Guilty By Association: Why Christians Stay in the Gay Closet?

According to the Bible, “they” will know we are Christians by our love.

According to research conducted by The Barna Group, however, most “outsiders” under 30 know we are Christians not by our love, but by our politics, judgmental language, and anti-homosexuality.


I spend a lot of time thinking about how to help LGBT folks understand that their sexuality doesn’t separate them from God.  I get frustrated when I hear stories about Christians who somehow think that using hateful, judgmental, hell-centered language effectively communicates the grace of God.

Unfortunately, too many trusted pastors, authors, speakers, and politicians preach that in order to be for Christ you must be against [fill in the blank].  You obviously know that this blank is often filled not only with issues (abortion, homosexuality, etc.), but also with the people these issues represent… homosexuals, pro-choicers, democrats, liberals, etc.  I think it’s safe to say that many of the folks reading this blog have experienced the hurt that comes from being shoved into the “against” column.

I could rant endlessly about how un-Biblical it is to imply that Christianity requires its followers to be against people.  The New Testament paints Jesus as decidedly PRO-people.  The only groups he ever came close to being against were judgmental religious insiders.  Regardless…

What if there’s another side to this story? 

I’m currently reading “unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity… And Why It Matters.”  In it, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons explain what they learned from interviews with 867 people about their perceptions of Christianity. In the chapter dealing with non-Christian folks’ perception that Christianity is anti-homosexual, they say:

… a young Christian friend we interviewed said she has to be discreet about her attempts to minister to some gay people she has met at work.  ‘If my church friends hear me talk sympathetically about gays, they get bent out of shape about it…’

I’ve been chewing on this idea for several weeks.  I hadn’t really considered the frustration, confusion, and grief of conservative Christians who are led to believe that in order to fully love Jesus, they must disapprove of their gay friends, coworkers, children, uncles, and sisters.  I know how hard it is for a Christian homosexual to come out as gay… but in my self-pity/absorption, I hadn’t really considered how difficult it must be for a conservative “straight” Christian to “come out” as one of our allies.  By showing their loyalty, understanding, and support for a gay friend/family member, many straight Christians apparently have their faith questioned… just as we do when we “come out.”

I’m surprised that I’m surprised. When my friend (and former pastor) Joe contributed this blog entry a few weeks ago, he emailed me to say:

So I posted this link on my facebook page. I’m guessing that more than 90% of my fb friends are conservative and will really react to this. Most don’t know that I stand where I stand, so it should be interesting. It’s time I say what I believe and stand by it…

His Facebook post said, “many of you will un-friend me. many of you will chastise me. many of you will mock me. however, it’s time i come out of the closet.”

I don’t know whether Joe lost friends because of the blog post… but his awareness of the potential fallout speaks volumes.  I guess “coming out” has consequences for everyone.

What do you think?  Does a fear of becoming “guilty by association” discourage our Christian parents, friends, and fellow believers from doing the homework necessary to understand how God and gay can fit together?

PS.  If you’d like to read reflections by a few of our straight allies about why they support our community, check out The Allies Project – a new initiative that tells the stories of the straight folks who have made our journey a little easier!



Filed under Bible, Church, Conversation, Encouragement, Ministers, Partners, Research, Stories, Supporters & Allies

10 responses to “Guilty By Association: Why Christians Stay in the Gay Closet?

  1. I think that it does. I have several adult siblings that at one point were supportive of me as a gay Christian – supportive in secret. Once everything became public, I’ve seen or heard nothing from them on the issue. Of course, it could be that they really weren’t all that supportive to begin with, but I tend to think that they’re afraid of becoming targets within our conservative Christian community.

    And the more I think on it, the more I see echoes and suggestions of this behavior in many, many friendships throughout the years.

    It kind of reminds me of one of those movies, where at the end as the repressive regime is overthrown, the exhausted freedom fighters, alone for so long in their struggle, suddenly find themselves surrounded by a sea of people emboldened at last to bring down corrupt system.

    And that’s really very encouraging.

  2. interesting post.

    I’m always surprised by gays and lesbians who are religious, any religion.

    Not because religion is more often than not anti-gay, but because I expect that people who’ve done some thinking and living and realized that they are not the way they were told the world worked – we’re gay, not straight.

    So why retain any of the rest of religion or that mindset?

    Maybe it’s because I knew I was an atheist at 12 and didn’t figure out I was a lesbian until I was 23.

    • Bryan

      Mohandas Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

      I am able to retain my faith because I see that people who follow God do not necessarily speak for God. They are flawed, opinionated, and searching… as am I. They make mistakes… as do I. They often lash out at what frightens them or at what they do not understand… as do I. They neglect the see the beauty in all of creation… as do I. They doubt and are afraid… as am I. They are also beautiful and made in the image of God… as am I.

      In short, I follow Christ, not other Christians. I am able to retain my faith because I trust that I am loved by my God even when I am not loved by his followers.

      My sexuality and spirituality are both deep, intrinsic parts of me. I will not let a spiritual community suppress my sexuality. I also, however, will not let a sexual community suppress my spirituality.

      • very well said

        I never had a bad experience with church, I have rather fond memories of the choir and some people. I just didn’t think it made any sense.

        But given how many gay people I’ve known who have, and how hateful some religious leaders are – in Canada, the Anglican Church is actually dividing and suing each other over primarily gay marriage.

        The few with the asset control want to be inclusive and the majority don’t, but they were told in court, if they leave the church, they leave the assets. So there’s this stalemate.

    • Hi! I wanted to leave a comment but before that I wanted to make sure that I stress that the language I use is not at all meant to demean or offend you. I don’t want to do that at all, and since I don’t know you, I don’t know what terms or phrases might be interpreted that way… hence this disclaimer.

      I think that you have an extremely valid point. I have known many, many Christians who are such not because of any soul-searching experience in which they come to find that Jesus’ message resonates with all that they have come to believe is truth, but rather because they’ve been taught that Christianity is truth or, more cynically, because Christianity offers them a trump card. This is the “we have to be right because God is on our side” argument. For these sorts, I’m always surprised when they identify as GLTB and retain their Christian identity.

      But for me, and for many others I know, Jesus and the message he brought is truth, ultimate truth. And not because it makes me feel better or anything like that, but because it was the end result of a many-year struggle and search. There are many aspects of the Christian gospel that I struggle with and don’t always like, but I believe that living that way is a better way to live than any other I have known. Even if it turns out in the end to be nothing.

      So, in a nutshell, my plea to you is this: please don’t disregard GLBT Christians, or Christians in general, as fools putting their trust and faith in a foolish idea. I encounter that every day when I live among Christians who disregard me because of the faith I have in a God who created me as a gay man. Please at least entertain the thought that we have intelligently searched and studied for truth, and that we remain Christians because we feel that the truth that found us resonates strongly with Jesus’ messages of love.

      Again, I absolutely do not mean any of this to come across as righteous, arrogant, or mean-spirited. Only as a loving plea for people of opposing beliefs to come and reason together, so that we may find a way to live in the same world with peace and goodwill for one another in our hearts.

      • To be honest, if I met more who had your complexity of nuanced thought and the obvious degree of sincere honesty you demonstrate

        I would not likely have ever thought believers to be willfully ignorant.

        I apologize for the bluntness, please know that I also am not seeking to offend, it’s just that, my particular circumstances are such that I have difficulty with social norms and emotions owing to a trauma event.

        But, the ones that I have encountered are the same as the ones who wouldn’t recognize a gay person as possible to be christian.

        Honestly, I think that the only way to really make a difference in America may well to be gay and christian and out about it.

  3. I would be interested to know if your friend, in fact, lost lots of Facebook friends for being pro LGBT rights. My theory is that the fear of potential loss is actually greater than the actual repercussions usually are.

    • Oh, well done! Thank you for renewed perspective. I really hope that you’re right. It reminds me so very much of a cold spring night on a bench on my college campus, talking to my mother and father on the phone for hours and telling them that I was gay. For years, I’d built up the response in my head and fully expected the end of the world. When instead my parents reaffirmed that they loved me, even though they didn’t approve, and couldn’t wait for spring break so they could see me and talk to me in person, I sat bewildered, trying to figure out what had just happened. I expected greater repercussions than I experienced.

      Thanks, Laura, for that!

  4. Random Ntrygg, thank you for that last reply. Your words were excellently chosen; they really touched something real in me. Thank you.

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