A Theology of Homosexuality*: Sitting on the Fence

[I wrote this article two years ago on a different blog.  In light of SCOTUS’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage throughout the United States, I thought it was worth sharing again.]

In today’s cultural climate, it’s nearly impossible to create a theology of sex without mentioning homosexuality (or bisexuality or transexuality).  The church has a long history of staying silent on topics it does not understand or topics which it finds unseemly, and that silence is detrimental to our witness.  However, I desperately don’t want to talk about this.  I am deeply non-confrontational, and this topic is one that will almost certainly make someone angry with me.

A Safe Conversation

With my insecurities in mind, I’ve decided to lay myself bare.  I’m going to share my heart and my mind.  I’ll explain my motivations and my doubts.  I’ll ask you to accept my ignorance and my indecisions.  I hope that by being so honest, you will understand me even if you do not agree with me.  My hope is that honest and compassionate conversations can occur in which people on all sides of the gay/Christian dialogue can speak and be heard.  This is my contribution. 

Why I Want the Gay Community to be Correct

One of the most impacting moments of my Christian experience was when I realized God’s instructions in the Bible were given for our benefit.  A world full of people who don’t lie, who give sacrificially to each other, who don’t murder, and who submit to each other out of love sounds like a fantastic place to live.  God’s laws keep us from harming each other.

But what about two men who love each other?  What about two women who want to commit to marrying each other?  I don’t understand how that harms anyone.  There are homosexual behaviors that are harmful just as there are heterosexual behaviors that are harmful.  But it seems to me that a committed monogamous relationship of love between two consenting adults is not inherently harmful just because both members of the union share the same sex organs.

I have seen this played out in family members who are openly gay and married.  I love these family members, and I’m so grateful for the fun I have with them and the patience they have shown as my conservative family slowly processed a new kind of relationship.  I don’t see any evidence of their relationship being any more broken or sinful than any of my heterosexually married family members.

Similarly, I want those family members who are queer to feel loved and accepted.  I want them to be right.  I want them to be validated.  I hate how they are sometimes treated, either with open hostility or with silent judgment.  The reaction of the Church to an increasingly vocal gay community has been largely despicable.  Men and women whom I normally respect have spoken with unthinking hatred, which has caused me to doubt what they say, even if there might be some truth to their words.  Which leads me to…

Why I Want the Christian Community to be Correct

I am a Christian, and the Church has long affirmed homosexuality to be a sin.  In creation before the Fall, God created one man and one woman who would intimately know each other sexually, emotionally, vocationally, and psychologically.  After the Fall, everything God had created was broken and skewed, including sex.  The result of the Fall is adultery, dominance, and historically, homosexuality.  This is what I was raised to believe.  This is what most of the men and women who display the grace and truth of Jesus Christ to me believe.

I also have to admit that I’m scared of the Church being wrong.  If we admit that for 2,000 years we have misinterpreted the Bible and taught something false, there is a good possibility that more accusations and more doubts will follow.  If our teaching on sex is wrong, what about the truly important things such as God’s unfailing love and offer of salvation?  How could the Church admit ignorance on one topic without opening the floodgates of disbelief?

A Sidenote

I believe that Christians ought to have an informed worldview, and that lack of experience does not necessarily mean we have nothing to say.  However, I am not queer.  I am very aware that the complexity and depth of the conversation does not affect me the way it does gay, lesbian, bi, and transexual individuals.  I sincerely hope my words are full of grace, not in any way cavalier because I do not have a personal stake in the matter.

This is Not a Discussion About Politics

I think the political topic of legalizing gay marriage is separate from my conversation about the morality of homosexuality.

In the interest of full disclosure, I support gay marriage.  I do not understand the reasoning that allowing gay marriage somehow cheapens straight marriage.  One of the most freeing things I’ve ever learned is that I only have the power to control myself.  The state of my (hypothetical) future marriage will entirely rest upon myself and my husband.  The two of us will demonstrate to the world how pure or debased our marriage is no matter what anyone else is doing in their marriage.

I also don’t believe we live in a theocracy, nor do I want to.  The United States of America is separate from the Kingdom of God.  The only time I want to live in an enforced Christian society is with Jesus in charge.  Any man or woman ruling a Christian society is doomed to eventual failure, because no matter how sanctified we are, all of us are still broken people living in a broken world.

We do not live in a theocracy, and I do not want to impose my morality upon others when the issue has nothing to do with safety.

Christian Morality is Not to be Imposed upon Non-Christians

The amazing centrality of Christian faith is that when someone places their trust in Jesus and decides to give their lives to Him, God’s Holy Spirit will mysteriously indwell us, guiding us into deeper relationship with God, revealing our selfish ways and transforming our hearts into reflections of God’s character.  This is fantastic, and I love being on this journey with God, trusting in Him to give me a heart of compassion and humility.

But if we believe we are supernaturally empowered by the Holy Spirit, and yet still sin and act selfishly, how in the world can we expect non-Christians who, according to our theology, do not have God working in them to live by our morality?  We can’t, and we shouldn’t.

Our first level of change must be ourselves.  We have to be concerned with the state of our relationship with God, always diving deeper into His love and conforming our attitudes and actions to Him.  I think we also have a responsibility to our Christian brothers and sisters.  The great gift of the Church was given so that we might walk this difficult path of redemption alongside people who will support and encourage us.  This means calling each other out when necessary and shouldering each other’s burdens.

But we cannot force people who do not trust in Jesus to walk our path of self-sacrifice and abundant living.  So the question comes down to this:  as responsible for myself (who does not struggle with same-sex attraction) and my fellow Christians (who may or may not be queer), is homosexuality a sin?

The Bible Says Its Piece

I’ll admit up front that this section is largely summarizing a chapter from Justin Lee’s Torn.  I’m not going to get into details because he already did so very nicely.  What I want to say is that the Bible must always be interpreted.  There are some issues, like God’s holiness, justice, mercy, and love, that are consistently described, revealed, and discussed throughout both the Old and New Testaments.  The doctrines of who God is and the salvation He provides through Jesus Christ are central to our faith.  Without the saving death and resurrection of Jesus, we have no hope and nothing to offer the world.

However, there are other issues that are mentioned much less frequently.  It is this category into which homosexuality falls.  It is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments, but in each instance, a case could be made that another sin is really on the line.  Perhaps the act of gay sex was the sin, or perhaps it was inhospitality (Genesis 19) or idolatry (Romans 1).  Translating Hebrew and Greek words for homosexuality are inherently interpretive as well.  Even if the historical interpretations are true, it is unlikely that any of those events are referring to a monogamous committed relationship.

It is therefore difficult to definitively say homosexuality is definitely a sin according to the Bible.  Men and women who are deeply committed to Jesus have interpreted the same verses in different ways.  On the other hand, nowhere in the Bible are gay relationships spoken of positively.  This silence combined with the previous verses might mean that homosexuality is a broken form of God’s created sexuality.
 
Where I Stand

My emotions, motivations, and knowledge are all confused.  I can argue myself into either position.  The way I see people representing the gay community  or Christian community sometimes makes me support their position and sometimes makes me want to run in the opposite direction.  Neither side seems to be consistently handling the situation well, and I don’t know what to think.

And that, after years of thinking and rethinking, after this incredibly long article, is my opinion:  I don’t know whether homosexuality is a sin or not.

The thing is, though, I don’t mind not knowing.  Whether or not a man can sexually love another man is such a tiny issue compared to what I believe truly matters.  Gay or straight, we are not supposed to find our identity in our sexuality.  If we have chosen to follow and obey Jesus Christ, our identity is found in Him alone.  I am a Christian, and that identity overwhelms and envelopes my identities as a woman, an American, an academic, or a heterosexual.

What’s more, I return to the promise of the Holy Spirit.  I am confident that God knows what He desires for us, and that if a queer person is fully committed to serving Him, the Holy Spirit will work in that person’s heart to transform him or her into the image of Christ.  In my ignorance of this topic and my fear of the divisiveness it causes, I happily hand the responsibility over to God.  I trust that He is powerful enough to do what He wants in His time and in His ways.

*I know that homosexuality is becoming a pejorative term, I do not use it that way here.  When I use the term “homosexuality,” I use it for its original meaning, referring to one whose sexuality is directed toward the same sex as opposed to “heterosexuality,” referring to one whose sexuality is directed toward the opposite sex.  Throughout this article, however, I will try to use the terms “gay” or “queer,” though I confess I am not fully certain what labels are preferred by the gay community!  To be safe, I have tried to pair the more clinical terms “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” as well as the more culturally loaded terms “gay” and “straight.”  I ask for forgiveness and instruction if I’ve gotten something wrong.

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