June is Pride Month, a month-long event that commemorates the Stonewall riots on the 28th of June 1969. According to the UN Youth Australia website, it is a month that ‘celebrates the diversity of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community…a time to reflect on just how far civil rights have progressed in half a century and an opportunity to protest discrimination and violence.’

Following on from the previous interview, How Christians Can Love Those Who Experience Attraction To The Same Sex, Akos Balogh spoke again to Sam Wan about how Christians can continue to relate in Christlikeness towards LGBTQ+ people in our communities.

TGCA: Some Christians might be very unsure about Pride Month and uncomfortable about interacting with the LGBTQ+ community. What are your thoughts?

We need to develop what economic psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls ‘slow thinking’ … what Paul describes as discernment

One of the most profound things I’ve heard in the last decade was from my counsellor a couple of months ago. I was getting quite angry at a string of events around me and felt incredibly uncomfortable with my anger. My counsellor said to me (and I paraphrase):

Sam, if we slow down for a moment and think about this, it’s okay to be triggered. Triggering happens when our core values conflict with our current situation, or past experiences (of conflict) are rehashed. In your situation, you’ve interpreted the event as unjust. Because one of your core values is justice, you were triggered with an emotional response of anger. As a Christian, triggering is not the issue; the issue is whether your interpretation of the situation is accurate, the core values that are in conflict are good, godly and biblical values, and then (if they are) whether your responses to the trigger are good, godly and biblical.

When something troubling happens in our lives (a triggering event) that causes us to be uncomfortable, angry or unsure (a triggered emotion), we need to examine our interpretation of the event, discern the underlying values that are being contradicted, and evaluate our response.

Whether the topic is Pride month, LGBTQ+, abortion, gender, injustice, refugees…or anything, we need to develop what economic psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls slow thinking, or what Paul describes as discernment (Eph 5:6-10, Rom 12:2). Rather than reacting quickly and allowing our default responses to be activated, we need to slow down. Are our interpretations accurate, or are they one-dimensional or strawmen? Are our core values Christian, or cultural? Are our responses God-honouring, Christ-like and biblical?

Paul commands us to ‘[l]ive as children of the light’, which means being shaped by the virtues of ‘goodness, righteousness and truth’ (Eph:8-9). Our interpretation, our values and our response all need to be ‘good, righteous and true’.

TGCA: How do we as Christians strive for what is ‘good, right and true’ in interacting with LGBTQ+ people?

Disability theologian, John Swinton, has been incredibly helpful in shaping how I think about people who might be different to me.

Our descriptions of people are important because how ‘we describe the world determines what we think we see.

In his latest book, he writes that our descriptions of people are important because how ‘we describe the world determines what we think we see. What we think we see determines how we respond to what we see.’[1] If I describe John as Professor John Swinton, chair of divinity and religious studies at the University of Aberdeen, it shapes how I and others might interact with him. If I describe him as John, the bloke I’d love to share a haggis with, that potentially generates a very different response.

Our descriptions have the potential to shape our responses. How we describe LGBTQ+ people will shape our response and interactions with them.

What is also important is whether our descriptions are thick or thin.

Drawing on the work of Clifford Geertz, Swinton explains that a thin description ‘provides us with the minimum amount of information necessary … high-level insights but no low-level insights.’[2] Thin descriptions can be one-dimensional, gathered from overviews, surveys and statistics. If our knowledge of anyone is based on blog entries, periodicals, online articles, or word of mouth, then we don’t really know them. We have thin ways of relating if we relate to them based on statistics, news articles, and doctrinal reports.

One-dimensional descriptions lead to one-dimensional responses.

This is usually the result of a lack of conversation, interaction and understanding of real people within real communities. Thin descriptions lead to unnuanced ministry, one-dimensional outreach, underdeveloped relationships and inadequate theological and gospel application.

Thick descriptions, on the other hand, ‘provide cultural context and help outsiders understand the meaning people place on actions, words, things and situations … giving the reader the opportunity to engage more deeply with the situation.’[3]

Thick descriptions are multi-dimensional, gathered from hearing people and connecting cultural issues with experience. If we think about it, God is never one-dimensional in his relationships with sinful people because He is multi-faceted. To act one-dimensionally would undermine His very character and being as God. He also does not interact one-dimensionally with us or view us through thin lenses because he created us to be multi-faceted.

God is never one-dimensional in his relationships with sinful people because He is multi-dimensional … He created us to be multi-faceted.

God has thick descriptions of people for the simple reason that he knows us intimately and searches our hearts (Ps 44:21, 139:1-6; Prov 21:1; Matt 10:30; Heb 4:13).

In some contexts, He relates in immediate judgement and wrath because the time has come (Ezek 28, Rom 1:18). In other contexts, He approaches in dialogue (Gen 3:8; John 4:1-26); sometimes He dines and eats with the shameful and the proud (Mark 2:15-17; Luke 14:1-24), while other times He imprecates and proclaims woes (Hab 2:6-20; Matt 13:13-36). At the one time He hates sinners (Ps 5:5; 11:5) and He loves sinners (John 3:16).

If God is multi-faceted in His character and His relationships, and if LGBTQ+ people and Pride month are multi-dimensional, then perhaps a Christian’s godly posture toward Pride and LGBTQ+ people is multi-dimensional depending on the person and the context.

To follow in God’s footsteps is to pursue a thick knowing of others. Humanity’s twofold raison d’être—to love God and love others (Mk 12:30-31)—is bound up with thick relationships. We can only love others profoundly when we know them intimately. We owe others that. We owe LGBTQ+ people thick relationships because they are equally made in the image of God. We owe them thick descriptions if we as Christians want to be described in thick lenses in our secular world, as we ‘do to others as you would have them do to you’ (Matt 7:12).

We owe LGBTQ+ people thick relationships because they are equally made in the image of God.

We owe LGBTQ+ thick descriptions if we want to see them come to know Jesus, flourish under Jesus, belong in God’s family, and be loved by God’s people.

Thankfully, God doesn’t engage with thin descriptions in relationships with anyone. Neither should we.

TGCA: What are some thin ways that Christians interact with LGBTQ+ people?

When it comes to describing LGBTQ+ people (and sometimes anyone!), Christians often have thin descriptions.

Sometimes they are thin because they are based on stereotypes—e.g. to be gay is necessarily to be promiscuous because gay culture is known to be promiscuous. Other times they are thin because we reduce a group of people to an ideology—e.g. all queer people are all committed to smashing cis-heteronormativity.

Pride month has also been viewed one dimensionally.

I’ve heard ministers say that Christians ought to view Pride Month and Gay Pride as a celebration of the sin of pride, i.e. arrogance or hubris; or a celebration of sexual diversity outside biblical sexual ethics (which is not altogether incorrect).[4] Pride month has been described as a religious holiday deeply entrenched in queer culture and anti-god agendas.

Therefore, for Christians to affirm Pride Month or become an LGBTQ+ ally is to condone sin. To an extent, I would agree with all these responses, if Pride were only about celebrating the sin of hubris, sexual diversity, or queer/ anti-God culture. And the fact that there are three similar but slightly different interpretations of Pride month already shows that Pride is more than one-dimensional.

But all three have also reduced Pride and the people who associate with it to one thing: a sin, a sexual ethic, an agenda.

TGCA: What are some thick ways that Christians can interact with LGBTQ+ people?

If we do believe that the gospel needs to go out to LGBTQ+ people and we are willing to obey Jesus’ commission to make disciples of all nations and (sub)cultures (Matt 28:19-20) by responding with ‘Send me!’ then we need to do deep gospel work.

When we walk amid a fallen world, deep gospel work means not affirming that which does not please God. So, Christians ought not affirm aspects of Pride and LGBTQ+ people that are sinful and ungodly. However, deep gospel work means understanding multi-dimensional people and culture through thick lenses. Only then might we begin to see where the God of Mission may be at work, where his presence is desired or resisted, and how we should apply the gospel.

The late missiologist Willis Horst wrote:

… not all that happens or is present in any culture … is of God. Some elements are not life-giving…. [yet, on the other hand,] every culture has aspects of a better life, a dream towards which it seeks to move…. [5]

When we begin to develop thicker lenses, Christians may present the gospel to a (sub)culture by acknowledging its core concerns, without condoning the many ungodly ways in which the (sub)culture seeks to address them.

There’s a difference between not affirming sexual ethics, and not relating to persons … God does not condone sin; he relates with sinners.

Pride month is a major cultural event of the LGBTIQ+ community to commemorate cultural ideas and histories that formed them. It is in June to commemorate the historical event of the Stonewall Riots in June 1969, which is seen as the catalyst that galvanised a civil rights movement. Symbolically, Stonewall is seen as the ‘exodus’ that began the liberation of LGBTQ+ people from repression. The rainbow flag is seen as both a symbol of solidarity in diversity (under which a group could stand as equal citizens when they are not treated as equal citizens under their national flag) and a defiant symbol of hope and life amid symbols of despair and death used against them (e.g. the ‘pink triangles’ of Nazi Germany).[6]

Today, Pride month celebrates sexual diversity, freedom from experienced oppression and awareness of existence. [7]

Now Christians should not affirm aspects of Pride that celebrate diverse sexual expression antithetical to biblical sexual ethics. But there’s a difference between not affirming sexual ethics, and not relating to persons. Scripture teaches us again and again that while God does not condone sin, he relates with sinners.

We cannot be certain how to respond in each and every situation, but the Spirit of God can guide us. We may not have an adequate knowledge of the people with whom we wish to share the gospel, but communication and dialogue is an essential part of the process.

As Jonathan Edwards warns, ‘we ought to be very careful that we don’t refuse to discourse with men, with any appearance of a supercilious neglect [i.e. insignificant], as tho’ we counted ’em not worthy to be regarded; on the contrary we should condescend to carnal men, as Christ has condescended to us …’ [8] Christ’s condescension in incarnation is humble engagement (Phil 2:5-11), not condemning from a distance.

In other words, Christ engages in thick relationships. But social media comments are not relationships. Neither are tweets. Humble condescension is not sitting in our loungerooms, our pews or standing at our pulpits and waiting for them to enter—Christ did not wait in the heavens for us to bring him down (Rom 10:6).

Christ engages in thick relationships. But social media comments are not relationships. Neither are tweets.

Perhaps more of us need to be sent with beautiful feet, to speak good news to those in the LGBTQ+ community who have not heard and are yet to believe and call on Jesus as their saviour (Rom 10:14-15).

Thick lenses only come through the ministry of a pot of tea and plates of cream and scones, i.e. deep relationships. Do we know any LGBTQ+ people personally? Have we asked them about what Pride means to them? Have we sat down and had a coffee with someone and ask why they celebrate? Have we walked alongside them, not as a bystander or critic, but a friend?

Of course, Christians cannot condone any celebration of hubris against God, either in Pride or in our faith communities. But Jesus says, if our house is not in order, how are we to speak against the pride of others? (Matt 7:5) Jonathan Edwards points out aspects of pride manifesting in Christians as unteachableness, harshness in speech and criticism, assuming of others and neglecting their wellbeing.[8]

And so, instead of assuming, we do better first to listen (Jas 1:19). To take this listening posture, we may begin to hear that Pride, for some, is less about hubris than about survival. For some, Pride is about surviving invisibility ‘to those who deny the truth of our existence’, or surviving toxic shame: ‘I just got tired of fighting and hiding and feeling shame about myself and having that shame just spill over into so many different areas of my life.’ [10] Pride month is a moment to acknowledge that the privilege of merely existing as a human being made in the image of God has been, and continues to be, denied to some LGBTIQ+ people. [11]

In this aspect, Pride is about seeking life, and life to the full; the very core desires that every human being has. We might disagree about the means in which life is sought and the telos of this ‘full life’, but the underlying intentions of seeking life, surviving, existing, and having dignity is human, noble, and our very own.

Perhaps, for a group of people who have lived in silence and are crying to be heard, the first thing we can do as Christians is to utter the words: ‘You exist.’ You exist in our churches and in our pews. You exist in our neighbourhoods and in our homes. You exist on the bus we catch, walking down fruit produce aisles and eating avocado on toast.

Your desire for existence is heard by God, the one who ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ made you. Your desire for justice is heard by Jesus, the true Samaritan who has loved you to death—even death on a cross. Your desire for deep spiritual communion is possible, regardless of your past and your present, through the Spirit who brings new birth.

‘You exist and I want to listen to you. Will you be my neighbour?’

[1] John Swinton, Finding Jesus in the Storm: The Spiritual Lives of Christians with Mental Health Challenges (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2020), 12-13.

[2] Swinton, Finding Jesus in the Storm. 14.

[3] Swinton, Finding Jesus in the Storm. 38.

[4] “Awareness Days,” https://www.awarenessdays.com/awareness-days-calendar/pride-month-2021.

[5] Willis Horst, ‘Religious Self-determination and the Autochthonous Church,’ in Mission Without Conquest: An Alternative, ed. Willis Horst, Ute & Frank Paul (Cumbria: Langham Global Library, 2015), 10-12. Italics added.

[6] See https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/gay-prisoners-germany-wwii/ ; https://www.ushmm.org/exhibition/persecution-of-homosexuals/

[7] “Awareness Days,” https://www.awarenessdays.com/awareness-days-calendar/pride-month-2021.

[8] Jonathan Edwards, Some thoughts concerning the present revival of religion in New-England (1742),

https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/evans/N04004.0001.001/1:7?rgn=div1;view=fulltext. Emphasis added.

[9] Jonathan Edwards, Some thoughts concerning the present revival of religion in New-England

[10] https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/06/11/pride-month-2021-celebration/

[11] 71 countries continue to criminalise homosexuality, 11 sanction death penalties. See https://www.humandignitytrust.org/lgbt-the-law/map-of-criminalisation/ ,Thirteen year old Tyrone Unsworth committed suicide in Brisbane, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-03/bullied-to-death-the-short-life-of-tyrone-unsworth/8236156?nw=0 For an analysis of state sanctioned killings, see https://cpjp.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/State-sanctioned-killing-of-sexual-minorities_Final.pdf . For chemical castration, see https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-manchester-37443639