We were standing outside the church doors, a calm summer evening just beginning as the sun descended and the wind rested. The past few weeks, I’d slowly felt more and more unwelcome in groups of people I counted as my closest friends. And I knew I needed to ask him. “I want to know. Are we still friends?” I expected him to brush the question off, to say, “of course, Levi.” But he didn’t. He didn’t really say anything. Until finally, church-goers exited the doors nearby, and what might have been a conversation was suddenly cut off. And he never got back with me. A close friendship, years in the making, fell apart within the span of weeks.
Over the course of last summer, I was systematically rejected from the conservative evangelical establishment groups that I belonged to at the time. As I came to accept myself more fully as a man intentionally and affectionately created by God, and grew to be quite unapologetically queer, these groups saw fit to push me out, not only as a means of purification, but as a method of church discipline as it were. As this process unfurled, I lost dozens of friends. Many people I had known my whole life. Others, I’d been friends with for the several years I’d been in youth group. These were people I thought would stand in my wedding. People I imagined getting coffee with in our late-twenties, watching our children play together at the park in our mid-thirties . Permanent people. And I lost them. Simply because I stopped believing that God hated my queerness. The moment I stopped believing I was cursed—that being gay was, for me, a disease—was the moment they started treating me like I was contagious.
It was devastating, at first, but simultaneously, one of the most freeing moments of my life. As I fell out of closeness with these friends, fell from the comfort, the intimacy, the inside jokes and late-night bonfire talks—as that fell away, I felt the reassuring Presence of God pull me out of mid-air like a huge blanket, and heard God’s quiet voice comfort me. The worry was gone. The people-pleasing was gone. Suddenly, it was just me and God. It was as if I had run home from school one day, tears in my eyes, feeling rejected by all my friends, to find my mother at home, there to give me a hug and whisper that everything was okay, and I didn’t need those people anyway. Make no mistake, my relationship with God has not become perfect, and I continually manage to add people to the conversation I have with God, when I should be ensuring that only God’s voice is heard. But that single moment of rejection—and the ensuing clarity—was worth every bit of pain that I felt in my gut that summer, and in the year since.
However, dozens of friendships don’t simply end in one clean cutting of ties. I continue to ponder what it means to have a meaningful friendship with someone who does not accept my queerness, such as siblings, extended relatives, friends from my old church, and even my own parents. For the most part, I don’t attempt to keep those friendships at all. Within the span of a few months, my friend group went from 20% to 80% accepting, and that has been largely healthy.
Of the group of people I was close to a little under a year ago, there have been two basic reactions. Either a person doesn’t understand what keeps us from remaining close friends, or the person enthusiastically accepts my resolve as an easy way out of the friendship, because they’ve been uncomfortable with my queerness from the first day they were informed of it. In the case of the latter, I figure I can’t do much to change the prejudice that an individual person holds in their heart. In the case of the former, I’m stuck trying to explain why this conflict is such a big deal, and thus, why queerness is such a defining part of a person. Here are a few key points to keep in mind.
When I say, “I’m gay,” I’m not trying to broadcast that I am sexually attracted to men, though that is the case. I’m trying to communicate that what another person (a majority of people) may feel for the opposite sex, I feel for those of the same sex. This means I exclusively fall in love with men, I only have romantic and sexual desires for men, and I plan on spending the rest of my life with another man and raising a family with him. A person’s orientation towards another gender or genders is more about love and less about sex. When we tell someone, “I can still be friends with you, I just don’t want to hear about your sexual orientation,” we’re not specifying that we would rather not have discussions regarding their sex life. We’re telling them that in all matters of love and family, we’d rather not express any concern or interest for their personal lives. In my opinion, this is neither loving nor is it Christlike. Don’t expect a queer person to remain friends with you if you make them feel awkward every time they bring up dating someone, or share exciting news about engagement, marriage, or adoption. In a friendship like this, the person who claims to be a more mature Christian is the one requiring grace, and this casts a bad light on the message of Christ, whether the LGBTQ person in question is a Christian or not.
Julie Rodgers addressed this concept on Twitter.
“A question I hear from Christians all the time is: ‘Can I love LGBTQ people without being fully affirming?’ …You might be asking the wrong question. When we love someone, the main questions we ask are not about our feelings about them or our beliefs about their situation. When we love someone, especially someone whose experience differs significantly from ours, we do a whole lot of listening. We think about their overall health and well-being. We empathize. We try to imagine the questions and fears they’ve had to carry, the loneliness of it all. We might even try to imagine what futures are available to them––real futures in this here physical world. Who will they list as their emergency contact for the next few decades? Who will they vacation with? Will they ever be touched for longer than the 1-2-3 pat hug? If you love LGBTQ people, might I suggest questions like: How can I support you as you heal from the suffering you’ve endured in the church? How can I show up for you in tangible ways? You could ask what’s encouraged them in their faith and then engage that material yourself. Love draws us outside of ourselves and moves us to think of other people first. If we keep returning to questions that are about our beliefs or our experience of them, we might ask whether we truly love them or if we’re just trying to manage our anxiety about them.”
If you’re straight, you don’t think queerness is the bee’s knees, and you’re wondering if it’s possible to remain close friends with a queer person/queer people in your life, consider these things. Pray about it. Think through the old phrase, “What would Jesus do?” Would Jesus stop listening to them because they’re queer? Would Jesus stop empathizing with them? Would Jesus stop going to coffee shops with them, going on bike rides with them, having late-night conversations about theology with them? Would Jesus let someone go without so much as one last conversation, just because they were too comfortable with their queerness?
If you believe the answer is yes, I can’t help you. All I can say is, it’s your loss. To reject your queer and/or trans family members and acquaintances is to reject the image of God.
Everyone has differing beliefs about this issue; it’s not simple for anyone. Whether you remain non-affirming for the rest of your life, or come to an affirming stance through prayer and study, my hope is that in all relationships, you will seek to practice the greatest commandment, treating others with love, and letting the rest follow.