Sex, Faith, and the Church
Over a year ago now, we experienced one of the more historical moments in our generation. The Supreme Court ruled that legal marriage should be an option for any two consenting adults, no matter their gender. (As if this is news to anyone).
A lot of my friends were celebrating, both Christians and non-Christians. Quite a few of my Christian friends are lamented this culture shift, though. I even read one pastor say, “Saddened over the people who reject the gospel and love of God.” This pastor is a sweet man and I have a lot of affection for him, but I can’t understand what he means.
The Gospel is not about sex. Jesus never once made the Gospel sound anything like that. It doesn’t exclude sex, but it by no means hinges on it. Neither is God’s love about sexual orientation. If the Gospel was about chromosomes, genitalia, and orientation in the way like we’re behaving, Jesus would have probably addressed it much more explicitly and deliberately. But the One whom we call “Lord” never specifically addressed homosexuality, a circumstance not uncommon in that time period. … I think this may have been the moment when I just lost all my conservative Christian friends. I really hope not though! I love you!
I promise I’m not being careless or thoughtless. In fact, I’ve given this a great deal of thought over a number of years. It is my conviction that blindly accepting and believing Scriptures is the opposite of what Jesus desires and modeled for us.
Here’s what forms my belief on this matter:
On May 13, 2014, I was reading the Gospel account of Mark and came across chapter 2, verses 23-27. Jesus is walking through the fields with the disciples on Sabbath (the Holy Day of Rest). The Scriptures are extremely detailed and clear about how and why this Holy Day of the week is to be observed. The Pharisees are watching Jesus and notice the disciples picking grains of wheat and eating them, which is unlawful on Sabbath. This is the conversation that follows:
Some Pharisees asked Jesus, “Why are your disciples picking grain on the Sabbath? They are not supposed to do that!” Jesus answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his followers were hungry and in need? It was during the time of Abiathar the high priest. David went into the house of God and ate the sacred loaves of bread that only priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his followers.” Jesus finished by saying, “People were not made for the good of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for the good of people.”
And in chapter 12 of Matthew’s account of this same story, Jesus adds:
Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.
All pastors and most Christians can attest that Scripture has pages and pages more to say about Sabbath and worship than it does homosexuality. In fact, if there’s anything Scripture is the greatest authority on, it would be worship and relationship with God. Yet, when the Pharisees point out that what Jesus’ disciples are doing is “unlawful,” His response is to point out two major contradictions in Scripture when people acted unlawfully, yet remained “innocent” in God’s eyes.
When I read this on May 13, 2014, it pierced my heart to realize that what the Pharisees did with Sabbath, we’ve done with sexuality. We’ve proclaimed like the Pharisees, “They’re not supposed to do that!” And, given the context of Mark 2 and Matthew 12, I don’t think it is inaccurate to believe that Jesus would also say, “People were not made for the good of sexuality. Sexuality was made for the good of people.” The Law and Scriptures are about relationship with God; their point and purpose is to direct us to relationship. But when we make relationship with God about Law and Scriptures, we’re getting it backwards and creating the same opposition to the heart of Christ as the Pharisees.
We point at a few passages of Scripture, with hardly any consideration of context, and form a damning belief of others before learning to take the strongly loving, accepting, and serving posture of Christ. It should be made clear, beliefs about Scriptures are absolutely worthless and meaningless if they aren’t conditioning us more clearly and purely into the person of Christ.
We have “condemned the innocent,” and it does nothing to advance Jesus’ mission, which is that we “may have life and life more abundantly.” We’ve obsessed over the Law of sexuality and disregarded its Purpose. We’ve demanded the sacrifice of people’s sexual orientation, rather than embodied the mercy and love which Jesus modeled and instructed for those who say they follow Him. God desires mercy, not sacrifice. This is the Gospel (literal translation, Good News).
The Gospel is not about sex. It is about loving God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths, and loving our neighbors (whomever that might be at any given moment) as ourselves. Jesus made it clear that everything in Scripture hangs on that, not anything else. When we make it about anything else, we are not living in our Christian faith, but in our cultural and contextual bias.
I know the argument on the other side of this subject usually asks, Well, does anything matter then? Is there any such thing as morality? Is there even a line then? And I would say, there absolutely is, but it is far more internal than it is external. Jesus was very clear about sin (thoughtlessness, lifelessness) beginning in the heart.
Out of your heart come evil thoughts, murder, unfaithfulness in marriage, vulgar deeds, stealing, telling lies, and insulting others. These are what make you unclean.
– Jesus, Matthew 15.19/20
How do we love our spouses (gay or straight)? Are we demanding, domineering, deceitful, condescending, or unfaithful in our hearts? Are we oblivious to God’s presence in our relationships? If so, we are sinning. We’ve crossed the line and are missing the fullness of God’s Love being present to us, working in, and operating through us. There’s the line. And it applies to all of us. Gay or straight, we are just as guilty and in need of Jesus’ grace, love, and presence to lead us into “life and life more abundantly.”
I’ll finish this lengthy article with this:
As I scroll through social media, I know my gay and lesbian friends are seeing the same disparaging posts from Christians that I see. If any of you are reading this, I am sorry. It is not the reality of Christ being portrayed. Our faith is about the presence of Christ “in all and through all.” The purpose of our faith is to discover, celebrate, and participate with that presence without interruption, no matter the circumstance.
To my gay Christian friends, I am inspired by your commitment to and love of Christ, as well as your deep experience of self. Thank you for persevering. A good number of Christians have come out to me over the last couple years and I consider myself incredibly blessed to be a part of your lives. I’d love to come to your wedding, and Shawna and I would be happy to bake your cake if the bakery won't!
To my Christian friends who are frightened or upset by my beliefs and these times in our society, please just trust God, and love God and our neighbors more than our country, our politics, our government, and our understanding. Peace in trusting and loving God is always the most Christ-like response to any circumstance, whether we consider it favorable or not:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.
– Hebrews 13.8