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Discussion Six: “Why Not Let LGBTQ Men And Women Marry?”
Posted by Clare

(This is the sixth in a series of eight readings and discussion questions, that make up “Leading Your Church to be as Gay-Friendly as the Bible Teaches.”)

With the legalization of same-sex marriage in June of 2015 by the Supreme Court, you might think this discussion is irrelevant. However, just because same-sex marriage is now the law of the land, that doesn’t change the reasons Christians should oppose it and be able to explain to our children why we do. Abortion was legalized almost half a century ago, but most Christians still oppose it on biblical grounds and try to discourage it whenever possible.

We’ve heard it asked many times, “Why do you Christians care what goes on behind closed doors between two consenting adults? Who cares? Why not let gay men and women marry?” In this discussion we’ll try to answer some of the most commonly asked questions by both non-Christians and affirming Christians, and suggest some alternatives to marriage.

But before we do, we need to remind ourselves that many of those who favor same-sex marriage, whether they are LGBTQ or heterosexual, Christians or non-Christians see it strictly as a civil right. They don’t understand that we believe our position to be God’s position as revealed through Scripture, not simply our opinion.

Q. The Bible doesn’t prohibit same-sex marriage, so why should Christians?
A. While it’s true that the Scriptures do not prohibit same-sex marriage outright, marriage is always described in the Bible as being between a man and a woman. The first chapter of the Bible says, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Differentiation of the human race into two complementary sexes (“male and female”) is the first fact mentioned in connection with being made “in the image of God.”

Genesis 2 describes in more detail the process summarized in 1:27. Here, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). The word “helper” is ezer kenegdo, which means “helper” and “like and against me.” This implies someone who is like Adam (a human), but against or opposite him (a complementary female).

Genesis then applies the example of Adam and Eve to all marriages: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). This “one flesh” sexual union was thus established as the pattern for marriage generally, which Jesus himself reaffirmed when he cited Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 as the normative pattern that God expects all marriages to follow, as expressed in Matthew 19:5: “And [Jesus] said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’” Paul reiterates this teaching yet a third time in Ephesians 5:31.

From the Old Testament to the New Testament, the Bible assumes the logic of sexual intercourse implied in Genesis: a sexual bond between a man and a woman requires two (and only two) different sexual halves (“a man” and “his wife”) being brought together into a sexual whole (“one flesh”).

Finally, to justify same-sex marriage strictly because the Bible doesn’t specifically prohibit it is problematic because it gives equal weight to an argument from silence against hundreds of examples of married people in the Bible who were married only to a person of the opposite sex. It also ignores the fact that the Bible always speaks of same-sex intercourse in negative terms. And since sex and marriage go hand-in-hand, the prohibition of same-sex sex rules out marriage.

Q. But if gay men and women marry, doesn’t that solve the moral issue for Christians?
A. The idea behind this argument is that if the biblical objection to homosexual relationships is solely based on the biblical prohibition of sex outside of marriage, why don’t we solve it by allowing gay men and women to marry? If they do, the moral objection to same-sex sex goes away, just as it does when heterosexuals marry. Problem solved!

If having sex outside of marriage were the only biblical objection, then that would solve the problem. But it’s not. To endorse same-sex marriage is to endorse same-sex behavior. Sexual union is implicit and even honored in marriage. When we accept same-sex marriage, by implication and over time, the sin of homosexual sexual behavior will be legitimized by us, our children, and future generations.

Q. The Bible opposes divorce, and yet the church has accepted that as a fact of life. Why not accept gay marriage in the same way?
A. Divorce and same-sex sexual union share this in common: Both are forgivable sins for those who repent. However, neither in Scripture nor in the church has divorce ever been celebrated as a part of “the glorious diversity of the body of Christ,” as gay marriage is being touted. Divorce is and has always been viewed as an example of sin in a fallen world. This is why we don’t have divorce ceremonies in the church, in which we bless it. We recognize divorce as a sad tragedy and not the intention of God.

Q. But why should we get so worked up over what goes on behind closed doors or in same-sex marriages by people who are not Christians?
A. The legalization of same-sex marriage has repercussions way beyond what two adults do behind closed doors. Here are a few reasons:

Children:

  • Same-sex couples always deny their children either a father or a mother. It’s both conventional and biblical wisdom that the optimal environment for raising a child is one in which the child’s mother and father are married and living with each other.[1] However, if a gay couple adopts, their children will have the influence of only one gender living in that home.
  • It is true, many children today are being raised in one-parent homes, but that’s by default not by design (divorce, unwanted pregnancies, death, etc). It’s not that gay married couples cannot be good parents, they just cannot provide what a traditional marriage was designed by God to do—provide both male and female role models.

Q. What about the separation of church and state?
A. Those who favor the separation between church and state believe Christians are attempting to impose their views on everyone by opposing same-sex marriage. Ironically, however, they have no reservations about imposing their worldview on Christians and others. Here are just a few examples:

Education:

  • “GLSEN (Gay Lesbian Sex Education Network) is a national organization advocating that public schools teach the normalization of diverse expressions of sexuality. “GLSEN calls upon public policy makers to remove any prohibitive laws that forbid or discourage in-school discussions of sexual orientation or gender/expression.”[2] We are already seeing rapid changes in school policies regarding transgenderism and bathroom use by either sex.
  • Sex education in Massachusetts’ schools, as well as school districts in other states, have already been expanded to include classroom discussions on masturbation and oral and anal sex in an effort to end taboos on gay and straight sexual behaviors.[3]
  • Students in many states are being taught that a homosexual family is normal. Recommended reading in many states are books like Heather has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate.
  • Christian teachers in public schools are often required to teach that homosexual relationships are normal—even if it violates their own religious beliefs.

The point is that there are serious mandatory efforts underway to teach your children and grandchildren things that are antithetical to a biblical worldview and to the values of their parents or the church. Unfortunately, many of the sex education classes normalizing heterosexual sex outside of marriage in the 80s and 90s laid the groundwork for reducing sex to a health issue rather than a moral or spiritual one.

Freedom of religion?

  • Many Christians in the country know what happened to the photographer in New Mexico who refused to photograph a gay wedding. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that it was a violation of one’s civil rights to deny anyone services based on their sexual orientation. LGBTQ activists are not content with allowing committed Christians to behave privately as they wish. They will not rest until everyone accepts all same-sex behavior as normal and acceptable.

Q. Do you really expect gay men and women to be lonely and celibate all their life?
A. It can be incredibly lonely to live alone your entire life. Many heterosexual people are already doing that simply because they choose it, or haven’t found ‘the one.’ Most people want to be married and have children and grandchildren. But it’s also true that many people find marriage to be difficult—hence the high divorce rate. Married people must balance their personal freedom and time with the responsibilities of caring for their spouse and children. Marriage is both a blessing and a sacrifice.

Yes, same-sex attracted men and women should remain celibate if they are not married to someone of the opposite gender or have no desire to marry someone of the opposite gender. God expects all unmarried believers to remain celibate all their life—both same-sex attracted and straight. This isn’t an exclusive requirement for LGBTQ men and women alone.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul goes out of his way to make the case for all Christians to remain unmarried if they are able. Almost the whole chapter is devoted to the advantages of being single. He begins with this statement, “Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.” And then goes on to say, “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.” In verses 32 and 33 he says, “I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife.”

For two thousand years, unmarried Christians have lived productive, spiritual, and fulfilled lives without marriage or sex. Not only can it be done, it has been done, and done well!

Henri Nouwen, a deeply devoted Christian, philosopher, and author struggled with same-sex attraction all of his life, yet was committed to celibacy. This enabled him to devote the last decade of his life to living in community at L’Arche Daybreak, in Toronto, caring for mentally disabled adults. Nouwen once wrote, “The way out of our loss and hurt is in and through. When Jesus said, “For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13), He affirmed that only those who can face their wounded condition can be available for healing and enter a new way of living.” [4]

Q. Does the Bible allow any options to address the loneliness of celibacy?
A. The following are some unconventional ideas put forward by Christians to resolve the pain of loneliness. If you are like many Christians, your initial reaction to these ideas may be shocking. While your church may not necessarily endorse all these ideas, there does not appear to be any biblical prohibition against them.

1. A same-sex attracted Christian could marry a heterosexual person of the opposite sex and have a family
I, Laurie, one of the authors, am one such person. I exclusively experience same-sex attractions, but am growing in love and attraction for my husband. I am not in love with all men; I am in love with my husband, Matt. As I run more toward Jesus to fill the core needs of my heart, and fall more in love with Him, I find my same-sex attractions decrease, and wanting to live my life with greater connection to Matt.[5]

The authors know of another celibate, same-sex attracted person who felt called to be a pastor. This man graduated from a conservative seminary and began a friendship with a heterosexual woman. As the friendship deepened, the man admitted to this woman that he was same-sex attracted, but said his desire was to marry, have a family, and serve the church. He admitted that their sex life would undoubtedly never be what either might desire, but he loved her and was committed to live as her faithful loving husband all of his life. After much prayer and in consultation with her pastor, she agreed to marry him. They now have children, and he is still a pastor of his church.

We find no biblical reasons to prohibit a marriage like this and find it to be an elegant solution to the problem of loneliness, even though, sadly, mixed-orientation marriages often fail for a variety of reasons. They are clearly not a “cure” for homosexuality. Same-sex attraction might always be a temptation in these marriages. However, sexual temptation and fulfillment are problematic in many straight marriages as well.

2. Create spiritual friendship communities
In his book entitled Spiritual Friendship, Wesley Hill, a man who experiences same-sex attractions, describes a number of ways he and others have addressed this issue. One idea is that men and women who are committed to celibacy could live in community in a large home, with one person per room, holding each other accountable to sexual purity—all the while enjoying the camaraderie of both male and female friends.

The bottom line is this: The church will have to stretch conventional thinking to assist a growing number of single adults—both heterosexual and homosexual—to live lives of purpose and purity. None of these ideas are easy. Marriage is not easy. All human relationships are potentially dangerous, difficult, and flawed. However, none of these ideas violate any teaching of Scripture, but in fact, actually capture the ideal of a caring, loving community.

Q. What if I’m invited to a same-sex wedding?
A. Option 1 (adapted from Joe Dallas’s book, When Homosexuality Hits Home):

I do not believe it’s right for a Christian to attend a same-sex wedding ceremony. I realize that there are Christ-centered, sincere believers, who also believe homosexuality to be wrong, who thoroughly disagree with me about attending a wedding.

A same-sex wedding is a ceremony and celebration solemnizing something that in God’s sight cannot and should not be called a marriage. Yes, the betrothed couple probably know you are a Bible-believing Christian who doesn’t condone homosexuality. But they invited you anyway, hoping that, in spite of what you believe, you’ll put that aside for the sake of their joy and celebrate with them. Thus, a “sorry, cannot attend” RSVP will almost certainly be hurtful, and may end the relationship. While I don’t recommend attending, I do recommend continuing the relationship.

Attendance at a same-sex wedding or any wedding cannot be seen as anything other than a silent endorsement. This violates Paul’s clear instruction in Ephesians 5:11 which says, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” He also advised Timothy to “neither be partaker of other men’s sins” (1 Timothy 5:22, KJV).

Broadening that principle to other behaviors, if my friend were an alcoholic, I’d still be a friend. But if he asked me to “partake” and to have a drink with him, I’d decline because I’d not want to send mixed messages that I approve of that decision by participating with him.

The question of attendance at a same-sex wedding boils down to this: Is it possible to attend and not signal, on some level, my approval by my attendance? I don’t think so. That’s my dilemma.[6]

Option 2 (adapted from John Wesley Reid’s blog, “Should I attend my gay friend’s wedding?”):

Some may oppose attendance at a same-sex wedding because they believe it’s a declaration of the attendee’s approval. While I’m charitable to this position, I am not sold on the logic. I will attend my friend’s wedding because they invited me. If my friend considers me close enough to merit an invitation to their wedding, then they will already know my position on gay marriage. In one sense, it’s flattering that they would invite me, considering that my opposition is an offense to their lifestyle, yet they still love me enough to invite me.

I will attend because I love them. And by “love them” I don’t mean I’m willing only to criticize their lifestyle, and then pray for them. By “love them” I mean I desire to walk with them, do life with them, and grow with them while praying vigorously for them to understand their sin—as I would anyone.

My love for them does not compromise my hate for sin—indeed my hate for sin compels me to love them more just as Christ loved me despite my sin.

I’m not going to wear black and sit stone-faced.

And I’m not going to take every opportunity when meeting someone to explain away my decision with a, “Yes, I’m a friend of Joe’s, BUT I’m not at all in support of his decision.”

I’m going to sign the guest book.

I’m going to bring a gift.

I’m going to dance.

I’m going to love and pray for them.[7]

Option 3 (from Preston Sprinkle’s book, Living in the Gray):

“Can I attend a gay wedding?” I get asked this question more than any other question related to homosexuality. You can probably see why it’s tough to answer, but let’s lay out the dilemma so that we’re all on the same page.

On the one hand, if you refuse to attend the wedding of your gay friend (or family member), this could come off as unloving, self-righteous, and judgmental. Perhaps you’re trying to lead your friend to Christ (assuming they’re not a Christian already). If you don’t attend, they may view this as a denial of the love you say you have for them.

On the other hand, if you attend the wedding, will your friend and others think that you now approve of homosexual relations? Aren’t you endorsing gay marriage by attending the wedding?

What do you think? There seems to be truth in both responses. While I don’t think there’s a clear right or wrong answer to the question, here are some things to consider.

The first thing to consider is whether the couple claims to be Christian. If they don’t then I don’t think it would be a problem to attend their wedding. Remember Paul’s words, “What have I to do with judging outsiders?” (1 Corinthians 5:12 ESV). Since we shouldn’t expect unbelievers to act like believers, I don’t think it would be wrong to attend a gay wedding if they are unbelievers. Or, if you refuse to attend, then you should be consistent and not attend any weddings between unbelievers.

But if they do claim to be Christians, then here are a few more things to consider.

Make sure you are consistent in which weddings you attend. If you don’t attend the gay wedding, then you also should not attend any Christian wedding that is unbiblical. For instance, marriages between a believer and an unbeliever. Scripture doesn’t allow believers to marry unbelievers. Or you shouldn’t attend a marriage when one of the partners has been through an unbiblical divorce.

It’s pretty hypocritical to attend certain weddings that aren’t sanctioned by Scripture yet not attend other weddings that aren’t also sanctioned by Scripture.[8]

Our Recommendation:
We (the authors) lean towards options 1 and 3. Joe Dallas’s thoughts are true to the Bible, and Sprinkle’s encourage a biblical self-examination and consistency in whichever decision a person makes. Some issues in the Christian life are black and white—this is not one of them. A wedding day is an incredibly important day in anyone’s life, and the people who have invited you may be very dear to you. God grant you the courage to say yes or no to wedding attendance, whichever you deem appropriate, as you believe God is leading you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In your opinion, which of the arguments against same-sex marriage are the strongest? Why?
  2. In your opinion, which of the arguments against same-sex marriage are the weakest? Why?
  3. Was there any new information you learned which affirmed your convictions?
  4. If you have children, would they say you “celebrate singleness?” Or does your desire for grandchildren send conflicting messages—that singleness and celibacy are fine for those with SSA, but the ideal should be marriage with children?
  5. What do you think of the ideas regarding unconventional living arrangements for SSA Christians?
  6. Based on your own convictions, would you attend a same-sex marriage ceremony? Why or why not? What if the wedding was for a son or daughter?
  7. Do you think it’s possible to take a stand against same-sex marriage and not be labeled a homophobic, judgmental Christian? If not, can you live with that charge without holding onto anger or shame?
  8. Have you ever invited a celibate, SSA Christian into your home just because you care about them? Why or why not?

Final Thoughts:
This is the end of the Small Group Edition of Leading Your Church to be as Gay-Friendly as the Bible Teaches. Although these are our final thoughts, this discussion is far from over. As a result of reading and talking through the discussions, our prayer is that you and your church will be better equipped to navigate grace, truth, and love better with your LGBT/SSA children, friends, and neighbors. As a last encouragement, we want to exhort you to be proactive. Take these ideas to your family and friends. Become the biblical, graceful thought leader on LGBT issues within your circles of influence. For further reading, we recommend the following resources as next steps:

People to be Loved: Why Homosexuality is not just an Issue by Preston Sprinkle, Zondervan, 2015

Same-Sex Attraction and the Church by Ed Shaw, InterVarsity Press Books, 2015

Other recommended books include:
Compassion Without Compromise by Adam Barr and Ron Citlau
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield
What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality by Kevin DeYoung
Messy Grace by Caleb Kaltenbach
Homosexuality and the Christian by Mark Yarhouse
Out of a Far Country by Christopher Yuan

Recommended Web sites include:
Harvest USA at harvestusa.org
Hole in my Heart Ministries at himhministries.com
Lead them Home at leadthemhome.org
Living Out at livingout.org
The Gospel Coalition’s “50 Web sites for equipping the church on homosexuality and same sex marriage” at thegospelcoalition.org/article/50-resources-for-equipping-the-church-on-homosexuality-and-same-sex-marriage

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[1]. Flanagan, Caitlin. “Is There Hope for the American Marriage?” Time Magazine, July 02, 2009.

[2]. “Values Statements.” GLSEN. GLSEN, 2003-2016. www.glsen.org/values

[3]. See Smith, Tovia. “NPR Interview.” NPR Interview. 2004. www.massresistance.org/docs/a8a/general/NPR_091304.htm. See also: Schoenberg, Shira. “Massachusetts Senate Passes ‘age Appropriate’ Sex Education Bill Pushed by Planned Parenthood.” Masslive.com. November 19, 2015. www.masslive
.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/11/massachusetts_senate_passes_ag.html. See also: Jan, Tracy. “Gay Rights Advocates and Health Educators to Push for More Inclusive Sex Education – The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com. Boston Globe, 8 Sept. 2015. www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2015/09/08/gay-rights-advocates-and-health-educators-push-for-more-inclusive-sex-education/Z2gbYzVF2FonnHAdZrluXO/story.html

[4]. Nouwen, Henri J. M., and Timothy K. Jones. Turn My Mourning into Dancing: Moving through Hard times with Hope. Nashville, TN: W Pub. Group,
2001. P. 7.

[5]. To read more about Laurie and Matt’s journey, read their blog at himhministries.com.

[6]. Edited from: Dallas, Joe. When Homosexuality Hits Home. Eugene, Or.: Harvest House Publishers, 2004.

[7]. Edited from: Reid, John Wesley. “Should I Attend My Gay Friend’s Wedding? John Wesley Reid.” John Reid Blogs. 2015. johnreidblogs.com/2015/03/16/should-i-attend-my-gay-friends-wedding/

[8]. Sprinkle, Preston M. Living in a Gray World: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015. P. 124-126. (Preston goes on to talk more about “What does this convey to those getting married?” We recommend reading the whole section.)
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Are You Sure You Really Want a King?
Posted by Clare
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Many years ago, Dr. John Guest, an English evangelist came to the U.S. to preach the gospel. Upon arriving in Philadelphia, he stayed with a couple whose hobby was collecting pre-revolutionary war antiques.

One day, he accompanied them to an antique store. There he saw a sign that read, “No man our king.” John turned to his friends and asked this penetrating question. “Tell me how I preach the kingship of Jesus to a people who are predisposed to reject the authority of kings?”

For most of human history, for better or worse, people were ruled by kings. They had life and death power over everyone and were the absolute authority in the land. Disobedience wasn’t an option!

It’s true; Americans have no use for kings. We value democracy. We want the right to govern ourselves.

So this Christmas, it’s worth reflecting on this question;

Are you absolutely sure you want the king?

We all love the idea of baby Jesus at Christmas. The gift of his birth costs us nothing. And salvation costs us nothing. But the baby grew to be our king. And once we chose to follow him, he expects our complete allegiance. As the Heidelberg Catechism says, “I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and death to my faithful savior, Jesus Christ.”

Does that describe your life? Would the people who know you best consider you surrendered to the authority of the king of kings?

Please take the week between Christmas and New Years for some self-examination. What habits, attitudes or relationships have you not yet surrendered to the authority of your king?

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Discussion Five: Eight Popular Reasons Given For The Affirming View
Posted by Clare

(This is the fifth in a series of eight readings and discussion questions, that make up “Leading Your Church to be as Gay-Friendly as the Bible Teaches.”)

by Dr. Preston Sprinkle

gayfriendly_dis5

The issues we’ll cover in this Discussion, while always related to the Bible for Christians, deal with larger themes, as opposed to chapter and verse exposition. These are the types of arguments many younger Christians are embracing because each of them has an element of truth, which makes them believable without more critical examination. So, let’s step back and consider a few of the more popular arguments for the affirming view.

Reason 1: Understanding Same-Sex Laws along a Trajectory Ethic
This one has arguably become the leading argument by thoughtful affirming Christians. In many ways, it’s an attempt to get around the counterarguments I’ve given to the previous affirming arguments.

A trajectory ethic assumes that the Bible doesn’t always give us a complete or fully developed position on all ethical matters. Take slavery, for example. The Bible never comes out and condemns slavery as an institution. However, we can see some rumblings of the institution being challenged, especially in the New Testament. That is, we can identify a trajectory in the Bible that doesn’t quite condemn slavery but is moving toward this goal.

Some argue the same thing with women in the Bible. The Old Testament appears to be patriarchal, but the New Testament is moving toward full equality and liberation. Some argue, therefore, that the biblical trajectory is headed toward the full inclusion of women into all areas of ministry and leadership. Since the Bible gives us an incomplete ethic, so the argument goes, we still see a residue of patriarchy in passages where Paul tells women to keep silent in church (1 Corinthians 14) and forbids them from holding leadership and teaching positions (1 Timothy 2). Follow the trajectory towards its logical conclusion, and these patriarchal commands fade away.

Let’s just assume a trajectory ethic for slavery and women. The question is: Can we also identify the same trajectory for same-sex relations? Does the Bible begin to move away from prohibiting homosexual behavior and sanctioning it? Is there anything in the Bible where we see gay marriage being included as part of God’s design.

Many affirming Christians say, “Yes!” But there’s really no evidence for this. From Genesis to Revelation, there are almost no changes to God’s vision for sexuality and marriage. I say “almost” because there are some. Polygamy, for instance, is allowed in the Old Testament but we see the New Testament moving away from it. Divorce too was allowed in the Old Testament, but Jesus himself tightened up on those laws in the New. Think about this. When the Bible augments its vision for marriage and sexuality, it moves toward a stricter ethic not a more expanded one. We see movement toward the Genesis 1-2 ideal of one man and one woman, bound together in an inseparable one-flesh union.

If you interact with someone on this issue and they bring up the trajectory ethic, humbly ask them to show you where they are getting this in Scripture? Don’t be snooty or snarky or arrogant, of course. Genuinely ask them to build a case accurately where they see signs in Scripture of God moving toward accepting same-sex behavior.

The fact is, whenever same-sex behavior is mentioned, it’s always considered to be sexual immorality. And sexual immorality is always condemned in Scripture.

Reason 2: Christians Have Often Been on the Wrong Side of History Before
I often hear people point out that for hundreds of years, the church believed slavery was okay. We only recently realized that slavery is a horrible evil. Is not the current debate about same-sex relations the same thing? Non-affirming Christians are like our slave-owning forefathers. One day, we’ll realize that we were on the wrong side of history.

It does boggle my mind that so many confessing Christians actually held slaves, were blatantly racist, and viewed women as less valuable as men. Are non-affirming Christians doing the same thing with gay people?

The analogy sounds powerful, but it ultimately breaks down. The sexuality discussion is about whether same-sex behavior is considered to be sexual immorality. It doesn’t question the inherent value and worth of a human being, even though some will say it does. The slavery discussion, however, is all about whether some humans should be treated as property rather than God’s image bearers. To compare the two is like comparing apples and astronauts.

Plus, let’s look at the history of slavery and same-sex relations. For the last 2,000 years, the church has always and unanimously viewed same-sex sexual relations as immoral. But the same is not true of slavery. Throughout church history, various leaders opposed slavery. Leaders like William the Conqueror (1027-1087), Saint Wulfstan (1009-1095), Anselm (1033-1109), Pope Paul III (1468-1549), and even the great theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) all said slavery was sin. Sociologist Rodney Stark says, “The problem wasn’t that the leadership was silent. It was that almost nobody listened.”[1] And this doesn’t even include the fact that Christians led the way in ending slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Christians are far from perfect; it’s why we need a perfect Savior. On the other hand, it’s not as if the entire body of Christ for 2,000 years was pro-slavery. But the church has held a uniform belief about same-sex relations until the late 20th century.

Reason 3: I Was “Born this Way,” How Could it Be Wrong?
This argument is still very popular on blogs and pop media, even though scholars realize that it’s not scientifically accurate. Some affirming Christians argue that gay people are “born gay” and therefore they should be allowed to express their love within the context of a consensual, monogamous relationship. Put differently, since God made some people gay, they should be permitted to engage in same-sex relations.

There are several things wrong with this line of reasoning. First, it misunderstands God’s involvement in human birth. While God is Creator and He gives life to the womb, every human since Adam is born into a fallen world where things “aren’t the way they’re supposed to be.”[2] People are born with all sorts of biological, mental, and emotional traits that aren’t naturally aligned with God’s will. Just because some people are naturally angry, jealous, lustful, or prone to alcohol or drug abuse is not an excuse the Bible accepts for acting out of these natural desires. Simply because a person experiences a desire doesn’t mean they should or can act on it—no matter how strong or seemingly “fixed” that desire is.

So even if some people were born with a fixed same-sex orientation, this wouldn’t in itself mean they should engage in same-sex behavior. Even Justin Lee, founder of gaychristian.net doesn’t buy into this argument. He says:

Just because an attraction or drive is biological doesn’t mean it’s okay to act on…We all have inborn tendencies to sin in any number of ways. If gay people’s same-sex attractions were inborn, that wouldn’t necessarily mean it’s okay to act on them, and if we all agreed that gay sex is sinful, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that same-sex attractions aren’t inborn. “Is it a sin?” and “Does it have biological roots?” are two completely separate questions.[3]

And Justin is an affirming gay Christian. Even he believes that the “born this way” argument isn’t a good way to construct
a Christian sexual ethic.

But are people “born gay?” Without getting caught in the weeds of research, the best scientists who have studied the question of orientation say that it’s not that simple. There’s most likely a complex blend of nature (biology) and nurture (environmental influences) that shapes same-sex desires. According to the American Psychological Association says,

[N]o findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles.[4]

A recent, major study on sexual orientation by Johns Hopkins University comes to similar conclusions.[5] Keep in mind, these aren’t conservative Christians trying hard to prove the “born this way” argument wrong. These are just scientists doing good scientific research.

So whether the cause of same-sex attraction is nature or nurture (or both), the Bible still prohibits same-sex sexual behavior.

Reason 4: Shouldn’t Christians Just Love Everyone?

Many people say that the non-affirming view is inherently unloving. It’s unloving, they say, to deny a person’s right to pursue the romantic relationship they desire. After all, a same-sex relationship isn’t harming anyone. Why do Christians care about what two people do in the bedroom? And didn’t Jesus teach his followers to love people—all people—especially those have been marginalized?

Before wrestling with this argument, we must all check our hearts and ask: Have we been unloving toward gay people? Have you told a gay joke, laughed at a gay joke, looked down upon a gay person, or ignored someone who’s wrestling with same-sex attraction? There are many ways in which straight Christians have not been loving toward gay people. When we hear the “What about Love?” argument, we need to first repent from any unloving thing we’ve said or done.

As for the argument itself, it rightly prioritizes love but wrongly defines it. Jesus tells us to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12), and that last part is important. When Jesus loved his disciples, he didn’t always (or usually) affirm their behavior or desires. It’s worldly love, not Christian love, that says: if you love me you’ll affirm everything I desire to do and believe about myself to be true. When Jesus loved people, He loved them toward holiness not away from it. And this includes sexual holiness—as defined by Scripture.

Christian ethics can’t be reduced to the secular code of do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. It’s true, most sins end up hurting other people. But some don’t. If I bow down to an idol in the secrecy of my basement, I’m not hurting anyone. If my wife and I didn’t have kids, and we happened to “fall out of love with each other,” we wouldn’t hurt anyone by getting a divorce. But the Bible never uses the do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone logic for determining what is right and wrong.

As we love people, we must love them as Jesus love them—toward holiness not away from it.

Some people describe this as “love the sinner, hate the sin.” I actually don’t like this phrase. It comes off as bit too self-righteous—as if we are standing over here in all our holiness and loving all those other sinners over there. At least, that’s how the phrase sounds when gay people hear it.

Instead of love the sinner and hate the sin, how about love the sinner, hate your own sin, and let’s pursue Christ together! That’s the texture of Christian love.

Reason 5: The Bible Hardly Talks about Homosexuality
It’s true that Scripture only mentions same-sex relations less than a dozen times. And for “verse counters,” this must mean that it’s not all that important. After all, the Bible mentions greed and the misuse of money in more than 2,000 passages! Why aren’t we more concerned about the abuse of wealth than we are homosexuality?

Certainly, we should care deeply about how we use our money. But we have to be careful not to determine the importance of something based on adding up all the verses that address it. There are several sins that the Bible rarely mentions, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t important.[6] We can’t just add up verses to determine how important a sin is. That’s not the way biblical ethics work. Some sins are mentioned much more frequently in the Bible because those are the sins that God’s people struggled with the most. Counting verses is not a good indicator of how much God cares about a particular issue.

Plus, the Bible frequently addresses sexual immorality in general, and the Judeo-Christian view of sex has always considered same-sex relations to be sexually immoral. So even if we went the verse-counting route, we’d still have a fair amount of verses to go on. But rather than adding up verses, let’s work hard to understand and obey the verses we do have.

Reason 6: Jesus Never Mentioned Homosexuality
This is true. Jesus never explicitly mentions homosexuality. And some people have understood this silence to mean he either doesn’t care about it or he probably would have affirmed same-sex relations. But this is reading way too much into Jesus’s silence. Here’s why:

First, Jesus was a Jew, and first-century Judaism was the context of his life and teaching. The topics debated with other Jews were always ones that were disputed within Judaism (like divorce or how to keep the Sabbath). But same-sex relations were never disputed within Judaism. Every Jew in and around Jesus’s day believed that same-sex relations were against God’s will. And this is probably why Jesus never mentions it. It wasn’t relevant for his specific, Jewish context.

Second, Jesus actually does mention “sexual immorality,” for example, in Matthew 15:19 where he says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts–murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Again, every Jew in Jesus’s day considered same-sex relations to be immoral based on the sexual laws in Leviticus 18. Even though Jesus doesn’t directly mention homosexual behavior, he does so indirectly.

Third, when Jesus does depart from a traditional Jewish sexual ethic, he doesn’t expand that ethic but tightens it in. For instance, divorce was debated within Judaism. Some Jews were strict while other Jews were more lenient. When we look at Jesus’s view of divorce, he held to a stricter view. Same with adultery. Many Jews believed that you haven’t committed adultery unless you actually slept with another person’s spouse. But Jesus tightens in the Jewish ethic: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Again, when Jesus does depart from a Jewish sexual ethic, he moves toward a stricter ethic not a more lenient one. Based on what Jesus does say about sexual ethics, there’s no evidence that he would have affirming same-sex relations if the question came up.

In sum, Jesus’s silence on homosexuality cannot be taken as indifference or affirmation. We must interpret Jesus within his first century Jewish (not our 21st century Western) context.

Reason 7: Isn’t This Just an Agree to Disagree Issue?
This argument isn’t so much an argument for the affirming view, but it’s often given by people who question whether non-affirming Christians should even care about this issue at all. Is it really a big enough issue for Christians to fight about and divide over? Can’t we all just agree to disagree—like the timing of the rapture—and not let this divide us?

Disunity is a serious issue. Christians should be concerned about it and should work toward unity. But calling sin righteousness is also a serious issue. Sexual immorality is a very serious issue. Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus shrug his shoulders at sexual sin and say: Well, there are different viewpoints on this issue, so let’s not make a big deal about it. Whenever same-sex relations are mentioned, they are treated as serious deviations from God’s will (Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:26; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

The Bible does talk about some ethical questions as “agree to disagree” issues. Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-9 mention some so-called grey areas that Christians can disagree on, but sexual sins aren’t one of them. Whenever sexual sins are mentioned, they are profoundly serious and nonnegotiable. I’m not saying that Christians should just assume that the traditional view is correct. I believe every Christian should consider the reasons for each view and weigh them against Scripture. But I also think that Christians should rightly handle God’s word on sexual sins. We can’t afford to throw up our arms and plead the fifth. Real lives are at stake. We have a duty to push people towards the holiness of Christ, for the good and joy of all people.

I don’t think the question of sexuality is an agree to disagree issue. Our God, who created us as sexual beings, has revealed to us His guidance on sexual morality. It’s up to use to obey it.

Reason 8: But Christians Don’t Care about Gluttony and Divorce
but want Ever Same-Sex Law is Enforced Vigorously
The last argument we’ll address isn’t really an argument. It’s more of a “Yeah, but…” type response. It doesn’t give any evidence for affirming same-sex relations; it simply points out that non-affirming Christians brush over other sins—like gluttony and divorce—so why should they care about same-sex relations?

Yes, it’s true, some Christians (certainly not all) have been lax in their view of gluttony and have ignored the wide-spread problem of unbiblical divorces and remarriages. There’s no excuse for this. We shouldn’t respond in turn with another “yeah, but…” We should acknowledge it. Own it. And repent from it. In fact, I would go so far to say that one of the blessings of the LGBTQ conversation is that it’s forced the church to reflect on its own sins and ask the question: “How can we be more holy in our marital and sexual lives?”

That said, there’s no logical or ethical or biblical reason why laxity in one area (gluttony or divorce) should encourage laxity in another (same-sex behavior). I can’t imagine Jesus looking at the church’s gluttony and divorce rate and saying, “Well, since you all have really dropped the ball by overeating and divorcing your spouses, I think it’s only fair that you lighten up a bit more on my Father’s sexual ethic.”

With the divorce question in particular, we should acknowledge that not every divorce is against God’s will. Jesus allows for divorce if there’s been sexual infidelity (Matt 5) and Paul says that if an unbelieving spouse leaves, the believing spouse is no longer bound to that marriage (1 Cor 7). While divorce is never encouraged, the Bible does make some allowances. But the same cannot be said of same-sex sexual behavior. There’s nothing in the Bible that views some types of same-sex behavior as permissible.

In short, we should respond to the What about Gluttony and Divorce response by taking the gluttonous log out of our own eyes, so that we can help others who are struggling with sexual (including same-sex) temptations.

Summary
As we reflect on the last two discussions, there are two wrong ways to read them. One, is to use them to go out and win an argument. We can never lose sight of the fact that we’re talking about real people with real lives. The biggest problem facing the church is not that it can’t win an argument, but that it doesn’t know how to love gay people well. At the same time, there is an ethical debate going on inside the church about same-sex behavior. And it’s important for Christians to know why some people believe the things they do. Indeed, it’s crucial for us all to know why we believe what we believe, not just that we believe it.

Another wrong way to read these chapters is to think that we’ve thoroughly dismantled the affirming position. I’ve only given you, in summary form, some of the main arguments; I haven’t given an exhaustive treatment of the affirming view. You need to know that most affirming Christians have read a ton of books and articles on issues related to sexuality and gender. They often come to their view after doing a lot of research. If you try to debate with them, you’re likely to get your clock cleaned.

So, I’d recommend that when you’re presented with these arguments and positions that you are, “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Try to understand why this person has taken the position they have. They may have a gay friend or relative who’s been hurt by Christians. And of course, it’s possible your friend is personally struggling with this temptation and is trying to convince themselves of these arguments.

Listen. Ask questions. Then tell them you’d like to pray and do some of your own research and get back to them. This is not only an honoring response, it’s a wise one. It allows the Holy Spirit to teach you what to say and how to say it when you next meet.

I would highly encourage you to keep working through these questions and doing more research on your own. Not so that you can win an argument. But so that you know why you believe what you believe.

What I want us all to walk away with is this: The historic, traditional Christian sexual ethic is not just traditional. It is indeed biblical. And we have good, credible reasons for holding onto this traditional ethic, even in the face of some modern pressures. Stay true to the Bible, but do so graciously.

Discussion Questions:
Due to the theological nature of Discussions 4 and 5, we would recommend going through the following questions with a pastor or someone trained to talk about the theological nuances of homosexuality.

  1. Which of these popular arguments surprised you the most and why?
  2. Which of these arguments have you heard before and did not feel prepared to answer?
  3. Do you disagree with any of our responses to the affirming arguments? If so, explain your disagreement.
  4. What other popular arguments have you heard that weren’t addressed in this discussion?
  5. Discuss how you might share your beliefs on what the Bible says regarding homosexuality with someone who is affirming (approving of the identity and practice of homosexuality) using at least one of the arguments listed.
  6. Do you believe it is helpful to try to understand the “other side’s” point of view? Or are you fearful that empathy will be interpreted as acceptance? Discuss ideas for gracefully making sure an affirming person knows you love them, but doesn’t get the impression that by your kindness you’ve accepted this argument.
  7. Share what words, facial expression, tones of voice, and posture may hinder or help your communicating both grace and truth.

Further Reading:
For a more thorough response to some of the affirming arguments mentioned in Discussions Four and Five, please see the following books:

Sam Allberry, Is God Anti-Gay? And Other Questions about Homosexuality, the Bible, and Same-Sex Attraction  (The Good Book Company, 2013).

Kevin DeYoung, What the Bible Really Teaches about Homosexuality (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015)

Preston Sprinkle, People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015)

For a book that contains scholarly arguments for both affirming and non-affirming views, see:
Preston Sprinkle (ed.) Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016)

How following Jesus works in real life.

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[1]. www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/julyweb-only/7-14-53.0.html

[2]. This is the title of Cornelius Plantinga’s excellent book on sin: Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996).

[3]. Justin Lee, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate (Jericho Books, 62).

[4]. www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/orientation.aspx

[5]. www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/number-50-fall-2016

[6]. For instance, bestiality and incest aren’t mentioned very often, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t that bad. I use these examples with hesitation,
since they are sometimes compared to homosexuality—as if they are the same kinds of sins. I would recommend using much caution if you refer to incest and bestiality in the same sentence (or conversation!) as homosexuality so as to avoid unintended association.

 

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Discussion Four: How Affirming Christians Interpret The Bible Differently
Posted by Clare

(This is the forth in a series of eight readings and discussion questions, that make up “Leading Your Church to be as Gay-Friendly as the Bible Teaches.”)

by Dr. Preston Sprinkle[1]

gayfriendly_dis4

If we were having this discussion 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, it would have sounded odd that affirming Christians are making biblical arguments for their view. Back then, there were are two general positions: One that used the Bible and another that didn’t. Most Christians thought that if you simply read the Bible, you’d clearly see that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior. End of story. No debate.

Regardless of whether you think the Bible is clear on this issue (I actually think it is), there are a growing number of Bible-believing, even conservative, Christians who now hold to an affirming view of homosexuality. The debate is no longer about what the Bible says; it’s about what the Bible means.

Now here’s the thing. Even if you are 100% convinced that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior, it’s still very important for you to know, wrestle with, and even consider the affirming arguments. After all, disagreement isn’t the same as refutation. And you can’t refute an argument you don’t understand.

There’s a second important reason to have at least a basic understanding of these arguments. Affirming Christians often say that non-affirming Christians are close-minded to new ideas and new evidence. (A charge, by the way, that your teenage children or grandchildren are inclined to believe as well.) And, unfortunately, there’s some truth to this. We Christians haven’t always done the best job at genuinely listening to and understanding other views. But we need to. We need to show that we don’t just hold to a view because it’s all we’ve ever known. We hold to it because we’ve considered other views and found the view we hold to be the biblical

In this discussion, we’ll seek to understand some of the main biblical reasons why some Christians affirm the sanctity of consensual, monogamous, same-sex relations. In Discussion Five, we’ll consider some other popular arguments for this position. Most of the biblical arguments have to do with the biblical prohibitions against homosexual behavior found in Leviticus 18:2 and 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:9-10. ( We will call them The Big Five.)[2] We’ll start with the Old Testament then move on to the New Testament.

Old Testament Prohibitions
The Old Testament doesn’t say a whole lot about same-sex behavior. But there are two laws in Leviticus that clearly condemn it: Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13:

“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” —Lev 18:22

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death;
their blood is upon them.” —Lev 20:13

Both verses condemn male same-sex sexual behavior.[3] So how do affirming Christians get around these two prohibitions of homosexual sex?

Reason 1: Old Testament Laws Are No Longer Binding on Christians
Some affirming Christians point out that these commands are in Leviticus—the Old Testament law—and that Christians are no longer under the Old Testament law. Sure, it was wrong for Israel to engage in same-sex behavior. But it was also wrong for Israel to eat pork, trim their beards, and gather sticks on Saturday. Christians, however, don’t need to abide by these laws. They were for Israel. And they’ve been fulfilled and done away with in Christ.

While this affirming argument can still be found on Google, most thoughtful affirming Christians don’t use it any more. It’s not a very good argument, and here’s why: Think about it. Just because some laws in the Old Testament are no longer binding on Christians doesn’t mean that no laws are. There are many Old Testament laws that are still binding on Christians, including several laws right here in Leviticus: Incest (Leviticus 18:6-18; 20:11-14, 17, 19-21), adultery (Leviticus 18:20; 20:10), child sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21; 20:1-5), bestiality (Leviticus 18:23; 20:15-16), theft (19:11), lying (19:11), taking the Lord’s name in vain (19:20), oppressing your neighbor (19:13), and many others—all right here in the same context as the same-sex laws.

Just because some laws aren’t binding on Christians doesn’t mean no laws are.

In fact, if you read Leviticus 18 you’ll see that this chapter deals almost exclusively with sexual immorality and 90% of those laws are prohibitions against sinful sexual acts committed by heterosexual people. And all the laws about sexual immorality are carried over into the New Testament—including the prohibitions about same-sex sexual behavior.[4] If Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are no longer applicable for Christians, you’d need to argue that adultery, incest, and bestiality are also no longer binding on Christians. Plus, if you look at what the New Testament says about homosexual behavior, you’ll see that its writers thought that Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 still held authority over Christians.[5]

Reason 2: The Old Testament Was Patriarchal
Another way in which affirming Christians deal with the prohibitions in Leviticus is to point out that sexuality at that time was profoundly patriarchal. To say that sexuality was patriarchal means that men were more valued than women, and women were seen as little more than sexual receivers and baby makers.

But what does all this have to do with the same-sex prohibitions in Leviticus? Well, some affirming Christians argue that the reason why men were forbidden from having sex with other men is because such an act would treat another man as a mere woman. In male same-sex intercourse, one man must act “like a woman” in the sexual act—receiving rather than giving. In a patriarchal culture, where women were viewed as property and much less valuable than men, such an act would be disgraceful.

There’s some truth to this argument and it should be mulled over and considered. It’s also growing in popularity, which means that your 16-year-old son might be more familiar with it than you are.

So was a low view of woman driving the same-sex prohibition? And if so, should we follow this command that’s inherently demeaning toward women?

There are two things to consider. First, while the Old Testament world was deeply misogynistic (i.e. it devalued women), the Old Testament itself is not. Now, to be honest, there are many laws and statements that seem to uphold men as more valuable as women, but when considered against the backdrop of the rest of the ancient world, the Old Testament is quite liberating toward women. Several women are held up as heroes of the faith and more courageous than men (Rahab, Ruth, Deborah, Abigail, etc.). Plus, the creation account of Genesis 1-2 makes the claim—and it was radical for that time—that women equally possess the image of God (Genesis 1), a status that most people believed was reserved only for kings. So, while the ancient world was misogynistic, it doesn’t seem that the Old Testament itself reflects the same degree of patriarchy.[6]

Second, and most importantly, there’s nothing in the actual text of Scripture (in Leviticus or elsewhere) which shows that the reason why men wouldn’t have sex with each other is because they shouldn’t act like “mere” women. Go read through Leviticus 18 and 20 for yourself. Or read through the entire book of Leviticus. There’s nothing in the actual text of Scripture which says that men shouldn’t have sex with other men because this would treat another man as a lowly, baby-making, kitchen-bound woman. The commands in Leviticus simply state in absolute and unqualified terms: Men shouldn’t have sex with other men. Affirming Christians who pump these commands full of patriarchal assumptions assume things about the text that’s not clearly there.

Reason 3: Same-Sex Prohibitions Were Really about Domination and Exploitation
Another point sometimes raised by affirming Christians is that consensual, monogamous, same-sex relations didn’t exist in the ancient world. Sure, it was common for masters to have sex with their male slaves, older men to have sex with younger teenage boys, or victims of war to be raped by their male conquerors. But these are acts of sexual exploitation, not consensual love.

So are the prohibitions in Leviticus only talking about exploitative same-sex acts (e.g. a master raping his male slave)? Or do they ban consensual same-sex acts as well?

The answer is both. Of course exploitative acts are forbidden. The Bible would never sanction a master raping his slave, or any other act of sexual violence. But there’s nothing in the biblical text that limits the prohibition to such acts of sexual exploitation. Again, don’t just believe me. Go back and carefully read the prohibitions. Do they mention masters or slaves or prostitutes or rape or older men having sex with teenage boys? The language of Leviticus simply says that men (not just masters, or older men, or victors of war) shouldn’t lie sexually with another male (not just slaves, or younger boys, or war victims). There’s nothing in the text or around the text that limits the prohibition to acts of exploitation.

Some affirming Christians say that the biblical text doesn’t need to specifically mention exploitation since every same sex relationship in the ancient world was exploitative. But this simply isn’t true either. For what it’s worth, we know very little about the sexual practices of same-sex relations in the ancient world. But the evidence we do have is somewhat diverse. Sure, we have evidence of exploitative same-sex relations, but we also have evidence of consensual relations as well.[7] So we can’t just assume that all relationships back then were abusive. Some were, but some weren’t. And Leviticus doesn’t limit its same-sex prohibitions to abusive acts. All types of male same-sex behavior are condemned.

In short, if you look at the text and study its historical context, there’s no evidence that Leviticus was only prohibiting certain types of same-sex behavior.

Reason 4: The Sin of Sodom Was Not Really Homosexuality at All
Before we leave the Old Testament, we need to mention the story of Sodom (Genesis 19). As you may recall, a couple of angels show up to Lot’s house in the city of Sodom and the men of the city mistake the angels for men. After trying to have sex with the two angels, the men of the city are struck with blindness as divine punishment for their evil attempt.

Some Christians point to this passage as clear evidence that God condemns homosexual behavior. However, it’s important to notice that what’s happening in Genesis 19 is not consensual same-sex love; it’s attempted sexual violence—like an ancient version of modern-day prison rape. If a man in prison rapes another man, it’s usually not because the perpetrator was gay. It’s an act of domination and power. Likewise, the men of Sodom were trying to gang-rape Lot’s guests. If we’re going to examine the text fairly, in this case, exploitation is the issue. The men of Sodom were not courting Lot’s guests, bringing them flowers and asking them out for a romantic stroll under the moonlight. Consensual same-sex love is not the focus; sexual violence is.

Now it’s true that if the men of Sodom had gone ahead and raped the two men (or angels), they still would have violated Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. But it’s important to stay focused on the main point and the main sin. Consensual same-sex love is nowhere to be found in Genesis 19, and yet consensual same-sex love is the pressing ethical question facing the church. To use the Sodom story as evidence that God prohibits consensual same-sex love is probably not the best use of this text. And, for what it’s worth, whenever the Bible refers back to the sin of Sodom, it never mentions homosexual behavior.[8]

Because many of us grew up believing the sin of Sodom was homosexuality, it would be helpful for you to re-read that story and wrestle with whether it has relevance for modern day consensual same-sex relations. I personally think that affirming Christians have a better handle on the Sodom story than some non-affirming Christians do. Consensual same-sex relations are not in view. The point is, we should be extra cautious in racing to certain passages to find support for our view. We need to step back and think through how we’re interpreting the Bible and how we’re applying it to this discussion.

New Testament Prohibitions
Three passages in the New Testament prohibit same-sex behavior. The most important is Romans 1:

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. —Romans 1:26-27

The other two times homosexual behavior is mentioned is in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. —1 Corinthians 6:9-10

[U]nderstanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine. —1 Timothy 1:9-10

These passages seem rather clear. So how do affirming Christians interpret them? Again, it’s important to make sure we actually listen to and try to understand these arguments. Listening doesn’t mean agreeing. But you can’t disagree until you actually understand what it is you’re disagreeing with.

Reason 5: It’s Exploitation—again!
One of the most popular affirming interpretations for these New Testament passages is the same “exploitation argument” we saw in the Old Testament. Again, some say that the only type of same-sex relations that existed in the ancient world—including the Greco-Roman world of the New Testament—was exploitative. Rape, prostitution, and pederasty, which refers to older men having sexual relations with teenage boys.

Our two-fold response to this argument is same one we gave above. In short, look at the text and study its context.

As with the Leviticus passages, there’s nothing in these New Testament passages that mentions masters or slaves or prostitutes or rape or older men having sex with boys. In fact, there are several different Greek words for “pederasty” and none of them are used in these passages.[9] None of them actually occur in the New Testament. Of course, the biblical writers would have condemned pederasty, but they didn’t only condemn pederasty. All types of male-male sexual relations were considered to be outside of God’s will and design.

What’s fascinating is that several affirming scholars actually agree with this point. For instance, the late Louis Crompton, a self-identified gay man, was a brilliant scholar who wrote a 500-page book called Homosexuality and Civilization.[10] In it, he says:

According to [one] interpretation, Paul’s words were not directed at “bona fide” homosexuals in committed relationships. But such a reading, however well-intentioned, seems strained and unhistorical. Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstance. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any other Jew or early Christian.[11]

Bill Loader is the world’s foremost scholar on sexuality in ancient Christianity and Judaism, and he’s an affirming Christian. He’s published thousands of pages in eight books on the topic. Still, he rejects the argument that the only same-sex relationships in the ancient world were exploitative. Loader says that Paul’s words in Romans 1:26-27 “included, but [was] by no means limited to exploitative pederasty,” “sexual abuse of male slaves,” or “same-sex acts … performed within idolatrous ritual contexts.”[12] And again: “It is inconceivable that [Paul] would approve of any same-sex acts if, as we must assume, he affirmed the prohibitions of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as fellow Jews of his time understood them.”[13]

The idea that New Testament writers were only prohibiting exploitative same-sex relations is neither biblically nor historically accurate.

Reason 6: Paul Condemns Having Sex Against One’s Own Nature
This argument is based on Romans 1:26-27, where Paul says, “For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature.” Some affirming Christians argue that God is only condemning heterosexuals who have abandoned their natural desire for the opposite gender and pursue sexual relations with the same gender. In other words, the “nature” Paul’s referring to is their natural sexual orientation. Straight people shouldn’t have gay sex.

This interpretation, however, doesn’t follow what Paul is actually saying. He does not say “contrary to their nature,” but “contrary to nature” (the Greek para physin). Paul is not saying some people left behind their innate heterosexual urges to pursue homosexual partners for whom they felt no innate desire. Rather, he’s saying that some people have gone against the Creator’s design (opposite sex relations) to pursue sexual relations with members of their same sex.

In fact, the phrase “contrary to nature” was often used by ancient philosophers and moral teachers who believed that same-sex sexual relations were wrong. And there’s no evidence that they were believed to be wrong simply because such relations went against one’s own personal sexual orientation. Rather, these writers—including Paul—believed they were wrong because same-sex relations goes against the way humans have been created, even if some people want to have sex with someone of the same gender.

In short, Paul’s phrase “contrary to nature” essentially means “contrary to the way God has designed humans.”

Reason 7: The Real Problem was Excessive Lust
A similar affirming argument says that the reason why same-sex relations were condemned is because Paul considered them to be the result of excessive lust. That is, straight men got bored with having sex with women, and out of their lust, explored new and kinky territory with other men.

So, the previous argument focuses on the types of same-sex relations. This argument focuses on the reasons why men were having sex with other males. Both arguments are trying to distinguish between same-sex relations back then and same-sex relations today.

If you look at Romans 1, you could see where they get this. Paul says that men “were consumed with passion for one another” (Romans 1:27), which sure sounds like lust. But pay close attention to what Paul is writing. Is lust the reason why these relations were wrong?

No, Paul doesn’t say this. If you look at the broader context, Paul’s point is that men departed from their Creator’s design by having sex with other males. Of course there’s passion and desire involved. That kind of goes hand in hand with any sex act—gay or straight! (Could any couple have sex and not be “consumed with passion for one another?”) But the passion or lust is not the reason why Paul says homosexual sex is wrong.

Discussion Questions:
Due to the theological nature of Discussions 4 and 5, we would recommend going through the following questions with a pastor or someone trained to talk about the theological nuances of homosexuality.

  1. Which of these biblical arguments surprised you the most and why?
  2. Before reading this discussion, which of these arguments have you heard and did not feel prepared to answer?
  3. Do you think the Sodom story (Gen 19) is relevant for thinking about consensual, same-sex relations? Why, or why not?
  4. What other biblical arguments have you 
heard that weren’t addressed in this discussion? (Keep in mind that we’ll tackle more general arguments in the next discussion.)
  5. Discuss how you might share your beliefs on what the Bible says regarding homosexuality with someone who is affirming (approving of the identity and practice of homosexuality) using at least one of the arguments listed.

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[1]. Discussions Four and Five were written by Dr. Preston Sprinkle. Preston has written several books and articles on sexuality and gender, including the recent People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is not just an Issue.

[2]. They are often called The Big Six, because Genesis 19:1-10 is often included. However, as you’ll see below, I don’t think this passage is as relevant as some think.

[3]. Female same-sex relations aren’t mentioned in this text, or anywhere in the Old Testament. The only place they are mentioned is in Rom 1:26. The Old Testament never mentions or prohibits women from having sex with women. In fact, it’s only mentioned once in the entire Bible: Romans 1:26. Female same-sex relations are rarely (perhaps never) mentioned outside the Old Testament during this time either. The first clear reference we have of lesbian relations comes in the writings of the 7th–6th century BC poet Sappho. So the Old Testament is not alone in its silence about female homoeroticism. Perhaps romantic love between women didn’t exist in the Old Testament world, or, more likely, they were kept secret. Either way, it would be unnecessary for Leviticus to prohibit something that wasn’t being practiced or was simply unknown.

[4]. The only possible exception is Leviticus 18:19 which says that a man shouldn’t have sex with his wife while she is menstruating. Some people say that this law is no longer binding, but I’ve never actually seen a good argument that shows why it’s totally okay for a husband to have sex while his wife is menstruating. But there’s nothing in the Bible that tells Christians that after Jesus’ resurrection, they can go ahead and make love to their wives while they’re menstruating.

[5]. In fact, Paul describes and prohibits homosexual behavior by using a Greek word (arsenokoites, in 1 Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:9) that appears to have been created directly from the Greek translation of Lev 20:13. Therefore, we have evidence from the New Testament that the same-sex laws of Leviticus were still binding on Christians.

[6]. See Paul Copan’s book Is God a Moral Monster (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011). He does a great job looking at the seemingly harsh treatment of women
in the Old Testament against the background of the ancient world.

[7]. See Preston Sprinkle, “Same-Sex Relations,” in Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Postbiblical Antiquity, Vol. IV (ed. Edwin Yamauchi and Marvin Wilson; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2017).

[8]. See Isa 1:10-17; 3:9; Jer 23:14; Matt 10:5-10. Some think that Jude 7, which mentions the men of Sodom going after “strange flesh” (sarkos heteras), supports the traditional interpretation. But in the context, “strange flesh” refers not to people of the same sex, but to angels—the ones whom the Sodomites were seeking to rape. The phrase “strange flesh” actually means “other flesh” and ironically contains the Greek word heteras from which we get heterosexual. If homosexual relations were what Jude meant, it would have made much more sense for him to say “same flesh” not “other flesh.”

[9]. The Greek word paiderastes was widely used to refer to “the love of boys,” as was paidophthoros (“corruptor of boys”) or paidophtoreo (“seducer of boys”). Another pair of Greek words, erastes and eromenos, were often used to describe the older man (erastes) and his boy-lover (eromenos). Again, none of these words are used when the New Testament prohibits same-sex relations.

[10]. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003).

[11]. Ibid., p. 114.

[12]. The New Testament on Sexuality (Attitudes Towards Sexuality in Judaism and Christianity in the Hellenistic Greco-Roman Era; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 325.

[13]. Ibid., p. 322.

 

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