By Justin Lee
I never thought I’d write a book about, well, gay stuff.
Not me. No way. Never.
Growing up, I was “God Boy,” the kid Most Likely to Be Talking About Jesus. Only years later did I realize that I was probably pretty obnoxious about my faith. I didn’t mean to be; I just didn’t want anyone to go to hell.
If I talked at all about homosexuality in those days, it was to preach against it. But sexuality wasn’t really a subject I wanted to spend my time focusing on, anyway. I wanted to focus on God and the importance of what we evangelicals like to call a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” I wanted everyone to experience what I had experienced, the life-giving, life-transforming indwelling of the Spirit of God. Anything that got in the way of that — including sexuality — was like the choking weeds from Jesus’ parable of the sower.
In theory, it makes sense. God is eternal; sexuality is not. In theory, it was easy to say that gay people should put aside their sinful desires, die to themselves, and carry their crosses for Jesus. In theory, it was easy to say “love the sinner; hate the sin.” In theory, it was easy to dismiss those who disagreed; they didn’t know their Bibles as well as I did, and really, what does it matter if you’re hurting in this life for the sake of an eternal one?
Only there’s a problem with that, because Jesus didn’t seem to have that attitude. Jesus preached about putting aside earthly concerns for heavenly ones, yes, but his ministry was marked by showing more care for the earthly suffering of those around him than other religious leaders showed. He devoted much of his time on earth to healing people’s physical ailments, giving them food and wine, helping them walk, stopping their bleeding. These people are all now long dead; from an eternal standpoint, their earthly suffering wouldn’t seem to matter. But it mattered to him. It mattered to him enough that in his parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus depicted the hellbound as those who said all the right religious things but failed to show compassion on the needy in this life.
God is not just a God of the afterlife. God is a God of today.
As Christians, we must not let the pleasures of this world crowd out our ever-important eternal perspective. But the reverse is also true. If we allow our “heavenly tunnel vision” to blind us to the hurts and needs of those around us in this life, we’ve lost sight of one of our most important tasks on earth—to glorify our God by living out God’s love for the hurting, the outcast, the forgotten, and the oppressed.
Christianity isn’t a chess game of good vs. evil, where we calculate our every move to outsmart those who disagree with us on theology or morality. Christianity is a way of life that says that God loved us so much that Jesus was willing to die for us in spite of all our sins, and that our job is to let that love flow through us, flinging our arms open to embrace friend and enemy alike.
If I can turn my back on your suffering because I disagree with what you believe, I haven’t truly learned what it is to be a Christian.
These were, I’m sorry to say, lessons I had to learn the hard way. God sent me on a journey of pain and suffering, experiencing firsthand what it’s like to be on the outside and see the worst oversights of the church. I came through it all with more questions than I had at the start. But one thing shone brightly through it all: God loves me. And God wants me to love others. No exceptions. Not in that “I love you so I have to lecture you” way, and not in that “someday you’ll thank me for telling you this” way, but in the way that requires me to sit down and listen and empathize and care, weeping with those who weep and dancing with those who dance.
I must care not only about heavenly concerns, but about earthly ones as well, because the earth is God’s Creation, and earthly concerns affect God’s People.
And if, when all is said and done, my Christian brothers and sisters think I’ve gone astray, may they have the grace I lacked. May we sit down, have a cup of coffee, and say to one another, “God loves you. I love you. Tell me your story, and I will listen.”
About Justin Lee
Justin Lee is the founder and executive director of The Gay Christian Network (GCN), a nonprofit, interdenominational organization working to increase dialogue between gays and Christians and support people on both sides wrestling with related issues. His book, Torn, is available now.