To Treat One Another As Humans: Part 2a

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This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series To Treat One Another As Humans


I have recently urged gay rights advocates To Treat One Another As Humans. We Christians need reminders at times, too. Our public face in the gay-rights controversy is dominated by the message of “You Can’t Do That!” We don’t entirely control how the media portray us, but we can at least be sure that we’re much more balanced than that as individuals and communities. Yes, we will hold on to biblical truths regarding morality, but we must bring grace into the conversation, too.

Jesus Christ was the perfect embodiment of truth and grace (John 1:14, 17) combined in full measure without contradiction. It’s a hard example to live up to, and we don’t often do a great job of it.

We have no record of Jesus addressing homosexuality directly, but it is certainly one aspect of what he taught on sexual immorality. He taught that marriage from the beginning was for male and female (Mark 10:6-8).

Having this clear standard, though, Jesus never used it to condemn from afar. He directed his harshest criticism against what I call the smug religionists who did. He himself moved into relationship with those who needed repentance. I fear that many Christians who pronounce condemnation on homosexual behavior have never even had a conversation with someone who struggles with it. In this we are failing to follow Christ.

I use the word “struggle” quite deliberately. There may be some people who chose not to have a heterosexual orientation, but I haven’t met them and I doubt there are more than a few. More likely in conversation they will say, “Just as you can’t imagine being attracted to the same sex, I can’t imagine being attracted to the opposite sex—and it’s not because I haven’t tried. It’s not because I haven’t wanted to. It’s just not in me.” How many of us Christians have actually listened to someone talk about what it’s like? Again I remind you, Jesus did not approve immorality. In his public teaching he spoke of right and wrong without compromise. Still he never judged any individual from afar.

The gay or lesbian is what he or she is, not usually by choice, and not believing there is any way out of their circumstance. The message from gay-rights leadership is that they ought not to need or want a way out of it. Into this mix of feelings and message comes the jarring pronouncement from Christians: you are forever denied fulfillment of their sexual desires, on account of a rule we understand though you probably don’t. In view of that lack of understanding, our message must seem confusing if not maddening. Christians, if we’re committed to treating one another as humans, we need to reflect on what it must be like from others’ perspective, and let that sink in. Better yet, we could actually ask someone what it’s like.

They are also hearing a message that they are lesser beings, condemned and unworthy, on account of their sexuality. This is not what the Bible says, so wherever they’re getting this message from, it’s not biblical Christianity. Yet they are somehow getting it from sources that claim to be representing the Christian position. We need to let that sink in, too.

Effeminate boys and gay men are often bullied on account of their relational styles. I don’t know the statistics (and I don’t know if lesbians experience much bullying). Maybe they experience this more than straight males, maybe not. The public perception is that they do, but that hardly matters. “Bullying” is a schoolyard term that we ought to think of instead as “oppression”—a more familiar biblical term. The prophets repeatedly called God’s people to stand against oppression. It would be good for us to reflect, again, on what it might be like to be treated that way, or (better yet, again) ask someone. Some of us have experienced bullying, and we know how awful it can be, even if it’s not for the same reason.

Let me head off one possible objection at this point. The prophets’ message, generally speaking, had to do with oppression of the helpless and the innocent, and maybe this doesn’t apply to gays. In response I would agree that the gay-rights advocacy crowd is anything but helpless, and certainly not innocent. Bullying happens one person at a time, though, and the victim is often completely powerless to stop it. Some—those who are simply perceived as effeminate—may be completely innocent morally. For those who are not so guilt-free, though, name-calling and physical bullying are still completely inappropriate and wrong. Not every accusation of hate against homosexuals is true (my position is clear on that), but bullying really is a hateful thing to do. Christians, if we’re going to treat all our fellow human beings as fully human, we ought to be empathizing with them in these kinds of things, too, and taking a stand against this sort of oppression.

We ought further to remember that gays and lesbians are not condemned on account of their sexuality. We are all condemned on account of our rebellion against God, which we all express in our own treacherously creative ways. My only hope, and yours and everyone else’s, is the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf. This is standard and well-known Christian doctrine that we echo often in church. Is there even one “sinner,” though—as the smug religionists called them—who knows how freely you accept him or her? Again: Jesus did not judge from afar. He moved into relationship.

Finally (for now), I don’t need to tell you that sex is a big deal these days. Most people take it as given that being human means having sexual relationships. What is our message of hope to gays and lesbians, as we tell them they must never fulfill their sexual desires? Shall we offer them “reparative therapy?” That won’t come across as hopeful. Though it’s more real and more effective than its opponents claim (in my view, at least), as a word of encouragement it falls flat, if only because from their perspective it’s completely unrealistic. What good is a word of hope when the listener can’t even begin to believe it?

The hope I would suggest we offer instead is that God can satisfy regardless. This is a true word, and we can speak it believably, but we have considerable work to do first. Do we ourselves know that God can satisfy us when our desires go unmet? We’ll have trouble saying it credibly unless we have tested and discovered how deeply God will work it out in our own faith experience. I have much more to say about this, too much to include in this blog post, so I will save it for an upcoming “Part 2b.”

I will leave this incomplete until then, but please allow me to summarize what I’ve said so far. Just as I want gay rights advocates to treat Christians as humans, I also call on Christians to be sure we treat homosexuals as humans: relationally, first of all, and also with empathy for the genuine pain of their struggle and with unwillingness to allow anyone to be oppressed. That does not mean supporting immorality in any way. Rather it means offering grace in the form of genuine love, along with the truth of biblical mandates. We can also offer them the truth and grace of knowing that God can satisfy even when desires and felt needs go unfulfilled; but it’s possible that we too have a lot to learn about that.

Also posted at First Things: Evangel

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12 Responses to “ To Treat One Another As Humans: Part 2a ”

  1. tom,
    I wanted to commend you on your responses to Bret at the First Things site. In my opinion he used some hostile language and made a number of assumptions about your motivations that were not justified by what you wrote. I had a hard time thinking that he was actually sincere in wanting to carry on a reasonable discussion instead of scoring points.

  2. Tom, I really appreciate this post! I’m a Christian guy who finds himself attracted to other guys (although in my particular case to women as well), but like you I believe from Scripture that any sexual behavior outside of heterosexual marriage is outside of God’s will. I am glad to see someone else thinking through these issues and pointing out what you’re pointing out. One frustration I often have is that so many conservative Christians assume you’re \supporting the gay agenda\ or something whenever you speak up for gay people, even if you’re not.

    I wanted to point you and your readers to a few resources that I’ve found helpful and that would also be helpful to straight Christians who want to learn more about their brothers and sisters who struggle with this. For one, Wesley Hill has written an excellent book _Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality_. Not only is it the first book I recommend to someone struggling with this personally, but it provides a good look into what life is like for one particular same-sex attracted Christian that would be helpful for those not struggling with this. He definitely lives his life in light of the gospel and talks about what that looks like, but he also talks about some of the unique struggles that same-sex attracted Christians often have such as loneliness and shame. It’s only 150 pages, so it’s quite a reasonable read.

    With regards to lesbians and bullying, look no further than Disputed Mutability’s post at http://disputedmutability.wordpress.com/2010/05/12/my-day-of-silence-2009-post-a-year-and-a-month-late/ – a heart-wrenching description of what it was like being bullied as a lesbian during middle school and high school. (She became a Christian much later in life and does hold to a conservative sexual ethic now, which I think gives her quite a unique perspective to write from).

    In general, Disputed Mutability’s blog (http://disputedmutability.wordpress.com) is excellent. I also recommend Karen’s (http://pursuegod.wordpress.com), College Jay’s (http://collegejay.blogspot.com), Erik Wait’s (http://battlingchristian.blogspot.com), and Peter Ould’s (http://www.peter-ould.net) for good compassionate Biblical thinking from people who have dealt with this personally.

    Once again, thanks for the excellent post!

  3. What would you say to a gay person who told you that s/he didn’t struggle, that s/he was happy and fulfilled?

  4. What would you say to an alcoholic or drug addict who told you that he didn’t struggle and was happy and fulfilled?

    For that matter, what would you say to a miser or office-supply pilferer or cross-dresser or scientist who cooks experimental results or pedophile or abortionist or bestiality practitioner or bully or necrophiliac or prostitute… or atheist?

    Are these people really “happy and fulfilled” based on a subjective feeling? How about first trying to understand what “happiness” and “fulfillment” are before imposing an “anything goes” mentality that permits any repugnant activity under the sun? Or, like the typical “follow the herd” nonsense to avoid such inconvenient questions, do we simply relativize morality to avoid the issue altogether?

    Socrates asked the young man in The Meno what virtue is. Why? Because it’s important and objectively attainable… if one is willing to pursue such difficult questions and avoid intellectual and moral laziness.

  5. The message of grace and truth to those satisfied with who they are.

    (1) God gives grace to the humble but he resists the proud.

    (2) Humble yourself before the Lord. Yield. Don’t be satisfied with who you are, except who you are in Christ.

    I think Neo understands.

  6. I think this is a great post, Tom. Very wise and articulate.

    I have some concerns, though.

    * If we’re to treat people as humans, should we consider them to be “homosexuals”? That, for me, is a sizable problem all its own – to play off a point Holopupenko made, do you, and should we, think of drug addicts and alcoholics as “drug addicts and alcoholics”? Or are they human beings, for whom drug abuse and alcohol abuse is one part of who they are? I don’t think you were suggesting otherwise at all. But I do think there is a typical demand to think of a person who has this or that sexual inclination or engages in this or that sexual act as “homosexual” or “gay”. To make that who they are as a person, kind of the central defining point. I think that may actually run counter to your message.

    * I also think it’s important to clarify just what is objected to and why, on this topic. I mean, if two men engage in homosexual sex together, and also go on trips to Spain and run a business together in addition to being extremely close, what’s objected to? The whole thing? Just the sexual acts? (That would be my answer.) I think often there’s a habit of being so discrete and roundabout on this topic that the actual concern gets lost in the shuffle.

  7. Good points, Crude.

    In response to the second one: it is the sexual acts that are the focus of concern. Legitimizing gay “marriage” is a concern just because it legitimizes the sexual relationship. If no such relationship were implied in such “marriage,” it would be a mis-labeling of a relationship, and as such it would be a sham, which is a moral concern of a lesser degree, but the bigger concern by far is the immorality it would promote.

  8. I started reading your blog, Tom, for the evolution/creation debates, but have come to appreciate the varied content you post.

    I deeply admire your logic and theological opinions and read with great interest the wonderful debates that show Christians can have discussions with non-Christians in a respectful and helpful (with regards to furthering civil discourse) way.

    But in regards to this MD app issue, I have a slightly different take, not unlike the one identified by Neo in comment 4. Although I am not one who is sexually (or otherwise) attracted to other men, I don’t think I need to be to understand that compassion is something that seems to be missing from both the MD, in general, and the app, specifically. In fact, I even felt compelled to write a blog article about this and my issues with the MD app. I’ve submitted this article for review and hopeful inclusion in the next issue of Christian Carnival. Folks can read it here, if interested: http://divingintohome.tumblr.com/post/2303094378/the-manhattan-declaration-one-christians-perspective.

  9.