Growing up in a non-denominational, evangelical church in America, I often heard the phrase “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” Christians usually used it in reference to “homosexuality.” The funny thing is… no one around me demonstrated that love for the sinner. It was really “Hate the sin and the sinner.” The Bible tells us to set ourselves apart from the world and the thinking of the world, but Christians often interpret this to mean that we should judge other people and make ourselves seem more holy (which would go against everything Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount). Really, though, it’s not setting ourselves apart to hate gays—plenty of people in the world hate gays.
When I’m with uptight Christian friends (UCFs, for short), and they see a gay person on tv, their reaction is not one of love—it’s one of disgust: “Ew. That’s so gross.” I’ve also heard UCFs refer to AIDS as God’s punishment for gay people. No UCFs get upset when they hear about anti-gay violence. In fact, they tend to think it’s great. UCFs often have no qualms about using the term “fag,” “faggot,” or “dyke.” The discrepancy lies in how they treat other “sinful behavior.” UCFs, when seeing heterosexual allusions to premarital sex may (if prodded) say it’s “wrong,” but rarely (above the age of 15) will UCFs react with an “Ew, that’s so gross.” They do not make up derogatory terms for people engaging in premarital sex, and UCFs do get upset if promiscuous people get beat up for no reason. So, why is there a discrepancy? Theoretically, if it’s both sinful to engage in premarital (and/or promiscuous) heterosexual sex, shouldn’t UCFs regard it in the same way as the sin of engaging in gay sex?
It goes a step further, though. UCFs will be disgusted even by straight men who act “gay.” Any sign of effeminacy both male and female UCFs will think is “wussy” or “gay.” Again, this is not setting apart from the world… it is being the world. Being set apart from the world means actually hating the sin, and loving the sinner. Because all of my liberal non-Christian friends love the sin and the sinner, and all of my conservative Christian and non-Christian friends hate the sin and the sinner; it seems logical that the godly stance is to actually love the sinner and hate the sin.
What does that mean, though? Well, first of all, as Christians, I think we need to recognize that being gay is only sinful if you are a Christian… I mean, sure, you could argue non-Christians can be sinful, too, they just don’t realize it, but that’s the whole point—they don’t realize it! Just as it behooves everyone to use proper grammar, I’m not in the place to correct everyone’s mistakes, because not everyone has agreed to that arrangement–only my students have. We may all be subject to God’s judgment (and redemption), but if people have not entered into a contract (or covenant) with God, it won’t make sense to them when we chastise them for not living up to laws they don’t agree with.
Secondly, we need to treat the “sinfulness” of being gay just as any other sin. There’s nothing in the Bible that indicates that it is a worse sin to be gay than to commit any other sin. Jesus himself never mentions homosexuality; he spends most of his time blasting hypocrites, gossips, etc.; and James writes, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10, NIV). We need to be careful how we focus our energies.
Thirdly, if we’re loving the sinner, we need to treat the sinner as a human being. Violence against human beings is not okay. Human beings living in fear of their lives or verbal attack is not okay. Human beings not being able to marry or have relationships of their own choice is not okay. That’s right. I’m an anti-homosexuality, pro-same-sex-marriage Christian. Until gay people convert to Christianity and realize being gay is wrong, they should have every right to make mistakes because they don’t know any better. And just as we do not pass laws forbidding hypocrisy, gossip, judging others, or pre-marital sex, it doesn’t make sense to pass laws forbidding gay marriage.
Lastly, to follow up #3, Christians should be the first ones advocating for the rights of gays—to live, to not be discriminated against, to marry, to be proud and out… only when Christians fight for those rights will gays be able to actually believe Christians love them while hating their “sin.”
Now, of course, since some of my readers are non-Christian, they’ll probably be appalled that I even think being gay is sinful, but I think my ideas are unconventional enough that the mere fact that someone thinks the way I do should be worth a good read by both non-Christians and Christians alike.
A little bit about people being “born” gay: It’s not something people choose consciously. I don’t think it makes sense to say it’s “biologically determined” either. Very few things are “biologically determined.” I was born right-handed. I wanted to be ambidextrous when I was six or seven and I started writing with my left hand. I didn’t realize I had to keep practicing with my right hand. So now I do everything with my right hand (play sports, sharpen pencils, use scissors, use chopsticks, etc.) except write with a pencil, pen, or paintbrush. If it were “biologically determined” that I was right-handed, I would not need to practice writing with my right hand to keep it. However, I did have a biological predisposition to right-handedness; just as some people have a biological predisposition to left-handedness. The tragedy with forcing lefties to write with their right hands isn’t so much that it’s “unnatural” or “forced” as that it demonizes left-handedness. You need to change because there’s something wrong with you. So must any sensible argument go against changing gay people. We are not going against nature to say gay people can be… not gay. We are merely invalidating something people view as a part of their identity (I’ll return to this idea later). However, we cannot say that anything that goes against “nature” is wrong. I’m naturally pre-disposed to getting diabetes when I’m older. I’m also naturally pre-disposed (moreso than my brother or father) to developing plaque and tartar. I will do everything in my power to fight these tendencies, because I view them as wrong.
More to the point, though, the typical objection then is that gay people are not a sickness, not wrong, not damaging to teeth. Well, the problem is that most people in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries believe that people have been gay since the beginning of time. I, too, believed this before I took a course at college on the history of gay communities and cultures (taught by a gay professor who was extremely ex-hippie). People have not, in fact, been gay since the beginning of time. People have practiced same-sex sex since the beginning of time. It is only since the turn of the twentieth century (the late nineteenth, starting with Oscar Wilde) that people started thinking of gay behavior as part of a new kind of identity. Just as now if a person teaches for a living (as I do) we call her a “teacher.” But if someone eats pistachio ice cream on a regular basis we don’t call her a “pistachio ice creamer.” The development of the gay identity was, in a sense, a defense against extreme homophobia. I can bungee jump a few times every month without being called a “bungee jumper.” And even if people called me a “bungee jumper,” they wouldn’t be so much insulting me as just being plain imprecise. However, once people have same-sex thoughts or one or two same-sex experiences, they feel the pressure to categorize themselves because society categorizes them. Look at message boards, letters columns, etc. People are always asking questions like, “I fantasized about my best friend. Does that make me a lesbian?” or “One time I sucked my friend’s dick just to experiment. Am I gay?”
The underlying question isn’t really “Does that make me a lesbian?” or “Am I gay?” It’s really, “What will other people think of me?” Just as I can try pistachio ice cream (a rather nasty flavor) and not wonder, “Is this going to detract from my vanilla and cookies ‘n’ cream status?” That’s because there is not a vanilla and cookies ‘n’ cream status. There is, however, a het status. The idea of fantasizing once about a girl friend making a girl a lesbian or of sucking someone’s dick once making a boy gay has the implicit assumption that there is a hetero status that needs defending. I can straddle the ice cream flavor line or the bungee jumping activity line as much as I want. Once I’m forced to pick a side, that’s when I have to develop an identity. Another way to think about it is a world without borders… no countries, no states, no cities, no villages; just houses, swimming pools, work buildings, cars, bikes, people, boats, etc. People could come and go as they please. Yes, we might actually name some regions, but there wouldn’t be as strong a sense of “belonging” to one area because the boundaries are not stringent. Well, we live in a world where boundaries are stringent. Even people with dual citizenship have had to ally themselves with two countries instead of all countries. My being an “American” goes beyond merely permanently residing in America. It is my culture. It is my community. And it is the law. If I leave I need my passport. I cannot come and go as I please. I need visas and/or employment to stay in other countries for an extended period of time.
You can probably see where I’m going with this. Back in the times the Bible was written, there were no people who said, “I’m gay.” Neither were there straight people. There were just people. And most people ended up married to someone of the other gender at some point. There weren’t gay people. There was same-sex sex. There were men sleeping with men (often as a recreational or religious activity) and women sleeping with women. No one questioned that these men loved their wives or that these women loved their husbands. If someone talked to his best buddy and said, “I just fucked that guy in the ass,” the other guy wouldn’t reply, “What are you—gay?!” He’d probably reply, “That’s great. How’s the wife?”
It’s only because society (and not just religious society) punishes people for straying from heterosexuality (not so much on the grounds that it’s wrong, but more on the grounds that it is sick or somehow less-than-human) that people who have had gay thoughts and feelings have felt the need to defend their gay tendencies, to conceive of a gay identity. When you attack gay behavior these days you cannot do so without offending a gay person. Now, it is not just behavior. It’s identity.
How do I know it’s the “sick” and “less-than-human” accusations that made people form identities out of sexuality and not the “immoral” charge? Well, as I said before, plenty of people think it’s “immoral” to have pre-marital sex, to gossip, to lie, to be hypocritical, to cheat, etc. We do not have identities for these behaviors as strong as the identities for sexuality. If I gossip once or twice, no one will accuse me of being “a gossip.” Nor will I write into a letter column and say, “I gossiped about a friend once. Am I a gossip?” But one time I remarked that Jonathan Rhys-Meyers was hot (in Bend It Like Beckham) and my wife teased me about it that whole day. I told her that was the reason there is so much homophobia these days. Guys can’t admire another guy without someone accusing them of being gay or not-fully-heterosexual. Whereas women can say a woman is hot and no one bats an eyelash (which alludes to the double standard with lipstick lesbianism—as opposed to butch-femme lesbianism—being chic… surely, a discussion for another time).
What we need to do is revert to a society where sexuality is fluid. There should be no identity around sexuality. It should be viewed mainly as behavior. Listen to Dave Schmelzer’s sermon on gay marriage