Sunday, July 6, 2008

religion, sexuality, and guilt (part three)

a couple of months ago i was blessed with the opportunity to talk about my faith with a good buddy of mine who walked away from his faith for a number of reasons, one of which i believe was his sexuality. i am always grateful for the chance to talk with friends about my personal (!) relationship with God. i don't get many opportunities to talk about my faith with my gay friends mainly because of how much mainstream christianity has turned them away from God, so this conversation was definitely a God-thing. my friend asked me how i could reconcile the guilt aspect of christianity with my sexuality, and it took two rather long emails to give him a bare-bones explanation of where i stand. i divided the first email into three parts: guilt, sin, and same-sex attraction. here is part three, a continuation of parts one and two.


there are a handful of verses in the bible that refer directly or indirectly to same-sex sexual behavior; there is a lot written on them, and i will attempt my own take on some of those later, but i think that what matters most is understanding why God would consider same-sex sexual behavior a sin.

first, a distinction has to be made between sexual attraction and sexual behavior. while this may seem nit-picky, it is crucial to our understanding of sexuality and God's truth. sexual attraction is a mental product of our culture. at its most basic level, the people we find attractive are directly related to the environment and culture we grew up in. desirable physical characteristics are not equal across the world: in some asian countries white skin is desired, in the united states a tan is a symbol of leisure and beauty, in some african countries a round body is attractive, as was in the european renaissance. a european descendant who grew up in new mexico might be exclusively attracted to hispanics, while a hispanic who grew up in the midwest might be attracted exclusively to anglo-saxons. attraction is relative, and deeply personal.

sexual attraction is not, however, temptation, nor is it lust. the songs of solomon describe beauty in what today is considered near-pornographic terms, but acknowledging sexual attraction is not sinning. looking at a person of the same or opposite sex and acknowledging that they are beautiful is not a sin. looking at the naked body should not be sin, though our culture can pervert this (a clear example of this can be seen between american, european, and asian norms regarding nudity). doing a double-take at a girl in a tank top or at a shirtless guy is not the same as turning that person into a mental object for gratification. sexual attraction can lead to temptation, but temptation is not sinning either - james 1:13-15 is clear on this. besides, jesus himself was tempted, and he did not sin. temptation can lead to sin, and sin can take the form of lust, but sin is a choice - a desire to act in a way that one perceives as best (or easiest) while compromising God's truth. regardless of the biological, genetic, or environmental origins of same-sex attraction, one cannot claim that same-sex attraction is a sin. it may be outside of the general norm, but i do not believe that there is a biblical foundation for claiming that any type of sexual attraction is a sin.

what we are interested in is same-sex sexual behavior. same-sex sexual behavior in the old testament was found primarily in the temples of pagan gods, in which people would get together and have sex with each other to get better harvests and the like. around the time that the new testament was written, a new concept of same-sex sexual behavior had emerged: older men having intercourse with boys. in this practice, it was considered wrong for the young boy to experience pleasure - it was all about the older male enjoying himself. when the young boys started growing facial hair, they were often replaced. even the people of the time were opposed to this unjust, damaging, and abusive practice. yet when the new testament was written, these two were the obvious realms in which same-sex sexual behavior was practiced. it is no wonder that the bible speaks against it, but that does not mean that opposition to those very specific cultural norms applies to sexual behavior today.

in order for same-sex sexual behavior to be considered a sin, it has to involve a purposeful rebellion of God's worldview. if two men in a committed relationship love each other as the bible commands us to love each other (1 corinthians 13; 1 john 4:7-21), if they focus their lives around God and following God's will (colossians 3:1-11, 2 timothy 3:16-17), if they show by their actions that they are men of God (galatians 5:22-23) and if their relationship shows the characteristics of God-centered living (romans 12:1-2), if they are sources of peace in the lives of those around them (colossians 3:12-17) and are able to lead others to the truth (matthew 28:18-20), can we say that they are living a sinful lifestyle? are they on par with heterosexual couples who are living God-less, self-centered lives?

the mainstream christian perspective on same-sex sexual behavior is this: it is not wrong to be attracted to a person of the same sex, it is wrong to act on that attraction. this doesn't make sense to me, mainly because i cannot see how God would be okay with me wanting to find companionship with a man while never being sexually fulfilled. this seems to be more in line with the sexual repression that is commonly preached in christian churches, the apex of which are abstinence and/or celibacy.

a lot of people think that being gay and christian is like wanting to have the cake and eat it too, but i think that the mainstream christian view is a clearer example of wanting to have it both ways: it allows christians to validate same-sex attraction without having to think about its origin, but it also allows them to keep condemning behaviors that they are not comfortable with, that they do not want to accept, or that they simply do not understand. i think that it should be all-or-nothing, and we cannot consider exclusive same-sex attraction to be alright and the physical, sexual, God-centered expression of said attraction to be a sin.


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