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A couple of weeks ago the U.S. Supreme Court passed a ruling which means that people of the same sex can get married.

After the ruling, very polarised opinions exploded on social media, particularly amongst Christians. Being a Christian myself I had a lot of this traffic coming through my newsfeed, and I watched with a good deal of sadness, not just at the things said from both sides of the debate, but the spirit in which they were said.

I’ve refrained from commenting or participating in the Facebook debate on gay marriage, mainly because from personal experience, face to face discussions on this kind of issue are better than a comment on a status update. (So please if you want to have a discussion about this blog post or critique it, call me or come round for a cuppa:)

I do feel the need to get what I’ve been thinking about all this out of my head and onto paper though. I rarely blog but when I feel the urge to its generally because I feel quite strongly about something and writing about it helps to process. I prayed last night about what I should say here – so hopefully my words will be guided by the Spirit – forgive any content which strays from that…

(Disclaimer – this blog will probably make the most sense if you are from a Christian or church background. If you’re not then I’d just encourage you to not write off Jesus because of the flaws in our humanity that this debate has exposed!)

One thing that has struck me about the social media based debate amongst Christians on gay marriage is that we are very quick to make assumptions about each other, and they don’t tend to be good ones. There have been accusations of Christians betraying other Christians and basing their views on a Facebook trend (see this article – the author lists 40 questions but they read more like 40 accusations). There have also been accusations of homophobia and closed mindedness flying thick and thin.

My real concern is that the Church will rip itself in two over this issue. We cannot keep assuming the worst of each other and be driven by judgement and prejudice. I have amazing Christian friends who support gay marriage. I have amazing Christian friends who don’t agree with it. The fact is there are very strong Biblical arguments both for and against same sex marriages. It’s nowhere near as clear cut as for example when God says of Jesus “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.” I totally understand why people have come to their conclusions on both sides of the gay marriage argument – I think the key question is how do we respond to this reality of people studying the Bible, praying, researching, discussing an issue and coming to different conclusions? Do we move forward in love and respect, unified by our desire to follow and share Jesus? Do we listen to the opinions of others with an open mind? Or do we hammer people to try and bring them around to our point of view?

I don’t think I ever believed same sex relationships were wrong – but it took years of praying, studying the Bible, reading books on the issue, talking to people, getting to know LGBT people, realising how deeply isolated my LGBT friends felt and their fear of judgement from Christians to properly articulate and understand my beliefs. I was raised in conservative evangelical churches so I never met any other Christians who shared those beliefs until my twenties. Holding them was counter cultural in a way – which is quite a tough place to be at times.

I have refrained from being overt about where I stand in the past, partly because I was still figuring out what I believed and partly because I was afraid of being condemned by other Christians. But I’ve realised that in some ways I was pre judging my Christian friends as being judgemental without even giving them a chance – the irony! I was making a negative assumption rather than assuming they would respond in love. As I have discussed this issue with friends who are more traditional in their beliefs, we have shared our views, mostly agreed to disagree – but our love for each other, our mutual respect and our joint desire to serve and share Jesus remains. At times we probably hurt each other and frustrated each other – but the relationship remains. Our beliefs may evolve and change over time – perhaps we will hold different positions in 10 years time – but my hopes are that we can go through that process together, encouraging each other towards God.

I think that’s the crucial thing really – love and relationship. A question I might pose to you is, do you have any strong relationships with people who believe different things to you? Can you work through those differences and retain your love and respect for each other? Can you still encourage each other in your faith?

I think it is so important to have open conversations about these issues – especially people within evangelical churches – for two reasons.

Firstly, there will be many young LGBT people who will feel like they have no one to talk to about the different questions they have. The kids at Soul Survivor, The Keswick Convention, Word Alive…Their sexuality won’t feel like a “preference” to them but as they have only ever heard one view on the topic they won’t be able to weigh up whether they believe it’s right to pursue same sex relationships or not. They’re not going to be able to work through these issues in their teens and figure out who they are and what the right thing is to do. If we are to weigh anything we need at least one alternative view to make that decision. Having conversations about these issues need to be the norm – where different views are expressed and people can talk, pray and work things through. (That’s the difference between a conversation and taking a “my way or the high way” attitude). Young people in evangelical churches can end up feeling very isolated, conflicted and sadly, very desperate at times. I’m guessing this issue is seen as such a hot potato it’s either never talked about, or its dismissed very quickly as being a black and white issue (with that black and white being that same sex relationships are just plain wrong). The results can be seen in the tragic suicide of Lizzie Lowe (her church’s very thoughtful response is here) and in people like Vicky Beeching’s experience up until she came out last year. Some people have died because of this issue (although if we took the conversation to what’s happening in Uganda and other parts of Sub Saharan Africa you would have to replace “some” with “lots” and include all other sorts of persecution…). Surely the least we can do is have a conversation about it?

Secondly, I think it’s important to have open, loving conversations about these things as if we don’t, people will stew on the issue and it will dominate their concerns – more than a desire to follow and become more like Jesus. We are complex beings – sexual identity is a part of who we are – but it’s not the only thing that defines us. By suppressing or not encouraging conversation and through oppression, things can become a lot bigger than they really should be. Being straight is part of who I am – but it’s not something I think about all the time if I’m being honest. I hope to be primarily defined by my faith in God …and leading from that, the way I behave towards others, my daily choices, the things I say…and other things. But one reason behind this is probably because it hasn’t been taboo for me to talk about my attraction to men and be in relationships with men – if it had been condemned maybe my sexuality would been more of an issue for me.

I think that’s probably enough for now. I haven’t even started on what’s happening to LGBT people in places like Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Uganda… But that’s a conversation for a different time I think.  If I want to put across anything with this it would be to love, talk (to people’s faces), work through differences, ask God what he thinks and be prepared to accept that you’re not going to agree on everything. And that’s ok…

To all my LGBT friends out there – the ones who are out and the ones who are not. The ones who have accepted themselves and the ones who have not. I love you. God loves you. Seek first his kingdom….

Some of the more thoughtful and loving pieces that I have read on this issue are below…

Premier Christianity – Is the Church failing gay Christians?

Response of Christian leaders in Sojourners

Advice for US church leaders from a Canadian pastor

Traditional sexuality, radical community

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