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Guest Opinion: Challenging Christians on LGBTs

by Kim O'Reilly

Kim O'Reilly, Ph.D. Photo: Courtesy Intercultural Solutions
Kim O'Reilly, Ph.D. Photo: Courtesy Intercultural Solutions  

I'm seeking to build bridges with my new book, "We Love You, But You're Going to Hell." Expressed sincerely by conservative Christians, experienced painfully by gays and lesbians, Christianity and homosexuality are topics often not paired and seen as too taboo to discuss. The book grapples with this dilemma by addressing Scriptures, sexual orientation, stereotypes, church beliefs, same-sex marriage, and religious freedom. Chapters on "Why It Matters" and "What We Can Do" look at real lives and loving solutions.

The book's title is not meant to be provocative, but to reflect honestly what so many gays and lesbians have heard from their Christian families and friends. Deeply held, deeply rooted beliefs around integrity and being true to oneself as a homosexual versus deeply held, deeply rooted beliefs around homosexuality as sin. It is possible to honor the rights of each of these groups without denying the rights of the other.

My coming out process was not overnight. It was deeply personal and spiritual. In fact, I had for some time been looking at the 9th Commandment from a different perspective than most. It reads: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." I chose to focus that on myself, asking whether I was bearing false against myself and others if I was not honest about who I was. My struggle was about integrity, being true to myself, looking at Scriptures, and talking to God.

As a Christian, and the daughter of a conservative evangelical minister, I'm uniquely positioned to write this book. A deep love between my father and I — the paradox he loved and respected me, but didn't approve of "my homosexuality" and feared that I was going to hell. Walking and talking through that is what brought me to write the book. Many gays and lesbians find themselves in a similar situation, but unfortunately, haven't experienced that love or degree of acceptance from their parents or other family members.

Some Christians believe it is "loving" to demand denial of homosexuality, ending relationships, changing to heterosexuality, or remaining celibate — in order that the soul be saved. Others believe sexual orientation is God-given, cannot be changed, and that it is cruel and unloving to demand it. The demands and condemnation placed upon gays and lesbians by well-meaning church and family members is unjust and damaging. Instead, I advocate moving away from such harsh demands to compassionate treatment — to help heal and not inflict more pain.

Church leaders and evangelists have characterized gays as evil, sinful, perverted, molesters, and recruiters. All are stereotypes no one would want to be on the receiving end of — all are polarizing labels. Labels that harm, that dehumanize, and point to a group of people as less than. It's a case in point as to why we need to move away from damaging us versus them rhetoric and behavior.

Stereotyping is as common as the air we breathe. Engaging in critical thinking, being self-aware, and looking at why we believe what we believe about someone different than ourselves are essential to countering stereotypes. The goal is to prevent stereotypes in the first place, or at the very least, question and understand how they develop. It is also important to understand the damaging effects of stereotypes and the negative impact they have on those who are targeted.

In the book, I address popularized stereotypes and offer strategies to counter them.

Why it matters
When individuals believe, and churches preach, that homosexuality is an abomination — it matters. When an entire demographic is targeted as going to hell, in need of redemption, and required to change their sexual orientation in order to be accepted or remain in good standing — it matters. It matters to those who have lost their families, communities, and churches — to those who have been subjected to conversion therapy, required to remain celibate, or to deny their sexual orientation. It also matters to the friends, family, church members of gays and lesbians who have been condemned and rejected. Most often, it's in the name of God and love.

Kim O'Reilly, Ph.D., respectfully handles the topic of Christians and homosexuality non-confrontationally and without pointing fingers. She is an expert in the field of intercultural and cross-cultural understanding and communication. Her consulting and training firm, Intercultural Solutions, prepares businesses, churches, and schools with knowledge and strategies to address cultural differences. For more information about her book and services, visit her website at http://www.interculturalsolutions.net.

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