The Gay Christian debate rages on, with what seems like more interpersonal casualties every day. How in the world can we find common ground in such a deeply personal and sharply divisive issue? I think we’ve been asking the wrong question. We’ve been focused on the rightness or wrongness of being gay, instead of: whose job is it to determine right and wrong?

Let’s start with the distinctive that is Christianity. What sets it apart from any other world religion? It is Christ. That sounds obvious, but He isn’t interchangeable with any other religious leader or teacher. He offers us an incomparable relationship, both to Him and to the rest of the Trinity. Tragically, the distinctive of Christ gets blurred when we focus on behavior modification or sin management.

Jesus Christ uniquely offers us a personal relationship. Augustine said, “I have read in Plato and Cicero sayings that are wise and very beautiful; but I have never read in either of them: ‘Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden.”’ Of all the world religions, only Jesus offers a friendship with God. Every other religion is based on doing right. They all have their “rules” to abide by, the list of do’s and don’ts. Jesus is uniquely the Way, the Truth and the Life — only in relationship with Him, not through our behavior, do we gain access to God in full acceptance.

Christianity gets distorted when it becomes a to-do list. Unfortunately, we see the to-do list in many Christian churches as well. Churches that were founded on faith in Christ morph into faith in ourselves and our own ability to do well and try harder. Galatians 3:2-3 says: “Did you receive the Spirit by words of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

God told us clearly not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (the do-don’t list), but to eat from the Tree of Life (Jesus). Every other faith offers the Tree of Knowledge, their own version of the do-don’t list. Only true Christianity offers the Tree of Life.

If you believe Christianity means adhering to a certain set of rules, that is false. The rules sound noble and biblical, but there is no power in this list. Paul makes this clear in Colossians 2:20-23. “If you died with Christ to the way the world thinks and acts, why do you submit to rules and regulations as though you were living in the world? “Don’t handle!” “Don’t taste!” “Don’t touch!” All these things cease to exist when they are used. Such rules are human commandments and teachings. They look like they are wise with this self-made religion and their self-denial by the harsh treatment of the body, but they are no help against indulging in selfish immoral behavior.” We have seen throughout the millennia that no one keeps the rules perfectly. (If we did, why would we need a Savior?) Certainly a civil society needs rules to maintain order, but consider this: we have more laws on the books today than we’ve ever had, and more lawlessness. Rules by themselves do not produce adherence to the rules, and they certainly don’t produce relationship.

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is simply our interpretation of what’s right or wrong, devoid of relationship with God. God says clearly: “Don’t eat from that tree.” But all day long we gobble away at it, saying, “Don’t watch this movie, don’t hang out with those people.” God said don’t eat from that tree for one reason: we are not equipped to make those decisions. God alone is equipped to handle deciding good and evil, which were never meant to be imposed from the list, devoid of relationship. The very word “righteous” in the Hebrew context means “rightly related.” Of course, I’m not saying anything goes; I’m saying that true righteousness comes only in relationship to Him. When we abide in Him, He will lead us exactly where we need to go, even when He surprises us (as when He told Peter to fellowship with the non-kosher Gentiles).

The debate on homosexuality — “is it right or is it wrong?” — is still eating from the wrong tree – regardless of which side of the debate you are on. Insisting across the board that it’s wrong (or right) is just the good or bad side of the same tree. Instead, we need to eat from the Tree of Life, resting in relationship with Jesus and developing relationship with others. We must hold our opinions with humility in an open hand. We’ve seen enough of Jesus’ interactions to know they always go deeper than right or wrong, and always into the heart of relationship with Him.

Jesus offers a sweet, intimate, fresh relationship with Him, but only if we disentangle ourselves from the Tree of Knowledge and let Him graft us to the Tree of Life.

CLICK HERE to read “To Christian Parents of Gay Children”

A Tale of Two Trees: Why We Are All Asking the Wrong Question

24 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Trees: Why We Are All Asking the Wrong Question

  1. Pingback: LGBTQ Vs Down Syndrome: Loved Vs Unloved – Naomi Indah Sari

  2. Pingback: Simple Truths |

  3. Thank you for this post. I’ve been reading your blog every once in a while and the questions you were raising honestly troubled me but also got me thinking. Although I haven’t experienced a close friend or relative coming out to me I feel like the things you are asking are so important and are applicable to many more areas of . Somethings in this post helped me see the problem. You’re so right that we are asking the wrong questions and trying to be like God, which was the lie in the garden! “Knowing good and evil”. I definitely agree that the church is full of legalism and it creeps into my own heart all the time. Thank you for being obedient to the Lord…may He continue to empower you to walk the path of faith.

  4. Why does the apostle Paul say this?What are your thoughts about this ?Romans 1:26. And 27? In the garden didn’t God say for this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife setting up the order for how things should be?If there were other options like 2 guys can put there sperm in a woman they don’t care about and both die of Aids leaving a child parentless.Not by car accident but by their choice.Worked with kids who cry on mother’s day because they have two Dads.Girls who are bewildered that they don’t have a Dad on Father’s day I say this lovingly.Is this what God had in mind?I WANT to understand.

    • Dear Rhonda, you ask a good question. I know you read the words and think it’s black & white, but it’s not. There are many variables: word meanings, translations, biblical context, cultural context. Watch this short video for a little understanding of that. Check out my resource page. Interesting that you want to know about a man dying of AIDS and leaving children behind, yet you have NO IDEA why someone dies in the car accident you mention. (Neither do I.) So if someone dies in a car accident we don’t condemn them, but if they die of AIDS we do? That’s really the root of your question. Would you have the same opinion of a girl bewildered because her father died when she was a baby? You see? We want to dice up what people did wrong so we can blame them, because it makes life feel a little less random and so a little safer. If we can reduce the pool of the unknowable, then we feel safer. But then we are treading God’s ground, which he clearly instructed us NOT to do. Remember when Job’s friends insisted he was in sin because of all the horrible things that happened to him? And God reprimanded them sharply. They were so certain of their assessment, but they were wrong. When we judge people, we are almost certain to be wrong; that’s why God told us not to judge. Read what God instructs in the Garden of Eden. He is crystal clear that we are NOT to eat off the tree of knowledge. Read my post on this — I think it will help. Where we won’t go wrong is by loving. We do a lot of judging for having been told not to, and are reluctant to love when Jesus gave us no restrictions on it! Weird, isn’t it? Judging is full of traps, and love is a wide open field we can run in safely! If you sincerely want to understand, then ask God to show you; read what I suggested; and be willing to hear from him something you don’t yet see. He will show you. Bless you on your journey!

      • No offense but are you a bible scholar?Read Greek? Aramaic?You did not answer about God’s directive before the tree of life that for this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife or about what the apostle Paul said.I’m only trying to undetand not dice or protect myself from anything but false doctrine.Before I could teach any thing you saidI need to know line,verse by verse.You cannot teach a Sunday school implications.

        • If change is what we all want we need to be able to teach.Sharing feelings is not the same as teaching doctrine and truth about the sacred covenants connected to marriage and children.It is a comfort to read your thoughts if you can back up with scripture.Otherwise it sounds like an opinion.Does your associate Justin Lee have more on this question?

          • We may or may not want change, but change is going to happen! And God is going to bring it. We don’t need to teach each other how to change. We can encourage each other, and say, “I’ve been there,” but as soon as I say, “This is what I did and you did too,” we are writing a prescription for someone… and taking someone else’s prescription can be deadly. I do teach the truth about the scripture; it’s not my feelings, it’s the life of Christ! When Jesus healed on the Sabbath and the religious leaders called him out on it, he said they were wrong, that of course you pull your lamb out of a pit on the Sabbath. They could easily have said, “Well that sounds good, but it’s just feelings.” I am the one with scripture on my side. I’m the one who keeps repeating from Jesus that loving God and loving others sums up the WHOLE LAW. Every scripture you bring up fits into loving God and loving others. I’m the one who is taking Jesus as his word, trusting him to make any necessary changes in anybody, including me, and not depending on how I can sort out the verses to tell who’s right or wrong. That is God’s job, as he made so clear in the Garden talking about the two trees. It DOES FEEL GOOD to live the life of Christ. Loving God and loving others feels good too, even though it is sometimes very hard. But it’s our primary job with each other, and everything else its into that. Justin Lee has much to say, some wonderful videos that talk about the passages that concern you.

            Rhonda, I know this flies in the face of most of what is taught in the church today, with its focus on behavior modification and sin management. But in the short time Jesus taught on earth, he blasted the idea of managing each other’s sin. Read Matthew 23. It sounds like it makes sense to hold each other and ourselves to rules, but it doesn’t work out in practice. Colossians 2:20-23 says it beautifully: “You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.”

          • Susan, of course not everything is black and white, but many things are. Of course we need to exercise good judgement according to our Spirit guided consciences in the gray areas. But God makes it very clear, black and white, when it come to mortal sins and what is absolutely required of those who want to be in ture loving relationship with HIm. I can’t imagine serving a God who makes so ambiguous the saving truth about what is required of true believers, that it is guesswork to get it right, just hoping we get into heaven. We don’t get to define contrary to clear Scripture what we think is loving. We don’t get to decide that gay sex is loving. We don’t get to decide that premarital straight sex is loving. We don’t get to decide that having a drunken party with our best friends is loving fun. We don’t get to decide that watching porn with our spouse is a loving way to have sex with our spouse. We don’t get to decide that adultery is loving because we don’t love our spouse anymore. God defines what is loving, and he expects us to follow what He has made abundantly clear; God’s rules have a purpose. He KNOWS what best for us. We Don’t. The key is not to just follow the rules, but to understand the purpose, the spirit of those rules so that we apply them correctly. Christ said he did not come to abolish the law (not one jot or tittle), but to fulfill it; his focus was not on the letter of the law, but on fulfilling the loving purposes of of EACH AND EVERY law. Just because we judge wrongly does not mean we should not judge at all. Contrary to your assertion that we are not to judge, the entire New Testament, From Jesus to Paul to John, is full of loving judgement, rebuke, correction of people, especially of “Christians” who were not following God best plan for their lives, even to the point of putting their eternity at risk. Paul exhorts us to “judge rightly”.

          • So what is black and white and what isn’t? Where do we draw the line? Pharisees had it all tied up. They KNEW they had Jesus over a barrel. Black and white. Clear as day. And wrong. Jesus took them someplace completely different. The loving judgment you talk about is in relationship, in community, in love. Not pretend love where we’re just nice but underneath we’re judging. Judging wrongly is exactly the reason we should be extremely reluctant to judge. We want to be loving to the point where the Holy Spirit (who guides us in all truth) has to say, “You need to tell her that she is treating her husband badly. She’s hurting him and herself. She’s being selfish and unloving.” And we say to him, “Must I say that?” And we sigh. And we say, “Alright,” because we want to follow the Spirit, but it pains us. and there is such a cushion of relationship that though it hurts both of us, she receives that rebuke… or she might not. But she knows somewhere deep down that you really did have her best interest at heart. This is not the posture of pastors who condemn homosexuality from the pulpit, rooting it out like there’s a prize for it. The key element usually missing from your list of “loving judgement, rebuke, correction of people” is the loving part. And to say, “But I am loving them,” is not enough. If it does not feel like love in some way, it’s very likely not love. And when there is so much more to the debate than “this is wrong,” because of so much more understanding of context [check Brownson’s book in my resources], then we should be looking at that like an open door, a loophole to let people in, not a loophole to keep people out. The other key element is that God is a way better savior than you are or I am. He said to bring em, he would deal with em. We pull fish in, he cleans em. [Really, he pulls em in too…] If those doing the judging of any sort are not known for their love — to the point that people say, “Oh yeah, they’re Christians, see how beautifully they love?” then we’re doing it wrong. We must set down the judging part, the tiny speck, and say, “Tell me about the love part again? I got this log going on here…” I appreciate your question, Bill. I just wish we trusted God more to be the one to fix whatever needs to be fixed. I wish we would take Jesus at his word that we can love, and he’ll take care of the rest. Then people truly would know we’re Christians by our love.

        • Rhonda, I appreciate your question, but it is a focus in the wrong direction. I do not read Greek or Aramaic, but I do study the bible and I was taught. Yes, God said for his woman a man would leave his parents, but you’re not saying he would leave for no other reason? To go to college or start a career, even though he’s single? I’m not saying to know line by line, but to see the flow of scripture, and the intent of the passage. Context, audience, culture — these are integral to understanding intent of the author. Remember that those who understood the scripture the very best, the religious leaders who read Greek and Aramaic, were way off! They knew the scripture inside-out! They brought Jesus these pieces in their questions, things they were sure he could not answer, they were going to stump him, and he turned their understanding upside-down! Yet the outcasts, who are considered to be terrible sinners [Luke 7:37], Jesus defended and protected, without even addressing their sin. We should back up from that and say, “Whoa! What is his point here?” I think a very good question is: does what I’m doing look more like the slicing and dicing the religious leaders do, or does it look more like the loving embrace Jesus demonstrates and directs us to [as in the Good Samaritan or the prodigal son’s father]? If it looks like the religious leaders (whom Jesus blasted), it’s time to regroup. If it looks like Jesus’ loving embrace, I’m on the right track.

          • I do see that the context is the order to be one flesh, be fruitful and multiply .The audience at this point was 2 .A culture is being established.Adam and Eve then taught their Sons and daughters.If we were to embrace also two men or women in this order why did we not receive additional instructions and the right equipment to keep things less complicated and more compassionate? When you have a Gay son and friends of the family who are Gay , teach Sunday school, do missionary work these questions come up.No slicing here just the journey as one trying to be a responsible teacher,leader, but most of all , a parent.Your thoughts on Romans 1:26 and 27.What should I tell the young inquiring minds about this?

          • Rhonda, I appreciate the seriousness of your question, as you teach children Sunday school. From all that I’ve read, I believe we have missed the boat on the traditional interpretation on scripture re. homosexuality. There is far too much to even address it here, but I refer you to many excellent resources on my resource page. The Matthew Vines video is outstanding, Justin Lee’s site (Gay Christian Network) has videos that address this in a serious but humorous way. Brownson’s book is meaty, and you won’t find a better in-depth look into these troubling passages. Rhonda, the responsibility you carry is great. You are seeking to speak truth to those little faces that look up at you! My friend goes to an extremely strict church, extremely, and she teaches the little girls. This friend’s daughter is gay, and it is crystal clear to the whole family that God created her this gay — which she’s been since she was tiny. My friend said to her class, “That’s just the way God made her.” And that was the end of it. Kids just want permission to love, and if we don’t tell them NOT to love, it won’t be a problem. You will not go wrong by teaching those kids to love all God’s children, period. We have been made so afraid in the church that we will accept the wrong people! That we will condone sin. But it’s not ours to condone or not. If you fear that you will teach them to accept God wants to say to any of them later, “Actually, it’s not okay,” he can certainly do that. But the GREATER danger is teaching children to condemn people, to judge people, to exclude people. Then when God says to them, “Actually, it’s okay,” they are so afraid to hear it, because they’ve been so taught to fear sin and fear condoning sin. Meanwhile, LGBTQ people pray and plead and search their souls and try unsuccessfully to change — and they have to learn from scratch to love themselves against the teachings they’ve learned in church. It’s like serving rat poison that they will have to spend the next 20 years trying to get out of their system. I know that is not what is in your heart to do. Let God show you. He will.

          • As for clearer instruction, Jesus knew we’d have trouble slicing and dicing — the religious leaders of his day couldn’t get it right any better than we can! So he was very clear. He said, “love God, love others. THIS SUMS UP THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS.” Teach love — for God (who is love) and for each other (who need love). That will answer all the rest. It seriously will…. Jesus said that, not me! Bless you on this journey, my friend.

    • Sorry I didn’t get back yesterday.Had stacked appointments in P.M.Thank you for your comments and resources.You have given me a lot of food for the journey.

      Rhonda Smithson

  5. Susan, You have expressed a depth of understanding and discernment regarding righteousness that many Christians miss. If I can attempt to sum up what I think you are saying, is that rules are limited in their usefulness, because no rule can apply the same in every situation. I think you are saying that we are called not to abolish the rules, but to discern the purpose of the rules, to discern how each rule reveals God’s loving, moral nature and His best plan for us; God entrusts us to be discerning regarding situational application of the rules by using the highest moral standard that guides our decision in every single situation; that standard is love. Having said that, perhaps where we disagree is in how much weight God’s rules still carry; I suspect you are content to let every Christian be free of accountability and to make decisions for themselves according to their own conscience and their own definitions of what is loving for them. In which case the Scripture is no longer profitable for loving correction, or rebuke, or even disfellowshipping of a believer that has misrepresented God’s loving and moral nature as clearly revealed in the Scripture.

    • Well, I don’t know about all that — how much scripture is to be used for reproof or especially disfellowshipping. It feels a little trigger-happy to me, and NOT where we should be focused. The religious leaders brought Jesus every conceivable trick of applying the rules, and Jesus always said something from another planet from their thinking. Sure, I’ll love my neighbor — now who’s my neighbor again? Well, the person you hate most. That’s your neighbor. I hear Christians looking for a plan that includes relying on Christ but having the rules as a safety net for the times relying on Christ doesn’t work! But if people aren’t going to listen to Christ, why would they listen to the backup rule plan? Perhaps there’s a place for those who want to scour the church for people who are so badly disobeying they need to be found and disfellowshipped. (Sounds terribly scary to empower anyone who is drawn to that kind of endeavor.) But every time people were brought to Jesus on immutable charges, He let them go. Sooo… I’m going to spend my time on thing 1 and thing 2: Love God, love others.
      Now, let’s look at your suggestion that I’m “content to let every Christian be free of accountability and to make decisions for themselves according to their own conscience and their own definitions of what is loving for them.” The accountability you suggest comes in relationship, community. We were never meant to live without fellowship as we do today, so independent of each other — even though I fiercely value my independence, I know community is indispensable, even though America has essentially dispensed with it. (Sitting in bible study with 20 other women who smile and say hello is NOT community, neither is the little break in church when you greet someone you don’t know. Really? Coming over and hanging out, doing dinners together with other families, coming alongside each other: that’s community… and it is sorely lacking.) THAT is the safety net, not rules. When we lack fellowship, we focus on rules… which brings death. Also, it is not only our own conscience we can rely on (though Paul calls that sufficient, at least some of the time!). We also rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us in all truth. If He is incapable of leading us in all truth, we’re in worse trouble than we can even imagine. Rules define every other religion; relationship defines Christianity. Christians are the only ones who can have an intimate ongoing relationship with their “religious founder” forever. Christians are the only ones who can rest in what God did for them instead of what they can do for God. As outlandish as it sounds, it is still true that God’s ways are not our ways. I have grown completely comfortable letting Him guide us in all truth and whatever He does not guide us in must not be important. Thanks for your interest and conversation, Bill. Best to you.

  6. If I understand you correctly, Susan; each individual is to determine right or wrong based on one’s own conscience, as guided by right relationship with God. There is no other standard or revelation by which we can know what God thinks is loving or what God thinks is best for us. Therefore no Christian has any business telling another Christian what God’s best plan is. If that is true, why do you suppose that Jesus and all the apostles devoted so much of the Scripture to telling other Christians what God’s loving best was for them, and what obviously was not God’s best for them? Why do you suppose Jesus and Paul even took it so far as to tell us to have nothing to do with Christians who did not obey what Jesus and Paul said was loving and best for them? Is seems to me, Jesus and Paul only left disputable matters up to one’s own conscience; as for the rest of it, God plainly reveals clear standards of loving practice that apply to every single person. They plainly teach that we are to rightly judge others by these standards. Jesus and Paul repeatedly warn Christians who think by their own conscience that they doing what is right or believing what is right, when they are in fact deceived. And Jesus and Paul weren’t just talking about the sin of hypocrtical judgement when they warned Christians about wandering from the truth.

    • I think the Bible is replete with examples of what God thinks is best for us, but it contains as many examples of exceptions that God smiled on. Ruth laying at the feet of Boaz. Rahab that harlot saving the spies by lying! Jesus letting go the woman brought to Him for adultery. None of it is done in a vacuum and the moment we begin to parse it out, we kill it. Paul was answering specific questions when He wrote those letters, not writing a new Leviticus. Of course the Bible has much to tell us by way of example, but it is not our rulebook. To view it thus leads to all the atrocities done in Christ’s name that have plagued us over our history. I laid out rules for my young children, because it really helps in running a household, but they were only guides, not the thing itself. Not the relationship. And by the time they were adolescents, they had for the most part outgrown the rules. We had a far greater thing, a love relationship. Or to put it this way, my husband and I do not have rules per se, though we certainly understand we will each be faithful, kind, etc. But those are more transparent, because they are so overridden by loving each other and seeking the best for each other. Those are higher callings that cannot be accomplished by rules. The religious leaders had rules about loving their neighbor, but then Jesus magnified it to the point that none of them had ever kept! Use the Bible as examples; don’t use it as a rulebook. The Pharisees constantly showed up with the rules, and Jesus constantly overthrew them for mercy! Looking for rules, we have run aground in disastrous ways (civil rights, women, witch hunts). Looking for mercy, we can hardly go wrong.

  7. I agree 100 percent until the last 3 paragraphs Susan correctly addresses the problem of man earning righteousness rather than seeking relationship, and the problem of man made rules. The argument goes astray when same reasoning is used to discard God made rules, ie. homosexual conduct. Susan almost in passing says “I’m not saying anything goes”, but establishes no basis for defining what goes and what doesn’t. Even pursuit of God’s knowledge and God’s law seems to be regarded as eating from the tree of knowledge rather than the tree of life. The truth is, if we are truly in relationship with and love Jesus, we we will be penitent, but not self condemning, regarding any sin we struggle with (even addictively Rom 8). Furthermore, by His grace we will necessarily make every effort to seek not to justify our own actions but to seek knowledge of His best and wonderful plan for us, We will long to do what is pleasing and acceptable in His sight. Faith and works are inseparable. Without faith there are no works. And without works, there is no faith. James 2:19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. 20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless…. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

    • Bill, thanks for summing up your concern succinctly, which is that I establish no basis for defining what goes and what doesn’t. RElationship with God is the basis. Paul says it in Romans 14:23. “But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.” That tight there is the relationship determining right and wrong directly out of the Tree of Life. In fact, rightness is impossible outside the relationship. (If I do EVERYTHING amazingly but without love, I’m done. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.) Rightness is impossible outside relationship. Even the ancient word righteousness described throughout the Old Testament carries a richly layered meaning of rightly related. What makes me a good wife? How I respond in love to my husband. Sure we all agree about some basics. No affairs, no violence, but those are anemic outside the relationship. We love to have it laid out so we know what to do and not do, but Jesus made that impossible. The religious people brought Jesus stacks of rules they kept so well and Jesus said, “If you’ve THOUGHT ABOUT DOING THEM, you’ve done them!” Whoa? Why did He say that? So that NONE of us would think we could do it! So we couldn’t gloat over those we’re better than! Instead, we, all of us, get to come to Him humbly and allow Him to work through us. We do not have the option of doing it on our own. That is the astoundingly good news!

      I know this rubs us self-made people the wrong way, Bill, but it is the great leveler. A little self-righteouseness ruins the whole thing! 1 Corinthians 5:6. Love God, love others. That is completely outside of a measurable unit. On purpose! So we must rely Him. I know this is difficult for us, but it’s the way He made it! Thanks so much for expressing your concerns here. Best to you.

  8. this is good…I now say that we must seek the truth and watch God’s plan unfold…truly give it to God…seek him and ask him to seek us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s