Love doesn't always look like love.
When I published this blog post two weeks ago, I was prepared for some people to applaud it, and for others to condemn it. That's what happens whenever you put an opinion out there.
I was fully prepared for the waves of both support and hostility that accompany any vantage point on anything, especially a controversial topic like sexuality.
What I was not prepared for in any way were the literally hundreds and hundreds of people who have reached out to me personally to thank me for bringing some healing and hope to their families. Parents, children, siblings, and adults have confided in me (some for the first time anywhere), telling of the pain, and bullying, and shunning they're received from churches, pastors, and church members -- from professed followers of Jesus.
Scores of people from all over the world have shared with me their devastating stories of exclusion and isolation, of unanswered prayers to change, of destructive conversion therapies, of repeated suicide attempts, and of being actively and passively driven from faith by people of faith.
Church, this is the reality of our theology on homosexuality.
This is the cost of our religion to the LGBT community. More accurately, it's the cost of our religion to LGBT human beings. This is the painful collateral damage that comes when we see principles and ignore people; when we refuse to give them the dignity they deserve.
Apparently love does hurt -- really, really badly.
The most common defense I've heard over the past 14 days from Christians who believe that being gay is both chosen and sinful has been some variation of the supposedly well-meaning "Well, we're just loving people by being honest with them by giving them the truth. Telling people the truth is loving them."
Are you sure you want the truth?
(I so want to quote Jack Nicholson right now).
I have a crammed, bursting inbox of "truth" for you if you're interested in reading, Church.
It's full of vile profanity, and utter contempt, and crude jokes, and physical violence, and white-hot fear. It's packed with school-hallway harassment, and city-street beatdowns, and church shunning, and workplace hazing, and brutal self-harm, and all sorts of perpetual, personal terrorism.
And none of it looks a thing like love to me.
It certainly doesn't look like love to the sweet, 12-year-old middle-school girl in your church who's been told repeatedly that she's an abomination, that God already despises her.
It doesn't look like love to the devastated parents who have watched their son hang himself because he was assured by his Christian schoolmates that he's better dead than gay.
It doesn't look like love to the devoted, faithful Christian schoolteacher who has lost her life-long career for no other reason than her relationship status.
It doesn't look like love to the 60-year-old Christian man who has prayed his whole life to be "fixed" though God has refused to, yet he is still an outcast in his family of faith.
It doesn't look like love to the gay couple having their heads smashed in by professed "Christian" strangers while walking down the street.
It doesn't look like love to the family of a transgender high-school junior who can't find a church family that will welcome them or include them or acknowledge them.
And I'm totally comfortable believing that it doesn't look like love to Jesus either.
The real problem with so much Christian theology toward the LGBT community is that it seemingly works fine from a distance, for someone firing off scripture passages or religious phrases; it just often falls apart for them when trying to translate it to actual human lives and within authentic, caring relationships.
When you have the guts and the decency and the compassion to crawl out from behind computer keyboards and plasma screens, from radio-show phone calls and bullhorn shouting, you end up standing face-to-face with beautiful, wounded, scarred people with real stories, and you realize something's wrong here.
Something's badly broken.
This is not what Christ's love looks like.
Jesus' love, even if it came with hard words, somehow always seemed and felt like love. People were seen. They were heard. They were touched. They were left with more dignity than when they started. I'm not sure LGBT people can say the same about their encounters with most Christians.
Can they say it about you?
So many believers want to make this all about sin, about the theology regarding homosexuality that they're claiming to be defending, but it really isn't. Regardless of where you stand theologically as a Christian, this is about treating all people like they are made by God and in the image of God.
Jesus' command to love God and love others as we would desire to be loved -- that is theology too. In fact, He said it was the greatest portion of it, our most pressing personal moral responsibility. You wanna argue against that? Argue with Jesus.
Church, the blood and the bruises of the LGBT community are on your hands and mine as believers, as long we allow any Christian to dehumanize them in the name of loving them.
However we want to frame it or justify it, the net result of our religion to so many gay people is that entire families are being torn apart, sent to the shadows, and horribly mistreated in the name of Jesus. Real flesh-and-blood people are going through uninvited, individual Hell every day at the hands of people who claim Christ. The church's treatment of the LGBT community people has been downright sinful, and it's killing our testimony to the world.
We're making it virtually impossible for gay people to exist in our churches, and then feeling justified in damning them for walking away from God when they leave. The truth is that so often they aren't turning away from God; they're just removing themselves from harm's way.
We are losing credibility to those outside organized Christianity, not because we're "condoning sin" but because when the rubber meets the road, we really don't know how to "love the sinner" in any way that remotely resembles Jesus, and our "God is love" platitudes ring hollow.
Church, this is our legacy that we are building in these days to the LGBT community and those who love them, and I assure you it's not a legacy of love.
I don't know what the answer is for you, and I can't tell you how your theology gets expressed in the trenches of real people's lives. I only know that we as Christ's church can do better, regardless of our theological stance. We have to do better.
This is where our faith is proven to be made of Jesus-stuff or not.
This is where the love of God we like to preach about is either clearly seen or terribly distorted.