Sin comparisons ultimately break down
Sexual identity in the 21st century has important nuances that make it a very unique topic to discuss and think about. As LGBT people have come out of their hiding places and demanded attention and recognition in the last decade or so, they have forced society as a whole, including the church, to grapple with and think critically about what it means to be gay, what it means to have faith, and what it means to include them as valuable people in our communities.
As people we often try to make sense of issues and others’ experiences we don't understand by relating it to something we do have experience with. Sometimes that can be helpful, placing ourselves in others’ shoes which results in compassion and a shared humanity. However, I often hear straight Christians comparing homosexuality to other sexual sins or their own experience with how this fallen world has affected them saying, “See! It’s the same thing!”. While there may be many similarities, sexual identity and the LGBT experience makes it very unique for several reasons which, if not recognized, will hinder your relationship and conversations with LGBT people.
Maybe the most important is that this is seen, felt, and experienced by gay people as an identity, not just a behavior or desire. So when Christians try to say things like “your sexual attraction to the same gender is the same as my draw towards alcoholism – both are sin and both need to be repented of”, I’ve heard LGBT respond with, “I’m NOT an addiction! I’m NOT a disease!”. They have heard something completely different than what you are trying to communicate and this is not helpful. Other straight church people might be on the same page with you, but LGBT people are not.
Similarly, there was an outspoken, Christian TV personality that, when asked about his sexual ethic, gave a statement that lumped pedophilia, bestiality, and homosexuality together, stating they were all outside of what God intended, that one leads to another, and all contribute to societal breakdown. And while I agree that these are all examples of what God did not intend sexual expression for, to lump them together without explanation and nuance was heard by LGBT folks as “This is how Christians see you & your sexuality, as predatory, sexual deviants – a class all your own”. Not only is this incredibly offensive and unfair, but it hits a very sensitive nerve because for many decades (and sometimes even currently) dominant society viewed all gay men as pedophiles and feared for their children’s safety. Same-sex sexual & romantic relationships are often compared to sins that have a victim-perpetrator dynamic like lust, murder etc. which I believe is heard by LGBT people as “you are a victimizer and should be guarded against and feared”. The reality is that not all same sex relationships are built on lust, selfishness, or co-dependence as they have often been characterized. I’ve seen same sex relationships where both people are monogamous, loving, kind, and selfless. This doesn’t have to change my sexual ethic, but it should give me pause before I assume I know what all gay relationships are like.
So I often stay away from sin comparisons (even though I believe all sin is equal) because of the strong potential for gay people to feel you haven’t heard or cared to understand them. Because this is an identity issue, rather than just a behavioral one, we must speak about in ways that are nuanced and with great care. Most people in our society can hardly even receive constructive criticism for their behavior, let alone if they feel their entire personhood is being attacked. How much more a community of people who’ve experienced a lifetime of rejection? I heard someone say, regarding the psychology of identity, that “people often take on the identity of the thing they’ve been shamed for the most”. In my own experience, this could not be more true. Even living as a Christian for 13 years and married heterosexually for 10, I often find it hard to shake the idea that people only see me as “that gay guy” or “the guy who has THAT testimony”. So when I hear others talking disparagingly about gay people or comparing victimizing, behavioral sins to that of same sex romantic love and attraction, I myself experience a defensive reaction and posture where I have to struggle through the person’s language and strain to hear their real intent. I want to eliminate this road block in our conversations with LGBT people because they may not be willing or able to press past your language and hear your true heart.
This blog is one in a series of 30+ tips for relational effectiveness with LGBT people. Find the condensed list HERE. These relational tips are from a handout acquired from “Lead Them Home”, a Boston based ministry that equips the church on LGBT issues. These blogs have been expounded upon with permission.
These tips, along with numerous other insights, are found in an excellent resource called “Guiding Families” available HERE.