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Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Homosexuality Isn't Stealing or Lying--But It Is Being Lonely
I'm no theologian, but I know one can't pay attention to the ongoing national conversation about Christianity for too long without running into the "issue" of homosexuality. As I explored a bit in How I Broke The Heart Of My Lesbian Friend, when I suddenly converted to Christianity, I had no idea homosexuality was any kind of issue for Christians at all. I now know differently, of course.
Easily the thought I read and hear most often on the subject from my fellow Christians is that being inclined toward homosexuality is in essence the same as being inclined toward any kind of sinful behavior: it's the same sort of behavioral sin that all people, in one way or another, must struggle against.
"We're all sinners," runs the idea. "We all struggle to overcome our sinful ways. Homosexuality is a sin. Just like all of us must strive to stop behaving sinfully, so the homosexual must strive to overcome his or her sexual predilection. Even if a person is born gay or lesbian -- even if homosexuality is genetic -- a homosexual must still strive to overcome the ungodly behaviors toward which he or she is inclined, the same as we all must overcome our lower natures in order to realize our highest."
I personally am fine with that formulation. I know how much time and energy I spend trying to overcome my lower nature. We all struggle with our desire to be better than we are.
I do, though, want to say one thing about this commonplace notion of homosexuality being on par with other human sins. It seems to me that the difference between homosexuality and the other sins people typically fight against -- the urge to steal, or lie, or have extramarital affairs, or whatever -- is that doing all the other sins objectively and tangibly hurts another person. No matter the moral, ethical or cultural context, it is always wrong to steal or lie, because doing so always hurts another person. But outside of the Biblical injunction against it, whom does homosexual love hurt? Not that the Bible doesn't count! Of course it does. All I'm saying is that the other sins can be readily understood as wrong without reference to the Bible. That can't help but mean that homosexuality shouldn't be grouped together with them. It's manifestly qualitatively different.
Another thing about the homosexual/Christian "issue" is that it seems to me that we Christians should be clear on the fact that asserting homosexuals should stop acting homosexual necessarily means asserting that they should spend their lives never knowing the loving intimacy with another that straight people enjoy and know to be the best and richest experience in life.
If I were gay, and I lived and behaved in the way most Christians (understandably!) defend as biblical, I would live alone. I wouldn't wake up every morning next to my wife. I'd never hold hands with my wife. I'd never kiss my wife. I'd never cuddle with my wife. I'd not know the profound pleasure of every day growing older with my wife. Remaining as sinless as possible would, for me, mean never knowing love of the sort that all straight people, Christian or not, understand as pretty much the best thing life has to offer.
Again: I'm not saying that it's manifestly absurd and even cruel to suggest that everyone within a broad swath of our population spend their lives in emotional and physical isolation. I believe in the tenets of Christianity as ferociously as any Christian in the world. All I'm saying is that, as far as I can tell, we Christians (insofar as we ever speak with one voice) are saying that it is morally incumbent upon homosexuals to spend their lives in emotional and physical isolation. I hear a lot of Christians asserting that gays and lesbians should stop acting like gays and lesbians. But I never hear anyone saying the unavoidable follow-up to that -- saying what that really means -- which is that gay and lesbian men and women should spend their lives never experiencing what people most commonly mean when they use the word "love."
But doesn't the Bible tell us that God is love?
Anyway, this is why I'm not a theologian. Who am I, to even try to understand the great and abiding mysteries of God? All I know is that I want to be the best Christian I can. And I deeply hope that no one minds if, in my struggle to do that, I sometimes bump into questions which, in my desire to learn, I then share with others, confident that one of the best ways for me to grow in my understanding is by gaining access to the understandings of others. Thanks.