How would Jesus address LGBTQ people?

Views Georges Cheung, S.J. / April 7, 2023 Print this:

I believe the question posed in the title is the right wording and attitude for an issue that is not easy to talk about. Raising this issue makes many people angry, sad, indignant, even violent, irrespective of which side they’re on. This is why I put my question like this, instead of a more conventional, debate style, such as “Is LGBTQ an acceptable way of living one’s sexuality?”

First I’ll state my own conviction on the question, to avoid any unnecessary misunderstandings. Currently, I have no firm conviction on the place that LGBTQ people should have in society. However, I do have opinions from the religious point of view. These opinions have taken time to evolve, mature and they will most continue to do so.

LGBTQ people challenge the traditional biological understanding of societies at large, which is one of two sexes, male and female. On close examination, however, this view is far from absolutely scientific, when we look at the numerous species of plants and animals that are not sexed, let alone bacteria and viruses.

The conventional answer will be that all “higher” species are sexed and humanity, being the “highest” in the Bible or in conventional biology classes, should also be sexed. But again, in some species, this doesn’t seem to be permanent or immutable. But I’m no biologist, so I won’t venture more in that direction.

Can society accept LGBTQ people in a peaceful way? In fact, the plural seems more relevant: Can societies come around to accept LGBTQ people? We have seen, in the past, how certain beliefs have changed in some societies, but not (yet) in others: interethnic marriages, women’s rights, workers’ rights, immigrants, etc.

Of course, the LGBTQ issue is different. But whatever the outcome, this issue will have to be debated and decided in a peaceful manner if the society concerned does not wish to disintegrate. The sheer number of LGBTQ people is a sufficient reason to address the issue correctly before it’s too late.

Like many others, I used to think LGBTQ people presented a religious issue, especially when reading texts like Genesis 19. My way of reading the Bible was like that of many other Christians: naïve and shallow, with an understanding that didn’t go beyond the obvious story. Fortunately for me, it is no longer the case now. I do not pretend to be a biblical scholar, but I know that I don’t know enough.

My way of reading the Bible was like that of many other Christians: naïve and without depth, with an understanding that didn’t go beyond the obvious story.

Now I firmly believe that the LGBTQ issue is not religious. This does not mean it has no importance. Of course, civil society must address this issue in a correct manner in order to prevent unnecessary sufferings and avoidable injustices to many. But I maintain it is not a religious issue.

I came to the conclusion that the main, and perhaps only, issue in Genesis 19 was about hospitality, and not about some “forbidden sex.” As in detective stories, the obvious answer is not necessarily the good answer. It is clear that the main problem was not directly sexual because, to avoid his guests being molested by the people of Sodom, Lot offers them his two virgin daughters to get as much amusement as they see fit. Of course, some will argue that, even though both are transgressions, the one “against nature” is a greater sin.

Nature is a tricky concept. Like other words, its definition and meanings change, without warning, to suit and flatter our unconscious convictions. What do we really understand about natural law? Is it natural not to take revenge? Is it natural to care for the weak and the sick? Should we abandon the wounded person to die, like the lions do, so as not to weaken the clan?

Chapter 19 of the Book of Leviticus starts with a reminder of the Decalogue’s Third and Fourth Commandments, as a foundation of the holiness in the image of God. “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my sabbaths.” At the end of this chapter, we have: “Do not profane your daughter by making her a harlot” and “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.”

Whatever hierarchy we may introduce in declaring one act more sinful than another, both are, in Leviticus, a negation of God’s holiness. If we respect our parents and the Sabbath, then we’ll respect all the other commandments that follow in the Decalogue about other people. Otherwise, we would be heaping shame on our parents and desecrating the Sabbath.

Total respect of one’s neighbor is the litmus test of our fidelity to God’s Law. The Third and Fourth Commandments are the hinges holding the door of communication between God and humanity.

Now, Lot was ready to send his daughters into prostitution to protect his guests, because “they have come under the shelter of my roof.” Not because of the act itself, even if it was probably deemed blameworthy, but because Lot had to observe the sacred rule of protecting his guests.

Total respect of one’s neighbor is the litmus test of our fidelity to God’s Law.

This is against all known natural laws. We know the importance of children and posterity in all societies, including the Israelites, as we can guess from the story of Abraham, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Elizabeth, in the Gospel of Luke. If the two travellers hadn’t accepted his hospitality, Loth would have had no duty towards them; he would have been spared the horrible prospect of offering his daughters as victims to mass rape.

Although I believe LGBTQ concerns are not religious issues, we, as Christians, have to care. Most societal issues, including racial discrimination and bioethics, are not directly religious. Each society functions according to its political structures, good or bad. As responsible citizens, we are supposed to act on the structures if we think they’re inadequate.

But as Christians, we must be prepared to go above the minimal requirements of any society. In St. Paul’s time, slavery was considered normal, and he did nothing to abolish it. However, he asked masters, who had the legitimate power to ill treat them, to be merciful instead. He personally asked Philemon to take back Onesimus, not as a slave, but as a brother. This was not a command, only a brotherly request.

The ultimate relevant question is: “How would Jesus act if confronted with LGBTQ people?” Would he elaborate theories and dogmas, or would he do something to make their lives more human and respected in society? To those debating the moral responsibility of the person with blindness or his parents, Jesus just replies: “We must accomplish the works of him who sent me, while it is day.”

Jesus was not interested in idle theoretical conundrums which may lead to witch hunts. Like the Good Samaritan of his Parable, he cares about wounded people, whatever be the origin of their sufferings.

The Holy Spirit will help us find creative ways of integrating LGBTQ people and enriching our church.

Jesus is not interested in rebuilding a theoretical “perfect situation” either. Even though he told the Samaritan woman that she was not with her real husband, nowhere in the text does he demand that she goes back to him as a precondition to continue the dialogue or to prove the sincerity of her questions. Jesus reveals himself to her: “I who speak to you am he.”

Speaking to this multi-divorced woman was deemed fruitful for Jesus. He subsequently tells his disciples, who were begging him to eat, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” For Jesus, talking to the divorced woman (a terrible disgrace in those days) was food, better than what his disciples had brought. And this narrative ends without any mention as to what the woman did afterwards.

Whatever societies will decide on the LGBTQ issue, whether it be acceptance and welcome or marginalization and repression may vary according to the country. If society accepts LGBTQ people, Christians should make amends to them for past injustices, in society and in the church, and give them a warm and total welcome into the church of which they have been suffering members for much too long.

If, on the other hand, LGBTQ people are rejected and marginalized by society, Christians should try their best to undo the harshness and severity of ambient society, which has nothing to do with our all-merciful God. They should be given a warm and total welcome into the church because Jesus came for all sinners.

The Holy Spirit will help us find creative ways of integrating LGBTQ people and enriching our church. Let us not repeat the sin of Genesis 3. The first human couple disobeys the commandment of God when they attempt to replace God with human knowledge. Our knowledge of LGBTQ people is still so incomplete, whether scientifically or in society.

The recent massacre in Colorado Springs is but one among the many sad and horrible results of this (sometimes willful) ignorance. This is natural law at its worst: getting rid, by all means possible, of those we don’t understand.

Let us welcome all whom Jesus came to free by shedding His blood on the Cross, after having been labeled a blasphemer and criminal.

Georges Cheung, S.J.

Father Cheung is a Mauritian-born Jesuit priest in the French-speaking Province of Western Europe (EOF). A former editor in chief of La Vie Catholique, he was an editor at Vatican Radio until 2012.

All articles by Georges Cheung, S.J.

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