A post in the Christianity series.
It's finally time to address the issue that initially prompted my collection of articles on Christians and Christianity, but before we go anywhere, I need to lay out a few caveats.
First, if this is your first time here or you otherwise have not read my other articles, please do so before continuing on this piece. Those articles are Christianity, A Christian, Evil and Sin and The Bible. What follows builds directly on all of these.
Second, while the title of this article is “Homosexuality”, please take this to encompass the entirety of the LGBTQ+ community and interactions between those groups and Christians of all types. I've chosen this specific term as it's the most widely thrown around and recognizable for the sake of this discussion.
Third, this is a long and difficult topic to discuss, prone to strong emotions. I ask that you come at this article in the mind of hearing what I have to say, understanding my reasonings and rationales and, where you disagree, being open to respectful, civil discussion. I would also please request that you read through You're not going to believe what I'm about to tell you by The Oatmeal before continuing.
Finally, if you don't agree with me, that's ok! I don't expect everyone to agree with my views, but where you do disagree, I request that you make sure you know why you believe the way you do. If you find places where you feel my reasoning does not logically flow, please point it out! This is uncharted territory for many people, including myself, and there will be bumps and mistakes along the way.
With that said, let's begin. If you read my previous article Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin you should have an idea of where I will be going here. That article was just the beginning, and now it's time to flesh out one of my biggest concerns for Christianity in the 21st century: our long-running and decidedly un-Christian treatment of the LGBTQ+ community.
The Biology of Gender
First, I'd like to talk science. I was raised under the idea that a human is either Male or Female. I was taught, often implicitly and through societal norms, that gender is binary, determined in the mother's womb, and exactly matches the person's physical characteristics at birth. Once born, society then expects and enforces a gender stereotype for the rest of that person's life. Anyone that exhibits behavior counter or contrary to their physical appearance and “known” gender very quickly gets a label and is often at best ridiculed or at worst abused until they conform or disappear.
It has only been in the last sixty years or so that science has been able to delve small enough to see and understand how a person's gender is chosen (e.g. DNA and chromosomes). Through this research what we've found is that gender is far from a binary choice. Gender is in fact a large and growing spectrum of possibilities triggered not only by chromosomes but also the fundamental chemistry and make-up of a person's brain. In such a complicated field, there is obviously a lot that we don't know, but we know enough now to state the following as fact:
- Physical gender and the gender a person identifies with (Gender Identity) may not coincide.
- Gender Identity, regardless of where a person is on the spectrum, is not a choice.
- Gender identity and sexual orientation/preference are not identical nor should they be considered to be influenced by each other but are two distinct aspects of who a given person is.
For some examples of how different gender can be, here are just some of the patterns and combination of chromosomes any given person can have:
- XX, “normal” female
- XY, “normal” male
- XX but are physically male (Androgen insensitivity)
- XY but are physically female
- X, Turner's Syndrome
- XXY, Klinefelter Syndrome
- 48, XXXX
- 49, XXXXX
And if you want to talk about the gender of animals and insects, that's a whole ‘nother level of complicated!
I bring all of this up to counter two often used retorts: “It's not natural” and “It's a choice.” If you've ever talked with and listened to anyone who considers themselves LGBTQ+ you'll quickly learn that both of these retorts are simply wrong, and now we have the science to prove it. Identifying with a gender that's different from your physical body and/or being attracted to members of the same gender is as natural as being cisgender and attracted to members of the opposite.
Sodom and Gomorrah
Next, no discussion about homosexuality, either regarding gender identity or sexual acts themselves, goes without including a reference to the incredible destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. These cities, it is often said, were destroyed because everyone was gay. Such a statement is, I will argue, a poor interpretation of the story that misses the real reason that the cities were destroyed.
That the men of Sodom were interested in sexual relations with Lot's visitors is undeniable as made plain in verse 5: “They called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.'” It is a mistake, though, to focus on this one verse, disregarding the entire context of the story. To figure out the real lesson of this story, we need to include the second half of Genesis 18 where we see God and Abraham discussing the fate of the cities, as well as verses way back in Genesis 13, where it says “… the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.” This wickedness must have been so great and widespread that the people of neighboring cities and areas were calling desperately for deliverance:
Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” - Genesis 18:20 - 21
Notice that in all of the lead-up, there is no mention of what kind of wicked acts were taking place, and on top of that, even though we can assume that Abraham was well aware of the wickedness of these cities and their people, he still begs God not to destroy the city if it would kill the righteous as well as the wicked. He ends up getting God to agree that if there are just ten righteous people in the entire city, God will not destroy them. Given how the story continues, we can assume that Lot and his family are literally the only righteous people to be found.
So why the explicit mention of sex as the (initially) only referenced act of wickedness? I believe it is because sexual immorality is the most obvious and recognized form of wickedness, used as a tool to cement in the reader's mind that yes, these people were truly wicked. Later in the Bible we learn of other evil acts the inhabitants were guilty of, such as arrogance and refusing to help the poor and needy. But again, focusing on any individual sin misses the bigger picture.
Let's take a quick step back to revisit sin itself. As I mentioned in What is Evil and Sin, sin is, frankly, fun. God created this world and gave us life for us to enjoy and take pleasure in His creation. However because He also gave us free will, we are free and able to take those same sources of happiness and pleasure and abuse and misuse them. One of the reasons sin is so insidious is that we will often rationalize that the short term pleasure wouldn't exist if we weren't supposed to partake, letting us conveniently forget about the longer term consequences of our actions. This short-term thinking can quickly lead to a vicious destructive cycle where the pleasure in question no longer satisfies as it once did, leading the person to look for different, more extreme, and/or more exotic forms, desperately hoping to find that satisfaction again.
To put it more abstractly, living in sin and pursuing pleasure for the sake of pleasure is attempting to fill an infinitely large hole in that person's soul. No matter how hard they try, they are always left wanting something more. This, then, is why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. The entire populace had driven themselves into chasing pleasure, into chasing the next big hit, with no concern of anyone else nor the consequences of their choices. Why else would the entire city come and surround Lot's house? Because these visitors were something these people had never seen nor experienced before, and nothing would come between them and their next hit.
Were Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed because they were gay? No. As I've described above, I believe that's far from the truth. The cities were wholly destroyed because the people had given themselves completely over to sin and wickedness, a major component of which is sexual immorality and the pursuit of pleasure regardless of who or what that act entailed. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is just one of many examples and warnings of the consequences of choosing sin. Yes, living in sin is often very pleasurable, but the long term consequences are always complete destruction. As such, referencing this story when trying to decry or insult those who consider themselves LGBTQ+ does a significant disservice to the story, to the Bible itself, and damages the ability for Christ's teachings to spread.
This is not new
Finally, we know from archaeology and history that ancient civilizations like the Greeks, Romans, and Chinese often saw homosexual acts as not only acceptable but expected in some situations. It can further be argued that homosexuality has been around for as long as Humanity itself has existed. However, often even talking about homosexuality in the Judeo-Christian world has been taboo for hundreds (if not thousands) of years and countless generations, leaving those who don't conform to binary sexuality to either be subject to abuse, exile, or to hide and lie to the world about who they are.
What's further interesting about the history of homosexuality is how little it's mentioned in the Bible. Jesus lived during the ancient Roman Empire, at a time where homosexual acts were not uncommon, yet He never makes a single mention of this during His recorded ministry. On top of this, some scholars argue that when Jesus healed the Centurion's servant that the boy in question was more than just a servant. This isn't to say that Jesus approved of such a relationship, if one did exist, but He did not explicitly condemn it. The Centurion's faith that Jesus could cure the boy even from a distance was far more important to the writers of the gospels and to the ministry of Jesus.
While we can't take back our history of repression and abuse of LGBTQ+ communities, we can influence the future by acting today. While I'm under no delusion that these problems will be solved in the near future, or even in my lifetime, every journey begins with a single step. This one is mine, there are many Christians across the world taking this same step, and maybe I can convince just one other Christian to take theirs as well. What we've done to the LGBTQ+ community is downright wrong and un-Christian. Are they not also made in God's image, loved unconditionally by God, and deserving of every ounce of love and compassion that He gives us? We owe it to God and to ourselves to reciprocate that love unconditionally, for that was Jesus did: show the power of unconditional love.
I would like to close with what I've come to see as the two most powerful messages Jesus gave during his ministry:
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”