Thursday, August 01, 2013

On having gay friends

Remember how it was when you were a kid and your mom talked about you in the third person to someone else while you were standing right there? Annoying, yes? Well, I'm about to do a similarly annoying thing--which is one of the difficult things about having a blog that is read by people on both sides of a divide. I would like to talk to straights about what it means to have a gay friend, which obligates me to talk about my friendships with some of you guys who read this site in that annoyingly objectifying third-person way. Sorry, I hope this is not too off-putting. Most of all, I hope the day comes when it will no longer be necessary to have to write a post like this.

But it is necessary to write this post. Because quite often when I talk about having gay friends to straights, I get the odd feeling that I wasn't supposed to bring that up, like talking about some unmentionable tattoo you got in your wild days. Or occasionally I'll be congratulated on my great condescension to befriend people who are "so different" and yet who are, of course, "sinners like ourselves"--a humbling lesson for us all as we go about being light and salt in a dark world.

In the former situation, I never manage to feel as embarrassed as everyone expects. In the latter situation I am embarrassed, because I just stand there taking undeserved credit while some well-meaning person goes on and on praising my supposed piety.

So allow me to clear the air and talk about what it means when I say I am friends with someone who is gay or lesbian.

For me, the first rule of friendship is that I have to like this person. I don't make friends with people I don't like (and neither should you, by the way). Fortunately, it's not difficult for me to find things I like about people who are thoughtful, honest, introspective, compassionate and courageous, which fits the profile of many gay and lesbian people I know simply because of kind of hardships they've been through. I also like people who think outside the box, have a sense of humor, and understand that life can be disappointing so that they appreciate how things like a good meal, good conversation or a decent movie can get you through the day. Now, you may not care for the crowd I hang with, and that's fine. My point is, being friends with someone who is gay should have nothing to do with heroism, condescension or even tolerance. When you're friends with someone, gay or otherwise, you should enjoy hanging with them.

You might object that loving people is more important than liking them, so shouldn't I be emphasizing that instead? I know that love is supposed to be biblical and all, yet I've become somewhat suspicious of that approach. I've noticed that we tend to justify committing all sorts of abuses and cruelties against people in the name of love (at least our idea of love), particularly against our gay friends and family members. Don't ask me why. All I know is that if you work on how you're going to "be loving" toward someone who is gay, you're liable to say or do something very un-Christian. But if you work on liking someone, you'll have a much better chance of being like Christ to them.

Second, I am friends with people I have stuff in common with. I'm a Christian so I have gay Christian friends. I'm conservative in my theology and many of my political beliefs, so I tend to have gay friends who are theologically and/or politically conservative. I'm a seminary grad, a former pastor's wife and currently an elder's wife, so I have gay friends who are involved in the ministry. You get the idea.

I bring up this obvious point because I have a feeling that some people, when they hear me talk about having gay friends, wonder how I manage to befriend that guy marching in the pride parade with only his army boots and a leather thong. Truth is, I probably don't have much in common with that guy so I don't end up befriending him. See how simple that is? Now, I did have a good friend (now deceased) who was an atheist and a frequenter of leather bars. But we shared similar political views, a dry sense of humor, a passion for writing, and various nerdy intellectual interests. We talked about those things, and once in a while we'd discuss atheism and religious belief, but we didn't talk about leather bars, which I knew next to nothing about anyhow.

Third, friendship is a two-way street. My friends are people who are helpful to me as I am to them, who encourage me as I encourage them, and who understand me as I seek to understand them. And unless they are atheist, we will even pray for one another. This brings us back to the problem with "love" because here is where I think Christians get tripped up. Sometimes when you determine that you are going to "love" another person, you subtly start viewing that person as someone who needs you, not as someone whom you need just as much. And since this person who is the object of your great loving affection needs you, your approval and your advice so much, that gives you the right to be stern, instructive and somewhat overbearing, particularly when you believe you know what is best for them.

On the other hand, if someone is truly your friend, then you ought to have the humility to recognize that you can't just say whatever the heck you want, because if you drive them away you are hurting yourself too. You will be more gentle, more respectful, and make a genuine effort to be winsome and helpful. If you hurt that person and they walk away, you won't smugly tell yourself that "that's just the collateral damage of speaking the truth in love." You would feel quite devastated, and you wouldn't rest until you made things right.

Now you might be saying, "This is all fine and good, but where am I going to find gay or lesbian friends whom I like, with whom I have stuff in common, and whom I genuinely value having in my life?" The answer is, you probably already have them in your life, they just haven't come out to you yet. So I suppose for most of you who are reading this, the best way to go about having gay friends is this: don't reject the friends you already have when they do come out to you. Stay the course. Remember that you like this person, you like hanging with them, and that's why you're friends. And if this friend has trusted you so much that he or she is willing to come out to you, your friendship with them should deepen, not grow more distant.