Rev. Mark Buetow
“Pastor, I’m gay.” “No, you’re baptized.” “What do you mean? I know I’m baptized but I’m telling you I’m attracted to the same sex.” “Yes, and you’re baptized.” “What does that have to do with being gay?” “Because what defines you is not your sexual orientation or your addictions or anything else like that. What defines you is not your sins. What defines you is what Christ has done for you and given to you. So, you are baptized.”
The trouble with talking about “homosexuality” or any other sexual “orientation” is that when we define people by whom they are attracted to, we’ve already given into the world’s lie that you can be and do whatever you want. The world’s underlying assumption that “anything is okay, provided it doesn’t hurt someone else” is a powerful and compelling argument that is tough to refute. Maybe you’re defined by whom you sleep with. Same sex? That makes you gay. Maybe it’s by what you’re addicted to or recovering from, such as alcohol—so then you’re an alcoholic or recovering alcoholic. We love our labels and it is precisely those labels that allow us to excuse our sins and at the same time demand that people recognize us and give us consideration based on our sins!
St. Paul pulls no punches with the Corinthian Christians. He declares: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). The simple fact is, sin harms our neighbor and separates us from God. It draws His wrath and judgment. And it isn’t just this sin or that sin, it’s all of them. No one is excluded from that list. If you lust after the same sex, then this judgment falls upon you. If you lust after the opposite sex, well, same judgment. If you steal, drink too much or are straight but sleep around, you’re under this judgment as well.
But St. Paul is not done there. We completely miss the point if we ignore the next verse: “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 and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Here St. Paul takes all those sins and drowns them in the waters of holy baptism. Just as your Old Adam was drowned in holy baptism, a new man came forth in Christ, to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. And there it is: the answer to all of our lusts and others’ sin. It is the truth that our Old Adam pursues his selfish pleasures while the new man is free in Christ from the chains of sin. You are baptized. Therefore what does it all have to do with “homosexuality”?
For those who are gay or struggle with some gender issue. You are baptized! God has not abandoned you. You are not less in His sight because of your struggles against sin. He has beaten sin for you. All of the guilt, doubt and despair you may feel has been answered for on Calvary. The struggle you face to live a “sexually pure and decent life” is the Spirit’s work in you. Your failings to do so are covered by Jesus’ blood and left buried in His tomb. Your victory over these very real and very bitter struggles is the baptism which the sign of the cross remembers, the absolution your pastor speaks, and the Body and Blood of Jesus He gives you.
For parents or friends or family of someone who is gay. You are baptized! Every struggle you have, every tear, every harsh word, every uncertain reaction, every bit of mockery or derision from others—all of that, too, has been nailed to Jesus and His cross. The very real conflict between shame and support, between loathing and love, is bound up with the God who became flesh for you and washed you to make you His child. And that water and Word have washed away every sin you’ve done dealing with all of this, too.
The simple fact is that the Christ loves His Church and gave Himself for her. He has washed her and made her His spotless bride. She was born from His side in water and blood and she is washed and nurtured by that same water and blood. The church is the Bride of Christ, bought with His suffering and death, purified by His Word, and prepared for her Lord for an eternal wedding celebration.
Homosexuality, promiscuity, divorce, adultery, fornication—anything that is against marriage or denies marriage—denies the truth of Jesus and His church. But it is precisely in the truth of what Christ has done for His church that all sins are forgiven. All of them. Without exception. None greater or less than another. All of them are covered by Christ’s blood. And every struggle, and every failing, and every transgression, is covered by the promise of your baptism. This is why the whole Christian life, whatever you struggle with, is nothing other than a life in the Divine Service, hearing over and over the promise that Christ does not abandon us in our sins but forgives and gives us life.
The church does not accept the world’s view that “anything goes.” But neither does it seek to judge certain sins more than others. Rather, the church lives by Christ’s gifts. By His forgiveness. By His Word, water, body and blood. There is nothing else by which the Spirit works in us to rescue us from the world’s way of thinking and the darkness of sin. And that is why, when it comes down to it, the question isn’t “Are you gay or straight?” It’s “Are you baptized?” And if you are baptized, you are the Lord’s. Your Old Adam is a dead man and in Christ, you are righteous, innocent, and pure, now and forever.
Author’s note: The reality of genders struggles, often driven by the influence of the permissive world around us, means that much confusion can arise. Readers facing these sorts of issues and struggles are encouraged to speak with their pastor, whom the Lord has given to bring forgiveness and the comfort of Christ to them.
Rev. Mark Buetow is pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in DuQuoin, Illinois and serves as the deputy and media services executive for Higher Things. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.