Apparently, all sin is not created equal.
Pastor and author Mark Driscoll recently wrote a piece about homosexuality and gay marriage for Fox News called “Seven ways for Christians to love their neighbors even when we disagree.”
There is much to applaud in this piece. Driscoll has a thoughtful, considered tone, with healthy doses of humility: “We all start in a bad place. When the Bible says that Jesus died for sin, he’s talking about evil people, like me.” And he offers some sound, strategic advice about how Christian believers should act toward those homosexual actions they condemn: “If they [observers of that condemnation] see us as being mean spirited, they will be less likely to want to hear about the love of Jesus from unloving people.”
But there is much in his words that is deeply troubling and profoundly inconsistent. His is a simplistic and literalist approach to scripture. He argues that reinterpretations of Scripture to fit modern notions and learnings “makes as much sense as changing God’s laws in nature – including gravity and the temperature at which substances freeze and boil.” However, Driscoll, being a biblical literalist, presumably believes that the prophet Joshua actually made the sun stand still: “The sun stopped in mid-heaven, and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.” [Joshua 10: 13b] If the Bible is always correct, with no room for modern understandings and interpretation, then the earth must have stopped spinning on its axis for a day. So much for the laws of gravity.
Driscoll’s attitude toward homosexuality is a familiar one. Conservative evangelical Christians see same-sex attraction as an evil to be resisted at all costs. Those who act on those attractions are living in sin, in Driscoll’s eyes, just like “single people cohabiting, people who watch porn, adulterers.” (To his credit, Driscoll adds to this list of sinful people “the self-righteous religious people who look down on all of them.”) Like all other sinners, Driscoll and other conservative Christians assert, sexually-active homosexuals should be staunchly and regularly called to repentance. For homosexual people, this means repenting of their sin, giving up their “homosexual lifestyle,” and living a chaste and celibate life in obedience to God’s laws. This may be tough medicine and hard to swallow, they admit, but it is God’s will, straight from scripture. “Tough love” ain’t called “tough” for nothin’!
Such an attitude begs another question: Does Driscoll advocate a similar tough love for another group of “sinners” in his flock? I’m referring to a group of people presumably present in large numbers in Driscoll’s (and every other) church: those who are divorced and remarried. While Jesus never says a word about homosexuality, Jesus is quite clear and specific that remarriage after divorce is adultery. Following Driscoll’s advice to homosexuals, these remarried and “practicing” adulterers should repent of their sin and seek to amend their sinful lifestyles – by divorcing their second spouses (ending their sinful ways) and thereafter living a celibate and chaste sexual life, according to the precepts of Scripture. Or, in Driscoll’s practice of applying biblical standards of conduct, is there a double standard? Perhaps all sin is not created equal, and God is less disgusted with adulterers than with homosexuals. I hardly think so. The Bible cannot be literally true for some, but not for others.
My own Episcopal Church used to follow this biblical standard and until the early 1970’s refused to officiate over and bless second marriages. Official church policy even denied such “adulterers” communion. But then a funny thing happened. We noticed that many of these second marriages bore the fruits of grace, love and holiness, a blessing not only to the couple but also to the community surrounding them. Could it be that the Holy Spirit was leading us to a broader and deeper understanding of God’s love and grace? And so we changed our mind – even about something so specifically condemned by Jesus himself. We believed we were following the leading of the Holy Spirit, who called us to love and pastor all of God’s children, even those whose first marriage had failed.
Driscoll erroneously alleges that “Both homosexuals and Christians are, curiously enough, organized minority groups.” In fact, according to a 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, 73-80 percent of Americans identify as Christian. Hardly a minority group. But conservative evangelical Christians increasingly think of themselves as an oppressed minority. I don’t doubt their self-perception, but I do wonder if these conservative Christians, who are finding themselves and their condemnations suddenly in the minority, aren’t confusing their being in the minority with the actual reality of being oppressed. It’s just that they’ve seldom had the experience of holding an opinion that is not in the majority, and it feels pretty awful. I get that. But when I compare the oppression (personal and systemic) experienced by conservative Christians with that actually experienced by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, it’s hard for me to feel sympathetic. LGBT people have endured harassment, physical violence, murder, police raids, being fired from their jobs simply for being gay with no recourse in the courts, denial of legal relationships to their children, and denial of spousal healthcare benefits. How have Christians “suffered,” and on what basis do they claim oppression?
Driscoll speaks of “Christians war[ring] with homosexuals,” and some days it feels like war to me as well. If polling is to be believed, with majorities of every major Christian denomination favoring gay civil marriage, Driscoll and his flock are going to find their “love the sinner, hate the sin” stance increasingly unpalatable with the very people they seek to evangelize.
Gay Christians are laying claim to God’s love for us and our relationships. We worship a Jesus who constantly sought out and blessed those on the margins, the disenfranchised, and those condemned by the religious and secular powers of his time. Loving, committed, life-long-intentioned, monogamous marriage between two people of the same gender bolsters the institution of marriage, rather than undermines it. Wouldn’t it be ironic if gay marriage actually saved marriage?