“WHY DO YOU HATE ME?!?" That was what I yelled at my parents when they told me I could not go to South Padre for Spring Break at the age of 17. Though I didn’t always say it that directly, I often felt outraged by their rules and regulations, or their disapproval of my choices and relationships.
Is it right to tell someone what they should or should not do? Parents do. Governments do. Authorities of all sorts do, and sources of wisdom often guide us in what we should or should not do. Places in the world where freedom is best experienced, are places with good laws that sometimes protect people from themselves.
Here is another question that has been popularized in the media lately: is it right to tell someone who they can love? At first glance, that question may tug at your heart, and the obvious answer would be “absolutely not!” After all, that is how I felt back in high school when my parents said they had concerns about an older and “more experienced” girl I was dating. How dare they stick their nose in my business? Haters.
But let’s look a little bit deeper into that question. What if an adult is romantically in love with a 6-year-old? Would that be wrong, and would you be wrong for telling them so? Or what if some person was in love with your spouse, and was trying to break up your marriage? Is it not then OK to tell them that certain people are not available for them to love?
In reality, most everyone agrees that there are times when it is actually quite necessary to tell someone who they can or cannot romantically love. In some cases, we will even rightly hold people harshly accountable if they do not stand up and say it is wrong (see Penn State). We take these stands for the good of one or both of the parties involved. Even within the realm of consenting adult relationships, people are often attracted to people who will hurt them (or be hurt by them). A simple glance at the staggering divorce rate would show you that we are, on average, terrible at choosing who we love. Most people spend their entire adult lives trying to choose someone to spend the rest of their lives with, and statistically most people fail miserably at that task.
My parents didn’t hate me when they said not to go to South Padre on Spring Break at 17, even though I desperately wanted to go. I understood that even then. In fact, the only reason and motivation for them saying anything was because they loved me, and wanted the best for me. If they didn’t care at all about me, they would have kept silent. If they had truly hated me and wanted to do me harm, they would have encouraged me to do those things instead of speaking against them.
The Current Debate
So what does this have to do with the here and now? Well, I am sure you are familiar with the recent backlash against a company, Chick-Fil-A, because of some comments made by the company’s president. The president, Dan Cathy, stated (when asked) in an interview that the company supported the “Biblical definition of the family unit.” The response to that by many advocates of gay marriage has been, essentially, “WHY DO YOU HATE ME?!” There has been public condemnation of the company as a whole, and specific threats to deny business permits to the company’s independent franchisees.
As a friend put it, it seems that any comment these days that does not celebrate homosexuality is considered homophobic and hateful. So I want to be very clear: I am not homophobic. (Let’s talk. Meet for coffee? I am not afraid.) I have family and friends who are gay, and I do not hate anyone who identifies themselves as homosexual. In fact, what I do hate is that the church at large has not known how to respond to this issue; I am sure that this, over time, has led to the frustration that is now being expressed and targeted at Mr. Cathy. I’d like to address this below, but for the best message I have ever heard on this problem with the church and homosexuality, click here.
Where Christians Go Wrong
It seems like the church usually makes one of two mistakes when it comes to homosexuality. The first is that many Christians treat homosexuals as outsiders, or as a kind of unknown “other.” They condemn homosexuality as a sin, but do nothing to love the sinner. They may gladly show love and grace to people with most any other kind of sin; after all, they are sinners themselves. And though all sin carries the same eternal consequences, it seems people hold up this one sin as being somehow worse than heterosexual sin, or lying, or the love of money, or overeating. Gay people are essentially shunned, sort of like the lepers of Jesus’ time who had to shout “unclean!” so that no one would accidentally touch them and catch the contagious disease. Oh, and how did Jesus respond to lepers? He reached out to them. (Matthew 8:1-3).
The other mistake that some Christians make is that they do try to love the gay community, but they do so at the expense of truth. They think that “loving” someone means encouraging them to do whatever they want, regardless of consequences. But actions do have consequences, and therefore speaking the truth is often the most loving thing to do—even when it is uncomfortable, or may produce a hateful backlash. You don’t encourage an alcoholic to drink, unless you really do hate that person and want to see them hurt. Again, the example to follow is Jesus, who when talking to someone in the midst of sexual sin, did not condemn the person, but did tell her to “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11).
An Inconvenient Truth
Now, a few of you may be saying, “What consequences?” You may particularly wonder this if you do not believe in God, and therefore reject the concept of sin. But here’s the thing: sin can be freely forgiven anyway, and that slate completely wiped clean; that’s what Jesus came for, and that is the Good News. However, there are still earthly consequences. God only tells us not to do things because those are not the best things for us to do. In the case of homosexual activity, there are significant consequences to your quality of life (based on mental and physical health statistics) and even to your quantity of life (based on average life expectancy). To provide one example, the STD rates among practicing homosexuals are much higher than for heterosexuals. I’m not talking about being a few percentage points more likely to contract certain diseases. I’m talking about being 45 times more likely to contract infections like HIV and syphilis. (Is it “hateful” to point out such things? Well, blame the haters at the Centers for Disease Control).
One of the reasons for the particular problem of disease is that the human body is not designed to handle homosexual activities, and has no built-in defense mechanisms for preventing infection that way. You see, God does have a design for sexuality and how love can be expressed through it. He has designed us male and female, with parts that do go together to serve a purpose. Even the pleasure of sex serves a purpose—that a husband would bond to his wife and a wife to her husband (Genesis 2:24), as science has confirmed happens due to the release of chemicals in the brain. And through that, babies can be born into families and our species can continue. Any time we try to capture the pleasure of sex apart from God’s design—whether it be through heterosexual adultery, premarital sex, homosexual acts, pornography, bestiality, whatever—we are setting ourselves up for hurt. I am not saying these acts are all the same. I am saying they all have consequences because they are not according to God's design. Even the best-case scenario outside of God’s plan is still only second-best; it is still not the fullness of what God intends through a Godly marriage.
In light of that, it would be unloving not to say something when it could potentially save someone from hurt.
So, what about people who say they were born gay? I will not argue with anyone's experience or when their particular feelings started. I know most people do not consciously choose their desires and feelings. The causes of same-sex desire can be complex, as explained here. But, as humans, we can each choose what we do with our desires.
I have, since a young age, had strong sexual desires that did not fit with God’s ideal. They were heterosexual desires, and led to heterosexual sins—but again, that doesn’t make them less wrong. Everyone has desires that seem right to us, but bring about pain in our lives. We are in a process of denying ourselves these desires and pursuing a greater freedom found only in relationship with Christ. We seek help if needed. When we act according to those desires, there is forgiveness available. But we are not to embrace our flaws. We should embrace the flawed, which is everyone, but love them enough to speak the truth and help them find the freedom that Christ offers.
This is what I am absolutely sure of: marriage was "born straight," and has always been that way. It was invented by the Designer of sex. Marriage comes from God. Why would we want God's invention of marriage and not God's ideal, or God Himself?
Is it hateful to say, as Mr. Cathy did, that God’s plan for marriage is best? Is it hateful to try to help someone overcome a struggle that they desperately want to overcome? Is it hateful to want to spare people from hurt and pain? Undesired love is often called hate. I doubt Chick-Fil-A hates you. I certainly don't hate you. God, who most definitely supports the “Biblical definition of the family unit,” does not hate you. He is crazy about you, and for that reason offers up truth.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Want to fully love someone? Speak the truth. Want to be fully loved? Embrace the truth.