Is "Gay Christian" an Oxymoron?
A lot of people think that "gay" and "Christian" are mutually exclusive terms -- you can be one or the other, but not both. Obviously I don't agree, since I label myself a "gay Christian." But how is that possible? What brand of Christianity is this?
You may be surprised to know that I am going to be talking in this essay about mainstream Christianity as it is practiced all over the world. I am not going to talk about reinterpreting Bible verses or throwing out parts of the Bible. I'm working within a conservative theological framework that even Billy Graham and the Pope could support.
Sound interesting? Read on.
First of all, for the sake of clarity, I'm going to break up the broad term "homosexuality" and talk about the more specific terms "homosexual attraction" and "homosexual behavior."
When I say "homosexual attraction," I mean that a person feels an emotional and physical attraction for other members of the same sex. (Most people only experience heterosexual attraction -- attraction to members of the opposite sex.) In this essay, I will be discussing whether or not homosexual attraction is sinful.
When I say "homosexual behavior," I mean sexual behavior between two members of the same sex. (A better term would be "same-gender sexual behavior," but that's kind of long.) I will not be discussing the morality of homosexual behavior in this essay, since that is not how I define the term "gay." (See A Note about Terminology.)
Why is this important? Why the distinction between attraction and behavior? Because Christianity makes this distinction.
Let's assume for a moment that it is wrong to engage in any type of homosexual behavior. (This point will be addressed later.) If that is the case, then we can use the word "sin" to talk about homosexual behavior. Now, sometimes sin is appealing or attractive to us, and other times it is not. What do we call it when sin is attractive? We call that "temptation." So if homosexual behavior is a sin, then homosexual attraction may be considered a temptation.
Here's a silly little example. Imagine I am going on a diet, and if I'm going to stick to my diet plan, then cake is a definite no-no. In the eyes of my diet plan, eating cake is a "sin." Suppose I come home one day and see that my roommate has bought a coconut cake, and he offers me a piece. I hate coconut cake, so there is no temptation for me to sin, because the cake is not attractive to me. It's easy for me to say no and avoid sin. But what if he had bought a chocolate cake instead? I love chocolate cake, and since chocolate cake is attractive to me, there would be a lot of temptation for me to sin. I might still say no and avoid sin, but it would be a lot harder for me to turn it down because of the attraction. In which situation would I deserve the most credit for avoiding sin? I think that I'd deserve more credit for avoiding the chocolate cake, because that's where the temptation was.
Now suppose my friend Suzie is also in the room when my roommate offers us coconut cake. Suzie is on the same diet I'm on, but unlike me, she loves coconut cake, and she finally gives in and has a piece. Do I have any right to look down on her and to be proud that I resisted the cake? No, because I didn't have to do anything special -- I don't like it anyway. I didn't choose to dislike coconut cake, and she didn't choose to like it. Her behavior is still her responsibility, though.
You see, there is a difference between temptation and sin. We do not choose our attractions, but we do choose our behavior. When I say someone is "gay," I mean that he or she is attracted to members of the same sex. That attraction might be a temptation, but it's definitely not a sin.
I'm gay, but I'm not sexually active. I have temptations that my heterosexual male friends don't have, because they're not attracted to guys and I am. On the other hand, they have temptations that I don't have. I'm not tempted to read Playboy or to have premarital sex with a girl, because those things simply don't appeal to me. We all experience different temptations -- even Jesus was tempted! -- but it's what we do about those temptations that matters.
Sounds simple enough, right? But it does get a bit more complicated. In Matthew 5:28, Jesus says, "I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (NIV). This verse confuses a lot of people, because it sounds like Jesus is saying that where sex is concerned, the attraction is just as bad as the action. Many Christians read this verse and end up feeling really guilty for having any sexual feelings at all -- even though God is the one who made us sexual beings in the first place.
Here's part of the problem: In our culture, when we use the word "lust," a lot of times we're just talking about sexual feelings. But that's not the way the Bible uses the term. Jesus uses the Greek word epithumesthai, literally, "to set the heart upon." This word can also be translated "covet." It has no specifically sexual connotation. Jesus is not condemning sexual feelings (which are a part of our biological makeup) or temptations (for we all experience temptation), but he is holding his followers to a higher standard than the mere letter of the law. The actions that people see are not the ultimate judge of our sinfulness, for God can see our hearts and our motivations. A man who "sets his heart upon" having a woman other than his wife has made a conscious choice to sin, even if he does not follow up with physical behavior.
Lust, in this sense, is always considered sinful in the Bible, whether it is heterosexual or homosexual lust, and even if it is non-sexual lust (that is, coveting). Although it is sometimes difficult to draw the line between "attraction" and "coveting," keep in mind that coveting involves a conscious choice and a sinful attitude of the heart, and is not the same thing as temptation or mere sexual feelings.
There is one more objection that some people may raise. In some English translations of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 6:9 says that the "homosexuals" or the "homosexual offenders" will not inherit the Kingdom of God. The Greek word in question is arsenokoitai, and it has been the subject of quite a bit of debate in recent years. There is disagreement among some scholars as to what type of behavior this word refers to and whether or not it would be relevant to modern same-sex relationships. I will discuss this in another essay. All the scholars agree, however, that this word refers to men who engage in a particular type of sexual behavior; it does not refer to all men and women who experience homosexual attractions.
You may notice that I've avoided a major issue in my analysis. I've said that it's not a sin to be gay (that is, to experience homosexual attractions) even if homosexual behavior is sinful, but I never actually said whether or not I believe that homosexual behavior is always sinful. This is what I call the SideA/SideB divide, and it is splitting churches all over the world right now. Some people ("SideA") believe that the Church should approve of monogamous, committed same-sex unions, and other people ("SideB") believe that the Church must hold to its traditional position, that God ordains sexual relations only within heterosexual marriage. I don't have the space in this essay to go into all the details of the debate, and I think it's important to start with the things that both sides can agree on. (This essay was an attempt to find some of that common ground.) But it's ridiculous to think that I can discuss being gay without talking about sexual behavior, so I will be uploading a separate essay on that topic soon.
In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the site, send me your comments, and may God bless you!