***I have many conservative Christian readers who are not used to this type of post. I invite you to walk a moment in the shoes of another. I invite you to suspend your beliefs for a moment and see through our eyes, the eyes of those who fully affirm LGBT love and gender and also fully embrace our faith in God. You’re perspective will be there waiting when you are done reading, you can pick it up right where you left it, but you will be able to better understand us for taking this moment to see the world as we do.***

God’s love is something I see again and again in the queer community.

God is like my two friends, gay men who found each other after years of loneliness. I see them sweetly lean in towards each other during casual conversation, simple acts revealing deep affection. After decades of partnership they were united during the first wave of legal same-sex marriage in California days before prop 8 made marriage illegal again.

God’s affection is deep, and he never loses an opportunity for love.

God is like my friend who holds the tension of being Seventh-day Adventist and lesbian. Her bookcases filled with Adventist commentaries, Review & Herald titles, and shelves of Ellen White; her kitchen full of vegan fair; but she can’t find a church where she’s accepted for all she is. Still she holds the tension.

God holds the tension, believing in us even when we fail his children.

God is like the man I met who was studying to be a Catholic priest. He laughs and tells me half the candidates for priesthood were gay, then talks about the man he met 50 years ago who put an end to his studies and has been his partner ever since. They have loved each other since a time when their love could land them in prison.

God is willing to go to prison for love.

God is like the transgender woman who shows up for church every week, still willing to invest in the denomination that once made her life unlivable. She’s in leadership now, happy to have found a church that is more interested in supporting LGBT people than bowing to the will of the institution.

God forgives.

God is like Harvey Milk, who knew that his political career as a gay man and activist would probably get him killed. Before he was assasinated, he left a last political will and testament for us to follow. He urged us to stop hiding and stand up for what is right, hopeful that his death would be an inspiration.

God died for us and urges us to follow this path.

God is like the thousands and millions of LGBT people and our courageous allies who show up and refuse to hide in the face of bigotry, hate, and violence. We refuse to be silent, refuse to pretend we are just friends, refuse to change who we are to pass as straight. We are not not satisfied with systems that oppress us, religions that shame us, and media that dismisses us. Neither is God.

God’s love is queer.

So where is God in the LGBT community? God is everywhere.

As someone who spent many years closeted in a Christian community that most definitely did not affirm my sexuality, I know more than most what it takes to live life by the principle that your feelings can’t be trusted.

“It’s just a feeling.” These were the words I used to distance myself from the inevitable knowledge that I was in love.

“It’s just a feeling.” I reassured myself when a silent energy passed between me and another woman.

“It’s just a feeling.” I desperately clung to these words when I longed for my friend to rest her arm across my legs, feeling I would crumble inside if she didn’t touch me.

No matter how hard I fought, how persistently I refused to think about women, how many prayers I prayed, how willing I was to be and do anything God wanted, I could still feel in my bones that women falling in love was a beautiful thing and could be a beautiful thing for me. I didn’t want to feel it. I didn’t want to know it was true. I just did. So I told myself, “it’s just a feeling.”

These words are how I taught myself that I don’t matter. They became the mournful refrain that played in the background of my life until I stopped feeling and settled into a resigned depression. I lost myself, but at least I was doing the right thing.

One doubt still haunted me. Where was the abundant life, peace, and joy that I am promised?

Heartless Theology

Devaluation of feelings is part of a particular approach to theology and religion. Religious rules are taught without reference to their psychological impact. The approach is intellectual and philosophical. It has its roots in modernism, rationality, and science (and even further back to Plato). It’s not rooted in Judaism or scripture. Instead of each religious teaching being part and parcel with Jesus’ commandment to love, the rules are supposed to apply no matter how much harm they cause.

Many times since coming out I’ve been reminded of this viewpoint by people who believe I am required to ignore the suffering of my community and abstractly discuss theological issues. They want to compare love between people of the same gender to pedophilia or bestiality, and don’t think it matters that such comparisons are discriminatory. Or they believe that mental health problems aren’t theologically relevant. It’s common to treat theology like arithmetic and people like CPUs.

But our emotional lives matter. They matter not only to us and to those who love us, they also matter theologically. Theology is a spiritual discipline. If the Holy Spirit is required to understand the scripture, that must mean that compassion and suffering matter.

Am I saying that I should get to do whatever I feel like? Does this mean I don’t have to deny myself or do things that are hard? Absolutely not! It wouldn’t be good or right for me to date women only because I want to. Not by any means.

It is not good to live a life ruled by feelings uninformed by goodness and truth. Taking feelings into account is not the same thing as being ruled by them. We should pay attention when feelings go beyond a simple desire and into the realm of significant mental health problems for a group of people. If our theology is causing depression, shame, and suicide, it’s irresponsible to carry on as if feelings don’t matter.

Violent Theology

Jesus said that you can tell whether a tree is good or bad by looking at its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). What is the fruit of theology that says same-sex relationships and transgender identity are sinful? Here is a small sampling:

If you are straight, I ask you to consider what it would be like for you and your friends to experience depression, rejection, and shame every time the church teaches your sexuality is broken. Personally, this was my experience despite the fact that I believed and always followed by what the church taught. I never disobeyed, but that didn’t make the shame go away. Many of my queer friends have told me about being suicidal right after being told their sexuality was sinful. Would you want church leaders to consider these consequences if they happened to you or someone you love?

This is the fruit of a rotten tree. I firmly believe the promises of the Bible still apply to queer people. Fruit like depression, rejection, and suicide are heartbreaking. Those who stay in communities whose theology is a true expression of God should not be 8.4 times more likely to commit suicide than those who are outside these communities.

On the other hand, what are the fruits affirming theology? If LGBT rejecting communities increase harm, affirming communities reduce harm. Supporting same-sex marriage and affirming LGBT people is life giving for us. It’s certainly hard to see who is being harmed by same-sex love. It’s clear many are benefiting from its affirmation.

Elsewhere on this website and through many other resources you will find more sophisticated theology addressing specific texts and theological interpretations, but aren’t these matters of harm, joy, and love the gospel at its core? God loves the world deeply, forgives us for our failures to love, and teaches us how to love completely and fully. The fruits of affirming theology certainly are full of love and life. The fruits of non-affirming theology bring harm and suffering.

Taking Responsibility

If you are non-affirming in your theology, you have a God-given responsibility to resolve this problem. It’s not enough to say, “the church should do a better job of loving people, but we have to follow the Bible,” and move on to other things. Something is seriously wrong. Non-affirming theology does not deliver on the promises of scripture.

If you are straight, and especially if you have a place in an institution that teaches non-affirming theology, it’s easy to theologize about what is right or wrong for people like me who don’t fit traditional theological constructs. It’s easy to avoid getting to know us or to go along with the prevailing culture that does not to respect and believe the things we say about ourselves and our lived experiences. It’s easy not to involve yourself with those whose lives you judge to be unworthy of the blessings of marriage and church membership. It’s easy to dismiss our pain, place our suffering outside the category of worthwhile information for theological study, and ignore the consequences of your theology about sexuality and gender.

It’s easier and feels better to separate theology from it’s impact on real people, but we can’t wash our hands of responsibility. Scrub until our hands are raw, the stain is apparent. Each of us is responsible for the fruit our theology. If we drive people to the depths of depression and self-hatred, don’t be surprised if God doesn’t care for the excuse: “It’s just a feeling.”

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.