The best movies are movies with high stakes. I learned this from the hosts of Filmspotting, a film review podcast. The best movies—the ones that pull you in and stay with you—are the ones where the stuff that happens actually matters, where you have a reason to care about the story playing out on the screen in front of you. This doesn’t mean the conflict needs to escalate to Avengers-level melodrama with the fate of the planet at risk in order to count; intimate family dramas can matter just as much as intergalactic battles (and, of course, intergalactic battles can feel completely inconsequential and limp). When a film has high stakes, it has the potential to leave you completely emotionally exhausted.
Over the last few years, conversations about LGBT issues have become increasingly visible in the public sphere, and the conversations came to a bit of a climax last week. I’m talking, of course, about Tuesday’s landslide victory for North Carolina’s Amendment One, which added a same-sex marriage ban to the state’s constitution, and Wednesday’s announcement from President Obama that he supports the right of same-sex couples to marry. I don’t really have anything to add to the online conversations about the meaning of both of those momentous events; writers have spilled enough digital ink to occupy you with plenty of online reading on all sides of the issue. What I want to contribute is my own experience of last week, which left me completely emotionally exhausted.
More than I’ve ever seen, social media was absolutely bursting at the seams with opinions and discussions about LGBT issues on Tuesday and Wednesday (and Thursday and Friday and Saturday…). Everyone, it seemed, had something to say, whether the something was a vote of confidence in Amendment One or a declaration of support for the president’s statement. I saw countless Facebook statuses and tweets about homosexuality from people who had, as far as I’d known, otherwise been mum on LGBT issues thus far—former classmates, friends, ministry partners.
Increased attention to LGBT issues is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I’ve often lamented the culture of silence that tends to surround LGBT issues in Christian institutions, and it’s a breath of fresh air to see more people pay attention to a discussion I see as crucial. When I was trying to determine to whom I could safely come out, I often wished my friends and family would say something about homosexuality just so I’d have a hint about where they stood. If nothing else, it’s nice to see people lay their cards on the table. On the other hand, though, the mainstreaming of LGBT issues almost necessarily means the discourse is going to become more shallow and careless. As people outside of that niche that cares and thinks deeply add their voices to the conversation, it becomes much more likely I’ll encounter unexamined, hasty, and irrational proclamations, that the cards people lay on the table will be unflatteringly flimsy. This wouldn’t be a problem if everyone participating the conversation were indifferent, but it’s impossible for me not to take the things you say—even the things you say thoughtlessly—personally, because the stakes for me couldn’t feel any higher.
When you log on to make a quick comment about how you support Amendment One because gay people are rebelling against God’s will, you might be able to log off and turn your attention to other matters; but my head is left spinning, because what exactly do you mean, and why are you making that opinion publicly known, and what if you’re right? Are you saying I’m living in sin because I’m innately attracted to men? Do you think I’m rebelling against God’s will for my life if I pursue a relationship with a man? Do you mean I should try to change my orientation or even that it’s already too late for me to receive God’s love? And, most importantly, are you willing to walk through those questions with me? As much as I’d love to dismiss your comment as rash and superficial, it’s so incredibly important to me to get this right that I can’t completely ignore your perspective.
Or, when you log on to voice how you support Obama’s statement because love requires us to call same-sex relationships holy and meaningful, you may also be able to log off and focus on something else; but my head is, once again, left spinning: What exactly do you mean, and why are you making that opinion publicly known, and what if you’re right? Are you saying it would be futile for me to try and remain single because God isn’t placing such a heavy burden on me—that, in fact, he may be calling me into a same-sex relationship for the sake of my spiritual formation? Do you think I’ve become a self-righteous legalist if I call something sinful that God has made holy? Do you mean my faith is too small and narrow if I don’t open myself to that kind of relationship or recognize its value in the lives of others? As above, are you willing to walk through those questions with me? Once again, I want to shrug your remarks off as simplistic and lazy, but the stakes are so very high for me that I can’t entirely banish your perspective from my mind.
Here’s my request for anyone who is committed to loving LGBT individuals with the love Christ demonstrates towards us, regardless of whether you think “love” means calling us out of the sin of same-sex relationships or celebrating them as beautiful and blessed: Please take seriously the weight of these discussions for our lives. When Christians talk about Amendment One, it’s not really about what laws they’ll enforce in North Carolina; it’s about whether God, in all his profoundly gracious and merciful love for me, might be calling me to wake up alone every morning for the rest of my life. When Christians talk about Obama’s view on same-sex relationships, it’s not really about any politician’s voting record; it’s about whether my affection for another man, regardless of his Christlike qualities that attract me to him, fundamentally falls short of God’s design for human sexuality and places me in perpetual conflict with the God whose approval matters more to me than anything else. When Christians talk about LGBT issues, they’re talking about LGBT individuals.
By all means, please don’t keep silent about LGBT issues. But before you tell me I can’t marry a man, wait a beat to feel the weight of that call—one that could potentially involve prolonged loneliness and searing pain—with me. And before you tell me I ought to marry a man, wait a beat to feel the weight of that call—one that puts me into conflict with millennia of Christian belief and would potentially ruin relationships with many non-affirming people in my life—with me. If you’re unwilling to bear the weight of those calls, even for a moment, think seriously about whether the love of Christ is motivating your words before you click “Post.”
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