How should I respond when a Christian comes out to me?
By Sam Allberry
Many Christians find it hard to talk openly to others about their experience of same-sex attraction. If they are still coming to terms with it, there may be the fear that talking about it will somehow make it more real, as though the very act of speaking of it gives it a greater presence and significance. There is also often a fear of how other Christians might respond: a fear that friends will feel uncomfortable and might distance themselves. Or that church leaders will think anyone experiencing such feelings and temptations must be a great disappointment. Or that admitting such things will only be letting the side down. The battle can feel lonely enough; the prospect that others might reject you if they knew can be enough to keep many Christians silent about their struggles for many long years.
So in most cases the first thing to do if a Christian discloses their struggles with sexuality is to thank them. It will almost certainly have been a big deal for them to have shared this with you. They may have been psyching themselves up for months, getting to the point of raising it only to bottle it and put it off. That they have come this far and finally spoken of it – and done so to you – is no small thing. You may be one of only a handful to have been told this. Any time someone shares something deeply personal it is a sign of enormous trust. Acknowledge that. Thank them. Let them take a few deep breaths and assure them that the world is still spinning, that you’re still there and that they haven’t burst into flames.
...listen - carefully
The next thing to do is to listen – carefully. Experiences with same-sex attraction vary enormously. Points of sensitivity, triggers for temptation or despair, the issues surrounding and feeding into the feelings of attraction can differ immensely from one person to the next. Find out how they are. Ask them how long they’ve known; what its been like; what moved them to tell you. This may take some time. But it will help you get a sense of where they are with the issue: how it affects them and how they are responding to it as a Christian. Sometimes the experiences of same-sex attraction are just the symptoms of deeper issues. Sometimes there is family unhappiness in the background. Other times there is no discernible rhyme or reason to the feelings at all.
Gentle probing and careful listening will help to shape what sort of wisdom and counsel they may need. The Christian actively wrestling with these feelings, striving to flee from temptation, honour Christ and walk faithfully with him – will need encouragement, prayers and people he or she can talk to from time to time. Others may not be clear on the Bible’s teaching on sex and sexuality, and will need gentle instruction. Some may be in the depths of despair, imagining the presence of these feelings puts them beyond the spiritual pale, or feeling overwhelmed with guilt about past sins in this area. In such cases it may be that they need some mentoring and help from a more experienced Christian or specialised ministry.