Matthew 9:13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Like many who grew up in Evangelical churches, I was taught that the Bible clearly condemns same-sex relationships. I accepted this teaching and taught it myself for years, until a friend asked if I was willing to be wrong. He asked if, when I went to the scriptures to study this issue, I approached with an intention to prove my position or to learn what the text says in its context. Of course, I replied that my faith is always informed by a good hermeneutical examination of the text, not the other way around.

Person sitting on carpeted floor with an open bible in their lap.

I was defensive when this friend asked me about my interaction with the Bible, but the question stuck with me. I began to wonder what would cause some Christians I know to hold a different perspective. This curiosity sent me on a journey of discovery and change. As I began to look deeply at the text, the context, the original languages, and the overall sexual ethics presented in scripture I began to see that my assumptions were wrong.

Others have explored the texts that have been used to condemn those with sexual identities outside of heteronormativity, so I will not reinvent the wheel with this post. What I want to do instead is to point to a couple of thoughts that bridged the gap for me, taking me from uncertain to embracing of LGBTQIA+ folks.

Biblical sexual ethics. Complete abstinence before joining one man and one woman, for life. This was the ethic I was taught pervaded the scriptures from the Jewish Bible to the Christian texts. Except it isn’t. You would be hard pressed to find many biblical figures who fit this model. All of the patriarchs, with one exception had multiple wives. Our female heroes Ruth and Esther are a far cry from the bashful and chaste models promoted in the church. We don’t have space to get into the kings and their harems. And God straight up tells Hosea to marry a prostitute.

In the New Testament multiple partners is discouraged for church leaders, but not believers in general. Today marriage seems to be the goal, but Paul tells the faithful to not seek to change their status whether married or single. Jesus forbids men divorcing their wives for frivolous reasons, but does not forbid it entirely. At one point Paul talks about polluting your body--God’s temple--by uniting it to a prostitute. What does this tell us about the actual practices of people in the newly forming church?

All of these are compelling, interesting, discussion-worthy texts and concepts but what they do not say is that your ability to honor God or be a follower of Jesus hinges on one definition of sexual purity. Human sexuality is messy, and people have been following God with a variety of ideas about what it means to be faithful in the area of sex. We need deeply nuanced discussions of sexual ethics. Simplistic, inaccurate, and naïve mandates are only serving to disenchant believers who actually read their bibles.

Man kneels between rows of chairs, head in hand, bible and glasses on the chair next to him.

Biology. It may surprise you that you probably know people whose biological sex is ambiguous. Approximately 1 in every 1,000 babies born cannot be assigned a sex at birth because of ambiguous genitalia. [1] About the same number of babies born has a genetic or endocrine system disorder that affects their sexual development, which may remain hidden until puberty. If you know 500 people, it’s likely that at least one of them has a diagnosable condition that makes it nearly impossible to categorize them as either male or female.

A recent statement on Christian marriage called for not only one man, one woman, but one born biological male, and one born biological female. It makes me curious how this rule is to be enforced. Do we subject couples to inspection of their genitals? DNA tests? Then there is the issue of what we do with individuals whose bodies read female, but whose chromosomes are XY. Are they born male or born female? Do they matter? Should we simply ignore their existence?

If there are at least one in every five hundred people who are diagnosable with a physical or genetic anomaly regarding their sex, why is it difficult to believe that there are factors that we do not yet understand which biologically determine not only physical sexual expression but sexual preference? Are we willing to brand people as sinners who have no choice in who they love or how they experience the world?[2]

Romans 2:1“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”

This verse is the one that flipped the tables in my heart. Even if you believe same sex relationships are sinful, which I do not, you will never find them mentioned alone in scripture. When we talk about LGBTQIA+ issues, we are often quoted Romans 1 and the shameful sin spiral that humanity has been in since it turned to worship created things instead of the Creator. Do you know what all Paul lists? Let’s get a refresher: idolatry, sexual sin, unnatural sexual relations, every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, depravity, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, God-hating, insolence, arrogance, boasting, inventing ways of doing evil, disobedience to parents, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. And then Paul says, “Gotcha!” Because at some point in that list we all get cocky. We all point fingers and say, “Right on!” But did you notice he slipped in gossip? Did you notice he snuck in lack of mercy? What about arrogance? Paul points the finger back at us and says, “You do it, too.”

At the point where you dishonor your parents, according to Paul in this passage, you are no better than an adulterer. At the point at which you boast, you are no better than a murderer. Paul has one purpose for this list, and it is not to provide a definitive list of sins. Paul is saying we are all in the same boat.

All of us. Gay and Straight. Pastors and Congregants.

Pink canoe with outrigger poles floating on the water.

“But I have repented!” Ok, great! Of everything? Have you ceased from all the things in the list? Never to return to them? No habits or hang-ups in your life? Really?

I find that hard to believe.

And yet, we let you follow Jesus. We the Church give you room to stumble, to fall, to repent, to get back up, and for the most part we don’t dog you about your personal failure. We love you, support you, bear with your weakness, and trust God is at work in your life. We ask you to pass the offering plate, serve in the nursery, read a scripture, pray a prayer at public worship, and we do not interrogate you on whether you have unconfessed sin in your life before you are allowed to participate fully in the life of the church. We don’t ask if you yelled at your kids on the way to worship. We don’t ask if you have been treating your spouse as a precious image-bearer of God. We don’t inquire as to whether you talked about your boss behind her back this week at work. We don’t chastise you for putting your parents in a nursing home. We don’t ask if your taxes are audit-ready. We don’t inventory your social media posts for slander.

We trust that to bring you into a relationship with the Living God is enough to begin a transformation process in you and we generally allow the Spirit to direct the growth and change in your life. But only if you are straight, and cisgender. If you are queer, if you are trans, if you are open about your same-sex attraction, you might be welcome to come but not to belong. You can attend, but not participate fully in the life of the church. Because we have decided that the work of the Spirit is not enough.

And if we welcome you in as a gay person to fully belong to the body of Christ, we are called apostate. Apostate means someone who has fallen away from the faith, rejected Christ. Apparently now to love and embrace sinners has been categorized “Neo-apostate,” a new and special kind of falling away.[3] I wonder if those who make such condemning statements have read the Gospels lately. See who in the narratives of Jesus’s life and ministry are pointing fingers, and who is found in Jesus’s embrace. Look up who wished to maintain purity and who Jesus called white-washed tombs. Pretty on the outside. Putrid on the inside.

James 2:12-13 “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Oh, be careful little heart who you judge.
Oh, be careful little heart who you judge.
For with the measure thou shalt use, it shall be measured unto you.
Oh, be careful little heart who you judge.

Stick person clings to the bottom of a red stick heart, dangling over open space.

My embrace of LGBTQIA+ folks arises from my deepening faith in Jesus Christ, who ate with sinners while they were still sinners, and whose grace covers my multitude of sins. My embrace of all people as beloved springs from my confidence in God’s Holy Spirit to do sanctifying work at the individual level better than I can. My pattern of acceptance is built squarely on the foundation of God’s example of reaching out when we are neck-deep in imperfection. If I am to be branded “friend of sinners,” I will be in good company.

Regarding those who are not accepting, I disagree with your stance, but I have no stones to throw. It took me a long time to get to this place of acceptance. I understand those who are not here, yet. If that is you, I hope that you will continue to walk in the light you have been given. And I hope you can find a way to be ok with being wrong, maybe even about this.

[1]The subject of intersex biology and health is easily Google searched. Here are some articles from NIH written from scientific perspectives considering several aspects of life as an intersex individual.

[2] Often the response to this question is a false association of same-sex attraction with pedophilia. The reason we are against pedophilia is that children are not able to consent to sex, and they are damaged both physically and psychologically from sexual contact with adults. The argument falls flat, exposing itself as disingenuous when we are talking about biblical sexual ethics because pedophilia is not explicitly condemned in scripture. The condemnation of pedophilia is extra-biblical, but relies on the same extrapolation of ethical principles that allow affirming same-sex relationships.


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