The ruling in San Francisco a few weeks ago has once again brought homosexuality in the public to the forefront. Should homosexuals be allowed to marry or not? Is it a civil rights issue or a state issue? Is homosexuality even wrong?
In Christianity many Christians are either shying away from the issue or becoming a bit too extremist (much like the abortion issue). While an extreme camp of Christians says that homosexuality is not a sin, on the far right people say one cannot be a homosexual and be saved. In the middle are people asking if we can really know or if it really matters.
Though in our modern confusion because of epistemic constructionism within morality deems that homosexuality isn’t a sin or, at best, we really can’t know, the Bible is very clear on the issue; the practice of homosexuality is most definitely a sin.
Astute readers will note that I said the practice of homosexuality and not homosexuality in general. Why is this? The most basic definition of homosexuality is “one attracted to one’s own gender.” In other words, a homosexual is one that happens to have an attraction to his or her own sex – this does not mean one inherently lusts after one’s own gender, but instead one has a preference for it.
Having a preference, Biblically, is not a sin. For instance, a married man still has a preference for women – he is attracted to women (not any one in particular, but the gender), if he were to lose his wife he would pursue another woman (assuming he got past the grief and was young enough), and he will still turn his head if a woman walks into his field of vision. This does not mean he has sinned, lusted, committed adultery, was unfaithful to his wife, or broke his marriage vows in any manner. If he is single, it still does not mean he has committed some form of sin – he is merely attracted to women.
Likewise, a homosexual male or female might have a preference for his or her own gender. He might notice when an attractive male walks into his field of vision. She might appreciate the beauty of another woman. In all this it is possible for them not to lust or commit sin.
The Bible does, however, forbid homosexual actions and lust. Often times people point to Leviticus and then to its surrounding verses in a mocking attempt to show that homosexuality was only forbidden in the Old Testament, under the Old Covenant. Instead of going into detail here, I want to deal with common objections to an orthodox Christian view of homosexuality:
1) Only Leviticus condemns homosexuality and it has laws in there that we don’t follow today, such as dietary laws.
The inherent problem with this point of view is that it ignores that the Bible reaffirms many of the non-ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. This shows that while the ceremonial laws may be defunct laws post-Christ, many of the holiness laws still exist because of their affirmation in the New Testament.
1 Corinthians 6:9 states emphatically that those who practice homosexuality (arsenkoites) are condemned. The Greek word is comprised of two other Greek words, one meaning “man” and the other meaning “sex.” This would indicate that those who have sexual relations with members of their same gender are, in fact, sinning (just as those who have pre-marital sex).
Romans 1:24-28 makes it explicitly clear that active homosexuality is a dangerous and sinful lust, one that God allowed humans to engage in because of their desire to sin. Romans 1 sets up the first 8 chapters of Romans to deal with the corruption of humanity, specifically the mind. It is no coincidence then that Paul shows homosexual actions to be sinful.
If we apply the words of Jesus concerning lust and adultery, this would also mean that if a homosexual chooses to lust in his heart (even without performing an action commonly associated with lust) he has become sexually active in God’s eyes. Though it doesn’t mean he has physically done it, he has willed it in the eyes of God – lust is just as sinful as sex, whether it be homosexuality, adultery, or pre-marital sex.
This should show that the condemnation of homosexual activity carried over into the New Tesatment. This means that if one is to deny homosexual actions as a sin, one cannot be committed to the inerrancy of Scripture – to embrace homosexual actions, one must deny certain Scriptures.
2) Jesus never addressed the issue of homosexuality, so it’s not important (or is not a sin).
It is true that Jesus never addressed the issue of homosexuality, but it does not follow that this then means we’re allowed to do what we want. Jesus did not mention a lot of things that we accept to be wrong or are condemned elsewhere in the Bible: pedophilia, bestiality, torture, cruel slavery, beating one’s wife, and so on. Does this mean all of these things are acceptable and are not sinful, just because Jesus didn’t talk about them? Of course not – just because He never addressed the issue of homosexuality directly doesn’t mean it is not an important issue.
It should be noted, however, that He did address the issue of marriage. As William Lane Craig points out, “What Jesus does do is quote from Genesis to affirm God’s pattern for marriage as the basis for His own teaching on divorce [Mark 10:6-8]…For two men to become one flesh in homosexual intercourse would be a violation of God’s created order and intent[i].” When Jesus affirmed God’s intent for marriage, it should be clear to everyone that he intended it to be between a man and woman.
3) Paul and other Biblical writers were just trapped in the culture of their day.
People often like to argue that Paul, when he spoke out against homosexual activity, we merely trapped in the culture of his day. This, however, ignores the culture of Paul’s day where homosexual practices were extremely common. It was not uncommon for an older Roman statesman to have multiple boy lovers. It was not uncommon for women to engage in sexual acts in the worship of a Roman deity.
Homosexuality was so prevalent in ancient Rome that it became a discussion point for the Roman historian Suetonius. He pointed out that Nero would often take the “position of the female” and even criticized Claudius because Claudius slept exclusively with females.
The Hellenistic view of homosexuality wasn’t even considered taboo until the wide acceptance of Christianity (with the first anti-homosexual law being passed in the fourth century).
The acceptance of homosexuality during Paul’s time indicates that his views were actually counter-cultural. In a time when men of affluence were looked down upon for not taking up male lovers, Paul boldly stated that such actions were sinful. Paul wasn’t a product of his culture – he was quite counter-cultural in condemning homosexuality.
4) Being a homosexual is just a biological/genetic event that happens before you are born – it’s just as natural as having brown hair.
As I previously stated, orientation isn’t what makes homosexuality wrong or immoral. Thus, the idea of it having a genetic origin means nothing in the debate on homosexuality. Even if one’s predisposition to one’s gender is caused by genetics, it does not follow that this justifies homosexual actions or thoughts. One can be predisposed to liking women, but this does not mean every male is then justified in sleeping with whatever woman he wants.
A common belief about alcoholism is that there might be a gene that predisposes people to being an alcoholic[ii]. If this alcoholism is genetic does it follow that one can acceptably be an alcoholic? Quite the contrary! Many would argue that if such a gene exists and a person is suspected of having that gene, it would be best for her to avoid all contact with alcohol. Why, then, is it acceptable for people who are supposedly genetically predisposed to homosexual activity to surround themselves in a homosexual lifestyle?
5) God made homosexuals the way they are, so it would be cruel for Him to declare homosexuality a sin.
This argument is often the spiritualized version of the previous argument – (a) Bob has a preference for males, (b) Bob wants to display his love for males through sexual activity, (c) Bob feels he has been made this way, therefore (d) God made Bob this way.
The problem with this reasoning is it assumes too much. It assumes that homosexuality is something that is inherent within a person (and even if it is, the same arguments from #4 apply to argument #5). It assumes that God would make someone a homosexual instead of homosexuality (even the preference for one’s own gender) being a negative side effect from the Fall. It assumes that God somehow approves of homosexual intercourse. All of these assumptions, however, must be validated before one can run with the syllogism presented. As it is, the above Scriptures I listed along with the argumentation would invalidate many of these arguments, meaning that the syllogism simply cannot work.
The bigger problem with this viewpoint is that it can be applied to any number of sins. “God made me prefer little children, so why would He condemn me for it?” “God made me an alcoholic, so why would He condemn me for it?” “God made me predisposed to anger, so why would He condemn me for beating my wife?” The list goes on, but the argument structure provided by argument #5 is cross-applicable to any sin we choose – though it might be distasteful, no one can argue that the logic still applies. Even if one finds pederasty detestable (and one should), it does not negate the truth that the syllogism provided gives justification to pederasty.
With all this in mind, what is a Christian supposed to do? First, we must recognize homosexual behavior aa sin. Sin is anything that denies the glory and intent of God – thus we should be active in eradicating all forms of sin, sexual or not, from the body of Christ. This means that anyone who is engaged in a sexual sin and refuses to repent must be cast out of the congregation (1 Corinthians 5:11).
Second, Christians must recognize that homosexual activity is a sin, but so are many other things we do. We wouldn’t kick someone out of church for gossiping, engaging in pre-marital sex, having an affair, lying, swindling, or cheating so long as the person repented. Likewise, we must acknowledge that those who have homosexual preferences might sometimes stumble and give into the temptations they face. We should never kick out a struggling believer that is willing to seek help and repent. If a homosexual struggles, we should love him or her and be patient and work with him or her.
Third, we need to stop attempting to legislate change. Forbidding homosexual marriages does protect the idea of marriage, but it does little in the way of helping homosexuals cease living a sexually active lifestyle. It would be better for Christians to help these people on a personal basis instead of treating them like the scum of society.
Fourth, and final, we need to speak out against all bashing and violent acts committed against homosexuals. There are many people that feel they are justified in personally attacking homosexuals or in physically harming them, but as Christians we must stand up and prevent such violence, whether the violence comes in word or in deed. It is very possible to say that practicing homosexuals are sinful and, if unrepentant, not saved – but this doesn’t mean we can just allow violent actions against them.
In the end, as true with all sins, Christians must stand firm on the truth of Scripture, but do so in love. Christians must say that homosexual activity is sinful, but we must be able to do so in love – otherwise our stance is in vain.
[i] Craig, William Lane. Hard Questions, Real Answers. (Wheaton: Crossway) 2003, p. 138.
[ii] Ibid., 134