I approach this topic with trepidation, not because it is uncomfortable but because it is so complex. Homosexuality brings with it questions of sexuality, identity, psychology, and politics. In addition, I know no one who is gay so my compassion can only be artificial. Still, part of the reason for a blog is to organize and express my own thoughts. It is also an open invitation to comment, discuss, rebut, etc.
One place to start is with the historic perspective of Christianity. Homosexuality has been judged as sin throughout Church history. Obviously, length of belief is no guarantee of truth. However, strong evidence or a better interpretative paradigm is needed before we abandon what two millennia of Christians affirmed. As I tend to be surrounded by conservative Christians I try to keep my ears open to what believers are saying who challenge this perspective.
Some Christians have attempted to find Biblical support for sex outside of marriage, but in this post I will assume that there is agreement that sex outside of marriage is a sin. Those Christians in favor of homosexuality have argued that the act condemned in both Testaments is unmarried homosexuality. However, this distinction is not native to the text or time period. No words exist to distinguish between married homosexuality and adulterous homosexuality. Neither do the writers of Scripture attempt to differentiate them. One place where Paul talks about the matter with extra clarity is in Romans 1:26-27. (As a brief aside, a few have speculated that Paul struggled with same-sex attraction. The problem is that it is purely speculative, perhaps an interesting conversation for some, but having little practical benefit.)
Romans 1:18-32 is a discussion of God’s revelation of himself to humanity through nature. What people can know about God who have not received special information from him, in the form of Scriptures or dreams, for example. Universally, I think, ancient cultures believed in the existence of a god or gods. The problem is that most failed to acknowledge the particular character of the true God. One consequence of this rejection was sex between members of the same gender. The key adjective in this passage is natural. Sex between members of the same gender is unnatural, or against God’s created order. Neither sin in the sense of breaking the law, nor marriage is being talked about here, but obedience to God’s expression or revelation of himself in nature. Homosexuality is a kind of rebellion against God’s design for sex, while heterosexuality is in obedience to it.
Cultural differences between the early A.D.’s and modern times has been used as an argument for homosexuality. For example, people argue that women no longer have to wear head coverings as they are told to do in 1 Corinthians 11 or submit to their husbands as it says in Ephesians 5 because those were only for a specific culture’s expression of Christianity. In our culture Christianity should accept homosexuality. In my opinion, people turn too easy to cultural differences to explain difficult Biblical passages. Often there are better interpretive solutions. Use cultural exceptions too loosely and you’ll find yourself exempting obedience to large sections of the Bible. Everything important in the Bible can be found as a thread running throughout it. We think of Paul as innovative but often he was only writing the logical conclusion of ideas expressed in the Old Testament. God presents us with a pattern for sexuality almost at the very beginning of the Bible and continues to flesh it out through Revelation. Adam and Eve were designed for each other alone in Genesis. In the prophets the entire picture of Israel as one and only bride is a picture of this. The Church is Christ’s bride alone and Christ the Church’s husband alone. Sexual is presented as something to be practiced only between one man and one woman throughout. Anything besides this is discouraged. Polygamy, which was an accepted cultural practice, is clearly critiqued. God may bring good out of Jacob’s polygamy or David’s adultery, but we have no encouragement to practice the same. As important as sexuality is in the Bible we would expect God to give a positive example of homosexual marriage if it was something He affirmed. Instead, homosexuality is continually presented as negative and self-destructive.
How come Jesus never mentions homosexuality? He also failed to mention slavery. However, I hope we can see that he intended the gospel to lead to the end of slavery. Just as slavery was common so the Greeks had a tradition of pederasty and homosexuality between younger men and older partners. Jesus not mentioning something is no guarantee of his approval or disapproval.
Frequently we think of sin as primarily an issue of purity vs. impurity. We approach sin as sanitarians, seeking to clean away the dirt. Homosexuality has been treated as a particularly impure sin by many Christians. We need to be able to approach sin like soul physicians, recognizing that what the Bible calls sin is ultimately bad for us. Sin destroys, whether obviously in murder or subtly in consumerism. Not only has sin wounded us but it has blinded us. Only through the Bible, in the light of the Spirit, can Christians determine which of our desires that we view as normal are good, neutral, or harmful. Compassion, I hope, is what drives me to understand how Christians should approach homosexuality. Sexuality is such a core part of human identity that to go astray there will cause terrible damage, whether or not it is obvious on the surface.
Often I hear the Christian argument for homosexuality boiled down to this: “God made me this way and loves me just as I am.” This statement misses one essential fact: the Fall. I know that God loves me just the way I am, but because he love me he wants to remove the brokenness and sin from my life and make me whole. Sometimes I rebel because I think he is removing some essential part of me.
In Part 2 of this topic I will attempt to be a little more practical.