Children and young adults are bombarded on all sides by forces competing for their attention. Ads in print and in visual media teach them not only to buy, buy, buy---but to buy this product and hate that one. News sites, politicians and even some parents add "noise" to the background of their lives, injecting fears of war, dangerous illnesses, etc.... These build as a theme in what they hear. They learn to "buy" this philosophy, idea or political party while hating the others. At the same time, their hormones and their peers are teaming up via the messages in some of their music and movies to entice them to live sensual lives even before theyâ??re fully aware of what sensuality entails. They're also hearing the adults in their lives talk about "hating the immigrants" or "hating the people who hate the immigrants:,"hating the liberals" or "hating the people who love the liberals.". Even in the church pews, they're hearing church members talk of :shunning gays", and now---incredibly---they're hearing the unbiblical message that there's "no such thing as a gay Christian."
Imagine, then, what Dylan is feeling when he realizes he needs to talk to someone because for some time now he has known he is attracted to members of the same sex. At a time when he most needs unconditional love; when he most needs to be able to ask hard questions and have them answered in loving ways, when he most needs the support of his family, friends and church, it's anyone's guess what message he'll get back. In far too many instances, "coming out" results in angry and hurtful exchanges, or weepy, emotional cries of anguish, and judgment and condemnation. Small wonder, isn't it, that so many of these episodes end in suicide?
This is not the message of Jesus; nor should it be the message of His Church.
Loneliness and isolation are a dangerous combination in the physical side of our lives; and they are also a dangerous combination in the spiritual aspect of life as well. Lonely people often hear an insidious voice in their heads telling them no one cares, while still holding out some hope that someone will come along to break their loneliness. When isolation is added to the equation, most of a personâ??s hope is drained because not only are they lonely, but there's no one around even to accidentally stumble across their pain.
That's why the attacks by some evangelical leaders on people in the LGBTQ community are so hurtful. Not only do these attacks strike at the weakest moments in some of their lives, but they often double the hurtful impact because the ambassadors of Jesus are expected to be loving. When these ambassadors are not loving, or even when they're just intentionally silent when shunning someone, it blindsides the hurting. This is particularly true for people who grew up in the church and are now pariahs in those supposedly safe havens.
So how best do we help the Dylans of the world? First and foremost, we seek to introduce them to Jesus as their loving Savior. Next, we love them unconditionally, the same way Jesus loves them---and us.. No shunning, no separations, no conversion therapies; no being kicked out of the home or the family; Jesus condones none of these acts. Then, when weâ??ve demonstrated our ability to be civil, and even more, to be Christlike, then we sit down with them to answer their questions as candidly as we can. For children who grew up in the church, the number one question is most often "Am I still saved?"; "Does God still love me?"; and "How do I live my life now?"
Here's the flip side: We can't attack the people who are attacking them! That only fuels the rancorous debate that serves no one. Especially for that young person who may be considering hurting themselves, the last thing they want is for them to be the cause of hurt in their parents' or their church's life. Many have tried for years to hide their same-sex attraction in order to avoid hurting or embarrassing their immediate families as much as to avoid hurting themselves. When we as Christians go after the people who are causing them heartache, we're most often going after the people they love the most.
Despite what many on both sides say, there is a middle way forward, and that's what we hope to teach and use to minister to everyone who presently finds themselves marginalized by the body of Jesus and His followers in the pews. It is the way of Jesus: Gentle, loving, free of venom or retaliation; and most of all, sacrificially merciful, the administrator of the only kind of grace that saves. When we lead with the love of Christ---unconditionally---we'll find ourselves being led by Jesus Himself. When we lead with any other purpose, or with any conditions, we soon find Jesus has moved on to minister without us.