What’s Your Stake in the Gay Debate?

“What’s it to you?” I am asked frequently about me being an LGBTQ ally — sometimes by friends who care about me, sometimes by people who don’t, sometimes by people who can’t grasp why I as a Christian should care about this issue. Seriously. I get the distinct impression that they are personally offended that I am an ally.I wish they could see things through the eyes of love.So, let me turn the tables here and ask the same question to those who want to shut me up: What is it to you? Because the question implies that we shouldn’t really fight injustice for its own sake. I’ve been practically told to leave “well enough” alone.

So let’s think this through. People have fought for social justice causes throughout history because it’s right, and many of those leading the way were Christians.

Beginning with Jesus, Christians have fought to upgrade women and children from disposable property to humans of inherent value.

Christians have fought against oppression, hunger, slavery.

Christians are called to fight for the oppressed; that’s part of the job of loving God and loving others.

Even Charles Darwin said he would not want to travel to a country that had not yet been civilized by Christian missionaries.

On the other hand, Christians have also had their hand in some horrifying events. The crusades, they fought to retain slavery, kept women and children bound in unspeakably abusive homes, against biracial mariage, and many other atrocities – wrongly using the Bible as their justification.

Just ponder with me that stark contrast.

Jesus offers beauty and restoration, inspiring his followers to fight for compassion and recognize intrinsic human worth no other religion claims. On the other hand, people carry out “in Jesus’ name” evil that turns the blood cold.

Does that trouble your heart, too?

I looked more deeply, and this began to dawn on me: people whose motivation is compassion, especially for the powerless or marginalized, are doing work after God’s own heart. People motivated by rule-keeping bring death.

We saw that with the religious leaders’ outrage at everything Jesus did, including His breaking the rules of the sabbath. Jesus answered, in essence: “You’ve got to be kidding me! You’re telling me you’d let your little lamb die because he fell in a pit on a sabbath and you wouldn’t pull it out? Get real! Which is better: to keep a rule or to follow God’s heart?”

We saw it in Jesus outrage at the religious leaders’ who trampled over the poor and powerless to increase their own wealth and power; he said these evildoers “would be punished mostly severely.”

And we saw Jesus’ disdain for rule-keeping over keeping God’s heart when he said that David, the “man after God’s own heart,” broke rules without penalty.

He laid into these religious leaders for condemning the innocent by requiring them to follow rules, when that was never the point.

The point is, in fact, that the compassion of God always trumps the rulesThat is what Christians who focus on rules have forgotten.

Indeed, love, compassion, and justice is always the point.

When children were in sweat shops, working ungodly hours in inhumane conditions, the children themselves were in no position to implement child labor laws, nor even could their families. It took a community of allies to rise up and say, “This is not right,” and then to fight for decades until change ultimately came.

When blacks were being sold as slaves, lynched, and treated as subhumans, they could not possibly bring change by themselves; only with the help of the majority did the the tide on racial inequality turn.

Innumerable issues have been fought in the name of justice, compassion, and protection… and I mean protection of the oppressed group, not protection from them. The law alone will never produce social justice. As MLK reminded us, “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” And as the Bible reminds us, the most impeccable law-keepers were the most insidious in their evil.

It’s hard to question deeply held beliefs — especially those we have internalized, from sources we have trusted. To question them is to risk shattering a false but comfortable worldview. But God, who has infinite compassion on LGBTQ people, asks us to question our beliefs, which have decimated the LGBTQ community.  He asks us to lay down our lives for each other, for heaven’s sake. He certainly he asks us to lay down our comfort, so we can hear own beliefs and listen for his heart.

What is at stake if you reexamine the questions in light of interpretation, history, context, and the horrifying cost to LGBTQ of the church’s hard stand against them?

What interpretation of scripture must you surrender to hear the author of that scripture?

When you sit with him in prayer, how does he tell you to see this issue? How does he tell you to love?

This kind of prayerful heart-search is exactly what Jesus meant when he said, “Go and discover what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not rule-keeping.’”


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SUSAN COTTRELL is a national speaker, teacher, and counselor with years of Biblical study and discipleship experience. Her books include: Mom, I’m Gay – Loving Your LGBTQ Child Without Sacrificing Your Faithas well as How Not to Lose Your Teen and The Marriage Renovation. Through her nonprofit organization – FreedHearts.org – Susan champions the LGBTQ community and families with her characteristic tender-heartedness, and she zealously challenges Christians who reject them with her wise insistence that “loving God and loving others” are the foundation of the rest of the scripture, just as Jesus said.

She is the Vice-President of PFLAG Austin, and her “Mom, I’m Gay” book has been endorsed by The Human Rights Campaign and others. Sharon Groves, PhD, HRC’s Religion & Faith Program Director says, “I often get asked by parents for resources that can address the struggles of raising LGBT sons and daughters without having to leave faith behind. Susan Cottrell’s book, Mom, I’m Gay, does just that. This is the kind of book that parents will love.”

She and her husband have been married more than 25 years and have five children – one of whom is in the LGBTQ community. She lives in Austin, Texas.