Originally published on johnpavlovitz.com
A year or so ago this blog post, about how I’d respond if I learned that my children were gay totally blew up, allowing me an almost instant audience with millions of people from around the world. My words weren’t revolutionary and they weren’t very different from ones I’d said many times before, but somehow the timing and the tone of the piece resonated with lots of people. As someone with a heart to see LGBT issues fully addressed in the Church, I was grateful.
As the post found its way all over social media and various news outlets began covering it as a personal interest story, two things began happening almost immediately. First, I was labeled as an LGBT ally and second, I was inundated with advice from scores of LGBT Christians on how I should now speak and behave in that official capacity.
As all sorts of perspectives poured in, some of the wisest words came from an older gay man who had spent the previous four decades on the front lines in the discussions of faith and sexuality as a pastor, speaker, writer, and activist. When I asked for his suggestions on how to responsibly carry my new-found title; how not to say the wrong things or do unwanted damage or unwillingly be part of the problem, he said something that was revelatory.
In response to my question, my new friend replied very matter-of-factly:
“The one thing you never want to feel compelled to do is please the LGBT community, because it doesn’t exist.”
My silence accurately reflected how stunned I was, and realizing this he continued:
“Just because someone is LGBT and a Christian doesn’t mean they speak for the entire gay community. They can’t. They only speak for themselves as a gay person and those who might happen to agree with them. There is a huge diversity of belief and theology among LGBT Christians, and your job isn’t to make them all happy, because you can’t. You are called to listen to them and learn from them, and to speak your personal heart as a straight pastor and a Christian who loves LGBT people. That’s it.”
My friend’s words have been my constant companion over the past year, as I’ve tried with various degrees of success to navigate the complex, important, incredibly tenuous road of being called an LGBT ally. I’ve come to approach caring for, advocating for, and loving the gay community, by doing my best not to see it as a thing at all. The people represented by the LGBT Community label are far too diverse to really be categorized that way. It may sound like an exercise in semantics, but for me the very heart of being what some might call an LGBT ally is seeing those people as individuals, as equals. I don’t lump them all into some massive category based strictly on their gender identity or sexual orientation. That’s why the Church has been so messed-up to begin with.
When I’m sitting with a group of friends at dinner, I’m not separating them along these lines. I’m not using their sexuality to create distinctions or trying to summarize their theology or experience of faith based on one issue alone. I’m simply breaking bread with people I love and welcoming their incredible originality as once-in-history, God-breathed individual creations. This, for me is the essence of how we should all strive to become Christian advocates for humanity. We don’t ignore history and we don’t gloss over the differences and the issues surrounding sexuality, (or any other distinction for that matter), but we don’t dwell on any one of these as defining any of us either. At the very heart of the Christian understanding of one another, is that our greatest commonality is Christ.
As I’ve said before, I really don’t like to think of myself as an LGBT ally. I’m a pastor. I’m a Christian. I’m an ally for all people; I just consider LGBT people, people. Sadly that is still a novelty in The Church and that is why these labels remain relevant. As a straight man, that doesn’t mean I ever believe that I can speak for someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender with regard to their sexuality, but I can try to speak what I believe is the heart of God for all people and make sure that they are fully represented in that all-people advocacy. I can and do fight for the rights of LGBT individuals to have a place at the table, where their voices are as heard and respected and valued as anyone else’s, but that doesn’t mean I can make them all happy, nor should that be my goal.
Ultimately as someone who communicates issues of faith publicly, criticism will always come from all sides, and they each need to be equally sifted for truth and processed as individual voices. An LGBT Christian speaker, writer, or pastor (even a popular or eloquent one), doesn’t any more speak for all gay people of faith than I do for all straight believers. It’s that kind of thinking that is at the root of the inequality, bigotry, and side-choosing that has horribly scarred our faith tradition, and that is a dangerous way to speak, serve, and minister.
I certainly hope that as I try to personally reflect the character of Christ to all people and champion a fully diverse Church, that both straight and LGBT individuals will find themselves encouraged and in some way represented (while others will disagree and get ticked off). But in the same way, I don’t expect that simply because I desire these things, that it exempts me from criticism and scrutiny from gay or straight Christians.
Until we see all humanity from the perspective of God, all our labels will be problematic and ultimately incomplete. On some level I understand the usefulness of these terms, and as a straight pastor supporting LGBT people I realize that I am in a position of speaking on behalf of many whose voices have not been represented or heard. I take that honor and responsibility very seriously but at my core I am working hard toward a Church where such distinctions are unnecessary.
I’ll continue to do what my wise friend suggested I do as I began this journey: keep listening, keep learning, and keep speaking openly and passionately what I believe to be the heart of Jesus for all people. I will continue to be a bold ally for humanity and a willing adversary of bigotry wherever it rises up.
As a person of faith, I’ll strive to seek first and see first, the Kingdom of God.
I believe that all people matter; individually, personally, fully.
May we who believe this regardless of our smaller distinctions, speak loudly and often.
We’re all in this together.