This question has been on the minds of many Americans in recent years. Last week it became largely a moot point in the United States, as a result of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. My hope is that we can use this as an opportunity to rethink which questions we focus on.
There are many questions that Christians are asking about all things LGBT. Often, the focus has been on one particular question: Is sexual intimacy between two people of the same sex always sinful?
Clearly, this question is an important one, and its answer has many practical implications. Although I answer this question in the affirmative, I am frustrated when others who share that answer act as though this is the end of the discussion. This answer actually opens the door to quite a few further questions.
For the remainder of this piece, I’ll mostly be discussing the questions that arise from the belief that sexual intimacy between two people of the same sex is indeed unconditionally sinful. People who come to the opposite conclusion will have their own set of follow-up questions, some of which will be the same and some of which will be different. (However, for obvious reasons, I haven’t thought about those quite as much.)
When people have gone further than this question, they’ve often focused on political questions like the one at the start of this post. How we answer these questions really depends on our answer to some more fundamental questions. What is the role of Christian faith in a secular democracy? Does the fact that something is immoral mean that it should be illegal? How should the government influence the public good?
Although these questions are no doubt important, especially when it comes time to participate in an election, I think they’ve received too much focus. Far too often (not just when it comes to sexuality!), we look for political solutions to the problems of people’s hearts. We need to think more deeply about our calling as Christians in all of life, and not just Christians at the ballot box. I hope that having the same-sex marriage question behind us gives us the push needed to change our focus.
One important type of question that I have seen a fair amount of focus on is how we relate to those who profess faith in Christ but disagree with us on questions of sexual ethics. As in the case of questions about politics, our answers here will depend on how we answer some more fundamental questions. What are the essentials required for genuine Christian faith? How do we determine what is orthodox and what is heretical? What does God’s grace look like towards believers who take part in sin that they are misled into believing is not sin? How do we interpret specific passages like 1 Corinthians 5 that discuss immorality within the Church?
I think we could use additional focus on questions of how we respond to unbelievers as well. Of course, we ought to have interactions with our unbelieving neighbors outside of the ballot box. How do we show God’s love to our LGBT neighbors? When is it appropriate, and when is it not appropriate, to bring up our convictions? How do we discern whether we are really being motivated by love of neighbor as opposed to our own comfort, prejudices, or pride?
So far, most of the questions I’ve asked involve how we relate to people who believe that sexual intimacy between two people of the same sex can be moral in certain contexts. However, many of the questions I find most interesting and poignant involve those of us who have traditional convictions about sexual ethics.
Some people would like the answer of “no” to gay sex to simply be the final word. However, as Eve Tushnet points out, “you can’t have a vocation of not-gay-marrying and not-having-sex. You can’t have a vocation of No.”
Even upon believing that I should not have gay sex, there are many further questions I must ask. How do I deal with feelings of shame? How can I love and be loved? How do I navigate friendships with other men? Do I need to isolate myself to avoid sexual temptation? How do I deal with sexual temptation when it occurs?
These are the questions we have been trying to think through at Spiritual Friendship. These are also the questions that have far too often been ignored or sidelined in the zeal of conservative Christians to fight political battles. So I hope that Obergefell v. Hodges has provided the reality check needed to see the inadequacy of the questions we’ve focused on.
So there are many questions we can ask. How do we decide which are most important?
I think our best guidance comes from looking at the way Jesus summarized the most important commandments. The greatest commandment is for us to love God. So the most important question is:
What does it look like to honor God with my life and body, and what does that say about my relationships?
This question is actually not just an LGBT question. We all need to consider the implication of sexual ethics, as well as other aspects of personal holiness. For example, divorce and premarital sex are extremely common even among professing Christians, but are not usually denounced the same way as gay sex. Nearly everyone deals with sexual temptation, and we all would do well to ask ourselves about how we’re honoring God with our responses.
The other great commandment is for us to love our neighbor. The question that arises from this is:
What does it look like for me to love my neighbors, particularly my LGBT neighbors?
One major component of love, of course, is to address and repent of various ways that Christians have sinned against sexual minorities. Additionally, of course, we also need to consider positive ways to express love. In both of these respects, Christians have far too often failed. We would all do well to focus on repenting of our own sins and making an effort to show love to our LGBT neighbors.
Our other questions should hang on these.
Jeremy Erickson is a software engineer in Wisconsin. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.