I was so encouraged to get this message for a pastor friend of mine recently. He recently reached out with such an open heart and mind, that I wanted to share his questions and my responses. He actually asked a couple other questions as well, and I’ll be mentioning one of those later. I know he’s probably not the only one who’s asking, so that’s why I made it a post. His statements were framed in grace and understanding. I edited for brevity.

How big of a role does experience play in your journey, vs hermeneutics and solid biblical data? Now, just to clarify, I have not been keeping up with your blog, so I’m not implying you don’t have hard hermeneutical data (in fact, it seems that you do have at least some), I’m just asking, from your view, is your journey mostly founded on experience or hermeneutics? I also don’t want to bash experience, as we all have those mystical experiences in Christianity, separate from our intellectually religious pursuits. But I ask because anyone can say they had an experience or a feeling or an impulse, but most critics will care more about the data (scientifically modern people as Adventists tend to be these days).

The short answer is “yes!” I wouldn’t ever have come to the view I did if scripture didn’t allow for theology that affirms LGBT sexuality and gender with a solid, conservative hermeneutic. I don’t think experience would ever have been enough for me in the absence of good biblical “data,” as you say. I was utterly unwilling to go against scripture in favor of my experience. I’m also not sure I would have asked the question as seriously as I did without experience of the reality of non-affirming theology.

I used the hermentutics (the way of interpreting scripture) taught to me at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. I applied the approaches I was taught to test affirming theology, test non-affirming theology, and examine the text for myself. Non-affirming theology fails the test. Affirming theology makes all of scripture make sense, not only the texts applied to LGBTQ people, but the major themes and promises of scripture as well.

In looking at the texts that are usually seen as prohibitions (Gen 19:1-5, Lev 18:22; 20:12, Rom 1:24-27, 1 Cor 6:9-10, 1 Tim 1:9-10), if you focus on the author’s intent it’s not hard to see what they authors themselves had in mind. Applying these texts in ways that are out of harmony with the author’s intent is not sound hermenutics. That’s what non-affirming theology does.

Non-affirming theology also relies on the argument from absence. This argument says that since there are no same-sex relationships or alternate gender identities in scripture they are sinful now. But just because something didn’t happen then doesn’t mean it’s prohibited now.

These are the basic arguments that non-affirming theology are built on, and I don’t believe them to be hermeneuticly sound. In fact, according to what I was taught in my conservative seminary, they are not sound principles.

When I think about the way I thought before this theological shift, my biggest regret is that I relied too much on my social context, a type of experience. Everyone around me seemed in agreement that same-sex relationships are wrong and scripture was clear. Even those who weren’t didn’t speak publicly about their disagreement.

My conclusions at the time did not come from hermeneutics. I never had studied it carefully and prayerfully, because my social context was uniform in this belief. I didn’t realize this until later, but the signs were all there.

Unfortunately, my social context came from an organization that doesn’t base its theology on hermeneutics, at least not in this instance. It has never once in its history made a serious biblical inquiry on the topic, neither have most non-affirming theological organizations. Non-affirming theology has been assumed and scholars have worked to support it.

This is clear from the fact that each time they gather in the Adventist denomination to discuss theology as related to LGBTQ people they begin by saying they already agree on non-affirming theology. You cannot be a professor at the Adventist seminary or a scholar at the Biblical Research Institute if you dissent from the accepted position.

So how can you accept a position as scriptural without ever undertaking to study it with integrity and objectivity? Not based on hermenutics and scripture.

So my shift towards affirming theology is a shift towards greater integrity in my interpretation of scripture. It’s away from a purely experiential perspective towards one that relies on sound hermeneutics.

My ability to move forward on this issue also came from my Adventism and the values of progressive revelation, justice, and reliance on scripture rather than creeds or tradition. In order to move forward, we need only reconnect with these core Adventist values. We need to again think of ourselves as a movement and not an organization.

I could see how someone could read this particular post on hermeneutics and think I’m not using a conservative hermenutic.

I add a caveat. When our theology seems to be causing harm, or when a minority group claims it is harming them, we should be willing to re-examine our theology.

I’m not advocating changing theology to match what we think is compassionate. I’m advocating a humble approach and a willingness to seriously re-examine scripture with integrity and an open heart and mind.

Scripture itself teaches us that we should pay attention to the fruits of our theology and care about the lives of others (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 7:12, 16, 23:4; Luke 6:31, 11:46). Scripture also makes promises about the results of following Jesus (Matthew 7:9-11; Galatians 5:22-23; Philippians 4:7).

Good theology produces good fruit.

In that sense, I’m not sure hermeneutics and experience are ever supposed to be divided. One is the study of inspired words, the other is the study of God’s creation. If we understand correctly, they will be in complete harmony.

I don’t see the authors of scripture burying themselves in the text and failing to look at the world around them, and neither should we.

Neither do I see them using scripture to make excuses for doing whatever they want, and neither should we.

The Bible is not a closed book, and our understanding never arrives at perfection. We need to be more humble and keep searching, praying, and learning until we get it right.

I can’t write about LGBT issues today like I normally do. I will get back to that injustice soon, but I can’t right now. I’m too concerned for anyone in this country who isn’t a White European.

But I haven’t known what to say. I’ve written two different posts addressing bigotry and White Supremacy, and nothing feels right.

I finally realized that the last thing I want to talk about is exactly what needs to be said.

I am beginning to understand how deep inequality goes, how much it persists to today in the lives of Black Americans especially, but to all POC. I’m sorry it’s taken so long for me to begin to see.

This knowledge is painful. It makes me think of my country differently. I certainly don’t feel the same way about America as I once did, and there is sadness there. I wish I could believe this to be the best country in the world. I wish I could believe the dream of America was more than a dream. But I’ve learned too much.

Sometimes I have to consciously mourn the view the death of the beautiful vision of my country and the accomplishments of those who came before me. If I don’t recognize that need, and accept the reality of it, I might end up trying to deny it. Instead I want to see the shame of it all, the violence done to native people, Black people, LGBT people, and every single new wave of immigrants.

I’m tempted to explain it away, say we weren’t that bad. Didn’t we fight a war to end slavery? Yes, but we followed it up with Jim Crow. Didn’t we make dramatic changes after the Civil Rights movement? Yes, but we followed that up with mass incarceration in a prison system with ingrained racial inequalities which effectively strip civil rights from poor Black people.

I love America, and love requires no dishonesty. When it comes to POC, we have always taken with the left hand what was given with the right.

Since I won’t deny it anymore, I’m tempted to do what come natural in White culture and try to fix this. I want to understand it, come to the right solution, implement that solution, do it with excellence, fix the problem, restore the image of a whole and beautiful America, erase our shame, correct our injustice. But I don’t know how. Even an attempt at this point, with wounds so fresh, would be wrong.

In White culture we are uncomfortable with our imperfections. It’s not okay for us to be broken, to have shame in our history, to not have the answers, and to be less than perfect. But we are far, far less than perfect. White washing our history only brings more pain.

For my part, I’m learning to sit with the reality of White Supremacy in my family tree, in the people who came before me and set-up the country in the way they did, a way that favors me.

I’m learning to sit in the reality that there are two Americas: The one I get to live in, and the one POC live in.

Owning the shame of my history may open the possibility of a brighter future. Because if I own the shame of White America, I don’t have to hide from it anymore. I don’t have to pretend our country is better than it is.

If we own the shame of our past, there is no need to pretend that the people who tried to tear this nation apart in order to keep race-based chattel slavery intact were good people who deserve monuments. We can learn to be honest about our past, and build monuments to the right people, those who resisted and survived slavery.

I’m also free to believe that our future can be better than our past. I’m free to see that in order to be better, we don’t need to return to the past, we need to transcend it.

In the past, power was kept in the hands of one ethnicity. It’s tempting for us as White people to think that it is our responsibility to solve the racial problems in our society, but we aren’t the ones with the solutions.

People of color have been fighting this fight for centuries. They have been and continue to be my teachers, in person and through the books I read. They are in mourning right now, and I want to mourn, too.

If I am to learn to be any part of the solution, perhaps now is the time for me to enter into sadness. Perhaps this is a time for lament.

I will figure out how to do more. I will keep my eyes open. I will continue to have difficult discussions online and in person. I will look for opportunities not only to search for helpful ideas, but to lift up the voices of POC that we so desperately need.

The solution to White Supremacy won’t come from White people. I increasingly believe that the voices of oppressed people are the moral soul of this country, and if we are ever to learn to be good and just, we will learn it from them.

So let me share first this Jewish Lament, Psalm 13:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

And let me share with you a voice truly capable of inspiration:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCenwgheIBs

After a helpful message from one of my readers, I want to add this caveat: I still don’t think the real solutions will come from White people, but I do think we need to take responsibility, learn solutions from POC, and get out of the way. What needs to happen is to turn over real power and give a real voice to POC. We need to listen to and implement what we learn from POC, yes, but that’s ultimately just a patriarchal way of offering help on our terms unless we learn to actually give up power, give up a voice, give up privilege so that POC can have real influence in ways that are not under our control or our supervision. Solutions offered by those who are privileged tend not to go far enough and not to go deep enough. The first reaction of people like myself to events like this is usually to explain, to say what needs to happen, and solve it, if only intellectually. What White people need is to sit with the gravity and the enormity of this problem that is about much more than one rally, but about a history in this country and in European countries that goes back many centuries. We need to sit with that reality before we act. Trying to come up with solutions in the aftermath is disrespectful, there needs to be a period of mourning, of allowing the gravity to sink in, of feeling the sadness, not of rushing to solutions based on our own discomfort, solutions which will inevitably be superficial.

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.