God Loves Gays

Of all the articles that I’ve posted on our Quartz Hill School of Theology website, the one I entitled “God Loves Gay People” has gotten the most attention. I receive more emails on it than on anything else I’ve ever written, most of them very positive. But, every so often, I do get a critical reaction. Reproduced below, is the article:

God Loves Gay People

There are those who argue that God hates sinners. They have a collection of verses that they like to use, most notably: Psalm 5:5-6, 11:5; Lev. 20:23, 20:13, 26:30; Deut. 32:19; Mal. 1:3 and Rom. 9:13. The fundamental problem with the use being made of these verses is that every last one of them is being taken out of context, both their specific context in place, as well as the broader context of the biblical revelation.

The Grand Unified Theory (GUT) of Bible interpretation is twofold: love of God and love of people.

Matthew 22:34-40 reads:

       Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:
       “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
       Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (see the parallel account in Mark 12:28-34)

Paul writes in Romans 13:8-10:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Or Galatians 5:14:

The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

And finally James 2:8:

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.

Any interpretation of the Bible which results in a conclusion contrary to this basic tenant of love is necessarily wrong. No ifs, no ands, no buts. Thus, to suggest that God hates, rather than loves sinners, creates an absurdity: a contradiction with the very theme of the Bible, as well as some very explicit verses, the most basic being Romans 5:5-8:

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

One should also consider 1 John 4:19-21:

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Thus, the interpretation that God hates sinners, or that he desires to see bad things happen to them, simply is an untenable interpretation of the verses used by the hate groups.

Some will try to tell me, I suppose, that we are only supposed to love our brother, and who is, our brother, anyhow, but only those who believe like us. I would suggest that those who would react like that are exactly like the expert who, in response to Jesus’ suggestion that he should love his neighbor asked “who is my neighbor.” Let’s look at the story in Luke 10:25-37:

       On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
       “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
       He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
       “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
       But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
       In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
       “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
       The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
       Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

The problem for us moderns is that Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan doesn’t really resonate with us. What is a Samaritan, anyhow? To put it simply, Samaritans were apostates from Judaism. They were the result of mixed marriages between Jews and pagan idolaters who had moved into Palestine during the period of the Babylonian captivity. Thus, they were worshiping falsely and were considered significant sinners by definition according to the religious establishment in Jerusalem. Thus, they were one of the most despised groups around, according to the religious establishment.

So let’s update things. If Jesus were asked the same question today, his response would be to tell the story of how a Baptist preacher and a famous televangelist ignored the rape victim in the gutter, in contrast to the good gay, black transvestite from San Francisco who helped her.

If Christians are going to hate the gay community, then they need to be consistent and hate the liars, the backbiters, the gossips, and the hypocrites, too. Maybe put up a few pickets around the neighborhood supermarket that caters to all those gluttons.

Maybe I just don’t get it. Jesus died for sinners. All of us are sinners, and that’s what we’ll all be — every last one of us — till the day we die. Are certain sinners irredeemable? Whosoever will may come, but wait, if you’re gay, you’ve got to clean up your act first? Since when has the church become an exclusive club? Are we supposed to have bouncers at the door making sure everyone has a tie and that they’re “the right sort of people” before we let them in?

Maybe I just don’t understand the gospel and the mission of the church. But I don’t think so. I think it’s the haters that just don’t get it.

* * *

This morning I received three emails from the same person, sent to three of my email accounts. It was not a mean spirited or hateful letter; actually it was very polite. But it was critical. The upshot of the letter was to explain to me that homosexuality is evil, to quote all the Bible verses that mention it, and then to write,

In conclusion, I believe based on my interpretation of God’s word, that God is willing to forgive homosexuals just as He forgives thieves, liars, etc. However, they will not be allowed into heaven unless they repent, and turn from their ways. They are sinners, who are sinning in a big way. We are to show them love, but not tolerance.

We should not allow homosexuality in our country, and especially not in the Church.

Do we allow thievery in our country? No. We have laws against stealing.

Do we allow murder in our country? No. We have laws against murder.

I’m sure that the founding fathers of our nation would have made laws against homosexuality if it had even really been an issue in that day.

As a Christians, I believe we should abide by God’s law. Not speak out against it.

Since the author of the email(s) requested a response, I wrote one. I only sent one copy of the letter to the person. This is what I wrote:

Dear xxxxx ,

Thank you for your letter. I’m curious as to the focus on this particular sin. In the church and in our country we have adulterers, gossips, murderers, gluttons and so on. Many of those guilty of this are serving in the church. There are liars and all sorts of awful people in leadership positions. They sin every day. Why is this sin more important than others?

Christians of a liberal bent criticize their brothers and sisters in the religious right for not caring about the poor. Christians on the conservative side of the aisle chastise their left wing colleagues for being weak on sexual immorality. Yet, in reality, both the liberal and the conservative are united in doing precisely the same thing: lobbying against the wickedness in society and trying to pass laws to curb the darkness. Both groups want something very good: a solution to the world’s problems. But they both blame society, or parts of society, and think that if we just have another law, another regulation, a little more oversight, then the difficulties will evaporate. The only difference between the left and right is in which elements of society they think are offensive and need to be corrected.

The liberal argues that a violent society is to blame for the gunshot deaths of students on various campuses across America. If only there were more laws regulating guns, or better yet, if guns were banned altogether, then the problems would go away. Likewise, the conservative argues that sex on television or the Internet is corrupting the children of America, and if only such things were banned, or at the very least severely restricted by warning labels and ratings systems, then the problems would go away.

How a person approaches the dilemmas of society will depend on his or her conception of sin. If he or she believes that human beings are essentially good, or at worst neutral—neither good nor bad—then he or she will imagine that society’s problems are the consequence of a tainted environment. If such is correct, then it follows reasonably that if the environment is altered, then the behavior of individuals will change for the better.

Both liberal and conservative are operating from this same flawed point of view. The only difference is the targets of their righteous indignation. They both blame society, rather than the individual for his actions.

Why?

It is easier to pass laws than to convert individuals.

But since when have laws prevented criminal activity? Does the speed limit really have that much meaning for people? Do laws against murder mean there are no more murderers? One might not suggest that there should be no laws against such behavior, but to think that the laws will end or even correct the behavior is wrongheaded. Yet the attempts to ban, outlaw and regulate never end, even though they ultimately do not solve the underlying fault. Giving morphine to someone whose appendix has burst does ease her pain, but nothing has been done to solve her basic problem.

Fundamentally, it seems that many people fail to grasp the concept of sin. The idea of sin as an interior controlling power is generally forgotten, if it was ever known. Christians, both right and left, tend to think in terms of “sins”—that is, individual wrong acts. “Sins” are thus something external and concrete, and can be logically separated from the person. “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” With this concept as a foundation, if an individual has not done anything wrong (that is, committed an external act of evil), then he pictures himself as good. There is no thought of sin at all.

For most of those on the right and the left, sins are only those things that other people do. Thus, they become sin groupies. There are fan clubs for certain sins. Certain sins are stars, and they get all the attention, and serve endlessly as great ways to raise funds. Violence in society, signified by handguns is certainly a great money maker for good causes. Abortion. Homosexuality. Drugs. Greed (especially corporate). All these have huge fan clubs and raise large amounts of cash for good causes.

And nothing gets better. Christians, whether liberal or conservative, are distracted by good causes, spending time and resources to get more laws passed, hoping thereby to solve the problems of society, forgetting that the problems of society are the consequence of individuals who are sinners in need of a savior, who are individually making faulty choices because they are sinners. To solve society’s problems, the church must work at preaching the gospel, giving help to those in need, taking in the unwanted and unlovely. Passing another law, getting more regulation, having more labels, is not going to do it. Christians wear themselves out, waste their resources, and fight shadows while the real problems go unsolved and the suffering goes on and on.

You want to change the world? There’s a whole world in a single human soul. Do what Jesus asked us to do: be witnesses to his sacrifice, his resurrection, and the impact it can have on a life. Feed a hungry person. Visit the suffering. Spend time with the lonely outcast. Listen. Take in a homeless, parentless child. Be kind. Touch someone with the love of God. Don’t worry about what the neighbors might think (whether good or bad). Do what is right regardless of how someone else treats you. That will change society—has changed society—more than all the laws in all the nations in all the world.

Our salvation is by grace through faith. The gospel—a word meaning good news—is that the price of our sin has been paid; our debt, beyond our ability to pay, has been taken care of. Jesus took the rap for us, to put it crudely. The gospel is not yelling at people, marching against them, condemning them. Our approach to sinners needs to be more along the line of what Paul did at the Areopagus in Athens: he was upset by the idolatry, but when he preached to them he used one of their idols as his object lesson and then quoted pagan Greek poetry as his sermon texts; he offered them hope (Acts 17:16-33). Jesus reserved his harshest criticisms for the Pharisees and other religious leaders. He was compassionate with sinners.

I don’t argue that homosexuality is a good thing. But I’m puzzled by the focus on it, and setting it apart from all the other symptoms of being a sinner, as opposed to the focus on providing the hope we have in Jesus. When a person becomes a Christian, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in them. I believe that having God living inside of you is likely to have a significant impact on your behavior. God will fix people. Not us. Our job is to introduce them to Him. But in any case, our salvation comes not from our behavior but from Jesus’ sacrifice.

The New Testament teaches us that salvation is by grace. The Old Testament illustrates the truth of that. As an exercise, look back at the lives of the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11. Take Jephtha, mentioned in Hebrews 11:32. Look at the description of his life in Judges 11: he wasn’t a monotheist (he acknowledged the existence of the god of the Amonites, Chemosh in a letter to their king.) He sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering to God. Or consider Lot. 2 Peter 2:7-8 tells us that Lot was a “righteous man.” Yet if we go back to Genesis we do not find him doing anything righteous. He is in a leadership position in Sodom, he offers his daughters to a mob to be raped, and then later he gets drunk and has sex with both of them and gets them pregnant (Genesis 19). Both Jephtha and Lot are righteous, not because of what they did, but because of Jesus’ sacrifice:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10).

My concern as expressed in my article is that Christians are overly focused on one particular sin, forgetting that there are a lot of others that seem not to get the same attention or arguments, and also seemingly forgetting what Christianity is all about: the Gospel. Homosexuality is not head and shoulders above all other sins, nor is it a major focus in the Bible. The prophets of the Old Testament, at least prior to the Babylonian captivity, focused all their attention on two things: Israel’s idolatry and worship of other gods, and the mistreatment of the poor and weak.

Remember, too, that all the commandments in the Bible come down to just those two things as well: loving God and loving people. All else follows from that focus (see Matthew 22:36-40, Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8).

Sincerely,

R.P. Nettelhorst

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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