The issue of homosexuality has driven some mainline churches to schism. Witness the outcry in the Anglican community over the elevation of a gay Episcopal priest to bishop. I found one of the better biblically based defenses of the traditional or conservative viewpoint in the below sermon delivered by a Presbyterian pastor in 1990. Also see Same Sex Marriage,Yea or nay?
1 Corinthians 6: 9-11
If abortion is the most divisive moral issue in America today, homosexuality is the most confusing. It raises the most basic questions about how our sexual identity and our sexual relationships apply to God’s truth regarding love, goodness and happiness.
In the short time we have, I want to attempt two things: first, to describe the Christian approach to homosexuality, and second, to discuss a raft of questions that arise in applying this position in our contemporary society. It is my hope that this will be a simple word of truth on an issue that has become filled with half-truths and mis-truths and fear of the truth.
A Christian Position
Our national church spent several years studying the question of ordination for avowed and practicing homosexual people and passed a position paper at the 1979 General Assembly. The produced one of the finest and most balanced brief documents on the subject I have ever seen.
The position paper draws the conclusion that homosexuality is not God’s gift or God’s wish for humanity. The paper recognizes that there is a distinction between homosexual orientation (an inner feeling of same sex affection) and homosexual behavior (acting out that feeling). But, whereas homosexual behavior is a sin, homosexual orientation is not in itself sinful. An avowed and practicing homosexual person, therefore, cannot be ordained into an office of ministry (deacon, elder, pastor) of our church. It does not mean homosexual people cannot become members of a church by their faith in Christ, However, as with all Christians, to continue openly in sinful behavior without repentance does mean it is not appropriate to ordain avowed and practicing homosexuals into the ministry.
How do we come to this conclusion? A Christian response to this or any other issue of human life depends not on survey results to see how many people are doing it, but on the Word of God. Let me briefly list the prime texts on homosexuality so you can do your own work with this question. There are four groups of scriptures that help us build a position.
In Leviticus 18: 22 and 20: 13, and Romans 1: 26-27, homosexual behavior between consenting adults is addressed and judged by God as sin. The text in Leviticus calls homosexuality “detestable” – that is an insult to God’s creative design for human sexual relationships. In Romans 1: 26-27, Paul says that God “gave them up to …unnatural relationships.” When people turn away from God, everything else falls apart., even to the point of unnatural sexual relationships between men and men and women and women. Paul’s reference to what is “natural” does not apply to the culture or to the individual but to God’s created order as male and female, and the “natural” heterosexual relationship.
There are two texts that address homosexual rape in the Bible. The first is from Genesis 19. It tells of two visitors that go to Sodom and are given a place to stay by Lot. The men of the town come and ask that Lot release them that they may “know” them. This becomes a heinous sin and the city is judged by God. The second text dealing with homosexual violence is in Judges 19: 16-26.
In our text for today from 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11, and in 1 Timothy 1: 9-10, Paul includes homosexuality in a list of sins that keep us from inheriting the kingdom of God. The Greek words used by Paul refer to the passive and active roles of homosexual behavior. It is important to note that homosexual behavior is no greater a sin or no lesser a sin than others on Paul’s list, which include greed, pride, jealousy and deceit. My guess is that none of us escapes his list.
In the above texts, considerable effort has been taken by some biblical scholars who want to defend the propriety of homosexual behavior to dispute the applicability of each of these texts to homosexuality, as we understand it today. For example, the debate on the Sodom text springs from attempts to interpret it as a reference to the sin of inhospitality rather than homosexuality. But, I do not see how any reading of Genesis 19 can avoid its clearly sexual dimension. The men want to “know” his guests — a term frequently used (especially in Genesis) for sexual relations. Lot’s protection of his guests goes so far that he offers his virgin daughters to the men instead, that they may “know” them. And Jude 7 refers to the sin of this passage as sexual perversion.
But even if we granted that all these texts were inadequate as a reliable biblical guide to judge homosexuality a sin (and I do not think we can honestly do that) we are still left with no text in scripture that presents homosexual relationships in a positive vein. And, even more important than all of these specific texts on homosexuality, we have Genesis 1 and 2 in which we discover God’s holy intentions for all sexual relationships.
Here is the norm against which those other texts are written and this text explains why all references to homosexuality in the bible are condemning rather than supporting. In Genesis 1 we are taught that God creates us, male and female. God intends us to be fruitful and multiply and sexual differentiation is essential to that task.
Genesis 2 tells us that Adam was alone, without another who was like him. And so God makes woman from man’s rib. They are therefore different but of the same substance. There is an incompleteness until we are not just united but reunited with this other who is like us in essence but different in form.
The one way this reunion takes place is in the sexual union — “becoming one flesh.” Because sexual relationships create an indissoluble and permanent bond, heterosexual marriage is the only justifiable setting for sex in God’s eyes. It is the one place we can be naked before the other sex and not be ashamed. In Mathew 19: 1-12, Jesus reaffirms God’s intention for heterosexual intercourse, enduring marriage between husband and wife, and affirms godly celibacy for those living outside the marriage covenant.
This is why the biblical list of sexual sins goes so much beyond homosexual relations as wrong. Any relationship outside the bond of marriage is less than God’s intention and design and therefore ultimately distorted and harmful.
How Can We Apply This View in Today’s Society?
Now, as I prepared this sermon and came to this point I realized that to state the case that homosexual behavior is a sin in God’s eyes is only half the task. I think we are all asking: How can this view be applied in society today when we are called to show God’s unconditional love and God’s redeeming mercy to all believers? Think about these questions with me.
How Do We Relate with Homosexual People?
Western civilization does not have a good record for its treatment of homosexual people throughout history. The most modern expression of this sad history has been called “gay bashing.” We all need to hear and live by the distinctive message of the Christian faith that makes such ugly treatment “detestable” to God!
We are all made in God’s image and we are all of exalted worth in god’s eyes. (Genesis 1:27) No other philosophical system or religion makes this claim. It is not a claim that can be supported by logical arguments. Economists are likely to measure people’s worth by their usefulness (are they productive or wealthy?). Moralist are likely to measure people’s worth by their morality (do they live up to our values?). Provincials measure others by their likeness (racial boundaries). But, God tells us everyone is of exalted worth in his eyes. We must treat every human being with the respect and honor that their created dignity deserves.
How Do We Not Sound “Holier Than Thou?”
Many people will cringe at the thought of calling homosexuality a sin as if it implies a greater judgment to the homosexual person than it does to the heterosexual person. But, when we address moral issues, we all need to be reminded that everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Genesis 3, Romans 3: 23)
If homosexual practice is a sin, we need to be clear that it is one of many sins, and not more sinful than other sins. Especially in the area of sexuality, we all fall short of God’s intentions and design. There is no room for pretending that we are holier than anyone else when we discuss sexual sins.
Can People Be Persuaded to Become Homosexuals?
Can people be influenced toward homosexuality? Is it dangerous to promote the gay lifestyle? Should society normalize homosexual relationships so that everyone so can freely express themselves in this manner?
In answering this question I found more diverse claims to the “truth” than with any other related question. I have read scholarly and scientific documents this past week that say homosexuality is an “inborn trait”. And I read scientists who say it is “a learned orientation.” This not only reveals the lack of information on homosexuality but also that “science is not objective” and we can choose those who support our views.
Let me tell you what I have come to believe. I do not believe there is one “homosexual identity.” Therefore I believe it is a tragedy when the gay community encourages young people to come out of the closet and declare themselves gay whenever they feel same sex-affections.
It seems to me that we would be better to talk in the plural about “homosexualities.” There are some people who are developmentally attracted to the same sex, for a while, and then they grow out of it. There are some people who are situationally attracted to the same sex, as in the military or prison or a close athletic team, and they grow out of it. And there are some people who feel that homosexual orientation so strongly all through life that they don’t believe they can ever shake it. But, it is a great disservice to young people in general to freeze their sexual feeling forever with an identity of being homosexual in the name of honesty, as if all the evidence is in!
Scripture tells us homosexual behavior is a contradiction of God’s created order. And we are warned about our influence on the lives of the impressionable. My fear at this point is that any talk of homosexuality as normal an merely an “alternative lifestyle” without any value as good or bad will only encourage those who are looking for one more new and novel sexual expression. I believe that some people seem to have an unchangeable orientation. But I also believe that there are many people in the middle of a spectrum of sexual feelings who are very impressionable, and they can choose their sexual behavior.
If I Didn’t Choose It, How Can It Be a Sin?
There is another spin-off to the unresolved issue of causation that goes like this: “If I didn’t choose to be gay, it is simply my natural way of relating, how can you call it a sin? It’s not fair!”
Is something sinful only if we consciously choose it? How can we know what is really “natural?” Besides, if we agree with this logic, we will have opened a new door to justify all sorts of sin.
When I lived in the Philippines, a man came to see me about his marriage. He told me he was currently having sexual relations with five other women besides his wife. And in all, he had been in such relationships with around 30 women. I’m not sure what he expected me to say. It looked as if he wanted some applause — but I could only ask him how he could call that good, let alone Christian. His answer was ingenious. He said: “It can’t be a sin, because it is so natural. I think God made me to need to love many women at the same time.” In other words: “Don’t blame me, God made me that way!”
What determines what is “natural” or “normal?” If I am naturally greedy, is that “ok?” Is there no standard outside myself to measure “normal?” Sure there is! It is God’s Word for issues of faith and morals, not surveys and theories. And when Paul talks of men and women giving up the “natural” for the “unnatural” in Romans 1, he is referring to the created order of God’s intentions when we were created male and female and meant for each other!
Isn’t Sexual Activity Essential for Human Beings?
Here is another question that comes when people hear that the Bible counsels only one life-style to Christians who are not in a life-long covenant relationship with someone of the opposite sex: godly celibacy. At that, people groan and cry: “But that is too cruel and unusual punishment!”
I believe this groan comes because we have all been unwittingly convinced by our secular society that the one essential ingredient for human fulltime is being sexually active. Sadly, we don’t even examine the thought. The Christian assumption is that the only essential element for fulfillment in life is a vital and personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Frankly, this may be the most shocking idea of this sermon for our sexually saturated society culture. But I want to challenge you to do some critical thinking about the lies that have been so cleverly imposed on us by our playboy society.
Can Love Be Truthful and Truth be Loving?
One more pressure comes to the Christian view toward homosexuality as a sin, and it comes from within our faith. We will all ask ourselves, “But isn’t the first calling of the Christian to be loving to others? And how can I be loving when I tell someone that their homosexual behavior is sinful?”
I think this is an expression of the powerful spirit in our society to be tolerant toward one another more than truthful. Alan Bloom’s blockbuster book, The Closing of the American Mind, documents how we have forsaken the quest for truth in order to uphold the social value of being tolerant. We have come to believe that the worst social sin we can commit is intolerance. And in order to be accepting and tolerant we must shelve our moral convictions and dismiss any thought of what is really true. Is there no way we can speak the truth without being told that we are unloving? Is love only wishy-washy?
Actually, I am convinced that authentic love can only be shown through being truthful. Is it loving to someone who is drinking himself to death to pretend drinking is good? If someone likes the taste of rat poison, do we stand by and wish him well? Is it loving to condone anything someone wants even though it may hurt him or others?
I believe God’s love is inseparable from speaking the truth. In scripture, truth is in order to goodness, and goodness is in order to happiness. The truth will always have a note of judgment to it when we are not following the truth. It can look intolerant. But God came into the world to save sinners. There is no greater love than this that Christ laid down his life for us even while we were his enemies. Jesus was love incarnate, but he never avoided the truth. Remember his words to the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more.”
So, Is there No Good Word for Homosexuals?
Must we end in only hard words? No! Our text for today comes to a glorious conclusion. After naming all these ten sins, Paul reminds his readers that they “were” guilty of these sins. BUT — they “have been washed (cleansed), justified (forgiven) and sanctified (transformed) in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.” No sin is beyond grace, mercy and power that comes to us in Jesus Christ. He is the hope — for all of us!