This article is part two of a two-part series on the song “To Die For” by Sam Smith. We recommend that you read “To Die For, Pt. 1” before reading this article.
Sam Smith, the artist behind the song “To Die For,” identifies as gender non-binary and gay. “To Die For” addresses the human need for intimacy and desire for romantic love, which raises this question: how is Christianity the answer for someone who is same-sex attracted, if following Christ would mean their deep desire for romantic intimacy would have to go unfulfilled? And what about Christians who are same-sex attracted who now feel that their prospects for romantic love are erased?
What do we do as Christians? Not “what do we do?” with LGBTQ+ political agendas, but with LGBTQ+ broken hearts? To help us think through this difficult question, we will draw on the thoughts of several Christian speakers, authors, and pastors who have a passion to love our LGBTQ+ neighbors and help us to do the same.
Do We Understand Their Struggle?
When faced with another person’s pain or problem, our first instinct is often to try to identify with the person’s struggle and do our best to “fix” the person’s problem. However, if we cannot identify with their struggles, it is not helpful to fake it. Although our attempts may come from a good-hearted desire to help someone who is hurting, it is often not helpful to act as if we understand a person more than we do. Oftentimes, the best thing we can do is listen. Unless we have struggled in a very similar way, we don’t understand the difficulty that is facing those who struggle with their sexual identity. Caleb Kaltenbach, a pastor who teaches widely on sexuality, says, “Some Christians try to ‘relate’ and often compare same-sex attraction to other sins like murder, theft, etc.” but “[this is] the wrong thing to do.” Instead, he suggests that we,
Treat people like actual people. Embrace the tension by developing friendships over meals, coffee, and more. Engage in conversations. Try to understand who they are as a person (experiences, hopes, dreams, fears, etc.). Don’t seek to “fix” anyone, but point [them] to Christ. Here’s a hard truth I came to learn over the years: It’s never been my job to change someone’s sexual attraction.1
Although a person’s identity is so much more than their sexuality, identity is at the core of the struggle of same-sex attraction. Christopher Yuan, a Christian speaker and author who focuses on “holy sexuality” in his teaching, in describing his own struggle between choosing his sexual identity and choosing to follow Christ, said, “[my sexuality] wasn’t just a behavior pattern—it was who I was.” While it might be difficult to grasp the enormity of identifying your entire being with just one part of yourself (even a deep, inherent part of yourself), many people indeed identify themselves almost totally with their sexuality. When sexuality is the core of someone’s identity and then that identity is questioned or called immoral, it is shocking and painful. Since many of us have never felt our identity endangered in that way, we mustn’t assume to understand the struggle.
However, we also must realize that we do understand the struggle in one sense. Even for a person whose identity is totally wrapped up in their sexuality, the struggle is not just about sexuality. It is about the God-given desire to form meaningful relationships with others, and that is something we can all relate to. We all have the desire to have intimate, reciprocal relationships with people who would die for us and whom we would die for. The issue of identity cannot be reduced to sexuality; it is about what every person needs in the deepest parts of their soul. Similarly, as all sin makes us equally guilty before God (James 2:10), someone who is same-sex attracted is not a worse sinner than anyone else, and they do not receive less grace than anyone else.
The Importance of Friendship
The first step in caring for an LGBTQ+ person is to extend friendship to them as we would to any other person. We must remember that a romantic relationship is not the only place we can find intimate connection with other people. Pastor Sam Alberry states,
Both [same-sex attracted and opposite-sex attracted singles] will need to work to cultivate friendships. One mistake we sometimes make in pastoral ministry is to assume that those who are likely long-term single will need to work hard at establishing friendships but that those who are married do not. The longer I’m in pastoral ministry, the more I see the damage done by not investing in rich friendships, for both marrieds and singles alike.2
Friendship is good for the soul. From Jonathan and David to Jesus and John, the Bible testifies to the goodness of friendship (1 Samuel 18:3, John 13:23). These friendships, although different from romantic relationships, are built upon the same self-giving love for another person. Much of the pain of living a life without romantic love can be stemmed with the delight of good and true friendships. However, as good and as necessary as deep, intimate friendships are, they cannot replace the human desire for romantic love.
The Importance of Bearing Witness
The fact remains that for many same-sex attracted Christ-followers, the pain of living without fulfilling their desire for romantic love and intimacy will last throughout their lives. As Alberry puts it, “Tragically, we live in a cultural moment in the West where we have funneled all our thinking about intimacy into one expression of it—the romantic or sexual relationship. This is now virtually the only place where people believe they can find and express intimacy.”3 This false belief—that sexual intimacy is the only place we can find intimacy—leads many to feel like a life without sexual fulfillment is not really worth living. But this is not the case. If Christianity is true, there is an even greater desire more worthy of fulfillment than sexual intimacy: intimacy with Christ. Christopher Yuan gives this advice to those struggling to bring their sexuality and Christianity to terms with one another: “Fixate on pursuing God, not on ‘fixing’ your sexuality. Strive for holy sexuality, not heterosexuality.”4 Those who are Christ-followers and same-sex attracted may have a heavy cross to bear that those who are not same-sex attracted do not have to carry (Matthew 16:24-26). That does not mean there is nothing we can do to help them. We can “fulfill the law of Christ” by helping to bear their burdens (Galatians 6:2) by bearing witness to their pain and struggle.
Although we have hope for fulfillment in Christ, that does not erase the reality of current grief or pain. Instead of attempting to sweep suffering under the rug by immediately and only focusing on God’s promises of redemption when faced with suffering, we can attest to both the reality of grief and the goodness of God by bearing witness to one another’s suffering. To bear witness is to say to another person, “I see you, and I see your suffering.” Writer Rosaria Butterfield gives an example of bearing witness with these words:
The [indiviual] with same-sex attraction may feel an oppressive, chronic loneliness… It’s vital when standing with a Christian in her grief—whether we feel that grief to be well-earned or not—to try to see things from her point of view. It does very little good to say, “Your broken leg is just like Bob’s!”5
Butterfield makes the point that, especially when we do not understand another person’s pain, we often do not legitimize that pain. But as Butterfield points out with the sentence, “your broken leg is just like Bob’s!” pain does not have to be unique to be real. Standing with another person in their grief, even if it is grief we do not understand, is a vital way to bear each other’s burdens. Regardless of whether a person is a Christian or not, one of the greatest ways we can show love to them is by acknowledging their pain. Just as “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18) we are called to be near to the brokenhearted and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15), sharing in their pain instead of averting our gaze from it. Esther Fleece, author of No More Faking Fine, calls this the “ministry of presence.” She asserts, “sitting and listening is not doing nothing. In fact, it can be the most helpful thing.” And of course, bearing witness is something best done within friendship.
However much we may try, we cannot take away the suffering a same-sex attracted person might experience from their lack of romantic love. We cannot fix the situation. We are not in control. What we can do is bear witness to that person’s struggle or grief, and seek out friendships with people struggling with sexual identity. It is our privilege to love such persons. To love them means to bear witness to their hurt and to acknowledge their pain and their desire to give and receive love. To love them also means to bear witness to the truth. And that truth is that, despite what might be a grief lasting for a lifetime for Christians who are same-sex attracted and are not able to fulfill their desire for romantic love, we share the same hope that our deepest desires will one day be wholly fulfilled in Christ.
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