As a Christian, how should I relate to a gay-identified friend or family member? I have several relationships that involve this dynamic, including both non-Christians and those who claim to be followers of Christ. Any suggestions?
The simple answer is that you relate to a gay-identified individual as you would relate to anybody else. Every person is a human being and deserves to be treated as such, regardless of his or her lifestyle or belief system. Every person you meet is your neighbor, and Jesus commands you to love your neighbor as yourself.
But you already knew this. What you want to understand now is how to talk with the person in question as the relationship progresses and differences of opinion on topics such as sexuality and sexual morality become an issue. It's at this point that his or her identification as Christian or non-Christian becomes critical. Your conversations with this friend or family member will look very different depending on whether you do or do not claim the same faith and whether you each view the Bible as authoritative.
Let's begin with the non-believer. Since you and this person are coming together from very different backgrounds and worldviews, you'll need to make a conscious effort to set your philosophical, theological, and moral assumptions aside at the beginning. Think in terms of something bigger than mere sexuality. Try to appreciate your friend as a whole person. Don't turn him or her into a "project" – if you do, your motives and the exclusive nature of your focus will become distastefully obvious and will almost certainly inspire resentment. Instead, look deep enough to discern his or her essential humanity and to understand how it reflects the Image of God. Form a connection on the basis of common concerns and interests. Remember that God loves this individual even more than you do. When challenged or asked to explain your own beliefs, use I-based language to give a positive and winsome personal testimony (see 1 Peter 3:15). In doing so, you will be creating a context for the development of a meaningful relationship. And as that relationship grows and blossoms, the Holy Spirit will grant you opportunities for genuine Christian witness that you could never have devised on your own.
While moving through this process, keep Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well (John Chapter 4) in mind. Remember that, according to the social mores and religious dictates of first-century Judaism, this woman was the sort of person – a female, a Samaritan, and a sexual sinner – with whom Jesus was not supposed to have any interaction whatsoever. Remind yourself that, in spite of these taboos, He entered into dialogue with her, connected with her at the level of their shared humanity ("Give me something to drink"), matter-of-factly acknowledged the realities of her situation, and addressed her at the point of her personal need. As a result, an entire Samaritan village was converted to faith in Christ.
The challenge of relating to a gay-identified friend or family member assumes a very different aspect when he or she already claims to be a follower of Jesus. There are some important similarities, of course: with this person, as with the non-believer, you will want to exhibit kindness, gentleness, grace, and love while reflecting the Spirit of Christ in everything you say and do. But you will also have some ground for referencing scriptural teaching and appealing to a common understanding of moral and spiritual truth. In this connection, bear in mind that there's a crucial distinction to be made between a Christian who experiences same-sex attractions but does not act out those inclinations, and an active homosexual who claims to be a believer. A Christian who is currently involved in any form of sexual intimacy with individuals of the same sex (or any sexual activity outside of God's design for marriage) requires a very different response from the one who experiences same-sex attractions but refrains from acting on them as a matter of conscience and Christian discipline.
In either case, we suggest you begin by listening very carefully to what the other person has to say. Instead of launching straight into a discussion of Bible doctrine, try to get a sense of what your friend or family member is going through. Bear in mind that this experience is very real and deeply personal for him or her. Be empathetic and understanding. Remain in this mode for as long as it takes to establish a relationship of mutual fidelity and trust.
When you've reached this point, you may then be in a position to take things a step further by inviting this person into conversation at a deeper level. You can invite greater depth by asking, "Are you open to talk with me further about what the Bible has to say on the subject of homosexuality and sexual morality? Would you be willing to learn how other Christians have walked away from gay self-identification or homosexual sex? Could we read a couple of different viewpoints on this topic together and then meet to discuss our findings?"
Strive to keep the dialogue as congenial and objective as possible. If you discover that this individual is theologically muddled or subscribes to false doctrine, you will need to answer his or her objections and address his or her concerns in the clearest possible terms. A biblically based argument deserves a biblically based response. But don't fall into the trap of shaming, blaming, or condemning your friend. Instead, do everything you can to preserve the relationship and thus maintain your influence in his or her life.
If your friend or family member has been diligent about remaining sexually inactive in obedience to God's commands, encourage him to continue on this path and make yourself available to support him in his needs and in his pledge to biblical sexual morality. If, on the other hand, he continues to be sexually active in spite of his claim to be a follower of Jesus, urge him to examine his faith convictions with great care and to give them priority over every other consideration. Make it clear that, as far as you are concerned, it would be wise to give greater weight to biblical values than to feelings of same-sex attraction. Underscore the thought that attraction, behavior, and identity are three separate areas; that one need not be determined by the others; and that behavior and identity, unlike attraction, are matters of conscious, willful choice. End by saying, "I want you to know that I will be reading and learning more about this topic because I care about you. If you're willing, maybe we could read and learn together." You might also encourage him to pursue Christian counseling if there seem to be compulsive or sexually addictive cycles occurring in your friend's behavior.
We have a staff of trained family therapists available to speak with you by phone for a free consultation. They can also refer you to reputable and qualified family counselors working in your area.
Homesexuality (resource list)
Love Your LGBT Neighbor (podcast)