In a quarter century of ministry, there are a few questions that I’ve been asked hundreds of times. For gay Christians struggling to embrace their sexual identity, the questions are often about what Jesus would say about their sexual orientation. I’ll share three of these common questions and my responses now.
Is it a sin to be gay?
“Sin” means to miss the mark (an archery & hunting metaphor). To “be” anything is a matter of ontology (of “is-ness”). So to discover that one is something and to be honest about it can never be missing the mark. Self-discovery and expressing one’s truth with integrity is hitting the bull’s eye! Human sexuality is one of many aspects that are integrated into the wholeness of one’s being. Not only do I not believe it is a sin to be gay, I believe being gay is a blessing.
Did Jesus condemn homosexuality?
Jesus condemned precious little. One of the few things that he did condemn was the tendency of religious people to participate in condemnation! Jesus seemed to have a great deal of patience with almost everything other than self-righteous people who tried to enforce religious rules in a way to oppress or control others. There were even a few times when Jesus seemed sympathetic to same-gender love.
When did Jesus seem to be okay with gay people?
In the 8th chapter of Matthew’s gospel (and the story is repeated in the 7th chapter of Luke’s gospel), Jesus heals a centurion’s servant. The original hearers of that story would have assumed that the servant was the centurion’s lover. From what we know of 1st century Roman culture, we know that such relationships were not uncommon. And for a person of such high rank to be so concerned about a servant that he would approach a faith healer of lower status in a desperate attempt to help his servant suggests an intimacy far greater than one would expect between a military officer and his “servant.” The Greek text of one of the two times the story is told in the bible even uses a word that often was used to suggest a lover. How did Jesus respond to the centurion? He praised his faith! The same-gender relationship was not condemned or even questioned.
Additionally, Jesus was friendly with a non-traditional family. Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived together and were among Jesus’ dearest friends. They claimed to be siblings, but it would have been highly unusual for three adult siblings to live together and none of them have spouses or children. If they were all single, that was an alternative arrangement that Jesus didn’t condemn. It is also possible that Mary and Martha (as closeted couples have done in every age) were a couple and simply claimed to be related to avoid suspicion. The single Lazarus living with two women brings to mind the time in college that I lived with two lesbians who were a couple (three queer people sharing a life together). I wouldn’t be surprised if Mary, Martha, and Lazarus had a similar arrangement. In any case, they weren’t a typical 1st century patriarchal family with children; they were a non-traditional family in some sense, and they were part of Jesus’ family of choice.
I can think of other examples, but the point is that Jesus wasn’t in the condemnation business and in fact, he showed great compassion and understanding for a variety of differences.
Rev. Durrell Watkins, M.A., M.Div., D.Min.
is the Senior Minister of Sunshine Cathedral
in Fort Lauderdale.