When someone, particularly a stranger, talks to us at length about the specifics of their sexuality, the general response is similar and predictable. Almost to a person, it is received as boorish, tone-deaf self-indulgence. It’s just bad manners. Except when it’s seen as heroic.
Of course, this is exactly what we are seeing with Apple CEO Tim Cook’s happy proclamation of the details of his sexuality, enhanced with his deepest and most personal feelings about it. And so it goes for any major figure who publically announces their emotional/romantic/sexual desire for others of their same sex. Why are these personal sexual revelations not only seen as tolerable, but bold and brave? It’s as if the individual has overcome some significant handicap, hurdle or illness, which same-sex attraction certainly is not. Or at least we are told so—it’s a normal part of human experience, right? As if the headlines should read, “Apple CEO Announces He’s Sexually Normal, Just Like Anyone Else.”
Of course the state of things is different. It’s the politicization of sexuality and sexual ethics. Unarguably, certain sexual attractions are worthy of special praise today—hence the world-wide media explosion when any important sports, news, political or entertainment figure emerges with the same announcement. It’s enough to get a personal call from the Oval Office, as if they achieved some impossible and unique feat. And all this while some time-tested and universally valued sexual ethics are not only deserving of harsh scorn from cultural elites but outright censure.
There are a number of words in Cook’s announcement that highlight this politicizing of sexuality, even to a manipulative degree. He counts “being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me” and explains why. It has made him “more empathetic” and given him the “confidence … to rise above adversity and bigotry.” All this has led him and his company to become a great champion of equality and justice. Each of these are essential and virtuous developments. But what is clearly implied in this gift is that he would likely not have developed these virtues if he were not gay, not as enlightened and virtuous as he is today. He is certainly asking his reader to be thankful along with him. One might be inclined to pity the poor heterosexual who isn’t blessed with such a gift.
What are we to make of this as gracious and caring Christians? In my new book, Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor: Being Friends in Grace and Truth, I explain that Christ gives us a very clear and precise command towards our gay and lesbian neighbors, family members, co-workers and even those who share our pews. We are to love them. We are even commanded to love those who position themselves as our enemies. Jesus leaves us no wiggle room on this “Who must we love?” question. It is all-inclusive. And this brings up one of the most pressing questions for today’s Christians in most of the Western world: What am I to do with my gay or lesbian neighbor? We are to love them, accept them, care for them, welcome them, have them to our houses for meals, go over to help fix their lawn mower, mourn with them when they lose a job or just visit them. But we are not to do so because they have made an announcement like Tim Cook’s. That would make such love conditional, would it not? They deserve our love—and Christ demands the real demonstration of our love for them in tangible ways—not because they are gay, straight or otherwise, but because they are human. Full stop. There is no additional qualification anyone needs in order to get more of or less of our love. This is why Christ did not qualify who was or who was not our neighbor. This is real justice. That is authentic equality. This is love.
Each of us should love and be loved lavishly because we are humans, a being uniquely created in God’s image. Not one more than another. But also because we are each stricken with a devastating and terminal illness: sin. Not one more than another. These two facts are the great equalizers of humanity, putting us all on the same level, in the same place, with the same despair and the same hope. It leaves no one higher or lower, better or worse, more lovely or less lovely than another.
And no particular announcement by any of us, regardless of how important it might seem to us or the larger media, can make us any more valuable or less. This is mere Christianity.