Up until now in this series, I have focused on sins against sexual minority people. As I alluded to in the introduction, I will now turn to some initial reflections on how to work this into a holistic understanding of sin with respect to sexual minorities. I am writing from the perspective shared with the other writers of this blog, that “God created human beings male and female, and that all sexual intimacy outside of a faithful, lifelong marital union of a man and woman is contrary to His plan.” The purpose of this series has not been to argue that this does not matter, but rather that we should not consider only this matter when looking at the topic of sin and sexual minorities, because all other areas of Christian morality also matter greatly.
For the final two posts in this series, I will discuss two important principles that we should always keep in mind while addressing the sexual sins that some sexual minority people commit. I do not presume to have complete pastoral solutions even if I had the space to write them out, but I think the principles I will point out here are both scriptural and fruitful.
The first comes from Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV):
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
These verses provide the basic foundation for our view of morality. They also give us a starting point for thinking about the importance of doctrine, including the doctrine of sexual ethics. There are two common errors that many people make in practice: acting as though doctrine doesn’t matter in any meaningful sense, and acting as though doctrine is the only thing that matters. What I gather from Matthew 22:34-40 is that doctrine matters a great deal not because it is important in and of itself, but because it affects our relationship with God, and because it affects people. In other words, doctrine matters because God matters and doctrine matters because people matter. When discussing the topic of how we can respond to sexual minority people, we are discussing relationships between people. Furthermore, as 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 also teaches, everything we do must be motivated by love. That means that the main point of this post is this:
Doctrine matters because people matter.
There are several things that immediately follow from this point. One is that we should be careful about how we formulate our doctrine, since bad doctrine has consequences for people. We must make sure that we are less motivated by a desire to be right than by a desire to love our neighbors by seeking what is best for them and for their relationships with God. I do believe that means taking seriously views of theology that affirm gay relationships, even though ultimately I have not found them to be convincing.
Another important point is that a person’s sexual ethics are not the only thing that matters. Julie Rodgers offered a powerful exposition on this point at “To See the Bigger Picture,” which I encourage you to read. We must consider the entirety of a person’s spiritual health, including ways that they have been sinned against. We should consider any ways that we have sinned against them, and repent and ask forgiveness for those sins. We should also consider the way our teaching and messages are received. Brent Bailey made an excellent related point in “#2 Muddled Messages:” a person who doesn’t already believe that God loves him or her is in spiritual danger and is not in a position to understand any teaching on ethics in a helpful manner. Instead, we need to focus on making sure he or she knows that God loves him or her, and so do we. If in fact we do not genuinely love our neighbor, that is a sin in our own hearts that we must address.
We should also use this point when deciding when and whether to bring up sexual ethics. If we simply make a declaration in order to “proclaim the truth” but only serve to push someone away from the faith, we have not really loved our neighbor. If we make it more clear to someone in a gay relationship that we believe the relationship to be sinful than that we value the person’s friendship, we will only lose any influence we might have had. It’s also critical to keep in mind that nearly all sexual minority people already know what most Christians believe about gay sex, and there’s usually little to no benefit to offering one more reminder. What is needed instead is for them to know that you actually love them and care about them, so you have to start by examining your heart and making sure you actually do.
Other posts in this series:
- Part 1: Introduction
- Part 2: Why I Criticize Christians
- Part 3: Sins of Word and Deed
- Part 4: Sins of Omission
- Part 5: Sins of the Heart
- Part 7: Of Logs and Specks
Jeremy Erickson is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He previously studied Mathematics and Computer Science at Taylor University in Upland, IN.