Why it's important to insist that homosexual orientation is not a sin
Recently a generally fine post by Sean Daenzer appeared on the website of my church body, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Regrettably, the last commenter on the post manifested precisely that misinformed and destructive attitude. Unfortunately, the article was sloppy at one point in its use of language, permitting itself to be understood as saying that depression and sickness are "sinful conditions." Commenters on the post at the LCMS Facebook page quite rightly took exception to that implication.
Regrettably, those in charge of the page responded with this unfortunate "explanation:"
It seems there is a lot of confusion as to what "sinful condition" means. It is simply this - a condition that exists as a result of sin. Death and sickness in all its forms are sinful conditions.
No, it doesn't! It is so clear as to be a tautology to say that a sinful condition is a condition which is, in itself, sinful! It means that it is sinful to be IN that condition! Having cancer or depression or the common cold- or being of homosexual orientation- are not in themselves sins! What they are is manifestations of the sinful condition all human beings live in from conception until death, which itself is the final result of that condition.
It is one thing to say that homosexual orientation or depression or cancer are manifestations of our sinful condition. But it's a very different thing to say that they are sinful conditions! I have absolutely no doubt that the sloppy use of language here is just that- a less than ideal use of words rather than an ascription of actual sin to the act of passively suffering the consequences of being a sinner. But in this case, there are far-reaching consequences to the mistake.
The argument of the social Left (and, absurdly, of much of society) is that to disapprove of homosexuality is somehow bigoted and a manifestation of prejudice akin to racism. The entire logic of the Supreme Court's decision redefining marriage, for example, buys into the confusion of orientation and behavior. It uses the logic of equal protection under the law to authorize something which people didn't engage in not because the law forbade it, but because they are by the nature of their sexual orientation incapable of it. Prior to Obergefell v. Hodges, marriage was by its very nature an institution whose purpose was the bearing and raising of children. Granted, not all of those who married were, in fact, capable of having kids. But their incapability was a result of age or a coincidental medical abnormality. In principle, a man and a woman is the combination of partners necessary for procreation. Medical impediments in individuals do not change that fact.
Simply extending the legal rights of marriage to gay and lesbian couples would have eliminated any real question of discrimination; redefining marriage itself so as to make same-sex couples capable of it wasn't even logical apart from the confusion of orientation and behavior. It has always been the behavior of heterosexual intercourse which defined marriage, not any characteristic of those who engaged in it other than their ability to do so. Similarly, gay and lesbian sex not only involves different behaviors but behaviors incapable of performing the function marriage exists to promote and encourage.
One cannot be "prejudiced" against a behavior, or even per se against people who engage in it! But one can be prejudiced against people who through no choice of their own have an immutable characteristic like race- or sexual orientation.
Now, it is certainly possible to be a religious bigot if one falsely ascribes certain negative characteristics to all adherents of a particular faith. To say that all Jews are money grubbers or all Catholics are superstitious or all Muslims are terrorists or all Lutherans are beer-sodden drunks would be bigotry. But even there, to merely disagree with the religious convictions of someone else- even to disapprove of them- cannot be bigotry. I disapprove of the Mormon denial of the Holy Trinity. Mormons disapprove of my embrace of historic Nicene Christianity. But that does not make either of us bigots. It simply makes us people who disagree.
Neither can one be a bigot because of one's attitude toward specific sexual behaviors, any more than one can become one by disagreeing with a religious belief held by someone else- or the political party they support, or the baseball team they root for, or the way they wear their hair.
Now, here's the crucial point: the concept of sexual orientation is less than a century old! Contrary to what liberals insist, the Apostle Paul did not coin the word ἀρσενοκοῖται. At least among Jews, the word was well-established in Greek usage by the First Century; it's the very word the Septuagint uses in Leviticus to describe people who engaged in homosexual behavior. If you had mentioned "homosexual orientation" to St. Paul, he would not have known what you were talking about!
The Bible doesn't condemn homosexual orientation. It doesn't even address the subject. To "disapprove" of a person for having a particular sexual orientation- which, as twin studies and other research have conclusively demonstrated, are at least in large measure inborn (though not genetic) and certainly not chosen- would indeed be prejudice. But to disapprove of homosexual behavior cannot be! Nor, for that matter, could it be bigotry to disapprove even of a condition without extending that disapproval to people who exhibit it. I know of very few people who are not "prejudiced" against leukemia, Ebola, and ALS. That doesn't make them bigots, or even suggest negative attitudes toward people who suffer from those conditions!
Paul's "thorn in the flesh" could well have been a sexual attraction to members of his own sex! The point is that as he understood the term, and as the Bible consistently does in both Testaments, that would not have made him a homosexual! Homosexuals- ἀρσενοκοῖται- were men who played the active role in sex with other men; men who played the passive role were called μαλακοὶ (incidentally, Paul uses the two words together in 1 Corinthians 6, including both in his description of people who will not inherit God's Kingdom; there is no question of ἀρσενοκοῖται referring only to homosexual rapists, as some liberal scholars argue!). Both words describe actual behaviors. Intellectually dishonest arguments by liberals to the contrary, there is absolutely no doubt as to what Paul meant by the terms- and in neither case did he refer to men who are merely attracted to other men!
And that's why the confusion of orientation and behavior (and for that matter the discredited notion that orientation, as opposed to behavior, is voluntarily chosen) is a big deal. It's not simply outdated, inaccurate, and uncharitable, although it is all of those things. It buys into the very false presupposition which the Left depends on in order to stigmatize those of us who disapprove of homosexual behavior.
And yes, that's a big deal. That presupposition is false, and to maintain it is intellectually dishonest. But more than that, it stigmatizes people for something they can't help.
I run an email group for Christians struggling with scrupulosity. Sometimes in that group, I encounter brothers and sisters in Christ who bear the cross of a homosexual orientation but know that they cannot act upon it without sin. The heaviness of the burden they bear is beyond words. The hope of marriage, as God and the Faith define the term, is precluded. They face the prospect of a life of celibacy and often loneliness.
They do not need to have their burden made heavier by our ignorance.
Even homosexual behavior is no worse than any of the other sins of which people are guilty. Christ died for it, too. The problem of the gay lifestyle is exactly the same as the problem with a lifestyle of indulging any other sin with which one does not struggle, whether it be drunkenness or stealing or a bad temper or prejudice against another person's race or even prejudice against people of a given sexual orientation as opposed to disapproval of behavior: it is incompatible with justifying faith. That, and not the "seriousness" of particular sins (all sins are equally serious in themselves, being offenses against God) is why Paul writes of those who engage in them "shall not inherit the Kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). The Holy Spirit will not share a heart with cherished sin; the issue here is not the sin itself, but the unbelief which makes it possible for it to become a cheerfully-embraced lifestyle.
This is crucial in our outreach to those who are afflicted by homosexual orientation. To continue to treat homosexual orientation as a voluntarily chosen thing is not merely to go beyond what Scripture says and burden Christians forced to struggle with it but to effectively eliminate any possibility of any credible witness to the gay community itself. It also legitimizes the very basis upon which the Left falsely equates the biblical attitude toward homosexuality with racism or other forms of bigotry.
And yes, those are big deals.
Further, it's important to avoid the very kind of sloppy language the LCMS Facebook page indulges in when it calls homosexual orientation not a manifestation of our sinful condition, but itself a sinful condition, Whether it intends it or not, it's blaming the victim. It's turning a misfortune arising from one's fallen condition with a moral failing.
It's exactly the same as saying not that the flu or death are results of sin, but that it's sinful to catch the flu or to die.