Not that long ago, a friend came out of the closet to me. At first, I wasn’t sure what to say. I knew it wasn’t my place to express an opinion on the moral legitimacy of same-sex relationships, especially when I wasn’t even sure what I believed about that anymore.
What I did know was that I cared about my friend. I owed it to her—and to myself—to reconsider what I had always assumed by default to be true, to make sure I’d thought this through, listened to the other side, considered all possibilities. That’s something I’d never really done before.
In the end, what motivated my decision to reconsider wasn’t some big epiphany. It was a friend.
Recently, when Facebook announced it was offering 51 additional gender identities for people to choose from, conservative pundits reacted with predictable outrage. But even some of us who aren’t as conservative were probably tempted to roll our eyes at the news.
Then a friend on Facebook started using one of the 51 new options. Suddenly it didn’t seem like PC sensitivity run amok. To my friend, the new options meant safety. Validation. Reassurance they were OK even if they didn’t fit neatly into one of the binary categories that were previously available.
I’m not saying all of this is simple. Figuring out what you believe isn’t always an easy task. But our first (and perhaps only) response to someone who is gay or who identifies according to a gender category we’ve never heard of… well, let me suggest that part IS simple.
If our first impulse is anything other than to love, embrace, and accept the other person as they are, then we have missed the boat.
You might say I’m being overly simplistic. You might argue this kind of acceptance only encourages people down a destructive path.
Set aside for a moment the question of whether loving someone of the same gender or identifying as “non-binary” on Facebook causes actual harm to anyone. That’s a debatable assumption at best. The real problem with any other response is that you start to see issues instead of people. You begin treating loved ones as problems to be solved, instead of divine image-bearers who were made to be cherished.
I’m done viewing others as problems that need to be fixed.
If you want to know where treating people as problems gets you, just look at the situation in Uganda.
Uganda’s president just signed a bill to solve the “problem” of homosexuality in his country. The law makes homosexuality punishable by life imprisonment in some cases. It requires citizens to denounce anyone they suspect of being gay.
One Ugandan newspaper wasted no time complying with that last provision, by publishing a list of the “200 top homos.” The last time a paper did this in Uganda, names and addresses were run under the headline “Hang Them.” A gay rights campaigner was bludgeoned to death.
Defending the bill, Uganda’s minister for ethics and integrity Simon Lokodo described gays as “beasts of the forest.” To him, homosexuality is a disease to be cured. Lokodo even suggested that heterosexual child rape is preferable to consensual sex between two male adults.
This is where we end up when we start viewing members of the LGBT community—or anyone else, for that matter—as problems to be solved rather than people to be loved.
I used to scoff at those who started questioning long-held beliefs, simply because they knew someone who was gay. My wife started asking these questions long before I did, because many of her friends were gay. And to be honest, I looked down on her for it. I used to think the strength of your convictions was measured by your willingness to hold them no matter what the fallout, no matter how much hurt they inflicted.
Then I remembered that “love does no harm to a neighbor.” I remembered that the first thing we should see in another person is the divine imprint, the image of God staring back at us.
If we don’t start here, then there’s no way to get it right, no matter what our beliefs may be.
Maybe caring about a friend is one of the best reasons you could have to reevaluate your convictions.