I spent 20-odd years of my life as a legalistic Christian. When my mom initiated divorce against my dad, I spewed hurtful words because I subscribed to the literal interpretation that “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16), without asking myself what it means and “why?” It was not until my own preparation for marriage and walking with my friends through divorce that I learned it is neither necessary, honest, or kind, to make sweeping generalizations on issues as complicated and personal as divorce. I now know that it is okay to support divorce in some cases and not in others, because there are, for example, those who prayerfully leave their spouses after years of counseling, and others who do so simply because they’re not in love with their spouses anymore. And in cases where the cause seems muddy to me, I have learned to remind myself that it is okay to not take a stance, and that it is their lives, their values: there are things about their lives that I do not know, just as they have values that do not align exactly with mine. Instead of passing judgment on something I do not fully understand or have a stake in, I learned to “mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15). I realized that I have the duty to speak my truth (in a loving way), but cannot impose (i.e. be upset if my advice is not followed) unless I’m ready to bear responsibility for their lives.
What makes divorce a sin, if it even is a sin? Is it the cause of the divorce, or does the sin lie in remarriage (Luke 16:18, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”)? To me, if God hates divorce, regardless of how justifiable the cause (see e.g. 1 Corinthians 7 and Matthew 19) - then the act itself cannot be a sin. It is the heart behind the decision that is subject to God’s judgment. While I do not doubt that God intended marriage to be a lifelong commitment, and that He takes personal offense when a vow made before Him and in His name is broken – it IS possible to hate an act without labelling the act a sin, or - even if labelling the act a sin, still loving the sinner.
Today’s Christians have little trouble separating their disapproval of a divorce from the divorcee. The church is not without pastors that have been divorced and/or remarried, and few advocate to limit legal divorce to the grounds articulated in the Bible. In fact, revered Christian author, C.S. Lewis, once wrote that “the Christian conception of marriage” is one thing, and “voting to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in divorce laws” is quite another:
“A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for everyone. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.” (Mere Christianity, p.112.)
I think most Christians would agree with this distinction, hence the insistence that their weddings be performed by not any officiant but a pastor, and in not any venue, but a chapel, because it is not enough for the marriage to be recognized by the State; it must be before God as well. Why then, if marriage “by the State” and “before God” are two separate matters, do Christians want marriages officiated outside of the Church, between nonbelievers, to conform to Biblical standards?
As humans, it is natural for us to be uncomfortable with ambiguity. It’s simply easier to have clear sets of black and white rules than to navigate the gray. We want to quickly label things “good” or “bad” because it takes effort to process and order things “worst, worse, bad, good, better, best.” It also requires honesty: the ability to challenge preexisting beliefs; and courage: knowing that in some cases, “it depends,” “either way,” or “I don’t know” are fully honorable answers, and resting easy with that.
Over the last few months, I’ve been working my way through, “Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America.” The author, Jeff Chu, is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and the nephew and grandson of Baptist preachers. The book documents the journalist’s cross-U.S. journey to interview stakeholders on both sides of the gay Christian debate, as well as those in the expansive in-between. Without condemnation, he provides a historical perspective on the LGBTQ issue: how it became a political ploy to win votes and a scapegoat to distract believers from other “sins” like adultery and divorce. With still a few chapters left, my eyes have already been opened to the array of possible responses to this issue that’s often painted as “either for us or against us.” The reality is far less simple.
As a lifelong Christian, I’ve struggled with formulating my response to homosexuality and gender identity. While I have exposed myself to arguments from both sides, I’ve come to accept that I will never know enough to reach a black-and-white position on questions like, is homosexuality a sin? Is gender identity something you’re born with? Is celibacy the God-honoring option for those with same-sex attraction? Scholars have spilled much ink on these topics, but many are accused of conducting their research in support of pre-existing “agenda.” To be honest, I myself am predisposed to sources that seek to reconcile homosexuality with the Faith because I know people who were forced out of church - whether by themselves or others - unable to cope with feelings of hypocrisy or persistent challenges to their worth and identity, and this breaks my heart.
Between Christ-followers, Romans 14:1-13 says, “Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval. […] Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. […] So why do you condemn another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.”
If your actions or words will lead a queer Christian to believe that they are not loved or accepted by God, or that they have no inherent worth or do not deserve human rights, then you are causing them to stumble, because what you are preaching contradicts the Word. The surest way to prevent our LGBTQ family from stumbling is to keep them in the church, not push them out. Our job is to help cultivate each other’s sensitivity to the Holy Spirit so that we can each discern for ourselves what is pleasing to God. Holiness cannot be attained vicariously but independently. Each Christian must have a personal relationship with God. What I’m asking you to consider is, instead of telling people to passively and unquestioningly adopt the Holy Spirit’s directions for YOU, pray with them to help them decipher what the Holy Spirit is saying to THEM.
To LGBTQ Christians, I cite Romans 14:14-23: “I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. And if another believer is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. Then you will not be criticized for doing something you believe is good. […] Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble. You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.”
What I read this to mean is, if a bakery is not comfortable providing a cake for your wedding, let them be. If a pastor doesn’t feel comfortable officiating your ceremony, find another that shares your convictions. Assume that everyone is just trying to honor God according to the Holy Spirit in their hearts, unless their actions are clearly driven by prejudice and hate - in which case, they are clearly not acting in the Spirit, and the God-honoring thing to do may be to “speak truth in love.” If, however, you identify as LGBTQ but following an LGBTQ lifestyle does not sit well with the Holy Spirit within you – then refrain, and prayerfully ask God if it would honor Him to be celibate. What’s God-honoring may look different for everyone. There is a reason God issued the Word, but still gifted each Christian with the Holy Spirit to “guide us into all truth” (John 14:26) and sanctify us from sin (Galatians 5:16). “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians 5:18).
In the end, my mom still divorced my dad, but had to do so without the understanding and support of one of her daughters. To not have been there for my mom through one of the most painful decisions of her life is one of my biggest regrets. Like divorce, LGBTQ is a complicated, personal issue. I find it neither necessary, honest, or kind to make sweeping generalizations on whether queerness is a sin, and I would hate for anyone to one day regret the pain they’ve inflicted on the LGBTQ community simply because they never thought to ask themselves, “what exactly does the Bible say about LGBTQ and does my response conflict with God’s heart?” Even if we can state without reservation that queerness is a sin, then how do we feel about subjecting divorcees to the same treatment, imposing on them, for example, laws against remarriage? We can argue that God intended marriage to be between a man and a woman, but isn’t marriage intended to be a lifelong commitment too? Is the simple act of going against God’s intent a sin? Or is it possible that queerness is one of those things where, like divorce, God looks at the heart?
The bottom line to me is this: the Bible’s teachings on LGBTQ issues is up to interpretation, whereas no interpreter would disagree on the meaning of God’s second greatest commandment, which is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39, the first greatest commandment being, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”) Instead of spending our energy on advocating against LGBTQ rights and making them feel less than human, let’s ask ourselves why we do not advocate for penalizing those who dishonor their parents - which, unlike homosexuality, is clearly marked via the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14) and confirmed throughout Scripture as a sin – one that is severe enough that “anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death” (Leviticus 20:9 and Mark 7:10; see also Ephesians 6:2-3 and Deuteronomy 5:16). Are you ready to be subject to this kind of law? Are your children?
To refrain from condemnation is not the same as condonement. You don’t have to agree with all of a person’s life choices in order to love them or be their friend, except LGBTQ is not always a choice. Having spent nearly five years in an all-girls’ school, I know that there are those who experiment or LABEL themselves as LGBTQ because it is “cool.” But if only you took the time to understand the real struggles of those fighting their gender identity and same sex attractions, and the lengths to which they go to “normalize” themselves – you will understand that it is not a LIFE that anyone would choose for themselves, and at least remain silent: it will be the prudent, if not loving, thing to do (see Proverbs 11:12 and 29:11).
You know what IS a choice? Homophobia. Hypocrisy. Legalism. Please, follow the example of Jesus, and choose Love. Because what if you’re wrong? The LGBTQ community is disproportionately at risk of suicide, and you will have contributed to that. And what’s the worst that can happen if you’re right? The Christian institution may be challenged, but God’s will has never been to preserve institutions, especially institutions that use His name to perpetuate hate and oppression. God’s interest has always been in His people – and capturing hearts, not forcing actions.
p.s. I do not wish to dictate how others interpret my work - I believe the best kind of art to be open-ended – but I would be remiss to not caution against reading “Love is God” as “Love is A god.” As C.S. Lewis (citing M. Denis de Rougemont) rightfully notes, “love begins to be a demon the moment he begins to be a god.” I created “God is Love,” “Love is Love,” and “Love is God” as an indivisible pattern so that they be read together as part of a conceptual whole. The “Love is God” in the design goes hand in hand with “God is Love”: the acknowledgement that Love is God Himself. It is the belief that love comes from God; that we cannot love but for God, and that we love one another so that God can live in us (see 1 John 4:7-21). Therefore, should any of our earthly loves drive God off the throne of our hearts, it would behoove us to examine the nature of that “love” and rejecting it if so called (see Luke 14:26).
“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)