This is the most difficult blog I’ve ever written. Get a cup of coffee, it is also kind of long. I’ve been working on it for several days.
I am a Christian, and I’m basically supportive of the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize gay marriage on a state and federal level. The reason why I’m supportive, as a bisexual friend of mine put it, as well as the world-renowned Christian author C.S. Lewis also put it, most people aren’t Christian and should not be expected to live Christian lives. God gave us free will, and I respect people’s freedom to choose.
Likewise, Christians are not secular and should not be expected to lead secular lives or believe in secular ways.
In 2013 I wrote a blog that went somewhat viral within my (small) sphere of influence, arguing that you could be a Christian, think homosexuality is a sin, and also vote in support of gay marriage as a constitutionally-recognized institution. It also ran as an op-ed in the Roanoke Times (which is no longer accessible on their site, maybe due to age or change in its leadership). It was well-received by both gay marriage-supporters and Christians who disagreed with gay marriage rights.
However, I intentionally did not address whether I thought homosexuality was a sin. Because at that time, I didn’t honestly understand enough. I heard a lot of convincing arguments from both sides, but wasn’t finding an answer that was well with my soul.
The truth is, I love my gay, bisexual, and transgender friends. I really love them. They are witty, fun, passionate, strong, and smart. They’re better people than me in so many ways. They’re better advocates for social change, smarter, more informed, cooler, dress better, and are more generous, to name a few ways, and some even share my values of monogamy and lifelong commitment (though I’ve found the latter to be a little more rare – even among my heterosexual friends).
My husband and I entertain these friends in our home. We have shared interests. They make us laugh all the time. We adore them — really adore them. (As I type this, my eyes are watering a bit as I think fondly of these friends. I also think of the struggle they’ve had to arrive where they are today.)
And this is why this is the most difficult (and lengthy) blog I think I’ve ever written.
I write this blog not to convince people to see eye-to-eye with me, but to contribute a little bit of understanding where I think it is severely lacking.
If you are a member of the LGBTQ community or are an avid supporter, can you be open-minded just for a few minutes as you continue reading?
Can you stride with me?
Can you allow space in your worldview for a different point of view?
Can you believe that someone can disagree with you and not be a bigot?
If everyone who disagrees with you on the point of sexual orientation is a bigot, and you see no way around that, then I invite you to leave my blog now.
I am not asking you to change. I am offering you insight into the Christian mind in a way you may not have heard it, in a way even many Christians have not heard it. I’m not calling you names and would prefer not to be called names.
I’m being extremely vulnerable with you here.
What I’m going to do is put sexuality in the context of the broad brushstrokes of the Christian faith and its basic themes. I’ll deal with how ideas of sexuality tie into the fundamental essence and big picture of the Christian narrative and identity of God. My goal today is not to pick apart texts.
The orthodox perspective, and why it’s so
What I’ve seen in blogs and Facebook posts and in conversations is that we Christians like to blurt out passages from Leviticus, Romans and 1 Corinthians that condemn homosexuality, that alone, without any context, sound hateful and judgmental.
But when I read these verses and passages, as an insider of the faith, that tone does not come across to me the same way. What comes across to me is an extremely high standard for God’s kingdom — which is still in transition — with the motivation behind the standard being an unconditional, unceasing, forgiving, merciful, graceful, heavenly love. I also know that I am guilty of pretty much every sin mentioned with this one — if not in deed, certainly in heart.
When I read these tough passages, I have better personal, cultural, and contextual resources to pull from than the person who engages the Bible for argument’s sake but has no relationship with or affection toward (the Christian) God.
My husband says hard things to me that instead feel difficult, but not mean, because they’re in the context of love. If any other person said these things, s/he may come across as a total jerk. But because of the love relationship, he can say things that no one else can and I’m a better person for it. I think Biblical text, to truly be understood, needs to be understood in this very relational way.
C.S. Lewis in his book, Mere Christianity, talks about when he was a child and had a toothache, he struggled with whether to tell his mom. He knew mom would give him an ointment that would curb the pain, and that would have been enough for Lewis, but he knew she would not be satisfied to simply treat the symptom. She would require a visit to the dentist who would identify the root of the problem, maybe a cavity or worse, and deal with the tooth accordingly. And it would probably be painful and extremely uncomfortable.
Lewis likens this to how God is with us. God is not satisfied to simply make us feel better, to put bandaids and treat symptoms. He will get to the root of us, and that is the more loving thing to do. It is an understatement to say that this is both uncomfortable and painful while he gouges out our body parts, metaphorically speaking. But because he loves us, he is very tough on us and doesn’t let us settle for less. If it needs to be amputated, amputate it, lest you proverbially die of gangrene.
The standards are high, the implications severe. Jesus says that if I should so much as THINK a hateful thought toward another human being, I’ve committed murder. Our very thoughts can be sin in Christianity, which makes me a hypocrite, murderer, adulterer, idolater, and more — If not for Jesus, I’d be beating everyone to hell! So don’t tell me I’m a good Christian. There is no such thing. Anything good in me is God’s handy-work, not mine. (Plus, you can’t read my thoughts.)
So what does this have to do with gay marriage?
Let me expound on the Trinity for just a moment.
Hang with me.
In Christianity, God is three persons, yet one sort-of in the sense that my husband and I are one. Father, son, and spirit. If you find the metaphor to be misogynistic, then use this one: Creator, Word, and Comforter. If you find the Trinity to be complicated, that’s because it is. (Perhaps not unlike quantum physics.)
As author Tim Keller puts it, love by its nature is not a thing that can exist in just one person (like the impersonal life force of Buddhism, for example). Instead, the very essence of love is an act between conscious persons. Thus, the synergy among the members of the Trinity is love and by nature the Trinity produces eternal and perfect love. All of creation is an extension of this, as we are invited to enter into this divine dance of love.
Understanding the Trinity is deep and I won’t go further than this for now. I’m still wrapping my head around it. But basically because the Christian God is a community, God can actually be love.
In the Christian faith, we believe that men and women are created equal and that both are uniquely and equally image-bearers of God the Trinity.
Likewise, in Christian marriage, there are three members: man, woman, and God — our combined nature intended to reflect the trinity. To be single is one thing, but upon entering physical intimacy with an earthly counterpart, in Christianity, to commune with the same rather than the opposite sex is to miss out on a fundamental piece of God’s very nature.
The Christian God doesn’t want men or women to be left out of the divine dance of love.
Can gays love each other? Absolutely! I have seen it. They can love better than heterosexuals in many ways — sometimes they’re more monogamous and faithful, sometimes a LOT more fun. But I might be so bold as to say that they’re missing out and falling short of God’s best, in this particular and essential way.
God’s ideal love for us is best understood when it’s inclusive and diverse, creating space for both genders to participate.
Inclusivity and diversity of gender in our love relationships are not the end all. That’s one (important) part, but not the whole pie. Heterosexual individuals, because we also have natural urges that are incompatible with the Trinity, still fall short in all kinds of ways, which I’ll also discuss.
Why would God create people who have attraction toward the same sex then?
I would say that he didn’t create people to have attraction toward the same sex, though it is arguably (post-Fall) now a naturally-occurring phenomenon.
Whether we think the events in Eden are theological story or actually did happen, we learn something really important about human nature from the story of the Fall. Given the free will to love God or not, we don’t. We put ourselves first, which doesn’t work with God — or with anyone for that matter — but especially with God. The ways in which this doesn’t work are exponential. We know it doesn’t work because even an atheist or moral relativist who doesn’t believe any of this will still angrily accuse someone of being selfish as if it is wrong (because it is).
God invited us into his song, and we’ve decided to march to our own tune and try to get everyone else, including God, to march with us. In fact, even religious people do this. (Though it appears to be the same, there is a big difference between people who make God their God, and those who make their religion their god.)
God could have forced us to join his song, but then it is not love. We have to choose it.
And so sin is, at the core, choosing ourselves.
We make idols for ourselves or in our image and worship them, demanding that the world dances around them too. Elizabeth Scalia puts it well in her book, Strange Gods: “What bossy little gods we are! We are needy and insecure, demanding capitulation, acceptance, and even adoration from everyone in our sphere. We rebel at the notion of God handing us 10 commandments; but our demands are much more numerous, and we inflict them upon everyone and then gnash the teeth when denied.”
That’s why the first command is (say it with me), “Thou shalt not have any other gods before me.” And human beings are so integral to the very “genetic makeup” or fabric of creation, that something about our self-worship has messed up everything and continues to. It has caused discord in a way that has fundamentally permeated everything, both physically and spiritually. I can barely comprehend this and its implications, but I believe it’s true. So we have all kinds of things that are “off” about us, out of tune. There’s something off with the things we desire and the world around us that are very, very confusing to understand.
Illness, death, and end to lineage
…is one such confusing thing.
I think it’s terrible and heartbreaking that gays (males particularly, and especially if promiscuous) have more threats to their health than heterosexuals (especially monogamous heterosexuals). I’m not being a jerk, I’m just acknowledging the history and statistics. It is what it is, and it’s terrible and heartbreaking. And I think it’s equally terrible and heartbreaking that their family line cannot continue (at least in a way that doesn’t tamper with or find alternatives to genetic and biological laws for life — Let GMO foods be our warning. I understand there are issues comparable to this for heterosexuals too, like infertility, but it’s the exception, not the rule.).
This ought to cause us to scratch our heads. Illness (arguably death for some, especially in the past) and the end to one’s bloodline and heritage ought not be the product of love, right? Life and the flourishing and continuation of humankind ought to be the product of love!
Luckily medicine and technology have come a long way, making this reality much less severe. God has been merciful to us. And I support medicine that keeps the LGBTQ community healthy, but I caution us from taking that mercy for granted.
(Addendum: I have received some criticism for the above argument, and as my original intent of this whole article was broad brushstrokes and to be fairly superficial, I did not expound on this point. Click here for a summary of the criticisms and for my response to them.)
In different ways, heterosexuals have just as much difficulty reflecting God’s image as same-sex couples do
I don’t deal with feelings of same-sex attraction like others do, but my husband and I both deal with plenty of other natural feelings that, should we succumb to them, would jeopardize our marriage and make it less than a supernatural reflection of the Trinity.
As one example, I have struggled with self-image, having thought myself a sexual object and compared myself to earthly ideals of beauty (idols created by man) that make me self-loathe (which is toxic to marriage, by the way). In my biological nature I want to compete with other women to be more “beautiful” and want men to desire me (evidence being how provocatively I dressed in high school). Lots of women (and men) do this. Just look up the selfie hashtag on Instagram. (Or maybe don’t.) We’re dying for sexual validation. Our best efforts to fill the void just leave us wanting more. It is a pit. An eternal pit of endless want. Ask those that have fought eating disorders or have had so much cosmetic surgery, it’s starting to get a little strange.
People mutilate their bodies, sacrifice gobs of money, time, and their very lives to this god; this god who is never satisfied. It’s a special kind of hell; one that God has saved me from multiple times, and continues to.
All of that natural desire has to die if I am to experience divine, supernatural love. I have to gouge out those parts of my natural self. There is a natural way, and many of us go that way. Then there is a supernatural way – and it can be quite difficult, full of sacrifice, but the difference is that it leads to life.
The point in Christianity is has NEVER been heterosexual monogamy.
The point is holiness. The point is to reflect the personality, love, life, harmony, and vitality that is the Trinity. God doesn’t judge simply based on sexual orientation; he judges by our love for him, by whether or not we let him take first place in our lives, or let our own desires take first place. Are we following his design – his will – or ours? He doesn’t do this because he’s some self-centered being who needs to be worshipped to appease some kind of insecurity, but because we’re designed to dance the divine dance, and we are most satisfied when we make God the ultimate object of our affection, trust, identity, and hope….rather than ourselves or some other created thing or person.
I think heterosexuals and homosexuals are often guilty of the exact same sin: wanting sex more than God.
It’s a tall order to reverse that order, and I’m not saying it’s easy. Living the Christian life is the hardest damn thing I do every day, and there is far more failure than success. But when I die, that’s when I find life.
Love and relationship is central to the Christian message and relational metaphors are used throughout the Bible to explain God’s relationship to himself, to his people, and to all creation.
All throughout scripture, metaphors of familial bonds (father to son, as used to refer to God the Creator, and God the Word – Jesus) are used repeatedly. God is also likened to a groom who dies for his bride, the Church (his people). These metaphors are built upon in deep-seated and numerous ways with lots, and lots, of implications.
For most Christians, to tamper with these relational dynamics is to fundamentally tamper with our understanding of God. For Christians, physical reality and spiritual reality are woven together and are interdependent and any veering into alternative forms of intimacy can easily lead to a fundamentally distorted understanding of who God is and how we relate with this God, often in ways we don’t immediately see. And that’s where faith comes in, and why we take all of this so seriously.
We don’t always know exactly why, but we just know, sometimes intuitively, that while this looks good, like the fruit in Eden, and the reasoning makes sense, that we can’t afford to be deceived. The same voice that came as a serpent in Eden still talks to us, taking on the forms we most trust. You can be god. You can make your own rules.
I’ve had two non-Christian friends approach me and tell me, “Keisha, I never understood why Christians waited till marriage to have sex, but I get it now.” They had personally lived through some temporary version of hell that sex outside of lifelong commitment had caused them. They’ve seen the way it can distort reality, the way it keeps us lost and confused longer, how dark the path can get, how much it can hurt, and how the individuals involved can find it so hard to get out of the relationship when everyone, even themselves, tells them to leave. “It was a lot of lost energy,” one of them said. Waiting for a lifelong partner isn’t a cure-all, but it can certainly help. Premature intimacy is risky in lots of ways. You don’t have to be a Christian to see that, but Christianity warns us before we make the mistake.
Sin promises us heaven and gives us hell. The fruit looks so nice to eat, but ultimately it tortures and even kills us.
Christians take sexuality very, very seriously and the lot of us, wary of deceit, are holding fast to the truth of our God even when the rationale the world is feeding us sounds quite tempting to believe.
While it is clever to use arguments equating same-sex union to racial and gender equality, it is a profoundly different thing if we’re speaking in Christian terms.
In English, there is one word for love, but in Greek, there are four that come up in the Bible: God-love, friendship-love, sexual-love, and longstanding love. Marriage relationships are the only earthly relationships that embody all four, and it is the fullest picture we get here on earth to understanding God and his love nature. And so this issue of holy sexuality is critical.
At this point, you may be beyond offended. I commend you for reading this far.
If you’re boiling over in anger, I’m really sorry. It has not been my desire to do that. I certainly respect your free will to decide that you disagree. I hope you will respect that it is the only hope for many of us. It is the only true love we’ve ever found. We will (peacefully) fight for it. We’ve always died for it. Though we may be dwindling in number westwardly, we’re popping up like weeds in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. We’re not going anywhere. You’re kind-of stuck with us. 🙂
Lots of respectable Christians will disagree with me and invite same-sex marriage even in their churches. It would be much easier, for sure, for me to agree. I have REALLY WANTED to agree. I have struggled and have hurt. To say all this publicly may come at great cost. I understand that people may hate me, that I might lose friends, though I don’t want any of those things. But I have to dance with God, not with the people I love. It’s a hard distinction to make, but it’s the only thing that has enabled me to experience real freedom.
What I hope is, at this point, that you have a better sense of WHY (many of us believe) some of these things are in the Bible and not just aware that they are, even if you think I’m a psycho religious nut at the end of it. (I guess I’m okay with that.) I hope you see more dimension to the Christian faith, even if you don’t agree with it. And please note that I have barely scratched the surface.
I also hope you won’t be angry at churches and pastors who choose not to facilitate same-sex marriage. I hope you won’t take it personally and try to legislate it.
I hope you’ll be okay with Christian Universities keeping their definitions of marriage and their corresponding arrangements.
I will unabashedly teach my children about alternative sexual lifestyles in a way that I find to be fitting for my child’s needs and also within a Christian context, which is my right. I don’t want the public schools to do it for me.
I hope you won’t guilt Christian-owned business into making wedding cakes for same-sex couples. I’d make your cake and attend your wedding to show you honor and respect, but not every Christian is there, and maybe you wouldn’t want us to anyway.
I hope you’ll understand it really has nothing to do with you and everything to do with us wanting to reflect our Creator because we’d rather die than do anything else. I hope you won’t call us bigots, though some of us may be. If you think I am, consider my other cheek turned, and know that I don’t hate you, I love you, and you’re probably better than me. For the one thing I think you’re doing wrong, I’m probably doing ten things wrong. I beg for your grace toward those of us that are total ignoramuses. We’ll be the first to tell you that we’re not perfect and God is working on us.
If you are one of my soap-boxy brothers or sisters in Christ spouting off Bible verses at every turn, STOP IT.
For the LOVE OF GOD — really! Shut your pie-hole and think about what you’re actually communicating. Ecclesiastes says there’s a time to be quiet and maybe right now is that time for you. Maybe it’s time to listen and be focused more on others than yourself. From my heart, and for the love of peace, I’m offering this exhortation. There’s no need to be so whiney, fragile, and offended. All you’re doing is showing how weak your faith is. If you really think you’re being persecuted, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet (and neither have I). We’re only at Level 1 of cheek turning when someone calls you a bigot. I admonish you to carry your cross and count it all joy as did Jesus and the martyrs before us.
Love and peace,