Bringing an end to sin-shaming

My heart is heavy whenever I hear a minister of religion taking the opportunity to publicly suggest that gay people should repent of their sins. While I think that I understand the concern behind this – that gay people in sexually active relationships (even civil partnerships and marriages) may remain in a state of unrepentant sin, I’m always troubled by the glaring inconsistency.  Surely, if we are concerned about gay people remaining in unrepentant sin, we should call them to repentance for all their sins, the ones of which we are aware and the ones of which we are unaware. If we itemise one sin (to the exclusion of all the other sins they may or may not be committing), it becomes obvious that this is the ‘sin’ causing us the most difficulty. Further, if we are concerned that gay people may remain in unrepentant sin, then surely we should be equally concerned for all other people remaining in unrepentant sin (and truly there will be an awful lot of people and an awful lot of sin – calls to repentance will keep us all busy for some time). 

To highlight one particular people group (gay people) for one particular sin (possible sex in their civil partnerships or marriages) says far more about our current difficulties in accepting civil partnered and same-sex married people into our church congregations than it ever does about the nature of repentance or the nature of sin. It really looks as if we have a particular axe to grind, a particular agenda to further.

LGBT+ people (and also straight people in society who believe in equal treatment for LGBT+ people) hear ‘gay people should repent of their sins’ and notice that they are subject to specialised treatment. Gay people may interpret this as ‘You are not acceptable to us as you are and you will need to change if you want to be part of us’ to which they may well reply ‘That’s fine. You have your own point of view. We’ll stick with Buddhism’.  Bridge-building efforts underway (perhaps for months or years) between individual church members and their gay friends, family members, work colleagues and neighbours may take a blow from which it is difficult to recover.

I hear too the suggestion that gay people, on coming to faith, will be called, as we all are, to ‘carry our cross’ and that, in their case, this may mean a commitment to celibacy.  This seems to some of us to be the answer to the problem. But of course, it is Jesus who calls us to carry our cross and our crosses are tailor-made for each of us, given our individual journeys of faith. No human has the power or authority to tell another human how heavy his cross will be or for how long he will be carrying it – this authority belongs to Jesus alone. I dare to suggest (but I can’t prescribe) that some of us may find that Jesus calls us to ‘carry our cross’ when we are asked to fellowship with particular people whose inclusion in our church communities we struggle with. I appreciate that this too will be a costly discipleship.

I am an evangelical and so I desire greatly that gay people (indeed, all people) in my community come to faith in Jesus and even to be part of my own church.  I am sure that they are happy with Buddhism but my belief and experience is that a living, ongoing relationship with Jesus is an adventure not to be missed.

My Bible points me to God who wants to draw all people (straight and gay) to himself, who can bring people to metanoia (a turning away from those things that harm us and a turning towards a life of flourishing lived in him) and who can convict of sin and effect transformation.  All of these are God’s work and beyond the abilities of us mere mortals. Further, my Bible and my experience reinforce my belief that God works in very different ways with different people over different issues in different timescales – our own prescriptive ‘you will change in x way, in y time, in order to be part of us’ may thwart God’s particular plans for a  particular person.  We take our Bible seriously but surely we take God and the outworking of his plans for individual people more seriously still.

It’s unfortunate for gay people that, in committing to civil partnerships or same-sex marriages, they are ‘wearing their sin on their sleeve’, but all the same, can we bring an end to this arbitrary sin-shaming? Can we surrender our plans to God’s plans, our comfort to his unpredictability, and our need for control to his desire to see people come to faith? Can we submit to the Holy Spirit and see where this adventure takes us?

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