A Letter to Christians Who Think I’m Lost for Being Gay
This week, people from all parts of my life came together–friends I’ve known since the 90’s, parents I met in moms’ group when my daughter was a baby, old students who have grown into adults with kids, co-workers, theater pals, neighbors, and fellow members of a gay choir. As we ate, sang, and laughed together for hours, I reveled in the wonderful community that surrounds me. I might go so far as to say I felt blessed.
I posted party photos on social media and it’s not really an exaggeration to say my joy leaps right off the screen. Less than 24 hours later, an old friend — someone I’ve known for 33 years — sent me a message in response to a group photo of the gay men at the party. She said she couldn’t believe I would trade eternal life for the “pleasures” of this world (air quotes hers), and that she and God would miss me, seeing as I wouldn’t be in heaven.
I’m not a kid anymore, no young hothead. Her message did not stoke a white-hot fury as it once would have, nor did I immediately block her on social media, as I have sometimes done. For all the homophobia baked into the message, this is not the fullness of our shared experiences. I have eaten many meals at her table; I remember her excitement as she showed off the pretty dress she got for her son’s wedding; I remember how she once won the super bowl pool by choosing the team with the better helmet. She’s a warm human being, one who is loving by nature — but she misfired this time. And fortunately, she sent that message to someone who can handle it.
I decide to engage and let her know that her message made me sad, not for my fate, but to see her in a new light, to think of her as more judgmental than the person I remember. I didn’t love the heat in her voice (her most recent message ended in the phrase “the eternal death-inviting practice”), but I know she didn’t start this fire. That’s because I understand first-hand where her bias comes from — we were raised in the same faith.
I get that the certainty of her beliefs is based on a very common lack of knowledge around the issue; she’s only repeating what’s been repeated to her and to so many Christians (including me as a youth) consistently since 1611.
I used to give workshops on this topic, so I shared with her just one article that contains a good introduction to the scholarly debates over what the Bible actually says. She read it, but called it “false teaching.” She had used a concordance and found a couple of verses that seem correctly translated, so any more context was unimportant: she got to tell me again that I am lost and she is not.
I have suggested to her that she can stop now, because she isn’t saving me — or anyone — this way. But I know she is not alone in struggling with this topic, so I want to share some ideas with my Christian friends who oppose homosexuality. (For those who aren’t Christian, understand that I will be speaking the language of that tradition, which teaches that God exists, his son Jesus was a historical figure, and that certain behaviors or attitudes are Christlike.)
I write this with real affection (even now) for the author of that message and for so many old friends who still wrestle to reconcile their beliefs about gay people with their love for specific individuals like me.
8 things to consider before expressing opinions about a gay person’s life.
1: Unless you read and speak ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and koine Greek, you don’t know what the Bible actually says — much less what God says. The books of the Bible, written in different eras, some passed entirely by word of mouth for the first few hundred years and others cobbled together from multiple sources, all come to you via other humans — the men who worked for King James, putting together a version of the Bible that reflected his wishes and political needs. (That King James historically was bisexual ought to give you pause before using his edition to cast stones, but that’s for another day.) What this means is that saying your any firm claim to be quoting the “word of God” is deeply unearned. The best you can say is that you know the most popular version of an edited collection of scriptures other people hoped they wrote down well. That is a shaky platform from which to be determining someone’s eternal fate.
2. Homosexuality was not a big topic in the Bible to begin with and most of what’s there is misinterpreted. There are just over two dozen verses total that have been interpreted as related to homosexuality (which was, at that time, still understood as a practice, not an identity). Dig into the original language and you find that a few words were mistranslated, while lack of cultural context for most other passages means that people like my friend don’t know that many of the verses are about pagan temple prostitution and pederasty, two things that not their concern. This leaves only a couple of verses that seem to accurately reflect the view that homosexuality was bad; most of these were written by the apostle Paul, but read on before you take comfort in his opinion.
3. Paul is the perfect example of how many people pick and choose when to take the Bible at its word. It’s hypocritical to declare that the Bible is true in a word-literal sense when it comes to homosexuality, but then look the other way at literally hundreds of other rules, prohibitions, and declarations of sinfulness. Paul has as much to say about gossip as homosexuality, and he also admonishes women not to speak in church, tells men not to cut their hair (describing this too as against nature), and created quite full list of things that he says will keep you out of heaven: jealousy, fits of anger, envy, and even rivalry (to name a few). Citing the Old Testament is no better in this regard. Among other things, instruction for slave ownership is included and parents are explicitly told that they should kill a disobedient child — two things you’d never sign off on now.
4. You got the Sodom story wrong. Until the 5th century, the story of Sodom was not typically imagined to be gay-related. It wasn’t until Saint Augustine that this interpretation was tacked atop the story, and that association wasn’t universally acclaimed until the King James era. Back when the Bible was being written, the story was about inhospitality — a huge cultural issue in the Arab world. Jesus himself knew this, as he makes clear in the book of Matthew, making an analogy between the people of Sodom and those in his day who refused to take in the disciples. So when you accept the Sodom-is-a-gay-story logic you’re just taking the word of mortal men who never lived in the Arab world over the word of Jesus. That seems pretty indefensible for a Christian.
5. Judging someone for their identity isn’t loving. So many times (including this week), Christians have assured me that calling out my sinful nature is loving. The logic is “if I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t try to save you.” The two things are separate: the loving part is having feelings of concern for someone; but it curdles into judgment when you tell them that their identity will cost them a future. Passing the buck — “I’m just repeating god’s word” — doesn’t get you out of it, as we have established that God has not actually said anything directly to you. The Bible you cherish is clear: loving less and judging more is the opposite of Christlike.
6. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is warped. The sentiment sounds logical and sweet on the surface, but consider the arrogance here; you make two categories of people this way, positioning yourself as loving and the other person as a sinner. Putting yourself on a pedestal from which you may benevolently look down on a poor, misguided soul, may make you feel better about judging them, but it doesn’t jive well with the Bible, which explicitly says all are sinners and fallen short of the glory of god.
7. You’ll never “save” someone by diminishing their value but you might kill them. Letting someone know that you see them as shameful, sinful, and lost, is a sure way to make them pull away from you — instead of following you toward a light — even as you decrease their interest in serving that cold-sounding God. Worse, those messages may so diminish their sense of self that feel their life has no worth. It’s horrifying the number of people who have died by suicide or were murdered in hate crimes because of similar sentiments. It should be obvious that you can’t save someone who died for your words.
8. There are better ways to shine your light. If, despite yourself being a fellow sinner, you still believe you can tell someone else’s life imperils their chance of heaven, look inward: acknowledge that the wrong words and deeds from you might harm them now, and ask yourself how to be a light in their life on this earth, instead of another source of darkness. Want to show love, not judgement? Ask how they’re doing; make them feel welcome; advocate for them. In other words, be the love, and let God sort out the rest.
This was once literally a life or death matter for me. It is only in recent years that I have shared what was once my big secret: that when I was a 15-year-old, I walked directly from my church to the bridge in my town so that I could jump off it and die. I’m sure the pastor who had just preached about homosexuality felt he was saving people by preaching the words he believed God had said. But his words almost killed me instead.
To be sure, I know that re-considering long-held opinions on this topic could start a chain reaction — that once you realize you don’t know what the Bible says about one thing, it may make you question other things too. I remember how scary that felt to me. But you don’t have to be afraid: Jesus challenged all sorts of established beliefs, hung out with the “wrong” people, and never preached dogma. His sermons were gentle and inspiring, talking about doing right by your neighbor, being kind and generous, and loving one another.
If you have read this far, I hope what I have written gives you plenty to ponder. I hope these words inspire you to lay down certainty and judgment, while picking up generosity and hope. I hope that you can learn to love warmly and openly.
I don’t want us to debate who we think will be in heaven; I want to share our time here together with real love. Now, that would be a pleasure.