A week ago, Franklin Graham was on Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk radio broadcast. In it, he was talking about LGBTQ people in the church. He made suggestions that gays are the enemy, or are at least working with The Enemy, i.e., Satan. I couldn’t really tell based on the context of his comments.
Benjamin Corey has written an excellent post about why treating LGBTQ people, and children in particular, as the enemy is incredibly damaging. I have written before how fear-based rhetoric is costing lives. The number of LGBTQ people left homeless and/or suicidal because of these kinds of statements is staggering. Creating an Us v. Them mentality between Christians and LGBTQ people, even the nearly half who identify as Christian, has caused a rift that has cost people their lives.
He stated, “…they’re not going to influence those (gay) kids, those kids are going to influence those parent’s children.”
He is absolutely correct.
When we’re in a relationship with someone – when we invite them into our home, into our lives – that relationship will change us in some way. It will influence us, even if that is not our intention. The move toward becoming more accepting of LGBTQ people is largely due to more frequent interactions with those who are different. So yes, Rev. Graham is correct that “those kids” will influence their own children.
But I disagree that there is no reciprocal influence. When we open our homes to those who have been marginalized or rejected, we give a positive view of God. We show with our actions, rather than telling with our words, that God is love.
Graham says that we “think we can fight by smiling and being real nice and loving. We have to understand who the Enemy is and what he wants to do.”
But perhaps fighting isn’t what we’re called to do. In the gospel, we are told to love our enemies. We are told that if our enemy is hungry, we feed them, if they are thirsty, give them something to drink. We are not called to vanquish our enemies, but to love them.
When Jesus said that we are to love one another as he loved us, it wasn’t a recommendation to fight, but a command to love. When Jesus said that others will know we are Christians by our love for one another, that wasn’t a call to arms, it was a call to open arms.
The problem comes when we believe that the influence must come in a particular way. When we believe that the only positive influence is that someone must change who they are, we may come away disappointed if they accept who they are. When we believe that positive influence looks like self-loathing, self-doubt, self-flagellation, we may not believe that we have had an influence in the absence of those responses. If we believe that the only way to have an influence is to increase shame in the lives of those we disagree with, we may not find that smiles and love produce that fruit.
But that doesn’t mean that those things have no influence. When we share our smiles and our niceness and our love with others, we share hope with them. We share joy with them. We share God with them. If we believe that God has power, we must believe that the power will have some influence. The influence of knowing that you are loved is more powerful than any fight. That is how we influence our enemies and make them our brothers and sisters.