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Got your attention? Good. Because it’s true. Homosexuality is not a sin. Oh, I know. You’re running scriptures in your mind. Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. First Corinthians 6:9-10. Genesis chapter 19. Romans 1:26-27. Some of you are already looking for the comment section to start an all-too-expected, “IS TOO!” post to show me up. Let’s take a moment, though, and talk about this for a second. If you’re THAT sure that homosexuality is a sin, just what is “homosexuality?”

Preachers and pastors (and yes, there’s a difference) all across the country will sometimes have whole sermons dedicated to the topic of damning the “homuh-SEX-shual” as being the end-all and be-all of the worst kind of sinner in America today. Thankfully, people are beginning to educate themselves a little more on the topic, but that doesn’t mean that people use the word “homosexuality” to paint a broad stroke of something that should be very, very specific.

You see, words matter. Words can hurt. They can even kill. Scripture says it all too well:

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21, NIV)

Imagine if you’re a gay-struggling teen who is beginning the raging, internal war of dealing with his or her sexual orientation and their faith. While sitting in your pew, you hear your pastor railing against “homosexuality” and how it will result in complete, eternal damnation. You hear them blast “homosexuals” as being “turned over to a depraved mind” or something. Instantly, you associate your sexual orientation to that horrible thing the preacher is damning — and you associate yourself with the damned.

Is there any wonder why our teens feel left out of the conversation?

Is there any wonder why one of the first thing many LGBT people do during their coming out process is to shuck their religion?

The far right hate groups are just as bad in their terminology. They attempt to be a little more “specific” in their wording by railing against what they call “homosexual behavior.” Even still, the conversation is lacking in specifics — and the obscurity is poisonous. Well, let’s face it. Anything the hate groups say is venomous, but hey — that’s why they’re hate groups.

So when you say, “homosexuality,” what do you mean? Even when you say, “homosexual behavior,” what does that include? As GayChristian.net president Justin Lee points out, it generally includes four different possibilities:

1. Orientation. A person’s orientation tells you only who they are emotionally and physically attracted to. I call myself gay because that is my orientation: I’m attracted to guys, not girls. People don’t choose their orientation. Some people use the word temptations to describe their orientation.

2. Lust. A lot of people confuse orientation with lust, but they’re not the same thing at all. Lust is more than just being attracted to someone; it has to do with how you respond to those attractions in your mind. Lust is a sin regardless of whether you’re lusting for women, men, or even your neighbor’s snazzy new car. The same Greek word translated lust in the Bible also means covet. (More on this in another post.)

3. Sex. This is really what most people are talking about when they say that “homosexuality is a sin.” They mean that they disapprove of gay sex, but to someone like me, it sounds like you just disapprove of my unchosen orientation.

4. Relationship. When gay people talk about wanting to get married, it’s not sex they’re after, but rather, a relationship. Just as straight people (hopefully) don’t get married for the sex, gay people don’t either; we want love, commitment, understanding, and someone to come home to at night and talk about our day. For Christians who disapprove of gay sex, a challenging question can be how to respond to gay relationships. If there’s no sex in the relationship but there is romance, is it still acceptable? And would you assume two gay people are having sex if you see them holding hands? (Would you assume a straight couple is having sex if you see them holding hands?)

Be sure to check out Justin’s full post for his point of view. It’s quite good.

These four possible definitions of “homosexuality” typically define what should aways be discussed as specifics. I recently talked with a friend of mine on this issue, and stressed the importance of being as precise as possible. For him, “homosexuality” was the orientation. I pointed out that for most in his church (and as Justin pointed out, most people in general) define as “homosexuality” is the sex. It’s all about the sex. What someone does with their genitals.

Is sex outside of marriage sin? Or sex outside of any committed relationship? Well, that’s not something I’m going to cover in detail. But for the moment, let’s assume that it is. In fact, when you read the title of this post, you probably shouted out in your mind (or out loud), oh YES IT IS!

Let’s be honest. It really is all about the sex. When I say “homosexuality is not a sin,” you read, “homosexual sex is not a sin.” Didn’t you?

After all, when you read the word “homosexual” all you see is the “homo sex” part, right? Unfortunately, though, it’s not that simple. Nor is “homosexuality” a word that really fits in most situations.

But what is homosexuality? How should we use it in conversation? Or in sermons?

Because this word is so generic, it’s absolutely essential that we know the ground rules in any discussion or in any sermon. Pastors, use your words wisely. If you want to rail against gay sex, then talk about sex between men. I might disagree with you on the specifics, but please don’t use the word “homosexuality” as an all inclusive, damning word that may harm people in your congregation.

There’s a huge difference between condemnation and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. If you’ve got kids in your church swapping blowjobs (and don’t assume that you don’t), well, that’s obviously something to speak out against. It’s unsafe, risky, stupid, and is unquestionably sin.

But imagine if you have a gay-struggling teen who’s completely chaste — a virgin, even — but deciding whether or not to commit suicide because of his same-sex attractions. When you preach your damning words about “homosexuality,” it can easily be the tipping point for a funeral in the near future. Words have power. Use them wisely.

But there’s one more possible definition of “homosexuality” that has to be addressed. Again, Justin Lee said it very eloquently (don’t you just hate it when someone says it better than you do?):

I said that there are four main things someone might mean when they talk about homosexuality, but there’s actually a fifth one. For many folks (and I confess this was true of me as well for years), the word homosexuality conjures up images of debauchery, promiscuity, and the worst stereotypes of the gay community. But of course, that’s not what it is to be gay at all, just as images of Mardi Gras don’t convey what it is to be straight.

So when you hear the word “homosexuality,” and you think about men wearing assless chaps, then let me be clear: that ain’t it. It’s not the twink clubs or the drag shows or even the bear bars. In fact, “homosexuality” (as well as “homosexual”) is a word that has so many definitions — and so many insinuations, that it’s probably a good idea to drop it from our vocabulary until we can agree — as a society — just what the hell it means.

In the meantime, let’s just go back to talking about gay people — as people.

There’s a thought.

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