Homosexuality is not a sin.
There. I feel better already.
Yeah, yeah. Go ahead and laugh. I know this is not exactly a ground-breaking idea. I know that plenty of other Christians before me have said it. But it’s not a done deal yet for everyone, so – here I am, choosing where to follow. Serving God the best I know how, standing up for justice and mercy and truth and love. Because it’s about time we all did. It’s about time we all stopped setting the timetable for another person’s freedom. It’s about time we all remembered that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (MLK, Jr.). I’m coming out a bit late, but Now I figure is better than Someday, even if it’s not quite as good as Yesterday. OK. Once more, with feeling:
Homosexuality is Not a sin.
Growing up, homosexuality never bothered me. Gay folks were just folks. My mother was active in civil rights, and accepting the sexuality of other people was part of the philosophy of equality I was raised on.
Then, at the age of 32, I became a Christian. One morning, the week after Easter, I found myself in a pew in the local Episcopal church, trying very hard to act casual (although I could count on two hands the number of times I had been to church during my whole previous life), and desperately doing my best to figure out how my lifeline—The Book of Common Prayer—worked. They didn’t seem to mind that I kept standing up and sitting down just a little late, so I stuck around. This was during the time when the Episcopal church was making up their minds about ordaining active homosexuals, so no sooner was I a Christian than I had to begin thinking it through.
I remember discussing it with a friend of mine in the church—I told her that it seemed to me to be fairly clear that the Bible said homosexuality was a sin, and if we took the Bible seriously we needed to accept that. She got terribly exasperated with me: “If you start taking the Bible seriously, pretty soon you’ll be wearing a bonnet and keeping silent in church!” (She was right on one count, anyway…)
During that first year of my Christianity, I came up with a tentative working theory that I maintained until recently: It is good for people to love each other. It is good for a man to love a man. It is good for a woman to love a woman. It is somehow not good to sexualize that love. Nonetheless, homosexuality is no different from the various sins I commit regularly… and I am (or hope to be!) acceptable to God and the church. So there is no reason to deny homosexuals a place in the church. And every reason to welcome them as fellow sinners.
I was never completely easy with that theory. I never felt that sense of rest and peace inside, that as a Quaker I have grown to expect when my beliefs and actions are in line with my understanding of the world and of God. There was always a vague sense of uneasiness, that told me I didn’t have it quite right yet.
I have met plenty of homosexual people over the years, and they were just like everyone else. Some were nice, some not so nice. Some were smart, some not so smart. Some of them had a spiritual maturity that I admired, and felt would be an asset to my faith community. I wrestled with that. Sinning is stepping away from God, yet these were people who I felt could teach me about following God more closely. How could that fit in with this theory of mine? Over the years, my theory became gradually much less satisfactory, and much more tentatively held.
Recently an online friend, a gay Anabaptist, pointed out to me that the New Testament Greek words that are usually translated as having to do with homosexuality have nothing to do with a committed loving relationship between two members of the same sex, and everything to do with non-loving/uncommitted/dehumanizing/exploitative sexual practices, like prostitution (temple and otherwise). I remembered hearing something about this a long time ago, but I had never looked into it myself. So now I did. It turns out that the words that are typically translated as condemning homosexuality, are so far from actually condemning committed loving relationships between two people of the same sex, that I am appalled that we have mistreated and disrespected homosexuals for so long, as a society and as a church. Appalled. It would be like taking the word that is commonly translated as “fornication,” and translating it as “heterosexuality.”
The New Testament most definitely condemns the misuse of sexuality. It most definitely condemns certain activities that are wrong whether heterosexuals or homosexuals commit them …. Rape and prostitution and pedophilia, for example. But it does not condemn a loving committed sexual relationship between two people of the same sex. It just simply doesn’t.
I mulled over this new bit of information, and I revised and significantly shortened my working theory: Homosexuality is not a sin. Well. All the pieces fell into place. That sense of rest and peace arrived, and stayed. This fits. Everything fits.
I was still receiving this new awareness with joy and relief, and considering whether there was anything in particular I needed to do with it, when another friend on the same forum, an atheist, wrote a post. In it, he said that all forms of religion are bad, because the apparently benign religions make religion look more acceptable than it really is, and shield the bad religions from criticism. He said that the survival of our civilization depends on getting rid of all religion and all belief in God, and that society shouldn’t tolerate any form of religion—good, bad or indifferent. I was devastated and hurt and heartbroken that someone who had befriended me would say that society was better off without “my kind.” That “my kind,” in fact, was responsible for destroying civilization.
But God had once let me know that every time I let my heart get broken, He would mend it and make it bigger. For the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to experience first-hand what it was like to be on the receiving end of intolerance. To have someone I cared about tell me that something that is a part of me, that I cherish and hold to be True and Right, that I couldn’t deny at this point even if I wanted to… to have him tell me that this was wrong. Not only wrong, but an abomination. It hurt. It hurt like hell.
But it was a very important lesson, and it came at just the right time (God’s timing is very very good). Because as I was meditating on the hurtfulness of intolerance, I was able to see the parallels between my current situation and the situations that homosexuals face regularly. And I was given a job to do. Thank you God, for broken hearts.
So, here I am, coming out of the closet. In 1994, Ohio Yearly Meeting disowned Cleveland Monthly Meeting for recognizing that two women felt they were married to each other. We owe Cleveland Monthly Meeting and those two women an apology, because homosexuality is not a sin. I am going to ask for a clearness committee from my monthly meeting to help me discern how best to go forward with this leading. I will let you know how it goes. If I get disowned, does anyone know of a Meeting willing to take in a raggle-taggle heretic such as myself?
An incredibly incomplete sampling of links about homosexuality and the Bible:
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom… is the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”
--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail