If You’re Still Saying “Lifestyle,” We’ve Still Got a Problem…

I’m going to say a thing. Stop me if you’ve heard it: “Just because I don’t accept someone’s lifestyle, doesn’t mean that i hate them!”

I’ve heard it before. So have you. Most recently, as a direct quote from Rick Warren. But more broadly, coming from folks in conservative settings all over the place.  And chances are, if you’ve heard some version of this line, the conversation was about gay people. Everywhere you look these days, churches, pastors and fundamental Christians are getting more and more vocal about all the ways they “love the sinner/hate the sin.”

Thing is…when you say ’hate’ in such close proximity of gay people, then the sentiment becomes a presence in the room. (Kind of like saying “I”m not a racist, but…” chances are, whatever’s about to come out of your mouth is pretty much racist). And furthermore: if you’re still saying “lifestyle,” we’ve still got a problem.

Sexuality is an expression of the whole self. If you are part of a married, committed, hetero-couple, the Church (most any church) is willing to acknowledge this. God made us for love, for passion, to be one flesh and to share our lives together. To say that homosexuals have chosen a ‘lifestyle,’ rather than to acknowledge that they are whole and dignified people, deserving of love and relationship…there is the divisive edge that will forever keep ‘gay-ok’ people and ‘traditional family’ folks from sitting down and having a real conversation.

Sure, there is a certain promiscuous ‘lifestyle’ that can damage our bodies, our souls, our communities, and seperate people from God in ways that the Church would call ‘sinful.’ But this kind of ‘lifestyle’ is by no means reserved for LGBT folks. Straight people can sleep around; cheat on their partners; do drugs; stay out all night and flake on their responsibilities; and/or spend all their money on frivilous, selfish things when their neighbors are going hungry.

The word ‘lifestyle’ speaks to many elements of one’s life. Not just who you love, but where you spend your time and money; what you talk about over dinner; what gets your blood pressure up, and what speaks beauty to your soul. Music, diet, geography, recreation, spending habits, technology, wardrobe, living space…This is a lifestyle. And each of us can choose a combination of things that give us life, or enter into a pattern that slowly drains us of all goodness and hope. We choose our paths every day.

Whether you love boys or girls has nothing to do with a ‘style’ of living. You are thinking of the home and garden section of Southern Living.

To say that you don’t approve of the gay ‘lifestyle’ is also to say that you still don’t buy the science or the sociology: that same-sex attraction is nature, not nurture; and that trying to suppress or change a person’s sexuality–whether by prayer or ’therapy’–leads to depression and suicide. These are truths that–thanks to God-given evolutions in the medical and psychological fields–have been revealed to us in recent decades. To keep on saying ‘lifestyle’ in spite of such evidence, is to keep reducing whole people to a single quality of themselves. Like skin-color, income, or gender… Of course, churches still do that, too…

To my ears, saying that we don’t accept this part of a person’s being, is to say that God somehow dropped the ball while this person was being knit together in the womb, and left something broken and unfinished.  Like gay people are somehow a defective batch of Cabbage Patch kids, coming off the line with some part or piece missing. No signature on the butt…we’ll put this whole line out at 40%-off!

Anyway, I kid… But I really feel that many churches set out–maybe with good intentions–to love gay folks as broken, imperfect products, and not as the whole and God-shaped people that they are. The language of lifestyle will always create an ‘us/them’ gap that prevents real connection and real ministry.

Meanwhile, “Just because I don’t accept a person’s” anything, sort of implies that the person asked for your critique and approval. In most cases, nobody did. Not the LGBT seeker, not the Muslim neighbor, not the single mom or the snarky teenager. And, most especially, not Jesus.
Jesus never once said “accept your neighbor,” or “Approve of your brother.” Jesus said to love them. And not just in a vague, “you are a child of God” kind of way, but as yourself.

As yourself. Amen.

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About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...

  • Sue McDaniel

    I think 25% of our population is gay. So what! Does it really matter? Is it really anyone’s business? It is hard enough getting thru this life without the love and support of a heterosexual or gay spouse/partner. There are so many gay celebrities such as Suzy Orman, financial guru, the late astronaut, Sally Ride, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon, Rachel Maddow, Cynthia Nixon, Sex and the City, T R Knight, Greys Anatomy, Ellen, Rosie O’Donnell, and Elton John to name a few. These people have had the courage to come out and just be themselves. They did not fear that their job would be in jeopardy or that their church may not accept them. Most people that are not celebrities keep their secret to themselves because they fear being shunned by family, friends, and yes, even their church. Why are people so critical? Sally Ride, the late astronaut was married once. After her divorce, she became attracted to a woman that she co-authored several books with. They were partners in everything. Does her being gay make her any less a talented author, astronaut, and contributor to this world? I do not think it really matters.

  • http://www.theeichenbergerfamily.blogspot.com Amanda E.

    I personally *love* the term “fundamental Christian”…

  • Joel

    Not exactly on topic, but recent demographic surveys lead researchers to a much much lower figure than 25% http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/07/gay-population-us-estimate_n_846348.html. However, that’s beside the point.

    Erin’s main point of “love — as we love ourselves” really trumps any demographics, understanding or confidence in current nature/nurture conclusions, etc. And with regard to ‘hating sin’, once we have faced our OWN dark night of the soul, we will truly be able to not only love the sinner, but empathize, come alongside, and encourage. Truly a different paradigm than ‘love the sinner, hate the sin”. Increasingly that phrase reminds me of one I heard growing up: “There but for the grace of God, go I…”. It could be said in humility, but frankly sounds very close to the publicans proclamation in the temple: “Good Lord! I’m glad I’m not THAT SINNER!”

  • Polyergic

    “To say that you don’t approve of the gay ‘lifestyle’ is also to say that you still don’t buy the science or the sociology: that same-sex attraction is nature, not nurture; and that trying to suppress or change a person’s sexuality–whether by prayer or ’therapy’–leads to depression and suicide.”

    It doesn’t matter if it is nurture – nurture isn’t a choice either.


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