Last week a Facebook friend private messaged me because she was frustrated by reactions to a post in which she’d stated her support and affirmation of LGBTQ Christians. She asked for pointers on how to engage in these kinds of discussions. I offered a few suggestions, but then decided to consult the #FaithfullyLGBT hive mind and see what they had to offer. So, if you’re an ally or queer person who feels called to talk with non-affirming Christians, here are the tips we came up with:
1. Be yourself. Let them hear your voice and your heart. Authenticity has power.
2. Be prepared. There are a lot of wonderful resources available – online and in print – to help equip you for speaking to the faith of LGBTQ persons from a biblical perspective. Pray that God will give you insight and will breathe through your words.
3. Be respectful. Even if the other person isn’t.
4. Find areas of commonality. Agree with the aspects of what they say which are true (assuming there are any). If you used to hold the same views, tell them, and explain why you see things differently now.
5. Share your story (when appropriate). Stories are powerful tools for allowing people to experience the reality of another. In some situations, sharing what you’ve lived can be helpful in breaking down barriers of prejudicial thinking. But be aware that if the person demands their stance is purely Bible-based, they aren’t likely to be swayed by anyone’s lived experience, no matter how moving or harrowing.
6. Ask questions! Socratic dialogue is still a thing because it works. When you ask a question, minds are much more likely to remain open than if you tell people that what they’ve said doesn’t make sense. Here’s an example. If someone says transgender people can’t be Christian because Deuteronomy 22:5 warns against cross dressing, ask them how they choose which rules to follow, and which to discard. When they respond by saying they don’t discard any, ask them if they have tassels on their cloak as instructed seven verses later.
7. Don’t be discouraged if they poof. It can be scary to realize your faith beliefs might need adjusting. As you offer Bible-based responses to their arguments, people may feel increasingly uncomfortable, and the less able they are to answer you, the more uncomfortable they’ll feel. When this happens, a common response is for them to shut down. Sometimes they’ll announce they are done, other times they will simply vanish from the conversation. This can feel frustrating, but when it happens, they are potentially in a place where the Holy Spirit can speak to them…
8. Stay calm Hide your anger if it rises up, which it will inevitably do if you engage in these conversations regularly. Demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
9. Remember what your job is and isn’t. It’s not your job to convince anyone of anything. Your job is to plant seeds. It’s up to the Holy Spirit to water them, and the individual to respond to the Spirit’s prompting. You are called merely to plant.
10. Recognize your reach. The real audience for your discussion may not be the person with whom you are directly engaging. In most online venues, others will be assessing what you are saying, and how you are saying it. Someone may read without commenting and be moved by your message.
11. Know when it’s time to call it quits. After you’ve been doing this sort of apologetics for a while, it gets easier to discern whether or not a conversant can process what you are explaining. One clue that they can’t (or won’t) process it is when the person repeatedly responds by changing the subject or by simply piling on additional Bible verses without addressing the points you are trying to make. You can exit by simply by stating they don’t seem interested in real dialogue, wish them well, and move on.
12. Toughen up that thin skin. You are likely to be labeled a false prophet, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and possibly a heretic. You may be called names, or worse. But blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for Jesus’ sake. Consider the name-calling your part in carrying the cross along with Simon of Cyrene. At the same time, you deserve respect, so know how to recognize when the dialogue becomes more harmful than helpful.
13. Finish well. End your conversation with an offering of grace, and lift the person up in prayer, that the Holy Spirit might offer them revelation and a softening of the heart.
Discussion like this can be frustrating and discouraging, but these tips should help keep you on track. You’ll be a seed planter and the Holy Spirit will do her thing.
And always remember that God is watching and is very proud of you.
Her work is designed to shine the light of love into hearts darkened by discrimination and fear. You can learn more at www.sdewitthall.com.
Suzanne lives with her beloved wife, two terriers, and a cat named Chicken. Her life is so full of joy it's surprising her house can hold it all.