When I was a young child a new pastor and family came to our church. I truly don’t remember a thing about the man who was there before him. Pastor Mark was THE pastor of my youth. He was a second father. One who came to the hospital to pray with this scared 7 year old who was about to undergo surgery. His wife was a second mother to me. She spent many church services massaging my hands and silently giggling, shoulders shaking, at the funny word murdering mistakes that her hubby was known for.
But, his son. HE was my other half. He could finish my sentences. He loved that I could belch like a competitive eater. He didn’t think it strange at all to spend hours singing and playing piano together. We made up songs. We played his fantastic, brand new Atari. We swam until our skin was pruney and he needed a fork to help get his swimsuit tie unknotted. He ate lima beans that my grandmother cooked us for a late night snack –without question. We had conversations with his dog (who had a slight speech impediment, by the way). He chose me as his sidekick for a trip to the circus. We jokingly called all motorcyclers “heck’s angels” as his grandmother did. I still do. We spent New Years Eve on the corner by his home yelling and singing back and forth to the patrons of the bar across the street. (We really were supposed to be in the church fellowship hall with everyone else).
And then after he graduated from high school his parents moved to take a different church a few hours away. I was devastated. Yes our relationship had changed by then. He had dated in high school. I had dated. He had school friends that I didn’t know well. We even had some sizable spats. But I cried big, ugly, eye swelling, nose dripping, sobs when I heard the news. What would my world look like without Nate nearby?
Our youth group friends took a few trips to visit. We wrote letters–real letters that needed pen and special stationery. We still were a part of each other’s lives. Not daily. Not even weekly. But a real part of each other’s lives. Until the day I learned that he came out as gay. I was shocked. I was stunned.
I HAD TO SAVE HIM!!!!
I wrote a heartfelt letter to him where I reminded him that I loved him. And how I was sure he was confused. And how I had always imagined being in heaven together. And how now that wasn’t possible if he was truly gay. And how he knew better since he was a pastor’s son. Yeah. I was that stupid.
I lost him that day. For over 25 years. Not because he moved away. Not because he really changed (Come on! We had sung show tunes for hours and hours together…). Not because we couldn’t still be friends. But because I hurt him deeply with my thoughtless and knee jerk reaction to a declaration of his true self.
Once, in high school, Nate had been hospitalized due to a mental breakdown. I was at his home with his family when they decided to take him for medical help. I can see his dining room, the stairs, the color of the light, the worried eyes of his parents. I worried myself to sleep that night. I peppered his mom with questions of his condition and progress. I anxiously waited for his return home. He came to my house on the first night after his release. I can still feel the short, stubbly hair on his head as I ran my fingers across his scalp and watched tv together. I have no idea what was on tv. I have no memory of what we talked about. But I recall he was smiling and all was right with the world.
So, how could that love become so marred by judgement? How did I lose sight of my friend and instead only see his sexuality? Who was I to determine his worth in God’s eyes? I was an ass.
Romans 5: 1-2 says—“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” If we gain access to and forgiveness from God through faith, why would it be possible to lose that access and forgiveness? I knew that Nate was a Christian. I witnessed his very real faith. And yet I condemned him because I didn’t understand. I couldn’t square up how a gay person could be a Christian too.
Life is full of grey areas. The Bible does indeed speak against homosexuality. In Leviticus it is declared an abomination. But, let’s keep in mind that Leviticus also declares eating fat to be unholy (mmmm, I love me a well marbled ribeye steak), and that any clay pot touched by a man with ‘bodily discharge’ must be broken. The laws in Leviticus were established as a means to show devotion to God, to protect His people from illness and diseases, and to demonstrate that humans are unable to actually keep the Law of God. Let us remember that “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2)
But, but, but… Sodom and Gomorrah. Yes. A royal mess of sin and debauchery that God chose to wipe off the face of the earth. Might I also point you to Ezekiel 16: 49 where it says, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” Oops! It appears that perhaps callousness and a lack of care for the least played a large role in the destruction of that city. Maybe it wasn’t just those darned gays!
There are a few verses in the New Testament that mention homosexuality as a sin. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Romans 1: 26-28, Mark 10:6-9, 1 Timothy 1:10-11 for example). But I would offer that they need to be seen in context and considered with the culture of the day. Some say that these verses refer to the historical practice of orgies and of predatory older men seeking young boys. And let’s not forget that God sees sin as sin. There is no hierarchy. I sin just as much in God’s eyes as a heterosexual having casual sex outside of marriage as a homosexual. No difference. None. Zero. Zip.
But, to me, the larger context is this—the Bible mentions homosexuality 7-13 times total (depending on how strictly you interpret the verses). Do you know how many times the Bible addresses the poor and how we are to treat them? Over 440 times in over 380 separate verses. Over 440 times compared to 7. Is it just me that thinks that perhaps God saw our care for others as a bigger issue than the sexuality of individuals? Do you know how often Jesus himself addressed our care of the poor? At least 9. How often did he address homosexuality? Zero. Never. Nope.
It’s a messy topic. It doesn’t have 100% clear cut answers. I will always wrestle with what the Bible has to say about it. I desperately wish that I had definitive answers for those who struggle with this topic. I do not. We humans are all broken in our own unique ways. All. Broken. But, I no longer wrestle with how I am to respond to my gay friends and acquaintances. I am to love unconditionally. Just like with everyone else. I am to interact without judgment. Matthew 7:1-2 says “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” I am, as always, to follow the example of Christ.
I have since reconnected with Nate. I apologized for my harsh words. I am thrilled that he was gracious enough to accept me again. But, I will never recover those lost years of sharing life with my friend. I was not there when he lost his brother suddenly. I was not there when his mom fought cancer. I was not there when he was hospitalized for depression. I was not there to celebrate his successes and his creativity. I can never get those years back. I can never erase the hurt.
So, to my Christian friends I say–our job is not to judge, our job is not to save, our job is not to have all the black and white answers. Our job is to love and love with all our heart. The rest is up to God.