While working for a conservative interest group in Iowa, I was amazed by the high number of Christian people who would turn out to oppose homosexuals politically. Yet when I presented opportunities to reach out in love to people who identify as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender), my efforts were often met with apathy and sometimes even hostility. Anger at the homosexuals' political agenda often seemed to overshadow the task of learning how to love homosexuals as Jesus would.

But if God's people are not equipped to give homosexuals the special kind of love they need in order to heal the wounds of their past and move into heterosexuality, do we really have the right to oppose them politically? And if we are to show love, what exactly does that look like within the context of the debate over same-sex marriage?

Certainly, what cannot be loving is an approach to loving lesbian and gay people that stops at opposing same-sex marriage. Today many churches have created an emotional Catch-22 for LGBT people by opposing their right to marry but neglecting to provide them a safe place to heal. From the gay person's perspective, it seems that Christians are demanding that they simply disappear.

Knowing how to show love begins with knowing how to communicate, and it's important to understand how people think before trying to communicate with them. Trying to have a discussion about gay marriage with someone who is lesbian or gay is often like trying to play a game of baseball while the opposing team is on a soccer field. Each side is basing their arguments on completely different assumptions about homosexuality. As Christians, we know that homosexual feelings can be overcome, but most LGBT people view their attractions as an immutable identity. If I were a homosexual who honestly believed that my orientation was unchangeable, I would probably view conservative Christians as bigots, just as many of them do.

The heat gets turned up even higher when the subject of gay marriage comes up. The gay and lesbian community will accuse Christians who oppose gay marriage of being "hate mongers," while Christians insist that opposition to gay marriage is actually the loving thing to do.

The vice president of a local family policy council that opposes gay marriage recently said, "I didn't want to come across as hateful to my daughter when I insisted that she didn't play in the street. In fact, for me not to say anything would have been unloving. … I'm convinced the most loving thing we can do for … the homosexual community is to speak out on this issue."

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If current research on the health hazards of homosexuality is accurate, then the statement is true: those who engage in homosexual sex are playing in the proverbial street. However, no intelligent lesbian or gay people will ever see themselves in these statistics, and this is where communication breaks down between conservative Christians and the LGBT community.

One study says the average lifespan of a homosexual is 42 years; another study says 43 percent of male homosexuals reported having more than 500 partners during their lifetime. For the purposes of this article, I don't want to take the time to dissect the research methods that were used to draw these conclusions. I will only say that, while some of the findings in such studies are true, throwing these numbers around while talking to someone who is homosexual will only reinforce, in their minds, the fact that you have stereotyped them. Can you imagine telling your son or daughter that that heterosexual activity is intrinsically wrong because America has a divorce rate estimated at 43 percent, or because three of every ten women killed in the United States die at the hands of a husband or boyfriend?

Promiscuity is more prevalent among gays, but there are many LGBT people in relationships consisting of genuine love. But for many Christians, the only thing that comes to mind when they hear the word homosexual is the militant gay activist marching in a parade and shouting, "We're here, we're queer, and we're coming after your children!"

If we are to be effective purveyors of God's love, we must commit ourselves to viewing all lesbian or gay people we meet as an individual, rather than making assumptions about who they are or where they've been. If we really want to enter the homosexuals' world, and become flesh for them as Jesus did for us, we must learn to put ourselves in their shoes when it comes to issues like gay marriage. But to do so, we must abandon our anger and discard the unsubstantiated stereotypes that hold us back from fully and truly embracing these people in a way that rivals that of the secular world. So how exactly should we go about doing this?

  • I have always thought there to be something profoundly genuine about being invited into someone's home for a meal. Anyone can attend a rally or pass out a tract, but inviting someone into your home is so deeply personal that it will be hard for anyone to discount your sincerity.
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  • Attend a gay pride rally in your city, not to politically demonstrate against homosexuals, but simply to build relationships with them. For the past few years, I have attended the gay pride parade in Des Moines simply to pass out cold water and pizza to the lesbian and gay people in attendance.
  • Assemble a group of people from your church who are willing to make a trip to their local hospital at least once a month to comfort AIDS patients. This does not have to be a big production; just take them a can of pop or some soup, ask them how they are doing, and then let them know how much God loves them. (You may have to undergo volunteer training through the hospital before gaining admittance.)
  • If you personally know someone who is dying of AIDS, offer financial assistance, as unemployment is the eventual consequence of AIDS. HIV and AIDS patients, especially those who don't have insurance, are often over burdened by a decrease in income and an increase in medical bills.
  • Invite a homosexual, or someone who is working to overcome homosexuality, from within your church to a Bible study group or other social event. For people who struggle with homosexuality, getting connected to others can prove itself a difficult task, especially when it comes to one's same-gender peers.
  • Invite a homosexual person from outside your church to your Bible study group or other social event. Often, homosexuals don't attend church because they fear rejection from Christians, whom they believe would never accept them. A simple invitation can make a world of difference.
  • Ask your church to sponsor a forum on homosexuality. Invite an ex-gay who is willing to share his or her testimony in a humble and compassionate manner. You can advertise this in the local newspaper and even recruit students to pass out flyers in the public school. When gay students and other members of the homosexual community show up, seize the opportunity to show interest in their lives. (Warning: There are a few public figures in the ex-gay community who claim to be compassionate but actually just want to preach at or condemn homosexuals. Be careful about whom you choose to speak at your event.)
  • Sometimes listening can be even more important than speaking. If you do choose to host a forum on homosexuality, invite someone from the gay community, and then ask them to publicly share some of the struggles faced by lesbian and gay people in your town. This is their chance to show you how to love them, and remember, there are no strings attached. You are not trying to "change" them, you only want to love them.
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  • Set up a mentoring program in your church by holding training sessions for heterosexual men and women who want to better understand and help struggling homosexuals. Then, couple the heterosexual men and women with the homosexually struggling men and women, respectively. Some churches, such as Emmanuel Reformed Church in Paramount, California, have done this in an effort to provide a mentoring relationship for homosexual strugglers who may otherwise have a hard time connecting to their same-gender counterparts.

We cannot merely wage a political battle against same-sex marriage and claim that we love homosexuals. We must use not only the ballot box, but also our hands, feet, mind, heart, voice, time, resources, and attention to show our love. Ultimately, the battle we fight is not for the banning of same-sex marriage. Rather, it is a battle to win the hearts of our world's LGBT people.

Chad Thompson is an author, speaker, and founder of Inqueery, an organization that addresses homosexuality on high school and college campuses. This article is adapted from Thompson's upcoming book, Loving Homosexuals as Jesus Would: A Fresh Christian Approach (Brazos, November). For more information visit LovingHomosexuals.com.

Related Elsewhere:

Other Christianity Today articles on ministering to homosexuals include:

The Cure of Gay Souls | Pastoral care of gay people in our congregations cannot wait. (Aug. 23, 2004)
Coming Attractions | Gay activism is not just found in liberal churches. (July 29, 2003)
No Easy Victory | A plea from a Christian husband and father who, day by day, resists his homosexual desires. (March 08, 2002)

Earlier Christianity Today articles about compassion for homosexuals include:

Ex-Gay Sheds the Mocking Quote Marks | The retiring head of Exodus says gay transformation ministries are more respected and effective than ever. (January 7, 2002)
Walking in the Truth | Winning arguments at church conventions is not enough without compassion for homosexuals. (Sept. 4, 2000)
Building a Bridge | A gay journalist and evangelical pastor correct their mutual misperceptions. (July 13, 2000)
The Jerry We Never Knew | He hangs out with liberal pundits and gay activists. Is this the same Jerry Falwell who founded the Moral Majority? (May 2, 2000)
Sex and Saints | A new vocabulary for an oversexualized culture. (Apr. 3, 2000)
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Building outreach and friendship with the homosexual community | What Jerry Falwell really said at the Anti-Violence Forum. (Nov. 5, 1999)
Just Saying 'No' Is Not Enough | How should Christians address homosexuality? (Oct. 4, 1999)
Who Killed Matthew Shepard? | Human nature being what it is, we can too easily cross the line between hating the sin and hating the sinner. (Dec. 7, 1998)
Revelation and Homosexual Experience | Can it be said of us that we surprise others by the sympathy and compassion we extend toward homosexuals? (Nov. 11, 1996)

Other articles on homosexuality are available in our Sexuality and Gender area.

Same-Sex Marriage: What Can I Say? is a forum between Phil Busbee, Tony Campolo, Cheryl Sanders, and John Yates on the pressures and opportunities of the same-sex marriage controversy, hosted by Leadership.