Why do Christians hate LGBTIQA+ people? What is it about Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Intersex, Queer or Asexual people – or those encompassed by the ‘plus’ that means Christians pit themselves against them?
Is it because God is against them?
It certainly looks like we hate… And even that we claim God does…
When we get footballer Israel Folau seeming to say that God has a particular plan for gay people… and a bunch of people lining up to back his right to say so.
Or when church schools seem to want the right to fire gay teachers and expel gay students as ‘religious freedom’…
It’s a year this week since the results of the postal survey were announced — and there’s plenty of people still feeling hurt and rejected because of how Christians fought that battle…
But perhaps it’s the idea of ‘conversion therapy’ that is both the next frontier in the public battle and an area where the church seems to single out same sex attraction as a particular sin…
Where’s ‘conversion therapy’ for the greedy? The gossiper?
It’s a topic that’s about to be front and centre with the release of the movie Boy Erased — the “based on a true story” story of a pastor, and his gay son… And the lengths this family — and others like it — went to to ‘convert’ their son… To ‘straighten him out’… The manipulation. The badgering… The Bible thumping… In a literal sense. All to erase something they didn’t love about their son… And this seems like erasing their son.
Because to us, our sexuality, whatever it is, is part of our identity. It’s part of what it means to be human. To deny someone sex — both for pleasure and intimacy — to deny someone a relationship, or marriage, is to be seen to attack a human right. Something that is essential for a good and fulfilling life… We can’t imagine why you’d do that. We can’t imagine it not being hate.
And sure — the Bible might say some things about homosexuality… especially where Leviticus calls homosexual sex ‘detestable’, but it’s an ancient book and we live in the modern world. And this is the same part of the Bible — the Old Testament law — that calls eating bacon and prawns detestable.
We people living in the modern world know that #loveislove. We know that people don’t choose to be gay. People’s attractions, their desires… They’re natural.
And don’t these churchy types know that God is love? Or at least, that we’re called to love our neighbours. Where was that in the plebiscite? Where is that in the fight for religious freedoms? Where is that in conversion therapy?
These are good questions…
And they’re part of why it’s not just LGBTIQA+ people asking them — but their allies… Which is now pretty much the entire community. Why do Christians do this? And — if God is anti-gay how can he be “love”?
How can the Christian message be “good news”?
I’ve got to say at this point… As we unpack these questions… That I’m not same sex attracted. My gender identity and anatomy line up. This isn’t my experience or identity. I’m also happily married. Whatever the emotional weight of this question is — I only feel it from the outside… And many of you reading this are living and breathing the complexities of this question…
I’m going to try to address the gap by, as much as possible, drawing on answers from people who do identify as LGBT or who do predominantly experience same sex attraction.
This post does not specifically delve into the complexities of transgender identity or intersex biology, but it does address the question of identity in a way that is relevant to all people — LGBTIQA+, cis-gendered, male, female, and heterosexual.
And as we answer these questions… whether we hate our gay neighbours, or God does – and the answer is that God loves gay people so we should too — we still want to say “it’s complicated”…
It’s complicated starting with our identity — what it means to be human and what part sexuality plays in our identity.
Identity and sexuality: It’s complicated
Dennis Altman is an academic, a long-term campaigner for marriage equality, and a patron of the Gay and Lesbian Foundation of Australia. He says the sorts of ‘identities’ gathered under the LGBTQIA umbrella are sometimes at odds with each other, and, the whole approach to ‘identity’ in modern life and politics ignores how complex we are as people… He says:
“Desire, behaviour and identity are distinct, and they do not always overlap.”
He points out that there are people who identify as gay, have same sex desires, but are celibate by choice. That there are people who don’t identify as gay, or bi, but who have some same sex desires, and “… most people will have sexual desires that are not necessarily acted out in practice.”
And while his warning is to be careful about language — he says:
“Adding letters to the acronym simply hides the complex interconnections of desire, behaviour and identity in everyday life.”
He says these labels already involve bringing together physical traits with desire and identity and we should be careful, in part because we humans are complicated and our identity can be fluid. Changes might occur over a lifetime, and we should treat people as people according to their own individual experience of the world.
It’s legitimate to ask how desire, behaviour, and identity intersect, and even, perhaps, whether our identity our understanding of our humanity and the ‘good and full human life’ can be reduced to sexuality.
This isn’t to say we should ‘erase’ identities or suggest that everyone in any label is ‘fluid’… For some of us our sexuality — our desires — feel very much like it is fixed. But even if those desires are fixed — some part of being human is deciding what desires to act on and to pick as our identity — how we understand ourselves and what we pursue with our lives. Sometimes our desires are in competition. It’s a cheap rhetorical comparison, but bear with me… I can’t eat everything that I want, and be as fit as I’d like to be…
When we admit complexity, especially when it comes to whether our desires are in the driving seat or some sort of fixed identity that we are born with… we acknowledge that to be human is complicated.
So being human is complicated… Surely love is simple. Right?
Love is God?
Love is love.
Have you ever stopped to think about that as an equation? An assertion. There’s a certain sort of logic to it — that a straight couple’s love is equivalent in value to a gay couple’s. But there’s also something wrong with defining a thing simply by saying that it is what it is. Cheese is cheese. Well yeah. But there are different types. Cheddar is not brie… The love I have for my wife is not the same as the love I have for my football team. Our English language isn’t great when it comes to explaining that distinction though… Is it. I love Robyn. I love Manly. English isn’t even good at helping you know that Manly is a football team.
Other languages — like Greek — the language that the second half of the Bible was written in… Has a stack of different types of words for different types of love. Typically, when it talks about God’s love it uses the word ‘agape’ — and when it talks about sexual love, it talks about eros, and when it talks about friendship it talks about philios and when it talks about my love for Manly it’s the word storge… Or whatever the word for hope amongst disappointment is…
Andrew Sullivan, the U.S political blogger and author writes excellent and insightful pieces about modern life around technology and politics. He’s gay. He wrote a book on love a few years back exploring our modern approach to love… The problem with a one word fits all thing…
He makes a claim that at least two forms of love are in competition — friendship and ‘love’ by which he means our modern definition of love…
“…the love to which every life must apparently lead, the love that is consummated in sex and celebrated in every particle of our popular culture, the love that is institutionalized in marriage and instilled as a primary and ultimate good in every Western child”
He says this love is where we turn to satisfy some deep need in us… It’s about what we think it means to be truly human… It’s:
“… the longing for union with another being, the sense that such a union resolves the essential quandary of human existence, the belief that only such a union can abate the loneliness that seems to come with being human…”
It’s not so much a love but an emptiness — a longing — that we try to meet with another person, and ultimately with sex. Sullivan says that our modern world has made a cult… A religion… out of eros — sexual love and desire. We’re so convinced that this is essential to our wellbeing as people that to say anything against this love — this eros — is like when people spoke against God in earlier times… It’s sacrilege. It’s heresy…
When we say ‘love is love’… What do we actually mean?
What is love?
Are we claiming that sexual love is all the same… maybe?
But are we also claiming that sexual love carries the same weight as the sort of love we read about in the Bible? God’s love? Selfless, unconditional, unrelenting, love?
What is love? Is it a feeling or a desire or an unwavering commitment expressed in sacrificial action?
This is a question that drove David Bennett. David was a gay activist in Sydney, he was involved in campus politics, and the gay community. He is into philosophy and ‘big questions’ and what makes people tick. So he’d take his journal to the pub with him, and get people to write down their answers to big questions. One night, he went along to with the question:
“what is love?”
He passed it out to everyone.
I wonder what you’d say. How would you answer it?
David was shocked.
“I sat on one of the couches as I looked through the pages. I realised that no one had written an answer to the question that had any substance.”
This moment was one of the turning points for David…
It’s hard to argue #loveislove if you don’t know what love is…
David thought he knew what love was. It was about sex and marriage and the things he was campaigning for… But now, when he looks back, he echoes Andrew Sullivan’s words:
“If it were Rome, I would have worshipped at the altar of Aphrodite or Eros… The predominant message around me was that Eros love was the highest of the loves…”
Like Andrew Sullivan, David describes our world’s view of ‘love’ in religious terms — this is the idea, if God exists, that we’ve swapped who he is, and what he wants, and his place in our lives — our identity — with what we want.
In one of the passages in the New Testament — the bit after Jesus — that does talk about homosexuality, Paul says our reasons for wanting different things to God are that we’ve exchanged God for other things… Things he made. Things that had a God-given purpose…
“They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” — Romans 1:25
We’ve made this big switch — sex in the place of God.
And we’ve all done this — there’s no ‘gay’ v ‘straight’ divide here. We’ve all re-ordered our approach to the world to put the things we want in the driving seat. Our desires — our worship — what we love — shapes our identity…
This exchange comes with disastrous results in our relationships… Our rejection of God as God means we put ourselves in that seat. We rule the world using our desires, and other people become objects of that desire.
“They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.” — Romans 1:29-31
Ultimately we become detached from the source of love. The one who is love.
So our relationships become destructive. They don’t satisfy. We hurt others. We objectify. Sex and intimacy become about me. My needs. My pleasure. Love becomes a feeling. And it fades when I stop getting what I want…
And David, who is now a Christian, as a result of his search, describes the battleground we live in as a ‘war of loves’ — a competition between eros and agape — he says they’re not the same thing…
And the question for him, and others with same sex desires who read these bits of the Bible is — can a homosexual person really live and flourish without eros love?
Does following Jesus require being ERASED?
Which brings us to the story of a woman who met Jesus. The Samaritan woman at the well.
A tale of two wells
We’re asking the question ‘why do Christians hate LGBTIQA+ people’; this woman wasn’t LGBTIQA or +… but she was, like most of us, an “E” – looking for meaning and identity in “Eros.” She was shunned by her community, the other women would go out to the well together in the morning, this woman, we’re told, heads out at noon… the heat of the day, when the sun is at its highest point. Exposed.
She’s a woman who is looking for meaning, for satisfaction, looking to satisfy her thirst — that longing that Andrew Sullivan described. And she’s been looking in the wrong places. She’s used to turning to sex and intimacy — to eros — to be known and loved…
And it’s not working…
Then she meets Jesus.
At a well.
Jesus who approaches her — he doesn’t run from her because of her sin… This is a woman who is perhaps used to men approaching her because they want her. To use her…
Jesus asks for a drink. And then things get weird…
Jesus starts talking about a different sort of water… Water that satisfies a different sort of thirst… That fills a different emptiness… Water that he will give her…
“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” — John 4:10
““Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” — John 4:13-14
There are two types of water in this story: Water that doesn’t satisfy, water that always leaves you thirsty for more, or water that truly satisfies. Water from Jesus. Now… he isn’t talking about actual water. He’s talking about where we look to for satisfaction… the real answer for that longing for connection — to be known and loved…
Where we go to understand what it means to be truly alive; truly human.
It’s like there are two wells.
There’s what the world offers. Loving that. Seeking satisfaction and the good life there… And coming up thirsty…
And there’s what Jesus offers. Loving him. And being truly satisfied… Eternally.
The conversation between Jesus and this woman reveals she’s been looking at the wrong well. Eros. Jesus asks her to ‘fetch her husband’…He knows how this is going to unfold. He’s not surprised when she says she has no husband. He knows where she has been looking for love…
“You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” — John 4:17-18
Relationship, after relationship.
Breakdown, after breakdown.
This search isn’t working. She’s coming up thirsty for more. Desperate to be known and loved… Just like all of us are…
And Jesus says ‘try the other well.’
“Love” isn’t love
Eros — sexual intimacy — it won’t satisfy. These desires aren’t the basis of a good life…
He doesn’t beat this out of her. She isn’t erased — she doesn’t lose who she is, she gains Jesus.
Jesus loves her for who she is… Where she is… And calls her. Invites her. Invites us.
She’s so excited to have met him that she runs back to the village where she’s an outcast to invite them to meet him… And her words “he told me everything I ever did.” He knew me. He loved me. He wants me. And somehow, where her past has brought her shame in the village before — that she’s known and loved, by Jesus, makes her feel safe to shout it from the rooftops…
She’s gone from having her identity defined by her sexual desires and behaviour. As a ‘lover’… To having it defined by God…as ‘beloved’.
And this redefinition — that Jesus calls her beloved — that’s enough to re-order her desires and her behaviour. It changes her identity. She puts Jesus first.
Where Paul says our human problem is a problem of worship. Jesus called this woman to become a true worshipper. One who puts God first in their heart.
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” — John 4:23
This was David’s experience. This is how he figured out what love is… How he won the war… He realised Jesus loved him, and called him. That he is beloved, and that this is bigger for him than sex…
“Jesus was the one I worshipped, not eros, not my sexuality. You only know this when you truly give up your idols. The war of loves was won.”
God’s love for (gay) people
God loves gay people. He loves all of us. He invites us to stop chasing satisfaction in sex and intimacy with other people, and to find it in him. He invites us to stop finding our identity in our sexual desire or experience of the world, and to be given our identity. Beloved.
He shows us what love is. That bit in the Bible that says “God is love”… The very next sentence says he shows us what love is; what he is like, by sending his son, Jesus, into the world, so that we might live.
“God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” — 1 John 4:8-10
This is love. This sending — and what Jesus does… The sacrifice he makes.
It’s not #loveislove… The cross is love.
The moment in history where Jesus was nailed to a cross as a sacrifice, this displays the love Jesus, the son, has for his father. But it also displays the love the father and son have for you.
This isn’t just a feeling, and it’s much more than sex or romance… This is commitment. This is sacrifice.
As Jesus goes to the cross he prays that his death… His act of love… His sacrifice… Would make us one with God, like he is. To unite us. He prays, about those who believe in him, that:
“…they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” — John 17:22-23
God is love.
God loves us.
God loves you.
You are beloved.
This is the union that addresses the loneliness that seems to come with being human…This is what satisfies our desire for intimacy that leaves us replacing God’s love with what we think is the next best thing… Sex and intimacy…
And the fruit of this love; if we become part of it; if we turn to Jesus in love and are united to God again… Is living water. It’s satisfaction. It’s sharing in the resurrected life of Jesus. It’s eternity with the one who calls us beloved, who died for us. And tasting this changes everything. It cascades through the rest of our lives. If we re-order our loves — so that God is first, so that our identity is in him… This love shapes all our desires…
It changes all our other loves — how we love the people in our lives. How we love sex. How we love our football team. And how we love our neighbours. Whoever they are…
If loving God doesn’t re-order all your other desires then you aren’t really loving him first.
The command Jesus gives to ‘love your neighbour, ‘ actually flows out of the command to love God first. To love him with all our heart… Our soul… And our mind… Jesus said this is our first love. The greatest commandment. The one that shapes the love we give…
‘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 neighbour as yourself.” — Matthew 22:38-39
But what does this mean for a gay person who wants this love?
Are they erased?
Are they signing up for ‘conversion therapy’?
What are they called to do with sex — their sexuality? Their desires?
This is tricky stuff. And as we venture into this territory, it’s worth pointing out that the answers are actually true for all of us and our sexuality… Our identity… Our approach to relationships.
Surely if God is love, and Jesus says we can eat prawns because they taste good and God made them, then we modern people can just jump to accepting gay relationships? The sort of relationships not built on eros but on agape? Real love?
Surely we’re not saying that to be a Christian is to not enjoy sexual intimacy?
I want to humbly put forward that the Bible does see a difference between same sex relationships and heterosexual relationships…
That this is, in part, because God created male and female — and without introducing a rabbit hole of gender identity and the intersex community now — we believe this is talking about anatomical sex, not how we experience or identify according to that sex. There’s a oneness — a unity — a unity of difference the Bible testifies to from start to finish, at the heart of how it understands marriage. That it is about a certain sort of unity that expresses something about God.
“”For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” — Ephesians 5:31-32
When Paul talks about marriage this way he actually says it’s a mistake to see marriage — or sex — as an ultimate reality.
Our marriages — having sex — our experience of oneness and the pleasure of orgasm aren’t the ultimate good… They point to something bigger.
Marriage — between a man and a woman — involving sexual difference — doesn’t just express something about the image of God, like it did back in Genesis… But about the relationship between us and Jesus. Our oneness. Our fulfillment. What really matters… What really satisfies…
How we approach sex and marriage — as a community of people who love Jesus first in our hearts, and as individuals, shows what well we’re turning to for satisfaction…
The ‘water’ of this world — that leaves us thirsty for more…
Or the abundant love of Jesus.
And this includes how we, together, as a church talk about marriage and sex in our own lives… We’re just as likely to turn ‘eros’ into a god when we’re straight as the rest of our culture, and to see marriage as something that ‘completes’ us in a way that only Jesus does and only he can…
Anna McGahan is an Aussie actress, from here in Brisbane, she identifies as queer. She was, as a teen, predominantly attracted to women and so was angry at the church. She threw that anger into her writing… She threw herself into relationships hoping they would satisfy her. But they didn’t. They involved heartbreak. Break-ups. Failure — and her failures, more than anything. She says of that time:
“I wanted to be good in love. I just wasn’t.”
And then, she says, despite her rage at God, and at the Christians who didn’t want her to marry. She met God.
She didn’t set out to… Or want to…
She was like the woman at the well… She found that God — as she saw him in Jesus — wanted her. Wanted a relationship. She says:
“The Jesus of the Bible was interested in taking the concept of God out of its stuffy, legalistic box, and replacing religion with relationship…”
She found this revelation, that God is love, and that he loves her, freed her from a certain sort of pressure to find meaning in sex…
“It was deeply relieving to know that I didn’t need to have sex in order to be loved, in order to give love, and in order to be known.”
Known… Loved… By God… In a way that re-ordered who she is… That cascaded into all her relationships…
This is what meeting Jesus does. This is what it means to be “Beloved”…
When it comes to what this means about the relationship between the church and the LGBTIQA+ community, Anna has some advice…
“LGBTQI+ friends – God is on your side, especially in your persecution and suffering. He knows and he cares.
Christian friends – we are not the Pharisees. Guard your heart against the yeast of it. Seek justice. Rejoice in listening. Share stories around the table. Be blessed by mercy.”
Don’t let our LGBTIQA+ neighbours think we hate them… Help them see the love of God for them through us…