In the remainder of this post, I want to offer a few suggestions for pastors and church members who want their churches to be safe places to discuss a struggle with SSA.
1. Avoid crude humor about homosexuality. In general, Christians should abstain from humor on any topic that is rooted in shaming or mocking others. This falls short of God’s command, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
2. Avoid utilizing stereotypes about the gay community. Utilizing stereotypes demonstrates laziness in our professed willingness to get to know people for who they really are. In the eyes of someone who experiences SSA, such laziness is very likely to disqualify you as a safe person to talk to.
3. In our sermons and lessons, we should include SSA in the list of things someone might be struggling with—just like lust, pride, loneliness, anger or any other common sin. Just as importantly, our tone of voice when speaking of SSA should not communicate disgust, condescension or perplexity.
4. Be careful how you characterize political positions. How you present the position you are against is at least as important as how you present the position you are for. To be trustworthy, you must represent fairly those you disagree with, neither vilifying them nor suggesting they are unworthy of compassion and understanding.
5. Don’t “out” someone. It is unwise to put someone on the spot with a question like, “Are you gay?” Even if you think you know, respect this person’s right to disclose the information on their timetable. Nobody wants to live with a secret. If you prove yourself to be a safe person, they will want to talk sooner rather than later.
6. Speak sympathetically to the struggle of SSA. Humble statements can go a long way. “I can only imagine how hard it would be to experience unwanted same-sex attraction and feel caught in so many cultural debates. Trying to figure out who to talk to might be as hard as anything else. That would be incredibly lonely.” A statement like this in social contexts where homosexuality is being discussed raises a flag of peace to be seen by those looking for a safe friend.
7. Study one of the books listed below with your small group. It may work best to first equip existing friends within your church. A small group that has learned to be a safe place for SSA conversations is an excellent beginning for a church, and an ideal place to invite someone who may experience SSA. It can give your friend a chance to see that your church may actually offer real community.
8. Most importantly, when you have the opportunity to become friends with someone who experiences SSA, invest in that friendship. You can do that in three ways:
First, have fun together. Mutual enjoyment is a good indicator that a friendship is not devolving into a “project relationship.” Mutual enjoyment builds memories and stories. Mutual enjoyment strengthens the relationship. And the stronger the relationship is, the less likely either of you will be to give offense or take offense. What the fun looks like will vary in every friendship, but try to see the fun for what it is—the mortar between the bricks, rather than merely the icing on the cake.
Second, go broad, not narrow. If SSA is the majority topic of conversation, your relationship will become more therapeutic or polemical than friendly. So spend the majority of your time talking about subjects other than SSA. This is how you make the friendship about life and shared interests, not about SSA as such. For example, if the two of you have this kind of discipleship relationship, study a book of the Bible together or a mutually relevant Christian book. Seek what God says about all of life together, not just SSA.
Third, allow your friend to speak into your life as well. The most effective way to gain the right to be heard is to listen. Particularly if your friend is a Christian, they have something to offer you. Even if they’re not, they have a life experience that is different from yours and can offer a fresh perspective. Much can be learned about how someone thinks by asking, “How do you see my situation? What would you do and why?” Asking these kinds of questions will likely bless you and advance the friendship you want to build.