A massive shift has taken place in our culture over the past decades regarding homosexuality – from condemnation to tolerance, from tolerance to acceptance, from acceptance to approval and from approval to full endorsement. Today, those who support the LGBT movement are considered enlightened, progressive, open-minded, and inclusive. Those who dare say anything against it are considered unloving, intolerant, narrow-minded, and bigoted.
That places Christians in a difficult position. Traditionally the church has understood that the bible teaches homosexuality is sin. That doesn’t wash very well in our modern, progressive society. For this reason, many Christians are rethinking their beliefs about the issue. In 2015 Time magazine published an article entitled, “How Evangelicals Are Changing Their Minds on Gay Marriage.” Support for gay marriage has increased by double digits over the past decade; the fastest change is among younger evangelicals. Their support for gay marriage jumped from 20% in 2003 to 42% in 2014. We’re seeing a similar shift is taking place here in New Zealand. Last month, Anglican bishops at a synod in Wellington voted in favour of blessing couples in committed same-sex relationships. Discussions like this are taking place in the Presbyterian church. Many churches are taking a softer position on the issue or seeking some kind of “third way” option.
To make matters more confusing, vigorous attempts are being made by Christians in the LGBT camp to reinterpret the passages in Scripture that directly address homosexuality. They claim many of the Old Testament passages are obsolete, that Paul and the early church leaders weren’t as enlightened with regard to sexual orientation as we are today, and all prohibitions against homosexual behaviour refer only to orgies, rape and paedophilia – not loving, consensual relationships.
We need clarity on this issue. We need clarity for the sake of God’s church, we need clarity for the sake of the gospel, and we need clarity for the sake of those who are living openly gay lifestyles. Is homosexual activity a sin or something that God blesses, or is it something else? We’ll look firstly at what the Bible has to say on the subject, then we will consider some of the objections that are raised, and I’ll wind up with a few concluding remarks.
There are five passages in the Bible that speak directly address homosexuality: Genesis 2, Genesis 19, Leviticus 18, Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6. I will deal with what I think are the three most controversial passages.
God’s plan for the human race involves two people coming together, a man and a woman to form a one-flesh union. This union is called marriage. The argument, from the revisionists, is this is not restricted to a man and woman. The same intimacy, companionship and sharing of life can take place between two men and two women. God’s purpose for this union, is companionship. That does not require two people from the opposite sex. Gay couples make wonderful companions.
That may be true, but this misses what is clearly stated in the text: Eve is not only Adam’s companion, but his opposite. She is the same, yet she is also very different – physically, genetically, and psychologically. In the one-flesh union of a man and woman you have a fitting, a connecting, and a uniting that cannot be simulated with a same-sex couple no matter how hard you try.
Furthermore, this interpretation overlooks another divine purpose for marriage: procreation. God created the man and the woman, so he could bring them together to reproduce (Genesis 1:28). Marriage, by definition, is a union which produces children. Homosexual unions by their very nature cannot fulfil this procreative purpose.
Thirdly, it overlooks another very important purpose for marriage: a picture of symbol of Christ and his church. This is spelled out for us in Ephesians 5:31-32:
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
Marriage is intended to reflect a heavenly marriage between Christ and his people. We, his people, are referred to in Scripture as his bride. A union of two men or two women cannot reflect a union of Christ and his bride.
Paul’s aim in Romans chapter 1 is to lay a case that every single person in the world is guilty before a holy God and in need of salvation. God has revealed himself clearly in creation but instead of acknowledging God people suppress the truth and makes three exchanges:
- They exchange the glory of God for the foolishness of idolatry (v.23)
- They exchange the truth of God for a lie (v.24)
- They give up natural relations with members of the opposite sex for relations with those of the same sex (vv.26-27)
It is this third exchange that is under consideration for this subject. Here’s the text in question:
“For this reason God delivered them over to disgraceful passions. Their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. The men in the same way also left natural relations with women and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error.” (Romans 1:26–27)
If we follow Paul’s logic, when people reject God, they find themselves craving what they are not naturally designed to do. They exchange God’s natural design for sex and sexual intimacy for what is unnatural. Sex is turned into something God didn’t design for it (bear in mind Paul is speaking not so much to individuals as society as a whole. This is what happens when an entire people group turn away from God. Individuals get caught up in it).
The revisionist argument is Paul has ungodly homosexual activity in mind. He’s talking about those who abuse their homosexual preference, who are not satisfied with a long-term, loving relationship and instead lust after new experiences. The word “unnatural” (ESV “contrary to nature”) however, was used in Paul’s day for any and all homosexual activity. Plato, Philo and Josephus all used it this way as did the Stoic philosophers. It’s a hard push to make this text say anything other than what on the surface (as well as underneath), seems obvious.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10
“Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom.”
In these verses Paul describes the kinds of people who – unless they repent, will be excluded from the kingdom of God. Included in this group are homosexuals – males who have sex with males. You see the stakes a high here. The eternal destiny of souls hangs in the balance on this one.
Here again the revisionists step in and say this is not referring to committed, consensual, and loving same-sex relationships. This is referring to homosexual rape and prostitution. But the terms that Paul uses are so very clear. Literally the words translate “bedders of men” or “those who take males to bed” and “being yielded to touch” or “being passive in a same-sex relationship.” Paul couldn’t be clearer. He is addressing both active and passive partners in homosexual sex.
At this point it is likely that a few objections are thrown up. I’ll cover two of the main ones.
Objection #1: It’s not my fault I’m gay, I was born that way.
You’ve probably heard of the “gay gene” that was discovered in the early ‘90’s. It was never substantiated. Recently, the American Psychological Association publication made an admission that there’s no homosexual “gene”:
There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors.
That is not to say that someone with same-sex attraction woke up one day and decided that they might start having feelings for people of the same sex. What it is saying is no one is born homosexual. You might have a predisposition toward same-sex attraction. But that doesn’t mean you are hardwired to be homosexual.
We all have predispositions toward things – some of them being undesirable. It might be a predisposition toward anger and rage or depression or binge-drinking or some kind of addiction. But does that mean you must act on every one of them? No, we also have the power of choice. And sure, the choice not to drink will be more difficult for the person who is prone to binge-drinking than the one who is not. But it’s a choice that can be made. Imagine if everyone acted on every impulse and predisposition – what a mess our world would be!
Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian who became a Christian chose, in obedience to Christ, to renounce a homosexual lifestyle and is now married with children. Ed Shaw is an Anglican minister in Bristol, England. He experienced same-sex attraction since he was young. In obedience to Christ he has embraced a life of what he calls “hope-filled celibacy.” Is he still tempted? Sure he is, just as anyone who is attracted to the opposite sex is tempted. Ed says he doesn’t allow his desires or sexual orientation to define him. It’s his identity in Christ that defines him.
Both Rosaria and Ed have made choices to deny self and follow Christ. One is happily married and the other happily single. The problem is our world has given sex this exalted status as if that is where we find our purpose and our identity and our fulfillment. All sexual impulses should be acted on. If you don’t, you are not being true to yourself. Well Jesus is the fullest example of what it means to be human, and he never had sex. Is it really wrong therefore, to say to our Christian brothers and sisters who have same-sex attraction, you don’t need to follow through on those desires? That there are alternatives; one’s in which God promises blessing and fulfillment?
Objection #2: Surely a same-sex relationship is pleasing to God if it’s committed and faithful?
A promiscuous gay lifestyle with multiple partners and one-night stands is one thing, but what about two people who love each other and are faithful? Surely that is OK. It’s a compelling argument. But you could say the same thing regarding a young unmarried couple who are sleeping together, or a husband who leaves his wife for another woman. “He’s much happier now. He loves her and they are committed.” Does that make it right?
It’s possible in many areas of life, to demonstrated good qualities while doing something wrong. Sam Allberry remarks on this matter, “Activity that is faithful and committed is no more permissible in God’s eyes than activity that’s promiscuous and unfaithful.” Not if God has forbidden it.
Let me say a few words by way of summary and conclusion:
Firstly, as Christians, whenever we find that the Scriptures clash with our culture (or even our desires), it is not Scripture that should change. We should change. Because the bible is God’s Word. Scripture, not our culture or our desires, has the final word. God is not a kill-joy. He knows what he is doing. His prohibitions and promises are intended for a greater joy. When God says “no” to something, it is because he intends a better “yes.”
Secondly, we need to stand together against all kinds of hate and bigotry. Homophobia has no place in our culture and it should equally have no place in God’s church. We must treat people of the gay community with love and respect. They are people made in the image of God. They are individuals for whom Christ died. Let’s love them into the kingdom.
Thirdly, let’s always remember that the real issue is not whether we are gay or straight. The real issue is whether we are willing to surrender ourselves to the Lordship of Christ. The key issue isn’t whether we’re LGBT or straight or anything else. The real problem is that we’re proud, and that we want to be autonomous rather than submissive to God. The answer, for us all, is repentance and faith.
And that’s where we need to begin – first with ourselves, each and every day, and then with others. The real issue is what are we doing with Jesus. That’s always the no.1 issue. That’s what keeps people from the Kingdom of God. And it’s what keeps all of us from a life of fulfilment, blessing and abundant joy.
This post was based on a sermon on Homosexuality in the Church. It is part of a Hot Topics series we are working through at our church. You can listen to the full audio on our website here. (our apologies: the first 12 min of recording is poor in quality). You can also listen to the discussion forum that followed here.
Here is a video I showed to our congregation the morning I gave this message. It is from Rosaria Butterfield (whom I referred to earlier) on what most surprised her about Christians when she became one. It’s really worth your watch.