I felt burnt out from my studies after finishing the second and final Sunday School class three weeks ago. And yet as soon as the class ended I had to hit the computer again to write a series of five lectures (different topic) in preparation for a Cambodia missions trip next month. No rest for the weary.
Hence, this late report on how the second class went. It was a more practical class than the first. I talked about understanding where gay and lesbian people are coming from, the ways in which we often talk past each other, and how to communicate about our Christian beliefs without sounding like a religious right fanatic.
I explained that one complicating factor is that gay people divide roughly into two groups on the question of how to evaluate their own orientation. Which group any given person is a part of changes entirely how I understand and relate to them. I've found that people can look at their homosexuality in two ways:
1. Some people focus on the fact that their sexual feelings and attraction are not oriented toward the "right" sex. They have always felt that there is something about them that has gone awry, and their conscience, the pressures of society and the teachings of religion seem to confirm this perception. People who view their homosexuality in this way often come from a religious, conservative or ethnic background. More liberal-minded gays often dismiss them as self-haters, weaklings who have failed to stand up to social oppression. This may be the case with some, but I think it's only fair to acknowledge that there are others who believe they are simply following the convictions of their conscience. In other words, even if the pressures of family, society and the church could be shoved aside, many people would still feel something is wrong with being homosexual. It is easier for the average conservative Christian to relate to people from this group because Christians can appeal to the idea of sin and the fallen state of human beings when talking to them.
2. On the other hand, there are other people who choose to focus more on the fact that their sexual feelings and attraction are an expression of love, which they say is no less real than heterosexual love. The fact that their sexual orientation happens to be directed toward the same sex is a less critical issue to them. Whether they think their same-sex orientation is a morally neutral or morally troubling phenomenon, to them the more weighty issue is pursuing a loving relationship. Love is among the highest of moral virtues--so healing and beneficial to yourself and the person you love. Loving and being loved makes you whole. How can this be harmful to society? Conservative Christians dismiss this group as depraved and hard-hearted because they celebrate with "gay pride" the very thing Christians view as sin. But it's hardly fair to assume people are "celebrating sin" when they believe they are just celebrating love. Conservative Christians may have a serious moral disagreement with them, but going as far as calling them "depraved" only shuts down the conversation altogether.
I remember when I was a kid my dad used to tell me, "There's a difference between saying 'I understand' and 'I agree.' I may understand you but not agree with you." Dad isn't a Christian, but I think his advice is apropos for Christians who want to be effective witnesses in the world today.
From my experience it never hurts to understand where the other side is coming from. It might only hurt if hearing a different viewpoint upsets you to the point of shaking your faith, in which case you should definitely bail. But if you are a mature Christian, if you are secure in your own personal moral life and you know what your limits are, having a conversation with someone who sees things differently than you shouldn't imperil your soul. I view listening as an act of kindness. It is just taking to heart the advice from James 1:19-20, "But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God."