“Mr. De Graaf, I understand what the Bible says, but what do you say to people who are gay, love each other and want to commit their lives to each other in marriage? Didn’t Jesus say we should love others and want for them, what we want for ourselves? Besides, how can that be wrong if that’s the way God wired them?”
On my recent teaching trip to Europe with four Christian college seniors, this question regarding homosexual marriage came up in light of President Obama’s recent statements on the subject. In an interview with ABC News he even invoked the Golden Rule, “It’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.”
This blog isn’t political or a thorough discussion of the homosexual issue. Neither were the guys on the trip advocating gay marriage, but were searching for a more thoughtful, yet biblical way to dialogue with those who are. So, here’s how I believe followers of Jesus ought to frame this and similar discussions when what is being advocated seems to be clearly at odds with the Bible.
I know what the Bible says, but…
To begin with, there is a particular phrase and a word that should never be used in this combination by Christians; “I know what the Bible says, but…” Using the word but implies that what follows the but, has equal or greater weight than the Bible. I hear people say it all the time, “I know what the Bible says about forgiveness, but…” and “I know what the Bible says about creation, but…”
In all fairness, if the Bible truly isn’t clear about a particular teaching, then a but may be appropriate if there is equally strong biblical evidence that “appears” to support a contradictory position. Then it would be better that we say, “I know what the Bible says and it also says…” However, but should never be followed by our, or anyone else’s opinion, only God’s. This treatment preserves the preeminence of the Bible in all matters it addresses.
What brought this discussion up was our reading together of the following verses relating to homosexuality.
“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” Leviticus 20:13
“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” Romans 1:26-27
“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men.” I Corinthians 6:9
So, guys whether you and I personally like the biblical position on this issue, do you think the Bible is ambiguous regarding God’s prohibition against gay sex? Here’s the first principle for framing any discussion on moral or spiritual issues. The Bible trumps man’s opinion.
Keeping First Things First
“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:37-39
Most of us can quote this passage in our sleep. But here’s the point: The first and greatest command is not love your neighbor. It’s love God above all else. But, what exactly does it mean to love God? Next week’s blog will address that issue more fully, but Jesus made it really clear that one of the primary ways we love God, is to obey God.
“If you love me, keep my commands.” John 14:15. Again in John 14:21 he says, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” John 14:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 7:21 Jesus said it over and over until he was blue in the face. The second principle is this; loving others cannot be done at the expense of disobeying God.
But, is there really a tension here? Is obeying God, really not loving others? I don’t think so, but it will feel that way to those who are disobedient. It sometimes even feels unloving to me. But, to say we don’t agree with God is the same thing as saying to him, “I think I have a better idea that perhaps you, God haven’t thought of.” Really? I’m not sure I could think of a more arrogant statement. “I don’t understand why God says…,” is an intellectually honest and more heartfelt statement/question. But, I have a better idea is arrogant and a sin.
God condemns virtually all sexual sin equally
So, I said to the guys, “Let’s apply this to the homosexual issue. Are there ways we can both obey God and try to be sympathetic to the dilemma of being gay?” Let me say right up front that I do not think the Bible teaches that simply being gay is a sin. But, it does clearly prohibit gay sex. And if we’re really honest, we heterosexual Christians tend to rank homosexuality as a greater sin than heterosexual, sexual sins. The thought of adultery outside of marriage is not as repulsive or sinful in our hierarchy of sins, as homosexuals having sex. I don’t think we can prove that from the Bible. Just read Lev. 20:10-16. God lists six heterosexual sexual sins that are so grievous in his eyes that they deserve death, including adultery. I Cor. 6:9 lumps all sexually immoral sins together as “Class A felony sins”. For reasons known only to God, he ranks sex outside of marriage, both heterosexual and homosexual, as equal sins.
So years ago I met with a homosexual Christian, who I considered to be a brother in Christ, who’s goal was to be celibate. I told him, “You and I have this in common – we both are lusters. My occasional lust for someone other than my wife is no lesser a sin than your lust for men. And, if I ever actually have sex outside of my marriage it will be no lesser a sin in God’s eyes than you having sex with a man.” He appreciated the fact that I somewhat understood his struggle.
However, I don’t share this common ground with homosexuals I’ve met who claim to be Christians, but have fully surrendered and embraced the homosexual lifestyle, including sex. But, the same is true of people who say they’re Christian but have given up the struggle with the heterosexual sins of pornography, or fornication (sex outside of marriage). In fact, followers of Jesus ought to find more in common with a celibate Christian homosexual than with a sexually active, unmarried, Christian heterosexual college student.
Finally it’s both helpful and humbling to remind ourselves that as serious as sexual sins are, Jesus had just as much or more to say about the sins of hypocrisy, pride, unbelief, the misuse of wealth and failing to care for the poor.
But, that’s just the way God wired me
We’ve all heard, the “But that’s just the way God wired me, so how can it be wrong?” argument. My answer to another gay guy I once met with was, “Sam, that’s not the way God wired you! Because of the fall and sin’s affect on the human race, that’s the way we are, but that is not what God intended for humans. If you had a brother-in-law who had an anger issue and beat your sister, would you honestly accept the “that’s just the way I’m wired, argument?” I already admitted I’m a natural born, heterosexual luster, but God didn’t make me that way. It’s sin!
In fact, every negative command in the Bible is there to curb and correct the way we are. God expects those of us who have been born again by the Holy Spirit to rise above the way we are, to live the way he designed us to be, holy and righteous and pure. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we’ll never be perfect, but we can do better! “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Romans 8:5
“You heterosexual Christians have marriage as an option if you are in love with someone. Why can’t we?” And, it’s with this argument that I have the most sympathy. However, for all recorded history, in every culture and in all of scripture, marriage has always been defined as a union between a man and a woman (and sometimes to more than one woman). To attempt to redefine it to be something else would be the equivalent of a movement for calling welfare, wages. Everyone knows that welfare, or unemployment insurance isn’t the same as wages, which is pay for actually working. While I sympathize with welfare recipients who may want to dignify unemployment pay, it’s unfair and inaccurate to those who work for wages to simply re-brand the term to do so.
I personally believe this is the primary reason gays and lesbians are pushing so hard for the term marriage and want no part of calling it a “civil union”. All the legal rights of marriage could be accomplished with a civil union. But, they need the word marriage. The very word would legitimize their relationship and because sex is implicitly part of God’s design for marriage, being “married” would have God sanctioning homosexual sex. As a human and a Christian, I sympathize with gays that neither marriage nor sex is available to them. Nevertheless, our well intentioned attempts to love them can never be done at the expense of disobeying God. That’s the danger of loving others too much.
At the outset I said this blog was not intended to be a full blown discussion of the homosexual/marriage issue. But, Christians have not always framed the discussion well. At times, we’ve been shrill and hateful. This is where we’ve loved too little, not too much. And, today Christian young people are so into fairness and love that unless we do a better job of framing the issue with grace, we’ll lose them.
Question: Are there other thoughtful, biblical ways you’ve approached this difficult subject?
A Bonus Blog: This Saturday, as we think about Father’s Day, I’ll post a special blog, entitled 10 Ways to Love Your Children.
Following Jesus in Real Life