As someone who spent many years closeted in a Christian community that most definitely did not affirm my sexuality, I know more than most what it takes to live life by the principle that your feelings can’t be trusted.

“It’s just a feeling.” These were the words I used to distance myself from the inevitable knowledge that I was in love.

“It’s just a feeling.” I reassured myself when a silent energy passed between me and another woman.

“It’s just a feeling.” I desperately clung to these words when I longed for my friend to rest her arm across my legs, feeling I would crumble inside if she didn’t touch me.

No matter how hard I fought, how persistently I refused to think about women, how many prayers I prayed, how willing I was to be and do anything God wanted, I could still feel in my bones that women falling in love was a beautiful thing and could be a beautiful thing for me. I didn’t want to feel it. I didn’t want to know it was true. I just did. So I told myself, “it’s just a feeling.”

These words are how I taught myself that I don’t matter. They became the mournful refrain that played in the background of my life until I stopped feeling and settled into a resigned depression. I lost myself, but at least I was doing the right thing.

One doubt still haunted me. Where was the abundant life, peace, and joy that I am promised?

Heartless Theology

Devaluation of feelings is part of a particular approach to theology and religion. Religious rules are taught without reference to their psychological impact. The approach is intellectual and philosophical. It has its roots in modernism, rationality, and science (and even further back to Plato if you want to get technical). It’s not rooted in Judaism or scripture. Instead of each religious teaching being part and parcel with Jesus’ commandment to love, the rules are supposed to apply no matter how much harm they cause.

Many times since coming out I’ve been reminded of this viewpoint by people who believe I am required to ignore the suffering of my community and abstractly discuss theological issues. They want to compare love between people of the same gender to pedophilia or bestiality, and don’t think it matters that such comparisons are discriminatory. Or they believe that mental health problems aren’t theologically relevant. It’s common to treat theology like arithmetic and people like CPUs.

But our emotional lives matter. They matter not only to us and to those who love us, they also matter theologically. Theology is a spiritual discipline. If the Holy Spirit is required to understand the scripture, that must mean that compassion and suffering matter.

Am I saying that I should get to do whatever I feel like? Does this mean I don’t have to deny myself or do things that are hard? Absolutely not! It wouldn’t be good or right for me to date women only because I want to. Not by any means.

Neglect is bad on either side. Heartless theology does violence, and so does a life ruled by feelings uninformed by goodness and truth.

Taking feelings into account is not the same thing as being ruled by them. We should pay attention when feelings go beyond a simple desire and into the realm of significant mental health problems for a group of people. If our theology is causing depression, shame, and suicide, it’s irresponsible to carry on as if feelings don’t matter.

Violent Theology

Jesus said that you can tell whether a tree is good or bad by looking at its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). What is the fruit of theology that says same-sex relationships and gender non-conformity are sinful?

If you are straight, I ask you to consider what it would be like for you and your friends to experience depression, rejection, and shame every time the church teaches your sexuality is broken. Personally, this was my experience despite the fact that I believed and always followed by what the church taught. I never disobeyed, but that didn’t make the shame go away. Many of my queer friends have told me about being suicidal right after being told their sexuality was sinful. Would you want church leaders to consider these consequences if they happened to you or someone you love?

This is the fruit of a rotten tree. I firmly believe the promises of the Bible still apply to queer people. Fruit like depression, rejection, and suicide are heartbreaking. Those who stay in communities whose theology is a true expression of God should not be 8.4 times more likely to commit suicide than those who are outside these communities.

On the other hand, what are the fruits affirming theology? If LGBT rejecting communities increase harm, affirming communities reduce harm. Supporting same-sex marriage and affirming LGBT people is life giving for us. It’s certainly hard to see who is being harmed by same-sex love. It’s clear many are benefiting from its affirmation.

Elsewhere on this website and through many other resources you will find more sophisticated theology addressing specific texts and theological interpretations, but aren’t these matters of harm, joy, and love the gospel at its core? God loves the world deeply, forgives us for our failures to love, and teaches us how to love completely and fully. The fruits of affirming theology certainly are full of love and life. The fruits of non-affirming theology bring harm and suffering.

Taking Responsibility

If you are non-affirming in your theology, you have a God-given responsibility to resolve this problem. It’s not enough to say, “the church should do a better job of loving people, but we have to follow the Bible,” and move on to other things. Something is seriously wrong. Non-affirming theology does not deliver on the promises of scripture.

If you are straight, and especially if you have a place in an institution that teaches non-affirming theology, it’s easy to theologize about what is right or wrong for people like me who don’t fit traditional theological constructs. It’s easy to dismiss our pain, place our suffering outside the category of worthwhile information for theological study, and ignore the consequences of theology about sexuality and gender.

It’s easier and feels better to separate theology from it’s impact on real people, but we can’t wash our hands of responsibility. Scrub until our hands are raw, the stain is apparent. Each of us is responsible for the fruit our theology. If we drive people to the depths of depression and self-hatred, don’t be surprised if God doesn’t care much about the excuse: “It’s just a feeling.”

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6 Replies to “The Violence of Heartless Theology”

  1. With all due respect, the theology from the Bible is not always affirming. It does not affirm athiests, evolutionists, or prostitutes. It does not affirm a Pharisee (the Pharisees were an entire community that Jesus never affirmed in His time here on earth) or a Sadducee, or a publican, or even a tax collector. There are some lifestyles that are not affirmed in the Bible at all. Yet Jesus still loves each one of those individuals as if there was no other person in the world. Judas spent three years as a close friend and disciple of Jesus, yet he ended up committing suicide. Did Jesus not love and affirm Judas enough thus leading him to his death? What about Achan? Or Annanias and Sapphira? Or Saul? In each of those instances none of them were actually “harming” anyone by what they did. But they were punished because they had gone against specific commands of God. I have a hard time finding affirming theology in those cases. In other words, we as a church can love people completely and fully, and still be considered unaffirming because we call certain lifestyles a sin. I can be considered an unloving parent because I don’t think it’s ok for my child to do as he pleases. But that kind of theology is not found in the Bible. In fact this type of affirming theology eventually can get rid of the definition of sin, saying that if we call anything a sin, we are condemning the person instead of affirming them. Feelings of shame can be felt because someone is being convicted by the Holy Spirit that something they are thinking or doing is wrong. We were born with a sense of right and wrong for a reason. But people nowadays want so badly to shy away from this sense of right and wrong and from being shamed in any way, shape or form. They think that anyone or anything that makes them feel badly about something they are doing is not loving. All we have to do is to follow the example of Jesus. He never condoned sin, but He always loved the person who was sinning. But even in instances where He used all of the love He had, people were free to choose, and some chose not to respond. Some chose to hate, and some chose to kill Him and torture Him. Some even chose to commit suicide. Does that mean that Jesus didn’t do enough to love them or affirm them?

    1. Adam and Eve are another perfect example of this. What harm could eating an apple cause? It wasn’t hurting anyone else, and really what significance would it have in the long run? This is how they justified going against a specific command of God. It really comes down to this: are we really willing to obey the commands of God even if it goes against what the world says we should do? If not, we are choosing the same path that Lucifer and Adam and Eve chose to follow. And we know where that path led.

  2. In my apprehension sometimes the comments portray God as somebody scrubbing His hands over His kid worrying….gonna make the right choose or not…………never heard of righteousness by hetero or homo …….neither hetero nor homo availeth anything but faith that worketh by love. One subject swallows every other that is the Lord our Righteousness.

  3. I wish you didn’t equate a Biblical doctrine and the way it is acted out.
    This false equivalency could really easily lead to any belief being labeled as “problematic”. Some non-Christians argue that the doctrine of a selective salvation (a.k.a that some would be destroyed or even sent to hell) leads to Christians not being as caring of non-Christians (And I could easily find historical examples where it was used to justify atrocities) should we reconsider our position for the more loving one that All would be saved in the end ?

    1. Beliefs have meaning. Saying so is not false equivalency, but being honest about real relevance between your beliefs about someone and your behavior to them. If all your doctrines could be problematic if considering how they impact people, perhaps you should reconsider your doctrines.

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