Many of us feel very vulnerable when we hear ourselves referred to as sinners by those who contend that living out our sexual orientation is a sin, an abomination before God. Once I used to feel very defensive on this count, but things have changed over the years. Nowadays my stance is this: I assure any inquirer that I know myself to be a sinner and I truly do hate the sins I commit.
By sin I simply mean every act of self-indulgence, or, each instance when I am less than the perfect and loving person God created me to be. Faced by God’s holiness I almost gag each time I realise how tardy I have been in forgiving others and even worse, being unwilling to forgive. God and I both know every time I am unwilling to reach out and help those in need, or when I grumble inwardly about rolling out of bed to spend time alone with God before the start of a new day. I am aware when the work I do is merely adequate and not done with joy and pride. I do recall the times when I have resented traffic congestion, or have wished certain folk did not need to share with me every negative thought in their lives. I have learned to look more clearly at my own life because the indwelling Holy Spirit convicts me each time I choose not to love God, my neighbours or myself adequately and freely.
Augustine, when formulating his theology on war and whether Christians could kill enemy troops, came up with a clumsy doctrine of hating the enemy’s deeds while loving the essential spirit within individual enemies. There is, however, no scriptural basis for the viewpoint of “I love the sinner but I hate the sin.” It is a cliché used by members of some groups to justify their condemnation of lifestyles of those who are different from them. In particular it has been used in a self-righteous manner by heterosexuals to label and hurt non-heterosexuals, probably because they not only feel affronted but also threatened by non-heterosexual behaviour and related expression of identity. The very command of Jesus forbids all of us from judging other people and their actions. God knows we should all be too busy doing the work with which we have been entrusted to spare time judging and condemning others. Just as soon as we are prepared to leave the actions and words of others to God’s jurisdiction we are able productively to use time that otherwise would be uselessly occupied by worry and concern. After all, who are we to presume we are able to judge what God considers sin in the life of another? Those who choose to judge others, according to Jesus, will themselves be judged, for they have usurped the role of our holy and just God.
In creation, God provided diversity. Diversity in the minerals, plants and animals and even in humanity was part of God’s all-encompassing plan. No two people are alike; the differences in our fingerprint patterns are evidence of this. Just as society has finally accepted left-handedness as a norm and ceased trying to make these people conform to the majority right-handedness, so we who created members of specific minorities as part of God’s plan expect to be accepted into the wider community, that of the majority.
God gave to each of the world’s minorities special gifts, such gifts as we may bring into the life of the full community. We, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender minorities, bring amazing gifts. Because of the oppression we have known over generations, we bring unique experiences of God that have been forged in the fires of pain and rejection. Because we have lost the support of spiritual communities, we have developed a deeper relationship with God. We, who have by rejection been separated from family, places of worship and sometimes our chosen employment, are able to offer our gift of building new families, new communities. And it is in doing just this that we are able to share our capacity to love with many who would otherwise be outside our circles.
When I seek, from Scripture, to discover how Jesus reacted and continues to react to those who have sinned, I am drawn irresistibly to the story of the prodigal. A young man, not content to wait until the death of his father, demanded his inheritance forthwith. This attitude smacks of defiance, and rejection of the Jewish law to honour one’s parents. Yet he was given, in cash, his share of his father’s assets and departs. In due course, having squandered every last coin, he returned, broken and dispirited to his father, though he no longer had any claim on any part of this property. Yet, while he was still but a figure silhouetted against the skyline his father recognised him, and came running with open arms to embrace the wayward young man. His father had been waiting, believing that the young man would return, and instead of remaining in the doorway as the patriarchal family figure should have done, he ran to welcome the returning traveler. He did not wait to see his son’s face, nor demand visible signs of repentance; his love was so great that he accepted his son just as he was.
In this story I find the example of God who waits patiently for each of us who has squandered our lives and inheritance to return. Once we have turned and retraced our steps toward our Parent and true home, God welcomes us back, just as we are. God does not need to convict us of our sins, for as we draw close to God our own wayward thoughts, words and actions are exposed and we convict ourselves of the sins we have committed. As we bring this assorted and motley lot before God asking for forgiveness, we commence the process of forgiving ourselves and all those whose words or actions have damaged our lives. This does include those who would raise barriers between us and the loving God who has made us as we are, barriers that have no foundation in Scripture but, nevertheless have caused many of our community to feel rejected by God. It is to God,s voice we should be attending, not the voices of our detractors or any whose personal opinion tends to disguise the all-encompassing acceptance Christ has for each of us. Let us not allow ourselves to be cheated of the inheritance Christ has prepared for us in the realms of God, either here on this planet or in the future to come.
Jesus himself when challenged by the Pharisees replied, “I did not come to invite the ‘righteous’ but the ‘sinners.'” Those who use the cliché about loving the sinner but hating the sin place themselves among those who have not understood these words of Christ. They move themselves from the position of being sinners to stand among the ranks of the “righteous,” those who are not called or invited by Christ to be chosen companions of God. How awful it would be to be among those excluded from the companionship of Christ. Each time we are aware of being defined by “otherness” by our detractors, we should rejoice, for they themselves are placing us within the circle of Christ’s close friends. They truly must love us, even though their emphasis would suggest differently. Let us not be dismayed by such people. Instead let us pray for those who dare believe they have the right to judge others, so that they may see on the face of God such compassion, forgiveness and love that they are aware that all are invited as members of the family of God.
I believe that God created each one of us perfect in God’s sight whether we are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or even heterosexual. It would be absolutely contrary to the nature of God if, having bestowed the gifts of our sexuality on us, God then demanded that we do not express these gifts in our lives. While ever our loving is genuine, selfless, enriching and honouring of the person we love, I believe God blesses relationships based on such love. While each of us is a sinner it is not our love, nor the genuine expression of our love, that is a sin. It is only love that is abusive and denigrating of others and of God that can be considered sinful. Loving that demeans and degrades does not reflect Christ’s commandment to love God, and to love others as we do ourselves.
Rev. Vera I. Bourne of Lismore, N.S.W., Australia, served as Outreach Clergy at Christs Community Church.