is wrong is acting on them, as in fantasy or a relationship. Heterosexual folks have to guard their thoughts and actions too. There are so many ways to sin sexually whether a person is straight or gay.
Honor their trust.
If they don’t want you to tell anyone, don’t. Not even their pastor or yours. They have taken a big risk in talking to you. Don’t drive them back into silence by betraying that trust. If you know safe people who could offer more help and knowledge than you have, suggest those safe people to them, but let it up to them. Once they are ready to involve others, they’ll let you know. Until then, be a safe confidante.
Don’t spout Scripture.
Most likely they have been wrestling with homosexuality for a while, perhaps even all their lives. If they are a follower of Jesus, they will have read the Scriptures that pertain to sexuality over and over, desperately looking for some answer to their pain. If they aren’t a Christian but have grown up in the Mennonite church, they will still probably know the Bible and feel deep shame.
Right now, they don’t need Scriptures or principles or truth. Right now, they need to know they are not alone. They need to know they are loved deeply, by God and by you. They need to know that they aren’t “weird” or “doomed to hell” or “awful” or “crazy” or “evil”….Trust me. If they are feeling deep shame, they will have thought all of those. They don’t need more “truth” right now. They need love. Give them that. Hug them. Cry with them. Hold them. Pray with them. Be there for them. They need you. They are trusting you. Honor that trust by caring for them.
Ask God into this journey with them (if they are saved already).
Perhaps you can pray with them right then. Perhaps they’d rather process it a bit more on their own and then invite God into it during their own quiet time. However it works out, you both need God in the picture. God isn’t horrified. God isn’t angry. God isn’t condemning. God isn’t holding a whip over their heads for even thinking these thoughts. God isn’t standing afar off, with crossed arms and a frown on His face until they get their lives in order. He’s grieving at their pain and confusion and shame. He loves them dearly and wants to be invited in to walk with them and sort out His truth in their hearts. Invite them to tell God all about the confusion, frustration, and anger, yes, even their anger at Him. Encourage them to be honest with Him and themselves. Honesty is another important step in the process.
If they aren’t saved, one reason why they aren’t may be because of their homosexuality. Perhaps they think God is a hateful, condemning God. Tread carefully. Don’t just “throw” God at them. Don’t just tell them to repent of their homosexuality. If they are especially closed against God, then don’t argue with them or condemn them. Most likely there is far more pain than you know wrapped up in their ideas about God. Simply trying to “force” God or right thinking on them will only drive them further away.
Love them. Listen to their pain and their anger. If they are open to it, dialogue with them about who God is and what salvation is. And not just pat answers either. You see, they need hope, and right now they just don’t see it. Perhaps simply tell them that God knows about their pain and anger and ask them if they could start talking to Him honestly. After all, the point of conversion isn’t to get to heaven. The point of conversion is a restored, amazing relationship with the Best Father and Older Brother ever; heaven is just a really good perk.
If they can start talking to God about their pain and confusion and hurt and ask God to show them who He really is, God will answer. Remember, we don’t convert people; God does. Each conversion is as unique as the individual because we have an enormously creative, outside-the-box kind of God.
Don’t try to make them straight. Ever.
Don’t encourage them to fantasize on the opposite sex or do special “exercises” meant to make them heterosexual. That is called “conversion therapy” and is usually abusive and despair-inducing. If they are a sincere follower of Jesus and have been struggling with this for a while, they have tried everything they can to “be straight,” and it’s not working. If it was, they wouldn’t be talking to you about it. Instead, together ask God to teach them His truth and to transform them into His image. If there is any changing to be done, God will do it. Human effort will get them exactly nowhere.
Don’t focus on them being “healed” or “having more faith” or “binding the devil” repeatedly.
Such a focus will simply cause even more despair and shame if healing doesn’t happen. If they’ve been struggling a while, odds are they’ve been praying such desperate prayers for months. While it definitely is a good thing to ask God to remove the homosexual longings and to bind any spirits that may have influence, God doesn’t always remove or heal those longings. Or, if He does, it may take a while until God has worked out other necessary healing in other places in their lives. Part of walking with them may be helping them to learn how to honor God while searching for truth and living with their homosexual attractions.
If possible, study Scripture together, asking God’s Spirit to teach you both truth.
Chances are you aren’t thinking accurately about homosexual attractions either. Look up the meaning of the words in the original languages, and not just using a Strong’s concordance either! Use a lexicon, a word dictionary, or something similar. Study context and culture. You may be surprised at what you find.
And, most importantly, focus on the New Testament not the Old. As a Mennonite, I was taught that we don’t go to war like Joshua and David or keep the Law (such as clean and unclean animals and all the ceremonial washing) because Jesus gave us a better covenant and fulfilled the Law. But then, we use the Old Testament to defend wearing skirts rather than pants, separation from the world, and the authority of church leaders? That dichotomy was a stumbling block for me for years. It will probably be the same way for any Mennonite who struggles with homosexuality.
So, using Genesis 19 (which is grossly misinterpreted as regards homosexuality anyway) or Leviticus to condemn homosexuality will be unhelpful, perhaps even harmful. In your Scripture study, look at the New Testament first. Once you have done that, looking at what the Old Testament has to say may provide useful background.
Do some research.
I give this advice with caution, but for me, doing my research was a very important part of my process. I read about homosexuality and what science had to say about it. I connected online with other Christians struggling with their homosexuality. I read what theologians who have studied the original Biblical languages have to say about homosexuality. However, if you or the person who is struggling are very confused, it may simply add to the confusion. Not nearly everyone enjoys research or knows how to do it effectively. In such cases, research may simply be destructive and deceiving rather than constructive. Listen to God’s Spirit for direction.
In the end, this is God’s work in their hearts, not your work. You can only aid them in the process. Pray for truth and light and healing and courage for them. Pray for wisdom and love and compassion. Pray that God’s Spirit would light the path into truth for both of you.
This whole process will take a while. If there is abuse or other painful events in their life, the journey to healing is often slow and difficult. They may slide one step back for every two steps forward they take. That’s normal. Walk with them. Love them. Give them grace. Model truth. Cheer them on. In the end, God will have the victory.
What if they won’t talk about it?
Now, all this advice is fine and great if the person opens up about it, but what if you think someone you love is struggling with homosexuality but won’t talk about it? Well, until they choose to trust you, there’s not much you can do. Of course, pray. And that is not a pat answer! I can’t count how many times I’ve prayed for a friend about a struggle I sense they have and then stand back in awe as God changes them. Sometimes the answer came years later, but eventually they started journeying with God and learning truth.
The other thing you can do is to let them know you are a safe person to confide in regarding homosexuality. Perhaps one reason why your loved one isn’t talking to you about homosexuality is your silence about the subject. Since you are silent about it, they have no clue if you are the homophobic, self-righteous, Pharisee type regarding homosexuality or if you are a compassionate follower of Jesus. Some amazing friends of mine, who had always been safe people to talk to, fell very uncomfortably silent when I mentioned homosexuality casually in a conversation. Some Mennonites who may be very caring in some areas will simply fall silent because the topic is so taboo. If you are silent, they will assume you have a judgmental attitude toward it and so will stay silent themselves.
So, start bringing it up in casual conversation. Is there something in the news about it? Bring it up. Start a friendly discussion on beliefs and ideas about homosexuality in an open, non-judgmental, curious way. Briefly mention what you’d do or not do if someone you know would say they are gay. Let them know, in a round-about way, that you are a safe person for them. In time, they might open up to you. Meanwhile, just love them and trust God to lead them into better space in time.
What if they come out as gay and engage in gay relationships?
That, perhaps, is the most painful part for most conservative Mennonites. I think every situation is unique, and therefore, there are no cut and dried answers. I do not agree with cutting them off from the family, dissolving the friendship, or disowning them. Most gays and lesbians have lived with incredible pain all their lives, especially if they grow up in a conservative Christian culture. The suicide and mental health rates among the LGBTQ population are appalling. Sometimes, coming out as gay and embracing that as their identity is an act of desperation. Our rejection will simply push them farther away and convince them they made the right decision. It is possible to care for and engage in relationship with others who think differently than we do. Indeed, isn’t our calling in life to love others?
Sometime ago, I came across an article that made me think. While I do not agree with the author’s conclusions regarding homosexuality, he has some valid points on how to practically love those around us. http://mennoworld.org/2017/02/06/the-world-together/an-honest-challenge-to-lgbtq-non-affirming-christians/. One thing he does say is to not compare a straight person’s struggle with lust or other sin to homosexuality. In my case, it helped to understand it and come to terms with it. Apparently not all gays find it helpful.
Comparing a straight person’s struggle with lust may make a gay person feel as if his struggle is misunderstood and downplayed. Our sexuality is a big part of our identity, so the struggle and longings for love feel visceral. Often, gays feel like outsiders all their lives. I know I did, so trying to understand it by comparing it to your own lust issues as a straight person may feel like you are being insensitive or arrogant. So, perhaps don’t compare it to your struggles, but simply present that comparison as something for them to consider. Presenting it simply as a question to be considered may make them feel less threatened.
How about you? What would you do/are you doing? How would you/are you loving others who are either struggling with their homosexuality or out as gay?