What Does Jesus Think About Homosexuality?

Friday, May 04, 2012

(Originally posted on Huffington Post and Red Letter Christians)

Is homosexuality a sin? It's an age-old question, and there are people on both sides of the debate, each quoting their Bibles. How do we know who's right? What would Jesus do if he were here with us today? Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, so can we really say?

I'd like to propose that we can. Perhaps we wont be able to settle the debate over what the Bible says about homosexuality (least of all from one little blog post!) but I think there is one thing we can be sure of -- Jesus loves every one of us. In fact Jesus was especially known for loving the very people that the religious people of his time had condemned and cast out. Let's consider some facts:

There has been story after story in the news of LGBT teens committing suicide because of bullying. We have also seen a surge of news stories of kids being harassed, threatened, and even physicality assaulted. No one's child should have to endure that. No one should feel afraid, hated and rejected like that. These are not just a few shocking exceptional cases either. As their voices have begun to be heard, we have seen story after story of how gay and transgender kids have felt hated, at times even hating themselves. We have heard how life for them can be a living hell, so bad that it makes some of them want to end their lives.

That really should be a wakeup call for us as Christians. Regardless of where we stand on the rightness or the wrongness of being gay, none of that matters much when people are dying. We can argue over what the Bible says about homosexuality, but one thing is utterly clear: Jesus clearly teaches us to love people, not to hate them, not to make them feel hated, and not to stand by while that is happening. From the perspective of the New Testament there simply is no room for doubt on this. We know exactly where Jesus stands. He stands on the side of the least, the condemned, the vulnerable. 

John's Gospel tells the story of a women caught in adultery who was brought before Jesus. The religious leaders say to him, "The law commands that she should be stoned to death, what do you say?" Jesus bends down and draws with his finger in the dirt, and then says to them "Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone." One by one they all leave until he is there alone with the woman. Jesus says to her "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," she answered. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared.

Now, many preachers are quick to point out that Jesus next says to her: "Go and leave your life of sin." But the real point here is that even though Jesus did consider adultery sinful, he still was the one who defended her. In fact, he was the only one there who was "without sin" and yet he did not cast a stone and did not condemn. So again, even if we think homosexuality is wrong, we know what Jesus would do in our shoes. He has drawn a line in the sand, and we need to decide what side of that line we will be on. Will we be on the side of Jesus and the one who is being condemned and threatened? Or will we stand with the religious accusers on the other side of that line? Maybe we were not the ones actually throwing those stones, but did we stand on the side of the accused and condemned and actively defend them like Jesus did? Did we actively defend and love "the least of these"? Because Jesus says that the way we treat them is the way we treat him.

Jesus never says a word about homosexuality, but there was one kind of sin that he spoke out against all the time. There was one kind of sin that got Jesus really mad. This was the sin of religious people who shut out those in need of mercy. This was the sin of people who used the Bible as a weapon. You hear Jesus saying this on page after page of the gospels. Why? Because this type of sin has the potential to damage people like few other things do. It is particularly damaging because they claim to be speaking for God. So if we really want to speak out against sin, we as Christians need to speak out against the kind of sin that Jesus did, and side with the kinds of folks he did. 

What this all comes down to is we, as Christians, acting like Jesus. It's about discerning what Jesus would want us to do right now, and the answer is clear: We need to change our priorities and focus on the critical issue of communicating love and acceptance to people -- especially the very people our society so often ostracizes, condemns and rejects. Because that is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus was known for hanging out with "sinners" and was frequently accused of being a sinner himself because of it. But that did not stop him because he cared more about those people than he cared about being judged. 

If we want to follow Jesus, then we need to have that same reputation of loving to a fault. We need to be so radically accepting that we are misunderstood and judged like Jesus. If we really do love Jesus, then we need to love like he did, so much so that it seems "scandalous" in the eyes the religious folks of our day, just like it did in his day.

We have spent so much time being "balanced" in the other direction, so much time worrying about "giving the wrong impression" that it is time to shift our lopsided boat the other way. Because as long as our priority is in looking moral rather than in showing compassion and grace to those on the outside, we simply do not have the priorities of Jesus. And when we do not reflect Christ, we are giving the wrong impression. 

Now you may have noticed that I didn't ever say what I thought about whether homosexuality was wrong or right. I didn't say because this is not about me and what I think. It's about us as Christians learning to care about what Jesus cares about. This is not about gay rights. It is about about human rights, and that starts with the least. It is about us having the courage to stand with those who are vulnerable. It is about us saying "no" to hate, even when it is done in the name of God -- no, especially when it is done in the name of God. It's about having the guts to draw that line in the sand like Jesus did. Even when that means facing that mob ourselves.

So let's stand alongside of LGBT individuals. Let's let them know they are loved, they are welcomed, they are not alone. I think when we do, we will find that Jesus has been there with them for a long time now. It's time we joined him.

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At 8:11 AM, Anonymous Zack Allen said...

I couldn't agree more, Derek. Even so, we can't discount Jesus call to "go and sin no more." Standing with them and defending them is certainly the right thing to do, but *if* homosexual activity is indeed sinful, then it is also right to do as Jesus did and call them to do likewise *while* standing with them.

The way the larger Christian community has treated the LGBT community is a disgrace, but the question of the sinfulness of homosexuality still looms.

At 9:20 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Yes, it is a separate question. That is, regardless of what we think about that, I am saying that what we can all agree on is that Jesus cares much much more about other things. That is, Jesus cares about us as people, and if a person is made to feel like they are an "abomination" and that leads into self-hatred then the place we need to focus--the place that Jesus did focus--was on communicating their unalienable worth to them. This is much more important than anything else because self-hatred leads to self-harm.

On top of that we have the issue that other people--often fueled by religious arguments--are hurting them, both emotionally and physically. So we have religious arguments being used to justify physical and emotional abuse. This is also something Jesus condemned over and over. We have become the Pharisees spurring on the mob.

Looking at what Jesus focused on, and what he did not, I think it is clear that the above two concerns are much more important to Jesus and should be to us too.

Jesus did say to the woman, go and "sin no more" but note two things:

First, her sin was adultery not homosexuality. No one questions whether adultery is a sin because it directly causes harm through betrayal. Whether homosexuality is a sin is debatable because it is hard to show how it causes any harm at all, and in fact it seems that within a committed monogamous relationship it is a bond that can be very life-giving.

Second, Jesus publicly rebuked the religious men with the stones. In contrast, what he said to the women he said to her in private. We get that backwards. He also only said this to her after establishing that he was her advocate not her accuser. We are a long long way away from having that roll in their eyes. We need to really care for *people*, not for abstract principles. We need to get to know people and recognize what their real needs are and help them to move towards those.

What gay people are communicating to us is that their needs have to do with identity and rights. God loves who they are. They are not "abominations," they are God's beloved. That is their identity. But we have given them the opposite message, and made them feel unwanted and unworthy. In doing this we are opposing the Spirit. Rights refers to human rights, the right to live and thrive. We all deserve that, but again we have publicly sought to deprive them of these human and civil rights because of our fear turned into hurtfulness. That is a sin. So what we need to really focus on are these two needs: (1) communicating acceptance, value, and love, and (2) defending their human and civil rights. Once we have done all that--and that is a big task--maybe then we can listen to what the Spirit says is needed after that. In the mean time we have a lot of work to do.

At 4:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK. Agreed that our first motivation is that of love. Unfortunately we're required to move into more practical aspects of the issue. For example - when it becomes a defining agenda demanding not only acceptance, but a practice to be fostered and encouraged.
True, the Gospel accounts don't record Jesus making specific statements about homosexuality. I don't think we can completely dismiss the other Biblical writers on the topic. If we can - just think of all the other things we can dismiss as well.
Though this guidance is true - it doesn't necessarily help with the follow-on issues with which we must inevitably deal.

At 8:17 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

See my comment above for how I think it applies practically with these follow up issues. I agree we should not dismiss other biblical writers, but we do need to read everything through the eyes of Christ in order to properly interpret it.

At 2:50 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Thanks, Derek. I appreciate your voice as an ally. I wonder also if this pericope is the best example on which to make this argument, particularly because of the difficulty I have as a gay man with being compared, even in a supportive way, to a woman caught in adultery. (The operative word here is "caught"--I think that Jesus knows how many people there had done the same thing and not been caught.) I could outline my difficulty with this comparison in more detail if you wish.

Take, instead, as one possibility, the example of the Syrophoenician woman, who wrestles with Jesus and his disciples for her daughter's healing. This is not the nice, outwardly loving Jesus who accepts everyone and speaks for the marginalized. This Jesus gives her a cold, unwelcoming, and insulting reception, but she will not be turned away without getting the healing that he daughter needs. I align myself much more directly with this woman, as I will not be turned away from my denomination (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) without it acknowledging my call to ordained ministry for which it has certified me three times in my 5 years of waiting for first call.

At 9:49 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi Chris,

I recognize that it is a loose analogy. If you read my comment above in response to Zack you can see that I clarified the comparison a bit (comment #2).

I also recognize that ultimately people who are marginalized or victimized do not only need to be defended, but empowered (which is entailed in a restorative perspective). So good for you that you are relating to the faithful audacity of the Syrophoenician woman!

At 3:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wooooeeeeee!!! Yall need to read the whole Bible if U'r gonna use it to argue a point. God destroyed at least two cities because of Sodomy. Homosexuality and Gay are modern terms that try to dress up the abominable act. Jesus said in John 5 that He does what His Father does and His Father condemed Sodomy. I do think they are to be loved and try to win them to Christ. Sodomy is a choice and can be changed. I had two alcoholic brothers and this was a choice for them. One kicked the awful habit and one didn't. What I think about Sodomy or Alcoholics dosen't matter one iota, neither does it matter what I think about lying and cheating. I do, however, believe that what the Bible says is "all that matters". Yall say that Jesus didn't condemn Sodomy? He is God, you know, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and they are one and think as one. Sooooo how can you say that Jesus didn't condemn Sodomy? To say that is to say that He is not God. Jesus plainly said that we cannot enter Heaven on our on because we are sinners, sooooo He died to pay for our sins. Being "saved" is to be sorry for our sin and ask Jesus to forgive us of our sin. Then we turn to Him for guidence on how to live for and like Him. Anyway, to say that Sodomy is not a sin---------well, is not believing the "whole" Bible.

At 8:52 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Dear Anon,

A key difficulty with what you are saying is that it puts the Old Testament on the same level as the New Testament. Christianity has always recognized that we have in Jesus the perfect revelation of God's character. We therefore need to look to Jesus to truly see who God is, and realize that there is a reason that Paul says that God is "covered in a veil" by the Old Testament and that veil is "only removed in Christ" (2 Co 3:14).

So we cannot just read the OT and project that on to Jesus like you are. We need to let Jesus be the lens through which we read all of Scripture. That is really basic, and has been the position of the church from day 1. Anything less will give us a distorted view of God. Jesus reveals God, period.

In Jesus we CAN see how he would respond to LGBT folks by looking at how he treated the marginalized of his day. So we are not in the dark here. We need to go beyond mere prooftexting and looking for a verse, and look at the way and character of Jesus so we can follow in that way and reflect his character. Again, that is basic discipleship. We do not follow a list of rules (which is what prooftexting leads to) we follow Jesus who is alive and active. He is the way, the truth, and the life.

That is where we need to begin. Now it is possible to read the NT and conclude that homosexulaity is a sin. I don't agree with that reading, but it is plausible (as opposed to basing this on the OT). However there is no question that a far worse sin is how the church has treated gays because it has lead to hatred and violence which is much more harmful. We need to recognize and repent of that. Until we do, we will have lost all credibility as representatives of Jesus and will only perpetuate our reputation as loveless hypocrites. We cannot see the speck in someone else's eye when there is plank in our eye.

We need to care more about being loving than we do about being right. We keep getting that backwards.

At 7:14 PM, Blogger Neal Doster said...

How can you contend that Jesus is the TRUTH if you are concerned with being loving and not with what is right? God's creative design is affirmed by Jesus in His discourse on divorce ( Matt.19.4 “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female"). Jesus did not forgo Truth in order to be loving, He is both. Christianity can not be defined or defended without Truth. To avoid truth in order to be gracious is in essence, to take your position.

At 9:56 PM, Anonymous Derek said...


What you are saying does not ring true from my own experience of God's love, nor does it line up with the clear teaching of the New Testament. The focus there is not to try to temper love with "truth" but just the opposite: Paul says that truth without love is just a lot of worthless noise (1 Cor 13).

I have to wonder what motivates a person to feel the need to come on to a public forum and tell another group of people that they are in sin? Why is so important to to stress this? Because what does not come through at all is grace. In fact, what I hear is a clear mistrust of grace.

Having experienced grace in my own life, I find that I feel compelled to show that same grace to others. In my experience, those who instead focus on other people's wrong have not yet experienced grace in their own lives.

At 9:53 AM, Blogger Neal Doster said...

Everyone’s experience is quiet subjective in nature while God’s Word is objective and clear for those who take it to be authoritative for what they believe. You seem to believe in a one attribute Jesus, one who condones sin in order to be loving. The one in the bible is both loving and truthful. The scripture reference you cited is all about identifying godly love. If you would have read a little further you would have seen that love and truth complement each other. You don’t have to disregard one at the expense of the other. 1 Cor. 13:6 (Love) does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.
Truth is what sets us free. None of us can repent of our sins unless we understand what is sinful. What motivates me to speak on a public forum is the love defined by the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 13). The Love of God seeks to deliver us from the power of sin, not condone it. Paul ask and answers a very pertinent question in Romans 6:1-2 Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?
To misrepresent grace is to make it licentious, which in turn wouldn’t be the grace of God. Being a recipient of God’s grace (as a sinner myself) has not motivated me to misrepresent it, nor Truth. I can love homosexuals and at the same time disagree with their lifestyle and/or orientation.


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