At least for those homosexuals who don't believe in God, the pressing concern in their contact with theologically conservative Christians (ie. Christians who don't believe that same-sex desire/intercourse is part of God's original plan for creation) is not the question of whether their homosexual behaviour will send them to hell.
In other words, if someone doesn't believe that God, heaven or hell even exist, then this particular question can't (or at least, shouldn't) be a 'real' concern for them. Then they would also have to feel concerned by every other supposed place of punishment in every other religion they encounter.
Yet at the same time, it is patently obvious that there is 'something' that causes the hackles of your average gay person to rise upon encountering a Christian believer. I believe that this reaction, expressed in various ways, is due to the fact that they are (still) looking for an answer to the following, straightforward, question:
"What is it going to take to get these/you Christians to quit looking at me and treating me with disdain?".
While the elevation of the gay issue in society to a human rights issue certainly has the potential to be abused (as we have already seen through the criminal prosecution of many who only reject homosexuality as a matter of conscience and have no thoughts of hatred whatsoever), I am by no means entirely against this elevation. For there are certainly 'some' aspects of the historic civil rights struggle which bear upon this issue today. Put simply, I have no doubt that a majority of gay people in the erstwhile Christian West have at some point been led in despair to ask the question,
"Am I not a man and a brother?".
In fact, I would even go so far as to say that - at least in urban culture - it is largely Christians who fail to grasp the existential significance of this question to a gay population that by any modern standard (and by the Bible's too for that matter) still experiences social exclusion at the hands of the wider culture.
So, while the presenting issue in many instances might be 'orthodoxy' (ie. what does the Bible say or not say on homosexuality and homosexual practice?), what people are usually seeking is not orthodoxy but 'acceptance'. They want to hear a kind word, some kind of reassurance that their same-sex feelings will not automatically lead to their rejection by their heterosexual fellow men and women.
So here is my point:
If we Christians have truly understood the pain and the questions of our fellow human beings then we will seek to answer the question of their heart and their hurt (ie. "am I not a man and a brother?") before we answer the question of their lips (ie. "surely you don't believe that homosexual practice is wrong?").
Let me be clear. I am not seeking to sidestep the issue of whether homosexual practice is sinful etc. I am simply saying that, if Christians at every level of society were able to communicate and demonstrate that they genuinely did not disdain people of other sexual orientations, then not only would this aspect of the culture wars be largely neutralised, but more people would feel prepared to give Christians a hearing. If gay people genuinely felt that we loved them, then they might be prepared to suspend judgement, at least for a few moments, to hear why, in the 21st Century, we continue to insist that homosexual practice is not a helpful thing for human flourishing.
Even if they remained unconvinced, they could finally agree to disagree with us rather than simply write us off as bigots. It's not a solution to the 'debate' but, once reconciliation has begun, haven't we already set off down the road to a solution to the real problem (ie. the problem of mutual hate)?
We will never solve all of our disagreements, but perhaps, in the first instance, we 'can' learn to live a little bit more as "men and brothers".
In the end 'the gays' are not some group of people out there, they are real people. They are you and I and anyone you might speak to, both in church and out of it, who happens to have same-sex feelings. Let us love one another, for a church without love is no church at all...