I’m still thinking about the Orlando tragedy. I have no friends, who are gay, with which to chat with through this situation. Well, there is one. Her name is Linda and we’ve known each other for over 30 years. In fact, I didn’t know she was gay until Facebook appeared… Oh technology. We’ve chatted on and off through the years and I’ve asked her to help me understand stuff about the LGBT community and working with gay teens.
A fond memory I have of Linda, among many, is that she gave my wife and I a grill as a wedding gift. I had to put it together. I’ll never forgive her for that 🙂 I decided it was time to reach out to her and ask her to help this straight, white, Pentecostal guy get a different perspective on ministering to the LGBT community doing times of tragedy and times of peace.
Let me be clear, my thoughts do not obviously represent all believers or The Church, or my church. My opinions are mine. Linda does not represent the entire LGBT community or her church. Her opinions are her own.
So, let’s begin.
Paul: What went through your head at the news of the Orlando tragedy?
Linda: To be honest, my first thought was “another unnecessary shooting”. My first through was not about the LGBT community. Why you may ask? Because I see my LGBT community as part of the human race, like white guys (lol). Just like I don’t see race, when I’m interacting with someone that is different from me. I viewed this tragedy through the lenses of innocent people dying. Now my subsequent thoughts were for the 49 people who died and some of them being LGBT. My heart broke for the families who not only found out they lost a loved one, but also heard for the first time that they were gay.
Paul: I’ve read stories about ignorant preachers who used this an opportunity to be hateful. In fact, I was so aggravated at one preacher I prayed, out loud and in front of the youth group, that someone would punch him in the head and become a human being again. Did you hear any feedback from the Christian community, outside of your own church, and was it positive or negative? What was that like for you?
Linda: Yes, I heard the YouTube and Facebook videos that were posted. “Pastors” saying things like: “The good news is that 49 heathens are dead. The bad news is that more did not die.” “All gays are perverts and pedophiles.” “The reason this happened is because God is punishing the homosexuals.” This enraged me. Not because I am a lesbian, but because no one should be bullied and ridiculed in this way … especially in the name of God. My Lord was blasphemed this day. So as a Christian I was hurt and disappointed in these so called men of faith.
Paul: What should “well meaning” believers do when tragedies like this, and far less, affect the LGBT community near us?
Linda: There is a difference between tolerance and acceptance. Tolerance is believers living: “you are all sinners but you can still be part of my community and I’ll pray for you”. Acceptance is believers living: “I’m different than you, might not even understand you, but can treat you as an equal”. There is no hard line between tolerance and acceptance .. you have to visualize it on a continuum with absolutes at either ends of the continuum.
So, approaching a situation like this with a heart that moves the needle closer to acceptance is what the community needs.
Paul: Years ago I reached out to the local PFLAG, before I understood the sensitivity of what PFLAG was and does, to see how I could help. I wanted to understand. I get their mission now, but back then I was such a newb. I probably looked like an idiot. I looked at it as an opportunity to help but I think they thought I was a spy, one of those ‘well meaning” people.
In my experience, theology has been the main issue behind dividing the LGBT community and the church; I get that, but if youth workers and the LGBT community do not agree 100% with each other on scripture, or identify as advocates, how can we find common ground or do youth workers have to identify as advocates before they can be considered helpful?
Linda: My assumption would be that because of where you are located geographically, you might have received resistance. That would not have been the case in many other states. My suggestion would be for you to try again with the visual of tolerance and acceptance. You don’t have to be fully on the acceptance/embrace (or advocate to use your word); just make an effort to move towards acceptance.
I do agree that there needs to be a dialogue so that both sides gain more understanding. I’m not sure I agree that there is a “deep divide” when it comes to the theological difference (I feel a Part II for this discussion in our future).
Paul: Last question. I have to be honest; I’ve had only one gay teen in my youth group (to my knowledge), in over 25 year. The one I had came out after I left. But, even if I had had gay teens in my youth group, I have no idea how I would have minister to them. What advice would you give me, and other youth pastors, who want to minister to kids who identify as gay in the groups, but are ill-equipped to deal with the politics, church structure, and the discomfort of having a gay teen in their youth group?
Linda: I can guarantee you (beyond a shadow of doubt) you have had more than one gay teen in your youth group. This is the challenge with the church of today; gays, addicts, people not in the mainstream cannot bring “their whole selves” to church. They can only bring part of themselves … the rest stays in hiding. That is why I can guarantee that you have either had gay members who didn’t feel comfortable being out or because of the church, their family, and/or their geography didn’t have an environment that allowed them to figure themselves out. As a leader, you have to figure this out first for yourself and then you can build a culture that leans more towards acceptance within your youth group and then your church and then your broader community. It’s a lot of pressure to put on you as a Pastor … that’s my take. How do you do that?
Get involved with the LGBT group at the local high schools; go back to PFLAG; find other people in your town that are gay adults raising children …. broaden your circle so that you can gain more of an understanding.
PS: Thanks for the “friends for over 30 years” … now I really feel old. And about the grill … didn’t know any better back then. I purchase all of my grills assembled and delivered. Maybe I learned that from you! 🙂
I want to thank Linda for her insight. These were the questions I was asking in light of a specific tragedy, but I hear about tragedies all the time. Gay and straight kids killing themselves because they were bullied, etc.. I cannot afford to be afraid or ignorant when it comes to ministering to different kinds of people. Life and death are real things. I want to minister to all kinds of people in need and I cannot let geography or theology keep me from it.