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Gay Family Member, the Sabbath

[Today’s Christian, September-October, 2004]

Q. Several years ago a member of my family, Eloise, a single parent who had previously been heterosexual, began to live as a lesbian. How can we show love toward her, and yet not appear to condone this decision? She was raised as a Christian, is very familiar with biblical teachings, and must know this choice is not what the Lord would want. But even though we don’t agree with Eloise’s behavior, we still love her and want to spend time with her and our niece.

A. You’re experiencing the "Left Unsaid" dilemma. If you leave unsaid your convictions about Eloise’s choice, it automatically looks like you affirm it. The current momentum is to not merely tolerate but celebrate homosexuality. If you don’t say anything, it looks like you roll along with the crowd.

But it’s not as easy as just saying you disagree. While the mainstream opinion is assumed to be enthusiastic affirmation, the alternative is assumed to be hatred. Either you join the celebration or you’re thought to be harboring malicious thoughts. That’s not the case for you, either-you love Eloise, you’re just worried about her. There doesn’t seem to be a category for the way you feel.

That’s just how gays and lesbians felt a couple of decades ago. They had to "leave unsaid" their true desires and try to appear heterosexual, because the general image of homosexuals was so ugly and bizarre. Now, through ingenious planning and hard work, they have achieved an image-makeover. They created a third way between the previous alternatives of enforced heterosexuality and depraved low-life, and established an identity that is responsible, likeable, "normal."

Now it’s time for us to do the same. We don’t have to accept these socially-imposed alternatives of endorsing homosexuality or being seen as vicious. Look at your own sincere feelings, for example. You don’t loathe Eloise; you love her as a family member and enjoy visiting with her. You want the best for her, which is why you are worried about her turn to lesbianism. You see this as the wrong solution to a problem, like someone coping with chronic pain by turning to drink. Whatever disappointment or loneliness afflicted her previous heterosexual life, this is not the way to perfect healing. You recognize that Eloise is not powerless to change her "orientation;" she’s already done it once. So you insist on seeing her as a full and complex human being, one who needs Christ’s healing as much as anyone else, rather than as someone who can be completely explained by the label "lesbian."

You don’t really need advice about what to do. You need support for what you’re already doing. You deserve to have the culture respect your convictions without stereotyping you as evil—exactly the same goal gays and lesbians had a couple of decades ago. How to do it?

A gay rights slogan is "We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!" National Review columnist John Derbyshire returns the challenge: "We’re here, we’re mildly and tolerantly homophobic, get used to it!" It’s false, he says, to label everyone who resists affirming homosexuality as a dangerous lunatic. We just want to be permitted to live by our convictions, which are nearly ubiquitous throughout the human race. Derbyshire writes: "We can’t help it, we’re born this way…[T]here’s plenty of evidence for it in the animal kingdom…[I]n 99.99 percent of cases, it’s perfectly harmless. I am speaking about homophobia, of course."

I don’t know whether Derbyshire can succeed in re-appropriating the term "homophobia," but I admire his attempt to offer a third way between the forced alternatives of celebration and hate. It will turn out that there are a great many of us. We just have to find our voice.

It’s not unusual for there to be a gap between what people say and what they do, but usually the weakness is on the doing side. Here it’s the reverse: we’re already walking the walk, feeling love toward homosexuals yet wishing to call them to wholeness. Now we have to learn to talk the talk.


Q. Is it wrong to wash clothes or mow the lawn on Sunday? The Ten Commandments say we should not to work on the Lord’s Day. —Nell A. of Texas

A. "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8) is no doubt the commandment that confuses Christians most. Not only is the practical application unclear (what, exactly, constitutes "work" these days?), but Christ’s comments compound our uncertainty. While in the case of other commandments he pressed them further (don’t swear at all; don’t become angry, much less kill; do not lust, much less commit adultery), here he challenges religious leaders to relax their obsessive strictness. He points out that it is right to keep religious observances on the Sabbath (circumcise a baby), to help in an emergency (pull an ox out of a well), and even to perform ordinary farm chores (bring an donkey to the manger). "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27), he concludes.

So what is the Sabbath supposed to do? It’s where we should find rest. Washing clothes and mowing the lawn may fall into the permissible maintenance category, like leading a donkey to the manger, but we should resist the temptation to spend Sunday catching up on work we do every other day of the week. We should prioritize those activities that are truly relaxing for us, and it will be a personal choice: an office worker might find it restful to work in her vegetable garden, while a farmer would not. Even household chores can be relaxing for those who sit at a computer all day. When I finish this column I can get to that big pile of mending and ironing. I can’t wait!

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