The conflicting response of Christians to sex and gender

On one end of the spectrum are Christians who believe all sexual orientation outside the scriptural bounds of male and female is wrong and must be cured by the church through prayer, counselling and conversion therapy.

On the other end of the spectrum are Christians who believe the church should welcome those with different sexual and gender orientation as fellow humans made in God’s image. It’s not their fault the way they are, they were born that way, and God made provision, therefore, for sexual relationships other than heterosexual husband and wife.

The result, unfortunately, is yet another source of conflict in the Christian church, not only on what God’s word says, but also on what the church is for. Is the church a curing house or a safe house?

How, for instance, would each of those two groups of Christians run an AA meeting? Would the first group only invite alcoholics who want to be cured? But isn’t that what the church is for, the first group asks, to cure people of their ailments? What’s the point of the church if it doesn’t encourage and promote repentance and change? You don’t create a hospital for sick people to remain sick, you create it to make them well. And isn’t that what Christ came for, to “turn each of you from your wicked ways” (Acts 3:26)?

But, the second group says, people aren’t wicked if they have a problem with alcohol; it’s something they’re born with. It’s not the church’s job, therefore, to cure them, it’s to provide an environment where they feel loved, accepted and safe as they are. The primary purpose of a hospital is not to make sick people well, it’s to make sick people feel comfortable. And isn’t that what Jesus made people feel when they came to him? He didn’t condemn prostitutes, for instance, or insist that they stop being prostitutes to be accepted by him. They felt safe and comfortable in his presence as they were, which made it so much easier for them to approach him.

Is the purpose of an AA meeting, therefore, to cure alcoholics of their alcoholism, or to make them feel safe and accepted as alcoholics?

Well, it’s both, isn’t it? And don’t hospitals do both too? Hospitals exist to make sick people well – and to make them feel comfortable.

So, what if the Christian church did both, where it never stops preaching repentance and cure on the one hand, but it also makes people feel safe and accepted as well? It’s a tricky balance, yes, but surely worth seeking to ease the present conflict in our Christian response.


“I can’t help it, I was born this way”

One of the saddest signs I’ve seen was one being carried by a marcher in a local Pride parade that stated, “Born this way,” suggesting it was inevitable that he would be homosexual, or whatever other sex or gender he identifies as.

It’s sad because the man believes he had no choice. He is convinced that his brain was wired since birth to make him what he is, and his future, therefore, was fixed from the start. In reality, therefore, he has reduced his life to little more than a programmed robot that can only do what it was wired to do.

One has to wonder, then, if it’s just as inevitable that a person will become a pedophile, or a serial killer, or an alcoholic. Or that a person should never marry because he was born to abuse women. Or maybe a person shouldn’t be alive at all, because he was born to be depressed and suicidal, or destined to life in a mental institution.

If that’s true, though, that no influence of family, culture or religion, or even God, can steer you away from what you were wired to be from birth, then what happens if you’d rather not be what you were born to be? What if you hate the idea that you’re stuck for life with whatever internal conflicts or marginalization by others your birth wiring creates, and there is nothing you or anyone else can do about it?

Society’s solution to that is to get everyone to “celebrate diversity” and accept whatever wiring we humans are born with as special and unique. But that faces huge resistance from those who see much of what is considered “special and unique” as a cover-up for several disruptive mental disorders. It also faces strong resistance from those who cannot and will not accept that we are stuck from birth to be a certain way.

On the other hand, after centuries of people making wrong choices that conflict with what God said he created us for, perhaps it’s true after all that people are being born with different wiring in their brains.

The good news God broadcast through Jesus, however, is that he’s more than willing to heal whatever damage our ignorance of him and our resistance to him has created. He doesn’t back off the fact that we’ve really messed up the wiring in our heads, but he also made it clear through Jesus that he’d love to straighten out our messed up wiring – if that’s what we would like too.

So even if it’s true that we’re born a certain way, God says we’re not stuck with it.

Is homosexual love really love?

Homosexuals ask a good question, which is: “How can there be anything wrong or harmful or even religiously offensive in our relationship as same-sex couples, when we love each other?” What on earth is wrong with love? Surely, love is what Christians believe in too.

But it’s love according to what, or whose, definition? And that’s a good question too, because there are a lot of definitions of love floating around. You hear of men, for instance, who say they love their wives while openly flirting with other women and even having affairs with them. I imagine these men think they really are in love, with both the women they’re flirting with and their wives as well, but on whose definition of love are they operating by? And would it matter to these men if their wives hate what they’re doing and don’t think it’s love at all? Oh, but it is love, these men say, and they are utterly convinced of it too. But is it really love?

And what about the girls who end up pregnant because of boys who said to them, “If you love me you’ll have sex with me.” In the boy’s mind, and maybe even the girl’s mind too, it seems like a fair definition of love, but where did they get that idea from in the first place? And did either of them consider the risk of pregnancy or give a thought for the children who might be born? Oh, but we love each other, they say, and that’s all that matters. But is it really love?

But if we reply to these kids, “No it isn’t love at all,” and they shout back, “Who says?”- then what do we say? And that’s a good question too, isn’t it, because on what authority are we basing our own definition of love in return? We say it isn’t love what these kids are doing, or what husbands with roving eyes are doing, but what do we say next if they disagree? To whom or to what do we now turn to prove or demonstrate which definition of love is correct?

And that’s our problem, isn’t it? We’re all stuck in a culture that demands the right to make up its own definitions. But on what are those definitions based? On changing fads? On minority group demands? On what some people say is love and we’d all better agree – or else?

And some people even dare to say that God would approve of their love, when it’s clear from the Bible that their definition of love is not his at all. So, what does he say is love, then?

Is denying gay love inhuman?

A Roman Catholic priest justified his relationship with a gay partner with this statement: “It’s time the Church opened its eyes and realized that offering gay believers total abstinence from a life of love is inhuman.”

Aside from the fact that Catholic priests aren’t supposed to have a sexual relationship with anyone, is there some truth to the Church denying people love by condemning homosexual acts as a sin?

Paul’s answer in Romans 1 and is surprising: It’s not the Church’s job to condemn anybody for any act, including homosexuals and homosexuality – for three reasons:

Firstly, that condemning anyone for any sin “shows contempt for the riches of God’s kindness, tolerance asnd patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you (or them) to repentance,” Romans 2:4.

Secondly, that any time we “pass judgment on someone else,” verse 1, we are condemning ourselves, because we are “mere men” (verse 3) who commit sin too.

And thirdly, that God himself does not condemn people for willfully resisting what he made plain (1:19). Instead he “gives them over” to the automatic penalties he built in for those who “not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them,” verse 27.

So, if men (and women) “don’t think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God” (1:28) – as to why God created male and female in the first place – they will “receive in themselves the due penalty for their perversion,” Romans 1:27. For those who know better, therefore, but still claim homosexuality is a life of love, not lust (as Paul defines it in verse 26), God does not condemn them to an eternal hell, but he does have hell of a different kind for them in this life, like giving them over to “futile thinking” (1:21), to “becoming fools” (22), and to “a depraved mind” (28) – all of which automatically kick in.

Does that not make God inhuman, though? No, because he doesn’t marginalize homosexuals or bully them into repentance. Instead, he lets people learn through time and consequences. He still hates what they do, but he does not condemn them for it, because what he’s after is people coming to their senses and repenting (1 Timothy 2:4), and this is the most effective way he’s chosen for that to happen.

Paul’s concern, therefore, is not the Church being inhuman for denying gay love, it’s the Church portraying God as inhuman when it condemns homosexuals. The Church doesn’t need to condemn homosexuals anyway, because God’s already dealing with them through built-in penalties and patience. If a Catholic priest, therefore, wants to make the Church out to be inhuman, the Church can prove it’s not inhuman by not condemning him.

What a pity homosexuality is such a big deal

Like it or not, homosexuality is a big deal in our culture, and even without bringing religion into it it’s causing all sorts of rifts and problems. People are either deeply for or against homosexuality, and debates in social and scientific circles rage over the cause of it, whether it’s congenital or genetic, a choice or an illness, and what part nature or nurture play in the forming of sexual identity – in things like womb environment, sexual abuse, lack of parental love, poor gender models, inability to relate to the opposite sex, or just plain peer pressure.

What a pity, because in reality does it matter what causes homosexuality, or what science comes up with to prove homosexuality is normal, or what a Sex Ed curriculum states as acceptable and healthy sexual relationships, when one day, all humans, straight or gay, die, and our sexual identity dies with us? People struggle all their lives to have their views on sexuality accepted both culturally and legally, but when a person is dead what does it matter if he or she was heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual or transgender?

To many Christians, however, it matters a great deal, because in their minds homosexuals go to hell after they die, based on scriptures like Romans 1:16, which says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all godlessness and wickedness.” Many Christians, therefore, feel a deep responsibility to speak out strongly on God’s behalf against the teaching and practice of alternative lifestyles – to prevent people going to hell.

But this creates friction with other equally dedicated Christians who quote 2 Corinthians 5:19, “that God has reconciled the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them,” meaning no one is going to hell for being homosexual, and Christians should only be speaking the good news of God’s amazing grace and reconciling love to the LGBTQ community, not condemning them.

So now Christians have made homosexuality a big deal, which is such a pity because Jesus didn’t have much to say about our sexual identity, other than remind the religious folks of his day in Matthew 19:4 that “He who made them at the beginning made them male and female.” The big deal to Jesus was God making us male and female, and going back to the book of Genesis to remember why.

Jesus takes us back to the beginning, because that’s where God explains his purpose for humanity, and why the interaction of male and female was so important. What a tragedy it is, then, when big deals are made of things like homosexuality that have no connection or relevance to God’s purpose for us.

The great news God has for homosexuals

The great news that God has for homosexuals, and for anybody else for that matter, is 2 Corinthians 5:19, “that God has reconciled the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” So, no one is going to hell for being homosexual, which is amazing, because we also know how God views homosexuality in Romans 1:16, which says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all godlessness and wickedness,” and it noticeably includes homosexuality in verses 24-27.

So God is deeply upset by homosexuality, because it knocks in the head what he created male and female for, which in turn blinds people to his marvellous purpose for humanity, which in turn hides “his eternal power and divine nature” (verse 20), which in turn has led to all sorts of mental problems for us humans, listed in sad and devastating detail in verses 21-22 and 28-32. It is not a pretty picture, but notice in Romans 2:1-3 that even though it’s clear what God thinks of homosexuality, he does not give us the right to judge or condemn homosexuals.

Why not, though? Surely, condemnation is exactly what homosexuals need for not only practicing what God highly disapproves of, but also for blatantly promoting it. But in Paul’s mind that would be “showing contempt for the riches of God’s kindness, tolerance and patience,” which would be a huge pity because the means by which God is leading humanity to repentance is the good news of how immensely kind and patient he is (2:4).

Does that mean we ignore what homosexuals are doing? No, because Paul makes it clear in Romans 3:23, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Paul does not dilute the shattering influence of evil on humans, resulting in diversions like homosexuality, but right alongside that he immediately includes the equally important fact that all humans, no matter how depraved or misguided we’ve become, “are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus,” verse 24. Because of Christ, God not only totally forgives us, he’s also in the process of restoring us too, back to his original and wonderful purpose for us.

The best way Christians can serve the LGBTQ community, therefore, is by painting the correct picture of God, which includes two things: That God does not condone what we do, but neither does he condemn us. Yes, he’s deeply upset by humans falling desperately short of his purpose for us, which clearly includes homosexuality, but look how great that makes his kindness, tolerance and patience for us, because even in his anger he doesn’t hold anything we’ve done against us.

Does sexual identity matter?

Sexual identity matters a great deal in our culture, creating all sorts of problems. It polarizes communities into “straight” and “gay,” it stirs up opposing camps that either condemn or condone alternative sexual lifestyles, it marginalizes those with homosexual, bisexual and transgender orientation, and it brands those in opposition to different sexual orientation as hate mongers. It worries parents who fear the peer pressure of the LGBTQ community on their children, especially in schools where teaching alternative lifestyles is a required part of the curriculum, but it also makes life difficult for those who believe they have no control over their sexual orientation because it was decided for them at birth or by their genes, but are accused by others of choosing it.

It’s not a pretty picture, especially for children growing up in such a culture, where the media, entertainment, education, law, and even religious folk are claiming alternative sexual lifestyles and identities are healthy and normal. How many children will now be worrying about their sexual identity, as something crucial and necessary?

But in the great scheme of things, does sexual identity really matter? Jesus did say that when we’re resurrected there’ll be no more need for marriage (Matthew 22:30), so male and female sexuality will eventually become a non-issue. But what about now, before we’re resurrected? Surely sexual identity is very important, because the human race has always depended on the creation of children by male and female sexual reproduction.

So, yes, sexual identity does matter now, because that’s how children are produced. The marriage of male and female also pictures the relationship of Christ and his Church (Ephesians 5:25-32), but what does one make of Galatians 3:28 that says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”?

That really changes things for Christians, because Paul takes the focus right off our racial, social and sexual identity, and places it fairly and squarely on our identity being totally wrapped up in Christ. As humans the only identity that really matters is that, because it’s what Christ accomplished for us that makes us “all sons of God” (verse 26). Our sexual identity doesn’t make us sons of God; Jesus does. And it’s because we’re “baptized into Christ” and “clothed with Christ” (verse 27) that we “belong to Christ” and become “Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (verse 29).

And what is that promise? It’s the promise of the Spirit (3:14) who transforms us into the likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). That’s the identity that matters to God, because that’s the identity we’re now born with, are growing into in this life, and will have forever.