“But I believe sexual immorality is wrong!” “Um… me too.”

In my work, I get to talk to a lot of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) Christians every day. I get to hear about their faith, their joys, and also their biggest frustrations.

Today, I’d like to talk about one of the most common frustrations I hear from them over and over again.

When someone comes out to their friends or family as gay (or bi or trans) and Christian, it can be a very difficult step for them. Often, their (well-meaning) friends or family members respond in ways that are unintentionally hurtful. I examined some of those ways in my film Through My Eyes.

Non-Christians tell us we’re foolish to belong to a religion that doesn’t want us. Christians quote Bible verses from Leviticus or 1 Corinthians, imagining that we’ve never read them. (Hint: we have, and many of us spent years agonizing over how to interpret them in light of our experience.) People on all sides make a lot of assumptions about us and what we believe.

But for many people I talk to, the most frustrating response of all is when they try to explain themselves, only to have a Christian friend or relative say something like this:

“I love you, and I know this is hard for you. But I believe that what God says matters more than what feels good. All of us sometimes have to put our own desires aside to serve God. I might have a desire to cheat on my wife or look at porn, but part of being a Christian is turning from sin, and that’s what I do and what you have to do, too.”

It’s good Christian theology, right? So what’s wrong with that?

These Christians no doubt believe that they are compassionately holding a loved one accountable. What they often don’t realize is just how condescending this sounds from the other side.

See, those of us who are committed Christians already know that turning from sin is important. We are already seeking to follow God with our lives. The issue isn’t that we believe sin is okay or that we think our own feelings matter more than God; the issue is that we don’t agree on what the right or wrong thing to do in the given situation is. We don’t agree on whether the behavior in question is sinful, or what God is calling us to do in the present circumstances.

The committed Christian who is in a gay relationship isn’t in that relationship because he thinks “God’s Word doesn’t matter” or that it’s “okay to sin.” Not at all! He’s in that relationship because he believes God has called him to it and that the Bible passages used to condemn gay relationships have been misinterpreted.

Now maybe you believe he’s wrong. Fair enough. Maybe he is. But if he’s wrong, he’s sincerely wrong. He’s doing what he honestly believes is right.

In another blog post, I imagined a situation where one Christian preaches at another for praying with her head uncovered, uncharitably assuming that she must not believe the Bible if she was ignoring what Paul said on the subject. I got some strong reactions from that one. It’s immediately obvious to us all that the woman in question isn’t ignoring the Bible; she just interprets those passages differently. It’s frustrating to us and to her, then, when someone assumes she’s just deliberately ignoring it. But what we may not realize as quickly is that that same condescending attitude is behind the paragraph I quoted above.

Gay Christians, just like straight Christians, believe in avoiding sin. We believe in putting God’s will first, not our own. We also condemn sexual immorality, and we seek to live our lives in the way that is most pleasing to God. If we disagree about whether a particular relationship or response is sinful, it’s not because we’ve stopped believing in avoiding sin and therefore need to be reminded.

Certainly, let’s talk about the reasons we disagree and how we came to our respective conclusions. But first, let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt and assume that we’ve both done a lot of thinking about this and are honestly trying to live rightly. That can go a long way to building healthy relationships in the midst of disagreement.