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The “sin question” problem

Timothy Kincaid

September 21st, 2012

A parable

The ophthalmologist’s assistant brought in his next patent, a lovely young woman wearing a t-shirt reading “curves are beautiful”. And it was an appropriate phrase; she had curves a plenty and they were indeed beautiful. She was perhaps 20 pounds over “ideal”, but every ounce was exactly where it should be and her glowing taut skin and firm musculature (along with her bottle of carrot juice) illustrated that this was a woman who took care of herself.

“So Doctor”, she said, “is it bad for my health to be overweight?”

Taken aback, the doctor groped for a response. He thought about his lunch with it’s processed flour bread and sodium-intense ham and gave what he thought was a safe answer. “Well, there are many things that aren’t ideal, but the important thing is that you strive to live a healthy life. After all, none of us are perfect.”

“No, Doctor, I want to know if my being twenty pounds overweight is bad for my health.”

Again he tried for diplomacy. “Every body is different. If you’re asking if I think you’re fat, the answer is no. You look very good at the weight you are at and as long as you are taking care of yourself I wouldn’t worry.”

“But is it bad for my health to be overweight?”

A little frantic now he replied, “I really don’t know how your body processes food or the amount of stress that would result from trying to lose a few pounds. I can’t tell you that losing twenty pounds would improve your health or life expectancy. That’s not my specialty. I’m an eye doctor.”

“But doctor, you’re a physician. You have a degree and medical books. What do the books say? Is it bad for my health to be overweight.”

Finally the doctor sighed, “Yes, the medical books say that being overweight should be avoided. So while I think you shouldn’t worry about it, I guess my answer has to technically be yes, being overweight is not ideal for your health.”

The woman shot back in her chair with a look of shock on her face as though he’s slapped her. “You’re calling me UNHEALTHY!!!”

I think some times our community does this with people of faith.

We run into someone who has no problem with gay people, who supports civil rights for couples, and who strives to be supportive, and we say, “So pastor, is homosexuality a sin?”

A sin? Well, that’s difficult to answer.

Sin is a very vague term that covers everything from mass murder to being less than cheerful as you give to a homeless person. It means, basically, any imperfection. “Missing the mark”. A held grudge. The thrill of rushing to the phone to tell the latest about your friend.

In Christian theology, as expressed by the words attributed to Christ, failing to love the people you come into contact with as much as you love yourself is sin. And it’s constant. And we all do it everyday.

But there’s another aspect to consider. There are a number of things in Scripture that were forbidden a few thousand years ago. For many of them it’s obvious why they are there: murder, theft, lying – these all treat our neighbor with contempt. Others may not have made a lot of sense at the time, but scientific discovery has, in retrospect, suggested had a practical purpose: dietary laws, crop rotation, and perhaps even circumcision. And then there were those which seem to have been a matter of cultural identity and religious adherence: rules about pagan gods and practices.

Some of those prohibitions fit easily into modern ethics. Others were specifically exempted and ended by the Christian fathers. And a good many things that may have worked in ancient cultures, like matters of gender, outgrew their relevance and no longer fit with the themes of Christian faith.

And then there are a lot of gray area sins, the “sin for me, but maybe not for thee” type. There are a lot of Christians who see alcohol as harmful to the body and an inhibitor of responsible behavior. They see damaged lives and broken dreams and say, “that stuff is evil and drinking it is sin”. But they aren’t going to call you a sinner if you have a beer.

So “is homosexuality a sin?” is a tougher question than might appear on the face of it and does not lend itself to “yes” or “no” answers. Or, if one is thoughtful and consistent about one’s faith, it ought not.

And “sin” is not the only troublesome word there. “Homosexuality” means, of course, the quality of finding one’s innate attracts on a sexual and emotional level to be towards persons of the same sex. But in these questions, there is always the component of sexual behavior. Few are ever asking “pastor is it sin to be attracted but never act on it?” And even issues about identity or “pride” come in.

A few decades ago when “gay people” were those weird men in San Francisco that you saw on the news parading down the street in a jock strap once a year, it wasn’t difficult for most evangelical Christians to tick the “lays with a man like a woman” box and say with confidence that, “yep, homosexuality is sin”. And by “sin” they meant, this is a biggie, it’ll send you to hell with the murderers and pedophiles.

But with increased visibility, “homosexuality” is also now Susan and Janet who show up for service every Sunday with their two kids and who can be counted on to always be there for the weekly food bank. “Homosexuality” is the church organist who is single and probably not “laying with” anybody, but enjoys his Saturday nights performing as Glamour de’Velvet. And what about young Joey who you are fairly sure really is “laying with a man like a woman” with his best friend; but you’ve known this kid since the day he was born and you know that he is a good kid.

“Is homosexuality a sin?”

For an increasing number of pastors, they don’t know how to answer that. They aren’t theologian dicing the ancient texts for context and cultural comparison, they just want to preach the good news of forgiveness and help people live better lives. But they are the ones who gets the question and an answer is expected.

For example, Joel Osteen went on CNN this week to promote his new book. Osteen is one who doesn’t give much time to preaching sin; he’s more interested in “lifting people up” and encouraging them to live happier lives. Personally, I’m not big on the “think positive thoughts” type of preachers, but he has the largest congregation in the nation so evidently a lot of people are.

Now there is nothing in Osteen’s book about homosexuality. There’s nothing in his sermons about homosexuality. But listen to this exchange:

YouTube Preview Image

This was a no-win situation for Osteen. And, of course, he didn’t win. People don’t want uncertainty, they want answers. And, most often, they want the answers to be what they already believe. They want you to take sides – their side, specifically.

Conservatives called him out for failing to rail against abomination. Albert Mohler had this to say:

Viewers of CNN saw a display of confusion, evasion, and equivocation coming from one presented as a Christian pastor. What they were really seeing is the total theological bankruptcy of the word of faith movement and the gospel of positive thinking. Osteen cannot, or at least will not, speak even the simplest word of biblical conviction. He states his intention to stay in his “lane” of glib affirmation.

And Think Progress saw this:

Osteen’s admission that his own sexual orientation is not a choice while still deriding homosexuality as a sin that his 43,000 weekly congregants can choose to rectify is hardly surprising. He has repeated the claim — that gays can change their orientation — before several times.

Televangelist icons have a long history of offensive and homophobic remarks that undermine their message of inclusion and acceptance within the christian faith.

It’s funny, in a way.

I get why religious conservatives want to know everyone’s position. It’s to know whether he’s a man of God or a heretic to denounce. If you care deeply about doctrine, you keep track of who endorses or disavows your particular collection.

But sometimes its the people in our community who don’t adhere to Christian faith or believe that there is such a thing as a “sin” that some deity will punish you for who are the most insistent on getting the question answered. And I have to think, why do you care?

Like the curvaceous lady in the doctor’s office; why was it so important that her eye doctor weigh in? Was it an angry bitter disillusioned (but wafer-thin) mother who spent her childhood telling her “You’re fat! No one will want you and you’ll never get anywhere being so fat!”? Is that the voice that she’s trying to silence?

In the real world, I know a lot of us heard the voice of Christian certainty tell us over and over, “You’re a sinner! No one will want you and you’ll never get anywhere being a faggot, being a dyke, being some gender freak! God has no use for sinners like you!” And (though fewer in number) those shrill accusatory voices are still out there yelling their abuse in harmony with the voices in our memories.

Okay. So Joel Osteen thinks that “homosexuality is sin”. He doesn’t understand it, doesn’t know what to do with it, and so he doesn’t preach it, it’s not his “lane”. I doubt he even knows what he means by that, whether he means orientation or behavior or identity. Clearly he didn’t go on the program with the goal of condemning anyone.

But yet we demand, “Joel, is homosexuality a sin? What does the book say?”

So he flails about trying to give an answer that makes sense, when this is clearly an area that he just isn’t comfortable and no answer is going to work.

I wonder why we do that? I really don’t know.

Comments

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Rowan Bristol
September 21st, 2012 | LINK

…So, a doctor being presented with his bullshit; by lusting after someone who doesn’t conform to enforced standards, and then being presented as a terrible person for making the doctor confront his own bullshit, when all he wants to do is have a masturbation fantasy in his office…

…It -is- how the ‘community’ handles christians! We have to live under their gaze, their opinions of us that we have no control over, and when we call them on their bullshit, they get flustered, uncomfortable, hedge their bets, and then when forced to admit their bullshit resent being called out.

Thanks, Tim!

Here’s to hoping the good doctor can jerk off in peace one day, and one day, you can come up with a parable that doesn’t put the blame of objectification on the gazed. Good luck with that.

tristram
September 21st, 2012 | LINK

technical issue – the embedded video appears to be too wide for the column, causing a large blank gap (on my screen, at least) – not fatal, but it would be worth fixing if not too much trouble.

esurience
September 21st, 2012 | LINK

“But sometimes its the people in our community who don’t adhere to Christian faith or believe that there is such a thing as a “sin” that some deity will punish you for who are the most insistent on getting the question answered. And I have to think, why do you care?”

I care because one of the harms of religion is that it causes moral confusion.

This is not a complicated question. And if you subscribe to some sort of philosophy that makes it complicated, then that’s a problem.

There’s nothing wrong with homosexuality, period. And if it’s something anyone has to think hard about, they have a broken moral compass.

We ask the question because we want to expose that.

Priya Lynn
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Well said, Esurience.

David Roberts
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Yeah, Joel has it so bad.

That it has become difficult for Osteen and others like him to answer this question is precisely the point.

You are troubled when non-believers involve themselves in questions of doctrine and faith, such as what is or isn’t considered sin (as stated in your post). They do this because, like it or not, their lives are inextricably affected by those determinations.

They deserve a better response than that stammering mess presented by Osteen on CNN.

Jim Burroway
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

I’ve fixed the video

Hunter
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

I’m one of those who does not adhere to Christianity, and I have serious problems with those opposed to same-sex marriage inserting their religious beliefs into the argument — the United States is a secular nation, and those arguments are irrelevant. To take them out of the realm of personal belief and inscribe them into the law is a grave injury to our country as a whole.

As for the “sin” question, I’d like to pose Joel Osteen and any other ant-gay and anti-marriage “Christian” a question: Here are two men who love each other deeply, have been together for a number of years — make it ten — have been faithful to each other that whole time, and who are raising children together. They finally have the opportunity to marry, to provide their relationship with social approbation and their family with all the available legal protections. They have an excellent relationship, founded on mutual honesty, respect, trust, and support and look forward to spending the rest of their lives together.

What is the “sin” here, and what is immoral about it?

If one of these “Christians” can come up with an answer that is not some variation on “the Bible says. . . .”, I might be prepared to listen. Until that time, I have to consider that “sin” means simply something their chosen authority figure doesn’t approve of, they’ve never bothered to think about it for themselves, and their understanding of morality is rudimentary, at best.

gsingjane
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Thank you so much for posting this Tim!

You are a brave guy… and I for one appreciate it!

Steve
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Religion isn’t some ivory tower problem that exists purely in academia. Religious hatred and intolerance harms millions of people every single day. That’s why it needs to be opposed and isn’t something that can be dismissed as “let’s agree to disagree”.

Jay
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Typical Christian double-speak from both Osteen and Kincaid. We care because the language of sin and unworthiness directed toward homosexuals is why young people commit suicide and why naive people raised in Christian communities lead lives of quiet desperation.

Donny D.
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Timothy Kincaid wrote,

But sometimes its the people in our community who don’t adhere to Christian faith or believe that there is such a thing as a “sin” that some deity will punish you for who are the most insistent on getting the question answered. And I have to think, why do you care?

It’s simple: we like to know where people stand in regard to OUR LIVES.

Timothy, you can make it all about some personal flaw of ours, some irrational insecurity based on the repetitive voice of a non-present person who exists only in our heads if you want to. But it is objectively true that this isn’t a safe world for us. So we want to know who is WITH us and who is AGAINST us.

Why is this hard for you to understand?

Sean
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

I think that any time any person has a moral belief that they can’t justify (or are ashamed about holding!), it is good for them to confront that. *Everyone* should experience this unease from time to time, because it’s really how we grow as people. People may feel cognitive dissonance, but it’s like exercise, a type of discomfort that’s good for us.

It matters whether or not the things we believe are true. As individuals, we should (and typically do) care about whether we are making decisions that affect our own lives, or other people’s, based on good information. And for people who believe in an objective moral code (like most Christians), these are true/false questions, and ones with important answers. And I think that if people don’t want to talk or even think about them, there’s something seriously wrong with the picture, something that needs to be exposed to a little daylight, even uncomfortable honesty.

Maybe we could be more diplomatic about handling the answer, but I think that the sin question is one that must be asked.

Robert
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

you seem to have more compassion for the people who would see us locked up and dead then you have for Barney Frank and liberal gays who don’t like republicans. You have a very twisted view of the world, you condemn those like you because of political reasons, and you exalt those against you for some type of religous reason.

Do you even LIKE gay people? I mean, after all, you worry about how you talk to religious people while throwwing out hateful comments about other gay people, then you tell gays to get out of their ghettos, you go off on some crazy personal vendetta against another gay man, and now you go after the non religous people who are gay because they want to call out people for their homophobic views. You really don’t seem to like actual gay people, but gay people as theory.

E. Manhattan
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Have all Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus stopped forcing their religious beliefs about gay people into the secular world of laws and customs?

I don’t see that – have I missed something, Tim?

I will stop thinking about their religious beliefs, and stop criticizing their hypocrisies, and stop having to defend myself and other gay people, when they stop seeking to damage my life through laws and social attitudes.

If I and my friends are finally safe from them, why do I keep reading and seeing fresh attacks from religious people? Why do we not yet have civil rights equal to the civil rights of same-sex-married Christian evangelists?

Why are you advocating that we stop confronting their evilness?

Rowan Bristol
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

In tim’s world, this is all an academic argument. In tim’s world, the people who hold these religious beliefs, never vote according to their religion, hold public office, or employ people.

It’s only because people have been confronted, time and time again, and they have come to realize the bullshit of their argument that laws have been changed, that people are progressively changing in their attitude and behavior, and the loud, expressive bigotry, isn’t considered to be a political rallying cry.

What makes his parable of his even sweeter is his ignorance of the studies on weight and survival rates for diseases. So, the doctor in his parable, like the christian he wants to defend, is clinging to an outdated and fallacious belief system that places people in boxes they don’t belong.

Which is a shame, because the doctor finds his patient so -hot-. Which, as one of the people who track the disciplinary actions against doctors…Makes the parable even -CREEPIER-.

Thanks, Tim! <3

MsRowena
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

I don’t really care what these so-called Christians think or profess about being gay, as long as it isn’t encoded in society’s laws. I do think Timothy is missing the two sides of the coin here. His fascination with defending them and coming to terms with their beliefs would seem just as much fair game for criticism as confronting them is.

If it’s wrong to dare question their views, then it’s just as wrong to dare defend them to others, because in doing so you are just as much questioning the other people’s views. Or is it that we can’t dare question conservative straight (and surely some closeted) people’s views, but we can question those of our fellow travelers in this journey?

Don’t make Mommy and Daddy mad, and they might still love you. It’s not a great approach to life, but I think those of us who grew up in the 50s and 60s and 70s, and a far more repressive culture, well understand the desperate need for approval and acceptance and the harm is can do.

Ben In Oakland
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Normally, timothy, I agree with you, usually 100%. but I think you have it wrong here. Osteens inability either to answer a simple aquesiton or connect some simple dots merely underlines it.

Here’s one way to think about it. Everything I’m about to say has This context behind it. I was born and raised a Jew. I nearly became a Christian, but the logical/faith contradictions became too much. I was then a thorough-going atheist. Now I’m strrictly an-it-doesn’t-matterist. I have nothing against religion except in one place.

Religious beliefs about sin, when used in any context– especially political contexts– other than “I believe “x” is a sin”– in other words, in the conexts of church and/or in one’s individual conscience—always seems to boil down to YOUR religious beliefs about MY sins. Jesus’s comments about stones and sinlessnesscertianly apply here, though few Christianists would. As I like to put it: “All of us may be sinners. not all of us are throwing stones.”

When religious people urge the state to enforce their religious beliefs about the sins of other people on those people, or on people who disagree that “x” is a sin, it has crossed the lines clearly demarcated as…

FREEDOM OF WORSHIP. FREEDOM OF RELIGION. FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE.

If you’re going to define the problem as one of sincere religious belief, then using the state to enforce that belief on people who don’t share it is the very essence of the expression of religious bigotry.

The paradox is that by insisting that the issue of the place of gay people in our society is fundamentally a religious question, they have moved the issue into the state establishment of religious belief, which is prohibited at every level of government in our society, and was the true basis for the Supreme’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas.

The real issue, of course, is lost Dominionism, and the attempts of the Religious Reich to re-institute it. There was a time when religion melded into the power structure of society. Church and state were virtually one until about 100 years ago. Now they’re just one voice among many, though still powerful and still dangerous if you hapen to be on their holy shitlist.

Those who would use the coercive power of the state to assert their dominion over others should understand that it may not always work to their advantage. Or, as Ben Franklin (I think) put it;

Those who would deny liberty to others deserve it not for themselves.”

Ben In Oakland
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

I should add;

As far as I can tell, Osteen doesn’t understand scripture. He does understand money.

“Give away all that you have and follow me.”

“It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

JB
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

I’ve often expressed disagreement with Tim on political issues, but on religious questions I almost always find myself agreeing with him, and this post is no exception. Many in our community, I think, see Christianity as a whole as the enemy. For them, Joel Osteen is necessarily an enemy who must be exposed as such at all times.

Of course, Christianity is not monolithic by any means on any issue. There are Christians who are our friends, and there are Christians who our enemies. Some in our community get this. The group opposing the Minnesota marriage amendment has done an especially good job of highlighting this and enlisting the help of the former.

When it comes to LGBTQ issues, I think the views of Christians are better understood not as a binary opposition but as a pretty big continuum between two extremes. But what about those Christians who aren’t our friends yet, but are far from being our enemies? I think Tim is right that Osteen falls into this category. I don’t think the few people in our community who recognize that this category exists really know what to do with it. For me, at least, it makes more sense to concentrate on exposing our real enemies, and give some space to the people who fall in the middle. If Osteen isn’t going to go after us publicly, then why not return him the courtesy? Of course, in the interests of full disclosure, I’m actually one of those deluded Christians who actually thinks the golden rule is a pretty good philosophy for living one’s life by!

Priya Lynn
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

JB said “Many in our community, I think, see Christianity as a whole as the enemy. For them, Joel Osteen is necessarily an enemy who must be exposed as such at all times.”.

Nonsense. I only see as the enemy those christians who think gayness is a wrongdoing. There are many christians who do not think this way and with whom I have no problem. But for those who aren’t willing to state that gayness is not a wrongdoing, they are part of the problem, part of the reason gays are oppressed, attacked, and psychologically tormented by bogus threats of eternal torture. There’s no way I’m cutting any of those people any slack.

Michael C
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

I like the idea that poor Joel Osteen was backed into a corner and forced to comment on a subject that he knows absolutely nothing about only to be attacked by everyone for either failing to properly admonish what is clearly a sin or acquiescingly admit that perhaps some things that he has absolutely no knowledge of might be sins.

Unfortunately, this position is highly unrealistic. For him to say that he can’t really comment on homosexuality being a sin because he’s never really thought about it is ridiculous. As “hot-button” the issue of homosexuality is in Christianity, no religious leader can credibly take the stance of ignorance. I respect the fact that he doesn’t focus on sin in his ministry but to plead the fifth because confronting sin isn’t really in your “lane” is offensive.

Osteen could have easily said “While I prefer to focus on encouraging peoples individual relationships with Christ rather than dictating God’s rules to them, I believe homosexuality is a sin. I believe that’s what the bible says.”

What Osteen instead did was attempt to waffle on the issue in order to try to please everyone. He makes his money when everyone is happy. His actions were political and his goal was monetary.

Sami
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

A sin? Well, that’s difficult to answer.

No it isn’t. Do you think that LBGT people are immoral if they act on their natural healthy feelings? Do you think LBGT people should spend their entire lives denying these natural healthy feelings? Are easy questions to answer for anyone who doesn’t look down on us.

But sometimes its the people in our community who don’t adhere to Christian faith or believe that there is such a thing as a “sin” that some deity will punish you for who are the most insistent on getting the question answered. And I have to think, why do you care?

I care because of all the LBGT people who have wasted decades of their lives in self-loathing denial because they dfidn’t want to be a sinner. I care because of all the LBGT people are driven to depression and suicide because they couldn’t stand being the sinner.

The fact that I’ve never personally been hurt by these beliefs is irrelevant. Somewhere out there a young LBGT person is sitting in the church they grew up in listening to a preacher they’ve been raised to respect talk about how they’re a sinner, a bad person, because of their natural healthy feelings and watching in horror as their entire community nods in agreement. I condemn this disgusting belief that LBGT people are ‘sinners’ because I’ve met so many people who faced that scenario I described.

Michael C
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Hi JB, I would agree with you had Osteen said “My religion dictates that homosexuality is a sin but, obviously, my religious beliefs have no place in U.S. law.”

When I say something is absolutely wrong, I mean it should be outlawed. If I said that because of my personal beliefs, I choose not to (fill in the blank), I am expressing that I have no intention of attempting to prevent others from (filling in the blank).

Religious leaders have the moral obligation to make this distinction, they almost never do.

Robert
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

JB,

Sorry to disagree with you, as a fellow who believes similarly to you, but I don’t uphold ANYONE that says my being what God made me is “Not God’s Best”.

Excuse away what you will, but that’s hardly a positive or affirming statement. And as such, I hardly see how one can place Osteen in the “not out friend but not our enemy” camp. I’m unsure how you can ask us to support an individual who claims we are not God’s best. It makes no sense.

I, personally, have MANY Christian friends and family members who support my marriage, my husband and me in all aspects of our lives. They don’t dain to say I am not God’s “best”. They claim me as a brother in Christ, and as a Child of God. No better, NAD NO WORSE than they are. THAT is the type of Christian we should support. Not those denigrating us as LESS than them and others.

This man is no friend of ours.

Kithpine
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

You know I find the parable at the top offensive but that is because I am deep in the “what really represents healthy weight” people and that parable is a variation on ones used to promote the very same double standard in medicine that is presented in religion. When you remove a carefully weighted, researched and nuanced position to one of simple binary, you harm and offend people.

So you are slightly altering and misusing the above parable in defense of the undefendable position of “my holy book says it’s a sin so I don’t have to treat you fair”, or “My medical book says your fat so I don’t have to treat you fair”. This is both offensive and sort of ironic.

Because the truth is you remove the slap from the above parable and it quickly changes the victim.

The issue is binary thinking coupled with how we legislate against something that is considered “bad/sin” vs something that isn’t. This is true of both weight loss and LBGT issues. We are passing anti-marriage laws, Anti-bathroom laws, punitive ID laws at the same time we are passing soda taxes, anti-fat taxes, soda sized bans, promote-hyrdoginated oil laws. All because we create a binary “Fat = Bad” “Gay = sin” the whole while the professionals refuse to come out and say the binary is false and instead retreat to their “Texts”.

djcchicago
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Part of it is that we suspect more is being said behind closed doors, and that what is being said can and does hurt people, particularly teenagers. The important question — what does he tell a parent of a gay child when they come to him? What happens when a youth leader suspects one of the girls is a lesbian and that news makes its way up the chain of command?

I understand what Timothy is trying to say though. We do this with politicians as well as preachers, continuously asking them what they think about us, then we complain that they are always talking about us.

iDavid
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Ahh….. pastor Osteen choking on his breakfast of lies. Turn this person of evil descent off your TV channels, he will only serve to confuse your spiritual peace.
There are many wolves. You are the one that can send them packing by simply not listening to their evil howling.

DJ
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

I think there are some really good reasons for non-Christians to care…and many have been articulated above.

But for those of us who are Christian, and choose to remain in some form of deep relationship with the conservative ones (either because they are family or close friends or whatever), I’d say it’s quite a positive thing that Osteen had such a hard time answering the question. That folks, is PROGRESS. And you may not be happy about the speed with which it occurs…and that’s your right. But some of us see it as hopeful. There was not a SINGLE prominent Christian leader on national TV who would have equivocated on their response to that question 20 years ago…or 10 even. The fact that he stumbles and falters is a sign that the universal Christian consciousness is sloooooowly starting to understand how much the church’s stance towards LGBT people has been utterly destructive.

I for one hope to really capitalize on that – to challenge those people who are starting to get a glimpse of reality (like Osteen), and push them to keep digging, keep investigating, keep seeking out LGBT people and their stories. In the end, I think that response is better for our society as a whole…because like it or not, we have to deal with millions and millions of Christians who are not comfortable with homosexuality. I’m not sure how useful it is to call the likes of Joel Osteen evil. It makes you sound absurd (from their point of view, and understandably so), and it only serves to turn people like him off from having meaningful experiences with reality.

Jay
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

I think Robert is right when he says that Kincaid just doesn’t like gay people. He certainly feels more of a kindred spirit with bigots who hate him, but whom he desperately hopes might not. In any case, it doesn’t matter much whether these people think we are sinners. What matters is that they devote so much energy in trying to convince US that we are sinners. If they think homosexuality is a sin, the simple for them is not to be homosexual. But they are not content with simply not “sinning” themselves, they want to create an entire culture in which we are persecuted for not being like they are. Contrast that with Jews, for example, who believe that eating pork is a sin. Many religious Jews keep Kosher and do not eat pork. But I have yet to hear of a Jew in the United States campaigning against the sale of pork. The fact is a lot of Christians are like the Taliban who want to impose their narrow notions of sinfulness on the entire society. (And by the way not all Christians believe that homosexuality is a sin. The United Church of Canada, for example, has declared that homosexuality, no less than heterosexuality, is a gift of God. It is possible for Christians to grow and embrace others.)

Timothy Kincaid
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Kithpine, actually that is exactly my point. In matters of both spiritual and physical health, there’s what the book says and then there’s the fact that humans vary. If we insist on a one size fits all response to either physical or spiritual health we’re likely to be limiting our lives. By focusing on some definition of “fat” or “sin” we may end up living a joyless existence.

Timothy Kincaid
September 22nd, 2012 | LINK

For the record, I like gay people. Gay people are my very favorite kind.

Kithpine
September 23rd, 2012 | LINK

Timothy, I think the issue is me and you see the problem differently. You say, well we shouldn’t get angry when they fall back to the text they know in their heart is wrong. I think we should get all the more angry when they refuse to speak out and say “This is wrong and we should change it.”

Honestly in the health realm until responsible doctors come out and force the medical profession to use something other then the BMI, which all but the most stubborn of doctors will tell you is not accurate. Health will suffer this binary.

Meanwhile in the spiritual realm, until responsible preachers come out and force their profession to use something other then four lines of ill-translated text, which all but the most stubborn of preachers will tell you is not accurate. Spirituality will suffer this binary.

It is only by confronting those most famous or most personal in our lives that change can be had, because sadly we live in a cult of celebrity world.

While I will grant you constantly using variation on the question of “What does you book say” is simply a trap and gadfly questioning. Unfortunately polite society would find it far too rude to ask “Why do you insist on cleaving to the use of a ill-fitting binary established in outdated texts that you yourself admit don’t work?”

**It is only after typing this that talking of LBGTQ issues we also fall on the problem of gender another ill-fitting binary that we cleave to and make bad laws about.**

Kevin P
September 23rd, 2012 | LINK

Let’s be honest. “Sin” is the wholly manufactured and oversold imaginary product of the Church and its predecessors.

Chuck Mielke
September 23rd, 2012 | LINK

I didn’t read all of those wonderful comments, above, so I don’t know if I’m repeating a message but here goes:

When I was a driving instructor I learned the difference between “legal” and “safe.” Is it illegal to exceed the speed limit? Definitely, yes. Is it safe to exceed the speed limit? Often, yes. Will you get arrested every time you exceed the speed limit by the smallest amount? Definitely, no. In driving, concerns for safety often trump issues of strict legality.

In parallel, when a specialist in biblical morality is asked whether a particular act is immoral, s/he MUST waffle because, in many cases, the bible is not clear. Is homosexuality a sin? Some scriptures seem to say yes, but do they really apply to our modern understanding of the word “homosexuality” which word, btw, doesn’t actually appear in scripture? In light of that uncertainty, how do we read Jesus’s lack of comment on the matter? To give a definite answer is not only intellectually dishonest, it is a presumption of speaking for god.

I think Joel Osteen, in the video, was trying to give a nuanced, theological answer to the questions of the panel. The panel would have none of it and insisted on a confrontation while rejecting education. On tv, drama wins out over reason.

I don’t know Osteen’s reputation, but I saw panel members refusing to let him answer the questions they had for him. In doing so they made the “interview” a sham; it became a format for the panelists’ grandstanding. I hope they apologized to Mr. Osteen.

(Full disclosure: I am a liberal, intellectual, gay, atheist. I believe that if you ask a question of another, you should have the respect of letting the person answer on their own terms.)

Priya Lynn
September 23rd, 2012 | LINK

Chuck, a waffle isn’t an answer. I have no respect for someone who tries to play both sides of the fence by not being forthcoming.

David Roberts
September 23rd, 2012 | LINK

I think Joel Osteen, in the video, was trying to give a nuanced, theological answer to the questions of the panel.

He was trying very hard not to answer at all, and it’s not the first time.  If the interviewers seemed intense, perhps we can forgive them the frustration of attempting to cut through that very pervasive smokescreen, and for knowing full well it was coming.

Letting someone answer “on their own terms” is useless if those terms include the luxury of “answering” through evasion.  At the very least the man could have done as Andrew Marin does and just refuse to answer the question outright.

As an aside, and as a Christian, I think it’s sad that Christianity has degraded to the point that Osteen is not seen more readily as the charlatan he is.  He has to be one of the worst examples on which to base this discussion in the first place, if there is indeed a salient point in all this.

Ben In Oakland
September 23rd, 2012 | LINK

David, i have to agree with you. asking Osteen a theological point is like asking an opthamologist not about being overweight, but about what’s wrong with your spleen, or somethning in that general area.

Jesus was clear: “Give away all that you have and follow me.” “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a richman to ender the kingdom of heaven.”

Yet Osteen is rich,. and promises riches to his followers. This kind of disconnect is obvious to non-believers, but seems to elude believers.

Robert
September 23rd, 2012 | LINK

Chuck, you said:

“I believe that if you ask a question of another, you should have the respect of letting the person answer on their own terms.”

If we let people in positions of authority answer on their own terms, we’d get NO answeres, we’d get spin. Oh, wait, that’s what we get now….hmmmm.

If one is going to go round and round and not REALLY answer the REAL question, then they need to be asked again and again until they answer THE question put to them, not the one they wish they were answering. Also, these people, like Osteen, come onto these shows voluntarily, knowing they are going to be asked questions. If they do not want to answer the questions, maybe they shouldn’t agree to be there in the first place.

Would you let stand a question and answer like this:

Q:What is the path to fiscal responsibility and higher employment rates?

Answer: Yellow.

Of courswe you wouldn’t, but your theory presented here says that you would allow that answer to stand, without challenge, because they answered it on their own terms.

Mary, Please!

Timothy Kincaid
September 23rd, 2012 | LINK

Kithpine

Yes there is necessity for the voices that say, this is wrong!

But I also so value in the voice that says “I think it says this. But I also know that ‘bible-believing people’ think it says that. And there is debate. So I’m going to try and stay out of it and focus on what I do know.”

While it does not speak for us, it recognizes and validates those who do. And it also suggests transition. When the pastor of the nation’s largest church suggests that those who argue for inclusive theology are ‘bible-believing’ and that this is not something that he “does know”, it opens the subject for grater debate and change.

Which is, of course, one reason why the conservatives are angry.

Ned Flaherty
September 23rd, 2012 | LINK

Timothy Kincaid defends Joel Osteen’s inability to answer the most prominent religious question of our time (Christianity’s position on LGBT equality) by claiming that “pastors” aren’t “theologians.”

Kincaid is wrong. Qualified clergy are, indeed, theologians, and those who aren’t should quit their masquerading.

Kincaid ends his article by admitting that he doesn’t know why LGBT people ask clergy people for religious opinions. Well, the reason anyone asks any professional for an opinion is because the professional claims to be qualified in the field, and is expected to have such answers. Joel Osteen is a multi-millionaire preacher who created his career, fame, and broadcasting fortune by selling Christianity expertise to the public. So asking his opinion about the topmost issue in his field today is perfectly justified.

What’s inexcusable is that Osteen is inarticulate, claims ignorance about Scripture, and says that he has never thought about the topic.

What’s also inexcusable is that Kincaid appears ignorant of the fact that suicide rates for millions of LGBT teens are several hundred percent higher than for other teens, and they’re higher because Christianity is the most frequently used rationale for oppressing LGBT people.

The reason that citizens ask theologians what they think about Christianity and LGBT people is to try and reduce the needless deaths of those teens.

Jay
September 24th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy Kincaid: your last posting on this topic actually makes sense. Of course, this is not what you originally posted. Your original post chastises gay people for asking the question, putting Osteen in, as you describe it, a “no-win situation.”

Now, however, you sensibly admit that the question was a good one and that it has yielded good results, if only to the extent that Osteen has had to admit he does not know whether homosexuality is a sin.

Had you posted this in the first place, you would not have gotten the blowback that you have. Thanks for finally saying something sensible on this topic.

Randy
September 24th, 2012 | LINK

I don’t have much to say because to do so would probably be too much to say :)

So I will sum up… I really appreciated the tone and personal reflection (individually and as a community) within this post.

andrewdb
September 25th, 2012 | LINK

I agree with you Timothy. This is very much progress. It’s not where I want to end up, but it is a fairly big crack in the right direction.

Nathaniel
September 26th, 2012 | LINK

I am always hesitant to read the comments to Mr. Kincaid’s posts because they tend to be a little fiery. I often find the posts themselves thought-provoking, even if I don’t fully agree with them.

For the sake of disclosure, I will admit that I am a gay Christian, and I very know little about Osteen. I am bothered by the possibility that he attended the interview to talk about his book only to have to address a question about a ‘hot button issue’. In fact, it seems that he was only asked this because it is a ‘hot button issue’. If the panel is only asking the questions because of the contentious nature of the subject, then neither they nor the network is doing anybody but their shareholders any favors.

As others have pointed out, there are Christians who neither seek to support us nor seek to destroy us. They sit here, in part, because they have no reason to give the issue much thought. By harassing these individuals into committing to a side, I can assure you, all we do is drive them away. They will stay in the middle as long as the pressure is equally strong from both sides. Further, a fence sitter is no threat to impressionable children; in fact, waffling could only serve to encourage young minds to seek answers for themselves, while demonstrating that it is OK to be uncertain. Finally, it is possible to think something is a sin and not seek to outlaw it. In this sense, the opinion is intellectual, academic. Automatically condemning someone who possesses this opinion, regardless of what they do with it, ignores the humanity of the individual and others like them. Osteen’s floundering should be seen as a positive sign that those who call us sinners are seeing the error of being too certain of their condemnation.

DN
September 27th, 2012 | LINK

meh

I agree with all the posters above who said that they don’t give a fat, flying **** what Osteen believes, but that his influence, however much they (and I) think it is ridiculous and hypocritical, has an effect on real people, which has a direct effect on our lives – whether or not we subscribe to Osteen’s theology or even christianity at all.

The day I sign up for a religion is the day I decide to follow its laws. Until then, I demand my rights and I don’t give a crap what Osteen or Donohue or Ratzinger have to say.

Priya Lynn
September 27th, 2012 | LINK

Nathaniel said “Automatically condemning someone who possesses this [gayness is a sin] opinion, regardless of what they do with it, ignores the humanity of the individual and others like them.”.

Believing that harmless gayness is a wrongdeoing ignores the humanity of gays. You want to give a break to bigots that you wouldn’t give to gays.

John D
October 16th, 2012 | LINK

Coming late to this, but I know there would be no sense in putting this question to my rabbi at one of his “Ask the Rabbi” nights.

“Rabbi, is homosexuality a sin?”

Tradition includes Leviticus 18:22 as Torah portion for Yom Kippur. This only invites my rabbi to make his views known. This year his sermon was on how gay people deserve equal rights in all things.

Is loving someone a sin? No.

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