Thoughts about gay people and Christianity
Sitges, Sspain – March 3, 2012: Church of Sant Bartomeu i Santa Tecla in Sitges, Spain. The 17th century church next to the sea is an iconic building of the gay-friendly city. (123rf.com)
I don’t understand the gay people and Christianity thing. I’m talking about the extent to which the evangelical church is willing to alienate one of our society’s most persecuted groups in the name of doctrinal purity, or what they usually call, “holiness.” When this word is used in regard to the gay debate, it is nearly always used inappropriately, as least as far as I am concerned. Holiness is ultimately about wholeness, about being pure, being “one,” seeing the world in a unified way, being shot through with only one thing, which Christians say is supposed to be love. Only usually it isn’t.
The Bible claims that God has many attributes such as anger and wrath, justice, jealousy, etc., but there is only one quality that God apparently IS, and that quality is love. To be holy/godly, then, is to be loving. That means the more you are nothing but love, the more godly/holy you are. I recently found this from someone on Facebook:
…we are to stand for Holiness. If we are passionate for Christ then our walk will have to be on the narrow path where we live uncompromising in a value set that is aligned with a Holy God. I am reminded of the judgment of a Holy God on sin depicted throughout His Word. The person must be separated from the act otherwise we are self convicting but we cannot accept compromised standards.
The person must be separated from the act? We cannot accept compromised standards? Is this person’s holy book the Bible or the Torah?
Dear reader, we are what we do, and we do what we are (in Jesus’ words, “a tree is known by its fruit”). Most of us do both good and evil because we are both good and evil. The more loving we are, the less we will be anything but love and the less we are anything but that one thing that is God, the holier we are. This seems obvious to me, but I realize a lot of people did not learn this growing up. A lot of people (including me) learned that holiness is somehow connected to doctrinal purity, to the extent to which we will not tolerate evil in ourselves or in the world around us. This is not holiness. The Old Testament speaks of God hating sin and not tolerating it and judging people and nations for it, but we hear none (I repeat — none!) of this from God-in-the flesh-Jesus. In fact the Apostle John says, “The lights shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5). In contrast to our OT images of God, apparently God is actually quite comfortable surrounded by darkness, for which I’m grateful, else on many days there wouldn’t be even a sliver of light in my own heart. Though the quoted words off Facebook above probably seem very spiritual to some people, and elicited several “Amens” on the thread where I found them, the writer (who seems very well-intentioned) is mixing up holiness and doctrinal purity. They are simply not the same thing. Holiness is not only being lovING, but being love itself, as God is love. Doctrinal purity is — something else. According to Jesus, the person who loves deeply sees all the doctrines as pointing to love. But such a person surely is not arriving at love by following all of those doctrines! If so, the Apostle Paul couldn’t have written Romans, and if so there’d have been no need for Jesus. If so, Jesus couldn’t have had a single complaint with the Pharisees.
By now you might say, “What does this have to do with gay people and Christianity?” What do you think it has to do with gay people and Christianity?
Of course since God is not human, God’s love may look quite different than human love. How are we supposed to know what it looks like? Not coincidentally, the Christian story is that God became human specifically in order to show us what love looks like when it’s done well, when it’s “holy,” when it’s done God’s way. Christians believe we can look at Jesus to see what love looks like. In turn, Jesus told some stories about the love of God, such as the prodigal son. In his stories about love, and in his actions, we see almost exclusively (exceptions dealt with in a moment) a God who loves without limit and without condition. In the prodigal son, the father does not wait to hear the son’s apology. He does not even make sure the son knew how wrong and sinful he had been. As he walked the streets of Palestine, Jesus healed and taught and forgave sins. But he forgave sins almost wantonly, often forgiving the sins of people who did not even ask! He often did not wait for repentance from the one being forgiven. He did not ever once require someone to follow the typical evangelical path to God. Again, when asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus’ answer was not doctrinal purity, or repentance, or being right, it was love for God and others. To this Jesus added, “All the law and the prophets hang on this.” In other words, the Jewish laws and the words of their greatest teachers had to be understood in the light of love — love comes first and is the filter, the appropriate viewing lens, for the rules, doctrines, laws, etc. It is not the other way around, even though that’s pretty much how we’ve practiced it for — well, forever in at least some corner of the world.
What have I established so far? Simply that most evangelicals are still willing to alienate and deeply hurt one of society’s most persecuted groups of people in the name of “God” or “holiness,” but they have a predominantly Old Testament understanding of holiness as meeting God’s demands and requirements, when this is the exact opposite of what Jesus lived and taught as God enfleshed. The message of Jesus was “It’s impossible. You can’t be perfect. And you don’t need to be.”
*[It’s another post entirely, but often these same people also have an almost exclusively OT understanding of what God requires of nations and leaders, which is the justification many of them use for hating and fearing the current president. They will, in fact, be vastly more comfortable with a person who talks like a good evangelical and supports their political views, but almost never attends church (such as Ronald Reagan), than with someone who does not speak evangelical language or share their political views but worships regularly at a local church (such as Bill Clinton). Source]
Did you know there is not one example in the gospels where Jesus ever demands that a person repent before he will love them, associate with them, heal them, etc.? The majority of the time when Jesus healed, it is not recorded that he said anything at all about sin, which is worth thinking about deeply on its own. A few times he said something like, “Go and sin no more.” But that was always AFTER he had touched them and healed them, after he had extended to them his tender, healing ministry of love. This, in itself, is enough to invalidate the approach of the majority of the evangelical church to the gay community as individuals, as a group, as a political force, and as people created, chosen, and dearly loved by God.
I propose Christians should do the same, since the word Christian means, literally, “little Christs.” No Christian should ever allow him or herself to risk hurting or alienating gay people (or anyone else) until they have first immersed themselves in the pain and struggle of a gay individual. It is only in doing this that a Christian can come close enough to a gay person to touch them, to listen, to help bring healing to their wounds. When a person has thoroughly immersed him or herself in the pain of a gay person, and actually healed some of their wounds (not just tried, failed, and then blamed their failure on the gay person — our current substantially inadequate approach), then they may speak up. They may get vocal and be forthright in their theology. It would be in accordance with Jesus’ words on the log and the speck, right?
You might say, “But Dave, I can’t personally experience the hurt and pain of every single person to whom I need to speak the truth and ‘take a stand.'” That is true. What might that mean?
I have a feeling that by the time a Christian has done this, whatever finely honed arguments they may have had about holiness, and all pretty-sounding words about the demands of a holy God, will drop off like the abstract, theological separators they are, as they are subsumed by actual holiness, which — as we see modeled in Jesus — involves actually going out and healing and touching human beings who have lives and stories.
If Jesus were here today, I wonder which community he’d be hanging out in, who he would be loving and supporting and who he would be chastising? Unfortunately, I have an idea…