There’s been a fair bit of coverage on my social media of the recent interview with Tim Farron after he was elected leader of the Lib Dems, where he repeatedly deflected the question of whether gay sex was sinful. My initial reaction was bemusement, as I wondered why people care what someone else believes about their ability to relate to a God that they don’t believe in. With a bit more reflection and some comments from others I realised that there’s a lot more cultural weight to the idea of sin than that, and I also got the feeling that the acknowledgement that we are all sinners is seen as facetious and insincere, which is far from my experience when I have thought the phrase myself, or heard it from other Christians I know.
There was an article I read recently, I’m afraid I can’t remember where, in which a Christian who does believe that homosexual acts are sinful talks about why he is more vocal in his opposition to that particular sin, compared to lying and violence and selfishness and so on. And his point was that whilst these other sins are certainly committed, and probably tacitly condoned, no-one is actually arguing that they aren’t sinful, or that one shouldn’t try not to commit them, just that it’s difficult, whereas with homosexuality, the dominant narrative has become that it isn’t sinful at all. And I think that that is actually a good answer to the question of why some Christians are concerning themselves with speaking out about homosexuality when there are far worse sins in the world.
In case it wasn’t obvious, I do, rather strongly, disagree with the belief that homosexual sex is sinful. I have definitely had sinful sex, which made me less kind and less loving, and probably more of it has been with men than with women, but then I’ve had quite a lot more sex with men than with women so that’s hardly surprising. But on balance, most of my relationships, whether of one night or several years in length, have been good and loving and positive experiences, and have turned me into a kinder, better, more loving person, and that is particularly and overwhelmingly true of my relationship with Ramesh.
But when one believes that something which is commonly viewed as acceptable is sinful then there is a bit of a dilemma. You can lie, which is of course, sinful in itself, particularly in the case where it condemns other people to sin. Or you can speak out, and suffer the social consequences. There are two big things which are commonly accepted and which I believe are sinful, at least in part because of my faith, and which I mostly avoid talking about, because I don’t want to look judgemental...
The first of these is not giving to charity. I don’t have precise or set numbers on this, and it’s definitely an area in which I fall short myself, but I do believe that if you can afford to, but are not giving away enough of your disposable income that you notice yourself able to have less fun because of it, then you have some culpability for the harms that could be averted by that giving.
The second of these is divorce, or more accurately, choosing to divorce someone who isn’t abusive. I’m not 100% on this, and I do believe that sometimes things and people change enough in ways that you couldn’t have predicted that it’s the right choice for everyone involved, but I feel that it happens a bit too easily, and perhaps more importantly, that marriage happens a lot too easily because everyone knows that it’s an option if it doesn’t work out, and what I really feel is sinful is making a vow that you only intend to keep if it’s convenient, or deciding to break it merely because it’s not, rather than because it’s become completely untenable to do so. I do find it very telling when Christians are far more vocal in their opposition to gay sex, which has a couple of brief Old Testament mentions and one in Paul's letters, that to divorce, which our Lord speaks about repeatedly in the gospels, and is a significantly more common phenomenon.
Now, with those beliefs, I don’t think that my friends who have chosen divorce after a foolish young match, or who don’t chose to give to charity are worse people than me. Perhaps that’s what I mean by “we are all sinners”. There’s so much that I need to do better that I can’t begin to compare, and perhaps it is easier for me not to sin in those ways because I’ve let myself have too much liberty in others. (and indeed, if my ex-husband hadn't left me when he did, seeing the man he's become since I would be sorely tempted) And I don’t think that my morality should be legally imposed on others (well, maybe I think that the % of the UK budget going to foreign aid should be increased, but not by nearly as much as I think we should all be giving).
But perhaps after reading this you think that I’m a terribly judgemental bigot, and if you do, that’s your prerogative. But if you don’t think that, but you do think that Tim is a bigot for refusing to say that homosexual sex isn’t sinful, then you might want to think long and hard about why.