Many Christians talk about homosexuality the way we talk about life on Mars. It’s an abstraction, a thought experiment. We can take a stance, form a belief, and go on with life as usual. We don’t really have to do anything.
But sexual minorities aren’t simply abstractions, people hidden from view in some distant place. They have names we recognize, faces we love and live with. They’re our friends, our coworkers, our siblings, our children. They come to youth group on Tuesday nights. They live two doors down. They’re Rachel’s two moms and Samuel’s new husband.
What happens when our abstract beliefs about homosexuality collide with a living, breathing, bleeding human being?
It’s a complex question, and many of us find ourselves immobilized by the complexity. We’re so afraid of saying and doing the wrong things that we say nothing, do nothing. But if we claim to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, we can’t be content to stand still.
Here are four biblical things you can do to love like Jesus as you respond to same-sex marriage:
1. Listen more than you preach.
At Penn State University, on the front steps of the Willard Building, stands a man known as “The Willard Preacher.” Until the weather gets below freezing, he’s there like clockwork, wearing a red hoodie, preaching about fornication and homosexuality.
“You,” he taunts as people walk by. “You have sex. You’re going to hell.” In his eyes, they’re all “you.” As if everyone walking past him lives an identical life of sexual indulgence. As if thousands of people can be reduced to one. As if we all have the same story to tell.
John 4 tells us that Jesus once approached a Samaritan woman, a serial divorcee, at a well. He knew her history without being told, but instead of condemnation his first words were an invitation to relationship:
“Will you give me a drink?”
He already knew everything this woman had done; yet he gave her a chance to know him as well. Others had spoken to her in monologue; Jesus spoke in dialogue. He wasn’t content to preach from a distance, to an abstract “you.” When Jesus said “you,” he knew exactly who he was talking to.
What would happen if, instead of blustering about same-sex marriage like The Willard Preacher, we took time to listen like Jesus? To hear people’s stories? To speak in dialogue instead of diatribe?
Whose lives might be changed then?
2. Own your own sin.
Our van was barreling down the highway when we heard a sound like an exploding grenade.
All heads turned. Two lanes over, a small white car was grinding against the concrete barrier, sparks flying, its back wheel sagging and limping. “Probably a teenager texting,” our driver said disdainfully—while our own van drifted dangerously into the next lane.
We didn’t crash that day. But if we had been two lanes over, with a concrete barrier beside us, we would have. Our driver was so busy accusing someone else of error that he was oblivious to his own error.
The great danger of diagnosing other people’s sin (or what we perceive as sin) is that it distracts us from dealing with our own sin.
Remember the Pharisees in John 8:2-11? They wanted to stone a woman caught in adultery. They tried to get Jesus to collaborate in their condemnation—but he changed the topic from her sin to their sin: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
And just like that, the execution was called off.
When it comes to same-sex marriage, the question that demands our attention has nothing to do with other people’s sin. The question is for us: If we believe Jesus calls us to obedience and radical self-denial, how fully are we following that call?
3. Vest your interests in Christ’s power—not in human laws.
On June 26, 2015—the day the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of same-sex marriage—Facebook was a kaleidoscope. There were the people in favor of the ruling, with their rainbow-flag-themed profile pictures and #lovewins and exuberant celebrations. And there were the dissenters, with stars and stripes instead of rainbows, ominous prophecies instead of exclamation points.
But for all their disagreement, the Facebookers seemed to agree on one thing: a national law’s alignment or misalignment with a person’s ethical preferences was a matter of utmost importance.
Jesus took a very different approach. He chose to be more interested in people than in legal structures themselves. It wasn’t political revolution he wanted, but a heart revolution. Here’s why:
A biblical agenda isn’t always a political agenda. If we want to see a world transformed, a world more in love with Jesus, we need to put our hope in something better than politics. We need to vest our efforts in Christ’s power to transform from within—not in the law’s power to conform from without.
“Therefore,” writes Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come.”
Christ alone is the source of newness, the source of hope. Human laws don’t change hearts; only Christ does. Human arguments don’t mend brokenness; only Christ does. Human political agendas don’t bring eternal life; only Christ does.
Why put our faith in anything less?
4. Embody Christ’s love in every encounter.
They sat outside the church building in a car with a running engine. “Do you want to come in?” he asked. “There’s food.”
“No thanks,” she said. “Church people don’t like me very much.”
“Sure they do,” he said. “I’m a church person, and I like you.”
“But you’re different,” she said. “You like everyone. If there were more Christians like you, maybe I’d be a Christian too.”
Far too often, Christians who engage the issue of same-sex marriage have failed to communicate love to those across the political and theological divides. We speak the word “love” when our actions look nothing like love. And at times we’re guilty of being more interested in “winning” than we are in really learning how to show love to others.
What if we loved first and foremost? Recklessly and with determination? Loved the way Christ did, as 1 Corinthians 13 describes? What if, next time we entered a discussion of same-sex marriage:
We were patient…
Not easily angered…
Not dishonoring to others?
What if we protected those who’ve been cast aside…
Hoped even when hope seemed lost?
It seems like that kind of love that would make a real difference in our nation. Without it, our best arguments are nothing more than “a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). So when it comes to doing something about same-sex marriage, how about if we choose this: Let’s LOVE.