“Go sin no more.” Jesus’ parting words to the woman caught in adultery in John 8:11 are often quoted. Whenever the topic of homosexuality comes up, The Banner’s Facebook page lights up with comments as readers debate one another. The arguments tend to fall into well-worn patterns. One side will argue for compassion and justice for Christians who are LGBTQ+, but it can feel like they don’t want to discuss sin. The other side will often counter with Jesus’ words—“sin no more”—to show that Christian love cannot tolerate sin. I find that Scripture holds both points together in tension.
Our denomination’s official position is that homosexual orientation itself is not sinful but “explicit homosexual practices” are. Hence Christians who identify as LGBTQ+ are welcome, including becoming officebearers in the church. However, engaging in homosexual practices, as with any sin, is off-limits. This editorial is about pastoral posture, not theological position.
It disturbs me that many quote Jesus’ “sin no more” as the first and final word on the matter. In the story being referenced, before asking the woman to stop sinning, Jesus first told her, “Neither do I condemn you.” We cannot cherry-pick one half of that verse and ignore the other half. We need both non-condemnation and encouragement to sin no more.
Furthermore, Jesus’ actions spoke even louder. Jesus first saved the woman’s life. The Pharisees wanted to uphold Scripture’s command to discipline sin—the adulteress was to be stoned to death. It would have been easy for Jesus to protect his spiritual reputation and simply obey Scripture and stone the woman, a stranger to him. Instead, Jesus chose the harder path. Risking the mob’s anger, he chose to point out their hypocrisy: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). Then, when everyone has left them alone, Jesus still chose not to condemn her. Now, nowhere does it say that she was innocent. She was guilty of adultery, but Jesus still chose not to condemn her and showed her grace. Jesus’ non-condemnation was not mere lip service. He demonstrated his compassion and grace by saving her life. In this context of genuine love, the woman received Jesus’ words of “sin no more” as words of grace to her.
When “sin no more” are the first words used against sinners, they become words of judgment and condemnation, not grace. We, fellow sinners, are not entitled to tell other sinners to stop sinning without first demonstrating genuine love and compassion to them. To do so will be imitating the Pharisees’ spiritual hypocrisy. Only in the context of genuine mercy and love, demonstrated in acts of kindness, will the conversation of repenting from sin become words of grace and not self-righteous condemnation. Not talking about sin at all, as it seems of the affirming side, also distorts Christian discipleship.
I admit I struggle with the homosexuality debate, not least due to its polarizing tone. But I do know, theological positions aside, how we should pastorally walk with people in their faith journeys. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary.