The Nicodemus Approach

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Allow me to show my cards from the outset: I am Christian, heterosexual and I won’t be taking an explicit side on the issue of homosexuality in this post. What I do intend, however, is to assert that nobody should hold a strong opinion on homosexuality until she or he has personally interacted with someone who is gay. I call this the “Nicodemus Approach.”

I grew up in a fairly conservative evangelical community where nobody talked about homosexuality except when sharply condemning it. More accurately, I grew up in a community where nobody knew anyone who was gay. The issue did not concern specific human beings in our community; rather, it was about “them,” those hypothetical people “out there.” Accordingly, I learned that it was OK to hold conclusive opinions about matters that I knew little about and/or had never encountered in my personal life.

Over the past four years, however, I have learned a different approach. During my four years in Philadelphia I have worked closely with a homosexual youth pastor; was mentored by a brilliant, homosexual chaplain supervisor; and walked alongside a handful of gay peers in Christian ministry. Unlike the former method of judging what I do not know, I came face to face with people instead of ideas. Enter Nicodemus.

Nicodemus was one of the Pharisees and a member of the religious elite. He belonged to a community that saw Jesus as a sinner because Jesus did things that were contrary to what was written in Hebrew Scripture. But John’s portrayal of Nicodemus is fascinating: instead of remaining in his comfortable, homogeneous community, Nicodemus goes to encounter the man who had stirred up controversy. Later in the Gospel of John we meet Nicodemus a second time, where he advocates for Jesus! Here we see the impact of Nicodemus’ face-to-face encounter with Jesus.

We meet Nicodemus a third and final time at the foot of the cross. When all but one of Jesus’ disciples had abandoned him, who is there? Nicodemus. The Pharisee who risked his religious identity to meet Jesus in person is the man who is forever remembered for laying our Lord to rest.

For me, this confirms the absolute necessity of personal encounter when forming opinions toward people. It is such a simple idea, yet very hard to practice. I think that both Nicodemus and, more obviously, Jesus demonstrate this method clearly. It is one way to live out God’s call that we challenge our own opinions.

I can imagine someone asking, “Should we also not take a stand against abortion or capital punishment if we’ve never personally experienced those issues?” No, take your stand, for we must be careful to distinguish between acts/events and people. I am advocating for an approach to homosexuality that takes seriously the fact that this is not simply an issue, but something that involves real people who are created in God’s image and worthy of His love.

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