Let me ask you a question: What's the difference between a homosexual and a member of the LGBT* community? Reduced to it's simplest of categories, one is the name WE have for THEM and one is the name THEY use for themselves. You can tell me that saying "homosexual" is simply a harmless scientific term, same as "heterosexual", but let's be honest with ourselves, members of the conservative evangelical world don't say "homosexual," many of them say: "HOMO-SEX-YOU-AL!" At least, that's my experience, yours may vary.
Did you know that HOMO-SEX-YOU-ALS have an agenda? Yeah. This group of people who mostly believe that sexual orientation is genetic, are all out to convert our kids and make them gay! (I'll let that sentence sink in for a moment.)
Before I was in vocational ministry, I worked at Starbucks. Starbucks partners come from a great variety of worldview backgrounds. It's a wonderful mosaic. I worked with burned-out pastors, guys training for the pastorate, Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and not a small number of members of the LGBT community. They knew who and what I was, and I knew who and what they were. The few that had the conversation with me knew where I stood and what I believed, and I grew to have a greater understanding of them and their lives as well. Now, we didn't all always agree of course, one person famously told me that I was oppressing my wife because I wanted her to stay home when we had children. Never mind the fact that this was (and is) my wife's desire as well. So, there was much disagreement, but it was always civil, never a firestorm. I think this is because we were all united in a goal. Not a terribly meaningful goal, "make coffee and serve customers", but a goal, and we were in it together. If you've ever worked retail, you know what I mean.
I share that story to say this: Christians need to revisit the language we use when we talk about the "homosexual issue." I don't believe we should use "homosexual" as a noun anymore. Here's why: it's a pejorative, and an insult. That's how many in the evangelical world use the term, and it has to stop.
Here's why: painting with so broad a brush strips away the humanity, individuality, nuance, and Imago Dei of people within the LGBT community. It's one thing to say: "God loves gays." He does, but it's quite another thing to say: "Members of the LGBT community are equal image bearers of God and are worthy of the same dignity, value, and respect as the holiest of Christians." That's something you don't hear very often.
I recently wrote an article, an overview, of Ontario's new health and physical education curriculum. The experience taught me a lot about being painted with a broad brush. I'm a Baptist, and a Biblical conservative (believe it or not) and depending on who you are, dear reader, those two descriptors may have painted a certain picture of how I live and what I believe about morality, politics, ethics, and culture. Aside from the immediate (and unfortunate) connection to those well-known and protest happy "baptists" out in Topeka, Kansas, you may be surprised to learn that among Baptists, even among my own tribe of Baptists, there is a great breadth of diversity of opinion among both clergy and laity. My point is that not all Baptists are alike.
The same can be said of the LGBT community.
There's a misconception going around that all gay people, all lesbians, all the LGBTers have a mysterious agenda. They're all out to convert or corrupt our children, our laws and our society. If that's true of all members of the LGBT community, they're not very effective... I'm certain there are some extremely vocal members of the community with such an agenda, but I've never met any of them. The LGBT people I've met are actually quite pleasant, their agenda consists of desiring to be left alone to live their lives in peace and enjoy the same legal protections we enjoy in our society.
We don't like being painted with the same brush, let's not paint all of them in the same way.
Can I be honest with you for a moment? They aren't the ones with an agenda, we are. To be fair, it's less of an agenda and more of a "commission" but you get my point. Penn Jillette (A notable Atheist and half of "Penn and Teller") has famously said: "If you believe that there is a Heaven or Hell, or that people could be going to Hell, or not get eternal life, and you think it's not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward [...] how much do you have to hate someone not to proselytize?" He's right. We're the ones with the agenda to convert children, adults, and by extension, laws, and society. We call it: "evangelism" we call it our "mission."
Evangelism is a tricky thing for many Christians. Plenty of Christians avoid it for exactly the reasons Mr. Jillette suggests: it's socially awkward. I think when many Christians think of evangelism, they think of this:
That is awkward. Ineffective too. The Gospel is good news, shouldn't we present it in a good way? A loving way? A, dare I say it, friendly way? Everyone's a sinner, but we don't walk around saying: "Hey! Sinner! Accept Jesus or burn in Hell!" (Well, most of us don't.) In our pluralistic neo-tolerant culture people don't even like talking about religion with acquaintances let alone strangers. "Drive-by evangelism" illustrated by that hippo above makes us seem like jerks who are only concerned with "conversions" and not the relationships that lead up to them.
Which brings me back to my point. Christians ought to stop using the term "homosexual" when interacting with the LGBT community. That word carries with it so much historical baggage, I think it sets us back a couple more steps anytime we use it, especially within a context where we are trying to share our faith. Scripture tells us that a gentle answer turns away wrath, might I humbly suggest that a gentle approach also prevents it.
To my Christian brothers and sisters: I know many of you are going to make assumptions about my theology if you haven't by now. Please hear me when I say this: language matters. Language matters to God the Father, and it matters to the people who hear the language we use. Calling someone a "homosexual" while it is technically and perhaps even medically accurate carries additional meaning when we are the ones using the word. Our neighbours in the LGBT community wish to be addressed in a certain way, can't we at least do that? (we ought to do more than that, but baby steps) After all, focusing on any one sin doesn't do anyone any good, and it ignores the sin that really holds much of the LGBT community away from the Gospel: unbelief. Let's deal with unbelief first, see what God does and only after that, move on to morality.
To my LGBT friends and neighbours: First, welcome! I imagine that when you woke up this morning, you didn't expect to find yourself at a Baptist church website today. I am sorry, for the stubborn, and stiff-necked approach some Christians have when interacting with many of you. For some, it may be born of fear, others simple ignorance. I confess that more than anything, I do want you to come to know the Jesus who saved me and who I love and worship, I hope one day you'll permit me, or someone like me, the great honour of telling you about Him. I'd love to hear your thoughts on my suggestion. (In the comments below.)
The Great Commission is not optional for Christians. The only question is are we good at it or bad at it. Please consider this as a humble suggestion in how we might become better at it.
*I'm aware that there are more than this one acronym, but for simplicity and brevity's sake, I use this shorter version.