I dedicate this post to the legion of people who have ever compared me to a pedophile, an alcoholic, or an adulterer. I know I’ve told you these comparisons aren’t worth discussing. I know you thought I was just being emotional. I know these seem like helpful comparisons. Well, you’ve finally convinced me to talk about it. This one’s for you.

These analogies come from the search to explain why same-sex relationships are a sin. I had a real exchange with a Baptist pastor that went like this:

Him: “How is homosexuality different than any other sin?”

Me: “How is it the same?”

And this is at the core of the matter. Does same-sex love pass the sin test? Does homosexuality belong on the sin list? Or should we take it off? That’s the point of analogies. To show how it belongs on the list. Every single one of the sins listed below is something to which my sexuality has been compared.

Bestiality

First, there’s the super obvious that having sex with an animals is nothing like a real connection with a human being.

Beyond that, I’ve spoken to people who have sex with animals. It’s one of the more unique aspects of doing intakes in juvenile corrections. You probably won’t be surprised to discover that the process is nothing like falling in love. It’s a sexual perversion, a type of addiction actually, that generally begins with pornography addiction at a young age that transitions to animal porn and then to acting out.

True sex addiction can escalate as people search for more and more deviant behaviors, the forbidden nature of which can bring them new excitement so they can get their chemical fix. That’s what bestiality is.

Pedophilia

This is a criminal act of assault on a child. Pedophilia involves sex not only with a minor (that’s statutory rape), but with a prepubescent child. I’ve interviewed many teens who have histories of assaulting children and treated many teens who were sexually assaulted as children.

Pedophilia causes serious emotional consequences for the victim if not properly supported and treated. It confuses them about what love is because they are being exploited in their first sexual experience. For the perpetrator, it’s by nature an avoidance of intimacy and not an embrace of relationships, because adults can’t have a intimate partnerships with children.

It’s amazing to me that I even have to explain these things, but such is the nature of homophobia. I have no problem using the word homophobia to describe people who can’t tell the difference between pedophilia and same-sex relationships.

Queer relationships are partnerships. We coined the application of the word “partner” for intimate relationships when we were legally barred from marriage. It works because it expresses the nature of our relationships. They are not exploitation; they are partnerships.

There is also a long history of non-affirming Christians accusing LGBT people of being pedophiles. Google “Anita Bryant” if you don’t believe me. Fortunately, because of the hard work and sacrifice of gay activists, this slur is dying out, but it’s certainly still around.

Incest

Incest violates an already established kinship relationships between two people, generally that of siblings or that of parent and child. You can’t stop being someone’s brother or someone’s mother. Violating this primary and foundation relationships in order to establish a romantic relationships is an attack on the entire family. I’ve also counseled families in this situation, and it’s a mess.

Of course, normalizing such relationships in society would also lead to genetic problems. Yet even if in an individual case that were not an issue, there is a sacredness to our family relationships, to be someone’s brother, sister, mother, or father is a rare and important place in someone’s life. It’s incompatible with sexual or romantic relationships, because it involves a special level of closeness but also the ability to separate and form new families.

Of course same-sex relationships do not threaten any previously established relationship. Also, normalizing same-sex relationships causes no threat to society in terms of child birth. The accusation that the inability to have children is a threat to the human population is unjustified.

Only about 5% of the population is LGB. Even if 5% of people married someone of the same gender, half the couples would be able to have children with artificial insemination. That would leave 2.5% of the population, male couples, who often adopt children who need a home.

So there is no risk to society there either, if anything it’s an advantage for children who need adoption. Besides, what do you want gay men to do? Marry your daughter?

Divorce

Divorce is the result of a broken relationship and a failure of fidelity that was once promised. It’s falling out of love, the painful failure of love, and a tragedy whether it happens to other-sex couples or same-sex couples couples. Divorce is the opposite, not the analogy, of two people of the same-gender falling in love.

There is one way in which there are similarities between the two, though. Both have historically been viewed an forbidden by the church on biblical grounds. So why has the view on divorce changed?

Jesus himself explicitly forbade divorce on any grounds but infidelity when he was asked explicitly about the subject. It’s quite remarkable that the church found a way to accept divorce as a regrettable but sometimes unavoidable aspect of life, but there is no room for reconsidering same-sex relationships. I’m guessing that things would be different if same-sex relationships directly effected the same number of people that divorce directly effects.

Alcoholism and Other Drug Addiction

Addiction is a compulsive substance use in order to attain a high. It involves increasing use of a substance, tolerance, withdrawal, and normally leads to an obsession with obtaining and using the drug.

This obsession causes the addict to lie, cheat, steal, and generally mistreat the people in his or her life. Addictions are often a way to escape from the reality of life. Queer relationships are not marked by such behavior any more than straight relationships are.

Yes, people can also become addicted to sex. Yes, sometimes the people who become addicted to sex are queer though usually they’re straight. No, that doesn’t mean the ex-gay person giving you the testimony at the non-affirming church about his gay sex addiction is representative of all gay people.

Non-affirming churches too often find gay sex addicts who have found God and say they left the “gay lifestyle.” Really they just left their sex addiction.

Same-sex couples get married, have children, raise families, and even if they don’t choose to do those things, reducing same-sex love to addiction is untrue and prejudicial. When non-affirming churches refuse to acknowledge this reality, and only share stories of broken and addicted LGBT people, they encourage bigotry.

Porn Addiction

Sometimes people think it’s kind to disclose to me their pornography addiction as a way to show they don’t think they’re better than me. As if to say, “See, we all struggle. I have a porn addiction I have to give to God, and you have your homosexuality. If I can do it you can do it!”

I know from their perspective they are showing solidarity, that they don’t demonize homosexuality, and that that homosexuality is not the worst of sins. But someone’s obsession with getting off to images of women they will never meet has no commonality to me falling in love with a woman I know in real life.

When someone tells me about how they compulsively objectify women for sexual gratification, it feels dirty. I don’t want to know. It has nothing to do with love and commitment to an actual human standing before you.

Selfishness

“Gay love is selfish. When you fall in love with someone of your same gender, instead of a different gender like God intended, you’re falling in love with yourself.”

Yep. I’ve heard this one too. Multiple times. This is a favorite of preachers.

They say that in opposite-sex relationships people are falling in love with someone who is a different gender, therefore they are loving the other. But in same-sex relationships they are the same gender, therefore they are loving themselves.

But no matter what the gender configuration, when you love another human being, you love another human being. I’m not sure why I need to say this, because it seems obvious, but people of the same gender are still completely different human beings. There’s not some weird para-scientific Freudian thing going on here. Same-sex couples, just like opposite couples, fall in love with each other both for similarities and for differences, and when they do fall in love and have sex, it’s not a solo activity.

Having a friend of the same gender is not having a friendship with yourself. Going into business with someone of your gender is not a sole prorietorship.

If the differences between two people matter in these less intimate relationships, they will only be more magnified in an intimate relationships. Relationships are hard because they expose selfishness and demand selflessness, that doesn’t change for same-gender couples. So can we stop using this crazy analogy? Please?

Broken Straight Sexuality

“We need to address homosexuality in the context of our own broken sexuality as straight people.”

I hate to admit this, but I used to think this one was humble and compassionate, and in some contexts it is a move in that direction. It’s a way of saying that I’m no better than you just because you’re queer and I’m straight.

There is a world of difference between people who make the bestiality comparison and people who talk about their own broken sexuality. I know the heart that this comparison often comes from, and it’s a desire to not be bigoted and hateful, but compassionate and caring. I can appreciate that heart even as I critique the comparison itself.

Broken straight sexuality, no matter what form it comes in, is still demonstrably harmful. Broken straight sexuality is not love, but a failure of love. By its very nature, it’s those things that draw straight people away from their partners, not towards them. It’s exploitation, selfishness, and degrading of relationships. Same-sex love is not degrading of relationships, it is the establishment of a relationship.

Sin

There is a reason none of the analogies work. They are comparing something that is sin to something that is not sin. They compare something selfish, harmful, and addictive to something good, holy, and loving.

I challenge Christians to be more cautious in using these analogies, and more cautious in making any reference to same-sex love as sin. Calling sinful something that is holy is destructive and sinful itself.

Are you really so certain that you are willing to risk causing harm by telling someone their love is sin? What if you’re wrong? What will your words cost others? What relationships do you stand to damage? What love could you be denying or discouraging?

Yes, I know there are bible verses used to say same-sex love is sin, and I’ve addressed those too and will continue to do so, but when you think about the main point of scripture, the real heart of what is holy and what is sin, love between people of the same gender doesn’t qualify as sin. Jesus told us sin is failure to love, because the entire law is based on love (Mt 22:36-40; Mk 12:28-31). Loving someone of the same gender is not failure to love, but love itself.

The way I have interpreted scripture, particularly the six verses used against same-sex relationships, fits perfectly with Jesus’ understanding of the law. The way non-affirming Christians interpret these laws does not. The reasoning doesn’t fit, the analogies are ill conceived, and the results are prejudicial. Maybe there is a reason for that? Maybe there is a reason none of the analogies fit?

The truth is that love between people of the same gender, even sexual love, even romantic love, even passionate partnership, does not meet the criteria of sin. It’s nothing like sin. It’s everything like love, because it is love. And love is the core nature of God, the foundation of the law, and the most wonderful thing in the world.

It’s unfortunate that legitimate and complicated disagreements sometimes are boiled down into defensive catch-phrases. In many religious discussions, one of the most common catch phrases is “love the sinner, hate the sin.” It’s also one of the most polarizing.

When people use this phrase, I believe they see it as an affirmation that they do love. I think I’ve used the phrase myself in the distant past, and I’m pretty sure that’s how I meant it. But as surely as it sounds like an affirmation when the words leave your lips, it doesn’t sound at all that way when those same words hit someone else’s ears. At least it doesn’t to me and many people I’ve talked to about it.

Here are five reasons why I think the phrase needs to go away.

It’s Irrelevant to LGBT Christians

Those of us who value our faith and who are also queer normally make one of two decisions. Lifelong celibacy (or in the case of bisexual people not pursuing relationships of the same gender) or affirming same-sex relationships. The same is true of people whose internal sense of gender is different than their biological sex. They either don’t transition their gender because they believe it’s wrong, or they do because they believe it’s right.

So the phrase “love the sinner hate the sin” is not relevant to LGBT Christians at all. It’s coming from a naive straight standpoint. It fails to consider the real lives and the real decisions LGBT people are making.

It’s About Criticizing, Not Listening

There is implicit criticism in this phrase. It’s found in the words “sinner” and “sin.” The sin addressed isn’t a universal failure, but something specific. These days that particularly sin is usually one that applies to sexual and gender minorities.

Criticism in-and-of itself isn’t bad. But when you challenge someone’s life choices, dialogue works better than indictment. Too often this phrase is used to justify one’s right to criticize someone else while remaining aloof from critique themselves. After all, if I love you what is there to criticize?

But when you are calling out someone’s behavior, you would do well to consider that they have the right to defend their behavior. They also have the right to call you out in return.

You are casting judgment, and casting judgment is not morally neutral behavior.

If you are calling something sin and it turns out to be a holy expression of love, you are the problem. In opening judgment on someone, it’s only right that you leave that opening for them to evaluate in return.

Using this phrase often signals unwillingness to dialogue. If you are not open to dialogue, this is not a conversation.

It’s Often Love in Words Only

In my experience, the “love the sinner” part of this phrase is not an announcement that acts of loving kindness are coming my way. It isn’t a statement of commitment to understand and address the challenges the LGBT community faces on a daily basis.

Even if telling a sinner they are sinning is considered an act of love, you’re missing the mark if that’s all the love you’re showing. I’m guessing the primary way you feel loved is not when someone tells you you’re a sinner.

When we love someone well, verbalizing our love should be confirmation of something that’s already clear. LGBT people get criticized by traditional Christians for having wishy-washy ideas about love, for using love to justify behavior. That criticism can also be turned around.

Back up your profession of love. LGBT people are often willing to back their love up with a life of commitment and monogamy, with the formation of family, support, and caring. That sounds like real love to me. So if you are traditionalist, what are you willing to back your love up with? It must be more than words.

It Implies That Theology is Unrelated to Love

On the face of it, the phrase is true despite its clear problems. But lurking beneath the surface is a logical problem. It implies that your theology and your love are separate subjects.

There are people who love me despite believing that I’m wrong. But from my perspective as an affirming Christian, their love is despite their theology, not because of it. Good theology is loving in-and-of itself, regardless of how it is delivered. Delivering wrong theology in a loving way doesn’t make the theology loving, it just wrapping paper.

Try this on for size: “I love you, I just don’t approve of you marrying a black man, and I feel sorry for your kids.” At this moment in time, most of us can agree that such convictions are inherently un-loving. I’m disgusted I even typed such a sentence. But for a queer person like myself who has full affirmation from God that the way I love is good and holy, you could substitute “a woman” in that sentence. It sounds just as hateful to me.

Thoughts have power. Ideas have meaning. Some thoughts and some ideas corrode love. Can you demonstrate why calling me a sinner because of my sexuality is love? That would be a convincing argument, and if non-affirming Christians are right it should be true.

It’s Against Jesus’ Teaching

As Tony Campolo pointed out, Jesus’ teaching is more like “love the sinner, hate your own sin.”

Matthew records these words of Jesus in Matthew 7:3-5 (ESV):

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

It would be refreshing if the church thought about it’s own sins towards LGBT people instead of obsessing with what it believes are our sins.

Here’s what I suggest instead of using this phrase: Engage in meaningful dialogue. Don’t settle for quips and sound bites. If you believe someone you love is making a horrible mistake, I understand that saying so could be one part of love, but it should be one part of many. You will have a more receptive audience if you avoid this phrase. Provide tangible care and seek understanding first, and share your concerns once you’ve earned the right.

As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “The problem with sticking your head in the sand is that you leave yourself… exposed.” When it comes to LGBT people, too many churches are fully exposed.

Church members have serious questions. They know that the church is dropping the ball by not talking about something important and relevant to their lives. In the absence of any kind of message from the church, members are left guessing, and LGBT members especially feel isolated and ignored.

I’m here to help you figure out how to courageously and intelligently wade these choppy waters. If you missed the first article, I’ve already shared three principles and you can find them here.

Be Honest

Sometimes when we preach it’s easy to focus on how we want things to be. At times that even means a bit of sanctified imagination about how things are. I empathize particularly with the challenges of being an affirming pastors in a non-affirming environment. I’ve been there.

If you are straight and in this situation, you might be trying to make your church affirming in an under-the-radar kind of way. But if your church or denomination is non-affirming, there will be real, hard limits to that affirmation. It’s important to faithfully describe these limits, no matter how badly you wish they didn’t exist.

What does your church teach about same-sex intimacy and people with gender identities different from their biological sex? Is your church affirming and accepting? Is it trying to be? Or is it non-affirming?

Don’t over promise. If your church requires LGBT to embrace non-affirming theology in order to experience full participation, don’t try to hide that reality. Please don’t use a bait-and-switch tactic in which you are initially accepting but inform them of the real limits only after they get attached to your community. Be honest about your church’s position. Don’t say they are accepted when they can’t be members, help in the children’s department, teach, or pursue ministry.

Here’s an example of what you might say if you pastor an non-affirming church: “If you are here and you are LGBT or questioning your sexuality, I can’t you what you should do. You are the one who is going to have to make that decision, because you are the one who has to live with your decision. This church teaches that God’s design is that marriage is between a man and a woman, sex outside of heterosexual marriage is wrong, and that God gave you your gender through biological identity at birth. It’s the official doctrine of the church. We believe that it’s the sexual ethics taught in the Bible. Not everyone here believes that, but most do. We are here to support you in pursuing that goal, and we believe it is the best, most satisfying, and most holistic way to live. If you believe differently, this might not be the church for you.” This is honest, and it’s only fair to say it.

On the flip side, I am an affirming queer person and trans ally. Any church I pastor would not be a supportive environment for someone pursuing celibacy. It’s important that we not try and hide our cards because we want to attract more people. That’s dishonest and wreaks of manipulation and salesmanship.

Consider Vulnerability & Give Hope

One of the biggest dangers for queer people in traditional churches is isolation. They often feel alone, damaged, and rejected because of the messages they’re received and the silence imposed by the church. As a result, they suffer mental health problems and attempt suicide far more frequently than others in your churches.

Is your sermon going to make this problem better or worse? Is it going to make LGBT people feel more isolated or less? Will they walk away feeling hope and solidarity, or feeling even more alone and scared?

The best way to give hope is by sharing positive stories about queer people. Too often the only narrative heard in churches about LGBT people is how hard it is to be in the church, or what horrible lives they live when they leave the church and embrace their sexuality. This is an impossible choice.

Offer an alternative, and make sure it’s credible. Even if your theology is non-affirming, there are people who choose celibacy and have healthy lives. If you don’t know how to offer hope credibly, you aren’t ready to preach this sermon.

Do Your Homework

If you were to preach a sermon on grace, forgiveness, marriage, the incarnation, the gospel, or any other host of topics you would not only be drawing from your studies that week, but also from years of study both formally and informally. You would have a larger sense of context to put the message into and a basic understanding of the social issues, interpersonal issues, and theological teaching.

But most pastors pastors have never had a class on human sexuality and their understanding of the lives of LGBT people is limited. Perhaps you haven’t read a whole lot on the theological considerations either, or you’ve only read one side. That makes it especially important that you do your homework on this topic, because you probably don’t have the same background of knowledge you have on most topics.

Read some books, get familiar with the language, understand the experience of LGBT people, talk to LGBT people and have them review your sermon. Unless you already have the background, this topic will probably not be one you can prepare for in one week.

Just add some LGBT themed books to your reading, have lunch with someone who can give you some insight, and take your time processing the information before you get down to the actual sermon writing. It will make the preparation much more comfortable and the sermon much more powerful.

Then, when you get ready to write, use the categories of this blog and it predecessor as a checklist to help you prepare. You will end up with a sermon that is well thought out, helpful, and that will be good for your church and for you. You will shed light on a difficult situation. You will give people hope and bring their lives out of the shadows.

I know first hand how isolating it can be to be a queer person in a traditional church. Sometimes it seemed like I was the only one. The church didn’t know what to do with me, that much I knew. My existence in the church was unacknowledged, and for my part I tried to make my sexuality invisible.

Had a pastor had the courage to address me in a sermon in a way that was open and gracious, it would have helped. Instead, the few references to sexual minorities that made their way into sermons did more harm than good.

Now that I’ve accepted myself and educated myself, I realize that things don’t have to be this way. If you’re thinking about preaching on LGBT topics, I’m here to help. Here are three simple things you can do to make a difference.

Acknowledge LGBT People and Speak to Us

While your sermon might be mostly forgotten by the straight people in your church, the queer people will probably remember it forever. I remember all kinds of little things pastors said in sermons and things I read over the years that I’m sure straight people never thought twice about. So please speak to us. We are listening more closely than anyone.

Most sermons I’ve heard about LGBT issues never once addressed queer people in the congregation. We are spoken about as the other, people separate from the group being addressed, as if we weren’t even there.

These sermons were all about what the church teaches or how we should be more compassionate towards LGBT people. But if you ignore queer people in the audience, you have failed to model compassion, and your words are hollow. Don’t tell people to love us while you yourself ignore us.

Here’s a helpful question to ask: What message do LGBT people need to hear? Get that clear. Then I’d suggest you spend some time thinking about what messages you are sending unintentionally. Ask yourself, “if I were queer, how would this come across to me?”

For example, if you spend your sermon talking about how we need to show more grace to LGBT people, you are sending us the message that they will not receive grace in the church. It might not be bad to send that message because it might be true. However, you have a pastoral duty to address the pain of this reality.

Give Voice to LGBT People

What would you think of a sermon about marriage from a single person who never so much as quotes a married person? The sermon would have no credibility. Or how might you feel if the only perspective they shared from a married person was from a miserable married person? Such a sermon would only bring discouragement.

I listened to a sermon promoting greater compassion for LGBT people. In this sermon, the only LGBT voice that was given was the reading of a suicide note from someone who was bullied for years and finally killed himself. The intention was good. He wanted to build compassion, but he didn’t consider the impact on queer youth. He never did talk about the amazing life that gay teen might have had, nor did he talk about the reality that life usually gets better for queer people as they get older.

There are a lot of sources of healthy queer perspectives. Try blogs on this site, try the Gay Christian Network and Justin Lee’s blog, you can always google search, or best of all get to know a LGBT person who has reflected on these issues and is able to help you. You can also contact me through this website if you’d like. There are a lot of resources available if you start looking.

Address Real Problems in Practical Ways

Preaching a sermon on this topic is a golden opportunity. There are clear problems you can address and myths you can clear up. You will help heal families and protect people who are LGBT. Some of these suggestions might seem unnecessary to you, but they are reflective of common experiences for LGBT people.

Here are some guidelines you can share:

  • Don’t use the term “gay” as an insult.

  • Don’t use derogatory terms. “Homosexual” is usually a derogatory term, and you probably know worse terms.

  • When you tell an LGBT person you care about them, don’t add a “but I disagree…” Just love them. If

  • Sexual orientation does not change as a general rule. How you feel is almost certainly how you will always feel.

  • If your child comes out to you:

    • Do not tell them to leave your home or make them feel that you don’t want them there. Homelessness is a huge problem for LGBT youth, especially transgender youth.

    • Be aware that suicide is a very real possibility. If you are highly rejecting of your child, they are 8.4 times more likely to commit suicide.

    • Tell your child you love them, and never stop supporting them as an individual, even if you disagree with their life choices. Don’t remove financial support or try to pressure them to make the choices you believe are right.

  • Listen to the LGBT people in your lives. Honor them and their stories.

By reading this blog, you have already taken one step towards shedding light on a difficult subject, and I thank you. When I preached on this topic, using these principles, I had church members coming to me in tears, sharing difficult situations they’d been struggling with for year without telling anyone. The sermon opened up important conversations that needed to happen, and your will do the same. Take courage, you are on the right path, and even if you get some push back, it will be well worth it.

In the next few days, I will be adding another post with three more principles for preaching on LGBT topics.