Why do Christians hate gay people? Isn’t Jesus supposed to be about love?
In the two days since the Supreme Court affirmed the right of marriage for gay couples nationwide, my social media feed has been a blend of sheer joy, horrified sorrow, and anger. I have dear friends whose marriages are now validated (most of them both Christian and gay), and I have dear relatives who are mortified and fear God’s wrath. In the midst of these extremes, it occurs to me that in our modern American culture, many non-Christians might not have the faintest idea why gay marriage is such a big deal to many Christians.
In this post, I will summarize my understanding of “why.” There was a time when I still shared many of these reasons for fearing “gay rights,” so I think I can address some of the roots of that opposition. Here I will only summarize the why. In a future post, I will address the “why not”– how my beliefs and opinions have been radically changed.
I’ll give you the summary first. In brief, many American Christians share these beliefs and feelings:
- Sin–disobeying God’s teachings–is a real thing.
- They fear God’s reaction to sin: in the past, He has destroyed sinful nations
- God has explicitly destroyed nations guilty of SEXUAL sins
- People I love will burn forever in hell if they don’t believe the right things about sin
In tension: Sin, grace, and judgement
The Christian Bible holds two ideas in tension (please forgive the vast oversimplifications): the idea of a judgmental God, demanding strict adherence to a moral code, and the idea of a forgiving and loving Jesus who “completed” the impossible task of saving believers from inability to comply with that code (“sin”). Even the sentence you just read could shatter my readers into a dozen denominations and sects debating its finer points.
Resolving this tension between judgment and grace likewise had the earliest Christian churches in fits. Some questioned whether the god of the Old Testament could even be the same god to which Jesus prayed. (cf. Marcionism) Theologians have continued to debate these issues for two millennia, starting with the writers of the inter-church letters of the New Testament (“epistles”), and continuing to the present day. A famous writing from the apostle Paul addressed the question. Some of his followers had apparently asked if Jesus’ actions freed them from the moral code entirely. Paul’s answer in Hebrews 10 was a resounding “no:”
” If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left.”
Yet Paul’s writing in his letter to the Romans spends pages building an elaborate argument that nothing can separate those who follow Jesus from the love of God:
” Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death…. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?…. I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (excerpts from Romans 8, New International Version)
But the ellipses–oh the ellipses, the sentences I have omitted. Paul’s elaborate argument is filled with paragraphs more nuance and subtlety that I dare attempt to address here. Let it suffice to say, then, that two thousand years of church history renders a majority opinion: even Christians saved by Jesus shouldn’t commit “sin,” or they will find themselves subject to God’s judgment, and perhaps his condemnation (depending on your school of thought). Even for those who believe Jesus’ paid the price for their sins, there remains a lingering fear of God’s judgment and condemnation.
Sodomy & Destruction
Both the Old and New Testaments condemn certain sex acts between men. As many are quick to point out, the Bible also condemns shrimp, pork, women who talk in church, divorce, and sex during menstruation, among other things. Here, I won’t debate whether the translation is accurate or whether the Old Testament laws apply. The words are there, and a simple reading in English says these are sins.
But why are modern Christians so willing to eat shrimp and get divorced, but terrified about accepting gays? One word: Sodom, the city from which we misappropriate the word Sodomy. (more on that in a minute)
The Old Testament is littered with cities and nations that God and/or the Israelites (at his command) destroyed because of their sins. The city of Nineveh is famous for being warned by Jonah (assisted by a certain whale) that God was going to destroy them. The city and its people repented and changed their ways, and God did not destroy them.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is different, though. Just before God destroyed it, we read the tale of how the men of the city wanted to have sex with the male guests in Lot’s house (who happened to be emissaries from God). Lot offered them his daughters instead (what??!!) but they refused. When we read this through a modern lens, it sounds like a gay pride parade gone bad.
My subsequent post will more fully address how we have misread this story, but let me at least say this: the story can also be read as a tale of gang-raping the strangers as an expression of dominance; the perpetrators were not likely “gay” as we define it today. It is a story of being unwelcoming in a culture that valued hospitality more highly than we can comprehend. Most importantly, neither sex nor gang-rape is the reason Sodom was destroyed–according to the Bible itself. Ezekiel 16: “‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me.”
Sodom–and Sodomy–are why many Christians fear gays. God did not even bother to use a human army, he just obliterated the cities. He rained down fire, and turned them to salt. All because they were gay perverts. (Or, because they were arrogant and didn’t help the poor, if you believe Ezekiel.)
Many Christians believe this is an historical account. Many non-Christians probably can’t grasp that. But based on this story in its common understanding, it appears that God has a special hatred for gay sex acts, a hatred so strong he will destroy nations that allow it.
Victorian sex ethics, 1950’s psychology, and early 1980’s propaganda from the politically organized “Religious Right” have only reinforced these beliefs.
Jesus did teach love, and many of the Christians who are vehemently opposed to gay-anything are also deeply loving people. American Christianity, though, often focuses on “right belief.” One must not only believe in Jesus, but believe the right things about Jesus, as defined by a certain denomination or local church.
I knew a man who was infamous for asking uncomfortable questions of his children and grandchildren regarding their beliefs. It alienated members of the family from him and from faith, but his motivation was love. He did not want to see them condemned to hell for having wrong (or no) belief in Jesus. He loved them too much to allow that to happen because of any inaction on his part.
I know people who have wept this week, because they sincerely believe that allowing gay marriage saddens — or enrages — God. They are weeping because they don’t want their children and grandchildren to grow up with wrong beliefs in a promiscuous culture. They do not want the United States to be a nation which loses God’s favor, or receives his destructive anger. Most of them do not want to see anyone – gay stranger or misled grandchild – burn in hell.
I respect and honor those fears and desires. I just think they are unfounded, a subject I will address when next I sit down to write.
In the interim, to those who are offended, angry, or afraid, I simply offer words often spoken by Jesus: “do not be afraid.” I mean it: I hope you will be less afraid.