For many years I was a Christadelphian and, particularly towards the end of my time I was involved in running my ecclesia, I was one of the speaking brethren, and I even contributed to The Testimony from time to time. As well as being a Christadelphian I was also gay. That is not an easy combination. I encountered a lot of ignorance and prejudice, and even downright hatred. I have heard plenty of anecdotal evidence that my experiences were not unique, and many gay people are leaving the Christadelphians because of this lack of understanding. This article is aimed at Christadelphians who are concerned that gay Christadelphians are leaving for the wrong reasons. It doesn’t address what the Bible says about same-sex relationships or gay people;1 it simply describes my experiences and has my suggestions for how things could have been better.
Lack of understanding
On one occasion I raised the issue of gay people with a Christadelphian friend. He immediately started to talk about how all gay men sexually abused children.
Child abuse. Being gay. These are different things. If you are going to express an opinion on any topic you need to understand the basics of the topic, so if you are going to talk about gay people you have to make an effort to understand what it means to be gay. Just because someone is gay doesn’t mean to say they will be sexually promiscuous, or lack fidelity, or be into late nights and clubbing. Gay people are just like straight people. The only difference is that gay people are sexually and romantically attracted to people of their own sex, instead of the opposite sex.
I once encountered a Christadelphian who described all same-sex relationships as being ‘selfish desire’. Now it is undoubtably true that some same-sex relationships are based on selfishness, but it also undoubtably true that some opposite-sex relationships are based on selfishness too. Describing all same-sex relationships as selfish is as irrational as describing all opposite- sex relationships as selfish. The feelings a straight person feels when they look at their partner are just the same as the feelings that a gay person feels when they look at their partner. Gay people are just like straight people.
When you treat gay people as if they were all child abusers, or whatever, then you run the very real risk of alienating gay Christadelphians, and driving them away from the Christadelphians, and perhaps even God. Rather than bearing one another’s burdens, you cast a millstone around their neck.
Lack of Respect
There is a Christadelphian booklet called Christ and Protest2 and it contains this quote:
Homosexuals want their “rights” and in some ways are now getting them. There are no rights for homosexuals because in God’s eyes such wilful self-debasement is a gross evil.
No rights for gay people? If you were to hear someone say that you had no rights, would you want to spend time with them? Even if you believe that no human being has any “rights” as most people understand the word, is it right to single out one group of people in this way?
You should treat gay people with the same respect you would treat anyone. Anything less than that leads to alienation.
Assumptions about beliefs
A while ago I got a letter from a Christadelphian friend. In the letter he mentioned that he thought it was wrong that gay Christians simply reject parts of the Bible, such as 1 Corinthians 6.9–10, because they were too hard to accept. He was surprised to learn, when I wrote back to him, that I didn’t know of any gay Christians or pro-gay theologians who took that point of view. Gay people read the same Bible that everyone else does. It is not the case that we reject certain parts of the Bible because we don’t like them.
On the other hand, there are people who assume that gay people feel guilty about being gay, and we spend our time seeking ‘justification’ in the Bible, almost like a guilty man in court looking for a loophole in the law. Again, I don’t know any gay Christians who feel that way. In my experience, most gay Christians don’t seek this kind of justification any more than straight Christians.
Don’t make assumptions about what gay people believe. Listen to what they actually believe.
Refusal to discuss the issue
Many years ago a Christadelphian friend and I were talking about a Christadelphian man who had recently come out, and was quite open about believing that the Bible didn’t say it was wrong to be gay. For various reasons the circumstances were more complex than might be expected.
‘I will talk to him,’ said my friend, ‘but only if he is prepared to admit that he is wrong.’
‘Are you prepared to admit that you are wrong?’ I asked.
‘No, of course not,’ my friend replied.
On another occasion I was trying to discuss the issues with a relative of mine. She expected me to listen to her views, and yet she completely refused to listen to my point of view.
There is absolutely no shame in not wanting to talk about an issue. Not everybody is able to discuss every topic. However, if you are going to talk about an issue, you must be prepared to listen to the other side of the argument. Refusing to listen to someone’s point of view is an extremely arrogant thing to do. If you are going into a discussion to change someone else’s mind, you must be prepared for your mind to be changed. Approaching any topic with a closed mind is tantamount to a claim of infallibility.
Once again, this is an attitude that can lead to alienation. Would you feel comfortable spending time with people when they didn’t care about your opinions, but expected you to share their views.
Use appropriate language
There are good ways and bad ways to talk about anyone. When talking about gay people, never use words like ‘queer’ or ‘sodomite’, even if you think those words are acceptable. The truth of the matter is those words have additional offensive meanings, so by using them, even with the best intentions, you are being offensive. Although many of the offensive epithets are used by gay people ourselves, it is very difficult to use the terms ‘correctly’. It is similar to the situation with racial epithets.
The word ‘homosexual’ is one that must be used with extreme caution, and is actually best avoided. It has been used in inappropriate contexts too often, and in the overwhelming number of cases, a considerably less offensive term – gay – can be used.
If you want to talk about gay people, use phrases like ‘gay people’, ‘gay man’, or ‘gay woman’. Those are the terms that are least likely to be offensive.
Never ever use the phrase ‘gay lifestyle’. It simply plays to the stereotype that all gay people are the same, and it carries the sense that being gay is something that you pick, like a new hairstyle or holiday destination.
Remember that love is what binds a same-sex couple together, just as love is what binds an opposite-sex couple together. Don’t talk about the former in sexual terms and the latter in the language of love. Doing that implies that one is more real, or more meaningful, than the other.
Again, alienation is the issue here. If you talk about someone using less- than-appropriate language then they will be pushed away. You aren’t just pushing someone away from a social club. You are pushing them away from the church. This is the issue with all the points I have made. Whatever you feel about the morality of same-sex relationships, gay people should not be pushed away from Christ by inappropriate behaviour, some of which I have described in this article, amongst Christ’s followers.
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1. For further discussion, see, for example, Helminiak, D., What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality; and Gagnon, R., The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics.