Are “Homosexual Acts” Sinful?

In humble prayer, I approach this blog post despite my own fears. But in trust and obedience to God, my love, here it goes.

Homosexual sex can be a sin, but so can heterosexual sex. Neither is inherently sinful. Sin does not come from our actions but in our intentions behind our actions. Allow me to explain through experience:

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Much to my surprise, I fell in love my best friend, a fellow woman. When I told her with wet red eyes, she responded with true friendship. “Rach, I thought you were going to tell me someone had died or something! You don’t have to be worry about me. This doesn’t change how I feel about you, honest to God. You have taught me so much about friendship this year. I’m not going anywhere.”

Although she said she could not reciprocate love for me in the form of physical intimacy, I did not love her any less. What wondrous new love this was for me—something truly unconditional. I thought, “This is the healthiest love I’ve ever felt.” But before the thought had a chance to settle, I grabbed it and tried to smother it. I lay awake for hours that night, disgusted that I could call these feelings healthy. I was confused at my disgust because I always supported the LGBT community. If it wasn’t wrong for them, why did I think it was wrong for me?

The next morning, I remember stepping in the shower and thinking, “God, it would be so much easier if I were just dead and did not have to deal with these feelings.” God scolded me with hot water and slapped it in my face. He washed me, purified me, and quenched my thirst. When I turned off the shower, the noise of my mind was silenced and all was quiet. I stepped out of the tub and vowed never to turn back to that place.

I allowed myself explore why I thought this love was healthy. I processed it they best way I knew how—writing. I wrote this:

“In the past, my physical attractions to men have been greedy and lustful. It was not about love. Now, I see it less as something that I want to receive and more of something I want to give… I want to show her that I trust her with all of myself, the good and the bad, the physical and the spiritual, the past and the future.”

I could not define that kind of love as sin. The devil does not have dominion over love. The devil was tempting me with suicide, not sexual attraction.

About a month after I told my best friend I had feelings for her, God sent me to a Bible Camp for a week of scripture reading with other college students. It certainly was not my idea. I thought I was far too fragile to be trapped in a room with Evangelical Christians reading the Bible that I they used to condemn me. But I trusted God to take care of me.

We read through the first half of the Gospel of Mark. Homosexuality was never specifically mentioned in the scripture. Instead of condemnation, I found a lot of affirmation. As Christ said,

“Whatever goes into a person from the outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer… It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come” (Mark 7: 15-20).

Jesus went on to list things that defile including fornication and adultery. I sat by a creek to process this passage. What was God saying about sex? As I watched the water, noticed its clarity. As I listened to it dance, I realized that God was saying that what makes sexual acts sinful is the evil intentions behind them. The acts are actually made clean by God and beautiful as this water, but we make them murky by bringing our dirty intentions to it.

Although I never physically acted on my attraction to my friend, I could not say that act would have been inherently sinful. It could be sinful if I touched her without her consent or tried to pressure her into becoming physical. Even if she did consent it could become sinful if we used each other for selfish gain. But just as God blesses a married husband and wife when they honor each other through sex, he blesses a committed same-sex relationship when they honor each other through sex.   

Sex can be sinful if it comes from a place of lust. Love that is unconditional, selfless and pure is not sinful. May Christians recognize that same-sex relationships are not any different than opposite-sex relationships; they both face the same temptation for evil and potential for good.

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For more posts like this, please read my blog “Christian Bidentity” about my experience as a bisexual Catholic woman.

Marriage Equality, “Morality” Laws, and the Convenient Minority

Recently, my home state, Minnesota, legalized same-sex marriage. All the money spent by the Knights of Columbus, all the directives from the bishops, all the petitions littering pews in my hometown church … in vain. In the end, marriage equality passed with surprising rapidity, sending a message loud and clear: the majority of us feel no need to control who other people are allowed to marry.

Knowing that a handful of very vocal Catholics and other religious conservatives are convinced Minnesota is headed straight to the devil has me chewing on issues of sexual morality again. I’ve made it no secret that I fully support marriage equality. And although I disagree with it, I also respect a church’s right not to bless a same-sex marriage. That’s where the separation of Church and State comes in. And that’s why it makes me so angry that people want to make secular laws based on their personal religious convictions, without any demonstrable benefit to the state or to the secular society the state is entrusted with regulating.

Feeling that same-sex marriage is immoral is not justifiable grounds for making it illegal. Imagine what might happen if religious conservatives tried to enact legislation around other issues of “sexual morality.” Catholicism teaches that sex before marriage is immoral, but is anyone agitating to make it illegal? What about cohabitation? What about birth control? (Yes, the bishops made a big stink over whether Catholic organizations had to cover it in their health insurance, but no one suggested that the whole secular state must ban its use. No one petitioned to make contraception illegal — or if they did, they sure didn’t get much traction.)

So, why are we so fixated on same-sex love as a sexual morality issue, to the exclusion of all others, to the point that we think it’s okay to enact legislation about it?

I think the answer lies in the numbers.

Now the question becomes — do Catholics and other conservative Christian groups focus on same-sex love because it’s somehow more “immoral” than other forbidden sexual behaviors, or is it because the lower numbers make GLBTQ people a handy scapegoat?

After all, if Christian groups agitated to make premarital sex, cohabiting, or contraception illegal, there’d be public outcry because so many people are engaged in these behaviors. Almost everyone, in fact. No one would stand for a religious minority deciding what a secular majority is allowed to do with their private lives.

Why do so many people stand for it when it comes to same-sex love, then? Because there are fewer people identified that way, fewer people engaged in the “forbidden” behaviors. It’s a classic case of going after the little guy.

Except it’s not going to work much longer. 4% might be the official number right now, but that number doesn’t take into account each person who has a loved one who falls within the GLTBQ spectrum. And the more sexual minorities feel comfortable coming out, the more we realize that nearly everyone has someone in their life who is not straight. And more and more people are realizing that just because one sexual orientation is in the majority doesn’t give them the right to make sexual decisions for everyone.

Back when Massachusetts was the only state to legalize same-sex marriage, I didn’t dare dream that Minnesota would follow suit in less than ten years. I wrote letters to some of my closest gay friends before my wedding affirming that my prayer for them was that one day the world would give them the right to have their love publicly acknowledged, too. Just over a year later, they have that right in Minnesota. I look forward to the cascade of equality continuing, as more and more states say no to discrimination, as more and more citizens realize that, regardless of your own religious beliefs, it’s not okay to deny rights to your fellow human beings. Soon, those who think they have the right to make laws that have no direct effect on their life (that is, straight people thinking they have the right to decide whether GLBTQ people have the right to marry) will be in the minority. It won’t feel great. But being uncomfortable isn’t illegal. That’s their right. In the meantime, let’s continue to fight for our GLBTQ sisters and brothers have theirs.

Catholicism: Are You In or Out?

I just left a phenomenal gathering of activists, clergy, social workers, researchers, and other experts sponsored by the Religious Institute to put together a guidebook about how spiritual communities might provide pastoral care to bisexual people (and others who don’t easily fall within a straight/gay binary). At one point, we were asked to write down one sentiment we felt was key for the guide to address. Mine went something like this:

Someone should not have to choose between her sexual identity and her religious tradition.

As a bisexual woman, the issue of choice is a complicated one. It makes people nervous to know that, hypothetically, the world of romantic attraction is so “wide open” to someone like me. (I say hypothetically because, back when I was single, I only fell in love about once every five years — it was so rare that I was thrilled when it showed up, no matter what form it took!) Although this is less an issue with my generation and those after me than for those who came before, there’s still a subtle pressure to “pick a side.” C’mon, which one are you really? Are you gay but you want straight privilege? Are you only willing to come “half” out of the closet? Are you still “figuring things out”?

As a bisexual woman, I don’t want to be pushed into “choosing” whether to deny my attractions to women or to men, when the reality of attraction is much more complex than that. I feel equally uncomfortable when faced with pressure to “choose” whether I’m Catholic or bisexual, Catholic or feminist. Last week, I saw a bumper sticker that declared, “You can’t be pro-choice AND Catholic.”

I wanted to add a sticker that said, “YOU don’t get to decide who is Catholic.”

Unfortunately, I think a lot of progressive Catholics feel this pressure to choose sides: Where do you really stand? Are you pro-choice OR Catholic? Are you gay OR Catholic? And it doesn’t just come from Catholicism, either. It often comes from the political or personal communities we find ourselves in: “If you’re a feminist, why do you continue to align yourself with a religious tradition that oppresses women?”

But just as issues of sexuality, reproductive rights, and women’s equality are complicated and nuanced, so too is the Catholic church, including all the clergy and lay that comprise it now and throughout history. So, too, are each of our relationships to the places we call our spiritual homes. Pressuring anyone to “choose sides” when it comes to core aspects of her identity is a form of spiritual violence, and it’s not okay. So rather than go into intensely personal territory when these different aspects of identity are challenged, sometimes I’d rather just exist quietly in this inbetween space. Perhaps the next time someone asks, “How can you be both x and y,” I’ll simply respond, “Because I am.”