A common refrain I see from certain conservative Christian commentators is that homosexuality is “celebrated” in Western culture and that people are “pressured” into accepting “the homosexual lifestyle.” In some sense, I can see where this perception is coming from. I’m currently studying at a large public university, and I have previously done internships in very gay-friendly corporate settings. In these contexts, I do feel quite a bit of pressure to change my beliefs and to affirm all loving, monogamous relationships, including gay relationships with a sexual component.
There are many ways that this perception is problematic, however. The biggest problem I see is that the pressure is far from being one-sided. Ironically, the same people complaining about pressure to affirm gay relationships are themselves often creating immense pressure in a different direction. This pressure is often encouraging me to go beyond holding to traditional sexual ethics, but also to change the labels I use, to try to change my sexual orientation, or to focus my efforts and attention on opposing the gay-affirming segments of society. In some ways, I feel this sort of pressure more acutely than I do the pressure to affirm sexual gay relationships. Rachel Held Evans recently expressed this point well while discussing some related issues: “We aren’t ‘giving in’ to the culture; our culture is evangelical Christianity. We’re struggling with that culture, and doing so comes with a cost.” The fact of the matter is that the social connections that matter the most to me are those of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
A type of pressure that I most certainly face from my fellow Christians, albeit one that I don’t feel quite as acutely, is pressure to hold onto the same understanding of Scripture that I already have. There’s a great deal of pressure to maintain that sexual relationships between people of the same sex are inherently sinful. This sort of pressure is more obvious when I see the way it plays out when directed towards people who no longer share that belief. As Rachel Held Evans discussed in the same post I linked above, there are often tangible costs to coming to a different conclusion.
To be honest, the pressure I feel most acutely to affirm gay relationships is different than you might expect. I don’t think that what’s most challenging to my beliefs is primarily about whether people will think less of me for holding traditional views, although that sort of fear of man is definitely something I struggle with. I think my beliefs are more challenged by seeing homophobia on the part of people who share some of my theology, by hearing about people who have been deeply sinned against by those affirming traditional teaching, or by hearing from people who have concluded they cannot have an abundant life while celibate. I don’t want to be calloused to the pain of others, even though I want to be faithful to Christian teaching. I don’t think there should be a conflict there, but it sometimes feels as though there is.
Being in the middle of all this pressure is often frustrating. I hope that I am forming my beliefs out of a process of honestly seeking to learn God’s truth and to love others. However, it’s often hard to know what all is going into my process of working through sexuality issues. Do I really believe as I do because I’m as convinced as I think I am, or am I really succumbing to the pressure of my particular faith community? I do very much appreciate accountability and seeking truth in community, but people are fallible, and it’s hard to know my real motivations. The fact of the matter, though, is that there isn’t a “safe” approach for me to take. There will always be pressure for me to approach things differently than I do, and I have to try to seek truth and love despite the difficulties created by the cultural climate I inhabit.
If you make the sort of statement that I mentioned at the beginning of the post, that society celebrates homosexuality, what you’re actually telling me is different from what you’re probably trying to tell me. You’re reminding me that if I change my convictions or enter a gay relationship myself, there is a large community of people who do not hold to a traditional view of sexual ethics and who will welcome me. You’re probably also implicitly telling me that I will not, or at least should not, receive that kind of welcome as a sexual minority person in a Christian community that holds to traditional sexual ethics. Some sexual minority people do believe you and so are actually pressured by your attitude to abandon their convictions. Think before you speak.
Fortunately, I do not believe you myself. I have been blessed with a church and larger Christian community where people treat me as a brother in Christ and are interested in learning from my experience as a sexual minority person who is trying to be faithful to Christian teaching. In this context, I have seen some of the most helpful responses, where it is clear that people care about me and want to help me work through things. When it’s geographically feasible, one of the most helpful things has been when people offer to get together for a meal or coffee. We often have good discussions that get into issues of sexuality among other things. In a face-to-face meeting, it’s clear when a person wants to support or to learn, and it’s clear that they’re not just there to preach at me. I appreciate when people listen, and when they offer their own thoughts within a context where I’m already being open with them. I think it’s important that I have some space to raise doubts, questions, and struggles without being written off. Whether or not we’re able to meet face to face, it’s also helpful when people are open with me about their own situations and questions. There’s some degree of pressure inherent in simply having convictions in the first place, but it’s not so suffocating when I know someone is trying to support me and to help me pursue truth, love, and holiness.
Jeremy Erickson is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He previously studied Mathematics and Computer Science at Taylor University in Upland, IN.