Can the Church Accept Gay Marriage? P12: Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin. Is it time to put this phrase to bed?

*note, this piece is part of an ongoing series. The conversation in this blog builds directly upon the conversation prior. If you’re just joining this korero, I would encourage you to start with part one, which you can find here

As we’re wrapping up, I just want to address one phrase that is often used in this conversation, yet one which I believe is extremally unhelpful.

Love the sinner, hate the sin, is a phrase which is often used in order to describe a traditional stance towards LGBTQ people. I suggest we retire it.

What is meant by this phrase is that we should love LGBTQ people, but that we should hate “the sin”, which is named as the expression of a Gay or Lesbian person’s same-sex orientation. The phrase – though well meaning – is problematic however, as it fails to recognize that the distinction between a person’s sexual orientation, and the “sin” of expressing that orientation, is not as easily disentangled as we might like to imagine. It attempts to create a separation between orientation and action, arguing that being gay is not sinful in and of itself, what is sinful is being intimate sexually with a person of the same sex. This idea comes into a few problems. One is that it ignores Jesus’ own teaching. Jesus did not create a distinction between inward thoughts, and outward actions. Rather, in the Sermon on the mount he speaks of how if a person lusts after another in their heart, that they have committed adultery, or that if a person is angry with another, than that is akin to murder. So, if we believe that sexual intimacy between people of the same sex is always morally wrong, even within the context of committed, covenantal relationships, then we must also believe that the inner feelings and desires that lead to the outward action is also distorted, sinful and disordered. And if that is the case, then this teaching, that we can accept a gay person, as long as they aren’t intimate sexually with a person of the same sex, is a revision of Jesus’ own teaching. Jesus doesn’t leave us with this option, his teaching would demand that sexual orientation is condemned, that the gay Christian is called to repentance, and that a renunciation of their sexual orientation is made.

Now, if we take that view, at least we will be consistent, however we are led back to the problem we started with. Wrestling with the reality that Gay people exist, that sexual orientation is highly resistant to change, and that this approach of condemning gay people because of their sexual orientation is the cause of increased shame, mental distress, suicidal ideation and suffering for our Rainbow Whanau.

When you say to a Gay person, I love you, but I hate the sin which results from your sexual orientation, what is heard is not love. What is heard is a condemnation of a part of who they are. You might say, that’s the problem, a person shouldn’t be finding their identity in their sexual orientation. But, come on mate, let’s be a bit honest here. If I told you – as a straight person – that your sexual orientation was disordered, that every thought you had about someone of the opposite sex was sinful, that every fleeting desire, that every split moment where you noticed the beauty of another, or experienced attraction for someone of the opposite sex, you were sinning against God, how would you respond? Would you say that’s ridiculous? That you can’t possibly stop being attracted to people of the opposite sex? Would you argue that you can’t change your sexual orientation, that though it doesn’t define you, it is still a part of you, and that as long as you didn’t lust after another person, or objectify or demean another, that you should not be condemned for something what is essentially a part of your genetic makeup?

Well, you would have a point.

You see, just as a straight person cannot separate oneself from their sexual orientation, nor can a person who is gay so easily separate themselves from theirs.

A.J. Hendry

*I am indebted in this blog to the work of James Brownson, check out his book Bible, Gender and Sexuality, it’s worth the read.

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