Most of us struggle to keep pace with the speed of societal progress. This means that many Christians are unsure how to approach and even answer questions to do with LGBTQ issues. We’re concerned about fitting the stereotypes of Christian hatred or intolerance. We’re nervous about the names we might be called. We’re worried that we won’t really be heard.
So what do we do when WorldPride comes to town? Sydney is hosting WorldPride in 2023, and many Christians wonder how we should respond. How can we genuinely care and show concern for people in this space when the LGBTQ agenda seems to be so against what we believe as Christians? In this episode of the CCL podcast, we’ll hear from a same-sex-attracted Christian about his reflections on how to think and live in such times.
Links referred to:
- Podcast episode 090: Grappling with sexuality with Simon Swadling
- Our next event: “Is love really all you need?” with Chase Kuhn (Wed 15 March)
- Support the work of the Centre
- Contact the Centre about your ethical questions
Runtime: 30:55 min.
Please note: This transcript has been edited for readability.
Chase Kuhn: I spoke to a young teenager who started high school recently. They told me the first question they were asked was about their preferred pronouns. As they explained this to me, they said, “I’m not sure I know what a pronoun is, let alone why it matters what I want to be called.”
Shortly after they were asked this, they were asked if they are LGBTQ. Then they were asked if they support LGBTQ. They were stupefied: their 12 years of life had not yet prepared them for this world.
When I asked a 30-year-old woman how she would respond in her professional life at a global corporation, she also was unsure.
The truth is, most of us struggle to keep pace with the speed of progress. So many of us are unsure about how to answer these kinds of questions. I think we’re especially concerned that we will fit the stereotypes of Christian hatred or intolerance. We’re nervous about the names we might be called. We’re worried that we won’t really be heard.
So what do we do when WorldPride comes to town? Sydney is hosting WorldPride in 2023, and many Christians wonder how we should respond. How can we genuinely care and show concern for people in this space when the LGBTQ agenda seems to be so against what we believe as Christians? Today on the podcast, we’ll hear from a same-sex-attracted Christian about his reflections on how to think and live in such times.
CK: Hello and welcome to the Centre for Christian Living podcast. My name is Chase Kuhn and I’m coming to you from Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia.
Today on the podcast, I’m welcoming back a friend and a student of mine: Simon Swadling, who’s in his final year here at Moore College studying. Last time on the podcast, we got to hear from Simon a bit about his personal testimony as a same-sex attracted Christian. Today, I’m very glad to welcome him back on the podcast. Simon, welcome.
Simon Swadling: Thanks! I’m glad to be back! [Laughter]
The cultural push for LGBTQ acceptance
CK: Today we’re talking about something that’s happening in Sydney this year, which is WorldPride. Each year, Sydney hosts a Mardi Gras festival, which celebrates the LGBTQ community and tries to promote that agenda throughout this city and the culture more widely. They garner all kinds of sponsors for this, they bring in all kinds of celebrity support, and they have a massive parade and all kinds of events. This year (2023) they’re inviting all nations to come in to Sydney to celebrate Pride in what I think they’re calling “the Olympics of Pride rallies”.
That’s what we’re talking about today. An upfront disclaimer: both of us are petrified of this topic! [Laughter] Am I right?
SS: Absolutely! [Laughter]
CK: I’m a heterosexual man, you’re a homosexual-attracted man, and we’re both quite terrified of talking about this [Laughter], because we realise how fraught it is.
As a Christian man who is same-sex attracted, how do you process these cultural pushes for LGBTQ community acceptance? I mean that emotionally. People identify themselves in a whole host of ways, and they’re not the same by any stretch; they’re quite different among each of the letters in the acronym. But how do you process it as a man who’s a Christian and same-sex attracted?
SS: Yeah. I think—and I’ll probably use this word every five seconds as we talk about this—it’s really “complicated” [Laughter]. It’s hard to think about and process. You need to work hard as a Christian to think about what is good, what is right, what is something that represents part of who we are, and the way we’re made that has, maybe, been distorted or is different.
I really identify with the desire for a space where you feel understood, known and accepted. That is something people want universally, and I think it can be a real struggle for someone who’s in a sexual minority. They may think, “What’s a space where I feel accepted and safe?” But what acceptance and safety looks like is complicated and different from different perspectives.
That said, I really resonate with that sentiment. I too have felt it can be really hard work to help people understand who I am, how this impacts who I am and how I think. It can be really draining. So it can be a relief to know someone else in the same space, or someone who has had similar experiences to you. You can have a shorthand with someone who understands some of what you’ve gone through—how you experience things. You don’t have to get them up to scratch. Getting people up to scratch is fine and is a part of life for everyone; to be understood by someone else, you have to be able to communicate that. But sometimes as a same-sex attracted Christian, it can feel really draining to make yourself understood in this complicated and difficult space. So I can see why Pride and having that space to be yourself is attractive.
I read an interview with someone the other day who said exactly that—why that was important to them. When they were young, it was really lonely, and they longed to be understood and supported by someone who’d walked a similar path. They wanted to be acknowledged and valued for being different. Then they talked about how exciting it is that we get to host a significant and important world event in dynamic, all inclusive, multicultural Sydney.
I really resonate with some of that sentiment. It’s exciting to find people who understand you. It’s exciting for anyone to feel understood and seen—particularly for a community who has felt misunderstood, demonised and rejected. I can see why finding a space where they can feel accepted is really exciting for them. It’s a big deal for that community.
But on the other hand, I have the side of me that really cares about how God has made and designed us, and about what God says is good. The LGBT community can stand pretty directly against those values that I hold really dear.
That leads to a really uncomfortable tension. Sometimes I can feel like I stand in some sort of no-man’s-land: there are things I sympathise with and understand about that community, and there are things that I really don’t like about that community. But I could say the same for Christian community.
There are also times when I feel really understood and a part of both spaces—Christian and LGBTQ. But there are also times when I feel quite on the outer—particularly as someone who is same-sex attracted, but who believes in the traditional biblical ethic of marriage being for a man and a woman, with everything else outside that being celibacy. You can feel quite invisible, because there’s often not a space for that position in both communities. That is just not understood much in the LGBTQ community: if you have these desires, why aren’t you acting on them? There’s no in-between step of having those desires, but not believing it’s right to act on them.
On the other hand, in the Christian space, you can feel really misunderstood. People may not have had experience helping people in this or even experience with people in that community. They can be thoughtless, or they can say things that can be hurtful. Or they can give in to the polarisation we live in as a society. As Christians in Christian community, I think we can tend towards ways that can make people like me feel a bit invisible and that I don’t quite belong, even though fundamentally, I know I do belong. After all, that’s where God has called me and placed me.
CK: That’s so insightful, Simon. Thank you for sharing that. I feel a little bit sad and discouraged that we haven’t done better and that people find themselves in no-man’s-land. The reason why I’m sad about that is, firstly, because of people feeling loneliness and missing out on what gospel community should be and do, but also secondly, because of the unnecessary temptation it puts on people.
If you want to be accepted somewhere, in the LGBTQ community, what people tell you is you will accepted through conformity. If you want to be here, live out every bit of you that feels any urge in this way. Nobody should tell you otherwise. You get full acceptance through full participation.
Yet, as you said before, in the Christian community, you can easily be misunderstood or misrepresented, viewed suspiciously, or other things. I’ve heard horrible stories: somebody begins sharing about someone and people automatically assume that person is a paedophile and unsafe around children, or something else terrible. It’s disgusting! So misunderstood. As a Christian community, we’ve got do better at loving, supporting and caring for people who are following Jesus.
Engaging with the LGBTQ community
CK: With the LGBTQ community and Pride, I find a lot of Christians feel very uncertain about how to engage with them. In Sydney, there are banners and major sponsors everywhere. In fact, every advertising billboard around the city seems to be focused on the message, “We’re for Pride”. That puts a certain kind of cultural pressure on Christians.
I’ll share anecdotally: I was speaking to a teenager recently who’s just entered high school. At their very first exposure to a high school crowd, someone asked them their pronouns. They didn’t even know what a pronoun was.
Then they were asked if they were LGBTQ. They were asked, “Do you participate as an LGBTQ member?”, but they were also asked, “Do you support the LGBTQ community?” They felt very uncertain about what to do.
I also spoke about that with another adult in their professional business place, and even they had no idea how to engage with their LGBTQ or pro-LGBTQ friends in the community.
So how as Christians do we meet this wave of culture coming at us with love and truth? How do we do it sensibly? I realise that’s a massive question, but do you have any advice?
SS: Yeah. Well, I think, and to say that word again, it’s complicated—even for me, who spends a decent amount of time reading in this space, listening to podcasts, and listening to Christians talking about this and people sharing their stories. I find it overwhelming to think about.
That’s in part because there’s so much diversity even within that community. I think it can be easy to paint a community we’re not a part of with one brush and go, “Well, it’s all the same and all in that space.” We need to push back against that even in how we think about that. Our default reaction is to kind of try and put people in boxes. We can do that as we think about the LGBTQ community. But there’s so much diversity even within that community.
As we go into thinking about that space and considering our own assumptions, I think we really need to try and foster an atmosphere of curiosity. That is helpful on so many levels: it helps us pull back on any defensive feelings or nervousness that we can have in talking about this space. If you are defensive, people can really sense that.
Fostering a sense of curiosity really helps you to become interested in the people in front of you. Try and understand where they’re coming from and why these things are important to them. That’s just fundamentally really important in how we interact in this space. It helps them see that you are interested in them as a person.
Often when we hear really polarised views in debates in the media and in real life, through Christians saying the wrong thing and doing dumb things, and also through the way other people talk about Christians, people from the LGBTQ community can think Christians don’t care about who they are as people. They think Christians are just here to judge you and to tell you how to live your life. Whereas, if you can show that you are actually interested in them as a person and that you’re curious about them, it helps you and it helps them to feel like they actually want to be seen and understood by you. That’s a really beautiful thing for them.
It’s also helpful for them to see someone who’s really different from them, from a different community, and with different background and preferences and values, who is still interested in knowing them as a person and valuing them as a person. That in itself is a really powerful testimony that fights against that assumption that Christians are judgemental and only out to judge you. So showing interest in who they are as a person is really helpful as a fundamental approach, both for you and for them.
Alongside that, practise curiosity and compassion. I think about how this person needs Jesus just as much as I do: no matter what we hear in the media or in discussions where we hear about these things, Jesus is good for everyone. His salvation is good. Knowing God is good. We are designed to know God. So having confidence in the goodness of the Christian message is really essential.
I think we can think we feel confident about this, and maybe we can be confident at a base level. But then when we interact in these spaces, we actually can feel quite uncomfortable. That’s why working to understand why what God says is good is really important for you going into that space and being confident that you can love this person well without them shaking your faith. Sometimes we can be fearful when interacting with someone who is other and different—fearful that they will make us question what we believe. Curiosity helps with that. But also being confident in what God says is good is also really helpful. It means you can come from a place that is not defensive, because you’re confident in what God says. You’re not trying to prove yourself to this other person; you’re trying to know them and love them, while still holding to what is true and important and knowing that what God says is good.
CK: That’s excellent. Again, it’s just so wise to ask something of somebody, rather than just assuming. If the world did that, we would be in a far better place. Instead of just assuming the worst, or putting somebody into a box too quickly, which polarises things and doesn’t allow for dialogue, begin by asking questions and just showing a loving interest.
Also, your encouragement towards us having compassion for people as they’re journeying through life: they are where we would have otherwise been, but for the grace of God, in one way, shape, or form. The only thing different for us is that we’ve known and trusted in the grace that God has given to us in Jesus. We pray that they will do the same. That’s so helpful.
The kinds of ways that confidence can reassure us as we begin dialoguing is just so wonderful. So thank you for that, Simon.
CK: As we take a break from our program, I want to invite you to our first live event for 2023. This year, we’re considering the virtuous life, and at our first event on 15 March, I’ll be presenting on the topic “Is love really all you need?” In a world where we’re told that love is love, I’m going to be exploring love amongst other virtues and seeing why it holds a central place in our thinking. You can find out more information and register yourself, your small group or your church at ccl.moore.edu.au.
I’d also like to remind you that all of our events are now by donation only. The entire Centre for Christian Living runs exclusively on donations, which does not pay for my salary, but for the production and promotion of our materials. So please register for the event and donate what you’re able. And if you can’t afford any donation, we’d love to have you anyway.
Finally, we’re hoping to begin a new initiative in our podcast where we hear from and interact with listeners just like you. Many of you have burning ethical questions or scenarios that you’d like advice about. We’d love to hear from you. Please send us your issues and listen out for answers in our upcoming episodes, where we’ll feature a short segment on your ethical challenges. You can send them to us through the contact page on our website.
Now let’s get back to our program.
Nurturing Christian confidence
CK: So just on that last point you had about confidence, how can we help Christians be more confident in the goodness of what Christianity offers? In other words, if this really is God’s world and God really is good, and he really does love us and calls us to the best way of living, how can we help Christians see that when a world that used to demonise a particular way of life has now demonised the Christian way of life? How do you help people in that space?
SS: Yeah. I think, again, it’s complicated: there’s a lot to think about. We have a history of just teaching the rules: what not to do, how not to be and how not to live. I think that’s really unhelpful in engaging in this space, because as soon as someone says, “Well, I don’t think that rule is true”, then you’re kind of undermined and you don’t have anywhere to go.
This is why learning about the deeper truths of the Bible and the deeper truths about why these things matter is really important and helpful. Think about not only the obvious points where the Bible deals with homosexuality, but also how the whole story of God’s word and the way that God has created the world impacts this. So have confidence in it not just as a rule, but as part of a holistic system of how God has made the world. Know that God is good and that God is loving, and that he knows what’s best for us because he made us. Having that kind of confidence is really helpful.
I was listening to a podcast the other day in which someone was talking about how marriage and sex has become a really ultimate thing in our culture. But I think we’ve fallen into the mistake of making it ultimate even in Christian cultures. We do it in implicit ways, even if we don’t teach that: we do it by being a little bit lazy in how we talk about marriage. The fact that it’s designed to be a metaphor for our ultimate purpose means that it’s a potent thing that can be misused once you remove the purpose you’re heading towards. Looking at marriage, and thinking about marriage and sex and their place in the Christian life—why they’re good and why they point to our future with Jesus—is something that is not as explored as much, but is super helpful in this space.
I’ve been reading this really great book by Julian Hardyman called Jesus, Lover of My Soul: Fresh Pathways to Spiritual Passion, and it explores that space using Song of Songs to think about how that portrays Jesus’ relationship with us. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that exploration done so deeply before. You hear it said that marriage is this symbol that points to Jesus and the church, but we rarely go deep into what that means, what that looks like and how we experience that. So pushing into those spaces and understanding what that looks like can be really helpful.
That can feel really uncomfortable. This book has been an uncomfortable read for me as it’s pushed into this space, saying our sexualities are designed to point us to a deeper relationship with Jesus. That can feel really uncomfortable because we don’t think about it that much. We’re used to thinking about sex in a certain way that undermines its fundamental purpose. So having that space, and learning and thinking about sex’s fundamental purpose and why it’s been designed the way it has, really helps you build that confidence to say, “What we believe about this is right—not just because it’s a rule and not just because it’s something God has said in an explicit way, but because, implicitly, throughout the whole Bible, it is part of his fundamental creation for the world. So if you believe God is good and loving, then you can believe that this is a good part of God’s world and that this is good for everyone.”
CK: That’s wonderful, and it’s so helpful to be able to situate this in a much bigger picture. I’m so glad you did that because you’re right: we get so caught up in the experience and the immediacy of everything else—especially the sensory experience or even the relational dynamics—that we miss out on something much more important and much more significant.
This then certainly has to enable a different experience for somebody who is single. They’re not missing out on something else that would keep them from genuine human experience or whatever else. Instead, celibacy can be appreciated. Singleness can be appreciated. You can be looking to other things that are deeper, more meaningful and more fulfilling in a way that even marriage and sex cannot satisfy. That’s so helpful.
Promoting singleness and celibacy
CK: How would you, then, think about promoting singleness and celibacy as a good way?
SS: Yeah. I think that’s really important and really difficult to do, and difficult to do well. I think people have not done it well in the past, and so we don’t have lots of examples to look to about how to do it really well, and so it can be really hard to think about those things.
Even in my journey, it’s a been real process to think about celibacy and singleness as things that are good. I’m not used to thinking that way. Our culture doesn’t say it’s good. Even within the church, it doesn’t feel like we think about it as something that is good. It’s really hard. It’s taken me a long time and I’m still on that journey of accepting it is good, even though I’ve just said I believe it’s good. But really accepting that within myself is complicated, and I feel like I’ve been growing in that recently as I’ve looked more into that space and read more about the fundamental way God has made the world, and seeing that celibacy can be a really good thing.
So I think it’s important to build spaces in our communities where people are accepted, loved and included in things. I think it’s really easy for single people to feel excluded when we have programs in church that are helping married couples—helping look after children. Everything sort of points towards this progression, and we just accept is how life should go. But as Christians, we should be fighting against what we think is the standard way that we should be living life, because as Christians, we should be living life differently. We’ve had a long time of being able to go along with societal norms on a base level, because they’ve aligned, and now we have to think about how to do that differently. I think thinking about singleness is really essential on so many fronts—particularly being able to testify to the LGBTQ community that there is a place for them in the church—a place for them to be loved—and that God’s ethic is good. We need to have really robust ways of looking after single people, not making marriage something that seems ultimate and not living like that.
I have a real sense of this, and I’ve heard from others that being same-sex attracted and in the church gives you a real sensitivity to hypocrisy. You can really see that sometimes in how people teach about marriage not being ultimate, but then everyone around you in the church lives like it is. That can make you feel really devalued and excluded, and it can devalue trust in people who say those things and then live that way, because you see that the way they’re talking is not lining up with how they’re living. That’s why thinking about how to live out your beliefs, both as a married person and as a single person, is important and helpful. It’s so good that we can enrich each other’s lives because of the different context we’re in.
I’ve seen the goodness of that truth. My love of these things and my comfort in the single life has grown as people have been doing those things: welcoming me into their families, making time for me and making me feel included. That’s just been really fundamental in helping me see that singleness can be good and understanding the ways in which it can be good.
CK: I’m reeling here because I think you’ve said so much that’s rich and helpful, and I feel quite confronted. The Christian life is hard enough: we have to live by faith, and the call to somebody who’s single or who is in a whole range of circumstances is still the same. We are always called to live by faith in what God has promised us, and what he has promised us is good.
But it’s another thing to demonstrate that faith in the works you do and in your lifestyle. I think you’ve called us out on some serious blind spots in our churches, where we confess one thing, we might even teach on it, and yet we might program in such a way and demonstrate that we’re convinced by something else. That only makes it harder and harder for people who are trying to live by faith. So you’ve done us a service, here Simon. I’ve got some things I’m going to walk away and keep thinking about. Thank you for raising it.
How to respond
CK: Just as we wrap up our program, I mentioned to you before about my working friend and the conversations she’s having, and about the young teenager that I spoke with and the conversation she was having. What do you say? When people ask you, “Are you for LGBTQ? Do you support it?”, how do you answer that in a way that invites deeper conversation, instead of being put in a box? It requires nuance, I know. How do you respond to somebody when you get asked about that—especially when Pride comes to town?
SS: I can’t speak a lot from experience in this space; Christian circles has been really what I’ve grown up in, and I don’t have a lot of experience outside that, especially now that I attend a Christian college and work in ministry. I have less of those opportunities and I can’t necessarily speak from directly going, “Oh yeah, I’ve had this conversation with someone and it’s gone well. Here’s how it went well.”
I want to recognise that it is hard and complicated. I don’t have all the answers for that space. But I think some of the things that we were talking about earlier are useful—of finding the good that you can recognise and affirm, and of establishing a place where people can belong, be known and feel loved. That’s what we see as a fundamental part of Christian community: it’s a place where people can be known and loved, know and love others, and be known and loved by Jesus, who knows and loves them more intimately than anyone else.
I think there is space for figuring out the good that you can affirm in those things. That might help to open up conversations in ways that are more than going, “Oh no, I don’t believe gay marriage is right”. That’s a way to close down a conversation. Instead, be thoughtful about what things you can align with.
Obviously, there are plenty of things that you can’t align with—things that you will want to stand against as a Christian. But you can still do the hard work and think, “Actually, I think including people is really good. Loving people is really good. Not putting people down because of who they are or how they experience life is good. These are good things for us Christians to do and not do.” So look for those things. There is good that you can affirm in including people, rather than just going, “Oh, I’m not for that because of these reasons.”
That said, it is complicated and people don’t necessarily want to hear nuance. People are not necessarily primed to hear that disagreement with part of this is a loving thing. So be ready for people to not like what you say. It’s going to be par for the course in these conversations. Not everyone is going to be happy with you. But being thoughtful about how you respond is really helpful. Finding things that you can align with and that align with your values creates a place for common ground, which is really helpful, because that you can then divert from it.
CK: Yeah. Again, that is very wise. I hope and pray that the Lord will open good opportunities for conversations are pleasant and not painful. But it is difficult when we know that friendship with the world is enmity with God. Therefore, in one sense, friendship with God is enmity with the world, and therefore people are going to stand against us because of our beliefs. But we can still stand in our beliefs with care, respect and love, and we can seek to speak truth in love, even, as you’ve said, by finding ways of connecting and not shutting down; by finding ways of being compassionate; and by standing in our convictions with confidence and not defensiveness. That’s really helpful.
CK: Simon, again, I can’t thank you enough for coming on the podcast. It’s been a pleasure to have you on for these two episodes. Thank you so much for being willing to share.
SS: Yeah, I’m glad I could, and I hope it’s encouraging and helpful.
CK: To benefit from more resources from the Centre for Christian Living, please visit ccl.moore.edu.au, where you’ll find a host of resources, including past podcast episodes, videos from our live events and articles published through the Centre. We’d love for you to subscribe to our podcast and for you to leave us a review so more people can discover our resources.
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As always, I would like to thank Moore College for its support of the Centre for Christian Living, and to thank to my assistant, Karen Beilharz, for her work in editing and transcribing the episodes. The music for our podcast was generously provided by James West.