Seeing Both Sides
‘How can we best love and support gay/same-sex attracted Christians?’ I love being asked this question. There’s so much that can be said in response, but there’s one particular area I’ve been reflecting on recently.
One of the things I find most difficult about being a celibate gay/same-sex attracted Christian is when I feel a strong attraction to a specific guy. (I’d probably describe these attractions as a crush if the word didn’t make it sound like we’re back in the school playground!) I don’t find that this happens all that often for me, but it does happen, and I don’t think that should be a surprise.
When it does happen, I have close friends whom I will tell. I do this because I know openness and authenticity are important for my own well-being. I need the support of other people to help me keep faithfully following Jesus, and sharing what I’m feeling can lessen the sense of aloneness that can come from the experience. Over the years, I’ve observed that people tend to respond in one of two ways.
Some people immediately think it’s an issue of temptation, which it is. There may be the temptation to pursue something with the person if they are single and also gay/same-sex attracted, and whoever they are there may be the temptation to engage in sinful thoughts and fantasies about them. Some friends therefore jump in with reminders to take every thought captive and to put on the armour of God; some offer practical pointers to avoid giving in to temptation. This is all good. When I share with a friend that I’m feeling attracted to a guy, I’m asking them to help me stay faithful to Christ, to help me in the temptation which that attraction will bring.
Other people immediately think it’s an issue of suffering, which it is. For a celibate gay/same-sex attracted Christian, becoming attracted to someone can be one of the strongest and starkest reminders that we experience unchosen desires which will never be met in the way that they seem to long to be met. Put simply, the longing for a relationship with a specific guy becomes a reminder that I won’t ever have that sort of relationship with any guy. There is a pain that comes from this experience, a pain which is perhaps largely unique to the experience of gay/same-sex attracted Christians, and which I think always remains to some extent, regardless of the health of someone’s relationship with God and with friends. When I share with a friend that I’m feeling attracted to a guy, I’m asking them to acknowledge the pain I’m feeling and to love and comfort me as I walk through that pain.
Both temptation and suffering are present, and help is needed for both. Focussing on only one can be unhelpful. A response that focusses only on temptation can aggravate the pain already being experienced. A response that focusses only on suffering can leave the way clear for temptation. It’s true that one or the other will often be more prominent in the experience of the individual at any one time, and so a good response and offer of support might likewise be weighted in one direction, but both will always be present.
If we want to love and support gay/same-sex attracted Christians well, we need to think about the complexities of their (our) life experience. The best way to understand these complexities is to listen. In some ways the answer to the question of how we best love and support will always start with listening. If a gay/same-sex attracted Christian friend shares with you about attractions they’re experiencing, slow down, ask some gentle questions, listen well, and then you’ll be well equipped to respond.