One of my friends posted an article on Christians and homosexuality on his facebook page, and then asked for thoughtful response. I am going to attempt that here (the jury’s out on whether or not I’ve succeeded), but given the length involved, it wasn’t an easy task, so I’m putting it on my website, so that I don’t have to write this over and over again as new articles make the same claims.

The article I am responding to is here.

Pack a lunch, this is a long trek.

Pavlovitz begins:

Being gay is not a sin.
Neither is being lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
The Bible never claims that it is.
It really doesn’t.

I’m not sure how to respond here, as I both agree and disagree. As with most of my responses, this is going to require a bit of explaining.

By using the indefinite article, Pavlovitz seems to be envisaging the concept of “sins” in his answer. For those of us of a more conservative bent, that is referring to instantial examples of disobedience to God’s law (like lying, stealing, cheating, etc.). Of course, this means from the get-go that I’d have to say that in what he seems to be saying then, he is correct, since sins are instantial examples that we as humans see of disobedience to God’s law. Of course, “being gay” then is not “a sin”, just as “being a gossip” is not technically “a sin” (gossiping is). On this level of the discussion we need to distinguish between the state of sinfulness (which I will talk more about in a moment) and the instances of sinning.

Properly speaking, when it comes to the statement above, the sin is actually same-sex intercourse, not the state of being someone with a predilection to engage in same sex intercourse.

Where things get dicey for the above statement is the underlying nature of sin present in every human other than Jesus Christ. The simple fact is that we have disordered desires that move us to do the surface acts, and it is that disordered desire which places something other than God as above God in our affections. This is what is referred to as “idolatry”, and we are all guilty of it. At this level, homosexuality is sin in that, since it is opposed to God’s revealed will, asserting it above God is idolatry. Interestingly enough, this is the same disorder that makes some of us hate “gay people” because we imagine they are less godly than we are, and we can worship our own holiness above God as well. In both cases, the ultimate sin is idolatry (which is what God hates), though it plays itself out in different people differently.

He continues:
Christians should stop saying it because it’s reckless and irresponsible—and it’s killing people.

It’s the most reckless, wasteful, irresponsible misuse of religion; the most dangerous kind of stereotyping and license to discriminate—and it’s killing people who are made in the image of God.

I’m hard pressed to disagree, though I imagine Mr. Pavlovitz and I will have different ideas about what “stereotyping and license to discriminate” look like, but I will point out that Christians are called to love even their enemies, so I cannot imagine an instance where looking down on someone for their sin can ever be anything other than itself sinful…. And evil.

Pavlovitz continues:

Christians love to say that, by the way—that all human beings are “made in the image of God.” Yet they also contend that these same made-in-the-image-of-God human beings, are either created male or female; that any other non-binary expression of gender identity is against God’s will; some unholy bastardization of the original plan.

The phrasing here is clearly prejudicial, but he is at least in the ballpark of the conservative Christian position. We would say that gender non-binary expressions are not in the will of God, and were they evidence they are either the result of personal sinfulness or of general fallenness in nature. Since sinfulness works out differently in different people, this is simply a different example of sinfulness than the ones I deal with, so it’s an “unholy bastardization” in the same way that the sin nature in me is an “unoly bastardization”. Now, I am going to point out that from my perspective, gender fluidity for humans (and same-sex attraction, and self-righteousness) are fundamentally disordered, and in need of mortification from the conservative Christian perspective if one is to live a fully Christian life.

This does not mean that a Christian can hate on someone because of the specifics of their makeup, as to do that would be to give expression to the “unholy bastardization” of self-righteousness.

The problem they have to deal with in declaring this—is God.

The oft-used line from the Genesis creation story, actually quotes God as saying, “let us make mankind in our image”, and this God then ultimately creates both men and women. If we are to (as so many homophobic/transphobic Christians do) take these words at face value, we need to ask the question:

Which ones were created in God’s image, the males or the females?

If our answer is both (which it must be), then God is decidedly non-binary, God transcends a single gender identity—God is by nature trans-gender. We cannot have God be a He and also make women in His image—and we can’t have a God capable of creating men and women, unless God is equally made of both. These Christians wouldn’t dream of excoriating God for the fluidity, would they?

This is a bit confusing as far as arguments go, as the conservative position is that we are made in the image of God, male and female, not that we are God. There is a distinction between the two. Whether God transcends male and female in such a way as both are made in the image of God is irrelevant. God has facets that He expresses that would be grossly disordered for us to express.

For example, God really is righteous in Himself, yet for me to express righteousness in myself would be a sin. God calls on His people to worship Him, for me to call on anybody to worship me would be a sin. 

In essence, the above argument, while novel, seems to be merely an example of a category error.

Pavlovoitz then accuses:

These same folks also want to use the Bible to condemn LGBTQ people and to deny them the rights of marriage and church fellowship, but they have another problem: the Bible. They have all sorts of issues to contend with there.

Where Christians use anything to condemn anybody (ie. Say that they are inherently incapable of redemption because of the nature of their sin) the Christian in question is sinning. That is different than questions of the “rights of marriage” (which properly-speaking isn’t a right, unless I can expect a government-provided spouse at my door…. The right is to not be discriminated against unjustly), as there are considerations of the nature and purpose of marriage involved that complicate things.

I may be different than many conservatives, but I don’t think homosexuality (whether in expression, orientation, or attraction) is grounds to deny fellowship with someone, unless they are going to start teaching in Church that sin is not sin (making the person in question a false teacher… whether they are themselves homosexual or not). This is true whether the person is a gossip, a murderer, or a coveter.

Pavlovitz continues:

They’ll attempt to use the word homosexuality (which does not occur in the original texts) as an umbrella term to refer to both gender identity and sexual orientation—when the context of the translated word they’re using and the occasions it appears in Scripture, simply cannot refer to both things simultaneously. 

This requires a bit of thinking, as he could mean this in a few different ways. First of all, we should point out that individual words rarely if ever convey complete meanings, words occur in contexts, so at some level the existence of the word “homosexual” is simply a non-sequiter. That’s not how you read texts. That it does not occur in the original texts (written in Greek and Hebrew) is also not really news, homosexual is not a Greek or Hebrew word.

The question is going to be the actual texts themselves and what those texts are referring to. For the conservative Christian, the texts in question are referring to the practice of same-sex intercourse. This means that the texts themselves do not refer directly to either orientation or gender identity. The problem is that we would believe that “sins” are disobedient acts predicated on indwelling “sin”. Indwelling sin results in disordered desires, which themselves cause us to perform sins. Homosexuality (both in the sense of gender identity and sexual orientation) would fit under disordered desires and are thus implicated by the texts that bar homosexual practice.

Pavlovitz:

Additionally, many Transgender people are in fact, not same-sex oriented, and not accurately described by the same word Christians would use to describe a gay or lesbian person.

To be honest, I’m not completely clear as to what is being claimed here. Given the transgender nature of the people being spoken about, is he saying that many transgendered people are not oriented towards people of their identified gender, or are not oriented towards sexual relationships with those of their “at birth assigned” sex? As such I’m at a loss as to how to respond here.

They like to say that the Bible declares that marriage is strictly between one man and one women, while the Old Testament, as early as Genesis’ fourth chapter is teeming with bigamy, polygamy, and extra-martial sex practiced by the lauded pillars and Patriarchs of the faith (Abraham, Gideon, Solomon, David)—not as cautionary tale, and not with rebuke, but simply as the story of God’s people. There are no definitive statements on marriage spanning the breadth of Scripture.

This is a puzzling passage, as it is not really all that controversial to say that a recounting of events in itself includes no acceptance or approbation against the events being recounted. While I’d disagree about whether there are cautionary tales involved when dealing with the patriarchs and their polygamy, even if I grant that some of them are told as simple stories, that does not validate polygamy as a practice. What we would need for that is a statement roughly approximates the passage in Genesis concerning the creation of woman, quoted by Jesus (in two of the synoptic Gospels) that “the two shall become one flesh”.

They’ll frequently refer to the book of Leviticus, claiming it says that “homosexuality” an abomination (a flawed talking point as we’ll discuss later)—and ignore the surrounding verses commanding that disrespectful teens and those having extramarital sex be stoned to death—along with hundreds of requirements and punishments, most of which they declare irrelevant to their present lives. It’s becomes a highly selective use of the text.

Though, while we’d oppose the use of the death penalty for disrespectful teens and extramarital sex, I note that both are opposed in most conservative Christian preaching. Most conservative Christians also accept that the Levitical laws were given in the Biblical context of a national theocracy, which does not exist in the present world, and (for many of us) cannot exist without a fair amount of blasphemous self-righteousness… unless Jesus has literally returned to rule directly. I should like to also point out that the Levitical admonition against same-sex practice in Leviticus 18 and 20 uses a word (toebah) that seems to be only used in relation to homosexual practice in the Levitical code (and depending on your thoughts on JEPD theory, used exclusively in relationship to homosexuality in the Priestly corpus). It is used 5 times in Leviticus 18 (once in relation to homosexuality directly, 4 times to refer to the section of prohibitions including same-sex practice) and then once more directly in relation to homosexual practice in Leviticus 20

They’ll throw around the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, as supposed proof of God’s wrath against the gay community—when in fact, the book of Ezekiel 16:49 declares the former was destroyed because of its greed and disregard for the poor—but you don’t see many of these Christians preaching that sermon, especially not GOP Christians.

Well, being Canadian, and pretty happy about constitutional monarchy, I am definitely not a republican. That said, I do think that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah did have a sexual dimension to it. Of course, if ever I preach on Sodom and Gomorrah, I’d likely have to use Ezekiel 16:49 in its understanding. I’d point out though that Ezekiel doesn’t claim that Sodom and Gomorrah weren’t also sinning because of the homosexual practice, but that they were sinning through pride and greed. I note also that Ezekiel 16:50 points out that they did an “abomination” (same word as in Leviticus, BTW). Given that this admonition comes to people who are very proud and greedy, which then led them to perform this abomination (whatever it is), I think we in the western church should be taking more of a look at the prophets.

They’ll try to say that Jesus opposes the LGBTQ community, when he never once corrects, cautions, or condemns anyone based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. In this case, we’re supposed to believe the unspoken damnation is implied, when in reality these people are making Jesus say things he never said—simply because they want him to say it.

Jesus directly says nothing about homosexuality (practice or orientation) in the recorded Gospels. That is correct. We conservative Christians would disagree with what that means given Jesus’ context. After all, it’s not like homosexuality was unknown among the gentiles of the time, and it is also clear that Jewish religious leaders were opposed to same-sex practice. Given Jesus’ pointed friction with those religious elite, specifically concerning the acceptability of Gentiles as part of the people of God, his silence seems less than affirming of homosexual practice. Of course, it is an argument from silence, but that silence is not clearly a point for either side of this debate.

I’d also add that in at least one point, where Jesus discusses marriage, he quotes a heteronormative and monogamous text of scripture from Genesis (as noted above).

They’ll refer to a “homosexual lifestyle,” when the Bible is devoid of such terminology—for the simple reason that the concept itself is ludicrous and nonexistent (as proven by the fact that a “heterosexual lifestyle” makes absolutely no sense when applied to straight people.)

Agreed. Save for engaging in homosexual practice, there isn’t a “homosexual lifestyle”. Of course, that one point seems to be problematic if we’re right on homosexual practice from scripture’s perspective.

They’ll claim that the term homosexual refers simply to people who have sex with same gender partners, yet will also admit that their own heterosexuality, refers to far more than just their sexual activity, but to their inclinations to love, where they seek affection, intimacy, relationship. They can’t have these words work both ways. They need to decide whether the less than a handful of passages in the New Testament are referring to identity, orientation—or a specific behavior by specific groups of people in a specific context (which is likely). Great unpacking of these passages here.

This is dealt with above, I believe.

They’ll quote Paul in Romans Chapter 1, describing people consciously “trading their natural attractions” for same-sex desire and corresponding physical acts), failing to connect the dots, that for most members of the LGBTQ, there is no such exchanging taking place. They aren’t feeling one thing, and choosing an alternative simply to choose. They aren’t acting in opposition to any primary inclination. Their same-sex orientation is their natural. 

We’d likely point out that the text doesn’t say “their natural attractions” but more literally “natural function”. I’m not very good at Greek, but I’ll also note that there doesn’t seem to be a possessive in the Greek in Romans 1:26-27. It seems to be simple nominative and accusative. This means that the exchanging going on (from a conservative understanding) is not an exchange of what someone normally or naturally feels for what they don’t, but an exchange of the generally natural function for an unnatural one.

(If pressed, these Christians need to admit that this passage refers to a specific sex act tied to pagan worship practices, and cannot be superimposed over identity and orientation—and it’s certainly not appropriate to use it to categorize committed, loving relationships by people along the full LGBTQ continuum.) 

Well, I’ll agree it refers to a specific sex act.

When trying to use Paul’s references in this way, they’re trying to separate LGBTQ people from the capacity to love and be in mutually beneficial relationships—and that’s simply wrong.

No, we are merely separating “LGBTQ people” from a specific expression of love and mutually beneficial relationships. We also seek to separate heterosexual people from sexual expressions in love and mutually beneficial relationships when those relationships are not also bounded by marriage. We would also say that it is possible (indeed demanded) for all people to have love and mutually beneficial relationships without sexual expression. In all cases, we’d also say that it is appropriate to mortify the desires that lead to the expression in all instances where a heterosexual marriage is not possible.

At the end of the day, the Bible is not clear on these matters. It is cloudy and even contradictory at times. There is no consistent sexual ethic in the Scriptures, no one image of marriage—and no specific condemnation from Jesus or Paul of those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender simply because of their identity and orientation.

As has been pointed out above, we disagree on that point.

If we can admit, that LGBTQ people have the same capacity for love, commitment, and monogamy in a mutually beneficial relationship that cisgender-heteronormative Christians do—the text becomes impossible to weaponize as it has been.

Weaponize? Maybe. I do actually think that LBGTQ people have the same capacity for love, commitment and monogamy in a mutually beneficial relationship as do “cisgender-heteronormative Christians”. In fact, given the specific types of persecution levelled at LBGTQ people, they may have an increased capacity for some facets of that. I’m not sure how any of that validates homosexual practice.

And the God of the Bible, as presented in Genesis, is himself/herself/itself an image of the beautiful spectrum of sexuality, and a defense of those who believe we each manifest this complexity in a myriad of ways.

I don’t think that’s true, but even if God was “transgendered”, that doesn’t mean its okay for us to be.

Christians wanting to persecute the LGBTQ community have long claimed that God and the Bible are their justifications, but this simply isn’t accurate—not if they’re to use the reality of God and all the words of the Bible (not just the bits that feel like consent when isolated in social media diatribes and shouted sermons.)

As has been discussed above, and for the reasons mentioned above, I do not think this is true.

These people are going to have to admit that ultimately the only authority they’re yielding to in these matters is their own (or the teachers or parents who have passed these ideas down to them. ) It is their fear, their prejudice, their lack of knowledge that causes them to lash out in hurtful words, violent rhetoric, and abject cruelty.

That’s a fairly large, and honestly judgemental, claim. One that I do not think is borne out by the evidence given in this post.

More and more Christians are beginning to understand this; that our faith tradition has gotten it wrong regarding sexuality, the same way it has regarding the worth of women, the plague of slavery, interracial marriage, the violence against non-Christians, and on and on. They are seeing that being LGBTQ and being Christian are not mutually exclusive. They’re seeing that a Church that honors God will welcome all people.

Or they’re acceding to the culture, as segments of the church did in all of those situations Mr. Pavlovitz mentions. Moral discussion is difficult, partially because we are none of us perfectly moral, and we are all bounded by our historical and cultural contexts. Triumphalism is often ill-advised.

We’ve wasted so much time, so many resources, and so many beautiful, God-reflecting lives, because we’ve made our fear our idol and tried to retrofit God into that image. The sooner we can let go of this misplaced fervor and this fruitless fight, the sooner we can live out Jesus’ clear and unmistakable commands, that we love God and all those who share this space with us.

Now here I agree, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that we don’t mean the same thing. I would say that some of the statements above seem a tad unfair to others, and if I’m correct, not meeting the clear admonition to love your enemies.

No, being LGBTQ is not a sin.

See above. It depends on what you mean.

The sin, is the hatred that refuses to let go of that notion when evidence requires it.

Again, we agree, but it seems likely that we have different conclusions concerning the present debate we’d draw from that.