About a year ago, I had a conversation with a member of Christians in Action. He claimed to "love" homosexuals and care deeply about their welfare. In the course of our conversation, I mentioned that my same-sex partner/husband had been brutally assaulted a year ago last June because of his sexual orientation. He was punched repeatedly in the face, and received facial lacerations and three broken teeth when one of his assailants smashed his jaw with a bottle. While they were attacking him, they verbally assailed him with epithets such as "fucking faggot" and "cock-sucker." A University student who was participating in the conversation suggested that my partner had been "asking for it" because of his "lifestyle." When I asked this member of Christians in Action if he agreed with this kind of victim-blaming, he said, "Oh I agree with everything he's said." Later, I called him again on this issue, suggesting that many churches were like the Priest and the Levite in Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan: when confronted with the reality of anti-gay violence, they pass by "on the other side of the road" and refuse to lend a hand to victims of hatred. What was this person's response? "Oh, but that's different because the person who was assaulted in the story of the Good Samaritan didn't do anything to bring the assault on himself."
After that conversation, I felt much the same way as many of us at campus ministries felt upon reading the opinion piece "Homosexuality can be spiritually transformed" (Tuesday), co-authored by Pastor Craig Krueger of Christians in Action. I felt soiled. The piece is brimming with pious protestations of "love" and concern for the less fortunate, the "broken" homosexual who can be "healed." However, the charitable posture masks a profound disrespect, a kind of emotional/spiritual violence that condones and perhaps, encourages physical violence.
Fortunately, Krueger did not -- and, indeed, could not truthfully -- claim that his is the only Christian response. He did, however, imply that only conservative and fundamentalist Christians know the true causes of homosexuality. But the claim that homosexuality is "caused" by unsatisfactory relationships with a parent of the same sex flies against an ever-growing preponderance of psychological, biological and sociological evidence. Fundamentalists used to get away with wacky claims about the etiology of homosexuality -- in the bad old days when most people were ignorant about it. Nowadays, such claims don't go far. But Krueger is not likely terribly concerned about what really "causes" homosexuality anyway. He would probably suggest it's caused by flying kites or eating too much chocolate if people would believe it. Any theory will do so long as it supports the prejudice that homosexuality can and should be cured or "transformed."
What is most at the heart of this issue is not what causes homosexuality, but rather what is the nature of sin. On this question, Christians are and have been profoundly divided for centuries. And division can only be expected since the Bible offers dramatically conflicting answers to the age-old question of "What is sin?" Some Christians -- often of a more fundamentalist tilt -- tend to see sin as the violation of a divinely revealed code. Being a good Christian means being a good soldier, obeying the marching orders from above. The orders do not need to make sense to us. They may even seem repulsive, but we obey because God demands obedience.
Other Christians see sin very concretely in terms of how our actions affect others. God is love. Sin is that which violates the neighbor. God is not a great heavenly general who sends out troops, but the cultivator of a great garden -- a garden in where humans treat other humans and creation itself as if it is of the utmost importance.
For a Christian who adheres to the latter view of sin, blessing gay marriages is positive because it encourages love, commitment, and respect. It allows the friends, family and community of gay, lesbian and bisexual people to celebrate with the couple God's greatest gift to humanity -- the gift of love.
John D. Gustav-Wrathall and Lisa Pierce are co-directors at the Table Ecumenical Anti-Homophobia Project.