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Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor" (Glenn T. Stanton)

TITLE: Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor: Being Friends in Grace and Truth
AUTHOR: Glenn T. Stanton
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014, (208 pages).

Do not let the title of the book hem you in that the book is only about gay matters and relationships to the LGBT community. It is much more. It is about how to relate to people who are different than anyone of us.  It is about making and being friends. For Glenn Stanton, it is about asserting and affirming six fundamental truths laid out right from the start.
  1. "Everybody is a human person. No exceptions."
  2. "Every human person is of inestimable worth and value, none more than another. No exceptions."
  3. "Everyone is deeply and passionately loved by God. No exceptions."
  4. "Unfortunately everyone is burdened with a terminal illness: sin. No exceptions."
  5. "All, as children of Adam, are tragically separated from God, but this does not diminish God’s boundless love for us. But it does devastatingly hinder our relationship with Him. All of us, no exceptions."
  6. "Therefore, everyone is in desperate need of repentance, healing, and a new life which comes only in surrender and submission to Christ. No exceptions."

Beginning with a heartwarming tribute to gay rights activist, Jonathan Rauch who was invited to the headquarters of Focus on the Family, people from both sides of the sexuality divide were able to maintain a level of Christian love that evokes respect, restraint, and renewal of understanding of Jesus' teaching about loving our neighbors. As news of the divide continue to dominate headlines the world over, and how Christians are split in so many ways, this book comes as a fresh breeze not only to cool down any arguments, but to reset our positions back to Jesus' great commandment. For Stanton, resetting is not just about being nice. It is about refocusing on the key theologies and faith matters. What are the trademarks or traits of Christianity? What are the big ideas and themes of the Bible? Is it possible for one to disagree on major issues and still be great friends?

This book gives a good path forward to teach us that criticisms are allowed as long as they are truthful and fair. Speak the truth in love is the biblical injunction. Stanton goes on to give many examples of what speaking the truth in love means. Such as the gentle explanation about what literal interpretation is, and that Christians in general know when and what to take things literally. That we cannot stereotype any one gay community. The first step comes with understanding. Understand the terms and vocabulary used. Understand what homosexuality is and is not. Understand the difference between sexual attraction, identity, and orientation. For Stanton, identity is a subset of orientation, which in turn is a subset of attraction. We need to understand the nuances of each label as much as possible. Be quick to listen and slow to speak may very well be a good guide.

Stanton then takes on the topic of sex. He makes the case for marriage as between male and female, just as Jesus had said in Matthew 19. He deals with Gene Robinson's statement of "But Jesus Never mentioned Homosexuality" by saying that "arguments from silence are not credible." He exposes the manipulative way some Bible interpretors (or revisionists) try to bend Scripture toward justifying their stand for gay rights. He then explains that homosexuality itself is not a sin by distinguishing between what we feel naturally and what we do about it deliberately. Like lust or greed, being attracted to sinful desires is part of the human condition. It is sin, not a sexual orientation that puts us hell bound. Stanton makes a crucial point that knowing the truth also means knowing that our enemy is not each other but the evil one behind the deceptions.

There is the problem of false choices in which many quarters have hemmed people into. Like a manipulative lawyer who seeks confessions according to his own line of questioning. Just because one does not agree with position A does not mean one hates A absolutely. Just because one agrees with a point B does not make that person unsympathetic to C or D. He gives his views on medical and scientific justifications for homosexuality, arguing that the questions outweigh whatever state conclusions various people have.

The main chapter that highlights what it means to love one's LGBT neighbor is in chapter 4. He tells of stories of people learning to live and let live. He speaks about acceptance in spite of wide differences of opinions. He shows readers that it is possible to disagree vigorously without hurting or causing hate. He shows us how one can be theologically different but still engage in some common activities like sports. He gives us an inside look at how Dan Cathy, owner of the popular Chick-Fil-A chain while supporting the biblical definition of the family life, is still able to maintain friendships with people who disagree with him. Sincerity, honesty, and common respect form the marks of such friendship. The stories encourage us to do the same not just to LGBT people, but to all people.

He goes on to supply three chapters on how we can navigate (not manipulate) our friendships at home, in church, in society, and in general. Tips such as learning to be gracious and patient with people different from us; be humble; be firm but friendly; be encouraging to those who are seeking to be as honest as possible; and be careful of what terms we use to describe others.

So What?

This book provides us a good balance that we can still be friends with others without selling out our faith. In fact, there is no excuse for rudeness or misrepresenting any one community. No matter how strong our convictions are, we must maintain respect and community like behaviour that reflect Christ's love for people. After all, what good will there be to have all the right answers but fail to answer the appropriate questions? What good is there to have truth if we are not able to speak the truth in love?

We ought to learn not to pre-judge any community, whether they be gay or not; or whatever Christian affiliations they are linked with. We need to begin with a position of openness and willingness to learn, and to have our own assumptions questioned. We need to examine our own beliefs in the light of truth and love. We need to learn not to misrepresent various groups. We need to maintain a humble approach and not a superior attitude. Sometimes, even the most common terms need to be re-stated and re-defined as it is often tainted with varying levels of subjectivity. No straitjacketing people according to our stubborn definitions, but open hands to let others tell us who they are. Let others have the benefit of the doubt. Let all build a welcoming community of friends. Distinguish between personal and societal descriptions. A general label does not necessarily or fairly appropriate persons of different persuasions.

Filled with many stories and helpful tips, Stanton has given us a very important resource to grow in our neighbourliness to one another. We start by being a good neighbour. We live by extending the love of Christ to all. We continue to share our faith in the best possible way, and to be humble to accept that as much as we are convinced about our own stand, others are equally convicted about their own. This does not mean we retreat to a position of every man entitled to their own opinion. It means widening our circles of understanding. It means becoming aware of the nuances of every term, every label, and every position. It means learning to give one another the chance to explain what they say. It means behaving Christlike always. For Stanton, it simply means loving one another as Christ first loved us.

I highly recommend this book for navigating our relationships with people who differ from us.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Moody Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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