Glenn Stanton on loving your LGBT neighbor
In relationships with gay friends and loved ones, remember ‘people have the right to do wrong things’
Glenn Stanton is the director of global family formation studies at Focus on the Family and a research fellow at the Institute of Marriage and Family in Ottawa, Canada. But what brought Stanton to national and international attention were the debates he had with homosexual activists on college campuses. Out of that experience, he became not just a rival, but friends with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activists. His 2014 book, Loving My LGBT Neighbor, recounts some of those friendships, and explains how Christians can reach out to their LGBT neighbors in love, while, at the same time, holding up the truth of what the Bible says about homosexuality.
The Bible says love your neighbors. So if we’re going to be obedient to Scripture, we’ve got to love our neighbor, right? Yep. We don’t get off the hook on that one.
What does it mean to love your LGBT neighbor, while at the same time, upholding the truth of the gospel with integrity? We have really lived between two worlds. One is, OK, let’s just get along, and [the other is] no, let’s stand for truth and really pound the pulpit. The question is, how do we do both of these?
You begin your book by telling the story of one of your debate opponents, Jonathan Roach. Tell me about the relationship that you have with Jon, how it evolved, and how you got him out to Focus on the Family. We had a gay activist come to Focus on the Family, gave him a microphone, and let him just speak and make his case. We intended to do that. Even some of the people at Focus were like, “OK, Glenn, why are we doing this? Why do we want to do this?” The answer was, let us hear from the people that we disagree with from their own mouths and be able to ask them questions about what it is they actually believe, rather than assuming we know what they believe. We didn’t have him come to convince us, but just to hear from one of the best proponents of this view that we disagree with. … The cool thing about that is, we should be doing that. I’m still waiting for my invitation to go to the Human Rights Campaign to say what we believe.Christians ought to be open to that, and they ought to be welcoming those voices, not to find agreement, necessarily, but to find understanding, which is very critical.
There’s some risk of giving somebody who espouses ideas that are not true a platform. They might actually convince somebody, or that they might have an impact on somebody they wouldn’t have otherwise had an impact on. What you just said was brought up. What if he convinces one of our employees? To which I said, “Dude, then we’ve got bigger problems than a gay activist coming.” If we are firm and confident in what we believe, then we can have these conversations. … Not so that we can seek what we agree upon, but to really know what is it that we disagree upon. As one of my friends says, it’s achieving disagreement, which is very important. …
My LGBT neighbors and friends that I disagree with, for instance, they’ll say, “Why do you think I’m going to hell just because I’m gay?” Well, I don’t agree with that, and that just blows their mind. What is it that [I] do believe? I believe that we’re all going to hell, that every one of us are tainted with this thing called sin, and that is the direction of all of us. All of us are only saved by our faith in Christ, and allowing Him to make changes within us. You know what? That puts all of us in the same boat. I’m a sinner. You’re a sinner. I’m not a greater sinner than you are, or you a greater sinner than I am. We are all debilitated, hopelessly, by sin. The gay and the lesbian, the heterosexual, and the believer and the unbeliever—we’re all in the same boat, and it is only through Christ in His calling us to repent that gives us any hope. That’s a call that He makes to me, and that’s a call that He makes to you as well.
What you said raises the question of whether you can be gay and Christian. Talk about that controversy a little bit. There’s two parts. In one sense, I don’t think you can be gay and Christian, in that “gay” is a socio-political identity. It means I’m all-in for the cause. I support same-sex sexual activity and think it’s just as good as anything else. … But to be same-sex attracted is a wholly different thing. You can be same-sex attracted and say, “I don’t buy into or agree with all the politics there.” There are same-sex attracted, obedient Christians, who say, “I have an attraction to the same-sex, but the Christian ethic says I cannot act on that.” … I have to, as a Christian, bring that under submission. An unmarried Christian [might] say, “I’d love to involve myself in a sexual relationship with that guy or that gal, but I’m not married to them, so I can’t.” We all have to act and discipline ourselves to be obedient to the sexual ethic that Christ gave us.
Let’s talk about what Jesus said about sexuality. His sexual ethic is that human sexuality only exists within a relationship with a husband and wife. Anything outside of that, for the heterosexual or the homosexual, is off limits. That’s the question that we need to ask, not what did Jesus say about homosexuality per se, but about sexual ethics itself.
Gene Robinson, the gay bishop in The Episcopal Church, when asked the question, “What did Jesus say about homosexuality?” said, “Nothing,” as if to suggest it wasn’t a big deal to Jesus. Gene Robinson is smarter than that. He’s just being clever.
I respect your desire to want to have engagement with the other side of the debate, but what if they don’t want to have the engagement in return? What if there is a lack of good faith in the conversation? That’s such an important question. I debate with folks on the other side all the time. I’m not interested in debating people who aren’t serious people. Gene Robinson is a brilliant man, but he’s not a serious man. He is too cute and clever. … But I would say that there are people on the other side whom I completely disagree with and are serious people. They take the argument seriously, and they don’t use cute little arguments like that. We have people on our side that use cute and clever arguments. …
But we should engage people who are serious, who take the arguments seriously. … There is no theologian who comes to the conclusion that the Bible embraces homosexuality, that either he himself or she herself is not gay or lesbian, or have a gay or lesbian loved one. There is no theologian that I know of that makes that case and has written about it and argues about it, that has come to that conclusion solely by their ...honest and objective look at Scripture.
There’s an inherent conflict of interest that must exist in order to come to that conclusion. That’s exactly right. There is a personal motivation due to my sexuality or because somebody I love very dearly, typically a family member or a child, oftentimes, has come out as same-sex attracted. They adjust their theology based on sentimentality, if you will.
Many of us know gay and lesbian people. If I’ve got people in my life who really love me, who would call themselves my friends, and they see me doing stuff that’s not good for me, I hope that, at some point, they would confront me, they would challenge me, that they would even maybe, put my friendship with them at risk because they know that might be what it takes to get me to hear the truth. How do you, as a friend to gay and lesbian people, navigate that sort of dangerous frontier of being a friend without being affirming? First of all, they harbor no illusions about what I believe.
Well, that’s true for you, because this is what you do. But what about for the rest of us? What advice would you have for the rest of us? First of all, do they know what I believe? Do they know what my convictions are? The other side of that is real simple. People have the right to do wrong things that I don’t agree with. Now, if we love them and we care for them, do we warn them of dangers? Yeah, but we don’t keep doing it. Our son, who is a wayward son, at Thanksgiving, we’re not constantly, “Let me remind you again, living with that girl is not a good idea.” You spoke your piece on that. You’ve told them. You’ve made every case. You’ve got to let them make the mistakes and choose the life that they have chosen to live. It’s hard. It’s difficult.
Just like they should let me believe in crazy things—that this man Jesus Christ rose from the dead. They may think that’s unhealthy, that that’s living under an illusion, but we speak our case. We make our point, and then we let people be people.
What other advice would you give Christians who want to have a constructive relationship with gay and lesbian people in their lives, whether it’s a son, daughter, friend, or neighbor? In our churches, people ask, “Do gay and lesbian people belong in our churches?” My answer is, “Where else do they belong?” Every church in the world should have a banner, “Only sinners need apply,” because that’s the only kind of people that Jesus knows how to deal with. I say churches need to do three things basically. … Welcome gay and lesbian people into our church, absolutely. Teach the word of God, clearly and distinctly, absolutely, and participate with the Holy Spirit in how he convicts us of our sins. Churches who do those three things will never get off track, either for good or for bad on this issue of dealing with gay and lesbian people in our community.
Listen to Warren Smith’s complete conversation with Glenn Stanton on Listening In.
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