The account of creation in Genesis is one passage of the Bible that is often used to argue against homosexual equality. Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. God created them male and female. For a man to be attracted to a man, or a woman to a woman, is an act of sinful rebellion against God’s design for us, therefore such people need to repent and change their behaviour before they can be saved. And if we do welcome them into the church, we can’t possibly allow them into positions of leadership or authority before they’ve either committed to celibacy or been ‘converted’ to heterosexual practice. Right?
Well…no, I don’t think it is.
I want to clarify my own thoughts and opinions about this, partly for the sake of integrity and partly to welcome the challenge of those who may feel differently. I don’t think I’m going to entirely please either side of the debate, but I want to be honest about where I’m ‘at’. So here goes.
Firstly… God didn’t make us to be gay.
It wasn’t part of our original design, it’s not how we reproduce and it’s not the way our bodies are made. His intention was for sexual relations to take place between a man and a woman. Homosexual attraction and homosexual relationships are an indication that somewhere along the line, something has gone wrong.
But hold on a minute. Let’s look a bit more closely at Genesis 1-3 and see what else happened that God didn’t intend. If you and I are going to argue against homosexuality because it wasn’t part of God’s original plan, then we must also acknowledge:
• That we should all be vegetarian (Genesis 1:29-30)
• We shouldn’t be alone (Genesis 2:18)
• We shouldn’t be wearing any clothes (2:25)
• Women shouldn’t experience pain and discomfort during child-birth (3:16)
• Men shouldn’t find providing food for themselves and their families a difficult, arduous task (3:17)
• We shouldn’t even understand the difference between good and evil (3:22)
It seems to me that whilst homosexual attraction is one indication that we’ve fallen, it’s one of many. The Bible repeatedly teaches us not to judge each other because we’re all sinful and only God can judge. If we insist, however, that some individuals need to change something as personal and fundamental to them as their sexual orientation before they can truly be accepted by God, then there are some pretty drastic changes that we all need to make: stop wearing clothes; stop eating meat; stop finding work difficult. In fact, unless you’re an extrovert nudist vegetarian living off a huge inheritance then you can’t possibly be right with God.
In the fallen, post-Eden world that we live in, surely the dial has been reset? After sin entered the world it simply wasn’t possible for us to get back to what God had originally intended. Or at least not in this life. Child-birth will always be hard. We’ll always feel shame and embarrassment about our naked bodies. And some people will always be gay.
Is it necessary then for gay people to suppress or inhibit their natural instincts? Most Christians nowadays understand that it’s generally not possible to reset or ‘heal’ homosexuality, but argue that those who have such urges should commit themselves to a celibate life, because gay sex is sinful. Is this right?
I’ve thought long and hard about this and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two ways of addressing the question: by the Word and by the Spirit. More specifically, by looking at what the Bible has to say about homosexuality, and (alongside this) by prayerfully allowing the Spirit of God within me to shape and direct my thoughts: essentially to do what Paul advises in Philippians 4:8 – ‘Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.’
Scripture doesn’t have very many references to homosexuality at all. It isn’t specifically mentioned once by Jesus, whereas greed, hypocrisy, envy and hatred are frequently lambasted. This alone should give us reason to stop and think. There are only four explicit references in the Bible; two in the Old Testament and two in the New.
Genesis 19: 4-8
Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”
Sodom was a deeply sinful, wicked place which was destroyed by God because He couldn’t find (in a city of many thousands) even ten righteous people living there. These verses have been used to show that the Sodomites’ homosexual urges are indicative of how sinful they were. That doesn’t sit right with me. Is homosexuality really the problem here? What these men want to do is commit gang rape. They want to break into another person’s house and force his guests to have sex with them. Furthermore, whilst the master of the house is horrified at the thought that his esteemed guests might be subjected to this, he seems entirely at ease with the prospect of his daughters being savaged and penetrated.
What is the problem here? What is it that offends us? Is it the fact that some of these people have homosexual urges? Or is it instead the rape, violence, mob rule and misogyny.
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13
‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.’
‘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.’
This would appear to be quite unequivocal. These are two of many laws and decrees that were given to the Israelites at a time when they were in exile, seeking the Promised Land and seeking to establish themselves as a distinct, recognised and respected ethnic group. There’s no escaping the fact that God did not want His people to engage in homosexual relationships at this time, and this should give all of us reason to pause: it does reinforce the fact that same-sex relationships are not what God originally intended and whatever conclusions we come to about this, none of us should be flippant or dismissive either in our own opinions or in our attitudes to those we disagree with.
There are a few thoughts I’ve had about these verses. Firstly, I’ve yet to come across a convincing argument as to why some of these Old Testament rules should still be followed rigidly whilst others can be ignored and over-looked. If it is detestable for two men to have sexual relations then shouldn’t we also be avoiding clothing made of two different kinds of material, or making sure that we don’t plant two different kinds of seed in the same field?
Secondly, if it is right for us to follow these commands about homosexuality, then presumably we should be doing everything that they tell us to, and in the case of Leviticus 20:13 that includes the punishment as well. We should be putting gays to death. No Christian worthy of the name would dream of trying to enforce this, yet it doesn’t seem entirely consistent to argue that we should adhere rigidly to the law but ignore the specified punishment.
Thirdly, and most importantly, we can’t forget what the New Testament teaches us about the law. The Old Testament law shows us just how far we fall short of God’s perfect standards because we can never hope to live up to them. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t really try, but as Paul says in Romans: ‘No-one will be declared righteous…by observing the law’. Why? Because in trying to do so we will not only inevitably fail, but we will also become competitive and judgemental towards each other in a way that won’t promote Christian love and unity. As Jesus replied to the law expert in Matthew’s gospel:
“‘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 neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
If we come across someone living in a homosexual relationship who is doing their level best to please the Lord by following these two commandments, is it really our place to tell them that they’re not right before God?
Romans 1: 26-27
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.
I think we fall into a trap when we take this out of context. We need to have some awareness both of the historical context, and also the holistic message of Romans. Remember 2 Timothy 3:16? ‘All Scripture is God-breathed…’. Note the very first word. All Scripture. Let’s not focus our Christian ideology on one or two verses that happen to chime with our own opinions.
I won’t go into much detail about the history, but suffice to say that first century Rome was a hot-bed of immorality, sexual and otherwise. Much of this wickedness is mentioned throughout the first chapter of Romans: evil, greed, murder, arrogance, ruthlessness… it’s likely that homosexual acts were one of the signs of moral deprivation, but they were one of many and they were carried out in an attitude of shameful decadence and reckless hedonism. Is it fair to equate this with same-sex relationships that are genuinely respectful, loving and committed?
Also, we cannot ignore the very first verse of Romans chapter 2 when thinking about this passage: ‘You therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgement on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgement do the same things.’
The use of the present tense is interesting. It’s not just that we did the same things. We do them! We are doing them. God’s wrath is also evident in our lives. As seen in Genesis 1-3, none of us live lives in keeping with His original intentions. We too, whether gay or straight, can be envious, boastful, arrogant…and sexually immoral. We all fall short! We confess our sins and rely on His grace. We will however put our own relationship with God at risk if we condemn others for the signs of His wrath in their lives, but choose to ignore those which are evident in our own.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10
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] nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
There is very little ambiguity here. For someone who is instinctively opposed to the idea that people in homosexual relationships cannot be included in God’s family, I find this the most challenging of the four references in Scripture. Paul states quite explicitly that ‘men who have sex with men’ will not inherit the kingdom. This is a reminder to me that, at the very least, I need to respect the faithfulness and resolve of my fellow-Christians who maintain a ‘traditional’ view on this: it’s not an easy stand to make and it’s not a popular one in contemporary society. I admire their courage and I need to acknowledge to them, and to myself, that I could be wrong.
There are a few observations and thoughts that I’ve had about this passage:
• Paul states his views unequivocally in other parts of his letters too: 1 Timothy 2:12 is a classic example: ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent’. Also 2 Thessalonians 2:9 – “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” There are few who would argue that these teachings should be literally applied in the developed 21st century world. All Scripture is divinely inspired, but surely if we believe that our Bibles are the living word of God then that implies that their truths can adapt and renew themselves according to the historical, social and cultural environment that they find themselves in. That’s what living things do.
• This verse appears to have been translated slightly differently over the years. The King James version has ‘fornicators’ instead of ‘sexually immoral’, (something that would no doubt concern many of us) and ‘abusers of themselves with mankind’ is used instead of ‘men who have sex with men’. An earlier version of the NIV states that it is ‘homosexual offenders’ who will not inherit. These subtle differences in translation are not conclusive, but I think we should at least consider them when making our minds up.
• Why only ‘men who have sex with men’? Why is there no mention of female same-sex relationships? If we’re going to insist on applying this literally then it’s only relevant for men. For women there is no problem.
• Elsewhere in his letters, Paul lists the type of behaviours that displease God: Galatians 5:19-21 and Colossians 3:5-9 are two such references. The more general reference to ‘sexual immorality’ is often used. These verses in Corinthians are the only ones that reference homosexuality. That doesn’t mean we ignore them, but it does perhaps point to the fact that we shouldn’t become too fixated on this one sparsely referenced issue.
• Again, the context of these verses shouldn’t be ignored. In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul’s overall purpose is to encourage the Corinthians not to take each other to court. Why would he include in this passage a list of behaviours that is displeasing to God? Maybe it is to remind the Corinthians that God is the only judge, and that they shouldn’t need to rely on earthly judges to settle their scores. Is it possible that some amongst the community of believers in Corinth were suing people who were involved in same-sex relationships? And is it possible that Paul’s message to the church was essentially…don’t worry about it. If they truly are ‘offenders’ or ‘abusers’, then God will know and He will judge accordingly. It’s not your job to do so, because you’ll almost certainly get it wrong.
It’s a false distinction, of course. The Spirit and the Word are mentioned together at the very beginning of the Bible and they work together throughout Scripture and throughout human history. There’s no essential difference between them. Our understanding of the Spirit comes from the Bible, but the Bible itself tells us that knowing the Word of God is more than just an intellectual exercise in reading, memorising and studying. When the Lord speaks in Jeremiah 31:33, He says (of the new covenant) that: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” If you and I have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Saviour; if we both read and listen to His words; and if we are prayerful and humble in our endeavours, then we should feel able to trust our emotions and instincts. It isn’t always necessary to be able to quote chapter and verse. His law is written on your heart. So what does your heart tell you? What does mine tell me?
It reminds me of close friends from years gone by who have committed their lives to God and loved Him sincerely, then been struck down by doubt, depression, loneliness and emotional breakdown because of the extreme guilt and confusion they felt about their sexual orientation. After difficult and painful journeys, these individuals have committed themselves to loving same-sex relationships. Who am I to judge? Who am I to tell them that their lives are unworthy of the Lord when I’ve experienced nothing of their pain and have turned a wilfully blind eye to the myriad ways in which my own life falls short?
It persuades me that one of the viewpoints often expressed in evangelical circles nowadays – that gay and lesbian people are welcomed and loved in the Church but, in order to be truly right with God (in order to be really loved) they must renounce same-sex relationships and live celibate lives – doesn’t sit quite right. When my wife and I got married I promised to love her unconditionally and unreservedly. You can’t enter into a truly loving marriage by saying - “In sickness and in health, from this day forward, for better or worse: BUT… after a few years have passed I expect you to have given up this… to have started behaving in this way… to have improved in this area. If you haven’t managed it then I might reconsider my position.” It just doesn’t work! When Jesus met people He loved them unconditionally. They knew that and because they knew it, some of them did change their behaviour. But you can’t start with the conditions and reservations: it’s not genuine love if you do.
It tells me that throughout history, some Christians have found themselves on the wrong side of the argument when they have sought to restrict other people’s rights and freedoms, not because of any immoral or criminal behaviour, but because of an unavoidable and unchangeable aspect of their identity. Many Christians believed that the Bible should have been translated from Latin, but some did not. Most believed that slavery should be abolished, but some did not. Most believed that education should be made available to all, but some did not. I’d like to be on the right side of the argument on this one.
And it helps to focus my mind, ultimately on the fact that God is love. And that if you love, you know God. Where there is hatred and fear, we can be confident that God is absent, but wherever there is love – real love – we can know that He is present. Who is more loving? The person who sleeps around and leaves a trail of hurt, confused partners in their wake? The married heterosexual who neglects their spouse, deliberately tries to undermine them, maybe is even unfaithful to them? Or is it the homosexual who loves their partner with self-sacrifice and commitment? It’s an easy answer as far as I’m concerned.
Homosexuality is not what God intended. Adam and Eve makes scientific, physiological, cultural and spiritual sense. But the extent of our Fall is unimaginably huge in its size and scope. The damage that has been done to humankind and to creation, from generation to generation, is tragic, immense and irrecoverable. That is, apart from the life and death of one Man. A Man whose life (and death) was all about one thing: love. One Man who loved the world so much that he put Himself through the most physically, spiritually and emotionally painful death that there has ever been. It wasn’t judgemental or conditional love, but one that was higher and wider and deeper than we could possibly comprehend.
So let’s try to love each other in the same way. Let’s not place restrictions or conditions or reservations on it. It’s not our place to judge and we’re very likely to get ourselves into a whole lot of trouble if we do. If we do this then I believe we’ll be living the lives that God wants us to, which will make all of us – according to the traditional meaning of the word – a lot more gay!