Yesterday I was contemplating suffering in the world and the first few verses from the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John came into my mind.
1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.
2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
3 Jesus answered, neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
Immediately as I began to ponder these verses I had to ask myself the question. Why would his disciples ask if blindness was a result of sin? Who would ask that question in today’s world? We wouldn’t, mostly because we understand that physical abnormalities of the body have physical causes, not spiritual causes.
Modern scientific discovery of how the body develops and reproduces genetically has given us the answers to many questions regarding many birth defects and abnormalities that were probably falsely associated with sin in the past. There are still many areas where science has yet to provide answers, such as in the case of autism, but most people understand that sin is not the cause of all maladies. So whether we are talking about cancer, dwarfism, deafness, the myriad of genetic diseases or other inherited trials, we no longer ask who sinned spiritually, but what genetic or physical influence caused it.
In the course of mulling of this issue my mind floated to areas where conventional religious thought still believes that certain minority behaviors are caused by sin, rather than physical or genetic origins. Homosexuality sprang to mind.
Let’s imagine for a minute that homosexuality is caused not by the sins of the parents, or by willful sinning of the individual, as many believe, but by a genetic trait that creates same sex attraction. If this were the case it would be reasonable to say that a person was born homosexual in the same way the man in the scriptures was born blind.
Does the scripture in John now take on a different meaning? Could the disciples of Jesus now ask the question regarding the man born gay, “who sinned, this man or his parents” and then Jesus could respond, “neither; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
Would this color how we relate to our brothers and sisters who are gay or lesbian? Would we as a nation limit the rights of a blind person the same way that current laws limit the rights of gays and lesbians? How could the works of God be made manifest in them? Perhaps with this understanding believers can treat gays and lesbians with the same deference as they would a blind person.
Returning to the idea of suffering that started me on this path of inquiry, my experience is that most gay people initially suffer when they realize they are attracted to the same sex. They suffer when others attribute their condition to sin or debauchery; they suffer at the hands of those willing to do them violence because of their nature. They’ve suffered when people tried to limit their access to housing jobs and other rights the majority takes for granted. Currently they are struggling to have equality in setting up households with the legal protections and benefits of marriage.
Perhaps their suffering is an opportunity for the religious believer to manifest the works of God in their life by helping to relieve them of their suffering. Since Jesus isn’t around to *heal* the gay person as he did the blind man, as was done in scriptural record, and it seems that none of his followers seem to maintain those same miraculous healing powers, it would be best to treat them with the understanding and compassion, even empathy that this person that may be gay not because of a choice to sin, or the sin of their parents, but because they were created that way. Put another way, we should treat them as equals, children of God that have been created with a specific personal trait that is only found in the minority of people.