Thursday, April 26, 2012

Homosexuality: How do we respond? Part 3

Recently, I was asked if there is a place for Homosexual lifestyle to be affirmed within Christianity. This week, I’ve been sharing some of my thoughts on this issue. Tuesday I looked at the subject in relationship to our identity as people of the book and God’s design for sexuality. Yesterday, I looked at love and repentance. Today I want to look at sexual brokenness, identity, practical considerations, and witness. I’m adding practical considerations, because I think that we need to asses our situation and work from where we are at.

Let’s start with the issue of sexual brokenness. Here’s the question, “Aren't Homosexuals God's children?” Yes. Absolutely. Each person, homosexual or heterosexual (gay or straight), is created in the image of God. However, at the same time, each one of us is fallen. The bible makes clear that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God in Romans. It says in Isaiah “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way (Isa 53:6).” All creation was marred by the fall. Everyone is a rebel in need of God’s saving grace. And every area of our life is damaged by sin. I was asked “do we need to assume they (homosexuals) are sinners rather than variations of God's great creation?”  My answer is yes. Now that sounds cold, but let me fill in the dead air. That’s the case with every one of us as well. Think about this. All of us, gay and straight, have a fallen sexuality. Let me just take us straight men. We want to sow our oats. Have lots of sex with lots of women. Eventually we “settle down”, which is an underhanded way of saying, “we quit the race, and just “settled” on one person”. Like we knew we couldn’t keep at it forever, so we might as well get out when we’re ahead. All of us have a broken set of sexual desires.

The bible makes clear that every part of creation is groaning because of the fall. It says, when Adam and Eve rebelled, they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they fell, and all of their hopes, desires, and instincts; everything, was marred. And that extends to us. It’s the doctrine of original sin. So while we are God’s creation, made in the image of God, at the same time, that image is marred, we are all affected by sin. Our hopes, dreams, desires, are all marred and twisted. And therefore, straight or gay, our sexuality is marred. Why is it that straight men look at porn, and cheat on our wives, and on and on and on? Straight, not gay… Because everyone’s sexuality is broken in some way.

So just working through the main question, I would say no, there is no place in Christianity to affirm homosexuality. But there is no place in Christianity to affirm a straight couple sleeping together outside of marriage. However, while there is no place to affirm homosexuality, that does not mean we repress and shame. In love, we hold up the same message to everyone. You are a sinner, your need Christ. Turn to Christ. And then, on the basis of faith in Christ, call all to lay aside their sin, whatever that is. And remember, every day, everyone, even Christians, sin. Martin Luther (the man who started the reformation) noted that that we were simultaneously sinners and saints. We are recipients of the gospel… recipients of grace, yet we will sin till the day we day.  So, shame, no. Repress. Absolutely not! Call to repent, yes.

Now, here’s the thing. The church has an atrocious record (what do you expect of people who are sinners? Repentant sinners, but by no means perfected yet. At times Christians have been cruel, and unloving, and evil. And that was and is wrong. It is as sinful a course of action as you can find. There is a difference between saying something is sin, and being a jerk about it. And on top of that, let’s face it; most Christians don’t live as God calls us to live. We look far more like the culture around than like people who have responded to the grace of God with joyful obedience. Let’s all acknowledge our brokenness.

Now, while I’m here, “does everyone need to reproduce?” No. Paul was called to live as a celibate Christian. So have many others. A hero of the faith, John Stott, recently died. He was never married, and lived as a celibate man.

Also, “do Christians believe that they really aren't gay and just need to be saved”? I would say they are gay. Their desire is marred, just like my desire is marred. I’m not going to play that game. I think that only by Gods grace will their desires be changed, but currently, their desire is to be gay. All I can say is what I would say to an unmarried straight person. What are the boundaries of sexuality as the bible holds them forth? Glorify God by following them.

Now, this brings us to the subject of identity. Having grown up near Brattleboro VT, I have known a fair amount of gay people. When I was a kid, people used to cite some study that Brattleboro had the third highest per-capita percentage of homosexuals in the nation, after SF, and Northampton Ma. I’ve never looked up the numbers because it didn’t matter. Brattleboro was and still is a huge gay Mecca. When I was a teenager, the owner at the restaurant I worked at was gay, as were several of the staff, from the chefs, to the waiters, to interns. Later, when I was in college, I was friends with a guy that I worked with who is gay, and I’ve got a friend from home who is married to his partner.

One thing that I’ve often think is unwise is that those in the gay community identify themselves first and foremost as gay. I also think that we are doing those in the homosexual community a disservice by allowing them to see themselves only in light of their sexuality; “I’m a man who has sex with man, that’s what I am about”. What is going on in that is an idolatry of sex, in this case homosexuality. Martin Luther showed something interesting. He showed the way sin works is to create idols, counterfeit Gods if you will. He pointed out that the first commandment in the ten commandment is “"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”You shall have no other gods before me.” The second is, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them, (Exodus 20:2-5)”. Luther showed that to sin, in any way, you have to break commandments one and two. You place something else on the throne of your life. It becomes a “counterfeit God”. Whatever gives you that hope and joy in life, whatever sits on the throne of your life and names you, is a counterfeit God.

But here’s the thing, there is more to anyone than just their sexuality. There is a person in the West Wing, one of my favorite shows, and he’s a gay republican congressman, and he lectures one of the main characters about how there is more to him than who he sleeps with. I think when we see someone only on the basis of their sexual identity, we reduce the person. Are we doing them a favor in saying, this is who you are? Are we doing anyone a favor by over sexualizing the culture, saying, this is who you are, gay or straight?

And thinking about it this way, if all are sinners by nature, we all lie, cheat, steal, do little things that breaks God’s laws, would we want to encourage someone to identify their sin as the thing that drives and motivates them? “I’m Jonathan, I’m a liar, please celebrate that”.Also, lets keep in mind that we are more than able to be freinds with someone that is gay while not celebrating their lifestyle, and ecnourageing theri idolatry. There is a difference between a) unconditional acceptance of their lifestyle and unconditionally encouraging them to identify their sin as the thing that defines them; and b) liking them as a person and being friends with them. Jesus was known as a freinds of sinners. I think we should be to.

Now here’s the thing. I think we need to stop and address some practical considerations. The bible says ‘no way’ to affirming the homosexuality within the church. It’s a sin to be turned from, not something to be ‘celebrated’, and it makes clear that while homosexual sex as sin, grace is offered to all. Straight sinner and gay sinner are called to repent and be saved. But that’s the boundary within the church. As a church, for all the reasons I have listed, we can’t affirm their lifestyle, but in a secular society, I’m not sure where the boundaries are. Is it legitimate in a secular society for me to impose my morality on others?  Legislated Christianity? Legislated morality? The early church didn’t seem to do this. They lived in such a radically different way, that the world was attracted to them, and joined them. The sexual ethics of the early church were radically different in a world that was incredibly broken in terms of its sexual ethics. But that was inside the community. Outside, the culture was free to be as broken as it wanted to be. The churches duty was and is to guard the witness of its community.

Furthermore, and this is just practical, it seems to me that we should be working to guard the boundaries of the church because this is a done deal. Gay marriage will be the law of the land within 5-10 years. Many wiser than I have made a case that the church has already lost battle in the wider culture. And I wonder if it would be better if we just urged the state to offer some sort of civil union for all, and leave marriage for the church. I’m not sure. I think it might be. Allow the gay community to have the protections of civil union, but leave marriage for the church and religious institutions.

At the same time, if (as many argue) it’s a done deal, we should be thankful that the constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, and speech, which protects those who see it as a sin continue to be able to speak against it, and it protects us from being legislated out of existence.

Final section. Witness. The churches responsibility is to witness with grace. We cannot, must not, act in pride, anger, or from a position of “we’re better”. It’s only when we see ourselves, as people who have been shown the mercy of God, but are always going to have the tendency to sin, that we can have any credibility. It’s only when we are seeking the good of those around us, the good of the gays in our community, that we can say, “hey, God has something better for you”.

Since the sexual revolution in the 60’s, the bibles stance on sex have seemed outmoded to most of our culture. But yet, when you look around, you see that our families are in disarray, and kids are far more venerable than they used to, and you have to wonder, did the sexual revolution really free us, or enslave us in a different way? Personally, I think the fact that the church has all but capitulated to the sexual ethics of the world inside the church, the fact that the church has failed to hold up and follow Christ’s teaching on sexuality has damaged its witness. And why has it happened? Because we have also allowed sex to become an idol in our hearts at one time or another. And I’ve done it, and so have many in the church have done it, and the result is we’ve damaged our credibility, and dishonored our Lord. At that point, all we can do is repent, and seek God’s forgiveness, and then get our house in order, knowing that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1Johb 1:9) From there we seek to glorify God in our lives and urge others to do the same.

One last thought. At the end of the day, I’m with Keller. It all comes down to the gospel, and the issue of the cross and resurrection. If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn't rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” This should be our message to the world.  Figure out what you believe about Jesus and the resurrection. Is Jesus who he said he is, the Son of God risen from the dead? If he is, that changes everything. And if he’s not, that to changes everything.

Does this help. My hope is that as a pastor I can give you a framework in which to think through this biblically. Has it helped? I’d love to hear responses.


  1. Ok I will try to be as "PC" as possible lest I offend everyone. As we know God creates us "perfect each in his or her own way" or maybe it should "flawed in his or her own way". Since there are people born with "defects" or "otherly perfected", such as Down syndrome or even a missing or deformed finger, or a hemaphrodite, or too short or too tall; is there room for "being born this way" as lady...well you know who would say. In other words they don't "feel" gay, they were just born with the wrong equipment. They are attracted to other men because they feel they were born as a woman with the wrong stuff. I will be interested in your opinion on that. Im not sure but I think that in rare instances its possible.

  2. Here is my take. I think the issue lies in the fall. When Adam sinned, the image of God was marred in such a way taht our tendancies are bent and broken. I'm inclined to say to say that a man who was born a man was designed and meant to be a man. If he has an attraction to a man sexually, either as a gay man or as part of the transgendered community, what is marred is not the original design, but the the desires. So I would say, right equipment, wrong desires. That's my best take. At the root of my thinking on this is that all of our wants and desires are marred by the fall. Only Christ redeems them.