This is the first of three articles to encourage healthier dialogue between evangelical Christians and the homosexual community. As such, the purpose is neither to condemn nor excuse homosexuality, but to seek to find a “common ground” that we all share, in which to begin the conversation.
Recently, the issue of how Christians perceive homosexuality has been brought into increasing focus within wider western society. For example, in my home town of Adelaide, Australia, there is a rather famous (or perhaps infamous) group of street preachers, who are preaching primarily about how homosexuals are all going to hell.
Often, it seems, those Christians who attack homosexuality frame things primarily around morality. This is sometimes called legalism, or pseudo-pietism, or Pelagianism. But while Jesus Christ did talk about morality quite a bit, He spent far, far more time talking about something else: namely, Himself. To discuss morality at the start of a conversation about Christianity is to have already missed the point. What we need to do is talk about Jesus. As I said in my previous article for Wondering Fair, “Christians don’t follow rules. They follow the One Who rules.”
This becomes all the more clear when we see how legalists usually frame the discussion about Christianity. In order to assure themselves of how much God approves of them because of their lifestyle, legalists often do two things: they find rules in the Bible that they can live up to; then they find a group that they can compare themselves to, that are not following the rules, and that they are thus “better than”. This is really comforting, at least to begin with.
An “easy target” for this kind of Christian legalism are homosexuals. I’m not going to lie – none of the Biblical passages about homosexuality endorse it, and most seem to be pretty strongly against it: Genesis 19 is the story of Sodom (we’ll look at that in the next article), Romans 1:26-27 isn’t very positive, either. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is another one discussed:
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
The Christian legalist highlights where it says “homosexuals… will not inherit the kingdom of God.” The problem is that when we start looking deeper at the rules in the Bible, we discover there are some pesky ones that we don’t live up to either. For example, verse 10 also says that the greedy won’t inherit the Kingdom either.
How do you define greedy? How about we define it as those who have a lot more than others, at the expense of others, and who are seeking to get more? Well, if that’s the case, most middle-class western consumerists are greedy. If you’ve had a high school education, own a car (let alone a house!), or even have two sets of clothes, you’re doing much better than about 90% of the world’s population. And many of your clothes are made by poor people who are being exploited. Face it, from a global perspective, you’re greedy.
Worse, the Bible seems to offer harsher penalties for the greedy than it does for gays. Jesus Himself (Who never directly discusses homosexuality, by the way) says this about the greedy and wealthy: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” (Luke 6:24), and “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”(Mark 10:25) And I could go on.
Now, it might be that you and I need to reorganise our financial priorities in the light of these verses, but that’s not my point here. My point is, if we’re focussing just on the rules Jesus and the early Church discussed, this one straight away means we’re all probably in a more hopeless situation than homosexuals are. All of us are doomed in a legalist Christianity. A legalist focus is therefore utterly pointless, as the Adelaide street-preachers (who are spreading their net of condemnation to include pretty much everybody now, too) inadvertently reveal. Instead, we have to make our focus be Jesus Christ, the only Hope for all of us – gay or straight, rich or poor. That may well mean all of us have to face some hard choices about our lifestyle. But such choices will be viewed within a shared experience of hope, rather than hopelessness.
This is an important point. Recently I was participating in a discussion on homosexuality and someone made the comment that we need to treat homosexuality like ‘any other sin’ and gave the example of sleeping around. I couldn’t help but think, if I were gay and in a committed relationship (monogamous) how offensive I would find it to be lumped in with the sexually promiscuous. If there is a hierarchy of sin, I think the latter is worse than the former because the committed homosexual at least practices fidelity. Perhaps we need to address the ‘sin’ issue, but in a way that honors the person and virtue where we find them. This would go a long way towards establishing common ground.