How Can Christians Love Their LGBT Neighbors? Start by Learning Their History

I didn’t expect to write two posts on my first day on the job at The Anxious Bench. But while the first one was actually drafted last Thursday and Friday, Sunday’s mass shooting in Orlando left me feeling like I might have something more to say.

Orlando shooting vigil in Minneapolis
Vigil in Minneapolis for the victims of the shooting in Orlando – Creative Commons (Fibonacci Blue)

So in this afternoon’s post, I attempted to reflect on what it means for me, as a Christian historian, to make my faith active in love of my LGBT neighbors. To grieve with them, for sure, since I’ve previously argued that mourning is integral to the historical vocation. But more importantly, to take seriously the challenge posed by gay Christian activist Matthew Vines: to “avoid qualifying your lament in any way” and instead communicate that

Vines, God and the Gay ChristianGod loves lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people unconditionally. You love us and are committed to making the church the sanctuary it always should have been for us.Sadly, I have never heard a pastor who opposes same-sex marriage give a sermon declaring God’s love for LGBT people without including caveats about his or her opposition to same-sex relationships.

If there were ever a time to give that sermon—and to give it with genuine humility, compassion and an openness to learn and grow—now is the time. Churches will be marked in the LGBT community for years to come by how they respond to us in this moment. Please do all you can to let that mark be one of unconditional love.”

Not being a preacher, I can’t do this through a sermon. So I tried to think through what it means to love my LGBT neighbors in a way consistent with my calling and abilities:

What I can do is what Christian historians should always strive to do: to love neighbors from the past, perhaps even in such a way that helps us love well in the present.

I can do my bit (a very little bit) to help my readers and students learn the history of LGBT Americans, a history that I daresay is largely unknown to most outside that community. I can encourage fellow citizens to weave into their national narrative the stories of a minority whose members long experienced community only in secret, in the relative safety of places like nightclubs. And I can do the same with my fellow believers, whose story of the church may not yet include the experiences of queer Christians who have worshipped, prayed, rejoiced, mourned, and served with their straight brethren.

Why is this an act of love? First, to study any people’s history is to affirm in a practical, meaningful way that they bear the image of the God who made and loves them. It is a way to know our neighbors more like their Creator knows them. That is, in the words of Miroslav Volf, we learn to see “each human being concretely… [noting] not only their common humanity, but also their specific histories, their particular psychological, social, and embodied selves with their specific needs”…

You can read the full post here, including a short list of suggested readings in case you’d like to join me in learning more of this history, too often unknown to Americans outside the LGBT community.

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