From that perspective, here’s my advice to small groups who don’t approve of same-sex marriage but want to show love to a gay couple in the group.
1. First, get to know them as people. Given the current cultural climate, it can be tempting to see them primarily as an issue, but these are human beings who have made a choice to come to a small group where they know they may not be accepted. Ask them about their lives, interests, encounters with God and so forth, just like you would for anyone else in the group. Don’t let one relationship define them for you or for the group.
2. Welcome them openly. Often, Christians are concerned that if they show love and welcome to a gay couple without emphasizing their disapproval, the couple will wrongly assume that they approve of the relationship. In my experience, this isn’t the case. Most gay couples I know assume that Christian groups disapprove unless someone explicitly says otherwise. Welcoming them with Christian love won’t “send the wrong message”—in fact, it’s what Jesus was often criticized for doing.
3. Look for things you can approve of. When Paul went to Athens, he found numerous idols—an offense to his Christian faith. Rather than responding with angry sermons about false gods, however, he used this as an opportunity to build relationships, complimenting the Athenians on their religious fervor and noting their desire to avoid offending any “unknown god”—a connection that ultimately gave him an opportunity to introduce them to Christ.
In a similar way, even if you believe that same-sex sexual activity is forbidden for Christians, there is still room to admire the love and dedication of this couple and the desire to grow closer to Christ that brought them to your group. Keep that front and center.
4. You don’t need to talk about homosexuality. But if you do, focus on listening. I don’t believe it is a small group’s responsibility to call out every sin in someone’s life or to debate about every theological disagreement within the group. Sometimes it’s important to put those debates aside and create a safe space for people from all walks of life to study the Bible and grow closer to Christ.
If the topic comes up, though, it’s important to listen to the stories of this couple and understand what they’ve been through, why they’re Christians and what brought them to your small group. Don’t simply ask them to defend their reading of Scripture; ask about their lives, and truly, truly listen.
In addition to hearing this couple’s stories, you might seek out those of other gay Christians, as in Wesley Hill’s book Washed and Waiting, my book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, and the documentary Through My Eyes.
5. Embrace the opportunity to learn. Often, when we encounter neighbors whose theological views we disagree with, our first instinct is to figure out how to correct them. Sometimes, that’s what we’re called to do. But other times, God wants to use them to teach us something about what it means to be a grace-filled Christian in today’s world.
Embrace that opportunity and ask the Holy Spirit to open the hearts of your small-group members to see how God wants to use this couple in your lives. You might be surprised.
—Justin Lee is Executive Director of The Gay Christian Network and author of Torn.