“Do you think gay people should be allowed to work at a church?”
A number of years ago a flatmate asked me this question, which at its core refers to the eternal Evangelical balancing act that is "hate the sin, love the sinner." It is a question that has been asked and wondered about a million times by Christians who want to be both socially compassionate and doctrinally sound.
At the time, I didn’t have an answer beyond, “I don’t know.” Much like gender roles, the topic of homosexuality was rarely brought up in the church services and camps I attended through my youth, but the unspoken rule was still somehow clear: in God’s eyes, being gay is wrong. And, because it is inherently sinful, it must be a choice to be gay, given that we are all individually and intentionally created by God and God would not make someone sinful.
Personally, I never felt a strong conviction when it came to the idea of homosexuality being sinful. I am a straight person, and I was never conscious of the issue having any direct effect on me. Like many things, I decided to take the church’s word for it. I knew that I knew people who were gay--or at least I suspected, because for the most part they were closeted--but I defaulted to a kind of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ mentality, assuming that if it was wrong, God was somehow working on getting these people to “right”.
As an adult, spending my day-to-day time more outside of religious entities than in them, I began to notice that I was meeting more and more people who were both gay and out. The numbers weren't huge, and I’m sure statistically normal in the grand scheme of things, but to me, an unwittingly sheltered evangelical, it was a significant shift in reality. Actually, what was more significant than my increased exposure to people who happened to be openly gay was the fact that these people seemed, for the most part, to find joy or peace or both in embracing their sexual orientation. There was no shame, either because they were lucky enough to grow up without it or because they were choosing to reject the idea that being gay was shameful.
I was encountering yet another breakdown in the church’s logic. If being gay was wrong--like, fundamentally wrong--why were the people I was meeting who were gay and accepting of themselves seemingly so much happier and healthier when they decided to believe that being gay was actually alright? If these people were choosing to go against God’s will, and if God’s will is good and loving and best, why weren’t they finding misery in their “homosexual lifestyle”? As far as I could see, the only misery my friends and acquaintances who happened to be gay were experiencing related to their sexual orientation was induced and perpetuated by the Christians who were telling them that they were gross and sinful.
Now, I’ve always been more of an ‘arts’ than ‘sciences’ person (I realize that this is something of a false dichotomy, but bear with me), usually focusing and relying on intuition over empirical data or rational thinking. Quite frankly, I think it’s a personality trait that made me more susceptible to religious indoctrination and more likely to become heavily involved in ritualistic behavior like worship services. Anyway, since I had no intuitive conviction about homosexual orientation one way or the other, as I said above I simply went along with what I was being taught. However, real life was showing itself to be in conflict with those teachings. The question soon became, would I believe an ancient, inherited tenet that supposedly came from a God whom I could not actually see or talk to over the flesh and blood humans who were literally standing in front of me, telling me, this is who I am? And, if I decided that the humans before me had the better case (as I eventually did) what did that say about the Christianity I knew? It was slowly being disproven by life.
Much like there are churches in which women are ordained as priests and God is referred to as both “he” and “she”, there are churches that do teach the celebration of all sexual orientations--churches that are pro-same sex marriage and are truly accepting (not just tolerant) of the gay community. This is awesome. But for me, the issue of the definition of “Christianity” remained. If the verses about women being less than men and the verses about homosexuality being an “abomination” are okay to do away with, who gets to decide which verses are worth actually following? Don’t get me wrong: everyone cherry picks their Christianity (and probably Judiasm and Islam, etc. etc., but I can’t speak to those faiths). My question was becoming--and still is--what is the use of the religion, then, at all? If I know I want to focus on, say, a practice of generosity and simple living, why do I need to believe in Jesus to do it? And, if the answer to that question is that only Jesus will get me into heaven, well...that just seems fucking selfish, which doesn’t seem Christ-like at all.