jennifer hanigan

a pinch of this and a dollop of that

Why saying “It’s a sin like any other sin” hurts.

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Today’s post was written by a guest who, though straight, has been gifted with the compassion and insight needed to put many of my feelings into words.  It is long, but so worth it.

He lovingly comes to the defense of his abstinent but affirming gay cousin when he hears other Christians gay-bashing: “Hey, the Bible says that he who has no sin can be the first to cast stones. We all sin in different ways. What about your anger issues? Why are you so busy pointing out someone else’s sin? You have enough sin to deal with in your own heart. You just leave other people’s sin between them and God.”

I tell her about my abstinent but affirming gay friend who got kicked out of her church and feels betrayed by her closest friends, who have sided with the church. She wonders, with deep sadness, why gay Christians would feel the need to distance themselves from relationships with non-affirming friends and family. “How is it any different from my relationship with Mary? I don’t agree with Mary’s sleeping with guys she isn’t married to. She knows that. But she also knows I love her, so we can still be close friends. Our disagreement about what is right and wrong doesn’t mean we can’t have a close friendship. Just because your gay friend’s fellow church members believe scripture teaches that homosexuality is wrong doesn’t mean she should reject their friendship.”

Jesus loves youNow, these are Christians who would never get behind ex-gay therapy. They don’t believe sexual orientation is something God regularly delivers people out of. They know better, because they know and love gay Christians who are still gay, despite years of denying or trying to pray away their sexual orientation. But they are also convinced and clearly say that homosexual behavior is sinful, because that’s what they believe the Bible teaches. And so it follows that they would call their gay brothers and sisters to live a life of sexual abstinence. That’s the loving thing to do—call people away from sin, into holiness, even if that holy life is painful. These Christians point out that sex is no one’s right—gay or straight; it is something reserved for heterosexual marriage. They consistently and gently call all non-married Christians to celibacy. They are being just, not setting up some different, homophobic standard.

But these Christians seem frustrated, maybe even a bit angry, at gay Christians who seem to reject the love and support they offer. Of course, they reason, being gay is painful, because resisting temptation is always painful, because being broken is always painful. They feel really bad about this pain their brothers and sisters are experiencing, but unlike many believers, these Christians are willing to walk beside them in their pain. They see themselves as loving, not rejecting. They regularly invite gay people into their homes, to their Thanksgivings, to their churches. They see themselves as comforters in the midst of brokenness, not perpetrators of harm. So why would these abstinent but affirming gay people choose not to accept the invitation? Why won’t these gay people accept their love?

I think I know.

The official stance of the Christians I am talking about is that same-sex sex is wrong, not same-sex attraction. Yet when these Christians are presented with an abstinent and affirming gay person (someone who is complying behaviorally, but has different theological conviction), the conversations they have—even in support of the inclusion of that gay person!—point to something deeper, something that makes their offer of love ring hollow to their gay brothers and sisters.

How might a gay Christian hear these arguments? First, is homosexuality a sin like any other sin—like pride? Well, Pride is surely sin. It breaks the law of love. It destroys the Kingdom work. It belittles the image of God equally shared by all human beings. Pride eats away at relationships, alienating the prideful from their fellow humans. It is a sin, and like any other sin, we recognize it by its fruit. Pride does not love God with heart, strength, soul, and mind. It does not love neighbor as itself.

Compare this with being an abstinent, and affirming gay Christian—finding members of your own sex attractive and longing to build a family with someone someday, while at the same time carefully examining yourself for lustful thoughts, or for idolizing family life; choosing not to use people sexually, no matter what your attractions, because you respect the image of God in them; believing based on sincere, fruitful study and prayer, that the Bible points to a Christian ethic that can embrace same-sex marriage in a similar way to how the current Christian ethic rejects slavery; loving and seeking to honor God in the area of sexuality, loving neighbor as yourself in the area of sexuality. What about these desires and actions is “a sin like any other sin”? How is this like lust, or pride, or theft, or sexual immorality, or failure to pay fair wages? There is a difference of conviction about some future possibility of sex, yes, but there is no sex of any kind here, so where is the sin?

The Gay Christian, opening their heart before their loving Savior, knows their orientation—just like their breathing—is not sin, even before they have the words or arguments to prove it from the Bible. Whether or not they decide to pursue life-long celibacy or believe that God may someday bring them a spouse, their orientation is what it is. When they are not married or in a sexual or even romantic relationship, and their friends try to love and defend them by saying they are a “sinner just like anyone else” and that “homosexuality is not a worse sin than any other, it becomes clear to them that their friends are not judging their sexual behavior as sin, like they claim to be. Their friends—the same friends who compassionately acknowledge that orientation doesn’t change—are calling their very existence as a gay person sinful. They are calling them to either cut out part of themselves that cannot be cut out or to remain in a never-ending state of sin.

And what of comparing an abstinent gay person to a promiscuous friend? There, too, is a telling comparison. If I do not approve of a friend’s sexual acts, I do not approve of something my friend does. This is not the same as not approving of who my friend is. She knows that. She knows I love her essence, just not her actions. Mary has the freedom to decide, for whatever reason, that for the next year, or until she gets married, or for the rest of her life she won’t have sex with anyone, and I can applaud her and encourage her. She has an escape route, should she ever desire to take it. Once she stops having sex outside of marriage, she stops sinning sexually.

But when I am still talking about my gay friend’s homosexual sin when she is not in a sexual or even romantic relationship, but is just being open and honest about her convictions and who she is, then I communicate clearly that it is not her behavior I disapprove of, but her essence. She does not have the freedom to stop being gay, and I have made clear that not having sex is not enough, since she in her abstinence is being compared to someone who has casual sex. She has no way to win me over, no way to ever be approved, embraced, applauded, encouraged. If she did, I would already be defending her as “not sinning”, not just as “sinning like everyone else”. In order for her to stop being seen by me as a sinner in this area, she has to cut out something she cannot cut out.

Not all Christians argue this way, but I hear these types of loving arguments all the time. Seemingly compassionate. Seemingly coming to the defense of the Gay Christian. Seemingly affirming of the gay person, just not homosexual sex acts. But as the arguments and examples above show, for Christians who argue this way, no amount of abstinence will suffice. No matter how beloved the gay Christian is, they are constrained to be always somehow sinning, always sinful, always impure, always outside the camp.

The pain in these relationships is not generated by the gay person or their gayness. It is not the pain of resisting temptation. It is pain generated by the abstinent gay Christian having to bear an unchangeable label: “sinful”. Is it any wonder that it is painful for gay people to be around Christians who are trying to love them in this way? No matter how much love is poured out by people who see the world this way, it does not feel like love to the gay person. It feels like rejection, because it is rejection. It feels like judgement, because it is judgment. It feels like negation, because it is negation.

From another queer friend:

“We are not inadequate to receive every gift of God that any other human can receive and that includes the gift of falling in love and creating family. We need only forgiveness for those things any other human would need forgiveness for. And who we are isn’t one of them.”


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