The Trouble With Your “Lifestyle”

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. If nowhere else, you’ve seen it (blowing up your newsfeed) on a meme quoting Rick Warren. But more broadly, you’ve heard it in conversations with people who do not support equal marriage rights. Maybe you’ve even said it, written it, or thought it yourself.

This line of discourse is the new ‘love the sinner/hate the sin.’

Thing is…when you say ‘hate’ in close proximity of gay people, then the sentiment becomes a presence in the room. (Kind of like “I’m not a racist, but…” Once you say ‘racist,’ that word will color whatever thing you say next. Pun intended). Our culture is ripe with hatred toward LGBT folks. It comes in all shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of hostility. And the truth is, you don’t have to be a mean or hateful person in order to be a part of the problem.

And if you’re still saying “lifestyle,” there’s still 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 people, deserving of love and relationship– creates a divisive edge that will forever keep ‘gay-ok’ people and ‘traditional family’ folks from speaking the same language.

A promiscuous ‘lifestyle’ can damage our bodies, our souls, our communities, and separate people from God in ways that, yes, are ‘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; neglect their children; overeat; and/or spend all their money on frivolous, selfish things while their neighbors go 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…That is lifestyle. Each of us can choose a combination of things that give us life; or else, 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. We now know 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. To keep saying ‘lifestyle,’ in spite of all other evidence, reduces people to a single quality of themselves. Like skin-color, income, or gender. Of course, we still do that, too…

Saying that you don’t “accept” or “believe in” part of a person’s being, is to say that God somehow dropped the ball while knitting that person together in the womb. The sentiment implies that the Creator left something broken and unfinished.  Like gay people are 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!

Many churches and church-going folks set out– with the best of intentions–to love gay folks as broken, imperfect products, and not as the whole and God-shaped people that they are. But the language of lifestyle will always create an ‘us/them’ gap that prevents real connection and real ministry.

“Just because I don’t accept a person’s” ________(quality of your choice), also 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 sister,” or “Approve of your brother,” or “mildly tolerate your neighbor, as long as their lifestyle choices don’t bother you too much.” Jesus said to love them. And not just in a vague, “you are a child of God” kind of way, but as yourself.

As ourselves. In all our broken, needing, loving, hurting, imperfect and seeking ways. All we can do is love each other to the full extent of being and hope that, somehow, we manage to embody the love of Jesus in our time. Living that kind of love is, in fact, a lifestyle choice. And while there will be many who ‘don’t accept it’ or ‘don’t believe in it,’ it’s kind of what we signed on for when we up and followed Jesus.

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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...

  • Molly

    Again, you communicate perfectly my feelings on this issue. I cannot agree with you more. Wonderful post!

  • JS

    I found it interesting that when the SC justices asked “when did we learn that homosexuality is not a choice” the answer was not a specific date, not a reference to a year in which a body of research became widely published in peer-reviewed journals, but the answer was something ambiguous like “it’s been evolving”. Although that was poor performance for a lawyer, I think it does reflect the general lack of confidence about the conclusions on nature vs. choice.

    I’m not sure why the LGBT community doesn’t point to the “Smith Report” or the “Smith University Findings” or something specific. But when the lawyer who is representing them as a community in front of the supreme court doesn’t point to something specific… then it’s no wonder that an understandably less-informed public would still be using “lifestyle” language that assumes an underlying choice.

    • kenneth

      The problem isn’t really one of dissemination of science. It’s that anti-SSM forces have staked their entire theology and position on the idea that homosexuality CAN’T be a choice, and therefore is not. There is no body of science that would sway them, because once they open the doors to that evidence, they’re done. They even have a master conspiracy theory which says that ALL contrary science since the early 1970s is invalid. They will insist that the entire medical and scientific profession has been cowed into silence by gay activists for 40 years, so that the “real” science doesn’t get out!

  • Laurel

    Beautiful.

  • gimpi

    “Just because I don’t accept a person’s’ ________(quality of your choice), also implies that the person asked for your critique and approval. In most cases, nobody did.”

    Yes, Yes, Yes! Other people aren’t in this world to gain our approval. They are here to live their own lives. When did all this “I will only do business with – treat with dignity – rent to – buy from – work with – someone who has a ‘lifestyle’ I approve of” start, anyway?
    I base this on my own past. In the 1970′s I worked with my mother, in her custom wedding-gown business. The big issue then was divorce. Most Christians claimed to strongly disapprove of divorce. Yet, many times, at the “backstage” part of a wedding, where were were putting finishing-touches on a dress, we would talk with Christian caterers, photographers, florists, and everyone would be saying, “I give this marriage 6 months.”
    At one point, I asked my mom, should we be making dresses for a marriage we think is a mistake, and my very Christian mom said, “We were hired to make a beautiful dress, not judge the fitness of the couple. They didn’t hire us to be marriage counselors. All we need to worry about with this couple is will their check bounce. The state of their marriage is none of our business. Just finish hemming that train.” So I did.
    Sitting in judgement of everyone is exhausting. Mind your own business. Just let people go about their lives. Without all the judgmental stuff, you might even find out you like them.

    • Erin Wathen

      what a great story/memory. and so timely. thanks for sharing, eric.

      • gimpi

        It’s actually Victoria. I just used my husband’s e-mail address. Computer issues.

  • http://www.queeringthechurch.com Terence Weldon

    Terrific commentary – delighted to have found your blog, which I shall add to my bookmarks, and to my links at “Queering the Church” (http://queeringthechurch.com/)

  • Pingback: The Trouble With Your “Lifestyle” | Queer Church News

  • rumitoid

    I am the one “liberal” as a very conservative Christian TV station, although I do not think of myself as a liberal but rather an independent. One of the comments above mentioned how the evangelical right would react to the science about homosexuality: my experience bears him out completely. And research on conservatives bears their tendency towards conspiracies out completely.
    We are a small local TV station with five regular employees. I have a deep regard for my co-workers, all decent and hardworking people, generous to a fault and blessed with good minds. And a good sense of humor; we laugh a lot at work. But all of them hold the education system, especially higher education, in disdain as purveyors of liberal anarchy. Yes, they say it is a purposeful conspiracy to undermine this Christian Nation. Science is no different. Neither can be trusted and both should be condemned for their lies. This still amazes me.

  • Humanista

    I love this. It’s been troubling me lately that so many people have these “personal convictions” (a meme that’s been going around on Facebook) about another person’s existence.

  • http://wideopenground.com Lana

    perfectly worded. :)

  • http://practicingresurrection.wordpress.com Bill

    Thank you for this. It is maddening to me to see so many otherwise loving well-intentioned people repeating that mantra: “Just because I don’t agree with someone’s lifestyle doesn’t mean I hate them.” Every single time I’ve ever seen it the underlying message is: “Just because I don’t agree with homosexuality doesn’t mean I hate homosexuals.” In other words, in that sentence the words “someone’s lifestyle” ALWAYS mean “homosexuality.” Homosexuality is thereby reduced to a “lifestyle,” which by definition is not only a choice, but a degrading dismissal of an inescapable essence of a person’s being and a ridiculous suggestion that gay people have some uniform “lifestyle.” Would any of the people who repeat this sentence characterize heterosexuality as a “lifestyle”? As you note, the folks who say this sometimes substitute the word “sin” for “lifestyle” (as in “hate the sin, love the sinner”). The underlying message is that our sexuality is favored by God and “theirs” is not, that they are defective and that their innate sexuality is shameful, rendering them inferior to those whose sexual orientation is favored by God. Is it any wonder that things like this are perceived as hateful?
    The Church’s continuing blunders on this subject are driving a generation away and reinforcing the public’s perception that we are not the people of love that we claim to be.
    Thanks again for this excellent post.

  • Stooo

    Respectfully, Erin, I think there are a number of obvious problems with this analysis.

    Firstly, the article contains the sweeping, oft-repeated assertion – “We now know that same-sex attraction is nature, not nurture.” This is simply ill-informed cultural assumption. Even the APA acknowledges that there is no consensus on where homosexual orientation comes from. Twin studies, etc, demonstrate pretty clearly that both nature and nurture play some kind of role in creating a homosexual disposition. You have, however, ignored a “scientific fact” that IS well documented – the fact that homosexuals are statistically more likely to be promiscuous than straight people (mainly men).

    Secondly, of course homosexuals have chosen a “lifestyle” – we all do. The kind of statement that you are criticising is entirely consistent with the recognition that sin is an action, not a disposition. Promiscuity is part of a lifestyle. Celibacy is part of a lifestyle. So is everything in between. To choose to enter into a gay marriage is part of embracing a lifestyle. The problem is not the word itself, it’s whether you think that it is a lifestyle of which God approves. We can answer that question by looking to our feelings or flawed consciences, or we can look to what Scripture says (not to mention 2000 years of fairly consistent church history on this topic.)

    The biggest problem with this article, however, is that it is internally inconsistent.
    Firstly you suggested that traditional Christian morality implies that “God somehow dropped the ball while knitting that person together in the womb. The sentiment implies that the Creator left something broken and unfinished.”

    But then, a couple of paragraphs later, you imply that we are all “broken, needing, loving, hurting, imperfect,” which I agree with entirely. None of us is as God intended, because we all have that sinful nature to grapple with. As St Paul said, we all “groan” as we await our future perfection.

    God didn’t drop the ball – we did. That’s why we needed Jesus, and why Easter was necessary.

    To use your terminology, we are ALL defective “Cabbage Patch kids”, not as the Creator intended. We are all marred by sin, at a SPIRITUAL level (which is deeper even than our DNA). Every day, in a hundred different ways, every Christian chooses to deny “how they were made”, resisting their sinful nature and choosing, with God’s power, to “carry their cross” and flee sin.

    So, I don’t see anything wrong with the statement that you are criticising. Personally I prefer the more pithy “hate the sin, love the sinner.” However, both are better than “feel sorry for the sinner, ignore the sin.” In the end, that doesn’t really help anybody.

    As a minister, I believe that it is your job (and mine) to help people with their journey, away from sin and towards Christ. Part of that is signposting the pitfalls along the way. (Of course, there is a lot more to it than that, but it’s part of our responsibility in shepherding the flock). I have no doubt that your conscience is clear on this, or you wouldn’t have posted on your blog, but I would encourage you to think again whether you are condoning “life choices” which God wants us all to flee from.

    • Erin Wathen

      Many fair and well-made points here… I think it all comes down to a fundamental difference in how we view sexuality. While all people are broken, many of us just do not see homosexual attraction as fundamentally sinful. But, your response here is a great foundation for the important conversation that churches–and the Church, universal–needs to be having, rather than avoiding. So thanks for engaging…

      • Stooo

        Thank you for your gracious response, Erin.

      • Mike Condon

        While I support SSM, I must am not in total agreement with your response. We are all predisposed toward sin according to the Bible.
        Just becuase a predisposition exists does not make acting on that predisposition to be any less sinful. Science is showing that predeliction toward promiscuity in both men and women is natural and may have provided an evolutionary advantage but you would not condone adults following that “lifestyle”. Homosexual attraction is not inherently sinful (maybe: check Matt 5:28 for thought crimes) but acting on it is…according to some interpretations of the Bible.
        Adultery is a sin but not a crime in the U.S.
        Promiscuity is a sin but not a crime in the U.S.
        Worshiping another God besides the Christian God is a sin but supporting someones right to do just that is celebrated in this country.
        As a supporter of equal rights that is the foundation of the United States we should support the right of people to marry the consenting adult that they choose to marry.

        As far as acceptance of their lifestyle by Christian Churches (or Muslim groups), it is not likely. If you want acceptance into a club you should abide by the rules of the club.

        • Erin Wathen

          mike, I respect your view. however, some of us are trying to overcome the perception that the church is a ‘club’ for which you must be fit for entry. My hope is that connection with a church family is far more meaningful and transforming than membership in, say, a country club or a book club. The idea that you must somehow conform to a set of norms in order to be welcomed into faith community–that is problematic for me. And many of my colleagues.

          • Lynette

            I thank you for your kind, considerate, compassionate, and thoughtful post on this issue. The bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter if anyone “approves” of my “lifestyle” or my loving relationship with my partner. I didn’t ask them nor did I ask anyone’s god for approval. What I am asking for is respect and the right to live my life as my free conscience dictates. Christians are losing on this issue because they have nothing to offer in the civil discourse beyond “the Bible says”, and even on that, Christians don’t agree. The bottom line is that this is not a religious issue, it is a civil issue. No one is demanding that the church bless homosexual unions, but what we are demanding is that our civil rights to equal protection under the law be recognized. And frankly, if you don’t want us in your churches, we don’t want to be where we’re not wanted.

          • Erin Wathen

            plenty of us want you, lynette!

  • http://virginialeopold.wordpress.com Ginny

    Erin…
    I too am a pastor, and have been following your blogs, and feel we are on the same page about many things. In fact, I quoted this post on my website because I agree so heartedly and hopefully, so that you would have a wider audience.
    Of all the blogs, yours is the one with which I most resonate! Keep up the good work!

  • Alice

    It’s just like fundamentalists refuse to accept evolution even though there is a mountain of scientific support for it. Science is irrelevant to them because all they care about is their opinions.

  • melissia

    Yes! Science is, to put it blandly, the art of learning.

    In learning, your views evolve. When you first learn math, you know of only positive numbers, and only of addition and subtraction. Later on you learn multiplication, and division; fractions and integers; negative numbers, exponents and roots. Pi, irrational numbers, Eventually you learn logarithms, e, complex numbers, i, and so much more, until, eventually, you find out the mathematical beauty that is Euler’s Identity, which combines all of what one has learned in Mathematics in to a single, simple definition:
    e^(iπ)+1=0

    Learning this for some students has affirmed their belief in Dod, because even something as fundamentally important to the universe as mathematics is elegant and beautiful. And it shows them that to learn about God’s creations, all of reality, is to learn about God.


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