Have you ever heard this question? It seems to be the million-dollar question within the gay-Christian debate.
Is homosexuality a sin?
Aside from what you might think, I’m not going to answer that question. Why, you might ask…
Because, it is not the right question to be asking!
As Andrew Marin so skillfully discusses in his book Love is an Orientation, this question and others like it are closed-ended questions used to divide and determine whether or not you are for or against the person asking the question. Answering in a yes/no fashion merely positions you within a particular camp of the debate at large. And immediately the hearer forms judgments about you based on a simple one-word answer—and will hear nothing more that comes from your mouth should you decide to try to elaborate.
But I’m not even going to address that aspect, especially since Andrew has already covered it so well.
I want to give you another reason why this is not even the right question we should be asking: We shouldn’t be asking this question precisely because it uses the word homosexuality.
What on earth does homosexuality mean? The prefix homo- is Greek for same. And, well, sexuality means anything having to do with the sexes, including, but not limited to, the activity of sex.
But in the context of the question—“Is homosexuality a sin?”—does homosexuality mean gay? Or is it about a same-sex romantic relationship? Or being sexually orientated to persons of the same sex? Or what about being married to a person of the same biological sex? Does it mean all same-sex sexual behavior (e.g., intercourse, oral sex, etc.)? Or maybe simply male prostitution? Maybe it just means anything having to do with anyone who has sexual attractions to same-gendered individuals?
I could get even more snarky and go on…but I won’t. I think you get the point.
If we were to replace any one of these possible “definitions” of homosexuality into the question in question, we could come up with very different answers for each one. Let’s take a look:
Is gay a sin?
If you mean gay as in happy, nope…I’m pretty sure it’s not a universal sin to be happy. If so we are all in a lot of trouble!
If by gay, you mean identifying with an oppressed people group who have shared experiences in terms of sexual attractions and being sexual minorities, again, I’d have to say no. It is not a sin to identify yourself with a people group with whom you share experiences. If so then it would be a sin every time someone went to an AA meeting and said, “Hi, my name is …” It would also be a sin to identify with other Christians every Sunday you go to church—that’d be a bummer!
Is a same-sex romantic relationship a sin?
Well, is there sex or sexual activity involved? Is it a dating relationship that is committed to chastity (including celibacy) before marriage like some heterosexual couples? What type of romantic relationship is it?
Let me just put these two general, overarching, umbrella statements out there:
- Willingly engaging in sexual activity (defined as intercourse, anal sex, oral sex, mutual masturbation, and whatever else you consider to be sexually stimulating activity) with another person who is not your committed, monogamous, covenanted spouse, regardless of the sex of that person, is outside of the bounds of God’s desire for sexual intimacy and the inherent union therein and, is thus sinful according to any Judeo-Christian tradition. What is debated is the nature of marriage…but we’ll address that below.
- Whenever you and I idolize anything or anyone above the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, we are sinning—I’m pretty sure that’s one of the big 10. Therefore, if you or I have a non-sexual, romantic relationship with a person of the same sex (or the opposite sex), and elevate that person to a place in our hearts that only God should occupy, it is sinful. Ouch! We can all be pretty much out of luck. Idolatry is no respecter of orientation.
All of that said, it is possible to have a romantic relationship with a person of the same sex and it would not be sinful. It is also possible that it would be sinful. (Check it: the same is true for opposite-sex relationships!)
Is being sexually oriented to persons of the same sex a sin?
This one is easy: No! It is not a sin to have same-sex attractions. Please hear that. As a matter of fact, let me scream it from a rooftop:
It is NOT a sin to have same-sex attractions!
Just as it is not a sin to be sexually oriented to the opposite sex, it is not sinful to be oriented to the same sex. Attractions are not chosen. They are not an act of the will, they are in fact the product of biological predispositions, environmental influences, social learning, childhood experiences, adult experiences, etc.; therefore, they are not sinful in-and-of themselves. What we do with those attractions is another story! (See general statements 1 & 2 above.)
End of story.
Is being married to a person of the same-sex a sin?
Depends on who you ask. Some folks, very smart folks, would argue that it is indeed sinful for two people of the same sex to be married (see this book). Other, just-as-smart, folks would argue that it is not (see this book).
This is one of those sticky wickets in which parties from both sides of the debate feel that they are absolutely right in their conclusions and tend to end up frustrated, irritated, and feeling slighted should you push their buttons too hard or merely disagree with them. None of which is very helpful for creating a constructive dialogue.
This is the point where I like to put my fingers in my ears, scrunch up my face, close my eyes, and run around in circles repeating over and over again, “La, la, la, la, la… Can’t we all just get along? La, la, la, la, la, la…”
But that’s not helpful either!
What is helpful is for all of us to realize that there are indeed differing opinions to this question that most likely will not get answered this side of eternity. And we have to be ok with that. Otherwise, we will continue to make enemies out of the very people we are to love: one another.
Is all same-sex sexual behavior a sin?
Well, if you have read this far in this post you might have an idea as to how I might approach this question. But first let me remind us all of the overarching statements (1 & 2) I made above.
If this question is referring to all same-sex sexual behavior within the confines of a covenanted same-sex marriage, then see the answer to the question immediately above this one on same-sex marriage.
If this question is referring to anything else… well, then that depends too. What kind of sexual behaviors are we talking about here?
For some heterosexual couples the act of French kissing before marriage is sinful because it “ALWAYS” leads to impure, lustful thoughts and/or more sexual behavior. So if we apply that standard…
For other heterosexual couples doing everything but having penile-vaginal intercourse is free game. (If you read back over general statement #1 above you’ll see I have a different view than this.)
Where do you draw the line? I think you can see that this is not a one-size-fits-all kind of answer.
But here’s the crux of it all: At what point are your actions not honoring to God or not valuing the image of God in your partner? That’s really what we all need to ponder in regards to sexual behaviors.
Let’s move on to the last two variations of our question…
Is male prostitution a sin?
Sorry about this one, I was getting carried away with the snarkiness. Just refer back to the umbrella statements 1 & 2 above and you can answer this one for yourself! 😉
Is anything having to do with anyone who has sexual attractions to same-gendered individuals a sin?
Yeah…not so much.
All snarky comments aside, by now I hope you are getting the idea. When the question, “Is homosexuality a sin?” is asked, there needs to be more clarity as to what the true intentions of the question are before one can give a thoughtful answer.
In my humble opinion, we just need to get rid of the question all together! I’m all for being specific and descriptive. If you want to know my thoughts on same-sex sexual relationships, then ask me that. If you want to know about my views on gay marriage ask me about that. If you want to know if I think having same-sex attractions is sinful, then straight-up ask me.
So let’s all stop asking if homosexuality is a sin, it’s too nebulous and unclear. And, worse yet, it harkens back to the days of hearing preachers yell at the top of their lungs that homosexuality is an abomination, which lead way too many of us to believe that if we had homosexual orientations, then we must be abominations.
My dear one, you are NOT an abomination. And don’t let anyone—anyone, in ignorance, who spouts that homosexuality is a sin—tell you otherwise!
We all have the ability to be descriptive and clearer in our communication. I want to encourage all of us to start working toward the end of this horrible question. We might be surprised at how much less tension is raised when we succeed at being clear.
Keep on keeping on…
In Christ’s love and mine…
A note about comments: I truly want to hear your heart-felt and intellectual critiques (both positive and constructive). However, if your response is mean-spirited, or is not productive to the discussion, or is based on what you heard someone else say but you haven’t actually researched it yourself, then please, pray really hard about whether or not you should even type it. And if you choose to type it, I will say thank you for exercising your free speech, and I will in return exercise my right to not allow it on my blog. I really want to keep this a safe place for everyone to share thoughts, emotions, experiences, and convictions. Thank you for helping to create generous spaciousness.