The other day I had breakfast with an old friend—we’ve met, off and on, two Saturday mornings a month for 10 years or so. I hadn’t seen him in a few months, so we had some catching up to do. I asked about his family. He paused, glanced down for a moment, then leveled his gaze at me.
“This will take awhile if I go in this direction,” he said.
“I have time,” I said.
And then he pulled the pin on the grenade: “Well, [college-age son] came to us a few months ago and told us he was tired of fighting it—he wanted us to know that he was coming out as gay, and he intended to start openly living as a gay man.” In my friend’s eyes, I could see the weight of years loaded into this short statement. I asked if this admission was a shock to my friend and his wife. He told me that his son had always been wired differently, and that he’d come to him when he was 12, anxious and upset over the dawning possibility that those differences might mean he was gay. So my friend took his son to counseling every week for six years, trying to give him the space to wrestle-out his feelings, within a context of engaged pursuit.
“I never told you about all of this because I wanted to honor the privacy of my son’s struggle,” he said.
“I understand,” I said. “So, how are you and your wife processing all of this now?”
“Well, I’ve read a bunch of books, prayed a lot, and hashed stuff out with [my wife]. Mostly, I was worried that my son might resent me for taking him to a counselor all those years, but he told me he was grateful for it—the counselor really helped him to navigate his feelings.” I asked if his views on homosexuality had changed, now that he had a deeply personal connection to it. And he explained that the pile of books he’d read could be divided into two camps—nurture and nature. Some contend that homosexuality is the byproduct of environmental factors that funnel some kids toward homosexual feelings and behaviors. Others insist that homosexuality is a genetic reality, and therefore just as “natural” an orientation as heterosexuality.
For those in Camp #2, homosexuality can’t be considered sinful because those who identify as gay are, simply, hard-wired that way. Lady Gaga captures the spirit of that argument in her hit song from 2011, “Born This Way”:
“No matter gay, straight or bi/Lesbian, transgendered life/I’m on the right track, baby/I was born to survive.”
In contrast, those in Camp #1 treat homosexuality as a sin because that’s how the Bible labels it, over and over calling it an “abomination” (which means, literally, “that which is forbidden”). The two camps appear to have little overlap, but my friend told me that he doesn’t feel wholly comfortable in either one:
“Even my son told me, as he was coming out to us, that he believes homosexuality is sin. But he was just tired of fighting his feelings—living as a poser. So it was a tremendous weight off his shoulders when he finally gave in to the inevitable.”
I asked, “If even your son believes it’s a sin, what does that mean for both of you?”
“Well,” he answered, “I believe some are born with a latent proclivity to homosexuality, and it’s sometimes triggered into an active lifestyle by environmental factors. That’s how I’ve landed with my son, for now…”
And then my friend asked a question that’s at the core of the issue for followers of Jesus, and especially those who serve as ministry leaders: “If God truly created some this way, isn’t it simply judgmental to treat those who identify as gay as some kind of pariah?”
I said something like this: The truth is, we’re all born into toxic water—there’s not a person on earth who has escaped the “sin bath.” That means all of us, to use Lady Gaga’s template, are “born this way.” Some of that toxic residue is more culturally acceptable—greediness, selfishness, insecurity, anger, narcissism, and so on. The truth is, we’re all born with a proclivity for something(s), and our environment often triggers what is latent and makes it active. All of us must wrestle-out the consequences and influence of sin in our life. Capitulation is certainly a pragmatic strategy, but I can’t defend it as a path that honors God or spin it as “obedience.”
As fellow travelers, we have no business heaving stones at the adulterous woman—Jesus made that clear in John 8. But we also have no business normalizing sin to take the pressure off the dissonance we feel when we love people (just like ourselves) who are contaminated by sin. God said a brave and true thing to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). It’s God’s grace, the power of our weakness, that is our path forward—and that transcends the arguments of Camp #1 and Camp #2. ◊