"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 homosexual behaviors (like prostitution and pederasty), scripture is silent about what modern readers understand as sexual orientation or same-sex attraction.
Christians say "Homosexuality is a sin" and mean "Same-sex sexual activity is a sin", but those statements have different meanings and ramifications, don't they?
Homosexuality is not a a sin. At most, homosexuality is a temptation...and temptation is not sin.
Jesus was tempted and yet was without sin. Experiencing temptation is not the same as sinning (and God's grace is for all of us sinners).
[Bible-believing Christians disagree about its implications regarding homosexuality, and I won't unpack, refute, or defend the "same-sex sexual activity is a sin" statement today. I'm not a scholar, and honestly, I have more questions than answers. Of two things I am sure: God's love is vast, and interpreting scripture in context is rarely as simple as we sometimes imagine.]
My hope is that whether we believe that God calls gay people to lives of celibacy or that they honor God within committed relationships, we can agree to change our problematic and destructive language.
When Christians insist that homosexuality is sinful, we may think we're "loving the sinner, hating the sin," but in reality we are condemning people made in God's image, and that is not the place of a people called to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is a direction of romantic attraction, and it exists regardless of sexual activity. I was straight long before I ever "acted on it," and if I were celibate, I would still be straight.
There are ways to honor or dishonor God with our sexuality, and that is true for each of us, regardless of the direction of attraction.
But we don't talk about that. Instead, we speak the language of condemnation and conflate 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 those who experience same-sex attraction anything more than:
- "Homosexuality is a sin,"
- "Don't be gay," and
I have to believe that the Jesus who was known as a friend to sinners 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."
Th "homosexuality is a sin" language is dehumanizing and dishonest. It stops conversations, burns bridges, and compromises Christians' ability to live out the gospel and make disciples.
- the answers are easy and we know them all.
Homosexuality isn't some abstract political issue. People matter. Language matters. Sin matters, too, but that's true for all of us. We're not exactly closing our doors to the greedy, lusty, or self-righteous among us [can you imagine?]. Why has the Church made homosexuality its deal-breaker?
There are gay people within our churches and communities. They aren't projects to fix but our very sisters and brothers. The last thing Christians are called to do is drive hurting or seeking people away from Jesus with rhetoric, easy answers, and lack of grace.
Loving people well matters. Changing our language, listening, and engaging in honest conversations about sexuality, scripture, and what it would look like for our communities to honor God together are a few worthy starting points.