Author’s note: I am a heterosexual cis male, married for 30 years to my amazing wife. I cannot begin to comprehend the issues experienced by my brothers, sisters, and non-binary family. I am trying, but even if I can intellectually grasp the things going on I will never fully understand.
This piece is not intended to imply that I ‘get it’. Rather it is directed at the church (in general, not all churches) to encourage Christians to really, honestly consider their stance on the LGBT+ community members and why they think/feel the way they do. Most of what is presented here is opinion (mine) but I hope to reach people. Love is love. Let love be love. God is love. God loves you in spite of what anyone else says.
There’s a phrase used often in Christian churches and by Christians, meant as a positive, but is actually a negative. I hate it. Hate. It.
“Love the sinner, hate the sin”.
The implication of this quote, in my mind, is that while a person has to be loved, there is something about them that is hate-able. Something that has to be changed. Forced out. Destroyed.
I hate the phrase. I don’t use it (anymore). It’s not something Jesus ever said. It’s not something He ever implied.
What makes this phrase particularly despicable is that it is almost always used in only one context. You don’t hear it used to talk about alcoholics or divorced couples or other ‘sins’, but only and specifically about homosexuality.
Love the LGBT+ person, hate the LGBT+ out of them.
Force them to change until they aren’t LGBT+ anymore. By any means necessary (in some churches).
And I’m here to tell you, as a Christian, as one who has spent a great deal of time studying the Bible, who has taken some seminary classes, who has studied some of the Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic as exists in the manuscripts we have that have been translated into our modern English Bible, that that way of thinking is so seriously so shockingly wrong that not only is it bad, it’s sinful.
It is literally a sin not to be accepting and AFFIRMING of everyone, especially LGBT+ people.
Let me say that again.
It is a sin NOT to be affirming of LGBT+ people.
Not just accepting, affirming.
A sin the church immediately needs to stop.
What does that mean, affirming?
In this context, let’s define how it’s different from just accepting. Many churches and churchgoers claim to be accepting. But going back to that despicable phrase accepting means only that you are doing the first part, the “love the sinner” part. I accept you, the person. But I don’t welcome all of you. There’s a part of you that is ‘bad’.
That is the way most churches define accepting. We’ll let you in, but we’re still going to try to change you.
Affirming, on the other hand, is very different. Affirmation, in this context, is to value, uphold, defend. It’s beyond accepting to the point of “I defend everything you are”.
To affirm LGBT+ people we need to uphold and defend everything they are.
But what about that verse in Leviticus? What about that verse in Romans? What about…. what about…. what about….?
I am not going to rehash the entire “Biblical” argument ‘against’ homosexuality. Much has been written on the topic, including by me. If you don’t understand how the traditional interpretation of the Bible against homosexuality is wrong (not the Bible, the INTERPRETATION of those verses in the Bible) then I strongly encourage you to do some homework. For starters, I recommend this blog post by my friend Mark Sandlin.
That being said, here’s my bigger point, my biggest point:
You cannot love someone into changing what they are.
The church cannot love people into changing their core being.
People cannot be loved into changing the way they were made.
Not long ago, my church had a good ministry called “Celebrate Recovery”.
(There are issues with the way CR is executed at many churches, and the source materials are very anti-LGBT+, so I won’t recommend it for all churches, rather this is just an anecdote of my own experiences as it relates to this blog post.)
CR is heavily based on the concept behind Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery group programs, that together people can change things we struggle with. We were a very small church so we had a very small group. Within the group, we had several ‘issues’ that we were all trying to help each other with. Substances, yes, but other addictions and behaviors. I won’t ‘out’ anyone, and I’m not quite comfortable sharing the reasons I was in the group but I’ll make my point (while respecting the anonymity of others).
“The guys” and I spoke a lot about a lot of things in our group. But above all, we acknowledged that for better or worse there were ‘things’ that were ‘built in’ to us. That we were ‘wired’ a certain way. Some of those things we needed help with because, ultimately, medically, they were self-destructive, literally. Others we needed to learn to live with. And others we actually needed to embrace because if we’re built that way, and God doesn’t make mistakes, then we should not only learn to live with it, we should take joy in who we are.
If you’re at all familiar with AA, then you’ve probably heard the Serenity Prayer. In many places, they use the ‘abridged’ version, but in CR we used the entire prayer:
God, grant me the Serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And Wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His will.
That I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
Serenity, acceptance, courage, living, enjoying, trusting, and ultimately, happiness. It goes beyond just saying “oh well, this is how it is”, it’s finding peace and happiness in the things that are part of what we are.
And that is how the church should be! In the bigger, broader, greater sense we need to take JOY in our differences. Just as we wouldn’t kick out someone who was struggling with addiction to substances that damage their body, we shouldn’t kick out people who identify their gender or sexuality differently than how we view as ‘traditional’ gender and sexuality.
I am in no way comparing gender identity and sexuality to alcoholism. The latter is a disease that can (and in thousands of cases does), if ‘given in’ to, kill you. The former is, well, what it is. But in both cases, the church should view them as ‘the way people are wired’, rather than accepting the disease by shunning the other.
I hope that makes sense. What I’m trying to say is that we, the church, have been hypocritical and that, in itself, is a sin.
But let’s go further.
There’s another expression that gets thrown around a lot in the Christian community:
What Would Jesus Do?
“Well,” some church leaders might say, “Jesus was a good Jewish man, He would have followed the Old Testament which says in Leviticus blah blah blah…”
But we actually KNOW what Jesus would do. Because we know what He DID. At least some of what He did as recorded in the Gospels.
And what He did was this: love people.
Let me rephrase that: He DANGEROUSLY loved people.
By far the best example is the woman caught in adultery. (Again, not comparing being LGBT+ to adultery, but bear with me.)
To paraphrase the story, the religious leaders of the time brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. By their laws, it was required she be executed by having rocks thrown at her until she was dead. A brutal, painful, and I imagine a slow way to die.
So they bring her to Him and say “what would you do? Our laws demand she be executed!”
Jesus says “let those among you who have never sinned throw the first stone.”
One by one they drop their stones and leave.
That took some serious guts.
By the law that these religious leaders followed (most of which was made up junk on top of the laws of Moses that they claimed to have followed), they could have not only executed her, but Him as well. On the spot.
In the story, the Pharisees pose the question and Jesus doesn’t immediately answer. He IGNORES them and bends down and writes something in the dirt. (We don’t know what it was, he could have been playing tic-tac-toe, who knows?) They ask him again, and he tells them “if you’re sinless, throw the stones” and GOES BACK TO WRITING IN THE DIRT!
He not only takes a dangerous stand, He has the gall (from their point of view) not only to take a stand against them but to basically blow them off.
He loved her, in spite of her actions, and he did so in a way that could have immediately resulted in his death.
And this isn’t the only example.
There’s the Samaritan woman at the well. The Canaanite woman whose daughter is possessed. The centurion and his servant, the possessed man who lived in a graveyard (a Gentile – non-Hebrew – which we know because the people nearby raised pigs)…
These are all people that the religious leaders of the day saw as outsiders or worse. Even his closest disciples were sometimes like “Dude, what are you doing?”
Jesus loved people, no matter what their condition, location, or circumstanced and He did so dangerously. Wrecklessly.
And then He told us to do the same. The greatest commandment. The one He said that all the others hang one: “Love your God and Love Your Neighbor as yourself”.
While Jesus took these words from the Old Testament laws, He also flipped them. While the Old Testament command to love God was an order, something you had to do, and the rules about your neighbor were things you were to avoid (“don’t do this to them, don’t do that to them”) Jesus used a very different word.
That word is “ἀγαπάω” (agapaō). You might have heard the English word “agape” (ah GAH peh).
Rather than being passive or an avoiding of certain actions, agape is ACTIVE. And not like an order, the Greek word implies a flowing out, something that exudes from you.
A way to think about it is a child at their own birthday party. Imagine that joy, that delight and squealing with happiness, as love for your neighbor.
But then Jesus goes further. Who is your neighbor?
Everyone knows the story of the Good Samaritan. But what many modern readers miss is who the characters are in the story.
There’s the victim. We don’t know who he is. The only thing Jesus tells us is where he was coming from and where he was going. Other than that we don’t know his nationality or anything. Generic man.
There’s the robbers. Mentioned in passing, they beat and strip the victim. They’re not important to the story.
Then there’s the three main characters.
A priest. A Levite. And a Samaritan.
The priest and the Levite are important people. They work in the Temple and care for it. They teach the law and lead the songs and more than anyone else they should know what God wants people to do.
Think of them like a preacher and a worship team leader. They stand before the congregation and teach people about who God is and what God wants.
But both of them leave the victim there. Broken and bleeding and naked, they ignore him. Worse, they go out of their way to go around them. Like road-kill. Imagine you’re driving on the road and there’s a large animal, maybe a deer in the road. What do you do? You go into the other lane to get around it. That’s what these guys did to the victim.
But then there is the Samaritan. It’s important to know that this guy is a Samaritan. To the people Jesus is talking to the very word Samaritan would have been shocking.
To be blunt, the Israelite people of Jesus’ time saw the Samaritans as… well, mutts. They were the descendants of Israelites but they had ‘muddied’ themselves by marrying outside the tribes of Israel. But WORSE, they had also polluted the religion of the Israelites and worshiped God in places other than the Temple.
To the Israelites of Jesus time, they were, in essence, terrorists.
But here comes this Samaritan, and he sees the victim that the priest and Levite had ignored and had gone out of their way to avoid, and he takes the poor guy and not only cares for him, but when he has to continue on his way pays the inn keeper to care for him and to send him the bill.
And Jesus holds this guy up as the example to follow. Someone who everyone sees as a terrorist is the example to follow in loving your neighbor.
Love dangerously. The Samaritan loved the guy dangerously. He didn’t know who the guy was. If the victim was also a priest or a Levite they guy would have acted violently toward the Samaritan, but he didn’t care and took care of the guy anyway.
The greatest commandment. To paraphrase given the example Jesus gave in the parable: Love God and Love even those who are extremely different from you and do so in a way that risks your own life.
If that is our greatest commandment, and the word Jesus used implies an active, flowing, uplifting love, then to do any less for anyone in our midst is a sin.
And that includes not only includes but INSISTS the LGBT+ community.
To not affirm people as they are, as they define themselves (if such affirmation is not including self or other harming, like addiction) is, by definition, breaking the greatest commandment.
And to break that commandment is the greatest sin.
This entire post is way off on a rant and ramble, but this is something I feel very strongly about.
Love is love.
God is love.
Too many people, too much of church teaching hinges on a couple of verses that are taken completely out of context and in our English Bibles are translated improperly. Homosexuality, in the context of the Bible as a whole, is not even really there. It’s not in the Ten Commandments, it’s not in any of the teachings of Christ and I, personally, feel that we as a church, as a faith, as a community need to move beyond it to the bigger broader teaching of Jesus. And that is to love, to actively, violently, DANGEROUSLY love people where they are. As they are. To AFFIRM them as they are, so long as what they are does not involve self-harm or other harm. And if it does then that is the part we heal. Everything else we embrace.
To do any less is breaking the greatest commandment. And is the greatest sin.
Ok, I’m done ranting. I love you. I violently dangerously love you. I mean that.