**As with any of my posts on controversial subjects, “I could be wrong” is always an implied caveat.**
My friend Cassidy has been writing a series of reviews based on People to be Loved by Preston Sprinkle: a book that purports to describe a “radical love and acceptance” of gay Christians in a way that has never been done before.
Long story short: there is nothing new regarding mainstream evangelical rhetoric about homosexuality in this book. Same-sex relationships are still sinful. What Sprinkle actually does is rephrase his anti-gay stance in flowery, user-friendly language so he doesn’t come across as bigoted. He describes a text conversation in which a pastor friend of his deliberately dodged answering a woman’s question, “Would your church welcome my lesbian daughter?”
Instead, he writes that the pastor invited her to join him in a series of coffee dates to “get to know each other,” almost as if he intended to soften her up before delivering the bad news: yes, your daughter is welcome, but if she’s in a same-sex relationship, she will be encouraged to repent.
“Hate the sin, love the sinner” sounded radical once, but it isn’t anymore.
Mean what you say, say what you mean
I see nothing to be gained by this approach. Sprinkle may think it’s “radical” to show kindness in the form of buying someone coffee as opposed to shouting “Get behind me, Satan!” But I wouldn’t be surprised if this felt like a bait-and-switch to the coffee recipient. In the context of same-sex relationships being sinful, there is no gentle way to break that sort of news when it’s bound to be personal.
I’ve been in Sprinkle’s shoes before: not as a pastor, but as an acquaintance confronted with the question “Does your ministry welcome gays?” from a fellow classmate. I’d hem and haw and struggle to find some way to essentially say “Yes, but no” without sounding mean. Ideally, I’d want to answer the question in such a way that conveyed a parent’s struggle to tell their adult child he cannot live at home anymore if he refuses to go to rehab to kick his drug habit. You know, “tough love.”
In other words, I was struggling with a way to say, “We hate the sin, but love the sinner” without sounding cliché.
It’s taken several years for me to see, however, that the “consequences” of committed same-sex relationships are really nothing like a drug habit. In Evangelical World, it’s as if there is no difference.
The destructive nature of drugs is tangible, measurable, and can be seen with the naked eye. The only “consequences” of homosexuality that I’ve gleaned from Scripture are symbolic – “against God’s design,” arguably because two people of the same sex cannot produce children (neither can all straight couples), and because with two of the same gender, there is confusion regarding who the “head” of the family is, and whose job it is to submit (a complementarian idea that has been debunked).
While I in no way profess that my understanding of the Bible is perfectly clear on this subject, it does seem to me that the type of relationships gay Christians seek – committed, consensual, for better or worse, richer or poorer – is likely not what is being referred to in Leviticus 18:22 or 1 Corinthians 6:9, the two biggest “clobber verses” that are pulled out for debate.
Two scholars, three opinions
I can speak with a bit more confidence (but only a bit) regarding Leviticus, simply because I have a bias toward Hebrew translations from Jewish scholars – I trust the translation of the Old Testament through a Jewish lens more than I do with Christian ones, and many Jewish experts believe “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman” refers to unlawful sex; perhaps even rape.
In his book Torn, Justin Lee rightly points out that the word “homosexuality” did not exist until about the 18th century, so it couldn’t have been used in the Bible. Additionally, same-sex prostitution was a part of ritual pagan worship, which was common at the time, and condemned by the apostle Paul as behavior unbecoming of Christians – hence why he wrote that this category of offenders “will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”
I write all this to explain that, contrary to mainstream evangelical thought, it is possible to be affirming of same-sex relationships for reasons that are not purely self-seeking. Don’t take my word about the above exegesis being correct, however – it’s an alternative interpretation that I, a seminary dropout, have no way of confirming for complete authenticity. But it does make sense to me. And if Sprinkle really wanted to show “radical love” in his book, perhaps he ought to have included both sides of the issue. If Scripture were easy and simple to comprehend, we wouldn’t have the 40,000 denominations that exist, and have existed, over the last two thousand years.
As I read about the controversies of bakers and florists refusing services to gay couples, and in some cases, gays being fired or denied housing because of their orientation, the more I come to believe that we are living in a pivotal time in American history: a new kind of Jim Crow, if you will.
The minds, they are a’changin’
And speaking of Jim Crow, it must be acknowledged just how many Christians were unapologetically racist, believing integration and interracial marriages were just as sinful as gay marriage is considered today. They cited Scripture and predicted the collapse of society if black people were recognized as equal citizens.
Society is indeed facing the threat of collapse. But it’s coming from those stuck in their bigotry, not from black people. And not from gays.
While it’s not my goal to try and change anyone’s mind, it will do Christians some good to remember our history of disagreements (many of which resulted in burnings at the stake!) and be honest about how many times our ancestors have revised their understanding of Scripture right around the time that their respective cultural tides began to turn.
Today, Christians insist that slaveholders and KKK members interpreted their Bibles through a lens of hate. If I’m still around fifty years from now, I wonder if the majority of American Christians will be saying the same about the “hate homosexuality, love the homosexual” crowd.