“People may say that sin is sin, but homosexuality—that’s different. Homosexuality is worse than all the others.”
My face fell as she said it. Having struggled with homosexuality ever since puberty, I bit my lip as I entertained the thought of being “harder to forgive.” I knew I was saved by God’s grace. I knew I’d been forgiven of my past and given grace to live in obedience. But I was still hurt. Why did this person believe so firmly that the sins I struggle with are worse than anyone else’s? All of us are fallen in our sexuality; none of us is perfect.
This person seemed to have compassion on everyone she met—that is, everyone who wasn’t gay. This made me angry, but it gradually dawned on me: Because she thought of me as the worst person, I’d begun thinking of her as the worst person.
I was being a hypocrite.
Judging the Judgy
I too had compassion on everyone—that is, everyone who wasn’t like her. I was condemning those who condemned me, those who insisted non-heterosexual people are in a sense “worse sinners” and ought to be generally avoided. Sadly, I encountered this thinking a lot in the circles I grew up in. People would even call LGBT+ individuals “zombies,” and, on one occasion, some folks I knew felt no sorrow for a man’s tragic death simply because he was gay.
This perspective is essentially a form of self-righteousness: “You’re not straight; therefore I am better than you are, and you are to be avoided.” In fact, this kind of attitude sounds much like a group of people Jesus often encountered: the Pharisees.
The Pharisees could have been labeled “sinner-phobic.” Blind to their own depravity, it wasn’t uncommon for them to be the first to cast stones at others. Though any Sunday school graduate today would view them as the “bad guys,” these people were the most respected religious leaders of their day.
Luke’s Gospel records a remarkable encounter between Jesus, a Pharisee named Simon, and a sinful woman who was likely a prostitute. In Luke 7:36–50, Jesus is dining with Simon when the woman enters the room and wipes Christ’s feet with her tears. Horrified at the scene, Simon wonders why Jesus would allow such a dirty person to touch him. Christ’s response? “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii, and the other 50. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:41–42).
Simon had been thinking he was only 50 denarii in debt, while the sinful woman knew her debt was 500. In reality, Jesus knew both of them were equally sunk, and he was there to offer forgiveness for their enormous debt.
Pharisee Toward Pharisees
We have a similar paradigm today. The sort of person I encountered growing up might think, I’m only 50 denarii in debt, but non-heterosexual people are 500 denarii in debt. Though this attitude angers me, I often end up thinking the reverse: I’m 50 denarii in debt, but bigots are 500 denarii in debt. I had hypocritically become a bigot toward bigots, and a Pharisee toward Pharisees. The reality is that we’re all on a level playing field.
Not that long ago, many considered homosexuality to be the worst sin. Today, culture has shifted to view bigotry as the worst sin. But it’s clear Jesus didn’t rank sinners on a scale from “better” to “worse.” Sins may vary in some respects, including the consequences they can have in this life, but they’re all equally deserving of God’s judgment.
The Pharisee and the heterosexual-and-proud-of-it person, the prostitute and the homosexual person—all are equally human and equally fallen. Each of us owes a great debt we can’t pay on our own. Jesus never intended for the church to spend time ranking sins on a scale. Instead of asking “Which sin is greater?” we should instead proclaim that God’s grace is greater than any sin.
The Bible isn’t about “good guys” versus “bad guys.” There is only one good guy, and his name is Jesus Christ, the one who offered grace to both the sexually broken and also the bigoted. So let’s drop our labeling and condemning, our anger and hypocrisy, and turn to Christ’s overwhelming grace. Let’s say with the guests at Simon’s house, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”