What I am about to write might be the most difficult thing I have ever written. The reason is because I have a very bad feeling I will offend a lot of people when I post it. But I feel like this is necessary, and so I’m moving forward.
Today I heard the news that Jason Collins, a longtime NBA player, announced that he was gay.
When I first heard this news, I didn’t really think anything about it, one way or another. Then I read that he was the first active professional player of one of the United States’ “big 4” sports (ie, football, basketball, baseball, and hockey) to come out of the closet. Then I thought, “Wow, that’s actually a big deal.”
And then I thought the thought that has plagued me for years, the thought that I can’t help thinking every time some sort of “gay issue” pops up. That thought is this:
I can’t quite bring myself to think of gay people as “sinners.”
This statement needs to have about a half-dozen caveats. Of course gay people are sinners. Just like I am a sinner. Just like all of us are sinners, because not a single one of us is perfect. What I mean, of course, is that I can’t seem to think of gay people as sinners simply by virtue of their being gay.
Now, before I get jumped on by a bunch of Christian people, I know what the Bible says about homosexuality. I can’t quote every single verse, but I am aware. I know that one of the reasons Sodom was destroyed was because of its rampant homosexuality. (More on that in a bit.) I know that Leviticus prohibits homosexuality. I know that in the New Testament, Paul speaks out against homosexuality. (More on that in a bit, too.)
And yet… I just can’t bring myself to believe that homosexuality is a sin.
First, about Sodom. I know that our current word “sodomy” comes from Sodom. I know that God judged Sodom (along with Gomorrah) very harshly, and I know a lot of people believe that it’s because of the homosexual activity among its citizens.
Genesis 19:1-9 describes the “key scene” thusly:
That evening the two angels came to the entrance of the city of Sodom. Lot was sitting there, and when he saw them, he stood up to meet them. Then he welcomed them and bowed with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “come to my home to wash your feet, and be my guests for the night. You may then get up early in the morning and be on your way again.”
“Oh no,” they replied. “We’ll just spend the night out here in the city square.”
But Lot insisted, so at last they went home with him. Lot prepared a feast for them, complete with fresh bread made without yeast, and they ate. But before they retired for the night, all the men of Sodom, young and old, came from all over the city and surrounded the house. They shouted to Lot, “Where are the men who came to spend the night with you? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!”
So Lot stepped outside to talk to them, shutting the door behind him. “Please, my brothers,” he begged, “don’t do such a wicked thing. Look, I have two virgin daughters. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do with them as you wish. But please, leave these men alone, for they are my guests and are under my protection.”
“Stand back!” they shouted. “This fellow came to town as an outsider, and now he’s acting like our judge! We’ll treat you far worse than those other men!” And they lunged toward Lot to break down the door.
So, what was “this wicked thing” in Lot’s eyes the fact that men wanted to have sex with Lot’s guests? Perhaps, but there are a couple of things I’d like to point out. One, I’m not ready to consider Lot a paragon of virtue. In turning the men down, he offers them his two daughters. I have no idea how old his daughters are at this point, but they are virgins, and he’s telling this evil lot of men to do whatever they want to them. In my opinion, that is absolutely horrible. Basically, “Hey, rape my daughters, but stay away from these male guests of mine!”
Secondly, the verse states that all the men from all over the city came to demand that Lot bring the men out of his house. To me it sounds like they want to gang-rape Lot’s two guests. Never mind whether they are male or female, that is a pretty wicked thing in itself.
So I find it hard to believe that Sodom’s biggest offense was homosexuality. It appears to me that their biggest offenses are two-fold: they’re violent, and they have sex indiscriminately and promiscuously.
Then there’s Leviticus. I know that Leviticus forbids homosexuality. But Leviticus forbids a lot of things that we don’t pay much attention to today. Dietary laws are a big one. Today many Christians eat pork and shellfish, two items that were considered “detestable” in Leviticus. There’s a long chapter regarding skin diseases and what people must do ritually if they discovered various types of skin diseases. There’s another section regarding mildew and how to treat it on clothing and in houses. Mildew. (I must confess, before now I had no idea the Bible said anything about mildew.)
There is a chapter that describes sexual practices, and it can be summed up pretty simply: do not commit incest, do not have homosexual sex, and do not have sex with animals. I admit that I find incest and bestiality completely repulsive, yet I still have trouble seeing homosexuality the same way. (I know this is a contradiction, and I can’t really explain it away decently.)
There are, however, other commands that don’t appear to be followed very closely these days. For instance, Leviticus 19:26-28: Do not eat meat that has not been drained of its blood… Do not trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards. Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord.
Lots of us don’t follow these commandments closely, if at all. Why? I’m not sure. Aside from “cutting your bodies for the dead” (which I admit, I don’t really understand), none of these items strike me as sinful. I know that eating blood was forbidden under Jewish dietary laws. But I’m not sure why cutting sideburns or trimming beards would be sinful. And tattoos? I can’t really see tattoos as being more sinful than, say, dyeing your hair. *cough*
By the same token, I have trouble whole-heartedly believing that though Paul denounced homosexuality, it is completely sinful, full stop. Paul denounced a few other things that I have trouble with. For instance: 1 Corinthians 11:4-6: A man dishonors his head if he covers his head while praying or prophesying. But a woman dishonors her head if she prays or prophesies without a covering on her head, for this is the same as shaving her head. Yes, if she refuses to wear a head covering, she should cut off all her hair! But since it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut or her head shaved, she should wear a covering.
Also, 11:13-16: Judge for yourselves. Is it right for a woman to pray to God in public without covering her head? Isn’t it obvious that it’s disgraceful for a man to have long hair? And isn’t long hair a woman’s pride and joy? For it has been given to her as a covering. But if anyone wants to argue about this, I simply say that we have no other custom than this, and neither do God’s other churches.
Paul says here that a) women praying or prophesying without either long hair or a head covering is disgraceful, and b) men with long hair or a head covering while praying or prophesying is disgraceful. Both of these strike me as pretty silly. Now, I’ve heard that these are cultural or circumstantial; that is, these were specific to the church of Corinth, and there were specific reasons why Paul stated these to be the case.
And here’s another couple of verses that make me frown. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35: Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings.
I have never agreed with this verse, and I won’t ever agree with it. Again, I have heard that this is a circumstantial verse, that it has to do with the cultural norm of the church of Corinth. Maybe that’s the case. Even so, it doesn’t strike me as particularly fair, and what law would say that women should be submissive during church meetings? Wives are called to be submissive to their husbands, but I don’t see why this would be extended to all men. (Incidentally, I have no problem with “wives, be submissive to your husbands,” which might surprise people. That’s because it’s immediately followed by “husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.” Men are supposed to love their wives to the point of dying for them. In response, all we need to do is give them final authority. I kind of think wives have the better end of the bargain!)
What’s more, I know I’m not the only one who doesn’t go by these verses. Many women cut their hair short (not just me!) and don’t cover their heads while praying. And I have yet to see a single church where women aren’t allowed to speak during church. (I know they exist, but I have yet to attend one.) The vast majority of churches don’t seem to have a problem with women speaking during church.
Does this mean we are all sinning? I kind of doubt it. My conscience is clear (at least in these matters). To me, this all kind of strikes me as Pharisee-ish. Because I know God inspired Paul’s writing, I will assume that Paul had a good reason for these rules, and I also assume that these rules had to do with the specific church to which he was speaking, not all of Christendom forevermore.
And, yes, I still have a hard time with his claim that homosexuality is sinful.
What is the deal with my blind spot? I guess it’s because of the many gay men and women I have known and read who declared that they were born attracted to their own gender. Well, “born” perhaps doesn’t really explain it fully, because I don’t necessarily think that as babies we are sexually attracted to anyone. But from the time they were aware of attraction, they were aware that they were attracted to their own gender.
And I guess that because of this, I have a hard time believing that if they take part in committed lifetime relationships with one another, just as heterosexual couples have the opportunity to do, they are being sinful, particularly if they live godly lives in every other way.
Again, I understand that this may be a slippery slope. While thinking about and writing this, I thought: why don’t I feel this way about pedophiles? That’s probably obvious: there’s no such thing as a consensual relationship between adults and children. Adults can’t marry children (at least in this country), and most of us agree that the marriage of young girls to adults in other countries is despicable. (I don’t think the opposite happens – young boys marrying adult women – very often, but I’m sure we would all find this equally despicable.)
How about bestiality? It gets a little trickier here, and it would necessitate my talking about something that I don’t really want to discuss. But to me, sexual relationships should take place only between a couple committed to one another for life. I believe premarital sex is wrong, and I believe extramarital sex is wrong. I believe these things not only because God says so, but also because sexual relationships outside of marriage tend to hurt one or both involved.
This is the same way I feel about polygamy, that is, one man marrying multiple women. (I’ve never heard of it happening, but I would feel likewise about one woman marrying multiple men.) Even if the people involved consent to it, it cannot possibly work in the same way as two people in a lifelong, committed relationship. Favoritism and rivalry is inevitable.
I have known a few men who were involved in long-term, committed, very stable relationships with other men. One of those men is one of my favorite musicians. I don’t know the spiritual beliefs of any of these men. But what I can’t fathom is saying to them, “in order for God to accept you, you must break up with the man who has been your life partner for years.”
Now, I want to make a few things clear. I believe in God. I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. I believe that Jesus Christ was God’s only son, sent to earth to show us what He is really like, live a sinless life, and die in order to be the ultimate sacrifice for anyone who chooses to believe in Him. I believe that because of this, anyone can be in a close relationship with God and find their true purpose in this life as well as find eternal joy and happiness in the next life.
Even though I believe all these things, I struggle to understand the entirety of the Bible. But I believe that the entirety of the Bible should be read while remembering what Jesus said were the two most important commandments, and the ones that represented the entirety of God’s law for us: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.
I have a hard time reconciling the God I see in the Bible – the one who is just, loving, merciful, tender, all-powerful and all-knowing – with one who would create people who have never known any other reality other than attraction to their own gender and say, “oh well. You cannot have the kind of life that people attracted to the opposite sex can have. That’s wrong.”
I may be wrong about this. God may have created gay people for another purpose. I do not know. But I do know that God loves gay people every bit as He loves straight people. I believe that God created every single human being on earth to live a life of love, mercy, and kindness. I believe that every single person on earth is designed to be good to each other, to think of others first. And I do not believe that God created anyone to be rejected, despised, outcast, or abused. Anyone who treats another person in such a manner is acting against God’s wishes.
Do I believe gays should be allowed to commit to one another for life? Absolutely. Whether this is called “marriage” or not, I don’t really care. When I consider the benefits that gays are denied because they aren’t allowed to be what our government refers to as “married,” I feel sad. They may not be allowed to be beneficiaries to each other’s life insurance or health insurance policies. They may not receive the same tax breaks. They may not even be allowed to stay with one another if one is seriously injured and in critical condition in a hospital. I cannot see how denying them such basic rights is right.
I have heard that allowing gay marriage — or even gay civil unions — would wreck “the institution of marriage” in our country. Can I be really honest? I think divorce has already done that. And I would love to say that Christians don’t get divorced nearly as often as non-Christians. But I would be lying.
I’m also not saying that there aren’t incredibly good reasons to divorce. Sometimes marriage is, plain and simple, a mistake between two people who are far too immature to get married (or between one mature and one immature person). Sometimes one partner breaks his or her vows in the most dreadful of ways — through affairs, through abusing drugs or alcohol, through domestic violence. These aren’t the instances in which I think divorce is incredibly harmful to the institution of marriage.
I’m talking about the marriages in which one or both parties simply gets bored. “The spark isn’t there anymore.” “We’re just not in love anymore.” Or in which the couple comes up against hard times and just gives up. “It’s just too hard — I didn’t sign up for this.” “It’s not fun anymore.” “I never wanted to go bankrupt/have a child with a disability/deal with a serious illness.”
Considering all the ways in which heterosexuals, many of them Christians, have totally messed up marriage on our own? I find it hard to believe that gays could wreck it much worse.
I am completely willing to concede that I may be wrong about whether homosexuality is a sin. However, the bottom line is that I believe in Jesus, and I believe that Jesus loves gay people. I believe that any gay man or woman who believes in Jesus must decide this issue for him or herself. And I believe that God will show the way for everyone who seeks Him. God speaks today. He speaks to me. He speaks to anyone who asks with a sincere heart and spirit.