It has come to my attention within probably the last year, the seriousness of the enmity that exists between the Church and the homosexual community – and not just the community, but the lives of individual homosexual people. The relationship between these two groups is at this point in history really quite disastrous.
I’ll illustrate this with a story. After church one night a few months ago, a large group (about 20 or 30) of my church friends and I went to a local restaurant for our weekly post-church dinner. We hadn’t been to this particular restaurant before, and we were all having an interesting time noticing that things weren’t running quite right. We had more people coming than we initially expected, and as our numbers accumulated as more people came, the staff insisted on having our group confined to the two or three tables that our original group were sitting at – things were getting pretty cramped, which was strange considering all the empty tables that there were around the restaurant. The staff said they were all reserved (when only a couple of them had reserved signs on them, and nobody else turned up to occupy them during the course of the night). They also asked each of our newcomers, very suggestively and not very politely, if they were intending to buy food, quite adamant that they could only sit in with an answer in the affirmative. Overall the wait staff were not providing exemplarily friendly customer service; in fact, they were pretty rude in all their interactions with us. Now in my years I think I’ve developed a reasonably accurate gaydar. Not perfectly tuned but overall functional. And it was picking up readings all over the place. If the tight black shirts weren’t enough, their vocal and bodily mannerisms were a pretty sure sign: a bunch of these waiters were gay – and definitely the owner. Now to our shock and dismay, the sexual orientation of these restaurant staff turned out to be significantly relevant information when we were leaving the place. One of us had a conversation with the owner, in which the owner said that if he knew from the beginning that we all were from church, he wouldn’t have allowed us to eat at his restaurant, because if we don’t accept his people, he won’t accept us. One way or another, he had discerned that we were from the church a few blocks away and, knowing that churches preach that homosexuality is a sin, he wanted to deny us his service (something he was within his legal rights to do).
On that night something occurred to me more vividly than before: gay people are really, really hurt by the church. They are deeply offended in an emotional way and many of them are passionately angry with the Christian community because of what it believes – that homosexual acts are sinful. It’s not just political; it’s not just ideological. It’s personal, and it’s serious. You see, a lot of gay people really think that Christians hate them. They don’t believe Christians can “hate the sin and love the sinner.” For them, at the end of the day, we condemn their practices and this cannot be reconciled with a love for the person they are. So for this reason I want to do something pretty risky in this social climate; I want to talk about it (it’s not uncommon but still pretty risky). I want to extend a love letter of sorts, in systematic argumentative prose form, to all (the) homosexual people (that read this). (Which is in total probably about 2 people.) Essentially I want to argue a case: that we can fully and unreservedly believe that a gay person’s sexual practices are morally wrong, while fully and unreservedly loving that person. That we really can and do hate the sin and love the sinner.
This Is How I Feel
Now the first thing I have to say here is that the Bible we Christians claim to follow says a whole lot of stuff about love. Jesus tells us that the greatest commandments are to love God, and love our neighbour (i.e. everybody) (Matt 22:34-40), and that love for one another would be the principle distinguishing characteristic by which people would know that one follows Jesus (John 13:34-35). The Apostle John says that anyone who hates his brother is a murderer (1 John 3:15), and that anyone who doesn’t love doesn’t know God (4:8). And Paul the Apostle says that the greatest and most eternally significant of all things (if we confine the survey to abstract nouns) is love (1 Corinthians 13:13). Further, this love that God commands of us is not limited to a love of those people who do good things. Jesus commands us to love our enemies – those who treat us with contempt (Matt 5:43-47). In the Gospel stories he comes to the rescue of the woman caught in the act of adultery, whom the religious people want to stone to death, and while he clearly believes she has sinned – commanding her to discontinue this type of behaviour – he tells her he doesn’t condemn her (John 8:1-11). In fact lying at the very centre of the message of the Bible and the Christian Gospel is that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). That is, the whole point of Christianity itself is that God loves us even though all of us have rejected him and his laws. There is no question that the God of the Bible hates sin. There is equally no question that he loves sinners.
So here’s the thing. Here we Christians are, claiming to follow the teachings of the Bible. If we are going to follow the Bible then we have to believe that homosexual acts are wrong. But if we are going to follow the Bible then we also must love all those people who commit homosexual acts. Now, granted, some Christians will, even admittedly, fail to balance these two duties correctly. Perhaps those who grew up in Christian households and didn’t meet a single gay person until they hit uni might have a certain hesitancy to interact with these almost mythologised kinds of people. And some people just outright neglect the command to include gay people in the set of people that they love, treating them with utter disdain. But I am not in that boat. I am going to claim to you that I do think homosexual acts are morally wrong, and that I love gay people just as much as I love anybody else, and not just in theory, but that I love dearly all the various gay friends I’ve had throughout the course of my life. So here’s my question: who are you to say that I’m mistaken? Where do you get off claiming to have a privileged insight into my subjective psyche? How can you possibly know better than I do whether or not I love you? Now I’m not saying that it is impossible in principle to argue that someone is mistaken about their own internal psychological states. It is theoretically possible that someone who thinks they love something actually doesn’t. But you need a damn good reason. You need to show me that there is something about me morally objecting to homosexuality that acutely contradicts, in a hard logical way, the possibility of me loving homosexual people. Because I can simply testify to you that, phenomenologically, I am vividly aware of the presence of these two emotions in my psyche, coexisting without conflict: I think homosexual acts are very wrong, but I love gay people very much. The apparent presence of these two sentiments must be explained.
Is there a logical contradiction between loving homosexuals and hating their practices? I really don’t think so. After all, many of us love all kinds of people whose practices we abhor. A mother whose son has committed mass murder, though she may testify against him in court, not withholding justice, still loves her son. If one of my family members rapes somebody, robs a bank, cheats on their spouse, or commits genocide, none of it will stop me from loving them, and neither would my love for them compel me to approve of what they have done. I hate it when my friends let me down. I really wish they wouldn’t. I wish they would be more trustworthy or respectful. But I still love them and hopefully tend to forgive them. Why? Because the only real kind of love that exists is unconditional love. The only kind of love that is worth anything to anybody is unconditional love. Love with conditions is love that only exists provided that you reach a certain standard of behaviour. It is a counterfeit love that only loves those who can give something in return. Conditional love doesn’t truly satisfy and never lasts. It cannot last because people cannot live up to standards of behaviour. We all fail eventually. See, I think there is something more to loving a person than loving the things that they do. There is something intrinsic to who they are, to their very identity, that is as it is completely regardless of their actions. Love targetssomething beyond one’s deeds, thoughts, and even desires. It goes that deep. We have to be very glad at this fact. Love must go that deep in order that we can love a person no matter how depraved, bloodthirsty, or broken they are. If all love on earth was conditional and all people had to earn each other’s love, we’d be living in a very different world. If people required benevolence of me, and would only love me if I never ever hurt them, I would be a very lonely man.
What then? Is homosexuality the only action in the world that we cannot disapprove of if we love its practitioner? Show me any one other behavioural or psychological characteristic that it is impossible love the possessor of while objecting to the characteristic. It seems to me that of all the lifestyles found on Earth, homosexuality is the only one where society believes that to disagree is to hate. How did we come to this conclusion? There is such an array of ways of being that we can disagree with while loving those adhering to it. I hope you agree that we can love paedophiles while hating paedophilia, we can love drug addicts while hating their drug addiction, we can love individual terrorists though we’d do everything we can to stop them from destroying the world. Left-wingers can love right-wingers though they disagree totally on how the world should be run, and Christians can love people who get drunk, have pre-marital sex, get divorced or, you know, get mixed up in witchcraft – all of which practices we disagree with. But when it comes to homosexuality, there is so much more trouble in reconciling a disagreement with the lifestyle, and a love of the person. Is there any sense in this?
This Is Who I Am – The Axiom Served On A Genetic Platter
In my perception, the culprit here lies very deep within the ideological mannerisms of our society. Underpinning the way our culture thinks about this issue is one virtually immovable assumption: gay people were born that way; homosexual orientation is an innate, uncontrollablepart of some people’s very self. I think it is this affirmation that makes the objection to homosexuality seem so monumental. See, we modern enlightened humans have discovered this thing called genetics, and according to many politicians and TV show hosts, science has proven that sexual orientation is a genetically determined, permanent fact about a person; it is discovered, not chosen; it is often suppressed, but never changed. It is as much a part of who someone is as is the colour of their skin or their gender, and thus if you dislike one’s sexuality, you are as good as a racist. Having something against homosexuality means having something against homosexual people themselves and not just their actions.
I understand this way of thinking because I have been raised in a very secular, left-leaning family, which thinks about homosexuality along these lines, and I bought into it myself for the first 19 years of life. But I no longer think it is feasible (not that I place myself on the right). Let’s talk about genetics. It’s very interesting the sheer number of us who believe that science has spoken decisively and conclusively on this issue. Almost everybody in this society, even those who oppose homosexuality including many Christians, believes that it has been long proven that homosexuality is genetically determined and inherited from birth. But a little bit of light reading should silence all these genetics enthusiasts. What has the evidence proven? Well actual geneticists don’t seem to think they’ve sorted this out to anywhere near that degree of certainty. They have, I think, probably shown that homosexuality is in part caused by genetics. For instance, twin studies have shown that of all the men who have a gay identical twin brother (i.e. twins with exactly the same genetic makeup), 50% of them also turn out to be gay. Given a 2-4% rate of homosexuality in the general population, this is a statistically significant correlation. But it is nowhere near 100%, is it? So what about the other 50% of men with gay twin brothers who, though they share identical genetics, have differing sexual orientation? I know that you’re thinking those 50% are probably actually gay and have just suppressed their true orientation. But 1) that’s quite a hefty assumption about a lot of people you don’t know, and 2) in that case you’re just invoking the very doctrine you’re trying to prove – i.e. that sexual orientation is genetically determined.
I don’t want to get too deep into that particular genetics debate. All I really want to say is that there is no proof whatsoever that people’s sexual orientation is an innate genetic fact that cannot be influenced by environmental factors. In fact as I understand it, the consensus among geneticists is that homosexuality is caused by some combination of genetic and environmental conditions. And we should be very surprised if this was not the case, because in all personality traits, this is how genetics tends to work. Now if we are going to be accurate and honest, sexual orientation is a very different class of category to race and gender, because sexual orientation is not just a physiological quality, but is a disposition towards behaviour. Surely it is more psychological than physiological. And when it comes to psychological traits almost nothing is determined by genetics, but almost everything is influenced by genetics – the good and the bad. Empathy and trustingness are influenced by our genes, where we can have a greater or lesser propensity towards them. But this doesn’t mean that without the genetic inclination we cannot be raised to be empathetic, nor does it mean that someone with the gene cannot be damaged to the point of near sociopathy. Geneticists have recently mapped out the gene for schizophrenia. But when this was covered on news radio, these geneticists emphasised that this isn’t the whole story: schizophrenia can be caused by both genetic conditions and environmental factors. Having the gene doesn’t automatically give you schizophrenia.
What Does Genetics Prove?
Don’t we see that nobody’s genes have ever held a gun up to them and forced them to do something? Homosexuality is the only psychological condition that anyone has ever claimed to be uncontrollably genetically dictated. But the evidence indicates that homosexuality is just like every other psychological trait; some are more inclined, some are less inclined. My point is that you can’t really use genetics to argue that homosexuality is an innate and fixed biological characteristic of a person. This would be to simply misunderstand genetics altogether. Our genetic makeup just doesn’t appear to be the sole decisive factor in determining our sexual preference; there are just so many other contributing factors that come after birth (such as family environment, peer groups and sexual experiences), that it would just be wrong to say that one’s homosexuality is “part of who they are” in any genetic sort of way. Don’t take this the wrong way. This isn’t supposed to convince you that homosexuality is wrong. (If your worldview states that the gender of the person you love or have sex with is not morally relevant, then the reasons one has for having sex with their own gender, whether genetic or not, are of no importance – just have sex with who you’re attracted to.) It is simply supposed to convince you that arguments about biology and genetics are unfruitful in demonstrating that homosexuality is the type of thing that you can’t disapprove of while loving its practitioners. Because one who objects to homosexuality just isn’t objecting to a quality that is innate and inherent to a person in this way. Rather, it is objecting to a pattern of behaviour that, like all other behaviour, is influenced by our genes; it is far more analogous to disapproving of alcoholism, social conservativism, or a bad temper than to race or gender. It does not contradict a love of the homosexual.
Who Are You, Really?
Now I’m prepared for the possibility that all that didn’t convince you. Maybe you don’t buy my understanding of genetics. After all I’m not a geneticist (though, neither are you). Perhaps you still think that homosexuality is a genetically determined fact about an individual – that no matter how successfully a born-gay person manages to steer in the other direction, homosexuality will always be fundamentally a part of the fibre of their genetic makeup, their very nature. So what would this prove? Well, probably too much actually. Because if the fact that a characteristic is genetically determined means that it is part of who you fundamentally are, then you have to accept a number of other things as being innate to your personhood as well. My friends who have suffered clinical depression did so because of a genetic disposition, and thus depression is part of who they truly are. Those who are born with the alcoholic gene must be accepted as innately alcoholic by their true nature, and the same goes for schizophrenics. What am I saying? Well, it is not only the good things about us that are caused by our genes; many bad things about us are as well. And so if you want to say that homosexuality’s genetic causes make it a part of who you truly are, then you have to also affirm all kinds of horrible things about yourself as being part of who you truly are. And in that case, that something is part of who we truly are has nothing to do with it being good or bad. On this model of personal identity, we would have to say that there are lots of people for whom we genuinely hate a true, fundamental part of them – but we still love them as a whole – from alcoholics to depressed people. Then you can take away one of two conclusions: either genetic makeup has nothing to do with who you fundamentally are, or ‘who you fundamentally are’ is not a morally relevant fact. In any case, if a friend of mine was ‘innately’ and ‘fundamentally’ alcoholic, then my conscience would simply say that they need to deny their nature for the sake of moral virtue, and their own good.
We Have A Disagreement
So not only is homosexuality not genetically innate, but even if it were innate, that would have nothing to do with whether or not it is something to be proud of. But you’re probably tired of all this talk about genetics. And I hope you are, because so am I. And the reason I have given so much to talking about it in this piece is that I want you to see that genetics is irrelevant to this whole discussion. It has nothing to do with whether or not homosexuality is right or wrong, for one, but more relevantly it has nothing to do with the true and ideal nature of a person.
And so disregarding all this scientific mumbo jumbo, the final argument that I imagine you would have for me is that I’m wrong. That is, “Homosexuality is something that is a part of my life, whether genetically or not, and here you are saying that this activity I’m engaged in is bad. But in reality there is nothing wrong with being gay. You are wrongly accusing me of immorality, so you are doing something that is hateful towards me.” It’s a much more intuitive objection to the Christian stance, but I’m sure you’ll see that it’s got a bit of a problem. By this understanding, I only hate you if I’m actually mistaken about the moral status of homosexuality, and therefore I love you or hate you depending entirely on which of us is right about homosexuality. How could we ever settle this? What are we to do? Well all I can do here is try to show you that it is not uncommon to object to a characteristic in a person that that person does not think to be an objectionable trait.
Why, it even begins in childhood, where our spirited tendency for violence against animals, furniture, or siblings is a trait we consider to be quite valid. But out parents, though their love for us is unquestionable, seem have such an aversion to this part of us that they want to constrain our behaviour. Of course, the adult world experiences it too. Don’t you think there are some people out there who think their addiction to heroine, or perhaps some other creativity-stimulating drug, is a perfectly acceptable, even noble practice? What about people who think monogamy is nothing but a traditionalistic kill-joy, and who cheat on their partners and spouses regularly without consent, thinking they’re not hurting anybody or doing anything wrong? What about a 40-year-old teacher and a 12-year-old student who fall in love with each other and, with the whole world against them, run away together, because to them their love is real, and right, and good? Surely you wouldn’t hate any of these people any more than you hate other people who do acknowledge the wrongness of their deeds. And what about me? The Christian, who follows a book of lies, adheres to all sorts of unreasonable moral beliefs, and brainwashes his children into believing the same? You wouldn’t want me to accuse you of hating me just because you disagree with my religious allegiances, right? And while most non-Christians don’t have any hostility towards Christianity, there are many who believe that Christianity is a serious problem with the world. But I don’t accuse anyone who has this belief of hating me, because from my point of view they simply have an ideological error; it is not a personal enmity towards me, but a difference in worldview – one where a lot of my practices are wrong and a lot of theirs are right. But even though I consider Christianity to be fundamentally, metaphysically who I am (being a new creation, born again in the Spirit), I don’t take a person’s rejection of Christianity as a rejection of me per se, because it is my experience that people who hate Christianity are fully capable of loving and respecting me, and I am consciously aware of my own love for many people with very different ideologies, and consequently different actions, to my own. This kind of disagreement is just a part of life.
We Love You
I hope this treatise is well-received. I hope it isn’t terribly hard to convince you that Christians can and do love gay people; if it is, I would have to wonder why a person isn’t willing to believe that I love them. I have to say at this point that there are only so many people I can speak for. I realise that there are Christians who have not only believed that homosexuality is sinful, but whose actions have spoken loudly enough to show that they have no love for gay people. Many of these (such as the Westboro Baptist Church) deviate so much from God’s word that I wouldn’t actually class them as Christians. But I think some genuine Christians, across history and in the present, have failed to recognise and live up to God’s command to love gay people. This is a tragedy, and while it is not excusable, I pray that you would have the strength to forgive them – excusability and forgivability are not the same. With these things in mind, note that I am not trying to prove that all Christians have always loved all gay people; that would be false. All I am trying to show is that to morally object to homosexuality does not imply hatred of homosexual people. Sometimes they are correlated, but logically they are totally distinct, and I claim that I, and all of my Christian friends, are living examples of the possibility of unreservedly rejecting homosexuality, while unreservedly loving homosexuals. We really don’t want to harm you, and we don’t want to deprive you of anything good. Just like a group of friends who form an intervention for a drug-addicted friend don’t want to take something good away from their friend. They’re just a bunch of arrogant jerks who think they know what’s best for him, right? (Not that I condone Christians busting in through the bedroom door, or “intervening” in any way.)
This is a surprisingly gargantuan topic, and after 4000 words I still don’t feel like I’ve said enough. But I hope that even the mere act of me attempting to address it speaks something good to the readers. If anyone does read this I hope it helps to build some bridges, mend some reputations and relationships, or maybe even generate real understanding between two communities seen to be at war. Please consider seriously what I have written; please be willing to alter your preconceptions about Christians. Believe me when I say that we really, really love you.