Affirming the Acceptance Problem
An article I wrote three years ago has created a lot of conversation over the past few days in response to the Supreme Court decision concerning same-sex marriage. It has been really encouraging to see people who are willing to approach the conversation with humility and a posture of learning from the stories of other people and how they have felt in the church as part of the LGBT community. It has also been discouraging at times to see people on both sides who don’t seem to even be listening but just waiting to drop their truth grenade on other human beings. To be clear, regardless of the position you might take; these are not just issues, these are people, created in the image of God with infinite dignity, value and worth because of their creator.
To be clear, regardless of the position you might take; these are not just issues, these are people, created in the image of God with infinite dignity, value and worth because of their creator.
One of the unique challenges that this conversation has surfaced more clearly in my mind over the last few days is the difference between acceptance and affirming. Because many view their sexuality as the most fundamental part of their identity when they feel rejection it creates profound shame and hopelessness. I think that as Christians we must accept people where they are, even if that is in a same-sex relationship or family. I know that this kind of thinking is difficult and creates a huge mess for the church but in the most effective times throughout church history we have run to the messes not away from them. We have people in our life that we can see obvious character issues or things we don’t think are wise but we still have relationship with them and accept them. Sometimes it’s because we don’t understand where they are coming from and sometimes it’s because they aren’t ready to take the necessary next step in their life but we don’t make our relationship with them conditional on their behavior conforming to our expectations.
The challenge comes in when we add the definition of affirming to the concept of accepting. Just because we accept people where they are doesn’t mean we affirm or endorse it. We do this all over the place in our lives and have decided because of the manipulation of definitions that this is not one of those things that we can do this with.
I love people who are living in heterosexual relationships but making choices with their sexuality that are contrary to the will of God for their life. Many of them don’t know Jesus and I’m not expecting them to live like they do but I’m also not affirming the conduct that God says will cause damage and not bring Him glory (our primary purpose). For some reason we don’t have the same kind of patience or understanding to take members of the LGBT community as they are and let God change and shape them (just like He does for all the sin in our lives). We can be clear about what the Bible says which includes loving people right where they are and trusting Jesus to change hearts.
I think this distinction is going to be really important to begin verbalizing in conversations with people on issues you disagree with them on. Even as parents I think we need to be more careful to tell our kids that we love them on the basis of who they are, never because of what they do and nothing can change that love. I believe this attitude reflects the heart of God and still allows us to share hard things within the context of acceptance.
Growing up I heard a phrase a lot, ‘Jesus loves you right where you are but He loves you way too much to let you stay there.’ Maybe we disagree on this specific issue, and that’s totally ok, but I hope we can all put the task of transformation at the feet of Jesus and trust Him to do it as we get to know people in the LGBT community and model acceptance and love like Jesus. Let’s take the walls down, put the grenades away and love people well and trust Jesus to show us the path to greater acceptance without believing the lie that to do so means affirming conduct or behavior that God’s Word doesn’t.