“Do you think homosexuality is disgusting?”
The question could not have been asked in a more gracious manner. Here is the context. The person who asked me had heard a taped lecture of mine on homosexuality, and it was the lecture that caused him to ask the question. My. Own. Lecture. Talk about a question that went to the heart. I was undone by it. Still am—in a good way. Everyone should be so blessed as to have someone like him speak into your life.
The question, of course, was a very personal one. Counselors are rarely asked merely theological questions. When someone asks, “What do you think about ______ (child abuse, confidentiality, submission, and so on),” that person is usually asking a more personal question. And, no doubt, this question was personal. He was asking, “Do you think I am disgusting?”
Ugh. Lord have mercy, and he does.
After a long pause, I said no. Here’s why I paused. Do I believe that he—the person who asked the question—is disgusting? I don’t think so. I would have said absolutely not before our conversation, but I wanted the question to sink in. If I said anything that could even raise that question for him, I might not know my own heart very well. I have never struggled with same-sex desire, and that alone should make me pause on his question. It is easy to have patience and compassion for people who share our struggles, and it is easy to stand in self-righteous judgment of those who don’t. I am prone to both of these human tendencies.
So I am not going to answer this question fully—quite yet. The proof is in the pudding. My actions will begin to answer the question when I speak about homosexuality and a person who experiences homosexual interests feels like he can speak to me without fear that the word “disgusting” will ever appear in my mind. Instead, he might notice hints of “compassionate and gracious,” “abounding in loving-kindness and truth” (Exodus 34:6). Further proof would come when someone who hears me speak is compelled toward repentance for his or her lack of compassion and grace toward those who confess homosexual struggles, and he or she outdoes me in love. (Hmm, that last part about outdoing me wouldn’t be saying that much, but still, it would be encouraging.)
This does raise another question. Does God see homosexuals as disgusting? This makes the question about myself less important.
Well, we do know that homosexuality is forbidden (Leviticus 18:22), but notice too that it is one item on a long list of prohibitions. But disgust? The book of Ezekiel has a theme of disgust in it. Read even the first couple chapters and you can tell that someone is disgusted. Why? “The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice” (Ezekiel 22:29; see also 23:17-19). From here we can extend God’s disgust to include all of our dehumanizing idolatries. Homosexuality is not a special category of sin. This levels the playing field, and most of us already believe that.
This done, we move next to the fullest expression of the character of God as he reveals himself in Jesus, and we discover a few unmistakable themes.
Jesus always was attentive and responsive to anyone who showed the slightest interest in him. Go through the gospels and notice how all you had to do was make the briefest eye contact with Jesus and he made a beeline to your door. Just the slightest acknowledgement. We do not naturally have any interest in the triune God. So when there was a hint of interest, Jesus was moving toward people and acting as though these were his people.
And who were they? Not the leaders—they rejected him. Rather, his people were the unclean. The very people who disgusted and were rejected by the leaders were the ones Jesus hung out with. The lepers, the bleeding, the ones branded as sexually unchaste and contaminated, the tax collectors—these were Jesus’ friends. One of the early strikes against Jesus that seemed to disqualify him from being the King, at least in the eyes of some, was that he was a “friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners’” (Matthew 11:19). But while others were disgusted by tax collectors and those with obvious sins, Jesus wasn’t. On the contrary, he ate meals with these outcasts, which was a sign of fellowship and acceptance. These were the people who returned his gaze when Jesus looked at them. They understood Jesus. Somehow, through Jesus’ words and deeds, the outcasts got the message which so many people missed. Jesus redrew lines: the outcasts were in, and the cultural elite who refused the invitation—they became the outcasts.
All this has made me feel a bit disgusting as I consider the Pharisaic left-overs in my own heart, but—and I find this preternatural and amazing—I am not left to wallow there. I want to take what was said to me very seriously. I deeply desire to imitate Jesus in tone and content. I want to approximate his way of inviting others, especially his way of inviting those who couldn’t imagine being invited by the Lord. Meanwhile, I will give Jesus the final word on my own tendency to brood and linger too long in guilt. Time for personal repentance? Absolutely. Yet there is more. Jesus is my God. He is patient and slow to anger with me. And, right now, he invites me to a banquet. Gotta go.