I picked up and read Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor because of Karen Swallow Prior’s review for Christianity Today. I finished it on Saturday morning, the day before I heard about the shooting in Orlando.
In many ways, this is such a basic book on being a decent human being and Christian that it is surprising that it needs to be written. But it obviously does need to be written. Glenn Stanton mostly does a very good job of presenting a conservative position on sexuality and marriage (he is on staff at Focus on the Family) while very clearly advocating a much more inclusive stance on actual friendship and love with LGBT people than what many Christians currently have.
It is clear that Stanton actually has a variety of gay friends. And he has those friends because he spends a lot of time with gay people. Part of that time is touring around with one of his gay friends debating at college campuses on the ethics of gay marriage. But it is clear from his stories and writing that he is actually trying to live out love of neighbor.
“Christianity is a hard calling because we are not only called to love others but to go further and love those who hate us. And if we are called to love those who hate us, we are certainly called to love those who disagree with us. And love is not conditional; you do this for me and I’ll do this for you.”
There were a few places where I think Stanton missed the mark. In a section where he was attempting to show the diversity of the LGBT movement by talking about different groups within the movement I think he over generalized a couple times in much the same way he was asking the reader not to generalize. But in context of the full book, if every Christian loved LGBT people as Stanton is illustrating, there would be far less problems.
In the end, I am not sure this book was really for me. I was starting with the idea that LGBT people should be loved and befriended and I have actually thought through and discussed publicly my ideas around LGBT issues. But that is not where everyone is at. Stanton tells several stories of Christians that have clearly absorbed a false teaching that it is wrong to love LGBT friends or family. Much of what is helpful about the book is Stanton’s walking through very clear instances where Christians may have questions. Should you attend a gay wedding? Should your church allow LGBT people to attend, volunteer, participate in bible studies, etc? What should parents do if their child comes out to them. These clear instances of walking through the issues for someone that has not previously thought through them I think is helpful. (And his answers are not all black and white.)
Below is a somewhat long quote. But the whole message of the book is really summarized here.
It really comes down to remembering and being faithful to two things. The first one is the most important. First, love the person. This is different than loving people. “Loving people” is conceptual and impersonal. Loving the person is different. Consider God and you. Which statement would you be most attracted to, “God loves people” or “God loves Susan”? It’s the person who matters. You can “love people” and never really interact with any. But loving Susan requires that you spend time with and get to know Susan. Be very intentional, natural, and genuine in loving the person in front of you. Make it about them. And think about making sure they feel and experience that love. If you do this and the other person knows it from his or her experience with you, you can mess up in many ways relationally, but your commitment and care for that person will, to paraphrase the Scriptures, “cover a multitude of relational mistakes.” That love will be the thing that helps you work through them, not if, but when they happen. Second, be true to your convictions. There is no genuine friendship that hinges on whether or not you see the world—or the important issues in the world—the same way. If it does, that’s a conditional friendship and therefore no friendship at all. Friends try to understand the other’s beliefs, views, and convictions like you might try to understand what and why a socialist believes what they do. And you want to respect them inasmuch as these beliefs are important to your friend. Of course, you don’t have to respect the idea, but friends do respect that their friend takes it very seriously. You might argue about, discuss, and tell your friend they are wrong, but we respect them and do so for the cohesion of our friendship. But the same is true of them toward you. Don’t be ashamed of, hide from, or make excuses for what you believe. You might make a stand for it in the wrong way, be thoughtless or unfeeling, and that must be addressed and learned from. But it is not wrong to believe that your convictions and beliefs should be respected. In fact, to do so as a two-way street is a sign and indication of honoring the other. It’s part of what a friendship is.