Warning to readers: The blog post below is written for people who respect, if not people who believe, the Bible as God's Word, and God as our Creator. If you do not, as many of you have strongly expressed, don't feel compelled to read this. There might be better uses of your time. It will just make you angry, and then you may feel tempted to send me more hate mail. Trust me, I have plenty.
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Ever since the piece I wrote, "Just Because He Breathes," somehow got picked up and shared and reshared all over the place, I've had people -- mostly conservative Christians, but not all -- emailing me, messaging me and commenting with a similar question. It usually goes like this:
So how do you deal with the verses in Romans about homosexuality being an abomination?
Do you and your husband even believe in sin anymore?
Are you just doing the thing of saying "we love you" over and over again, but really, secretly, you think your gay friends are doing something immoral?
How do you get past the "love the sinners, hate the sin" concept that the Bible teaches?
I want to love my gay friends, but I just don't know how to reconcile that love with what I've been taught from the Bible.
Instead of answering each of you separately, I am going to try to give you our answer right here. But I do need to say a few other things before starting:
- The Bible does not teach that any human being created by God (and we all were) is an abomination. Wow. I have come to loathe that word because of how it has been used to destroy people.
- The Bible does not include a verse that says, "Love the sinner, but hate the sin." Someone who wasn't thinking very carefully came up with that, and unfortunately, it caught on. After the abomination accusation and the threat of hell hurled at blameless individuals who have done nothing but be born, this is one of the phrases that has been most damaging, not only to the individuals who are hurt by it but to the cause of Christ.
Granted, if I am using this cliché to refer to the fact that I love my dog but hate it when she poops in the house, it might be fitting. Or maybe if I said to my husband, "I love you, Rob, but I really hate it when you put the recyclable aluminum soda cans in the kitchen trash," it could pass as tolerable.
However, when used to say, "I love my friend John who is gay, but I hate his homosexuality," it is a complete oxymoron. It is like someone saying to me, "I love you, Linda, but I really hate that you are heterosexual." How am I supposed to respond? "Oh! Thanks for loving me, I guess? I will just, um, stop being so attracted to Rob's body so that you won't hate my sexuality! And, by the way, thanks for loving just part of me, not all of me. That feels so reassuring." Pardon my sarcasm, but this one really gets to me.
Parents of LGBTQ kids: Please, please do not tell your children this. I promise you, they will not feel, hear or believe that you love them, even though you do. In fact, they will probably want to scream that your love is a load of crap before you tell them that if they don't stop being disrespectful, they can just leave the room right now! (You can probably tell that I have made similar mistakes myself.)
- Before delving into this, please search your heart for what is really at stake. My friend Jodie's words bear repeating: "I wonder if it has become easier to oppose ideologies than to actually love people." It is way easier for us as selfish humans to get into an academic debate -- especially online -- than to get out of our comfort zones and just go spend time with people who are different from us, hearing their stories and learning from them. And really, if you never have a perfect answer to the questions surrounding what Paul meant in the New Testament mentions of homosexuality, will it cause anyone to not know the love of Christ? I doubt it. But if we neglect the hundreds of mentions in the Scriptures about loving and caring for the poor, the stakes go way up, not only for us but for the millions of people who will go unfed, uncared for, unhoused and unloved.
First, our background: As I've said before, Rob and I are not trained Bible scholars, theologians, philosophers or even impressively diligent Bible students. We are Christ-followers; a straight, married couple who are crazy about each other after almost 30 years; parents of four adult children (one of whom is gay); sister and dear friend, respectively, to my gay brother; and the honored friends of countless LGBTQ individuals who have shared their journeys with us. So as we often reminded our kids when they were growing up, please consider the source as you read and decide whether or not we have anything valid to say.
Rob and I were both raised hearing condemning messages about homosexuality (for me, from the Bible, and for Rob, from more of a general "American moral code"). As young parents, we heard horror stories from conservative "family" radio speakers about the dangerous practices of "those" homosexuals, complete with graphic details about their perverse practices and their number of daily conquests. These came from sources we thought were trustworthy, and though I did doubt their veracity and was suspicious of the agenda behind the tales, I can see now that the power of propaganda to incite fear is, indeed, real and potent.
It was after my brother Don courageously came out to us that I began reading books -- from varying perspectives -- about what the Bible has to say about homosexuality. At the end of the day, I came away a bit confused, but sure of one thing: The Bible does not support hate. That, at least, was clear. It was after our own son came out to us 10 years later that the fear that had been planted in our minds years before began to grow and make us feel that our son was in very real danger, hence our many mistakes and our choice to be ruled by fear rather than live by faith in the One who made Ryan.
Over the past seven or eight years, we have come to care less and less about the academic biblical debate. We have read lots of material from both sides, and we know people we love and respect who hold completely opposing views on what the Bible really teaches about homosexuality. However, each time we've read the different debates, we're left a bit cold, because they tend to leave out the human element, and they tend to discount the power of God, through the Holy Spirit, to lead and guide us. We've learned far more by listening to the stories of people we love, ex-gays, celibate gays, monogamous gays and out and proud gays. To be honest, their stories hold a lot more weight for us about this issue than the stories of straight people, Christian or otherwise. For those of us who are straight, we have other questions to ask. But for these individuals, this "issue," this unchanging characteristic about themselves, is often a matter of life or death. Literally.
So what is our "position" on whether or not it is OK with God to be in a gay relationship?
First, our position is one of staying on our knees, in prayer, seeking God continually -- eyes on Jesus -- for His love and wisdom for our lives. Key words: our lives. Secondly, our position is that God has called us to unconditionally love all of our friends, family and neighbors, without any exclusions. My friend from high school, Jill Rennick, says that "the gospel has no asterisks."
For those who still really want to know what we think about the biblical passages, here is our take:
After much prayer, study and a lot of listening to God and others, we've come to believe that this is one of those issues mentioned -- infrequently -- in the New Testament, like eating meat previously sacrificed to idols. For some, it may be sin. For others, it is not. We realize that most of our conservative Christian friends, and many of our closest friends, disagree with us. Our senior pastor, who is one of our dearest friends, has a different perspective. One of my closest girlfriends, and the amazing mother of my son's new bride, doesn't agree with me. Thankfully, that has not stopped them from loving and respecting us, or us from loving and respecting them.
Rob and I know many Christian gay couples who are thriving both in their walks with God and in their relationships. We see the fruit of the spirit all over their lives! Really, it is between God and them... not our business. We don't secretly think they are in sin.
At the same time, for many other dear friends of ours, God has clearly called them to celibacy, and for them it would be sin to be in a gay relationship. God has given them clear direction, and they are obeying and finding the same level of flourishing in their obedience to His call.
This may only serve to frustrate those of you who are looking for the answer... because it isn't a black-and-white answer. But truly, most things aren't. Moreover, our conclusions might be wrong. We are certainly not above that: Rob and I continually seek our Lord for Truth. Thankfully, God hasn't given up on us, because we've been on a journey, and we're still learning.
What I do know for sure is this: As a straight, married couple, we have had to grapple with the questions surrounding premarital and extramarital sex. Those apply directly to Rob and me. So we've taken those very, very seriously. God called Rob and me to be faithful to each other in marriage and to honor the vows we made before God and hundreds of people almost 30 years ago. He has also called us not simply to stay married but to stay in love -- and that keeps us plenty busy (wink). Honestly, we don't really have time to worry about whether someone else is sinning or making a mistake. We have plenty of our own weaknesses and flaws to work on.
So for us, love wins. Every time. And as our friend Julie Rodgers often says, "God invites everyone to the wedding." That is what we're about, making sure that nobody feels excluded from the love of Christ, because, according to Him, nobody is.
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For those of you wanting to do your own study, I have found these resources to be extremely helpful. And if you'd like to comment and add your own links to the list, feel free to do so.
Thad Norvell recently posted a brilliant blog post called "Gay Marriage and the Posture of the Gospel." It's well worth your time!
From Peter Enns: "Tim Keller on Homosexuality and Biblical Authority: Different Crisis, Same Problem." It's another interesting perspective -- or perspectives, really. Though Peter Enns differs with Tim Keller's perspective, we respect them both. We own a lot of Tim Keller's books and love them. One of them, Prodigal God, is one of my all-time favorite reads.
From Scot McKnight and Steven Harrell comes "Bible Verse Arms Race," which, though it doesn't address homosexuality directly, is extremely applicable.
For those interested in checking out evangelical Christian ministries that are trying to create space for open, honest wrestling with issues around sexuality in a safe space, check out New Direction Ministries of Canada. Their executive director, Wendy Gritter, M. Div., also writes a great blog.
For those interested in reading the very personal journey of one Christian who has felt called to celibacy, I highly recommend Wesley Hill's Washed and Waiting. After finishing it, my first comment to Rob was, "Dang. The commitment to celibacy is so much more difficult than we in the church make it sound. I don't think I could tell anyone that celibacy is their call; I'll leave that up to God!" (Especially given that Rob and I have the ability to sleep together, pillow talk, bike ride and, overall, be soulmates whenever we want, telling someone else that they can't have those things seems awfully arrogant and hypocritical to me.) That said, I have deep respect for Wesley Hill, and for others like him who feel personally called by Christ to celibacy. Julie Rodgers is a new and quickly beloved friend of ours who has a great blog on her own journey.
My personal favorite when it comes to books for those who come from an evangelical, Catholic, Pentecostal or similar background is Justin Lee's Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate. Even if you don't agree with Justin's personal conclusions, after reading it, you will have a much better understanding of the pain, suffering and deeply personal torment that an individual who loves Christ but is also gay may face.
And a note to my critics: You will see that I did not include resources that come down clearly on one side or the other, because I do not. There are a lot of them out there, on both sides. And a lot of them have valid, good things to say. I included the resources that have spoken most deeply to me, and the ones that I feel encourage having grace and understanding for each other, as well as giving each other in the Body of Christ space to disagree about the things that aren't essential.
Matthew 22:37-40 is essential.
Matthew 25:31-46 is essential.
Micah 6:8 is essential.
John 3:16 is essential.
These speak to themes that are repeated over and over again throughout the Bible. If I am going to die on a hill for something, I will die on a hill for loving the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind... and for loving my neighbor as myself. I will not die on a hill for -- or even spend two seconds thinking about -- the belief that my brother Don was "biblically justified" to love his partner Fletcher. That was between Don, Fletch and Jesus, and the three of them had it sorted out just fine, thank you, without my help.
OK, bring on the hate mail. I know it is coming. But as Ryan said at 2, "Please be gentle."
Linda Robertson blogs at JustBecauseHeBreathes.com.