Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Both Saint and Sinner


 I’m not really a cynic. Oh, I have my moments, but I hope that the people who know me would agree that I tend to have a positive view of others. I generally try to put the best construction on my neighbors’ actions. With me, trust is not something you earn, but something you lose. There are a few people who have proven untrustworthy to me, but only a few.

The title of this blog is mostly just a pun on Martin Luther’s definition of the Christian as simul iustus et peccator, “at the same time saint and sinner.” That’s a pretty good definition, by the way. We are sinners by our human nature. We are saints by God’s grace. I don’t believe that we are perfectible in this life. At least, I’ve never met anyone who had achieved Christian perfection, and the best people I know are usually also the most aware of their own shortcomings.

This does not relieve us of the responsibility to try to be better people. In fact, I think that God’s grace should inspire us to try and live in ways that are more gracious, loving, forgiving, courageous, ethical, and, well, godly.

What I’m saying is that God loves us as we are. Being loved helps us to grow into better people. It is God’s love that takes priority, not our actions.

I started this blog to add my voice to the debate about sexuality that was then current in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I’m afraid that I came late to the conversation and that my voice has been, at times, too timid. Still, I felt the need to speak out, saying that the Bible’s ancient prohibitions of homosexual intercourse do not constitute a universal condemnation of homosexuality, homosexuals, or ethically practiced gay sex.

Tomorrow I plan to attend a lecture by Bishop Gene Robinson. Robinson is the first openly gay, partnered homosexual bishop of the Episcopal Church. The title of his speech is “Being Gay & Religious: Mission Impossible?” I’m not usually very good at prognostication, but I think I may know in advance how Robinson, who is both gay and religious, will answer that question.

I am aware that there are some Christians who would disagree vehemently with Bishop Robinson (and me). It is impossible, they say, to be gay and Christian. Or at least it is impossible to be sexually active, gay and Christian. Of course, I think they’re wrong.

Let me try some of that best construction stuff I mentioned earlier. Perhaps they believe that Christianity is a religion of Law, a set of rules to be obeyed and even imposed on others. Perhaps they believe in Christian perfectibility and that homosexuality is an imperfection. Perhaps they missed the memo saying that, somewhere over the last 2 millennia, we have come to understand matters of sexuality (among other things) differently than our ancient forebears in the faith. Perhaps they believe that God’s love is dependent on our ability to change.

Maybe it is the kindest and least cynical thing would be to say that they mean well but I disagree with them.

Sexual identity is a core component of human personality. To say, “You cannot be gay and Christian” is essentially to say “The God who made you does not love you as you are.” That is no kind of Gospel that I recognize. 

I have a friend who says that some of us find being straight and religious is an impossible mission. I found the picture of Bishop Robinson here.


  1. I am so totally on the fence when it comes to the gay issue. I really don't know what to think! But then, I tell myself, it isn't what I think about it - it is what GOD thinks about it that matters.

    But I don't know what that is!

    When it says in the Law (can't remember where!) that a man lying with another man is hated by God - how to interpret that?

    1. I think you have Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 in mind.

      Let me employ the Wesleyan quadrilateral. Reason (my theological trump card) and experience tell us that homosexuality is a normal human variant. The question is whether, and how, same sex love can be expressed ethically.

      Tradition and Scripture side against same-sex marriage. The Bible mentions same-sex intercourse 5 times, always condemning it. If Lutherans read the Bible as a book of eternal rules, the answer would be pretty simple. But reading those verses in the context of their times--when human sexuality was not understood as we know understand it, and when cultic purity was of primary concern--it all becomes a bit murkier.

      We freely ignore most of the other rules in the book of Leviticus. We eat shellfish, wear mixed fabrics, etc.

      I don't think that the Levitical laws were primarily about morality. They were about distinguishing the people of Israel from their pagan neighbors.

      Anyway, I've written posts on this blog about all of the passages condemning homosexual sex. If you are interested in the reasoning that led me to an attitude of acceptance you read about it in my posts from December 2009, January and February 2010, and probably several other posts.