Christianity and Homosexuality
Christianity and homosexuality is a topic to which I have given much thought. I have witnessed the treatment those of my friends and family who are gay have endured by both society and the majority of the Christian community. I have felt ashamed and embarrassed. As a student of theology I have taken a personal interest in this topic and how it has developed over the last few decades in the Christian community. Recently the topic of homosexuality has begun to impact my local community. As I have read countless editorials and blogs across many venues regarding this, it is evident that my local community is struggling with discrimination and homosexuality in the public arena. Some of the opinions I have encountered are obviously slanted, while others are very thoughtful. Yet, neither side convinces me of their argument. I myself have started many blog posts and “letters to the editor,” just to discard them because I did not like my own tone or analogies. With the arguments I presented, I felt I was overlooking an important facet. I felt the need to reflect deeper upon this topic before putting in words some knee-jerk reaction.
My early awareness of homosexuality occurred in high school during the late 1980’s. A few guys in my class were gay, yet we thought nothing of it. At school, it was never a topic of conversation or concern. But at church… it was a sin and they were choosing to live in sin. Of course we had no idea what their personal life held, but they must be sinners because they chose to be or act gay. So, what exactly is the “sin” of homosexuality, the attraction to someone of the same sex or the sex acts themselves? My understanding at that time was that: to be gay was to act in a certain manner and therefore that manner was equal to sin. Yet, the exact nature of sin was never defined. The culture and society taught us that gay men were flamboyant and promiscuous. The church taught us that it was most obviously a sin.
Through the years, I met gay couples who were neither flamboyant nor promiscuous, challenging the cultural view. They were just regular people whose mate was of the same sex. So then, from the church’s perspective, what exactly was the sin they were committing? At that time in my life, I did not think deeply about it. Based on what I had been taught, it was obvious they chose that life, and that they should know the consequences.
When I began my theological training at a conservative Christian college, this dialogue suddenly changed. It was no longer “choosing” a lifestyle, but whether or not to accept the lifestyle into which they were born. At that point, being homosexual became known to be more biologically based. Homosexuals were born as such. In these teachings, it was an “abnormality,” which could either be cured or ignored. With this understanding, it was then sinful if they were not seeking the correct “aid” in overcoming this “disease.” The burden of sin, then, still rested on the head of the person who was gay. So, even though the dialogue shifted, in essence, the result was still the same. What still remained undefined was what exactly was the sin? At this point in my life, it all made much less sense.
So as we further this thinking that homosexuality is a “disease,” then what exactly is the “disease?” Does the liver of a person who is gay produce too many of the wrong proteins? Or perhaps, the brain must be growing upside down. Could someone point to a root biological cause of homosexuality? Does that even matter?
It is at this point of questioning and reviewing what I’ve been taught, that I am reminded of the story in the Gospel of John, chapter nine, where Jesus heals the man who was born blind. The disciples asked who had sinned, the man or the man’s parents, that he might be born blind. The religious leaders then affirm in the story that there is a relationship between blindness and sin. We are left with a distinct impression that the thinking of that time was that those born with any “defect” were born so due to sin. It was a common idea of the time. Yet, Jesus actually denied this claim and then healed the man.
Throughout the history of Christianity, the concept of a “defect” being related to sin was carried through until the nineteenth century. It was at this time that science began to have a better understanding of the human body as a whole. Now, we see a child who has Downs Syndrome and we may call them “God’s Angel” rather than a “sinner.” My comparison here is only that neither being gay nor having Downs Syndrome are “sinful.” They may not fit the overall “norm” of humanity, but then nobody technically does on an individual basis. Ten thousand years ago, no one had seen a green eyed person before. Certainly, the first green eyed person should have been stoned as a sinner. Obviously, this is sarcasm on my part.
So then, what does this mean for the Christian? Does this thinking change the dialogue again? Perhaps, people who are homosexual choose to be the person that God created them to be, rather than living in fear of the majority; the supposed “norm” of society. People who are homosexual do sin, just like everyone else. But, the sin is not for being attracted to the same sex as oneself, but could be just like everyone else’s sins: breaking relationships, giving in to temptations, and being disheartening to others.
Some may say, “But, as a Christian, we are supposed to live by the Bible and the Bible clearly says that homosexuality is a sin.” To this, I would counter, as a Christian, we are supposed to live by the grace of God and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Should we then follow the Bible and call those who are born with blindness sinners? Or, should we follow Christ in extending a hand of healing to the broken man? Through the church’s Bible thumping, fear mongering, and dis-graceful behaviors, we have wounded, rather than healed. And by healed, I do not mean to change others, but rather to bring hurting people into the arms of love, mercy, and community so that they may know health.
Upon reflection and writing, I recognize that I do not see homosexuality as a sin, in and of itself. Through contemplation, I had to wrestle with my theology of human nature, of sin, of the place of the Bible and Holy Spirit, and of community in general. I believe that sin is a relational matter. It is not a thing or a state of being. When a relationship, be it personal or communal, is being torn apart because of the action or inactions of the parties involved, then sin is occurring. Therefore, the church has sinned against people who are homosexual, in its words and actions which have broken the relationship between the individual and the church corporate.
It is not an easy task coming to an understanding of the root causes of sin. Ask any marriage counselor about why spouses act out against their partner, and recognize that there is no specific answer. Relationships are easy to break and hard to mend. Christians are called to mend relationships with grace and love. In order to overcome “sin” in a relationship, both sides have to be willing to confess their faults and enter a meaningful conversation. Therefore, how can the church make such a move, especially when many Christians misunderstand homosexuality? Is it a theological restructuring and pastoral hermeneutical rethinking that needs to take place? For some, this may sound as if I am trying to justify “sin” and change the “truth” in order to fit the culture. In essence, it is necessary to free Christianity from the culture. The true heart of Christianity is grace, not sin.