Ask the Thoughtful Pastor: Hate the Sin of Homosexuality or Assume Truth?

Shall we Assume Truth or Lie?
Shall we Assume Truth or Lie? © Eugenesergeev |, modifed by Christy Thomas

How can conservative Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin support  and show respect to their gay family members, coworkers, and friends in ways that will not compromise their personal faith? The adage, “love the sinner, hate the sin,” is blatantly offensive to those who do not believe that homosexuality is sinful. Is there a more nuanced way to look at this issue?

This is one of the most complex questions I’ve been asked. It deals with the nature of relationship and in many ways speaks to the often hostile world we inhabit today

What do we do with genuine and unbridgeable differences of opinion over religious, social and political matters?

First, the phrase, “love the sinner, hate the sin,” should be permanently retired.

The statement immediately raises the defenses of the listener, i.e., the one defined as the “sinner.” The designated “hater of the sin” takes the power position, essentially saying “I’m better than you.”

The phrase shuts down the hope of conversation and mutual understanding. It denies the option of staying in relationship without the compromise of one’s faith and one’s dignity as a human being.

In truth, there are many fine people on both sides of any question and particularly this one.

Some affirm that homosexuality cannot be reconciled with biblical statements. Several biblical passages appear to speak strongly against same-sex relationships: Main ones: the story of the destruction of Sodom, found in Genesis 19; the Leviticus 18 section of the holiness code that particularly relates to who may have sex with whom, and the Romans 1 description of the wrath of God upon human wickedness.

Others, including multiple Bible scholars, read the texts differently. The Genesis passage concerning the destruction of Sodom may be about the lack of hospitality and lack of care for the poor and needy (see Ezekiel 16). The Levitical condemnations may be linked to pagan worship practices promoting idolatry, the temptation to worship anything but God (money, prestige, accomplishments, sex, food, etc). The Romans passage could be speaking of sex with children, not consensual and mutually loving adult partners.

Frankly, isolated Bible passages support slavery and ethnic cleansing, but few today suggest those practices are God’s will. There is just a lot of context we don’t know.

No matter what, we have two irreconcilable positions. The divide is huge.

How then to bridge those divisions?

Many have tried arguing other people’s positions away or dismissing them as “ignorant” or “bigoted” or “ungodly” or “stupid.” Let’s face it: these words lead to deeper divisions.

The statement, “agreeing to disagree” does not work either.

Those who find homosexuality morally repellent see the “agreeing to disagree” position as an untenable compromise with truth.

Many on the other side of the divide see “agreeing to disagree” as equally untenable because the core of their existence and being is invalidated. This often produces emotional devastation, especially for young people coming to grips with their sexuality.

I think we have to start here: assume truth in the other as the starting point, no matter how much it troubles you.  

Learn to treat others as capable and responsible human beings who are trying to sort out their lives just as we are trying to sort out our lives. Again, we start with assuming truth on the part of the other.

That’s the very nature of respect.

For me, I have finally realized that I am not God. I do not see all, and I most certainly do not know all. Believe me, it took quite a while for me to figure this out. I have a feeling I am not alone here.

My own life’s paths and choices have been a source of deep disagreement and even anguish for some who love me.

I have had similar disagreements and anguishes over the lives and decisions of others.

Nonetheless, others don’t inhabit my body or mind, nor I theirs. Furthermore, when I take the time to genuinely listen respectfully, assuming truth, to someone who holds a position antithetical to mine, I’m amazed by how much I can learn even when I do not change my own mind.

On the other hand, none of us needs to put up with being verbally (or physically or emotionally or spiritually) abused, nor do we have the right to abuse others in any manner. There may indeed come a time when it becomes necessary to limit relationship with someone. If we cannot speak to another with respect, then it is time to walk away, no matter what side of the divide we inhabit. If our truth is habitually called “lie” or “stupid” by another, it is best to limit or eliminate contact.

If someone has a better suggestion here, I’m more than open to hearing it.

Additional Notes:

As I was answering this question, I became aware that I was addressing the core of what The United Methodist Church faces and must address at General Conference, coming up in May, 2016 in Portland OR.

I also suspect that the rhetoric there will be heated, full of distrust and even disgust. Although there is probably a significant centrist position (the agree to disagree spot), I don’t see how it can hold for the reasons I discussed above. It requires too much compromise for those on the more entrenched edges.

Over this one issue, the future of what has been a powerful and impactful movement of the grace of God sits at stake. Certainly, there are other major concerns, but they have been swallowed and diminished by this overarching one concerning what is and what is not appropriate and God-sanctioned sexuality.

As many have noted, it’s not just the sexual acts in question, it is the whole nature of biblical interpretation. Now, after wrestling my way through this question, I say it is over something even greater than that: It is over the nature of our connection itself.

Does the connectional system of The United Methodist Church give us an adequate platform to assume truth in one another in cases of a divide this deep?

It may not. Part of the glue that keeps religious groups together is a shared theology and an expectation that we are speaking the same language about God and our understandings of God. If we no longer share that language or our basic assumptions about the nature of God and our connection, then we still must find a way to honor and respect each other in separation.

Personally, I think we do a greater job of glorifying God in an intentional decision to stay together, to honor these deep and unbridgeable differences in self-giving and humble love. We shall see if the delegates to General Conference and the money and power behind those delegates also see this the same way.

May God have mercy upon us all as we work our way through yet more uncharted territory in an ever changing and inextricably interconnected world.


All questions are welcome. You can email your questions to, “like” her Facebook Page, use this form to send them or message her on Twitter. You can also send a question through conventional mail to the following address: Thoughtful Pastor, 314 E. Hickory St., Denton, TX, 76202.

[Note: a version of this column will appear in the Friday, January 8, 2106 print and online editions of The Denton Record Chronicle.]

24 thoughts on “Ask the Thoughtful Pastor: Hate the Sin of Homosexuality or Assume Truth?

  1. Christy, is it OK for UM Insight to republish this essay? I’m assuming that you retain the copyright even though versions of it have already appeared in the Denton Record-Chronicle and Ministry Matters. Correct?

    By the way, now that John is recovering from his surgery, I’m back at editing the podcasts. I really think we’ll have to do yours in two parts. I’ll let you know when it’s up. Thanks!


  2. Given my realization that my own faith and theology have matured over time, and given the long way I still have to go, I think your wisdom on this is stellar. I can, indeed, honor the honest and sincere strivings of other souls, as they seek to live with as much integrity as they can muster. Ie can speak to what truths I think I understand, and do my best to live into them, and even encourage others to see what I have learned – to test within their hearts the ideas that I have affirmed – without requiring them to think like me. I cannot really change another’s belief, anyway.

    But I can trust the Holy Spirit to bring them – and me – ever closer. I can trust that they are holding to truth as best they can, and it is a step along the road, as long as they keep walking.

    I am not abdicating my ‘position’ when I let you hold to yours, but I am avoiding my responsibility to follow the commandment that we love one another when I demand that you think like me; that you stop holding responsibility for your own soul and hand that responsibility over to me; that you stop listening to God’s whisper and yield, instead, to my shout.


    1. Truly brilliant words: “I am not abdicating my ‘position’ when I let you hold to yours, but I am avoiding my responsibility to follow the commandment that we love one another when I demand that you think like me; that you stop holding responsibility for your own soul and hand that responsibility over to me; that you stop listening to God’s whisper and yield, instead, to my shout.” I will more than likely quote you on a later post about this. Thank you.


  3. This is my take. . . In the Old and New Testament references of homosexual behavior refer to a time when homosexuality was exploitive behavior against vulnerable people. Nowhere in the scriptures do we see committed, loving couples which is Marriage Equality today. This is apples and oranges. Those who condemn the homosexuality described in Scripture RIGHTLY condemn that behavior, but it is different from non-exploitive, covenanted marriage which the Supreme Court decided on several months ago.


    1. I agree with you, as a matter of fact. I do think it is exploitive behavior that condemned, just as it should be today. However, it is clear that this stance is not the more common one at this point in Christian thinking.


  4. The inference is in many parts of the Bible wherever God’s love is given despite mankind’s obvious unworthiness in which His favor is given. Romans 5:8 has these components together : “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He loves us as we are, but He does not say we are not sinners. God loves the sinners but hates the sin. Try as you may, God is and will remain unchanging.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I always appreciate your thoughtful approach. Thank you for struggling with the important issues and shedding light on some new ways to view the situation. Your articulation of the various aspects of an issue helps me to think more deeply and critically and to wrestle with my own opinions. You are a gifted Pastor!


    1. Thank you. I appreciate your comments here–this has been a tough one and it deserved a well-thought through answer. It is just so much easier to condemn than to listen, learn, and understand the how and why of my own decisions.


  6. Are you seeking equality in love for all? Christianity already proposes that all Christians love all people saved or sinners because we are all of equal value to God our Creator.
    Are you proposing we accept sin in the church and not call it what it is?
    We would not be truthful if we did so.
    I had two family members who were gay. Both died of aids. I’m sorry to say they both were enslaved by it. They expressed to me how they wanted to be straight. They were addicted the same as any other addiction that seems impossible to break free from that people give in to it and give up hope for being free. But believe me when I say they w were not born gay. Our father had a horrible temper and they never bonded or found approval or validation as males from him. It was impossible because he frightened them when they were young boys. I came along later after he mellowed, but it was too late for them. Will you be party to ignoring the true nature of this issue, as it seems everyone else does? Insult me if you will.Call me part of the problem. I know far more than I can or desire to share.
    But the truth is , you will be adding young souls to eternal condemnation whether you admit it or not unless you stop validating the wrong behavior and address the Father to family gender validation issue of boys and girls.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent article. Hate the sin but love the sinner is not Scriptural, and it should be retired from our mouth. You can’t separate the sinner and the offense “sin”. St. Augustine wrote this Letter 211 (c. 424) which contains the phrase Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum, which translates roughly to “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” The phrase has become more famous as “love the sinner but hate the sin” or “hate the sin and not the sinner” (the latter form appearing in Mohandas Gandhi’s 1929 autobiography). I for one do not condone homosexuality, but I don’t hate them either. I see them with compassion and people who have lost their identity through the lies of our arch enemy.


      1. The inference is in many parts of the Bible wherever God’s love is given despite mankind’s obvious unworthiness in which His favor is given. Romans 5:8 has these components together : “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He loves us as we are, but He does not say we are not sinners. God loves the sinners but hates the sin. Try as you may, God is and will remain unchanging


        1. Your understanding of Scripture is incorrect. Do you think that because you are under grace you will continue to sin? I pray not. The Word is truth. I am not here to argue your theological views. We can agree to disagree. And I do disagree. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.” (I CORINTHIANS 6:9-11). The spiritual and moral environment of the first century city of Corinth was extremely unhealthy. Out of this culture, which had seen its prime and under the crushing weight of further moral decline would one day destroy itself, men and women answered the call of the gospel. They sought purpose for their lives; they sought a better way; they sought an eternal and abiding hope. They found it in Christ Jesus. Even if their city and culture would shortly lie in ruins, they would live forever. But sooner or later when we all have been destined to die once, we will know the truth.


          1. He made a way to escape for those who are born-again believers, and are tempted by sin. Let us reason together in love. If a person is a sinner knowing Adonai, do you think that there will be no consequences? Sin is sin. Blessings.


          2. Bishop,
            With all due respect, I am always amazed when women in church leadership appear to take scripture at “face value” and without further analysis and understand when it’s a “new understanding” of scripture that allows you to hold the position in the church that you do. In fact, there are still denominations that do not allow women in leadership of the church because of 1 Timothy 2:11-14.

            Some can (and do) argue that this scripture is very clear about a women’s place in the church.

            Obviously I do not agree with that understanding of the text, but if you were to ask me as a kid growing up in the Baptist church, I would have though it horrible thing to have a woman standing at the pulpit giving the sermon. As an gay man, who is of faith, I am forever grateful to the UMC for their understanding of the issue of women as clergy as many of the clergy that I have come to know, love, and respect happen to be women of our Annual Conference.

            I know my post my seem a bit off topic, but when it comes down to scriptural understanding, I would ask that we apply the Wesleyan Quadrilateral in ALL things, not just those that apply to our own situations.

            Liked by 1 person

          3. Mark, I will not debate this matter. I simply believe what is in the Word of YHWH. Jesus did not address child-molestation either; neither is it one of the Ten Commandments. Neither did Jesus address drug abuse, nor pornography, smoking, spousal abuse, or torture. Does this fact therefore condone such sins and atrocities? Are we to assume therefore that none of these are wrong or sinful? I hope we are not foolish enough to believe that if something is not mentioned in the Bible, then it shouldn’t be considered a sin. I respect your opinions, but I do not agree with homosexuality. Nor do I agree with adultery, fornication, stealing, etc… I will continue to accept what is in the Word and not the transliteration of the Western world. As far as women being leaders in the church that is something you need to take up with God because Jesus didn’t mention it right? Paul did. I love and accept everyone for who they are. I have friends that have committed sin but whoever is without sin then they should throw the first stone. As adamant as you are about who you are in your faith that’s how adamant I stand with the Word of God. Blessings, and Baruch Hashem!


    2. I am more than sure that horrific, nasty, demeaning father-figures (and mother-figures) add up to the complex nature of our sexuality. I also think that the social sciences help us to understand the complex nature of our created world and their work gives us more understanding into the nature of the Creator. I’ve written more extensively about the spectrum of sexuality here:

      There are many other factors than just truly bad families of origins that affect our sexuality.


  7. In re our UM Connectional system I would add that its weakness lies in the nature of the kind of consensus we seek. Not helped by those I call “Wesleyan Fundamentalists”, we spend an inordinate amount of time arguing about non-issues that push us away from the question that plagues us: Do we, or do we not, believe that God’s grace in its three-fold nature is open to all as a free gift? In 2012, barely a majority of delegates supported this most basic Wesleyan belief, because to support it is to make clear that “homosexuality” is neither a sin nor “incompatible with Christian teaching”, thus undermining the basis for the current Disciplinary language.

    I would add we have our share of people who shouldn’t be near anything like power in our denomination who have just a bit too much of it. We have those seeking to have influence and power who should be summarily ignored. We have serious business to be about – being “Church” is serious, life-and-death business – and we are far too easily distracted by people with titles and alleged education who wave shiny things at us, believing we are crows and will immediately fly and check out those shiny objects.

    Finally, as much as I admire the desire for even-handedness, Christy, the time for that passed over two decades ago, when this issue should have been laid to rest. We are long past the time when we need to call people to account for the hurt they’ve cause. Which is why I fear for us as a denomination.


    1. You know how much you and I agree on so many basic issues here. My big concern as we continue to try to resolve this (and yes, this should have been resolved long ago and that truly nasty language removed from the BOD) is that we are no longer Christian in our stances and responses. As I’ve read the responses to this blog, here and on FB, my hope for us to stay together as a denomination took another step downward. I no longer see how we can do this.


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