We Must Repent of Our Sins, But We Can't Apologize for God's Truth
Pope Francis has given another in-flight interview this weekend that’s getting a good bit of attention throughout the press. He called on the Church to, as he stated, “ask forgiveness to the gay person who is offended”, as one English translation has it. He did so amongst a litany of other things the Church must apologize for: to the poor, to exploited women and children and having “blessed so many weapons.”
Christians must always have a posture of humility and ask forgiveness when we have wronged others. This is fundamental to our faith and comes directly the teachings of our Lord. This includes asking forgiveness from our gay and lesbian neighbors, friends, family members and co-workers when we have treated them unjustly or unkindly. This is required because of their humanity as God’s unique image-bearers. No one’s sexuality erases this.
But there is a very important part of this topic that must be addressed and understood in order for our repentance to be sincere. Forgiveness must be sought in response to a true violation for it to be true contrition. When we have treated anyone with unfounded anger, false judgment, name-calling, alienation and injustice we must sincerely repent and ask their forgiveness. But there is something present in the LGBT issue that has made this basic Christian virtue unnecessarily confusing.
Often times, the Christian’s inability to affirm the sexuality of the gay or lesbian person is judged as bigoted and harmful, even possibly contributing to atrocities like Orlando. In my long years working on this issue, I have heard some version of the following story innumerable times from Christians, to the point where I can finish the story for them. The details vary, but the conclusion is always the same. It goes like this:
I have a gay/lesbian neighbor. We’ve been walking together regularly for exercise and we both love gardening and help each other make our own yards as attractive as possible. We were sincere friends. But when he learned I was a committed Christian, he said they could not be friends with someone so judgmental.
Did this Christian have anything to ask forgiveness for? We must always self-assess whenever a valued relationship is broken, but the people telling similar stories were guilty only of being Christian. Their genuine friendship was insufficient to overcome this “sin.” Too often, it is not only the Christian’s inability to affirm any sexual practice outside that of a husband and wife but simply being an orthodox Christian.
Every Christian must be willing and eager to repent of unkind, mean-spirited and hurtful behavior toward anyone. But can we repent of or ask forgiveness for holding to a Christian sexual ethic? Are we being offensive, or is our faith? The best we can do is patiently explain the difference to our offended gay or lesbian friends and hope they understand. As the current moral freefall accelerates, we will be required to do more such explaining in the days ahead.