Love the sinner, hate the sin

So I was sitting with a friend of mine the other day at the dog park. He is a straight male I’ve known for six months or so, and we were having a doggie date. His Frasier, a Cockapoo, and my Mabel, a Labradoodle, were playing, or more like Mabel was chasing other dogs and otherwise creating trouble and Frasier, who is almost 15, was hanging out with us. Point is, the idea of a play date between specific dogs at a dog park is sort of like having an intimate date with someone you’ve never met before in a crowded bar.

Anyway, my friend and I were talking about life. He is a devout Catholic, has been for most of his life. He is a terrific person with a good heart. We were talking about when I told him I was gay, which was probably the second time we met.

He said, “That wasn’t difficult for me in the least. I’ve been taught to love the sinner, and hate the sin.”

I digested that for a bit. It’s not like it’s the first time that’s been said to me. In fact, I have gay friends who have said the same thing. In that religious model, we are all sinners, and we should not judge others for sinning. We should simply love all other people, and recognize that they sin and we sin, too.

And then I thought: wait. What’s the sin here?

I don’t want to get into a biblical argument, because I cannot win a biblical argument. I have read the bible, but I’m far from an expert. I know that “men lying with men” is mentioned a couple times in the New Testament, and a bunch of times in the Old Testament, and it’s never a good thing. But I also know that we always have to keep in mind that the bible was written by people at a specific time, and at the time both of those books were written, there was no understanding of sexual orientation. “Men lying with men” at the time of the Old Testament, for instance, was a pagan ritual often occurring along with other pagan and sexual rituals in Canaan and Egypt. In those same rituals, entire families would sometimes have sex, and there was also sexual intercourse with a priest to gain favor with a goddess of fertility.

So yeah, different times. The bottom line is that pagan rituals were not looked upon kindly in the bible.

I didn’t want to get into an argument with my friend, but I didn’t want to let the words just stay with me and fester in me. I mean, what sin is he talking about? Is sex between two consenting adults a sin? And in my case, I am a married man in a monogamous relationship with another man. Is sexual activity in a monogamous relationship sinful? Who would it be hurting?

So I said to him, “The God I believe in is all about love. He loves me with all His heart. He cherishes my union with Chuck. I don’t believe I’m broken, and I don’t believe that my relationship with my husband constitutes sin.”

He didn’t respond to that. I get it. We don’t agree about that. I know that I cannot expect to change his beliefs about God, nor can he expect to change mine. We can try, but those changes are rare and they happen when they happen.

I am thinking right now about the various reactions my friends would have to this story.

There’s one friend who will be annoyed that I am friends with someone who thinks being gay is a sin. He’ll think I lack courage.

There’s another friend who rolls his eyes when I talk about God, since he is an atheist. If I had to guess, I’d guess he thinks I’m too smart to believe in “magic.”

There’s another friend who will say he doesn’t have time for people who have hatred in their heart, period.

I cannot say any of these people are wrong, and I cannot say any of them are right, either. I guess I feel like part of my tax for being an openly gay man who has spent his life changing hearts and minds is conversations like this. I don’t enjoy them, but I think they need to happen because they are honest expressions of where we are, and where we differ. I believe, deep in my heart, that organized religion is the next major area for change. I think it will become too difficult to reconcile a message of God’s love with a message of judgment about sexual orientation, and that it’s the young generation who have grown up with Glee, etc., that will change that.

In the end, I hold on to my ties to religious friends because I think there’s plenty of good that goes along with what I perceive as bad. And I think someday we’ll be glad we’ve held on, those of us who are unwilling to throw the baby — God, in this case — out with the bathwater — religious dogma.