What does Jesus’s love for harlots, tax-collectors, and other outcasts tell us about how He would approach the issue of same-sex love today? Put differently: Since Jesus loved sinners unconditionally, does this mean that Jesus would be (or is)
frustrated at Churches today who oppose same-sex relations?
The reverend John Spong says yes: “the church…cannot claim to be the body of Christ if it fails to welcome all whom Christ would welcome.” And since Christ welcomed harlots and tax gatherers—the sinners of the day—so also the body of Christ should welcome the LGBT community, especially since they have been emotionally (sometimes physically) beat up by the church.
Part of what Spong and others say is correct. I too condemn as unchristian the hate speech and abuse that some so-called “Christians” have hurled at anyone made in God’s image. A good chunk of the Evangelical church has gone about this issue all wrong, and I have a genuine pain for anyone—including several friends—who have been hurt by the church over this issue, and I want to learn how to mediate Christ’s love to all areas of our broken world.
I also cherish, embrace, and promote—sometimes amid much criticism—the radical, counterintuitive grace of Jesus, which I have blogged about here, here, here, and here. And here and here. And here. I’m certainly not some crusty curmudgeon who wants to put grace on a leash to protect our churches from being overrun by gay people, or other sinners like smokers and drinkers and dancers. The more the merrier, I say. I genuinely hope that our churches become filled with gay people. After all, Jesus wasn’t born in a feeding trough in order to attend some plastic church in the burbs. He came to seek and save the lost, heal the sick, and chase down wayward sons.
But what does Jesus do when He finds sick people?
He heals them.
This is the main problem I see with the logic of those who enlist Jesus’s radical grace in service of unconditional support of the LGBT community: Christ-like love does not demand unconditional acceptance of behavior.
We celebrate Jesus’s healing of the sick, finding of the lost, and cherish both Jesus’s acceptance of the woman caught in adultery and His life-given command to “go and sin no more.” That’s because Jesus’s love, though not conditioned upon behavior, does not endorse sin any more than a righteous physician would ignore an infection.
If we take the rhythm and pattern of Jesus’s life seriously and swim with the same ethical current, Christians today should hang out with, build relationships with, listen to, have drinks with, and show compassionate love toward LGBT people who have been beaten down, marginalized, and outcasted by society.
But such unconditional, counterintuitive, scandalous love does not demand an unconditional acceptance or approval of behavior. When Jesus embraced the sinner—the one in need of healing—He didn’t applaud their behavior: He proclaimed “Go and sin no more,” not “go and turn a few more tricks tonight, and I’ll buy you a cup of coffee tomorrow.”
Jesus reached out to and befriended tax-gatherers, but he didn’t endorse extortion.
He hung out with prostitutes, but he didn’t sanction illicit sex.
He admired the faith of Roman soldiers, but he didn’t endorse violence (or the paganism that saturated the Roman military).
I’m not trying to smuggle homosexual love in the back door of Jesus’s prohibitions. I’m only trying to make a larger point that Jesus’s radical love for sinner does not mean that He was indifferent to sin, even though his love was not conditioned upon us fixing our behavior. Indeed, the physician doesn’t expect the patient to come to the hospital with a head start. “Here you go, doc! I went ahead and ripped out my tonsils; you can take it from here…” The Physician joyfully works on patients in a coma with no health care (eat your heart out, Obama!). But…He works. He operates. He heals. He takes old pieces of His beautiful creation and restores and transforms, spinning out masterpieces of new creation.
Could it be that our culture has defined “love” as unqualified and unconditional toleration and affirmation? But Jesus, being true to His first-century Jewish context, never saw love and behavior as incompatible: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 13), not “If you love me, you can live however you think will bring you the most earthly happiness.”
Marriage, sex, and children are gifts given by the Creator, not inherent rights demanded by creatures.
“Yes,” you may say. “Love the sinner and hate the sin!” But I’ve got one better. How about we “love the sinner and hate our own sin.”
When heterosexual Christians seek to love LGBT people, they should hate their own greed, pride, self-righteousness, and the lack of love shown to their heterosexual spouse. Let’s put to death our own deeds of the flesh with humble, relentless passion before we reach out to the “other sinner” in some clinical fashion. Heterosexual Christians are sinners plugged into the life-support of grace. Remember that.
Now, you logicians out there have noticed that this entire post begs the question: “Is homosexual sex a sin?” So far in my study, I’d say yes. But stay tuned for the rest of this (rather long) blog series. We’ve still yet to cover the most important passage in the debate: Romans 1:24-27.