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Conversations at the Coffee Shop: Jim’s Story

As part of Equip’s “More Than (just) True” campaign, we’re sharing the stories of LGBT+ people and loved ones about their search for God’s good and beautiful. Check out this reflection from Jim. He grew up in a Christian home in the 1980s, attended a Christian college and grad school, and has seen first-hand how the Church has responded to…and failed…the gay community. Jim is a faithful straight ally and prayer warrior for the work of Equip.

After an early retirement, I picked up a part time job as a barista at a local coffee shop. I was immediately aware of the new culture in which I was immersed when it was revealed that my trainer, Mark (not his real name), had recently gender transitioned. I was 55 years of age, straight, married, and realized I was working in the midst of virtually all colors of the pride flag as I met the rest of the team.

Even though I was living in the Bible belt, I made a conscious decision not to allow Christian stereotypes to impede the relationships I fostered. I didn’t hide my faith, but I avoided the jargon and chose not to bring Jesus’s views into every conversation. I found that most of my LGBT+ coworkers were just like me…40 years ago. They had conflicts with their parents, insecurity about their careers, struggles at school, and relationship issues. Their primary personhood wasn’t based on their sexual attraction or internal sense of gender, it was more about what they were doing with their lives in the short term.

I actually found it fairly easy to speak with my co-workers.

They were people looking for love, significance, and meaning in life. I immersed myself in books, podcasts, and resources that would help me navigate my new environment. I wanted to develop non-threatening, non-judging relationships that would allow me to have real, genuine conversations. This was not a short-term plan; I committed for the long haul. My learning led me to change my language, my perspective, and my questions.

For Christians who desire to build genuine relationships with people in the LGBT+ community (and beyond), here are a few things to consider at the outset:

1. Consider that people don’t choose their sexual orientation

We live in an imperfect world filled with imperfect people. While I am confident that God had a perfect plan for mankind, unfortunately, we’re now in a world where much of what we know, see, and feel, falls short of His very best for us. While sexual desire is a natural part of our being, the object(s) of our desire may vary between individuals. While one might find women sexually attractive, another might say the same of men.

As the average teenager discovers during puberty, people are generally attracted to men or women (or both); it isn’t a choice they make. But in the 80s and 90s, other Christians led me to believe that (gay) people chose their attractions when, in reality, neither gay nor straight people during that time had made a conscious selection. Knowing that all of our sexual orientations are imperfect and not exactly as God intended hits at the very core of our being. The attraction that we feel is a central part of who we are, whether straight or gay, and this attraction isn’t something that a person can simply ignore.

As mature believers, I think that one of the greatest errors we can make is to approach an LGBT+ friend with the expectation that they immediately deny their desires and change their behavior. This immediate expectation fails to acknowledge the reality of this intense and very real part of their experience. You may think you’re only asking them to change their behavior, but to them it feels like you’re asking them to change who they are.

My co-worker Robert (name changed) was active in his church youth group from an early age and His family was deeply involved in the local evangelical Christian church. When he found that his physical attractions were toward boys, he was unsure what to do. He ultimately entrusted this secret to his youth pastor. While the pastor’s intentions were likely very good, his message wasn’t well-received. “Even if you are attracted to guys, you can’t act on those feelings. You need to deny those feelings.” All that Robert heard was that his desires were so different, so wrong, that he could never please God. “It wasn’t a choice I ever made,” he said…as he walked away from the Church.

I wish there was a simple solution that Robert’s youth pastor could have offered. In reality, there’s nothing simple about daily submission to God’s will and God’s best for our lives. If you’re ministering to an LGBT+ friend, I urge you not to lead with asking them to deny their desires. You may be asking, “Why is that?” Because a person’s behavior isn’t the problem, it’s the symptom. The true place of need is a person’s heart. They need to know and love Jesus. THAT should be your greatest desire: to lead your new friends to a personal relationship with Jesus. Your views on behaviors (whether straight or gay) won’t make any sense until someone understands who Jesus is. Share how important Jesus is to you and how He has impacted your life. When they ask whether they have to stop acting on their desires to be a Christian, explain that you believe that Jesus is worth following with your whole life. When they reach a point where they’re loving and pursuing Jesus with their whole life, He will make clear to them how to follow His teachings. God will give them a peace and desire to follow Him as He guides them.

You and I are just as imperfect as Robert. Though our imperfections may manifest in different ways, we all come up short of God’s perfect plan for us. Realize the amount of grace which has been extended to you in your imperfection and extend that same grace forward. Don’t focus on a change in behavior; instead, focus on introducing them to their Savior. Take the responsibility to introduce them to our Savior and allow Him to change the person from the inside out.

2. Practice tolerance and respect

Rachel (name changed) attended church with her family all her life, but when she started questioning her sexuality, she also started noticing sentiments in the world around her that didn’t sit right. What she heard from the pulpit was fine, but what she overheard in conversation with other Christians alarmed her. Those around her painfully referred to gay people as “the queer kids” and made jokes at the expense of LGBT+ individuals. Not only was it clear that being gay wasn’t respected, but Rachel also heard comments of judgement that “all gays are going to hell because of their sin.” This lack of tolerance quickly convinced Rachel that the Church wasn’t a place for people like her, so she left…and never looked back.

Some Christians cringe when they hear the word “tolerance.” They fear they’ll be forced to accept and embrace something that they disagree with. In reality, you and I exercise tolerance all the time. I don’t care for mushrooms, but many use them in cooking. I’ll still eat pizza that has these fungi sprinkled across, but I don’t believe that’s the best way to enjoy pizza. I tolerate the mushrooms. The act of tolerance implies that you disagree with something but are willing to overlook your own desires for a greater purpose. Can you tolerate your gay neighbors? Can you overlook their behavior (with which you disagree) for a greater good (of showing them the love of Jesus)? I believe that we Christians should be able to extend tolerance, keeping our eyes focused on a greater goal.

A joke might seem funny at the moment, but it’s not. Dismissive and condescending adjectives are just rude. And they’re all disrespectful. Our respect has to go much deeper. “Those people” are not your misfit friends, they’re each created in God’s image and worthy of respect.

3. Invite your friends to get to know the “real” you

I expect that your life isn’t perfect and you don’t have all of your ducks in a row. Neither do I. And neither do my new friends at work. They’re struggling to make sense of messy families and uncertain life plans.

Take my friend Laura (name changed), for example. She’s a 28-year-old woman, living alone, unsure about the future. She left the coffee shop to go back to school. Again. She’d lost the passion she once had for coffee, so was going to try something new. Her family that all had once attended the same little church in town was now scattered, and of the ten family members that attended church in the past, only one was still actively attending any church. Laura was no longer convinced that the Church had much to offer, and her scattered family was just one more example of that. She wanted her life to make sense and for her future plans to come together into one nice little package. When I invited Laura over for dinner, I asked her to tell me about her spiritual journey. As her story unfolded, I was then able to share about my insecurities and changes in careers while continuing to hold on to my faith. Everything hadn’t fallen into place for my life as some might think; there were plenty of times it was all messed up for me, too.

We all want to be truly known. When you’re able, sit down over a cup of coffee or a meal, ask questions, and then listen to where your new friends have been. When the time is right, share your own experiences making tough decisions. Jesus never promised an easy, bump-free life, and you’ve undoubtedly made sacrifices as a result of your faith in Christ. Share your stories and trust God to create interest and curiosity in your friends’ hearts.

Robert has since moved on to another location. Rachel is still unsure about the Church. Laura is pursuing a career in the electronic industry. I don’t know how long I’ll work at this coffee shop, showing the love of Jesus to my co-workers. One thing that I do know, though, is my need to be ever-vigilant in my words and actions.

It’s been over five years, and I’ve not yet led any of my co-workers to place their personal faith in Jesus, but I believe that they’ve seen Jesus in me. I believe, too, that as they go to their next job or move to their next home, God will place another Christian into their life, and they’ll be open to building a relationship with someone who understands the imperfections in their own life, who tolerates and respects them, and who will befriend them and guide them to Jesus.

You just may be that next friend.

Discover Equip’s vision for LGBT+ Christian thriving, read more stories of communities leading the way, and give today to help more churches offer LGBT+ people something more than just true at

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