Several years ago, my family experienced one of the most difficult seasons we have ever encountered. After a string of common childhood illnesses, my oldest daughter Elaina ended up in the ICU of Randal Children’s Hospital. She developed encephalitis and a lesion between the two hemispheres of her brain. Consequently, she lost her ability to speak, and her gross and fine motor skills were greatly impaired. It was terrifying. As my wife and I spent our first of many sleepless nights in the hospital, trying to process the implications of her illness, another couple close to us wasn’t able to sleep either. Let me tell you about them.
I have an identical twin brother. His name is Matthew… Matty for short. I love my brother very, very much. We have been through hell together. We have worked out innumerable interpersonal conflicts together. Sometimes the workings out of these conflicts were less than mature or civilized… Consequently we both bear the emotional and physical scars as evidence of our “working it out”. It is difficult to explain our relational dynamic. As kids, we were just as likely to stab each other with forks as we were to have each others backs. Sometimes the fork stabbing happened while having the others back. If sibling relationships can be complex and convoluted, twin relationships can be exceedingly so. Our relationship has another unique spin to it: I am a minister and public speaker, sharing my testimony of surrender and healing of my same-sex struggle. Matty identifies as both gay and Christian, and is married to a man, Will, (Uncle Will to our daughters). The relationship I have with my twin brother is complex enough, but as you might imagine, the relationship that my wife and I, and Matty and Will have can be a veritable minefield of potential conflict and offense. With all that as a context, let’s get back to the story.
It was on one of those first terrible nights, where my wife and I were sleepless and overwhelmed and sitting in the ICU with Elaina, that Will, my brother’s husband, wrestling with his own feelings of helplessness and burden, got out of bed and began amassing an army of support to help our family. At the same time that our daughter fell ill, we had just closed on the purchase of home, a giant fixer upper, and had only two and a half weeks to make it livable before we had to move in. It was an overwhelming season for us as it was, but to add the illness on top of it… We were drowning. Will knew that he couldn’t do anything to heal his niece, but he could do something to help meet our family’s needs. With mounting medical bills, rehabilitation costs, and a monstrous task of making the house a home, Will and Matty rallied people around us, and because of them, the seemingly impossible task got accomplished. Will and Matty blessed our family more that we could ever express.
Uncle Matty and Uncle Will are our family. There is much that we disagree about. We have, in many ways, irreconcilable opposing convictions. And yet, as complex and as difficult as it sometimes is, here we are. Our family loves my brother. Our family loves Uncle Will. And they love us.
Why do I share this story? Well, when I was in ministry at Portland Fellowship, I would often counsel families with gay identified loved ones. These families were typically coming from a conservative Christian background, and the revelation that a son /daughter / sibling was gay proved to be traumatic for many of them. When a person comes out to their families, it is often the culmination of a long process of coming to terms with their attractions. Whether they have come to embrace a homosexual identity as a response to their attractions, or whether they are letting people in on the struggle they are having, to determine how they are going to process and move forward with a same sex struggle, it is still often months, or years in the making. Although this is not out of nowhere for the one coming out, it is often a disclosure that feels traumatic and shocking for parents and siblings. In response, families can get singularly focused on their loved ones sexuality in their attempt to process the disclosure. For a season it may be somewhat legitimate, or at the very least understandable. This new piece of information is profoundly consequential. There is grief, there may be feelings of betrayal, and parents may instinctively attempt to try to “fix the problem”. When my brother came out, this was certainly true for me. I felt confused, hurt, betrayed, and I wanted to “fix it”. In my own grief and frustration I did things and said things that hurt my relationship with my brother, and effectively reduced him down to a problem to fix. So when parents came in with that goal, I understood.
Somewhere along the way, the Lord began to help me out of my fog. He reminded me that in my own process, struggling with same-sex attraction, I was repeatedly hurt by people who could not look past my struggle to see me more holistically. I didn’t want it to be the only lens they viewed me through, and I did not want to be anybody’s project. I was more than my struggle, and my brother is more than his gay identity. Matt and Will are kind. They are giving. They are fun. They have been there to help us in difficult times. They have watched our kids, and helped with projects around our house… We have shared meals, and holidays… they are a big part of our lives. We love them both very much. Consider the following verse from Philippians 4:8
There is a lot of good and praiseworthy in both Matt and Will. What Will did to help us in one of my wife and I’s worst moments was noble, beautiful, and praiseworthy…it was an incredible act of love.
Recently my brother shared with me that while listening online to a message I gave, it made him feel like he and Will came off like the villains of the story. That deeply disturbed me. As we talked, we came to the understanding that because of the differences in our deeply held beliefs about homosexuality, it can come off like an “us vs. them” dynamic. Some of that feeling is unavoidable. I believe that my brother and Will’s relationship is foundationally a sinful relationship. I believe that the conclusions that they have come to are wrong. They don’t agree with my convictions. They don’t love my ministry. They believe that my convictions restrict and hurt people. We have irreconcilable differences that could destroy a lot of relationships. It could also be very tempting to passively avoid our disagreements and try to ignore that they are there. But we don’t do that… we wrestle with the tension. We respect each other. We choose to love each other well. We all do this, not just Suzanne and I. Matty and Will choose to respect us. They choose to sit in the tension of relationship with us. They are not villains. They are dearly loved.
There has been a lot of dialog lately about how families respond to the homosexuality / transsexuality of their loved ones. One extreme opinion out there belongs to those that would say that parents or family members, who believe that homosexual behavior (and other sexual / gender deviations) is sin, are therefore responsible for the suicidal behavior and ideation of their loved ones. I am sure none of us who hold to traditional biblical values regarding sexuality appreciate being viewed with such a myopic lens. But many are equally guilty of only seeing those who have adopted an LGBTQ identity through the lens of behavior defined scripturally as sin, and then lump them into one category, “those sinners over there with their agenda” It is far more complicated than that.
To those who share my scriptural convictions, I want to encourage you to see your loved ones holistically. Don’t ignore sin; we can’t do that. But for the love, don’t make your disagreement on sexuality the subtext of your relationship. Equally, it is unfair and unhelpful put the pressure on us to be the ones who bring our loved one to conviction. Only the Holy Spirit can convict a person of sin. It would be far better to do your best to be blameless in your behavior towards your loved ones, treating them with the same love, mercy, patience, kindness, and respect that you hope to be treated with. When you fail to do so (and you will fail, because we are all imperfect and this is a difficult road) then own it and repent. Of course, I would like to say that if you do these things than your loved ones eyes will be opened, they will quickly repent, and all will be well… But that just isn’t true. What I can say is that you will be living in such a way that honors our Lord, and removes unnecessary obstacles in relationship with your loved ones:
“Do all you have to do without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be God’s children, blameless, sincere and wholesome, living in a warped and diseased world, and shining there like lights in a dark place.” (Philippians 2:14-15 JB Phillips New Testament)
My wife and I, and Matty and Will have a complicated relationship. But in spite of our divergent convictions, we love each other. They know we love them. They know what we believe. They know that we strive to treat them with respect. They know that we make mistakes. They know that we repent when we do. Let’s remember, as believers, we are not responsible before God for our loved ones choices… however we are absolutely responsible before God for how we treat those whom God has placed in our lives to love. Let’s remember what love is, and to work to love them well!
4 This love of which I speak is slow to lose patience—it looks for a way of being constructive. It is not possessive: it is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance. 5-6 Love has good manners and does not pursue selfish advantage. It is not touchy. It does not keep account of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. On the contrary, it is glad with all good men when truth prevails. 7-8a Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (JB Phillips New Testament)