Live the questions, love the questions
My niece wrote, asking my perspective on a friend of hers who came out gay while attending a very Bible-thumping college. He was the perfect Christian before he came out, she says. He’s witty, funny, talented, smart—and described himself as an atheist.
She asked him to help her understand his intellectual and spiritual journey.
“He responded with a 16-page letter,” she tells me. Where should she go from here? She doesn’t think he needs to be drug back into the fold of religion—not yet, anyway. Her friend traced his growing-up experiences, the ways he cried to God for deliverance from being gay, the radio silence he received in response. “My goal is not to bring him back to God…not at this point, anyway,” she says. What light might I shine on the situation, she wonders.
Bless your heart for making connections with people (your “once-perfect Christian” friend, for one, me for another) and for asking questions. There is such a healing power in having people interested, in having them ask questions rather than deliver pre-packaged answers. Really.
I note this man cares about you and has pent-up energy that’s not being given outlet anywhere else. I see this in his sending a 16-page reply.
You very much honor his heart and his journey by refraining from preaching to him or trying to save him or tell him how and why God is still there for him and why he needs to reconnect with God. In my opinion, this is *not* what he needs right now. The process of coming to terms with one’s being gay within a conservative church environment is not easy, not lightly undertaken, no lark in the park–it requires a depth of soul-searching and painful self-examination and questioning and working through one’s faith and beliefs (or lack thereof) in a way very few people are ever called upon to do or willing to undertake . . . and the place at which one ends up is to be honored, not denigrated, judged or dismissed because it’s different than where one started, or different than what others believe. Who am I to place myself as the authority over someone else’s heart?
You say he’s well-reasoned, bases his beliefs on reason and his own lived experience. Honor that. Embrace that. Listen to that. Hear him. Ask questions, Do not offer answers. Reaffirm your love and care for him. Offer him acceptance and understanding. He’s human, after all, as are you, as are we all. At base we want to be loved. We want to be affirmed in who we are, in our struggles, in our making it through as best we know.
Who he is as a person, at heart, is no different than who he was when he was “Mr. SuperChristian.” If anything, he’s changed only for the better, is more reflective, more compassionate towards others who are struggling with issues of faith and belief, has let go of some of the judgments he carried about others when he was in the thick of things at the church school.
When I came out as a gay man, precious few people would even talk to me, let alone listen or ask questions. It seemed everyone had a ready answer for me, for my struggle, for my questions, without even taking the time to find out who I was, what my struggle involved, what my experience was, what my questions were. I gotta tell you, I trust people with questions WAY more than I do people with answers.
I believe we’re all on individual and collective journeys. I believe not a single one of us has a one-size-fits-all answer. I don’t believe Jesus is the answer to everyone’s problems. It’s reductive to assume that. It dishonors the individual journey, sets us up as the know-alls who can slap the name of God on people like a Band-Aid.
My heart goes out to this friend of yours. And you will be truly friend to him is you listen, reflect and ask more questions; if you are present to him, if you listen far more than you speak, if you can withhold judgment and instead accept and affirm him, honor and value him and his journey, his experiences, his thinking things through, his deep struggles.
Some years back a friend from my growing-up church youth group wrote me a letter that included questions, no judgments, no answers. I was SO relieved, so heartened by her response. I did my equivalent of your friend’s 16-page letter. I was so happy to find someone from my past (I thought they’d all rejected me) who signaled understanding. I wrote back at length, explaining my story, the things I had learned, the wonders that had opened to me. She immediately wrote back to assure me that I had taken her initial letter the wrong way: she hadn’t meant to come across as accepting or affirming of me. No, she believed right along with he church, that I am doomed to hell and misguided, misdirected, and missing out on God’s plan for my life. I was disappointed if not altogether surprised. I’d let myself hope that she was willing to hear me out. I so longed for that.
If you can truly offer your friend a listening ear without judgment, if you truly do care about him, if you truly are willing to let go the evangelical dictate to reach out and snatch from hell those like him who believe there is no God, then you are on good footing to reach out to him in love and earnestness. If you have a hidden motivation to save him from himself, then it’s probably best for you and him both that you own up to this and wish him well on his journey and let him go.
It’s hard for me to read your heart on this. I want to hear openness, and that’s my need. You follow your heart on this one, and I think you’ll do the best thing in this moment, at this juncture.
I am encouraged by your asking.
Love to you and all good.