I lived in the mid 1980’s with a man who – unknown to me at the time – was gay. “John” was a broken, hurting, hiding individual – filled with conflict and deeply buried anger over who he was vs. who his church and his family and society as a whole expected him to be. His own sense of self and self-worth was so deeply hidden under layers of self-deception, self-loathing and fear that it never surfaced in the time I knew him. Compulsive and self-destructive behaviors filled his life: a vicious circle of turmoil and pain that he could not escape.
Conservative Christians focus on the Old Testament’s condemnations of homosexuality, especially verses like Leviticus 18:22 – “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable (NIV).” Yet, Leviticus also condemns the eating of shellfish as “detestable” (Lev 11:10). So, should we stone to death everyone coming out of “Red Lobster”?
Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures condemn homosexuality to some extent. Many argue this was because the ancient Jews lived in a world that had no room to care for (or even tolerate) people that we would have labelled as “unproductive members of society”, though the ancient Jews did not think in those terms (nor am I suggesting homosexuality falls into that category). In that ancient time, homosexuality may have been seen as a behavior that was unproductive in terms of the critical need to sustain the culture through procreation. It might also have been seen as an activity that threatened the status quo /or and gender roles within the culture. Who knows? Whatever the reasoning, it was seen as a threat to the community’s ability to survive in a world where the margin of survival was very thin. Such threats therefore had to be dealt with firmly, if not harshly – since that same slim margin made less harsh punishments – such as prisons – impractical, if not impossible.
Homosexuality in the early Christian era was apparently not condemned of itself. But, it is clear that it was often an expression of power and dominance or lust, not of love. The New Testament has much to say in its condemnation of the misuse of power and wealth in many different dimensions and venues of life at that time. So, is homosexuality itself being condemned by Paul and others, or its use as to express dominance?
Progressive Christians therefore question whether laws against homosexuality have a place in the modern world, a world where the challenge is not that of making sure enough children are born to carry on the culture, but is one of having too many: leading to the destruction of resources critical to our survival as a species. Yet, in throwing out some Biblical teachings as outmoded or irrelevant, we need to be very careful: it would be too easy to throw out everything we don’t like if we pursue such a path.
A friend of mine once encapsulated the issue by asking me this question: “If someone close to you said they were planning to marry someone of the same gender, what would you do?” My natural inclination and Jesus’ “Second Great Commandment” (in Matthew 22:36, where he quotes Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”) both tell me I should take the approach of love: accept them for who they are and wish them and their partner happiness in their life together.
Although homosexuality was only one of the factors contributing to his problems, if “John” had seen such love in his life, perhaps he would have had the inner peace he needed to build a meaningful and productive life for himself. His inner torment and outward pain are evidence that we (as a society, as well as individually) failed to treat him as the Bible teaches us.
Another challenge is the teaching of “hate the sin but love the sinner” that many have adopted as their attitude towards homosexuality. To me, this is hypocritical: if we criticize someone’s lifestyle or sexual orientation as a “sin,” how can we say that we “love” them unless we’re saying we accept them with a hidden agenda: that we want to change them into something they’re not?
We need to remember the conclusion to book of Ecclesiastes’ in the Hebrew Scriptures: “Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” This verse has two messages relevant to this discussion:
First, we all have a duty to keep the commandments as best we can, realizing – as the Teacher in Ecclesiastes did – that we can never fully succeed. Also, Jesus taught us to not judge one another, and it was for this very reason: we all do the best we can, and have no right, nor sufficient wisdom or knowledge, to judge others in God’s place. Since I know that I am not perfect, and will never be so (in this life, anyway), this plus Jesus’ Second Great Commandment teaches me I need to accept my neighbor for who they are, someone just as imperfect as myself: both of us trying to make sense of the world in which we live, and our place in it.
Second, hidden sin is no different than visible sin: a hidden agenda is hurtful, as it requires you to be false to another – requiring the relationship to be built on a false foundation. I am certain God will judge such behavior more harshly than homosexuality, which, in the modern context of being a behavior shared by two consenting adults, hurts no one. (Some will question this statement, noting that the Christian Scripture’s Book of Romans makes clear that God judges all “sin” equally. But, what I’m saying is that homosexuality is not necessarily a sin at all.)
In fact, since Jesus constantly taught about how we are called to love one another across gaps that others claim cannot be bridged, why would homosexuality be any different? If anything, it would seem that being brave and caring enough to love another in the face of the judgment of the world around you is right up Jesus’ alley. Some will say “Jesus was not talking about sex!” Hmmm, maybe. But, do not forget that sex is but one component of the many facets of the deep and healthy and loving relationship that can exist between two people. Why are we trying to separate one aspect of that type of relationship out as “wrong” when approving of all the others? Especially since Jesus never spoke against homosexuality himself?
Therefore, I know that I am being consistent with the teachings and spirit of the Bible when I conclude that I am to be concerned only about whether someone is living a productive and balanced life; and what I should (or can) do to support them in that regard. A person’s sexual orientation is an issue only if they are not at peace with it themselves, or if it harms others.
Copyright (c) 2009, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via a credit that mentions my name or provides a link back to this site).