Youth Ministry Minute: Sin Slotting
The flamboyant, opinionated, and self-confident guy who cut my hair for eight years is unabashedly gay. So is a friend from college, two distant relatives, and a startling number of my wife’s ex-boyfriends. Paul, the hair-cutter, had a dream, and it was to one day become the “personal stylist” to Dolly Parton. I’m not making this stuff up…
I can’t say I’ve had a relaxed relationship with the gay people in my life. Is that because I’m homophobic? I know that’s the response I risk by admitting I feel unsettled around people who identify themselves as gay.
Homosexual activists have had success in framing contrary views as breaches of their civil rights. So while a new study finds that only 1.4 percent of people in the U.S. population is gay (not the 10 percent that is often quoted), my mere mention of this discrepancy could be seen as suspect. But I don’t think I’m homophobic any more than I’m Bette-Midler-phobic or Richard-Simmons-phobic—in all cases, I’m unsettled only because I don’t share a baseline agreement about what is and isn’t sin, or what is and isn’t “acceptable sin.” It’s the same way I feel around people who use the F-word with frequency or have pornography in their house or have too much to drink on a regular basis. If my life’s orbits included way more of these behaviors, I’m sure I’d feel more settled about them due to sheer exposure…
But “unsettled” isn’t the same as “rejection”—its purpose is the same as the warning light on my car’s dashboard. A warning light appears for only one reason: as an alarm that forces me to pay attention.
I was talking with a youth ministry friend the other day about the ongoing pressure in our culture to normalize homosexual behavior. We agreed that the primary argument for normalization is the widespread view that people who identify as gay are “born that way” and, therefore, it’s at least unloving and at most cruel to categorize a “given” as sin. Of course, this is exactly why Lady GaGa’s song “Born This Way” (the fastest-selling song in iTunes history) is a touchstone song for a generation of teenagers and young adults. It’s an anthem for a culture that has elevated acceptance above all other virtues: No matter gay, straight, or bi Lesbian, transgendered life I’m on the right track, baby Born to survive I’m beautiful in my own way ‘Cause God makes no mistakes I’m on the right track, baby I was born this way
Lady GaGa couldn’t have chosen better words to represent the zeitgeist of today’s teenagers: “I’m on the right track, baby. I was born this way.” The right track, in the theology of GaGa, is whatever track you’re on. What’s missing, of course, is a truth that is central to the gospel—none of us is inherently “on the right track.” We’re all on “the wrong track” and headed for a collision, sooner or later. If you’re not in trouble, you don’t need a Messiah. Paul, writing to the Romans, describes the fulcrum of our life: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Earlier, the Apostle specifically targets homosexual behavior, hauling out his rocket-launcher to tell it like it is: “…They did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, [so] God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper…” (Romans 1:28).
Even though Paul highlights homosexual behavior as “not proper,” it’s only one of a host of “not proper” behaviors that we see all around us, every day. So my response to my friend about the “okay-ness” of homosexuality went something like this:
• Much of the backlash against the church’s response to homosexuality takes aim at an embedded anomaly—we “slot” this particular sin as worse than most others. That’s wrong, pragmatically and theologically and relationally. If we picket against homosexuality we should also picket against obesity and foul language and premarital sex and greed and envy and the way men look at women at the swimming pool. And if we offer grace to a friend who has a penchant for gossip, why would we not offer grace to a friend who is wrestling with gender identification?
• The idea that it’s unfair to label a genetic predisposition as “sin” is, simply, a straw man. There is a genetic predisposition to many sinful behaviors—alcohol and drug and sexual abuse, uncontrolled anger, lying, cheating, and on an on. “Genetic predisposition” is just another way of saying “original sin.” Even criminal behavior has a genetic root. Caitlin Jones of the Rochester Institute of Technology writes: “Both genes and environment do play a role in the criminality of an individual.” If we treated all genetically predisposed sin as acceptable, we’d need to wipe out our criminal justice code. Of course it’s not fair that some are predisposed to a particular sin—there’s nothing fair about our “born this way” situation. But we’re all predisposed to sin, and that means we’re all fellow travelers. The problem comes when we decide to embrace our predispositions rather than throw ourselves on the mercy of Jesus. We’re all caught up in sin, argues Paul, for this reason: God intends that our only hope in life is the redemption we find in Jesus.
I’m unsettled around the gay people in my life because, often, their preferred way to deal with the dissonance in their life is to embrace the normalcy of it instead of embracing their “baptism into death” through Jesus (Romans 6:3). ◊