In the first three parts of this series I did my best to provide a basic biblical answer to the question, “What is a human being?” Because we now live in a world where the statement “I am a man trapped in a woman’s body” is seen as coherent and acceptable, it is incumbent upon Christians, churches, and pastors to have a well-thought out biblical understanding of human personhood, identity, and sexuality. Our engagement with LGBTQ+ issues requires it. If we are going to know what it means to live out a Christian worldview–to love God and our neighbours–we need to take seriously what Scripture actually says and then figure out how we apply what we learn there to our relationships and our conversations with those who do not share our perspective.
In other words, what we believe is about a great deal more than what we hold to be true in our heads. It’s about everyday life. It’s about how we interact with our neighbours, co-workers, friends, and classmates. More specifically, we need to wrestle with how to relate to our transgender neighbour, a friend who admits to having same-sex attraction, or a family member who simply doesn’t share our view of matters relating to identity, gender, and sexuality and maybe even thinks the Bible contains hateful, intolerant language. The possible conversations and situations we will face are many. No matter how difficult we find these issues, we can’t avoid them. Not when there are Pride flags hanging in every public school classroom and on the occasional community flagpole. Not when Disney executives are talking about injecting a specific ideology around LGBTQ+ matters into all of their children’s programming. Not when our kids are on TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat, and a multitude of other social media platforms that expose them to all kinds of ideas before parents are prepared or have had the opportunity to talk about them.
So, yes, there’s a lot to think about. But let’s slow down for a moment. Because I want to point out that whatever our theological position might be with respect to LGBTQ+ issues, when it comes to people we know, people we love–the people that we encounter from day to day who are transgender, same-sex attracted, or who would place themselves somewhere else along the sexuality-gender spectrum–they are first and foremost people made in the imago Dei. Every person we meet and know, whatever they believe about their sexuality or gender identity, has been made by God and is loved by God. We’re not simply dealing with what we might consider a set of difficult and complex social, ethical, theological, and political issues. We most certainly are doing this. But that’s not all. Not even close. We are, in fact, dealing with real people, genuine human beings who deserve respect and consideration and kindness. This is true even when we have profoundly deep disagreements that seem intractable.
To put it another way, if we are related to or are friends with someone who identifies as transgender or same-sex attracted, non-binary, or whatever, as Christians we first and foremost need to see the individual person right in front of us. As an individual person created with worth and purpose. Because to look at them as an example of what we disagree with dehumanizes them. It turns them into an object for our scrutiny, not an irreducible personal subject we’re called to love. People are not reducible to an issue. After all, the foundational biblical ethic is to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Would we want to be treated as an object? Would I want someone to look at me but only see all the problems they have with Christians or pastors or churches? Or would I want them to extend me the courtesy of seeing me as an individual human being?
Unfortunately, we also live at a time when many believe we can’t love someone unless we also affirm without question the gender or sexuality with which they identify. I say unfortunately because love has never meant affirming without question every aspect or characteristic of every person we know or meet. Instead, to love someone means to want for them what God wants for them–and to encourage them to want that for themselves (and to pray towards this end). And we learn what God wants for us in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. Now, I get it. For me to say this raises all kinds of questions for some. Not everyone believes the Bible to be the inspired word of God. And I can’t make the case for the truthfulness and reliability of the Bible here. But at the very least we ought to speak the truth we do know with the love of Christ–with an attitude of kindness and generosity towards the person with whom we are speaking.
This will most certainly mean learning to be aware of and sensitive towards the specific person in front of you. What is your relationship with this person? Are you willing to ask questions and listen, rather than try and inject your point of view every chance you get? I think it’s important to remember that when it comes to our relationships with people who hold to a different perspective on these matters that quite often winning the person over takes precedence over winning an argument. If you’re deadset on aggressively defending the biblical view on sexuality and gender (and, yes, I am assuming there is one), you might risk alienating the person you’re talking to and this might not be the most fruitful approach. Not if you want to keep the door open to more conversations.
And we also need to be ready to articulate the biblical view of human personhood rather than simply quoting the Bible passages that refer to homosexuality. We ought to be ready to answer questions. And we need to be humble enough to admit we don’t have an immediate answer when that’s the case. As Christians, we also need to remember that loving the person in front of us means telling them the truth. But how we speak the truth is very important. Sometimes we can be defensive. We can feel like our beliefs are threatened. So we need to bear in mind that the posture we adopt when having these conversations matters. The relationship with the person we’re speaking with in many ways determines the kind of conversation we have.
I write these words because the first three posts in this series might come across as impersonal and theoretical. Yet I know these are intensely personal matters. There is nothing more intimate and important about us than our personal identities, our intrinsic humanity. It touches on our friendships, on our families, on conversations with people we work with, and those who sit in the classroom and in the pew next to us. And while I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers about how to handle these questions in the context of everyday relationships, nothing of what I’ve said matters unless it is lived.
Of course, even when we as Christians agree theologically, we might differ on how we apply our theology to specific conversations and situations. There are Christian parents wrestling with how to handle conversations with their kids who want to identify as transgender or pursue a same-sex relationship. Some Christians think that experiencing same-sex desire is itself a sin, whereas other Christians believe that only giving into the desire is sinful. So even when we as Christians are talking with one another about how to handle the various nuances of these matters, hopefully we can show the same grace and humility we want others to exhibit.
For many churches and pastors and believers, these may be new and confusing waters to navigate. For others, they already have had to wade deep into them. Certainly many Christians are looking with alarm at the many congregations and denominations that have already abandoned the traditional biblical perspective, thinking this is the only way to show the love of Jesus. So if we don’t begin with a solid biblical foundation, then we will find ourselves at the mercy of every whim of the cultural tide. Yet though this is true, it is also crucial that we do not abandon the biblical call to see each person we encounter as created in the image of God–and to love them accordingly in the way that God in Christ loves us. Because while the love of Christ we seek to show may not always be understood, it must never be withheld.