Our Children: Gay Christians Can't Afford to Be Divided

If you are gay in this country, you are more likely to be alienated from your parents and traumatized by your upbringing if you were raised Christian. The more Christians you were surrounded by—the more "Christian" your community was or is—the more likely you are to experience shame and alienation from God.

This is common knowledge among gay Christians. But it should shock us; it should shock all Christians.

Christian children—our children—should be the ones most likely to trust in God's unconditional love for them. They should be the ones most at peace with themselves and their community. They should be the ones who have known all their lives that God created them out of love and sustains them in every moment through His love.

In this post I'd like to call “traditional” Christians (for lack of a better term) to seek to serve gay people, especially those in the most desperate circumstances. And I'd like to call “progressive” Christians to make space for "traditional" Christians. To serve alongside us, and help us to serve. This will require both groups to move past judgment and fear, into humility and solidarity.

All Christians have a special responsibility to those harmed by Christians—people harmed in the name of the God who is Love; people who suffer abuse in the name of the Prince of Peace. Gay Christians often perceive an even stronger responsibility to “our children”: young gay people in Christian communities.

This may seem like an area where Christians (including gay and same-sex attracted Christians) from a wide variety of traditions and denominations can easily find common ground. Even if you don't believe in gay marriage, for example, you can give shelter to homeless teens. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, not a document known for its progressivism on sexual ethics, writes that Catholics must avoid “[e]very sign of unjust discrimination” against “men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies.” Mantilla-and-communion-rail Catholics, Latin Massers and people who pray the rosary outside abortion clinics, should all agree that nobody should be hungry, homeless, beaten, rejected, or shamed because they're gay.

Gay and same-sex attracted people in the “traditional” churches may even have special opportunities to love and serve the neediest of our children. Two friends of mine who are living in a celibate partnership have noted that just as Christian marriages can't remain private—the married couple's love flows outward, whether through procreation or through service to the church community or both—so celibates must find ways of looking outward, offering hospitality. The hospitality of a childless household can be more radical: When I was living by myself I sometimes took in homeless women for a night or two, including women I had just met. My friend asks the provocative question: “Do we have so many homeless LGBT teens on the streets because there's nobody living celibate hospitality who can take them in?”

And yet common ground is always conflicted ground. If more people who accept the historic Christian sexual ethic seek to serve gay people, rather than shaming and rejecting them, serious challenges will arise. The “traditional” Christians—straight, gay, or “other”—will often have to learn good old-fashioned acceptance of how little we can change another person's beliefs or way of life. We will have to serve in a way which respects the other person's autonomy. If we try to serve gay people in order to open their minds to our beliefs, we will serve poorly; the focus will still be on our own agency and the changes we hope to effect in others, not on God.

And people in progressive churches will need to stretch too. They'll need to acknowledge how much “traditional” believers are already doing: Many people who work directly with homeless kids, for example, don't follow a progressive party line. As they've done with so many other issues, such as prison reform, progressive churches and ministries will be working alongside those with whom they disagree. What will you do when someone who accepts the Catholic sexual ethic wants to serve gay teens? How can volunteer training, for example, respect differences in belief while making sure everyone is willing to serve those whose choices they don't approve? This year's Gay Christian Network annual conference was a great place for me to talk through these questions and experience what it's like to stand on our common, conflicted ground.

The challenges are real. I don't want to see two camps of currently-comfortable Christian adults fighting about who does a better job of serving gay youth, while treating the teens themselves as talking points. In the best-case scenario adults from across the denominational spectrum come together to listen to our young people, learning to serve and love them even when we think they're heading in the wrong direction. (There is no Christian so progressive that she always agrees with the behavior of teenagers.)

I accept the historic Christian sexual ethic. I also accept the Christian ethic of welcome, of love of the stranger, of unconditional love. And this ethic of love is a matter of our children's survival.