Tracey was shaking with anger, a gospel track crumpled up in her clenched fist. "I HATE Christians so much!" she announced as our little group continued on the short trip to the diner from the university, quickly leaving the sidewalk evangelist behind. The force of her announcement took me by surprise. I had only been part of the storytelling group at the university for a couple weeks, but Tracey had always seemed so soft spoken and easy going.
As we sat in the diner in the early hours of the morning, eating the traditional all day breakfast and sipping on milkshakes, watching college students spill out of the pubs as last call came and went, the group conversation stayed on Christianity. As the conversation unfolded I began to see Christians through different eyes. The majority of my friends in the group that night, including Tracey, identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual. As they went around the table sharing stories of their interactions with Christians, I became increasingly saddened and frustrated, aware that almost universally they had experienced Christians as judgmental, hurtful, mean spirited, and in some cases even violent.
I had joined the group out of a desire to build relationships with unbelievers in my community, hoping to have a chance to share my faith. But now, looking around the table, I wondered what I could say to them that wouldn't result in responses of fear, anger and rejection, and began to wonder what I had gotten myself into.
Over the next year and a half that I was part of the club, I learned a lot.It turned out that most of my gay friends were not hostile to Jesus or the gospel. In fact, they were eager to discuss matters of faith. But there were a couple key things that they wanted me, or any Christian to know before they would consider what we had to say about faith.
1. "Please get to know me!" The most common complaint I heard from my gay friends was that Christians didn't bother to get to know them before telling them what to do. Many Christians had built assumptions about what they must be like, without bothering to see if it was true or not. One told me of being frustrated with Christians railing against homosexuality because of "promiscuous lifestyles" but the ironic thing was the individual was still a virgin. Others told of Christian friends and family members assuming their feelings must be because of sexual abuse, or "just not having met the right guy/girl yet". All responses were tied to Christians not taking time to listen to the person's story, to understand them in the context of their lives, and left the individual feeling unimportant and unloved.
2. Coercion is not okay. Many of my friends told stories of loved ones threatening them in order to motivate them to stop being gay. Some had been thrown out of their home, others had been told that if they didn't change they would receive no more assistance with university tuition. In every case these ultimatums hardened the person's heart against Christianity, forced them to lie, and never brought about the desired change. One friend pointed out how Christian failed the golden rule in this. "How would they feel if their parents forced them to choose between college and their faith?!"
3. "Tell me about Jesus!" For those who had not grown up in Christian homes, telling them what the Bible said had no more persuasive force than someone else trying to influence me by quoting the Quran, or the code of Hannurabi. What my friends were interested in was Jesus. It was only as they got to know Jesus, and saw him reflected in my own life did they begin to care what Scripture said about sexuality.
4. "If you really love me, then care for me!" Most of my friends had heard the phrase "love the sinner, hate the sin" a thousand times, but were hard pressed to come up with concrete examples of how a Christian had ever loved them. Most had found that Christians were afraid to help them or treat them kindly for fear of being perceived as "condoning
their lifestyle". What finally broke down the barriers between us was my willingness to serve them where they were at. In my case it meant giving them rides when they needed it (whether moving them out of an abusive partners apartment, getting them home safe after a night of drinking, or a simple lift home after an event).
After a year and a half of building relationships within that group, I had decided to move to another city. This meant leaving both my church and my friends in the storytelling club behind. In my time there I had been privileged to have a number of great conversations about faith with my friends, and had led a few of them to the Lord. On one of my last Sundays as youth pastor, I was asked to speak in the service. As I got up to speak, I found to my surprise and joy one pew filled with my friends from the Storytelling club. Afterward Tracey came up to me and shook my hand.
"I never thought I would ever set foot in a church again!" she said. "I don't think I'll be becoming a Christian any time soon.but you have given me a lot to think about. I still have a lot of issues about God, but you have been really awesome to me. I think that maybe if God is like you.maybe he is okay."
I smiled and hugged her, and tried to explain that it wasn't that God was like me..it was that I was trying to be like Him. But I think it was the greatest compliment that anyone has ever given me.