If the second greatest commandment taught by Jesus is to “love your neighbor,” why do Christians treat homosexuals in a way that seems so much to the contrary? A friend recently commented to me that the Christians he once knew treated him like an “abstract person” when he came out to them and he eventually had to leave his church. I thought this was aptly put. He became a theological problem that needed to be explained away instead of a real person who needed to be heard and understood.
Legalism and moralism in the church has a lot to do with it, but I think we’ve all heard that explanation before. I believe there is another contributing factor that I’ve never before heard mentioned. It is what the clergy refer to as “lacking assurance” or what a layperson might call “doubting his/her salvation.” Many, many Christians struggle to believe in all the things they are told to believe in. They have doubts about whether their faith is genuine or strong or lasting. They have doubts about whether they are true Christians, and about whether they can make it to heaven.
Conservative churches emphasize the importance of orthodoxy. You must align yourself with the teachings of the Bible for your faith to be considered genuine. But these teachings are not things that are easily grasped, believed or understood. That God became a man, born into this world as an infant child. That Jesus bore human sin in his own body on the cross, then rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. That faith in Jesus Christ, not personal righteousness, is what justifies sinners. That there will come a day of reckoning when the works of every human being who ever lived will be revealed and judged.
Rather than try to grapple with such deep and seemingly fantastic teachings, it is easier to reduce one’s faith to zealous moral living, which is where so much legalism in the church comes from. But even then no one can be satisfactorily moral. The end result is that many Christians struggle to believe, struggle to be moral, and most of all struggle to appear like they’ve got things under control when in fact they feel very much at sea. There is a lot at stake here, because loss of faith means eternal damnation, so you can bet there is a great deal of pent up anxiety involved. Churches ought to be helping people with their honest doubts, but the tendency instead is for church leaders to demand instant allegiance to orthodoxy rather than giving people the space to grow into their faith over time.
Now the stage is set for some unsuspecting homosexual to come out of the closet and get hit by a Mack truck. Particularly if he is a part of the church. The Bible teaches that homosexuality is sinful, but here is this person who claims to be a Christian who is saying that he or she cannot change. How can this be? Why would the Bible teach something is a sin if a person is unable to do anything about it? It is bad enough that non-Christians claim this, but we can condemn them as depraved, abominable and perverse to show just how much moral distance there is between ourselves and them. But it is horribly troubling when Christians make this claim, for it would imply that moral living is not within reach for a Christian even at the most basic level. And that simply cannot be because moral living is all any of us have left to show that we’re true Christians, since we’ve already given up trying to believe in all those strange Bible doctrines.
Therefore the conundrum that this homosexual person presents by his or her very existence must be explained, because if it is not, everyone’s already fragile faith might collapse and topple them over into the pit of hell. It is out of this insecurity and this inner panic that the unloving accusations and cold theological arguments spew forth: You must not be trying hard enough to get rid of your homosexuality. You can’t be a true Christian if you’re saying you have a fixed orientation. A Christian can’t accept being homosexual any more than he can accept being a murderer, or a pedophile, or having sex with cows!
When Jesus commands us to love, he assumes his hearers have a foundation of faith that is solid and secure. Because to love means being confident enough to let go of self-interest, personal agendas, and the need to always be right in order to go out to another person, even if that person might pose a threat to you in some of those areas. A Christian cannot love out of an insecure faith because he or she will lack such confidence. Our churches are full of people who suffer from this malady, and the symptoms are evident in the way we have treated gays and lesbians as “abstract people” instead of flesh and blood human beings.