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Homophobia and the Real Lesson From the Story of the Woman Caught In Adultery

During a radio interview about faith and sexuality, a caller defensively asked, “How do you know it’s Christians killing gay people?” before safeguarding Christendom’s right to hold (though not act on) the belief that being gay is a sin.

The danger with “hating the sin but loving the sinner” is that whatever point on this non-judgement spectrum they happen to be at, those who subscribe to it get to shift responsibility for homophobic violence to someone further along that continuum. That’s how the words, “I don’t judge” come to mean, “I’m not the one judging you so don’t look to me for help”.

This abdication begins with an oft-preached sermon about Jesus telling the woman caught in adultery, “Go on your way and sin no more”; there, the moral of the sermon is, “God forgives your sin but that doesn’t mean he condones it”, begetting a political climate wherein scapegoating LGBTI people is considered political leadership, paid for in tax money, and anyone who disagrees (even while thinking homosexuality is wrong) is considered “soft on sin” the way Christ was. 

Note, Jesus called the mob not executioners, but murderers, though stoning was the law’s prescribed sentence for adultery. With the words, “Let he amongst you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone”, he used religious law to expose the self-serving hypocrisy of those who sought to use religion as a weapon. 

That’s how he became the Pharisees’ target in the woman’s stead, and by not condemning her, he exchanged her relationship with religious law for his life as someone who never bought into the system. That being the biggest problem, he spent more time sermonising the men with the stones than he spent sermonising her.

The adulteress’s relationship with religious law isn’t blatant, but it’s there: Apostle Paul would later speak of a reverse-psychology principle whereby what’s forbidden becomes alluring. When humans come alive to hierarchies formulated on the world’s notion of what makes some people “good” and others “evil”, we do whatever we feel necessary to get ahead within those even when it’s destructive. 

Until Jesus substituted his life for hers in the community’s cycle of judgement and punishment upholding those hierarchies, that woman held exactly the world-view that the Pharisees did. The man she committed adultery with was proxy for whatever significance she’d coveted within a system that dangled the plastic carrot stick of approval, but never lowered it until they lowered themselves. As John’s Gospel often hints in scenes involving “women of intrigue”, Jesus substitutes those women’s relationships with those systems (through their disappearing carousel of fickle men) by dying.

This, he did, because the woman’s “adultery” was with all the Pharisees even as they sought to uphold their power at her expense. None of the men could cast the first stone because her death would serve to shore up their need for a scapegoat to cover their own failings; hence, Jesus exposed them as “murderers” and not “executioners”. 

Reciprocally, her adultery with their one male proxy was the point at which her human failure to accomplish significance within their scheme of things, complemented those men’s. These are all Adam and Eve issues — from him, the men in the bible learned to shore themselves up by throwing women under the bus — and elsewhere in the bible, Jesus places the guilt for the adultery of women divorced for any reason except infidelity on the men who divorce those women. Divorcing and disappearing men are fundamentally idols, proxies for promises made by systems that dangle position and protection but leave you naked to face your execution squad alone. The answer to the question, “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” is the same as the answer to the question of where the adulteress’s partner in crime was. Because it’s the same place.

We’re taught in church that God says, “Go on your way but sin no more”. This “but” is there to underpin systems of rewards and punishments for “good” and “bad” behaviour, within which the human desire to “get ahead” inevitably outstrips moral resolve. This destroys what’s been built up pastorally. Jesus actually said, “Neither do I condemn you; go on your way and sin no more”, leveraging the hearer’s immunity to punishment (established through his substitutionary atonement as the speaker) towards her future wholeness apart from performative systems of being “good” or “bad” for condemnations and rewards. Sin, therefore, is the fruit of a treacherous relationship with moralism. This too is biblical. 

Nobody ever got harmed for saying, “Neither do I condemn you; go on your way, but sin no more”; nobody, on the other hand, ever said, “Neither do I condemn you; go on your way and sin no more” except after substituting his own body for the listener’s to liberate that person from seemingly meritocratic systems. Those systems sponsor behaviours that, if genuinely sinful, are misguided attempts to get ahead (“they know not what they do”); if they’re not sinful, then the one judging knows not what he does. 

“Go on your way, but sin no more” is what we say when we know we have not done anything to remove the threat that further sin will incur punishment; the onus remains on the person to maintain his or her righteousness before the law. Of course, it is that responsibility that triggers the behaviour in the first place. 

However, “Go on your way and sin no more” is what we say when we know we have jumped in front of the person to take the bullet, and in so doing, break the cycle that produces sin. This is something only a self-sacrificing priest in the order of Melchizedek would do. Now, where there is a change from the Aaronic priesthood to this order, there must also be a corresponding change in the way sin, righteousness and judgment are viewed: no longer in relation to works under the law symbolised by shadow-sacrifices, but in relation to faith in the one who is the ultimate sacrifice and to whom the law and the prophets previously pointed (see John 16:8 and Hebrews 7:12).

The slogan, “Love the sinner but hate the sin” should require placing one’s body between the “sinner” and the hypocritical pecking orders that stir up sin. Fellow Christians, you’re watching the coats of those who stone gay people — and God is watching you.