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Dear Straight Christians

Dear Straight Christians,

First of all, if you’re reading this and already feeling a little self-conscious or defensive, I need you to stop. If you want to start yelling back at me say, “Not All Christians!” I want to say DUH. I know that. If the following complaints don’t apply to you, then it isn’t about you. But this is my lived experience and the lived experience of so many other queer folks, and especially queer Christians. So don’t take that away from me.

And I’m sharing these stories with you, not to shame them, but to give an example of what not to do.

This past week I was accosted twice by straight Christians.

I was just minding my magical, queer ass business and well-meaning, straight Christians felt like they had to save my soul. From what? I don’t know. But here’s the story:

The first time was at a bar. I was there for a friends going away thing, and I struck up a conversation with a random guy who was there. He was a straight man and a pastor. That never bothers me, because I wouldn’t imagine anyone would try to evangelize me at a bar. We shared our background, what we did, and then he gets this look on his face like something gave him pause.

“I hope this doesn’t come off as offensive,” he began (and I’m screaming on the inside THEN DON’T SAY IT!), “But I just don’t want to see you through the lens of your sexuality. I just want to see you as a child of God, because that’s infinately more valuable.”

My blood was already racing, and I was thinking of a way to explain how I thought differently about this than he. I even told him, point blank, that my identity in christ includes my sexual orientation.

“I need you to see me as gay because that’s who I am, that’s who I love, and that’s who God loves. I’m not discriminated against because I’m a child of God, but because I’m gay. And the only way to address the problems I face as a gay person is to see all of me.”And he doubled down, interupting me as I was trying to share with him how that narrative of erasure was damaging. After that, I went into a rage blackout. I know that I cussed. I know that I raised my voice. I know that I told him to shut up and listen. I know that I was drawing attention to myself and I left immediately.

I don’t know why he thought it was okay to go there. I don’t know why he didn’t back down when I was visibly becoming upset. I don’t know why he didn’t see that as inappropriate. (Yes I do, actually. It’s priviledge.) We didn’t have any relationship at all, so with no relationship there is no permission to talk to me, or anyone, like that.

The second time was in a DM, where a girl felt it was cool to take scripture out of context (Romans 1) and say to me, “The Bible is basic. It says don’t be gay. Don’t do drugs. Don’t have sex before marraige.” And when I tried to explain what kind of damage taking scripture out of context does, when I tried to present an argument for questioning things, and that the Bible was far from basic, she said, “You have some nerve talking to me the way you do.”

Mind you, she was the one who rolled into my DM’s. I have no idea what she was expecting. Not to mention, I met her one time. We didn’t have a relationship at all.

And this happens all the time.

Straight, well-meaning, usually quite moderate, kind Christians will say these triggering platitudes, will use Bible verses out of context, trying to be helpful, not realizing that they are being so damaging. That guy at the bar? He’s a nice guy. He wasn’t trying to be hurtful or offensive. That woman online was just doing what she had been trained her whole life to do. I’m sure she wasn’t intentionally being hurtful. But that’s the thing: folks rarely realize the damage they are doing until it’s too late. And it’s completely avoidable.

So here are some things, dear straight Christians, that I want you to know:

It is never about intent. It is always about impact.

Just because you don’t mean to offend doesn’t mean you won’t. And the proper response to a marginalized person’s anger at your disregard for their personhood is not to explain you didn’t mean it that way. The proper response is, “I am so sorry. What can I do better?” 

Were I anyone else, were I someone who was not as far a long in my journey, someone less fortified in my heart, that could have deeply wounded me. That could have driven me away from the Church once and for all. That could have been the last straw and I could have left and taken my own life. And that happens. Well meaning Christians say stupid shit and people end up dead. That’s the power of life and death in the tongue, friends. So seriously think about your words when approaching someone you don’t know.

It's never about intent. It's all about impact. Click To Tweet

Always think of the context of your relationship.

These two interactions shocked me because there was zero friendship present. There was zero social capital. There was zero reason to come at me the way they did. I wonder, if I wasn’t a Christian, just some random gay dude, would they have felt it okay to say what they did to me?

Seriously, if you don’t know the queer person you are talking to, you do not have the right to speak to their identity. It is only when you establish an actual friendship, and actual mutual self-giving relationship, that you have permission to ask tough questions and engage with deep topics. You can ask questions, just be senstive in how you ask.

For the love of God, read something.

While I am someone who is happy to talk about intersections of faith and sexuality all day, not everyone is wired at me. And frankly, it is exausting to rehash the same topics over and over again. It is tiring trying to taylor make every theological conversation to fit each individual person. It is draining trying to explain basic concepts around inclusive theology or just how to talk to queer people to each straight person who is new to the conversation in a way that doesn’t hurt their feelings. It is retraumatizing to tell my story over and over again. 

Please, go pick up a book. Go read an article. Go follow some queer folks on social media and educate yourself a bit. You’re an adult, and you can do this. (I’ve got a whole page of videos you should watchbooks you should read, podcasts you should listen to and my favorite blogs all listed in one place for you as a resource. You’re welcome.)

More than anything, listen more than you talk.

That is probably the most frustrating thing. There is nothing more frustrating than showing someone who you are and them not believing you. Queer folks have worked hard to be okay with who they are, and we don’t need you to start spouting off some “alternative facts” version of what you think they’ve walked through. We need you to listen and believe us. We need you to hear us when we say what it hurting and what is helpful.

There's nothing more frustrating than showing someone who you are & them not believing you. Click To Tweet

If someone is telling you their story, sharing deep parts of themselves with you, be attentive and affirm their experiences. Don’t try to explain it away or try to make your point of view heard. More than likely, your point of view is the same story that has been told for forever.

If you truly love your queer friends as you say to do, prove it. And the only way to love someone is to know them. And the only way to know someone is to listen.

And on top of all that, you don’t just damage your own witness by spouting off at the mouth. You damange the witness of the Church by being so closed off and unreceptive. You drive people, queer and straight alike, who may not know Jesus, further away because you cannot listen.

I don’t write this to bash on straight Christians. I love my straight family. And we need them because without them, the Body of Christ is incomplete. I write this because this happens all the time and it’s avoidable.

So yeah… Straight Christians, I love you, but I need you to do better. We all do. For the sake of the movement, for the sake of saving lives, and for the sake of the gospel.

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  • Ellen Gilmartin

    Good points, Kevin. I am a straight ally and I have tried to make these points on behalf of my friends, but it is helpful for it to come from someone who has felt the impact themselves. I would like to add this thought: there are some people who think that they should get to know an LGTBQ person for the express purpose of eventually having the chance to wham them with one of the few verses in the Bible that are commonly used to clobber sexual minorities. That may be even worse. To have a person supposedly befriend you, seem to care and listen, and then find out that they only had an ulterior motive – well that is just beyond the pale.

    • JBReiter

      I was just going to say the same thing. The common tactic of “friendship evangelism” is toxic. At this point I’d rather the person show their agenda up front, before I start trusting that they care about me for ME. The hard lesson I learned from one such friendship is that conservative or evangelical Christians are so stressed to save souls that respecting boundaries always has to take lower priority. If you think you’re snatching people out of the fire, you can’t stop to ask consent for touching them, so to speak. Beyond any specific issue of disagreement like sexuality, this flaw is fundamental to their worldview. When I saw that, I lost my faith as I then understood it.

      You’re doing great work, Kevin. Maybe you should have a card you hand out, with your links to affirming resources, so you don’t have to engage in these conversations from scratch every time. Take care of yourself. Blessings to you.

      • That card idea is not half bad!

        • Ellen Gilmartin

          It’s a great idea!

    • Mike Stidham

      It’s meeting those people that makes me wonder about the “clobber” verses. When you’re sitting in a car with two gay seminarians and they’re talking about their spiritual struggles, who am I to doubt the people?
      That said, with one or two exceptions, all the LGBTIQ people I know are people I went to seminary with!

      • Ellen Gilmartin

        You are on the right track because you are actually listening to and observing gay people, and noticing a disconnect between their witness for Christ and what you have always heard. There are some excellent resources out there that help explain how the “clobber”verses actually are being misapplied in a way that is hurtful and unfair. I recommend Justin Lee’s book, “Torn”, or “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines. I also recommend listening to the podcast series “Blue Babies Pink” by Brett Trapp. His story made it totally clear to me how different it is to choose celibacy vs. singles who are still hoping there may be someone for them out there. Celibacy is a gift, and according to Paul those who do not have that gift should marry. After all, “it is not good for man (or woman) to be alone.” And of course, Kevin is awesome!!