01 Dec Family Chat: The Friendships That Survive

I’m excited to launch a new series of conversations here! I’m calling them Family Chats because I want them to feel like the conversations we have with our people, where we can ask difficult or embarrassing questions and entertain nuanced responses. It’s also a family chat because I want others to chime in with your own stories and insights whenever you resonate with someone’s note; you’ll touch on things as a community that I’ll surely miss as an individual. Finally, I want this to be an inclusive space. While many of the questions will come from LGBTQ Christians, I’m also eager to hear from straight people and those who don’t belong to a faith community. I look forward to processing all kinds of questions with you all. Hopefully, these conversations will remind us all we’re not alone.

 

Family Chat: The Friendships that Survive

Hi Julie! I have followed your blog for many years and have stayed with you through the change from Side B theology (which does not believe the Bible supports same-sex marriage) to Side A theology (which affirms same-sex marriage for Christians). I am attracted to women too, I identify as side B. When I first started telling people about my orientation I was terrified and filled with shame and your blogs made me feel known and not alone, and even welcome into ministry. I am a missionary now. I know we now have differing opinions on the subject, but I trust you and I’d love your opinion on a question: I really want to radically love people like Jesus, all people. But I am curious about if you think I can still love and be friends with side A Christians and invite them into my story as a side B gay Christian, or if I forfeit that that right by being side B? I have encountered some feedback that my stance alone on the subject is hurtful to Christians on side A and so I should either change my position or stay away, but that doesn’t seem right at all. I feel pretty strongly about my personal conviction to be side B, but more than anything I want to love people of the LGBT community. I so badly want to be in community with and love my side A friends. How would you feel cared for by side B people? If you have guidance, I’d love to hear it. Thanks for your time. I really appreciate you.

-Steph

 

Hi Steph,

I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to hear you wrestling with how to love people better. On an internet where self-assured people try to out-wit each other every day, where people slam those with different beliefs to gain credibility with their own tribe, it’s encouraging to see someone humbly trying to love people with different beliefs.

My inner circle has always consisted of LGBTQ people who land in a different place than I do. When I believed same-sex relationships were sinful, some of my best friends were happily gay-dating and getting gay-married. Since I became affirming, many of the dearest queers in my life are pursuing lifelong celibacy. We have walked with each other through transitions in our beliefs and some are still caught in the middle of the questions. Regardless of where we locate ourselves in the debate about same-sex relationships, we’ve gone out of our way to make sure the others in our circle of friends know that, more than anything else, we want each other to flourish.

We encourage each other to live with conviction, honesty, integrity, and vulnerability. We trust that the others in our circle of friends have also prayed for thousands of hours and cried the particular tears of shame that only queer kids cry. We understand that our queer Christian friends, regardless of what they believe, have known loneliness, rejection, loss, and disappointment, and we want them to know we’re here to support them without qualification or condition. We want each other to know that this friendship is a safe place for them to be confused, and it’s a safe place for them to have convictions that rub us the wrong way because this is a safe place.

Here are a few things that help people in my community navigate relationships with people who have different convictions about same-sex relationships. (I should add that I’m mainly speaking of other LGBTQ Christians here, though these principles likely apply to straight Christians asking the same question.)

We honor the sincerity in the other person’s beliefs and path. You demonstrate this kind of humility, Steph, when you acknowledge that the Side A Christians in your life are actually Christians. If people on either side start from a place that says, “Those people aren’t real Christians,” or “Those people are responsible for all the shame LGBTQ Christians feel,” then it’s hard to form a solid foundation in the friendship. We have to acknowledge the complexity of the story in which we find ourselves and respect the reasons others land in a different place. We have to be humble enough to believe the best about each other.

We sincerely want to see the other person flourish within their theological framework. I’m not sure our friendships would survive if we spent our time trying to convince the other people to believe differently––it’s exhausting. We respect each other enough to know they’ve done the studying, praying, and agonizing, and we are glad they’ve finally found a sense of peace about which path to take. Us affirming folks want to see the celibate gays find deep, rich, intimate friendships, and we want to be a part of their extended family. The celibate gays want those of us in relationships to have joyful, life-giving, sanctifying relationships and marriages. We are less concerned about which side of the debate a friend falls on and more focused on helping each other grow in love for Christ, other people, and often ourselves (since most of us grew up on a steady diet of shame and self-hatred). We understand that no matter where you land in this debate, it’s hard as hell to grow up gay or bi or trans in the church and it’s an actual miracle that we’re all still in the faith, so we’re in each other’s fan sections for life.

We realize there’s more to each other (and our friendship) than our theology about same-sex relationships. This debate can take up a lot of space in the church. Denominations have divided over it, families are torn apart because of it, and people turn to all kinds of destructive behaviors to cope with the anxiety they feel as a result of it. But we are also whole human beings. My friend Brent has a heart the size of Texas and, when a friend who loves to quilt was going through a divorce, he learned how to quilt so he would have a consistent point of connection with her as she grieved. My friend Casey can make anyone feel seen and at ease in a crowd (she’s also the first to show up with a toolbox and a willing spirit when you move into a new place). My friend Zach is the kind of person who, without fail, will stand up for someone who’s being bad-mouthed, whether they’re present or not (whether he particularly likes them or not). He’s the kind of person who believes the best about everyone, and he urges the rest of us to see people in all their complicated humanity when we want to highlight their flaws instead. When my LGBTQ friends and I look at each other, we do not see a Side A person or a Side B person; we see a human being that we treasure, a person that brings joy to our lives simply because they show up as their precious selves.

You are not a bigot, Steph. You can believe God intends marriage to be between a man and a woman and you can be a force for good in this world. You can fiercely love the queer people in your life even if you’re not convinced their relationships are God’s best for them. I don’t want to minimize the seriousness of the debate––we all know there are real consequences that flow from our positions. But I also don’t want to boil the entirety of someone down to their beliefs about the Bible and same-sex relationships. Love the people around you in the unique way you’re wired to love them. Love the people they love. Eat leftovers together while you watch your favorite shows (and sob together if that show is This Is Us). Text them to remind them their existence in this world feels like a personal gift to you from God.

When you love people extravagantly––with humility, joy, and respect––your friendship is a blessing, whether the people in your life can receive it or not. If some LGBTQ Christians are unable to accept the love you have to offer them, I imagine it’s the result of a lot of pain they’ve endured from Christians over the years. Perhaps the best way to love those people is to empathize with that pain and honor them by giving them the space they need. There are plenty of people out there in need of a friend like you, so find those people and bless them with your presence.

Cheers,

Julie

 

Share any insights you have for Steph in the comment section!

And email me with any questions or issues you’d like to discuss at Julie@julierodgers.com or through the contact section. You can sign the email with your real name, a fake name, your initials––whatever feels most comfortable. I look forward to hearing from you!

13 Comments
  • Kester Smith
    Posted at 12:51h, 01 December Reply

    Well, I love you and love this and so wish we lived closer so we could have rich conversations on this and other topics. My question is sort of my own version of Steph’s: Is it helpful to identify as a safe person (whether with a safety pin on your office door or some such) if you take a Side B position and is the answer to the question different if you’re straight? As you know, I am Side B and straight. My work is as a sort of chaplain (with a longer, clunkier official title) on a Christian university campus, and the knowledge that we have students who don’t know where to turn for a safe space to come out as gay (Side A or B) makes me ache. However, I don’t want to presume to mark myself as “safe” only to have a Side A gay student discover my Side B convictions (I don’t hide them, but I don’t lead with them either) and feel deceived. Would love to hear your take on this. Thanks.

    • DJ
      Posted at 21:36h, 01 December Reply

      You know, I would start with the question of what the word ‘safe’ is generally understood to mean. What is a ‘safe zone’ and how is it usually advertised? Once you’ve answered that, ask whether what you mean by safe is different in any way compared to how it’s generally understood culturally. My understanding is that safe zone typically signify that LGBTQ people are welcomed and wholly accepted and embraced, unequivocally, unconditionally. I imagine that what you mean by safe is that LGBTQ people can come talk to you because you welcome them and accept their right to make an autonomous choice about their sexuality. However, that is not unequivocal, unconditional embrace, because ultimately you believe that if they choose to love in a way that they are naturally inclined to, they’d be sinning. While the distinction is probably not particularly dangerous to someone like me, who has long since come to terms with his sexuality and have no guilty conscience whatsoever about gay love, that distinction is wildly different for an impressionable, confused youth who believes God loves them exactly as they are, gay relationships and all, but hasn’t quite yet developed the confidence to stand up to detractors. Advertising that you’re a ‘safe zone’ when in fact you are a ‘welcoming zone’ could be quite damaging to someone like that. I’d recommend you find some other way to show that you welcome LGBTQ people than using symbols and parlance that have a different meaning (generally understood) than what you might intend.

      Also, I wish we could have talked about this instead of trying to write about it. For the sake of brevity in communication, I fear I’ve put a lot of words in your mouth, and I’m sure you’d take issue with what/how I’ve described things above. I hope my overarching point, and the (attempted) generous spirit in which it was intended, comes through though.

    • Julie Rodgers
      Posted at 14:10h, 07 December Reply

      Hey Kester! This is a great question and I so wish we could chat about all things life in person. My initial thought is that it’s good for you to find a way to communicate that you’re a kind and empathetic person and that you welcome these kinds of deep conversations with students looking for a safe place to process. One thing I would add is that I think it’s important to let students know that you’re happy to refer them to other people or organizations that you trust if it’s important for them to have a Side A space (kind of like therapists do). I’m not sure if this is the case where you are, but I’ve always assumed everyone in leadership was Side B when I’ve been at Christian schools, so I would be surprised to learn someone is Side A rather than the other way around. With that in mind, it was helpful to know which people were willing to go there with me when I wanted to talk about these kinds of things.

      The answer to the question is slightly different for straight people. When a Side B person is gay, I know they’ve usually labored over all these questions and their hearts have been broken many times over. I also know side queer people are the ones who pay the price when it comes to the sacrifice demanded of them in Side B theology. So with straight Side B people, it helps when I see them really struggling with all the questions and feeling deeply, actively burdened about the struggles LGBTQ Christians face. Those are the straight Side B people that tend to be the safest and most supportive.

      Thanks for asking this and for the heart behind your questions. I’m glad your students have you in their lives.

  • Liz Dyer
    Posted at 16:08h, 01 December Reply

    I love the question and your answer. But I don’t meet many Side B Christians who treat Side A Christians with respect. Instead they exclude Side A people from being fully included in their faith communities & boycott their weddings.

    As someone who is Side A I have no problem linking arms & walking this journey with Side B Christians as long as their position doesn’t include restrictions or exclusions for my son who is gay & married.

    Unfortunately the Side B Christians(friends and family members who supposedly love us) in our life shunned my son’s wedding and it was very hurtful.

    • Julie Rodgers
      Posted at 12:12h, 05 January Reply

      Hey Liz! I originally responded to this on Twitter, but I wanted to follow up here. I’m so sorry people in your life shunned your son and wouldn’t come to his wedding. I’ve never understood that. Even if they believe it’s sin, Christians show up for people they believe are living in sin all the time. That’s what Jesus did during his entire time on earth. It’s so sad and I’m sorry you’ve been through it over the last year.

      In this post, I was responding to Steph specifically, who was clear about her desire to be in close friendship with Side A people. She seems to really love and accept people who land in a different place, so my response about relationships with Side B people was with people like her in mind. Many of my old friends stopped talking to me at some point, but I didn’t mention them because they didn’t have Steph’s spirit and those friendships didn’t survive.

      Anyway, just wanted to follow up here. You are such a good friend to so many, and I’m sorry many of your friends haven’t been able to return that love to you and your son.

  • DJ
    Posted at 21:53h, 01 December Reply

    So I’m going to add to Julie’s comments above to you, Steph. Jules and I have generally agreed at about a 90% in spirit, even when we held different sides on the A, B, X spectrum. Today, we both happen to be Side A. So it should be no shock that I would say I agree with her overall response to you.

    But I’ll add something because I wouldn’t want you to get it twisted. Understand that for many, many LGBTQ people, your very position will cause pain. There are plenty who have developed enough health and fortitude to risk navigating the tension that arises when someone with your position wants to love LGBTQ Side A folks. But there are many who have been so deeply wounded, that *any* opposition, even slightly hinted at, feels like toxic oppression. I’m not one of those people, but I’ve seen enough and experienced enough to understand why that is. So I just want you to understand that when people spend much of their lives fighting homophobia, fighting homonegativity, and fighting the depression, anxiety, and suicidality that comes along with that…. when they’re finally able to begin fully accepting gay love, they don’t necessarily feel particularly excited by people who can’t go there with them 100%. It feels too much like what they’ve been fighting so much for so long.

    If you’ve ever been in love before, and known the joy and power of finally loving without shame, when you’ve struggled with shame your entire life, it’s simply not fun to have someone around who thinks you’re sinning by embracing that love. It doesn’t compute. The dissonance that creates it too much for some people to bear.

    So are you a bigot because you’re Side B? No, not necessarily. (Some Side B people are bigots, but not because they’re Side B per se, but just b/c they’re bigots… who happen to hold a Side B stance.) From what I can tell from your question, I wouldn’t image you are a bigot Steph. I imagine you sincerely want to love and love on all people, including Side A queer folk. It’s just that you particular viewpoint does for some people detract from how much they can experience the love you want to give. And I don’t think there’s much way around that.

    It’s sad, really. I feel for you. You’re just trying to live faithfully to your beliefs. And your beliefs don’t squash your inclination to love people. It’s just that those beliefs have real consequences for real people. They’ve caused damage to people’s psyches and souls. And even though you didn’t create the belief or instigate them, you hold them nonetheless. That will simply be an impasse for some people. So you’re in a tough spot. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t be that way. But the real world is messy and icky. And that’s just the way it’s gonna be for awhile…

  • Ezekiel Adams
    Posted at 01:20h, 14 December Reply

    I wonder if the negative responses to Kester’s question are rooted in a sense that to think a person is sinning is to think that they are dirty or defective. What if sin is seen instead as simply being out of step with what God would call you to do? What if the Side B person, without minimizing the importance of sin, recognizes that it is generally not their job to correct or to judge their friends?

    A commenter above twice said that a Side B person’s ability to love is compromised by their belief that their friend is “sinning.” However, if sin is properly seen as something common to humanity, I don’t see why this should be the case.

    • D Ford
      Posted at 15:09h, 14 December Reply

      Hi Ezekiel

      At its core, the traditionalist theology claims that gay people are uniquely flawed in a way that makes us unsuitable for intimate relationship. It says that gay relationships are sinful and inferior to straight relationships. It says that gay people are somehow more sexually broken than straight people.

      It also reduces the intimate relationships gay people form down to sex. It refuses to acknowledge the abundant virtues of gay marriages – a lifelong promise of mutual self-sacrifice, caretaking and fidelity in the service of community.

      It refuses to acknowledge that, even if not God’s ideal, marriage may be the most moral life available to straight and gay people alike.

      So to dismiss what’s beautiful, God-pleasing, and life-giving as simply “out of step with what God would call you to” is (no matter how unintentionally) hurtful.

      I hope you can see that.

      • Ezekiel Adams
        Posted at 04:36h, 21 December Reply

        With respect, and with understanding of where you’re coming from, D Ford, I believe my Side B theology would reject every statement that you just ascribed to it.

        Perhaps most important is your phrase about reducing relationships down to sex. Indeed, the “mutual self-sacrifice, caretaking, and fidelity” that are part of a gay marriage are beautiful things. I would say to any gay married couple that, regardless of whether you ought to be having sex (and I generally would not comment on even that, except in a few narrowly defined situations), I’m glad you have each other.

        With that in mind, I’d like to assume that, when we speak of “relationships” without specifically mentioning sexual activity, we are discussing the self-sacrifice, caretaking, fidelity, etc., regardless of whether sexual activity is also part of that relationship. With that caveat, I answer your first paragraph as follows: Gay people are not flawed in any way that is fundamentally different from all humanity, and every person is suitable for (and needs) intimate relationships. Gay relationships are in no way sinful or inferior. According to Side B theology, living faithfully with one’s sexuality as a gay person may entail different challenges, maybe harder challenges, but gay people are not more broken than anyone else.

        Finally, I acknowledge that the church has done a terrible job of providing pathways to intimate relationship for people who are not married (whether gay or straight). I know that this sin on the part of the church puts people into terrible situations in which they feel they must either starve or transgress (so to speak). I’m not generally interested in criticizing individual people for their decisions in such situations.

        I agree that it would be hurtful to dismiss something that pleases God. On the other hand, all Christians believe that there are things that are sinful but still feel beautiful and life-giving. Side B Christians believe that this is true of gay sexual activity (but not other aspects of being gay). We haven’t even talked about how one would talk about that, in the context of a friendship between a Side B person and a gay person. In most cases, I simply wouldn’t bring it up. The question that started this thread is whether the bare fact of believing in a Side B interpretation of Scripture is in itself hurtful and incompatible with a fruitful friendship.

        • DJ
          Posted at 08:24h, 06 January Reply

          With respect, Ezekiel, it sounds like you are trying to tell Side A people how they ought to think and feel about your beliefs. My question to you would be: have you ever been Side A, in love, and in a beautiful gay relationship?

          • Ezekiel Adams
            Posted at 23:32h, 07 January

            Of course I would not presume to tell people how they should think and feel.

            My original comment was replying primarily to you, when you said to Kester that a Side B person’s ability to love is compromised by their belief that their friend is “sinning.” I simply asked a question, whether (what I would call) a more healthy view of sin would make this less of a problem.

            D Ford then replied with a number of characterizations that I did not feel reflect my beliefs. I don’t mind that, and I’m sure s/he was speaking in good faith, but I thought that mutual understanding might benefit if I explained a bit further.

  • sk
    Posted at 10:45h, 23 December Reply

    GREAT, GREAT conversation, and I’m so glad that I wandered by…I’m straight and can’t claim to know intimately what gay people have experienced with the family of God. But like the OP, I have a curiosity to understand what they go through, have mourned the division within the church that this “issue” has brought and want deeply for them to know the unconditional acceptance that comes from belonging to Christ. Much of my “opinion” on this subject is untried and formed from observation. My brother is gay and wants nothing to do with Christians. I simply cannot share with him a different perspective from what he’s experienced from the Christians he’s encountered. He expects me to fall on Side B simply because I identify with Jesus and is adamantly against hearing anything that contradicts his narrative. I wonder at what point his hatred of Christians becomes an “excuse,” for lack of a better word, to reject the gospel and use believers as the reason. I’ve given him that space, but I see him struggling to find love and acceptance that is offered through Christ. It’s almost as if my very identity is being rejected because of who I am…and then I giggle because I’m starting to get it…

    Anyway, I’m getting away from the topic. I would add to the original question of whether or not someone who is Side B can truly love and be in relationship with someone who is Side A…I remind myself to not discount the power of the Holy Spirit, who unifies the church. It is the big ask that Jesus requested in John 17:20-23, that we be as one, unified through the generous application of grace by the Holy Spirit. As part of a family full of Sides A and B, I absolutely believe that it’s possible, when we allow God to teach us during our individual walks on the same path. But I’m not sure it’s possible without the Holy Spirit.

  • Kester Smith
    Posted at 12:01h, 05 January Reply

    Thanks for the reply. I too wish we could sit down over coffee and discuss this more. I’m in the fortunate position of working for a Christian university that, while its official position is Side B, is open to faculty and staff who are openly Side A. While the university would not hire someone who was in a same-sex relationship, they wouldn’t fire someone for thinking it’s ok to be in one. Which is to say, there are people I can refer students to, if they feel safer with someone who is Side A. I am also seeking to create more opportunities for our students to see faculty and staff who are Side A and B have a conversation about this and to be able to participate in that conversation themselves (I’d love to hear your feedback on how to do this well). Too many of our students are either convinced that no faithful Christian can hold a Side A position or that no caring Christian can hold a Side B position. A vital piece for my own role within the university is that I am neither committed to changing someone’s position, nor do I feel pressured by others to do so. If asked, I can state my position clearly and describe a 20+ year experience of wrestling (ever since a dear friend came out to me in college) to arrive where I am, but do not feel the need to convert someone to being Side B. Still, I worry that isn’t enough to be a safe space for our gay Side A students. On the one hand, you want to put up the safety pin that says, “You’re safe here.” On the other hand, you don’t want a student to see the pin, reach out, and then feel betrayed when any kind of Side B stance feels unsafe.

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