Professor Malachi tapped a file resting in the middle of his desk. "Let's consider this candidate right here. The man's a homosexual."
Arthur shifted in his chair. "I think he goes to hell," he said.
"Are you certain of that?"
Arthur paused, in case he wasn't. He wanted to impress Malachi, who had asked him into his office for this special chat. Besides being Dean of the Discernment and Judgment Department at Heaven U., Malachi was also one of its most popular professors. "Well, the Bible very clearly says that homosexuality is a sin."
"What's the first thing we teach about sin here at Heaven U., Arthur?"
Arthur thought back to his Introduction to Judgment class. "That it's contextual."
"Exactly. When is it not a sin to kill?"
"When it's done in the service of a greater good. In defense of the weak. In self-defense. Or even if it's an accident."
"So despite the fact that the Bible says very clearly, 'Thou shalt not kill...'?"
"We consider the context in which the killing occurred before determining whether or not it was a sin."
"That's correct. And if a woman tells her best friend that the Christmas cookies she made her were so delicious that she ate them all, even though she really threw them in the garbage because they tasted like dead cat?"
"No sin," said Arthur. He remembered the time back on Earth when he told his Grandma how much he loved the horrible red-and-purple sweater she'd knit him.
"But the Bible says very clearly, 'Thou shalt not lie,'" said Malachi.
"But it's OK, because the larger good was served by her showing affection to her friend."
"And the poor man who steals a loaf of bread from the kitchen of a rich man to feed starving children?"
"Despite the very clear words of the Bible? Despite the Eighth Commandment, 'Thou shalt not steal'?"
"Still no sin. There's no judging sin without context."
"Spoken like the angel we'll make of you yet, Arthur."
"Thank you, sir." Arthur took a moment to look out at the vast shimmering empyrean.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" said Malachi.
"Even when I dreamed of it on Earth, I never imagined anything like it."
"Speaking of those who aspire to be here: Right off the bat, do you vote thumbs up or down for our gay applicant?"
"Well," said Arther, "I know that as a Christian I definitely believed that homosexuality was a sin. That's all I was ever taught."
"You died a young man, Arthur. Did you hold that same belief at the time of your accident?"
"By then the whole issue had grown more complicated. All I ever heard growing up was that being gay was extremely sinful. I learned that basically there was no such thing as a homosexual, that gay people were really just straight people who needed to get right with God."
"You believed it possible to pray away the gay, as the term had it."
"I did believe that, yes."
"As did most Christians. What happened to that belief?"
"Over time it became obvious how wrong it was. It became perfectly clear that nobody could pray away their gay, that some people really were just born gay, the same as some are born left-handed, or red-headed."
"Ah. And what followed that revelation?"
"Then we started being taught that while it might not have been possible for a gay person to stop being gay, it was possible for any gay person to resist the temptation to act gay."
"Interesting," said the professor. "What exactly does that mean, you think, to act gay?"
"I guess it means, well, to engage in homosexual sex. What else could it mean?"
"Nothing that I can see. So the new idea was that gay people could, and should, will themselves not to be intimate with others of their kind, to never have life partners in the way that straight people do?"
"Yes. Just like everyone else, they were supposed to resist the sins they personally were tempted to commit."
"Which means, doesn't it, that everyone is then beginning on the same moral footing. Up until then being gay, in and of itself, was an irredeemable sin. But that was no longer the case, was it? Now it was intrinsically no more a sin to be gay than straight; a sin committed by a gay person was no more immoral than the same sin committed by a straight person. All were now equal. All were innocent until proven guilty."
Arthur thought for a moment. "That's right. That's how it was."
"So tell me, where has all this left you on the gay issue?"
"Still a bit confused. I honestly don't know what to make of the whole question of the sinfulness of homosexuality."
"Then let's reason it out, shall we? If I understand correctly, you no longer hold to the idea that it's a sin just to be gay, any more than it's automatically a sin to be straight. Agreed?"
"So sinfulness is not determined by what we are, but only by what we do. To be sinful we must first act sinfully. Yes?"
"So virtually the only way to judge if anyone, gay or straight, has done something sinful is by evaluating the action in question. There simply is no other way to determine sinfulness, yes?"
"And what do we know to be the indispensable tool for judging the morality of any given action?"
"Context. Sometimes lying, stealing, or killing is a sin. Sometimes any action at all -- or taking no action at all -- can be a sin. And when we look to context, what do we look for?"
"Harmful intent and harmful action," said Arthur. "At the motives behind the action and the harm that resulted from it. Or, as you put it in one of your lectures, 'To find the sin, look within.'"
"Very good! And what does the Bible say about the context of homosexual sex?"
"Gosh," said Arthur. He thought for a moment. "Nothing. The Bible doesn't say anything about any contexts or situations in which it is, or might be, OK for gay people to actually be gay. Same as it doesn't with lying, stealing, killing, and all the other sins it mentions. It doesn't talk about contexts at all."
"Then the Bible simply cannot tell us, in any blanket sort of way, what individual acts are or are not sinful, can it?"
"No," said Arthur. "I guess it can't."
"And that leaves us to do what the Bible is incapable of doing, isn't that right? It is necessarily our responsibility to determine whether any individual is sinful. Because only we can consider context."
"That's right. It's up to us. There's no other way."
"Which brings us back to the question of our gay candidate. Heaven or hell?"
"I have no idea." Arthur smiled. "After all, I couldn't possibly make that call before I know the man -- really know him -- as a person."