In Great Sex, Christian Style, we affirm all people of all sexualities. But let me tell you a story about a Christian jerk...me.
In the 1990s, Debby and I were cultural warriors against the “Homosexual Agenda.” She was on the board of Directors for an organization that provides Christian counseling for people who have same sex attractions. Teaming up with Exodus International, they tried to help folks change their sexual attraction. Spoiler Alert: virtually none of their clients experienced a change in sexual orientation.
We also supported Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which was founded by Evangelical leaders to promote religious liberty in America. In reality, though, ADF was a legal team that aggressively engaged its enemies: gay activists and the ACLU. We attended several ADF retreats for donors. It was, frankly, thrilling to be alongside these rich and successful Christians (they dwarfed us) to join in fighting for a Christian America. If God was with us, who could be against us?
Alan Sears was the leader at ADF and an expert in framing the battle as good vs evil. The Godly “Us” just wanted to continue our idyllic way of life while the despicable activists had a “Homosexual Agenda” that would destroy the American family. If we allowed the “Homosexual Agenda” to come about, we were told, America would lose God’s special blessing.
Sears framed the arguments to vilify the leaders of the gay activist groups but portrayed gay people as poor souls trapped in a sinful way of life. In that way, we ADF supporters could feel good about ourselves for striving to help these poor sinners see the truth about their existence. All homosexuals needed to do was to repent and stop sinning.
I organized a fundraiser for ADF at the fanciest local restaurant. I pushed all my Christian friends to come and give money to the cause. When some wealthy friends showed little interest, I wondered how they could fail to support this important work. As an odd aside, our youngest daughter bussed tables at that restaurant. She later mentioned that a gay waiter had likely spit in our food. (Ah, the wages of sin...)
At that time, we didn’t know any gay people and mostly spent time with other Christians. Then God started to tug on the rug under me. Debby and I met several men who identified as gay, and we liked them. They expected us to be jerks (since they knew we were Christians), but they liked us too. We felt God’s love for one another.
My sense of rightness (which I now see as arrogant and self-righteous) began to deteriorate. I gained more friends who were part of the LGBTQ community and realized that none of them chose to be gay. None of them could stop being gay.
As I studied my trusty Bible, looking for direction, God broke me down with the following argument: If homosexual behavior was a sin, so was gluttony and greed. Why were overweight people not persecuted by the church? Even if they prayed for forgiveness for overeating, they clearly continued in their sinful ways. Why were the rotund allowed to be pastors and teachers?
And consider greed. The greedy are celebrated. In most churches, a handful of financially successful folks run the show. If you’ve ever been involved in church leadership, you know the rich have loads of power. They may use that power with wisdom and humility (or not), but without them, many churches fail.
While it’s possible to be rich without being greedy, that seems to be the exception and not the rule. It takes a concerted effort to amass money, and some amount of greed is present in that effort. If we define greed as an excessive desire for wealth, then most of us who strive to gain wealth are occasionally excessive in our desires.
After experiencing this Gay, Glutton, or Greedy insight, I took several years to study the Bible. I focused on God’s view of my G-cubed insight. My nightly research found no gay bias. Rather, I learned how much God hates pride and arrogance, which tend to be deep rooted and lead to cruelty.
My newfound thinking put me in good company. C. S. Lewis tackled this issue by pointing to Dante. The Inferno lists pride, arrogance, and mean-spirited sins as the worst—deserving the lowest level of hell. On the other hand, Dante saw sexual lust as something more like incontinence—the least hateful of all sins.
As I went through this study, Debby and I spent more time outside the bubble of church-friend relationships. We learned firsthand how unbelievers think Christians to be judgmental, hypocritical, anti-gay, and boring. Then they have little interest in learning more about Jesus. We found the lovely truth of Christ muddied by Christian intolerance.
As Debby and I tried to live without superiority and judgement, our lives changed. We now have many non-Christian friends who are intrigued by our peace and joy. We get to be salt and light to wonderful people. I think it makes God smile.
If this is God’s truth for me, why are so many pastors, church leaders, and famous Christians anti-gay? Most were taught from the beginning that homosexuality is a sin. Since most of them aren’t attracted to people of the same sex, it’s easy for them to take the safe route and oppose homosexuality so as not to offend their constituents.
God often gives us the opportunity to be safe, popular, and wrong. He wants us to struggle toward the truth—to make courageous choices that honor him. Throughout history, God seems to have allowed his children to struggle with faith and obedience. As the old hymn says, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”
As I struggled to trust and obey, I changed from a comfortable, conservative Evangelical to a Christian who simply tries to follow God’s direction each day. One of God’s directions was to teach me that he loves homosexual people just as much as he does heterosexuals (and all the varieties in between).
I began to learn how Evangelical Christianity affects kids who realize their sexual urgings aren’t what heterosexual society would deem normal. These folks didn’t decide to not be straight. Life would probably be so much easier for them if they could simply decide to be heterosexual. Science supports the theory that sexual orientation is largely dependent on a person’s genetics. Many Christians question that science, but here’s my biochemist son’s take on that:
When scientists hear people describe homosexuality as unnatural, it causes some head scratching because it's about as correct as the earth being flat—with just as much evidence.
Homosexuality is so widely practiced in the animal kingdom that the scientist Petter Bøckman said, "No species has been found in which homosexual behaviour has not been shown to exist, with the exception of species that never have sex at all."
While I believe the science, compassion moved me more. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for teenagers. Gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual teens are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. A 10% uptick in suicide would be significant. 50% would be a crisis. This is 400%. It’s staggering.
The suffering these teens must feel—willing to kill themselves for relief—should peg the compassion meter for Christ followers. If you have a sense that your child or some kid you know may be struggling with their sexual identity, please talk with them. Offer acceptance and love.
If you think of homosexuals as enemies, you have a Jesus problem. He showed nothing but love for the people the rest of society shunned and degraded. His enemies were self-righteous religious jerks.
If you’re a self-righteous religious jerk, be afraid. When Jesus said, “I never knew you,” he was talking to religious people that fail to show love and forgiveness to the outcasts of society.
On the other hand, you may want to love God and others, including gay people, but you aren’t sure how to start growing in love for a group of people whose lifestyle and sexuality you don’t understand. Start by learning.