by D’Ann Davis
“How do I help my gay friend?” This is a question we hear constantly in the Living Hope office, when out speaking at events, or from friends and church members from around the world. Twenty years ago few Christians asked this question, for few knew any same gender attracted people, or if they did know them, they were ignorant to their friend’s struggles. Today almost everyone knows of someone who identifies as gay or deals with a measure of same gender attractions. Even if a Christian finds himself in a season of life where he does not personally know of a same gender attracted (SGA) person in his sphere of influence, this question is of utmost importance in light of the change of our culture and the growing willingness of Christians dealing with SGA to openly talk about their issues. So how does one help a gay-identified friend or SGA friend?
The first response I typically give to this question is actually another question. “Does your friend know Jesus?” This is a vital first question any believer must tackle before attempting to help a friend deal with her sexual attractions. This is because there are two different routes to take depending on the answer to this question. If the friend in question does not know Jesus, then it is paramount the emphasis of help given is placed on helping her know Christ. If a person decides to live her life as a heterosexual, but she does not know Jesus, then what has been gained? It in no way helps a person to become straight if she goes straight to hell when she dies because she does not know Christ. Whether or not she feels attracted to her gender or the opposite gender is not what determines the eternal state of her soul. Salvation is in Christ alone. We must speak the gospel to our gay-identified friend with truth and grace so that she, like all of us, might know she is a sinner in desperate need of a Savior.
Invariably in the process of walking with a gay-identified friend, he will ask for the Christian’s views on homosexuality. A recent Barna poll showed that 91% of those who identified as non-Christian viewed Christians as anti-gay. So the majority of the time, a lost gay person will have strong assumptions about a Christian’s attitude toward him. The best thing a Christian can do for his gay friend is to speak and demonstrate truth and love to him. One can clearly communicate the grace of the gospel that all people, regardless of their manifestation of sin, have fallen short of the glory of God and need a way to be reconciled to God, and Jesus is THE way. It does our gay friends no favor to teach a false gospel, that God’s word is not true or is unclear about his sin, as we would likely never do this to our lost friends who are mired in the sins of alcoholism, heterosexual promiscuity, self-righteousness, adultery, thievery, or godless religion. Any friend we truly love we would risk the offense of expressing the reality that they are not perfect, just as we are not perfect, and we are all in need of the grace and mercy God affords us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Might we offend? Yes. Is it taboo in America today to come into agreement with the Word of God that homosexual practice is sinful? Absolutely! Jesus says in John 7:7, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.” We do risk offending people when we stand in agreement with God’s Word because a world darkened in its understanding hates God’s Word in response to its indictment on our sin.
The fact that our message can be offensive to the lost world requires an extra effort of presenting the gospel with grace and love in submission to the timing of the Holy Spirit. Holding signs screaming “Abomination,” preaching long, tedious sermons at people, or getting into argument after argument, is rarely the way to reach anyone. We must be gentle and wise in our boldness. We must seek our opportunities to speak as the Holy Spirit brings them to us, simultaneously seeking to honor, respect, love, encourage, and show kindness to our gay friend. If they are lost, then they are no different than we were when we were lost. We needed to be shown the way, and we needed someone to graciously lead us.
If a believer has a Christian friend who deals with SGA and wants to find freedom and healing in Jesus Christ, here are some easy and practical ways you can help. These are not exhaustive but will be important in helping any friend struggling with SGA.
1. Be a gospel-centered friend. There is nothing better you can do to love your SGA friend than to know and live the gospel for yourself. To be transformed by Jesus on a daily basis is the best way to be a friend to anyone. If you really want to help your friend you must live the gospel so that it can overflow out of you to your friend. There is no way to extend grace without having first received it yourself, so you must know and love Jesus deeply to be a good friend to others.
2. Be trustworthy. Those struggling with unwanted SGA have often experienced the nightmare of finally reaching out to a friend for help, only to have that confession instantly spread and gossiped to countless people. It is vital to be a trustworthy confidant.
3. Be committed and faithful. Many who struggle with SGA have issues with abandonment. If you seek to help your friend, commit for the long haul. There are fewer things more difficult than to risk vulnerability in a relationship only to be continually abandoned by those who were not truly invested long term. Know the path of recovery is long and there will be many obstacles along the way. Be ready to have your commitment tested by even the struggler herself, but seek to remain faithful and steady in the midst of what can at times be a particularly stressful relationship.
4. Be patient. Know that the struggler will have many ups and downs, victories and failures, and will often be caught up on a roller coaster of emotion, as is the case with anyone overcoming strong addictions or working through deep-seated wounds. Extend the grace to him that you would like to receive yourself. Celebrate each victory and mourn each defeat, always spurring your friend on toward Christ and life and freedom in Him.
5. Be healthy. You cannot fix or save your SGA friend. Having healthy boundaries is of such great importance that it cannot be overstated. If you do not know what it means to be healthy relationally, then seek help to work through your own issues so that you might be a better help to your friend. Demonstrate appropriate levels of contact and affection. Do not allow manipulation to be the mode of operation within the relationship. Be direct, kind, loving, and do not give in to manipulative tactics or play games yourself. Those struggling with SGA often find themselves in relationships with blurred boundaries or no boundaries at all. The best way to learn about a healthy relationship is in the context of healthy, boundaried relationships. Establish boundaries early on and stick to them regardless of your friend’s possible protests.
6. Be honest. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6). As believers, we are to speak the truth in love to one another. If your friend is in sin, then the only way to love him well is to speak truth to him and point him back to the cross. If he is willing to let you be an accountability partner, make sure you ask direct questions and follow up when he reaches out for help. Know that few of us can stay out of sin if we dabble in it so be willing to call your friend up to something more if you find him frequently dabbling in sin or making unwise decisions.
7. Be sensitive. Know that this is a deep-seated identity issue that will require great sensitivity and care. Saying things like “I totally knew it!” when someone first tells you of her struggle might give you a sense of pride, but it is extremely defeating for your friend to hear. Be cognizant of what comments you make about people with this struggle. As you grow in a relationship with your friend, find out which things are particularly hurtful or triggering for her to hear. Ask what things you can do to be helpful or what things might be hurtful. If your friend is trying to break up with an SGA partner, inviting that partner to hang out with the two of you will be a stumbling block to your friend and will not be sensitive to her need to cut ties with her partner. Scheduling hangouts in parts of town that hold temptation for her is unhelpful and unloving. Know that you might need to sacrifice going to that particular trendy restaurant on that particular street for the betterment of your friend who is already struggling to avoid that area of town. Ask questions, and to the best of your ability, honor your friend and avoid being a stumbling block or triggering difficult memories.
8. Get educated. Learning about the dynamics of this struggle and how to speak into your friend’s life will be incredibly helpful. Learning that simply encouraging her to “find the right guy” or wear something frilly and pink will not help, but likely inflame the issue and increase her sense of shame, isolation, and despondency. Read the free resources on the LHM website and dialogue with your friend to understand how this struggle uniquely affects her. The more you understand her, the more understood she will feel and the better equipped you will be to support her. Your efforts to learn and understand will mean a lot to your friend.
9. Cultivate relationships in groups. Unhealthy relationships are born in a one-on-one, exclusive, context. Seek to bring others into the friendship and request that your accountability relationship include at least one other person. Simply including one or two other people can often easily disarm an unhealthy dynamic. He will likely push against this idea with the insistence that it is impossible for him to let others, beside you, into his world. However, you must insist that for him to walk with you requires healthy relating which seeks to avoid a super-intense and exclusive, one-on-one relationship.
10. Help call them up to their natural-born gender. People who struggle with SGA experience a detachment from their own biblical gender identity. This does not mean their personality needs to change or they simply need to “girl-up” or “man-up.” Learning what healthy biblical gender roles are is imperative and they need friends who will encourage and support them as they take the brave risk of moving toward embracing and expressing their biblical gender. Mocking or teasing them about their pursuits will do damage. Help them not be ashamed of their biblical gender through words of affirmation and recognition for their efforts. Acknowledge their efforts even in areas that might seem elementary or to come naturally to everyone else. Walking in biblical gender identity is new to them and will need your encouragement.
After significant healing through Jesus, the next helpful element to a person’s journey in finding freedom from homosexuality is having healthy same-sex peers and mentors. There are fewer things more freeing for men and women than to feel intimately known, loved, and accepted in a healthy and holy way by their same sex peers.
Loving an SGA friend is simply a call to remember the greatest commandments to love God with all one’s heart soul and mind, and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. The key lies in living out the gospel every day and walking in the realization that we are all sinners in need of a Savior, and that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
Be encouraged as you walk with your friend struggling with homosexuality, as it is a great opportunity to practically live out the gospel. As 2 Corinthians 5:20 tells us, we are ambassadors for Christ, so let us move forward in that confidence as we are blessed with the privilege of walking with our SGA friends toward freedom and transformation in Jesus Christ.