Tino and I had our first premarital counseling session this week with the pastor of our church. We spent the time sharing stories about our pasts and what brought us together. We talked about our reasons for choosing marriage over singleness. It was a thoughtful opening to what I expect will be a meaningful series of conversations. But it wasn’t the content of our session that impacted me the most—it was the fact that we were receiving counseling at all.
When we got engaged, Tino and I didn’t consider premarital counseling. The thought didn’t even cross our minds. It wasn’t for lack of interest; we’re both deeply committed to communicating better, supporting each other’s spiritual growth, and planning for the future. We never considered premarital advice simply because gay couples aren’t typically offered faith-based counseling. It’s not a thing.
So when our pastor offered his time to counsel us before he presided over our wedding, we were delighted. But his invitation also reminded me how complacent I am about being part of a same-sex couple in the church. I don’t expect our relationship to be treated with the same respect and legitimacy as other couples. I’m used to being marginalized and unacknowledged; not treated with hostility, but being politely ignored. Part of me must have assumed faith-based premarital counseling wouldn’t be available to us. Part of me must have felt unworthy of even asking for such a thing.
Herein lies a major problem with the conservative church’s rejection of gay couples. It’s not only an abstract theological position; it has significant consequences for the health of gay relationships. When churches withhold services to gay couples—including workshops on healthy dating, premarital counseling, and classes for new parents—they create real and lasting damage in these relationships. Church leaders will claim that their failure to offer support services is simply an extension of their beliefs on homosexuality, but the effect is far more nefarious. By withholding relationship services to gay couples, churches tacitly communicate one message: We want you to fail.
Conservative Christians may own upto that assertion. In seeing these relationships as contrary to God’s design, they may, indeed, want gay couples to fail. Fair enough. But isn’t there something tragic and mean-spirited in hoping for a relationship to fail? And isn’t it all the more disturbing when the relationship comprises two Christians trying to support each other in growing closer to God? There’s nothing about Jesus I can see in that stance. There is no love in that hard-line position.
What about more moderate Christians, who aren’t sure if they agree with these relationships but also don’t want to seek their demise? The answer is easy: Support these couples. Even if you’re uncertain about same-sex relationship, how much better is it to take a couple under your wing and teach them to love each other more like Christ, rather than to shun and isolate them, leaving them to their own struggle? If you’re a pastor, consider offering marriage counseling to LGBT couples, but only if you can do so in a way that edifies the relationship. It’s difficult to see what's wrong with helping two people love each other better. Dig deeply and intimately into their relationship, and perhaps in doing so you’ll get a better glimpse at what God is doing in their hearts.
If you’re a straight couple who has LGBT friends, we need you. As more gay Christians begin to date in the coming years, we’ll be encountering an epic deficiency in the number of mentors and role models for gay couples. Reach out to gay couples in your church and your wider community. Befriend them. Offer to mentor them. If we believe that healthy relationship is rooted in strong community, then it becomes our mutual responsibility to help support this upcoming wave of gay relationships in the church. If you don’t know of any gay couples in your church, just wait. They’re coming, I guarantee you, and we need to be prepared with a support system.
Tino and I are two guys with no special wisdom or authority; we’ve just been blogging about our own experience leading up to our marriage. Even so, we’ve been receiving regular questions and requests for advice from other gay Christians who are either in relationship or seeking to be. This, more than anything, demonstrates the sheer lack of resources for gay Christians when it comes to dating and relationships.
For this reason, Tino and I are starting a mailbag—a more formalized Q&A about dating and relationships for gay Christians. It’s one way we want to give back. We’ll publish your questions anonymously along with our answers in a post, every couple of weeks or as needed. We aren’t theologians or counselors, but we’ll do our best to share our honest thoughts.
Many gay Christian couples feel like islands, separated from community and fending for themselves. We need the church to help. And if it won’t, we need loving Christians to step in and play a role in cultivating strong, Godly relationships. The longer these couples remain isolated, the more likely they are to drift away. Reach out to them. Be the bridge that connects them to the church body.