The Empathy I Have For Gay People (And Questions I Have For God)
By David Metcalfe
August 7, 2019
The Politics of Identity
Being that I’m a straight, white male, it’s hard for me to understand and appreciate what other people go through. It’s very easy for someone like me to say, “identity politics is stupid; let’s just treat everyone the same!”. Obviously, saying that is disregarding the fundamental societal values, norms and laws that have promoted a certain kind of person, and punished other kinds of people, and how those systemic legacies continue to haunt us today.
I try to imagine what it might have been like to be a black man in the 1950s. You get on a bus, walk past the white people, and sit in the back. They wouldn’t have to say it out loud, but you’d hear loud and clear, “you’re not good enough to sit with us!”. You go to school, “you’re not good enough to get our education!”. You go to a restaurant, “you’re not good enough to eat with us!”. You see the nation’s politicians, CEOs, high class professionals (all white men)- “you’re not good enough to have what we have!”.
Can you imagine how that would affect your self-esteem? How it would define you as a person in an insurmountable and inescapable way? How you would be forced to think of white men as the standard to which to attain, but that you were cursed with an inability to ever be one?
I can’t help but see that in the LGBT community as well. Imagine, as a teenager, realizing you are attracted to the same gender. Imagine that the only time you’ve heard the word “gay” was as an insult, and whenever you heard about two people of the same gender having a relationship, they were referred to as “faggots”, as “disgusting”, or as an “abomination”.
And I wonder, like black men in the 50s, those same questions: self-esteem, how you define yourself, how you realize that who you are isn’t good enough and there’s nothing you can do to change it.
I’m saddened and disturbed to posit what the answer to those questions has been for so many people. I’ll never really know the answer in a personal way, but I think it’s important for me to posit, nonetheless. I think your self-esteem would be terrible. I think you would define yourself as sub-human. I think you would feel trapped in your “cursed” identity.
But Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and Wilt Chamberlain were phenomenal athletes. Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson, and John Lewis were intelligent, educated, and eloquent. James Brown, Ray Charles, and Jimi Hendrix were music icons with incredible, never-before-seen talent. These were black men who changed what it meant to identify as black. Society told black men, “be submissive, try to act as ‘white’ as you can, you’ll never be as good as us.” But these guys were confident in themselves. They defiantly said, “I’m black, I’m proud of who I am, and I’m going to live my best life.”
As a young black man in the 50s, when you see those kinds of black men breaking cultural barriers and embracing themselves and their identity with huge success, how does that start to change the answers to those three questions? Chances are, your self-esteem, your self-concept, your identity, suddenly, are improved. Those black men who broke cultural barriers did more than create success for themselves- they ushered in fundamental and generational change to the lives of millions of black people in America.
And suddenly, we can see how Harvey Milk, Pete Buttigieg, Ellen Degeneres, Michael Sam, Glenn Greenwald, etc., might start to change how gay people answer those three questions. Maybe being gay doesn’t make you a worthless “faggot” or a hideous “abomination”. Maybe being gay, just like being black, means that although you are superficially different than others, you are fundamentally the same, and certainly no less valuable, and in your difference, you have a unique identity that you can be proud of. You can confidently say, “I’m gay, I’m proud of who I am, and I’m going to live my best life.”
Does God Hate Fags?
But some people will tell you, “that self-esteem and positive identity crap is just humanism. In Christianity, we serve God, not ourselves. And the fact is, God hates gay people.”
The first idea here is that humanism is somehow incompatible with Christianity. I don’t see that as the case at all. God creates humans special from all other creatures. It’s humans alone whom He gives agency, dominion, and the opportunity for relationship with Him. When God speaks to Abraham, he has chosen people. When Jesus dies on the cross, he does so for mankind. The God of Christianity is all about humans! They seem incredibly important to Him!
But more so, we’re told that God seeks for the good of all people; that He desires for people to have joy and feel loved by Himself and others. In fact, the two greatest commandments (love God and love others) are not just orders, they’re gifts, because when everyone in a community follows it, everyone feels, and benefits from, that love.
That is to say, I can’t see how the kind of God described in the Bible would be one who embodies or encourages hatred toward people.
So when people say “God hates fags”, I can’t imagine them getting that from the God of the Bible. It does, however, seem to be a consistent flaw within humans, throughout all of history, to hate people who are different than us. People used to say, in the days of slavery in the US, that “God made black people to serve white people”. Once again, I don’t see the God of the Bible ever having that view, and so I think it is just people indulging their stupidest and worst efforts at self-aggrandizement.
I don’t think believing that you are valuable for who you are is ever contradictory to Christianity. In fact, I think Christianity offers a special kind of value that secular humanism, on its own, cannot give. More than your racial identity, your sexual identity, or any other secular identity, is a spiritual identity, that transcends all of them, to the very core of who you are. That identity is defined by being created in the image of God. Being created in the image of God is, apparently, so important that God sent his Son to die for everyone in the world (every race, every gender, every sexual orientation, etc.).
So, what is a white person, a black person, a straight person, a gay person, etc.? In Christianity, it’s someone who God loves, and who all people, in turn, should learn to love in the same way.
Does God Have Moral Standards?
I suppose it might be nice to say, “God loves everyone, so you can do whatever you want and it’s all good.” Well, if God’s love permitted people to be evil to one another, I wouldn’t call that very loving for the people who suffer under that evil, or even the perpetrator who is corrupted by it. A good parent loves their child regardless of whether they act good or bad, but a good parent does not reward their child regardless of whether they act good or bad. In the same way that a good parent seeks to establish justice through rules and reward/punishment, so too does God.
The big difference, when considering the moral implications of race and sexuality, is that race has zero moral rules about it. You have slightly darker or lighter skin? You come from a certain country? In terms of morality, it has no relevance.
Sexuality, on the other hand, has lots of moral rules. You want to have sex with someone against their will? Nope, not allowed. You want to have an affair with your secretary on the weekends? Nope, not allowed. You want to look at pornography? Nope, not allowed. On and on, there are lots of rules.
We talk about our culture as if we’re so liberal about sexuality, but that’s not all that true. Secular culture also has lots of rules about sexuality. The MeToo movement, campaigns against sex-trafficking, child pornography laws, the criminalization of student-teacher sex, etc. are all very solid concepts in secular American culture, simply because everyone recognizes that sexuality cannot be permitted in every way in every context.
The Bible has a certain conception of what sexuality is supposed to be. God creates Adam and Eve so that they may have relationship with Him, and relationship with one another. Their relationship with God is, of course, completely spiritual. But their relationship with each other has a physical component, i.e. sex. That sex results in children, with whom they have loving relationship with in a specific parent-child context (lots of scripture defining that as well, btw).
Already, we can start to see what sexuality in Christianity is really about: relationship. Holy conduct in relationship with God, physical and emotional connection with your spouse, and care for your children.
Can You Be Gay and Christian?
Well, sure, in a subjective sense, anyone can identify as Christian. But the real question is: is practicing homosexuality consistent with the sexual morality presented in the Bible?
The Bible really seems to only ever present sex within a heterosexual marriage relationship as a good thing. There are many passages throughout the Old and New Testament that explicitly define the only kind of acceptable sex, and several that specifically seem to condemn homosexual activity.
But what if someone identifies as gay and genuinely believes in Jesus and accepts his grace?
Well, I see three options for people in that situation: re-interpret the Bible more liberally through textual criticism and such, live gay and know that you are sinning in that one capacity but do your best in others, or stop practicing homosexuality altogether.
I don’t have a specific, objective answer for that, but I would just like to discuss the third option for a moment, because it is where the heart of this article comes from.
In my personal life, I’ve had trouble dating, and I’m single most of the time. It kind of sucks; I really wish I had a girlfriend. And sometimes I find a girl I like and she rejects me, and I feel bad as a result. But I do get to date girls and develop crushes on them, and sometimes I get to hug a girl or hold hands or stay up late talking about life, or whatever things, you know, that fill that need I have for emotional and physical connection with a young woman. And all of these things are considered very morally acceptable. I can easily go tell any pastor, “I met a really pretty girl yesterday, and I’m thinking of asking her out on a date.”, and the pastor will respond, “oh awesome! I hope it goes well!”. And eventually, I will get to be married and have sex with a woman; I just have to be patient.
But imagine if I was told that all of these things: developing a crush on a girl, noticing a girl is pretty, holding a girl’s hand, asking a girl to go for dinner with me, wanting to someday have a wife, etc. are all morally wrong. Suddenly, that irresistible and powerful desire for intimacy with a young woman is replaced by restraint and shame. Instead of laughing at a joke with a young lady and thinking, “she’s cute and fun to be around”, I’m thinking “oh no, I’m having bad thoughts, I need to stop thinking this way.” Instead of dreaming about having a spouse and children someday, I’m shunning those thoughts and planning for my very lonely reality.
This is, essentially, what it would be like for a gay person who chooses to completely stop practicing homosexuality. It would be incredibly difficult. I don’t know if I would be up to the task, but I certainly respect people who feel convicted to reject homosexuality and follow through on that conviction.
But if someone felt a strong connection to Jesus Christ, and felt like they could not reject their homosexuality, I don’t think I would be inclined to condemn them for it, because I, in that same situation, do not know what I would do. I guess that is to say, I try my best to empathize before judging (often times, after empathizing, you realize you are no longer able to judge anyway). I think God does call us to a high standard, but I think He recognizes where we’re at, and wants us to develop as much as we can into who we are supposed to be.
Concluding My Questions For God
Things that I am fairly sure of are as follows:
-Gay people, just like black people, have been terribly mistreated both historically and in the present day, and it is horribly unjust. Hatred and discrimination has damaged individuals, communities, and society as a whole. Social justice is found in working to remedy this situation through increased social and political equality.
-God desires for people to know their value as people, and desires for individuals to not only find their cultural or personal value, but their much deeper and more fundamental spiritual value, that is not defined by their culture, or even themselves, but by a God who loves them.
-God has moral standards, and His standards around sexuality seem to be promoting heterosexual marriage relationship.
This leaves me with some questions for God, that I hope He will help me answer someday:
-Why did you use such harsh language in the Bible when describing homosexuals? Didn’t you realize that lack of subtly would result in people using it to justify their own hatred?
-How could you make people gay, and then tell them not to be? You gave them such a terrible disadvantage compared to straight people. In a way, aren’t you significantly responsible for the very social inequality we are now having to fix?
-What do you expect from a gay person? You want them to try and fake it with an opposite gender partner? You want them to stay single forever? You would give us this wonderful gift of romantic love, the greatest form of human to human relationship, and only give some people the ability to experience it?
But, whatever the answers to those questions may be, I would hope that Christians would always seek empathy before judgement, and, although it’s hard to really understand what others are going through, do our best to understand the struggles they face, and what we can do to help them in a Christ-like way.