On Christianity, Homosexuality, and Religious Liberty

Personal Preface: It has been quite some time since I last posted on this blog. As a seminary student, I’ve found it incredibly difficult to maintain a consistent blogging schedule due to the sheer amount of reading and writing that a seminary degree requires. Writing with my spare time has simply become difficult. Yet, current political and social issues have led me to attempt to provide a little clarity for some of my friends and family regarding homosexuality so that discussions in this area might be more productive.

Recent events and dialogue in our culture have motivated me to weigh in with a Christian response to the current tenor of the issue of homosexuality in this country. Since the concept of religious freedom has started to become a feature of this discussion, the center is beginning to shift with regard to the nature of the conversation on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I have neither read extensively nor watched many commentaries on how or why this shift is beginning to take place, but the few pieces that I have read or seen appear to be missing a very critical issue to any debate within this realm. That issue is, namely, classical Christian theology.

When certain media outlets respond to the traditional Christian view of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, they often caricature that traditional view as being hateful or bigoted toward people whom the religion views as “sinners.” Then, those outlets who lean toward the conservative side of the political aisle tend to respond with rather simplistic arguments concerning what is “right” or “natural.” Such responses often do little to demonstrate the true Christian position regarding sin and sinners. Specifically, most who write or commentate on this issue almost entirely miss the vital concept of the Christian Gospel, the central tenet of traditional Christianity.

If the people who have weighed in on this issue understood the primary message of Christianity, hate would be one of the last words used to denote a Christian who claims that something is a sin or even that someone is a sinner. In Christianity, the term sinner applies to all people, and the Christian argues that, as such, sin must be taken seriously. Many find the Christian doctrine that all people are sinners to be reprehensible; in fact, even some Christians have started to retreat from this doctrine since it has become so distasteful in our culture. To be sure, if the Christian message did nothing to build upon that teaching, it might be quite despicable indeed.

The fact about traditional Christian teaching, however, is that it does not end with that doctrine. As Easter is currently upon us, the doctrines that focus on the actions of Jesus of Nazareth provide the Christian with the solution to its sin problem. In Christianity, while all people are sinners, the Gospel message that centers on Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection now boldly proclaims a reclamation of the human species such that any person can now be redeemed from a life of sin and punishment into a life of forgiveness and salvation. All that any person must do is to recognize the need for this salvation and to declare that, through the cross and the resurrection, God has made the way and that, in response to what Jesus has done, He is the Messiah and Lord of his or her life.

In classical (or traditional) Christianity, this message of salvation allows for no discrimination with regard to whom can receive it. No matter what a person has done–from the person who tells a “little white lie” to the rapist or even the murderer–and no matter the economic status, ethnicity, culture, or intellect, the cross of Christ respects none of these distinctions. Therefore, the Christian, in proclaiming the Gospel, should be quite liberal in spreading this news. The onus, even, is on Christians to share this message with those who hate them. Though Christians do not universally preach this message universally, such weakness in human persons does nothing to detract from the Christian truth that the Gospel is meant for everyone.

So, with that rather long explanation of an essential Chrisian doctrine, we may have forgotten that this little essay began with the aim of discussing the relationship between Christianity and the current issue of homosexuality. The above explanation (though it could have been shorter) is necessary for recognizing the misunderstanding most people seem to have within the current narrative regarding the issues of Christianity, homosexuality, and religious liberty.

Many Christian sectors in America have started to acquiesce to the cultural norm that homosexuality is not wrong or sinful. Yet, with respect to this dialogue, defining homosexual acts, either as sinful or as not sinful, often misses the point, especially when it comes to the religious liberty issue. It seems clear that, on the basis of Christian theology and its Gospel, that even if the traditional Christian stance that homosexual acts are sinful is incorrect, it is an abject failure on the par of secular society to characterize Christianity as hateful in relation to that doctrine.

Consider this analogy. Say that Christian teaching declared wearing a baseball cap on a Saturday to be a sinful act. Such a declaration, as arbitrary as it seems, could be considered discriminatory in an absolute sense only if the teaching also claimed that such an action eliminated the transgressor from receiving the salvation made possible by the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. As I’ve already described, classical (or traditional) Christian teaching holds that no sinful action that a person commits prevents him or her from receiving the salvation offered by God through Jesus Christ. So, even if Christian teaching about what counts as a sinful action were arbitrary or even incorrect, the indiscriminate Gospel of salvation allows a statement of what is sinful to be a genuine expression of love. It must be clarified, however, that this is true if and only if such a statement is accompanied by the proclamation that the Gospel message is open to all whom Chrisian teaching claims to be sinners.

Anyone who levies a criticism against the traditional Christian stance regarding homosexuality by naming that doctrine as “intolerant” or “bigoted” has simply missed the core value of classical Christian teaching and theology regarding the actions and essence of sin. If the current debates and dialogues within this area understood this essential teaching of Christianity and allowed it to be the foundation for understanding the Christian perspective on this issue, then the discussion could evade the ignorance and fallaciousness of what equate to ad hominem attacks and, perhaps, become fruitful. In fact, Christianity, properly understood, might even rightly be considered as the most tolerant of all worldviews.

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