I’ve just been reading the comments on Aubry Smith’s really cool post and here’s where my thoughts took me from there:
A person you know is doing stuff that you believe is wrong. It could be because you’re a Christian and you believe what they’re doing is a sin in God’s eyes. It could be because you’re seriously into health and nutrition and you’re watching a friend live on a McDonald’s diet. It could be because you know someone who is developing a strong dependence on alcohol or on heroin. It could be that you have a female friend who constantly falls for the bad guys and you know it’s only going to end in tears again and again. All sorts of situations where someone you know is doing stuff that, for one reason or another, you think is bad for them.
What do you do?
Keeping your mouth shut can be very hard, especially if you care deeply about this person. I remember a friend many many years ago saying to me: it’s really hard being your friend, I keep watching you hurling yourself against brick walls, and I know there’s nothing I can say which will make you act differently, and all I can do is wait and be there to wipe the blood afterwards.
He was right. There wasn’t anything he could have said that would have stopped me from the self-destruct course I’d chosen. The reasons for my behaviour were lying deep in my subconscious, and it was only years later, in counselling, that I started to get at some of this stuff and remove its power over me.
What’s my point? My point is that telling someone that what they’re doing is bad for them – it may make you feel better, it may make you feel like you’ve done your duty, but the chances of it actually being helpful to your friend are pretty remote.
I’m not saying “never” – sometimes a gentle prod from a friend is exactly what a person needs. You have to carefully judge the moment. But my experience of life is that most of us most of the time – we already know, deep down, that what we’re doing isn’t good or right or healthy. And if we don’t, then at least we’re quite likely to already know that there are people who think it’s not good or right or healthy.
The subject on Aubry’s post was Christian attitudes to homosexuality. Stuff that came up in the discussion there included the suggestion that gay people have been on the receiving end of far too much hate from people calling themselves Christians, and what they need from us is love. But some people were getting on their high horse and talking about the importance of being clear that we don’t condone the way these people live – as if they don’t already know that! Aubry shared something of her own experience, about how she reacted in the past when a friend came out as gay and how she wishes she had kept her mouth shut about it being a sin and just focused on being loving. I can totally relate to that, having lost a friend in similar circumstances, because I was at the time so focused on being honest with my friend and with hindsight I can see how that came across to her – because being gay means you get tons of “anti” messages from the world around you, and you really don’t need a friend chucking that stuff at you, even if she/he does it with a huge amount of love and grace, even if your friend keeps telling you that he/she loves you anyway. If your friend is a Christian then you already suspect they disapprove. What you need from them is love.
And why is it that for some reason we feel a stronger need to point out this particular sin? If you have a friend who regularly gets speeding tickets, would you feel such a strong need to speak out about it? Or someone who steals stationery from the office where they work? Or gossips about their friends? Or, if you want an example from the sexual arena, how about a non-Christian friend who is living with her boyfriend and obviously sleeping with him – would you feel it’s crucial to clearly voice your disapproval?
From conversations I’ve had with fellow Christians about this (and somehow in the last week I’ve had quite a few) it seems that one factor is unease about the normalisation of gay sex in Western society today – the world around us is generally saying that this is okay, so we need to shout louder to say that we don’t agree with that norm. I’d say there’s a massive difference between what you say from the pulpit or the soapbox and what you say in a one-to-one conversation with a friend. If you’re preaching or blogging or writing for a magazine, then you say whatever needs to be said in the context of whatever you’re talking about. I’m definitely not saying we should keep our views quiet – I’m a blogger, and I got into some hot water only recently because I happened to mention in passing that I believe gay sex is a sin. But when a friend finds the courage to tell you that they’re gay – no, I don’t think that’s the moment for spilling out your theology, it’s the moment for living out the command to love your neighbour, and being loving and gracious towards a fellow human being who is, for very good reasons, feeling extremely vulnerable.
Another factor that came up when discussing this recently with a fellow Christian is the feeling that gay people tend to tie their identity very closely with their sexual orientation, so it seems as though they’re flaunting it, shoving it in your face – and of course if you think what they’re doing is sinful, then you can see it as shameless flaunting of a sinful way of life. And yet, looking at it from their point of view as people who do not regard gay sex as sinful or wrong, this behaviour is perfectly understandable – if you love someone, it’s pretty natural to want to make that love public. Plus, if the message from society in general has tended to be “the way you are is not okay”, one of the possible natural reactions is to stand up tall and yell loudly: no, I’m not accepting that verdict, I think I’m fine as I am.
Sure, you may disagree with that. But try to understand how it looks from where they’re looking.