(1 of 3 in this series)
Over the last several months an article titled “I’m Christian, unless you’re gay” has received an extraordinary amount of attention from people on all sides of the current culture war over homosexuality. The author’s premise is simple: Christians need to love gays instead of hating them. In fact, religious people of all types need to love gays instead of hating them. While of course I agree with these statements, I don’t tend to find articles of this “why can’t we all just get along?” sort to be very helpful: they are more helpful than the “God hates gays” type of thinking, but that is not saying very much.
I see no scriptural evidence that God hates homosexuality more than other types of sexual sin, but I also see no evidence to suggest that it is possible to be loving without also being truthful. The two arguing sides strike me as people fighting over the steering wheel of a car. One keeps attempting to pull the steering wheel left into oncoming traffic, and the other is dead set on pulling the steering wheel right and over the edge of a cliff. A balance is needed, and someone willing to fight both opposing sides in order to follow the actual lane on the road must provide that balance. I offer the following series of articles as an attempt to do just that. I’m a Christian, whether you’re gay or not, and Christianity teaches certain things, whether you like them or not.
Homosexuality in the Bible
Over the past five years I have had a growing frequency of encounters with the topic of homosexuality, particularly in its relation to Christianity, or lack thereof. The questions often arise of whether it is possible to be a Christian and be homosexual, or whether God made homosexuals, or what the Bible says about homosexuality. I have discussed these questions with family, friends, acquaintances and students holding varying viewpoints. Some are Christians, some secular, some believe homosexuality is not sinful, some believe that it is sinful, some actually are homosexual, and others aren’t. To my dismay, I have encountered a great deal of confusion about this topic on every side, with the sad result that most positions distort the heart of Christianity. It is my hope that this article will be able to dispel some of this confusion and distortion. To that end, I will first explain what the Bible says regarding homosexuality in particular. Then, in subsequent articles, I will examine some of the mistaken beliefs and arguments which have led to the widespread misunderstanding of this important issue.
It is practically impossible to interpret the Bible as anything but prohibitive of homosexuality. Passages include both Old Testament verses such as Leviticus 18 and 20, and New Testament passages, such as Romans 1, 1 Cor. 6:9-10, and 1 Tim. 1:10. To save space I’ll include just three verses that are sufficient to show my point:
You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. ~ Leviticus 18:22
For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. ~ Romans 1:25-27
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. ~ 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Now there is more that needs to be said regarding these verses, but it should be clear that, when taken at face value, these verses establish that the Bible treats homosexual acts as sinful. I don’t wish to put too fine of a point on that, since there are many other sins that are mentioned in the Bible.
Framing the Issue More Positively
The most important question to ask in a discussion of Christianity and sexuality of any kind is, “What did God intend?” Perhaps better than any scriptural argument against homosexuality is a reminder of the pattern God positively intended, the pattern established in Genesis 2 of pairing a man and a woman in a lifelong committed marriage:
Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. Genesis 2:22-24
Jesus upheld this as the standard for human sexuality in Mark 10:6-9 when he was asked about the question of divorce. Rather than explain everything that was wrong with divorce and why God hates it, Jesus instead referred the religious teachers back to Genesis, reminding them of what God intended “from the beginning of creation.” What God intended from the beginning is very important to our understanding of sexuality. There are very many warnings throughout scripture regarding all sorts of sexual activities that are collectively referred to as sexual immorality. Some of these warnings are about heterosexual activities, and some are about homosexual activity. Adultery, divorce, fornication, sodomy, incest, and bestiality are all mentioned as things God detests (not that they are all equally bad). However, the intent of every negative (prohibitive) law about sex in the Bible is in support of a positive pattern: The committed marriage of a man and a woman.
There are two important points to take from this fact. The first point is that God didn’t arbitrarily choose to pick on homosexuals when he set this standard; he set the standard to protect marriage and the proper use of human sexuality. The second point is more general in application. Too often Christians focus on what specifically counts as sin and on avoiding these things, but we should rather focus on upholding and practicing the good things we are instructed to do. It is far easier to view things from the viewpoint of following the right path than from the viewpoint of avoiding the wrong one. Telling someone who is lost, “Don’t go east” is far less helpful than telling them “Go north.”
For someone who believes that the homosexual lifestyle is sinful it might be easy to end the discussion here with a blanket condemnation of homosexuality. To do so would be a grave mistake; it both leaves a Christian analysis of homosexuality woefully incomplete and (more importantly) it leaves homosexuals without hope.
There is an important distinction that needs to be made, and that is the distinction between having a desire and acting on it. These are two totally different things. All of the homosexuals I have talked to tell me they didn’t choose to have those feelings and I believe them. However, given homosexual feelings one is presented with several options: to feed the desire, or to gratify it, or repress it, or modify it. If, as scripture makes clear, homosexual acts are sinful then feelings of same-sex attraction represent a temptation, and being tempted is not sinful, in and of itself. We do not choose our temptations, but feeding those temptations or gratifying them would be sinful.
A homosexual woman I know once made a statement that helped open my eyes to something I’d been overlooking in my thinking about homosexuality. She told me “It is hard to be dubbed as wrong for what is innately a part of you.” I find this statement to be fascinating for two reasons. The first and lesser reason is that I always try to be clear that the feelings homosexuals perceive as an innate part of themselves are not the issue I’m addressing. As I just mentioned, no one chooses his or her temptations; if someone is attracted to the same sex that is not (usually) their choice. What is their choice is how they respond to that attraction, whether it is in a Biblical way or an un-Biblical way. So it wouldn’t be right to condemn someone for the inherent temptation they face.
The second and more important reason is that the statement touches on the very heart of the human condition and God’s response to it! My friend was right; it is very hard to be “dubbed wrong” (condemned, judged) for something innately a part of you. That is precisely what has happened to each of us as Christians. Since the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden humanity has passed its sinful nature to each new generation. This sinful nature is innate, located at our very core! No matter how hard we try we can’t fix ourselves and please God, so we stand under a very just condemnation. As 1 John says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” But is there hope? Yes! Listen to what John says as he continues: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This cleansing from unrighteousness is also our first scriptural hint (in this discussion) that change is possible.
A New Hope
Let’s continue by revisiting 1 Corinthians 6, which I referenced above:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals (arsenokoite), nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Wouldn’t it be depressing if we stopped reading there? It doesn’t matter that I’m not gay, I’m included in that list (according to Jesus’s standard), you’re included in that list and really, if you take a Biblical view of idolatry, everyone is in that list. But keep reading! In the next verse Paul uses a word, a four-letter word to some, but a word of great hope to others. “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” Did you catch the four-letter word? The word is “were.” So there really is scriptural evidence not only of the possibility of change, but also implying that Paul knew people who had in fact moved past their homosexuality, allowing Christ, rather than homosexual relationships, to fulfill the needs of their hearts. Change is possible, and the good news is that it occurs by being washed, sanctified, and justified by Jesus and in the Spirit of God!
This is one area where I believe evangelical Christians sometimes drop the ball. We rightly interpret scripture as calling homosexuality sinful. However, this doesn’t mean that there is a special torment in place for them in hell. We act as if the “problem” of the secular homosexual is their homosexuality. This is not the case. The problem is sin, and that problem is not limited to homosexuals. Nor, on the other hand, is homosexual behavior their only sin. So let’s be clear: homosexuality doesn’t send people to hell, their sin in general does, and Christians aren’t free from temptation or sin, though we do try to be. Christians aren’t inherently better; we’re just forgiven and have God working in us to make us more like him. Each of us had to come to the point where we realized we are sinners who do an absolutely terrible job of pleasing God on our own. I hope in the future we are careful to identify sin as the correct problem, and Jesus bearing our punishment for us as the correct solution to that problem.
 I occasionally switch between “homosexual” and “gay,” treating the terms as if they are interchangeable. I don’t know if the homosexual (or gay) communities use these terms interchangeably or if there is some nuance. If there is a difference I’d be happy to know of it. For this discussion I use both terms to indicate a person who is attracted to people of the same sex and/or engages in sexual activities with the same sex.