I have started blog posts–in my head and on paper–about homosexuality and the church more times than I can count. and they’ve never made it to the published post stage.
Oh, plenty of reasons. Fear of the response. Being overwhelmed by the complexity of it all. Wanting to be sure I have all the right answers before I put myself out there. My unwillingness to debate it until kingdom come. Being passionate about too many other issues in the world to get stuck on this topic. (And since I’m not gay, dismissing it for another day is a luxury I have.)
Why is this time different?
I don’t know. Except that it’s burning a hole in my head, my heart, my stomach. I’m dreaming about it, can’t stop thinking about it, praying about it, scrawling notes about it.
(Here’s my friend Jolie’s post that started it all this go-round. I linked to her post on Facebook and a big ol’ comment thread ensued.)
So here we go.
I won’t even try to address every aspect of it in this post (and there may/may not be follow-up posts). I’m going to focus on one thing: love the sinner, hate the sin.
That tired phrase we Christians toss out anytime homosexuality comes up. Because, honestly, we don’t use it for any other sin (“I love you, but I hate your obesity that has resulted from your gluttony.”). And I’m going to make a bold assertion here: most people who use the “love the sinner, hate the sin” line aren’t really loving the sinner like they claim.
Because here’s the thing: love isn’t something you say. Love is something you do.
If I ever tell you, “I love this gay person, but I hate his sin,” I want you to ask me something. “How have you shown him you love him?”
And if I say, “By pointing out his sin. Duh,” I want you to say to me, “That’s not love. Love isn’t pointing out sin. Maybe in the context of an already loving, trusting relationship, but other things have to come first. Like listening. A lunch invitation. An offer to help with something and following through. Love is playing disc golf for an afternoon. And finding out more about the person’s childhood. And smiling and laughing together. So, do you love this person? Or is that just a Christian cliche you’re throwing out?”
You don’t have to agree with me. But I hope you realize that condemning someone’s sin (especially if you do it on Facebook) is super easy. Loving is super hard. It takes time. It takes sacrifice. It’s messy. And Jesus rarely gives us the easy-peasy assignments. He asks us to do the hard stuff.
We have to earn the right to speak into someone’s life. Jesus didn’t have to earn that right. He already loved people, and he already knew everything about them. He could take the shortcut right to speaking to their sin. We can’t.
Speaking of Jesus, this spring (starting tomorrow), I’m committing to read through the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) slowly, carefully, prayerfully, and in several different versions, because I’m desperate to know how Jesus himself would’ve handled this whole homosexuality and the church thing.
And if I could ask him one thing, it would be, “Why on earth did you not mention homosexuality with your own mouth, in those bright red letters?? Why did you leave us in the dark about this??”
Sometimes I just want to shake him. How hard would it have been to give us a Jesus-response for this? Did he really want us to figure it out on our own? And is “love the sinner; hate the sin” the best we can come up with?? (and no, Jesus isn’t the one who coined that phrase)
The Jesus I know from reading the New Testament (and, like I said, I want to soak it all in some more) is the kind of guy who gave responses (some verbal, some not) that no one expected.
And I feel like our pat little answer has missed the mark.
Jesus did tell us what the greatest commandments were. Love God. Love our neighbor. And I know “Love Wins” has become synonymous with Rob Bell and what have you, but Love Does Win. It’s the greatest, highest thing.
It’s also the hardest. The Pharisees, for example, had a wicked hard time with it. They were awesome at pointing out people’s sins, not so great at showing love.
If we’re going to do one thing right as Christians, it needs to be showing love. Jesus says that’s how people will know us: by our love.
This is not how people know us. They know us by our mouths.
“But what about truth??” you ask.
What about it?
“We can’t sacrifice truth on the altar of love!”
But we can sacrifice love on the altar of truth? Love is the greatest.
“But I do love gays! I love them enough to tell them the truth! That they need to repent of their sin so they can go to heaven!”
And how is that working out for you? How many gays have you won to Christ by condemning their sin? How many gays have ANY Christians won to Christ by attacking them instead of loving them?
Is it just the slightest bit possible that we could try a different route? Loving someone first, leaving the homosexuality rhetoric off Facebook, showing them Jesus, THEN discussing what the Bible says and what that means for a gay person who wants to follow Jesus?
Here’s the question many of you have right now: does Marla believe that homosexuality is not a sin?
No. (deep sigh of relief, anyone?) The Bible does say it’s a sin. (We can discuss cultural context and the inerrancy of Scripture and can women talk in church and wear their hair short some other fun day.)
But love comes first. And we are focusing our time and energy and exegetical knowledge of Scripture on the wrong stuff. Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to set at liberty those who are oppressed. And he called us to LOVE.
Is loving people so small of a job that we’ve all finished it up early and have moved on to condemning gays? There’s a reason we got two basic commands (Love God. Love others.). Because Jesus knew that was enough to keep us busy until he came back.
Let’s take a little side trail for a sec. Our family lives in an apartment complex where most of our neighbors are devout adherents to a religion that is not Christianity. If I used the tired “love the sinner; hate the sin” line on them, it would be, “I love you, but I hate your religion.”
How many of them am I going to win to Christ that way?
Um, negative 12.
What should I do instead? Invite them over for dinner? Go to their place for tea? Help tutor their kiddos in math? Drive them to school when they miss the bus? Invite kiddos in to make crafts? Give them drinks when they’re tired and thirsty from playing soccer with my girls? Pray for them? Get to know them? Ask them questions about their faith when it comes up in natural conversation? Answer their questions about why I do the things I do?
That sounds like a good plan. A loving plan.
I’m not trying to put myself on a pedestal. I’m sure many of you have had similar opportunities to love poor people or people from another faith or your neighbors or whoever. And you’ve probably done the same things. Shown love first.
So why is it different with gays??
Why do we make the biggest, hugest deal about how we feel about their homosexuality right off the bat instead of just loving them?? Why can’t we eat with them, talk to them, get to know them, encourage them, LOVE THEM?
I read another Facebook thread today (oh, Facebook) where someone said, “As Christians, we need to step on some toes. God will heal their toes, and they’ll have heaven to gain.”
I can see the logic in this. But that’s not how I want to live. Hurting people, shrugging my shoulders, and saying, “Aw, God will heal them.”
People are already hurt. Especially gays. What they need is love. The world doesn’t love them. Oftentimes, their own families don’t even love them. And the church sure doesn’t love them. Jesus DOES love them, but how do they know that? There’s only one way for them to know.
When a Jesus-follower loves them in Jesus’ name.
When I get to heaven, I don’t really think Jesus is going to tell me I should have condemned more gays for their lifestyle choices (and if I wasn’t over 1400 words already, we could get into the debate: is being gay a choice? Because if you know any gay people personally, you’ll probably hear them say: I didn’t choose this. But, as Christians, how do we explain a loving God allowing someone to be born gay and then condemning homosexuality? It’s much easier to say it’s a choice, no?)
I think Jesus might be more apt to say, “Did you love people?” (We already know from Matthew 25 that he’s going to ask us if we fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and those in prison.)
Can we do that? Can we do the hard work of loving people right where they are? All the while realizing we’ve got planks in our own eyes and we desperately need a Savior?
Do I have all the answers? No. Are people going to be happy about this post? Probably not. It’s either going to be “too this” or “not enough that.” And I don’t really care.
I want to be known for my love, not my brain or my mouth. And not just any ol’ love. I want to love in a way that points people to Jesus.
Thanks for your patience as I figure out what that looks like in real life.