Same-sex marriage remains a volatile issue.  While society struggles to clarify the implications and legal ramifications of same-sex marriage, some churches debate whether or not homosexuality is a sin and whether or not gays and lesbians have a place in church leadership, or even in membership.  The legal and civil rights of same-sex couples become clouded when homosexuality is also argued to be a moral issue.  These are important concerns, and it’s gratifying to see the dialogue taking place in the newspaper through guest editorials and letters.

In a recent editorial, Coy Roper made an important point.  Same-sex marriage is a legal matter, not a religious one.  Churches may conduct and bless marriages, and congregations may accept or refuse same-sex partners within their membership.  However, the church should have no say on whether or not a same-sex couple can file jointly on their income tax, share health benefits, make end of life decisions for each other, or any of the other legal privileges now shared by heterosexual couples only.  Marriage is a legal status.

The article, however, went on to make two distinctions which seem simplistic and therefore cloud the issues.  First, the distinction is made between “Bible believers” who see homosexuality as a sin and “everyone else” who sees homosexuality as acceptable.  As a “Bible believer” I do not share the author’s views.  There are scriptures that, when read literally and without attention to the culture and worldview of that time, do condemn homosexual acts.  When read literally and selectively, it is easy enough to find scriptures to condemn almost anything you wish to condemn, and to support those things you wish to support.  There are other ways of reading, interpreting, and applying the Bible that do not lead to such exclusionary conclusions.  There are also many who are not “Bible believers” who condemn homosexuality, but for reasons other than the literal use of scripture.

The article also suggests that homosexuality is “either a legitimate choice or an innate compulsion.”  This oversimplifies sexual orientation.  Behavior is a choice, whether heterosexual or homosexual.  Sexual orientation is not.  If we are to see sexual orientation as a choice, then we must also ask questions such as, “How did you decide you wanted to be heterosexual?” or “When did you choose to be attracted to people of the opposite sex?”  The other option provided is “innate compulsion.”  “Innate?”  Yes.  Sexual orientation is part of who the person is.  It is part of their biological and neurological make-up.  “Compulsion?”  No more or less than heterosexuality is a compulsion.

When the church can acknowledge sexual orientation, whether heterosexual or homosexual, as a natural part of a person’s complex identity, we can abandon the condescending sentiment, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”  This communicates pity.  I suspect that individuals who are gay or lesbian need what each of us needs, acceptance and compassion, not pity.  I believe Christian churches should be leading the way in promoting full acceptance of those marginalized in our culture.  That was the example Jesus set.  Instead, while denominations are splitting over whether or not gays and lesbians have a place in the church, many businesses are moving forward with non-discriminatory policies and same-sex partner benefits.  Devoted Christians who are gay or lesbian not only have to deal with cultural stigma, but many have to do it without the support of their church.

Anne Lamott warns, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”  I fear this is true for us when we use the law or the scriptures to exclude those we fear or abhor.

Printed in the Abilene Reporter News, Sunday, March 1, 2008