In the past couple of weeks, four different people have brought up sexual orientation with me. Each of the people is very different from each other. But they all had three things in common. They were all people most of us would look at and say are insiders, believers, people of faith, people associated with church. They all had a sense of what they thought was right, but were hesitant to voice their opinion. They all believed in one form or another that Christianity has gotten out of whack on sexuality issues.
“What do you think God really thinks about gay people?” “Is being gay really worse than other sins?” The question can be asked any number of ways. Maybe it is separate questions that are all related.
First, I feel out of integrity I need to lay my cards on the table. I do believe that same-gender sex is sin. That said, the Bible teaches all kinds of sex and all kinds of things are sin. I don’t say that to minimize sin. Sin is a real problem. It’s a real problem in my life. It’s a real problem in our world. So yes I believe people who transgress on sex are sinners. But Christians believe that everyone is a sinner.
Second, I have worked hard to treat people with respect and love. One of the very first lessons we learn in the Bible is that God made humanity in God’s image, which is to say that every person is God’s handiwork in one way or another. I think this basic posture toward our fellow human beings gets left out of many conversations about disagreements and differences among us. I have had multiple parents come to me about their gay and transgendered children. I had a pastor come out to me as gay, he told me I was the second person he had opened up to. I have several colleagues and friends who are gay. They all know my stance about sin, but they also know my stance as a friend and human being.
Why are sexual sins the worst in our eyes? I wonder sometimes why we are so ready to jump on gay folks, but so willing to look the other way on heterosexual couples who are living together. Both forms of sexual transgression violate God’s Law, if that’s what we’re really concerned about. I think often times though it is more about the sins that disgust us personally and the sins that make sense to us or tempt us. I admire Jimmy Carter for being honest with Playboy, when he told them that by Jesus’ standard he was an adulterer. What was Jesus’ standard? If you look at someone to lust after them, you’ve committed a sexual sin.
Why do we lead with sexuality? A few years ago when DOMA was repealed, I remember Christians asking me if I was going to be able to do ministry in the military still. They asked me the question as if the content of the gospel of Jesus Christ was telling gay people they were going to hell. I said, “Do you have any idea how many of our soldiers live with their boyfriend or girlfriend? Do you think I open my conversations with anyone by offering a biblical critique of their sex life?” Like why do we think this is a good approach? Of all the things as a Christian pastor that I could talk with a soldier about, I can tell you that sex is some ways down the list. And I think there are far more important issues to get straight before Bible talk about sex is going to make sense.
I don’t believe same-gender attraction is a choice. I suppose it could be. I suppose there will be conclusive scientific evidence either way at some point. Every gay person I have met has said in one form or another: “Do you think I would willingly go through this? Do you think I would ever choose this for myself? To be cast off by my faith and my family?” I have tried to be faithful to my understanding of God’s Word about sin, while also trying to be faithful to what God’s Word says about things like God’s image and love and redemption.
My fundamental theological beliefs are that we are all broken and all in need of grace. Maybe our cracks are so thin they seem barely visible, or maybe they are Grand Canyon sized. But Christianity is about a God who cares so much about broken people and a broken world, that God came as Jesus to begin the work of making everything right once again. I stand in the odd place of being seen by some in our culture as a bigot and some in my faith as a compromiser, because I truly try to hate sin and love sinners. I feel like maybe that’s some indication I’m standing in just about the right spot.
This column is also available in this week’s edition of The Shelton Clipper, which serves Gibbon, Shelton, Wood River, Alda, and Cairo.