I want to help, but I want to help me out of this situation more
September 1, 2014 11:00 AM   Subscribe

Family member asked me to help Christian dude struggling with gay feelings. After agreeing to meet him I see his beliefs are way more extreme than I'm comfortable with. What do?

Meddling extended family member sends me a Facebook message asking if I will contact and speak with someone, a Christian dude having gay feelings. I am not religious and don't really know anything real about serious Christianity, but feeling a pinch of gay solidarity I say all right, but let him contact me if he needs help as I don't want to intrude in case this is just more meddling.

He sends me a message and friend request on Facebook, I say sure let's grab a coffee, we don't nail down a time/place... and then I take a look at his page. Where I was imagining Catholic guilt, I instead find loud born again fervor. Page consists of 1) Posts about his artistic career (Hey, awesome!) 2) Praising Jesus (Hey, whatever!) 3) Condemning atheists (famous and general) and regretting they hadn't found Jesus (Hey now.) 4) Praising Jesus for Rob Ford's coming re-election (Hey, run!).

I disagree with everything I see, I have no real experience dealing with faith v. gayness, and I feel the anxiety:likely good done ratio is way too unfavourably skewed. I have agreed to coffee (said I'm open this week, name a time and place) and want to cancel, but I worry that spurning someone looking for help because of their beliefs makes me an even worse person than people who hold those beliefs. I don't wish him ill, I just don't want to expose myself to what I view as toxicity. Can I cancel, escaping with conscience intact by sending good wishes and a list of resources? (Anyone with good resources in Toronto or Canada for this stuff?)
posted by yellowbinder to Human Relations (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Are there any LGBT affirming churches in your area? If so, can you get some advice from them and/or literature before you have coffee with this guy?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:13 AM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

The stuff on his page might be his cover, if he's in a very Christian family or social circle. Meeting him once in a public place probably isn't going to kill you. I mean, definitely don't do it if you don't want to, but this might be one of those moments when you could really help someone.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:18 AM on September 1, 2014 [43 favorites]

You definitely don't have to go to coffee, but if this guy is in an echo chamber struggling to figure himself out, consider that you might be doing him a service, even if you don't stay for very long. Consider that this is a guy who may well be convinced he's going to burn in hell for eternity for his sexual identity, and whose entire social circle may feel the same way.

Yes to passing on resources - and here, I think meeting in person but exiting early could help encourage him to not continue to strike up a relationship with you, compared to continued online back and forth. Andrew Sullivan recently posted something about an fairly new book on squaring queer identity from an evangelical perspective; the book he was talking about is called God and the Gay Christian. That's probably more accessible to a guy at this stage than Jeff Chu's Does Jesus Really Love Me?, which focuses more on the evangelical movement's history of treatment of gay people as opposed to trying to set the church straight (or, uh, queer?) on its bible facts. [NB: I'm an atheist and have read neither.]

I think Googling around for churches or other resources in the area for LGBT-welcoming places of faith could be really good for the guy, and if you're really nice, you'll write this stuff down and bring it with you (again, also a good way to not maintain the connection if he's not someone you want regular contact with). Most likely, he'll work his identity out within the context of his faith first, and outside that context afterwards (if at all). But be open to BlahLaLa's suggestion that Facebook's his beard, too: he might surprise you.
posted by deludingmyself at 11:22 AM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are quite a few evangelical Christian gay churches. If I remember correctly, Rev. Troy Perry, who founded the Metropolitan Community Church, was a evangelical minister. I also found via web search, Evangelicals Concerned, Inc which says "We are the national network of gay and lesbian evangelical Christians and friends. A non-profit organization founded in 1975 by Dr. Ralph Blair, EC has served the gay community since then, providing hope, encouragement, teaching and fellowship to women and men seeking to integrate their faith and sexual orientation."

Maybe you can point your family member in the direction of one of these resources -- they might be able to help him come to terms with his faith and his sexual orientation.
posted by elmay at 11:24 AM on September 1, 2014

+1 to BlahLaLa. Never know, you could make a difference. Based on my experience, insecure Christians typically overdo their posting/sharing on FB/IG of their religious views. Maybe you can be the one who can break that, and get him to feel comfortable with himself? Not saying you need to help him remove his religious beliefs, but you'd at the very least, be assuring him that it's okay to be gay/bisexual/curious. Religion does scary things to people, and makes them feel like they're in the wrong for not fitting the mold completely. You could be the one who makes a gigantic difference in his life. My suggestion: stick with the coffee date, see how it goes. Never know, you could end up making a new friend.

Disclaimer: Not a Christian, so take my advice for what it's worth.
posted by dubious_dude at 11:24 AM on September 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

While I don't fully understand what the point of the meeting is supposed to be, it may be helpful to you to keep the coffee date. Here's why: people's political, social, and religious beliefs may be all sorts of things: misguided, uninformed, ludicrous, silly, backward, heathen, and so on. But one thing they aren't is "toxic." Perhaps relationships may be toxic, but political or religious beliefs aren't.

Nothing bad is going to happen to you if you have coffee with this person; you won't catch any of his beliefs. Who knows, you may end up helping this person. Or you may end up learning some skills in talking with a person from a very different social background. These are incredibly important skills to have.
posted by girl flaneur at 11:24 AM on September 1, 2014 [12 favorites]

BlahLaLa's answer +1. It could be his facebook page is all trying-to-fit-in posing, because he figures that's what he's supposed to say. Maybe the meeting will not be heavy at all, just exposure for him to people who are gay and obviously aren't being struck by lightning or seducing children, or whatever he's been led to believe.

I mean, don't go if you don't think it will be worth it. But you don't have to convert him on the spot to make a difference, and you can leave if he starts getting argumentative or otherwise unpleasant.
posted by ctmf at 11:24 AM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks BlahLaLa, an excellent point I hadn't considered.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:28 AM on September 1, 2014

Yeah, I don't see the harm in meeting up with him. If the worst-case scenario involves uncomfortable evangelizing, well...that's tolerable (I say this as someone who grew up in the thick of the Bible Belt and "witnessed" to on a regular basis). I think you have a lot of potential for good here. Especially if this guy doesn't have many LGBT friends himself, and might be unclear on what life might look like if he comes out. Some evangelical/fundamentalist churches portray the LGBT community as a 24/7 leather daddy pride parade, with pedophiles!, and other bad things!, and it could be extremely useful to him if you show up and act like, you know, yourself.
posted by magdalemon at 11:29 AM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Don't approach this as an opportunity to save someone, just a connection. If he has questions about being gay that you can answer, do so. Be 100% honest.

I have very faith-oriented friends and they are also fun, silly and great people to know. Don't be a bigot by rejecting him based on what's on his Facebook page.

Meet the man for coffee, if he's a total drip or whatever, then you never have to deal with him again. Feel free to contradict what he believes, and to assert what you believe. If you don't have any fun, just say you have another appointment and leave.

You've extended the invitation. There's a non-zero chance he may never take you up on it. So whatever happens, it's 45 minutes out of your life and you have a chance of helping the guy out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:31 AM on September 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think, stay away from any talk about Ford (I sort of think support for him is toxic, but that's by the by). Go in with some brochures, let him ask you questions for thirty minutes, that's it. If he starts going on about the election, just change the topic or say, "Well I have a feeling we might be coming from different perspectives on that one, but that's not really what we're here to talk about, right?". Then, make a sharp turn to anything neutral (e.g. how lovely summer's been, weekend plans) before going back to the thing you're there to talk about.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:32 AM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Christian guy here - I'm conservative myself but not particularly down with the type of intrusive prosylt... I can't even spell it... OK...

First thing that bothers me here, and is probably bothering you, is "meddling family member." I'm a believer* that not much good comes of MFMs asking you to carry out THEIR agenda.

Iif his personality is a turn-off, well ask yourself, would you have coffee and hang around with this guy if not for MFM? If it helps, I am, as previously mentioned, Christian, and *I* don't think I would want to hang around him. I find energetic "condemning atheist" stuff both tiresome and non-productive, as I don't see my Lord harping on people who didn't believe in Him. (note: I do agree with the observation above that it may be cover)

I think He'd actually be hanging around with them, actually. So to discuss the other side of the coin, if it bothers you that you'd be "spurning" him, well, one trip to a coffee shop won't kill you. I'd just meet him and just - talk. About whatever interests you. However, if you feel that MFM has also been priming *him* to talk to *you* (and I don't think I can even imagine how that dialogue plays out - are they expecting you to provide some sort of orientation lecture?), I think you're within your rights to decline to be a lay counselor for a belief system you don't share, or a sherpa/ambassador for the LGBT world, and as a random christian guy on the internet, I give you permission to do so. :-)

To play off roomthreeseventeen's advice, if you *happen* to be connected to anyone who is LGBT *and* in a church which affirms this, you might be doing him a service by connecting him with those resources.

*no pun intended
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:44 AM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm going to disagree with much of the above advice and say that you absolutely can (and probably should) cancel on this guy with no guilt or obligation.

I mean, honestly, you don't owe this guy anything and you're certainly not a bigot (!) if you don't want to invite this person or their conservative Christian energy/beliefs into your life. If I were asked to help out a guy who was struggling with feelings of, oh, I don't know, say feminism and then I went to his facebook page and saw lots of MRA garbage, I would cancel any coffee date I had made and feel absolutely no guilt about doing so.

If you want to send him a list of resources via email then do so, but he probaby knows how to google and can find his own resources.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 11:50 AM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Show up to the coffee. Make polite general conversation about whatever. Bounce if he gets too Jesus-y for you.

FWIW, to me it does not sound like this guy is dealing with any religion vs. queerness issues at all, unless his entire Facebook page is a decoy for people in his life he's not out to.

On the other hand, yeah, it's very likely that his entire Facebook page is a decoy for people in his life he's not out to. I wouldn't prejudge too much based on the public face he shows to the people in his life it's not safe to be out with.
posted by Sara C. at 1:13 PM on September 1, 2014

Sounds like an accidental practical joke in the making. I'd just send a "sorry, not available for this after all" and move on.
posted by michaelh at 5:11 PM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

...but I worry that spurning someone looking for help because of their beliefs makes me an even worse person than people who hold those beliefs.

I'm just a stranger on the internet, but I'd just like to point out that you even having had this thought speaks well of you.

Your intermediary may have seen the same goodness in you: you might be in a position to help a stranger, at pretty low cost to yourself.

And if 'coffee with a confused stranger' does turn toxic - well, whatever happens, you're still free to just get up and leave.

Good luck with whatever you choose to do.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 5:39 PM on September 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

The Metropolitan Community Church (Queen & Church) is more or less explicitly queer. Most Anglican churches in Toronto are very queer-friendly--two in the Annex, though I can't remember their names. Holy Trinity (behind the Eaton Centre) has, or at least had, a chapter of Dignity--the queer Anglican group.

Any of those places may be able to help you have this conversation.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:48 PM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

It is better to regret something you have done than something you haven't. Meet him; it might be great. What's the worst that can happen?
posted by Sebmojo at 10:44 PM on September 1, 2014

Someone linked to this on the blue - perhaps it would be a good read for the guy?
posted by Omnomnom at 12:59 AM on September 2, 2014

By showing up and presenting yourself as a gay atheist who is unmauled by God's Smiting Hand and happy and well-adjusted*, you may be planting a seed that will blossom into a veritable Tree of Freedom, which will allow Guy to, uh, be Freedomed. Or something. Sure, maybe he starts out with DOOM AND GLOOM SINNERZ HELLFIRE and you can shrug your shoulders and say, thanks but no thanks, have a nice life, which is why first contact meetings are always for coffee or something with easy exit potential. The upside is maybe you help him.

*assumes you're all of these, but if you're not happy or well-adjusted then who is, etc.
posted by disconnect at 10:35 AM on September 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had a friend in university who was from a very conservative christian family and was also gay, and sort of oscillated around a 6 month cycle of rainbow super-queer dykedom followed by a 'i'm going to hell being gay is sin and i must purge myself' period. She even sent herself to ex-gay camps, twice.

This was challenging to be around and fairly offensive to myself no matter where in the cycle she was, but she was also a good person who was really confused and hurt and didn't know what to do with herself.

What did seem to help was presenting a normalized, healthy model of queerness that contrasted with her various extreme cycles, especially the very negative ones. While i never really tried to convince her to stop going to her church, i would clearly disagree with its values and point out from my life and the experiences of the community the value and worth of all people and all orientations and the non-evilness thereof and the importance of understanding and accepting oneself, and then we'd drop it. When she wanted or needed to talk we would talk.

i'm not saying you should engage with someone who has such challenging and messed up ideas around sexual orientation, but that if it is something you are willing to do the presence of someone who is ok is in itself neutralizing, as it takes away some of the weight behind the 'life of sin' model that has been fed to people.

But it's exhausting and, frankly, annoying, and you get to decide how much of that you want to engage with. I don't think it would do any harm to him, but it carries emotional risk to you.

Note: I am assuming from your 'gay solidarity' comment that you identify as gay, if not I apologize
posted by robot-hugs at 2:10 PM on September 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hey folks, thanks for your help and advice. It was useful to remind me that, despite any views I may not agree with, coffee would not kill me.

So last night we set up a meeting for today, then he immediately tries to get me to get him work at my company. And I see him post photos of him actively campaigning with Doug Ford. Ugh, whatever, hide his feed, meet him and see what happens.

So, he seems like a nice guy but totally messed up about this. Believes every word of the bible because "it's right there in black and white." Very skewed views about hedonistic gay lifestyle. Believes acting on his feelings ever is completely out of the question so he will live as a celibate man. There's not really anywhere to go from there, at least that I can help with. I tell him feelings won't go away, that repressing things tends to either be poisonous to your psyche or cause those feelings to eventually come out in unsafe ways, that the most important thing in the world is being ok with who you are and if that conflicts with beliefs it might be time to adjust beliefs, at least slightly.

I don't know, it was very odd, conversation veered between strict ideology and a bit of hellfire to almost childish sex talk (asking if I ever "did it," ranking hottest guy's names - Justin is top because of that sexy Justin Bieber). Light flirting combined with telling me that he had to unfriend someone who admitted wanting to kiss him because that guy was a "freak." I was worried about my own preconceptions and anxieties going in, but coming out I was just really struck with sadness about what strict belief systems do to people.

Anyway, I'm not sure there's much else I can do for him but I'll be open to lend an ear if he needs to. Thanks again for all your advice, and thanks cotton dress sock for the "I don't think we'll agree on that, but that's not what we're here for" tool which I was able to pull out when he seemed about to start spreading the Word to me.
posted by yellowbinder at 5:28 PM on September 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

That sounds tragic. Good on you for trying, though. Poor guy.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:25 AM on September 4, 2014

Actually, the biggest red flag for me is that in addition to everything else he tried to get you to give him a job. That shows problematic boundaries quite distinct from his problems with sexual orientation. I say, stay away from this guy.
posted by Omnomnom at 10:49 AM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

You did a good thing. Whether or not he can ever take your advice, grow, change, etc. is on him now. But you put some good out into the world just by doing it. Maybe some closeted gay kid was sitting next to you and overheard your good advice, even! (I'm an optimist.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:00 AM on September 5, 2014

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