Disclaimer: The following post will be operating entirely within the scope of Christianity. If Christianity is wrong, untrue, or flawed, then so is this argument. It is beyond the scale of this post to look at the same issue from other paradigms : perhaps when I have time to write a book, eh?
1) Does God Love Gays?
We need to establish that first and foremost. Because out there are people like Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church who wave signs that say “God Hates Fags,” or other professing Christians who (at best) forget the nature of the One they claim to worship and follow. Within the scope of Christianity, the following needs to be heard and understood:
God loves gays. God loves lesbians. God loves transsexuals and bisexuals. They are his children, and he loves them.
When John (the apostle who perhaps knew Jesus the best) says that God is love, we often fail to see the implications. Perhaps it is because the phrase has become so overused, or perhaps because in English our word “love” is trying to do so many jobs at the same time. But to say Θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν is to say a profound truth. We are not saying simply that God has affection, or even that God embodies affection, or that God embodies an emotion of benevolence. ἀγάπη is more than human love; it is divine love (1st John 4:7), it is self-sacrificial love (John 15:13, 1st John 3:16). The love that God embodies is unconditional. God ἀγαπάωs everyone, even “sinners” (Romans 5:8). Jesus commanded Christians to ἀγαπάω everyone, even their enemies (Luke 6:27). Nowhere in any of this do I see “except gays.” Nowhere do I see that God loved everyone “except gays,” or that Christians are to love everyone “except lesbians.” When that passage says that “God so loved the world,” there are no exceptions.
Regardless of what your sexual orientation is, what genitalia you have, who you’ve slept with, what you’ve done, or what you’re going to do, God loves you. There’s nothing you can do to make him stop loving you. That’s what unconditional love means. That’s what ἀγάπη means.
Major premise: God unconditionally loves humans
Minor premise: Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transsexuals are humans
Ergo: God unconditionally loves Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transsexuals
2) If God loves Gays, how come Christians say it’s a sin to be gay?
Several of you noticed that I said this post was not going to be about why God loves gays, but how. Explaining why God loves gays is easy–he’s God, it’s kind of what he does. What’s hard is explaining how this can be true considering the other things that Christianity says. For instance: doesn’t Christianity say that being gay is a sin?
Answer: No. Well, yes. Sorta.
See, it all depends on how you define “being gay.” If you define it by orientation or by desire, then no, Christianity does not say it’s a sin to be gay. However, according to the Bible, God does say that same-sex intercourse is a sin. But notice that is a particular action, not an orientation.
(Sidenote: I’m aware that some of my readers may believe that the Bible does not say that same-sex intercourse is a sin, basing this ascertation on one of a few popular theories regarding the relevant passages. I personally find this a weak case, particularly in light of the writings of the early church fathers, the midrash of the ancient rabbis, and their understanding of what these passages meant. We can argue that out in a future post if you prefer; for the moment, let’s say that the face-value interpretation is accurate for the sake of argument.)
Minor Premise: God considers same-sex intercourse to be a form of “sin”
Though really, while we’re at it, we should mention that
Minor Premise: God considers most forms of heterosexual intercourse to be a form of “sin.”
(I mean, really. If you’re a Christian, you’re only allowed to have sex with one person, and within a very narrow set of parameters, and not everyone gets even that one person.)
Are these conclusions mutually exclusive with our previous conclusion? I don’t believe so. God loves us unconditionally, yes. Does loving us unconditionally automatically translate into approval of our actions?
I don’t believe that it is. Love is not synonymous with approval. If I have a daughter, and my daughter is shoplifting and stealing, do I cease to love my daughter? Of course not. But just because I love my daughter doesn’t mean I approve of or condone what she’s doing. Because what she’s doing is not what’s best for her. And if what she’s doing gets her arrested, her Actions can separate her from me. Yet I would never stop loving her.
Within Christianity, sin is defined as failing to live up to some particular standard. It is a form of choosing one’s own path instead of God’s path (Isaiah 53:6). It can involve an action, a lack of action (James 4:17), or even a mental attitude (Matthew 5:22). Everyone sins (1st John 1:6, Romans 3:10). And sin, in some sense, enslaves the one who sins (John 8:34). Sin comes between us and God.
“But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” –Isaiah 59:1-2
Minor Premise: Everyone sins
Major Premise: Sin separates humans from God
Ergo: Sin separates everyone from God.
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” –1st John 1:5-7
Major Premise: Sin damages a human’s fellowship with God.
With me so far? Now, we’re going to have to switch from deductive reasoning to inductive for a moment. Because if you look at several passages such as Deut. 12:31 or Luke 16:15, they speak of God “hating” sin. Why is this? Why does he feel so strongly about it?
Major Premise: God hates sin.
Well, looking at the conclusions we just came to about sin–it separating us from God and destroying our fellowship with him–I think it’s not a huge leap to come to the conclusion that
Hypothesis: Because he unconditionally loves humans, God hates whatever separates humans from himself.
And from there to
Ergo: Because he unconditionally loves humans, God hates sin.
It’s a horrible religious cliche to say that “God hates the sin but loves the sinner.” I don’t blame you for kind of gagging over that one. But try this one on for size: God hates sin because he loves the sinner.
The relationship between God’s stance on sin and God’s unconditional love is causal. He hates our sin because he loves us.
(And of course, ἀγάπη being self-sacrificial as well as unconditional, at great personal cost he provided a method to eliminate that separation between himself and you. Keep reading 1st John 1 and 2 if you want to know more about that.)
Major premise: It is possible for sin to be forgiven.
3) Let’s say that you’re right, that it’s a sin. Why is it a sin? Why should it separate me from God in the first place? Why should God care who I sleep with?
This is a rough question to answer. Why is same-sex intercourse a sin? Why are any of the sexual sins, sins? Why is anything a sin?
Well, the Westminster Catechism defines sin as “anything contrary to the will or nature of God.” The nature part is easier to get: if Truth is intrinsic to the nature of God, then lying would be contrary to that; if Justice is intrinsic to the nature of God, then injustice would be contrary to that. But will? Does that mean that something can be a sin for no other reason than that it’s not God’s will? Is God using that phrase that every parent swore they’d never use: “Because I said so”?
I mean, looking at the vast array of various things God has verboten over the centuries you’ve got a spectrum:
–Things that are contrary to God’s nature (injustice, lying)
–Things that were forbidden for humanity’s benefit (hygiene laws before germs were known, food laws before food prep was standardized)
–Things that were forbidden symbolically (mixed cloth representing a breakdown in purity, disrespecting communion representing a disrespecting of the Body)
–Things that we have no idea why the heck they were forbidden. (Knowledge of Good and Evil? Keeping the Ark from falling off its cart? Any of the laws regarding hair?)
Regarding all the sexual sins, I’ve heard the case made that, as the architect and inventor of sex, God has also written the Manual of Intended Use or something, and using sex in a way not intended by the designer shows disrespect… I’ve also heard a case made regarding the spiritual aspect of sex, a la 1 Corinthians 6:16-17… And I’ve heard a very weak case made regarding health laws and STDs… But in the end, all these are kind of putting words in God’s mouth. Really, the only actual reason that I can remember ever getting shelled out for such things is:
“If you love me (ἀγαπάω), you will keep what I command.” –Jesus of Nazareth
If God’s motivation for hating our sin is love-based, our motivation for following all these (often seemingly arbitrary) rules is equally love-based.
Christianity is all about restoring a relationship between ourselves and God. And a living, thriving relationship goes both ways. God loves us, and we start to learn to love him back. One of the ways we express that returned love is through obedience, even in those times when obedience doesn’t seem to make sense. This is our opportunity to ἀγαπάω him back.
4) In Summation
Is it hard to have faith in a God–loving or not–that tells us that our lives are sinful? Oh yes. Indeed it is. I can speak from experience, because Christianity says that of everyone’s life, whether homosexual or heterosexual or transsexual or whatever. Passages like “…All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…” My own natural tendencies are considered sinful by Christianity, and I’m straight. Because all humans are fallen, and the imago dei within us is marred, we cannot rely on natural tendencies to tell us what is good and what is not.
But God loves us. He loves us more than anyone else could ever possibly love us. And he loves us with an unconditional love–it doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is, what you’ve done, what you’re going to do. He loves us regardless and self-sacrificially. Still, do not confuse love with approval. It is, after all, our sin that separates us from God–and how can God approve of something that comes between him and one whom he loves?
And if you are G, L, B, or T, the take-away message is this: Because God loves you–unconditionally, sacrificially–that is the love that I and all Christians should be loving you with too. Never let a Christian tell you that God hates you because of your orientation. Nothing could be further from the truth.