“Why do Christians have to be so intolerant?”
How can we share God's views on sexuality in a loving and respectful way?
My best friend came out as gay when I was in year nine, around the same time I decided to trust that Jesus had died to bring me into relationship with God. Up until that point, my friend had been pretending to be interested in girls, but now decided it was time to be honest about his sexuality.
“Is this going to be a problem for you since you’re a Christian?”, he asked me. I shook my head and didn’t say anything. I felt so confused. At the time I had no idea what God actually said about gay relationships, but I did know that when it comes to this issue, Christians are sometimes seen as bigots and unloving.
Two years later, my school started running a gay advocacy event called ‘Wear it Purple Day’. I was talking to a friend, saying I wasn’t sure if I should also wear purple and she asked me, “why do Christians have to be so intolerant?”
Was I intolerant? It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot as we navigate issues around sexuality, identity and marriage. And the truth is, many people have been hurt by insensitive comments from Christians in the past.
And so, as I thought through how I would respond, I decided I needed to know a bit more about what God’s Word says about humans and sexuality first.
What does God say about sexuality?
In the Bible, we are introduced to a loving God who provides his people with a perfect world and perfect relationship with him. But it doesn’t take long for humanity to rebel against God and that healthy relationship is ruined.
The Bible says we sin against God in all sorts of ways. 1 Corinthians says…
Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.—1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
Yes, homosexual sex is listed here (not same-sex attraction), but the truth is we have all done something on this list (who hasn't been greedy??), and so we are all disqualified from inheriting the Kingdom of God. For me, this list is a difficult reminder of how far I am from God.
But that is why the second half of this verse is so incredible: “... that is what some of you were.” The verse tells us that as Christians we have been washed, sanctified and justified. No matter what mistakes I have made, no matter who I have hurt, if I trust in Christ they are all in the past tense. It is through God’s loving sacrifice of his Son that I am cleansed and put right, that peace is restored in the relationship. It is not that we did anything to earn that good relationship, it is a sign of God’s love that he sent Jesus as a peace treaty while we were far away from him.
Responding to claims of intolerance
Remembering that I am just as sinful and broken as anyone else helped me think about how to respond to the accusations of being intolerant. I needed to…
1. Respond with love
The God of the Bible is full of of love and compassion. He looks at people who are far from him and calls them back. There is no one who is too far for him to love, and he directs his people to care for the vulnerable in society.
Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:3-4)
The gay community have experienced a terrible amount of suffering and alienation. We do not want to be firing shots at them, we want to be helping them and caring for them in their suffering. So it is important to stand up for people who are being bullied and to help them find strong friendships both at school and at church.
2. Respond with honesty
It sounds counterintuitive, but avoiding the hard truth of God’s Word is not the most loving thing I can do (although it would certainly be easier). What I need to do is graciously point them to God’s love in Jesus.
The message of the Bible is one of brokenness and love. It’s a message of a God who doesn’t stay on his side of the trenches, but crosses over to rescue us from our own rebellion.
So, what’s the right way to respond to accusations of intolerance?
Well, I don’t think it’s loving to go out of your way to condemn people’s actions and stir up trouble if they haven’t asked for your advice.
However, when we are put on the spot and asked what we believe, it’s ok to be honest. In a loving and caring way, let people know that God loves everyone, but also let them know that the Bible’s view of relationships is often very different to what society says.
If they genuinely want to know more (instead of just wanting to have an argument), go ahead and share what the Bible says. Talk about your own struggles if it helps, but focus on God’s loving character, his original plan for creation, and the great truth that even though we all sin, God freely forgives all who turn to Christ.