"Homosexuality is a sin."
How many times have we heard that? One hundred times? One thousand?
The trouble starts when we begin reading "homosexuality" into the biblical text, because that idea as we understand it just isn't there. Although it condemns various same-sex sexual activities, like prostitution and pederasty, scripture is silent about what modern readers understand as sexual orientation, same-sex attraction, or monogamous relationships between adults of the same gender.
Christians say "Homosexuality is a sin" and mean "Same-sex sexual activity is a sin", (and even that is disputed by bible scholars and Christians), but those statements have different meanings and implications.
Even for those who hold a most traditional view, homosexuality is not a a sin. At most, homosexuality could be considered a temptation, but Christians desiring faithfulness still disagree about whether God calls gay people to life-long celibacy or whether each of us, gay, straight, and queer, can honor God within committed relationships.
The bible is not "clear" about homosexuality, and my hope is that no matter what we believe, Christians can agree to change our problematic and destructive language. Christians who insist that homosexuality is sinful may think they're "loving the sinner, hating the sin," but in reality we condemn people made in God's image, and that is not the place of a people called to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Each of us has the ability to honor God with our whole selves, including our sexuality. But we don't talk about that. Instead, we speak the language of condemnation, conflating sin and sexuality with personhood and identity.
How many stories have you heard or lived in which gay Christians are kicked out of communities simply for wresting, questioning, and hurting--people who haven't even begun to "choose the gay lifestyle," whatever that means?
How do we expect gay Christians to remain faithful to Christ? If we're honest, do we offer gay Christians anything more than:
- "Homosexuality is a sin,"
- "Don't be gay," and
I have to believe that Jesus would respond wholly different than his Church does when it comes to loving our gay brothers and sisters.
- "Don't let the door hit you on the way out" ?
When Christians insist that homosexuality is a sin:
- We draw lines, make assumptions, and misunderstand.
- We exclude gay Christians and seekers from feeling welcome in our churches.
- We make sexuality and sin the primary markers of a person's identity.
We pretend that:
- We fail to wrestle through, articulate, and live out together a sexual ethic that honors God and includes everyone: young, old, gay, straight, married, single, divorced, widowed, and celibate.
- Being gay is a choice to get us out of wrestling with harder questions about scripture, God, community, sexuality, politics, law, privilege, equality, and more.
- Being a Christian means being straight.
- Anyone who wants it enough can just "pray the gay away."
Claiming homosexuality as sin is dehumanizing and dishonest. It stops conversations, burns bridges, and compromises Christians' ability to live out the gospel and love our neighbors well.
- The answers are easy and we know them all.
Homosexuality isn't some abstract political issue. People matter. Language matters. Sin matters, but that's true for each of us. We're not exactly closing our doors to the self-righteous among us (can you imagine?!), so why has the Church made homosexuality into its deal-breaking, flagship sin? That's not in the Bible anywhere.
The gay and transgender men and women within our churches and communities aren't projects to fix but our sisters and brothers, members of one Body of Christ. The last thing that Christians are called to do is drive the seeking, hurting, and faithful away from Jesus with hard or careless rhetoric, easy answers, and lack of grace.
If we truly desire to be faithful to Christ, we must be known by our love above our theology, politics, and anything else. Straight Christians have had more than enough to say about homosexuality for too long. Let's love our neighbors by listening better this time around, remembering that Jesus had not one word to say about homosexuality.
Even evangelical churches with traditional beliefs about sexuality are realizing that loving well means supporting equal rights and marriage equality. We don't need to legislate our theologies from the halls of power. Christ's love ought to be fleshed out among us first, infusing and transforming our neighborhoods with new life.
As we practice listening, humility, and faith together, may we learn what it looks like to honor God as one Body with our language, our love, and our lives.