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A Religion of Love Meets a Philosophy of Love: Homosexuality
With the public announcement by the Presbyterian Church (USA) accepting homosexual marriage, we see once again the clashing of homosexuality and Christianity in the public eye. But what does the Bible really say about homosexuality and marriage and how should we Christians react to that in the political realm?
The Bible's Say on Homosexual Behavior
Many people like to use a passage in Leviticus to promote their agenda on homosexuality. Leviticus 20:13 (NKJV) states:
If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.
This is certainly rather damning -- until you consider other things that are considered abominations that we practice or don't even think about today. Some examples are eating catfish or shellfish, a woman wearing a "man's garments," and a man remarrying a woman whom he has formerly divorced. I know plenty of Christian women who wear pants, and I love catfish stew and gumbo.
When we realize that the Old Testament (OT) is written for the Israelites as their law, we see that any laws from there are not in effect today. It has become obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). While still very useful, the OT is not meant for Christians to follow as their religious law. (If you have a problem with this premise, please say so in a comment, and I will address it soon.) So we are tasked with finding what the New Testament says on the subject.
There are three passages that discuss this very topic. The first we will discuss is in Paul's letter to the Romans. Romans 1:26-27 (NKJV) states:
For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
It is this passage that many have in mind when they use the argument that homosexuality is against nature. It's against nature because Paul the Apostle said so! And since Paul was an instrument of God, would not our Creator know us best? The argument that many have against this is that we see what appears to be homosexual behavior among animals, primates in particular. If animals engage in such activities, then it must be natural, right? Perhaps, but these primates also throw their own poop. I don't see a lot of arguments for humans doing the same. And dogs will often go to town on anything they can get on top of, yet we men will get some strange looks if we do the same. I find it ironic that many of those who support homosexual behavior will use these arguments, yet balk when it is compared to other sexually deviant behavior that animals practice yet we find abhorrent.
Our next passage mentions it in a list of other sins. 1 Timothy 1:8-11 (ESV) reads:
Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. [emphasis added]
The word that the ESV translates there as "men who practice homosexuality" is translated in other versions as "sodomites." In this passage, I prefer the ESV because it presents it in a way that is better understood by modern readers. The modern definition of sodomy is, "sexual intercourse involving anal or oral copulation." But when the term was used when the King James Version of the Bible was translated, it meant simply sex of the anal variety. It is important to understand this so we know what exactly we are discussing.
And finally, another passage from Paul to the Christians in Corinth. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV) says:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. [emphasis added]
This is the passage that Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame was paraphrasing. Here, "men who practice homosexuality" is actually two words in the Greek. In the KJV, that phrase is rendered, "nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind." The New American Standard Bible says, "nor effeminate, nor homosexuals," with a footnote saying "effeminate by perversion." And the NKJV read, "nor homosexuals, nor sodomites," with a footnote on the former, saying, "That is catamites." But what is a catamite? And what does it mean by effeminate? Once again it will benefit us to look at what the original words meant. In a footnote in the ESV, it states, "The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts." The NIV agrees. So a catamite would be the passive partner while the sodomite would be the active.
The key phrase in that last passage that I put in italics is: "And such were some of you." This is a very powerful statement. Many of the Corinthians used to practice sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, and homosexuality. But not anymore. While Paul did write against a particular man engaged in sexually immoral behavior in the preceding chapter, the bulk of the Christians there in Corinth had repented from these sins. This is important to note. Many proponents of homosexuality will say that the homosexual cannot change who they are and it's horrible to demand that of him. And yet the gay Corinthians were able to refrain from practicing homosexuality!
Will There Be Homosexuals in Heaven?
Historically speaking, sexual orientation has not always been a part of personal identity. Even as recent as two hundred years ago, one did not identify oneself as homosexual or even heterosexual. That does not mean that such individuals didn't exist, however. I mean only to say that the Bible does not discuss homosexuals, but homosexual behavior.
Christianity is a religion of self-control. It is one of the Christian graces. It is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. Throughout the New Testament, we are required to practice it.
"Now as [Paul] reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid ..." Acts 24:25 (NKJV)
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." Galatians 5:22-24 (NKJV)
"But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love." 2 Peter 1:5-7 (NKJV) [emphasis added]
Paul himself was a single man and had to exercise self-control in regard to his sexual desires on a daily basis. And yet, we are all called to a life of self-control! I think of all the things the Lord asks us to do and not do in the Bible, and I see that in order to succeed in being a Christian, self-control must be practiced. You saw the lists of sins in the verses quoted in the preceding section. We cannot expect to call ourselves Christian if we cannot control ourselves and our base desires.
Today, we do have our own sexual orientations as part of our personal identities. But this does not mean we can neglect basic Bible teachings. We all have sexual restrictions placed on us. The single person, regardless of sexual orientation, is forbidden from having sex. The married person is only permitted to have sex with his or her spouse. These sexual restrictions are not always easy to follow, but they are put in place for us Christians to obey. And if there is someone who identifies as homosexual, yet he or she can manage to exercise self-control, this is pleasing to God. We are not animals as those who appear to practice homosexuality (e.g. bonobo chimp). We are human beings, and we have the ability to control ourselves.
We all have our cross to bear. I do not say that self-control from any sexual sin is easy. The Christian walk is not easy for any of us, but it is harder for some. I cannot promise that your life will be full of roses. But it will be worth it. Heaven is our reward if we remain righteous unto death (Revelation 2:10).
Am I perfect? No. Are you? No. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23 NKJV). We have all failed in the self-control department at some point or another. The mistake many Christians make is they treat homosexuality as a greater sin than any other. Nothing could be further from the truth!
"My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world." 1 John 2:1-2 (NKJV)
I thank God every day for that Advocate. Without Him, there would be no hope for eternal life, no way to please God. Will there be homosexuals in heaven? Yes! Will there be those who practice homosexuality in heaven? No, they must repent.
Love or Condemnation?
In my attempt to continue "speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15), we must understand what the love of God is. The love of God is not unconditional. God requires much from us in order to be right with him. If the Bible is anything, it's a book of conditions! The idea of love that we have today, that we love unconditionally, is not the biblical idea of love. We cannot expect to behave in any way we see fit and be right with God.
That said, we all have our own sins. We must treat homosexuals with the love and respect they deserve as human beings first, then deal with whatever sins they struggle with.
What is our goal as Christians? Isn't our goal to bring everyone to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God? How can we accomplish this goal if we constantly berate homosexuals for their preferences? In order to deal with them, we cannot browbeat them into submission. This is no better than the Spanish Conquistadors forcing the Native Americans to become Catholic. No, it is love that covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
And that brings us back to the type of love we are talking about, a conditional one. We as Christians should be the most humble people on Earth, for while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). It was His love for us that motivated Christ to go to the cross for us -- for all of us. Christ died for that homosexual just as He died for you and your sins. Never forget that.
If we are to continue browbeating homosexuals for their behavior, we also ought to picket at the homes of adulterers, the greedy, fornicators, liars, and those who disobey their parents. But I don't see that happening. Browbeating doesn't win souls, it drives them away. I should know, I've tried it. Love is the answer here -- not accepting their behavior, but treating them as people. As Paul said, "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men" (Romans 12:18).
Sometimes we Christians need a lesson in the basics to be reminded of what God has told us to do: Love one another (1 John 4:7).
But What About Marriage?
The institution of marriage has had quite an interesting and colorful past, and is not quite as black & white as many Christians make it out be. It is true that marriage, as defined by Jesus and the Christian church, is between one man and one woman. When Jesus defines marriage, He calls to memory the first man and the first woman, implying that this has been the definition from the beginning. Interestingly enough, this is in a passage where Jesus' main topic is on divorce. Matthew 19:3-6 (NKJV) reads:
The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” [emphasis added]
A few verses later, Jesus gives the one condition for which a divorce can be made and an allowance be given for remarriage -- adultery. But this can be the subject of another blog, if there is demand.
If God's original intent was for marriage to only consist of one man and one woman, it got muddled not long after the Creation. Both Jacob and Esau had multiple wives. Kings Saul, David, and Solomon. And David was a man after God's own heart, while Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines all while being the wisest man to have lived apart from Jesus. And there are many more examples of men having multiple wives in just the Old Testament alone!
As I have mentioned in an earlier section, we are followers now of the New Testament, and not the Old. This means whatever was permitted in the time before Jesus is not necessarily permitted now in the Christian age. But not everyone is a Christian. Not everyone holds to the same ideals and values that we do. When we are making laws as a nation that apply to everyone, we must remember this.
Boiled down to its most basic, secular definition, marriage is a mutually binding contract between two people. Are we going to say that two people cannot voluntarily enter into a contract with one another? If we enforce this, do you think that will prevent them from sinning by having sex with one another? Certainly not.
Is it showing love to someone when we as the majority vote to force someone to do or not to do something that harms no one else? Someone may argue that we are saving them from a life of sin which is harmful. I would counter that we haven't the right to make that choice for someone else. We cannot enforce religious doctrines with the power of government unless they harm someone else directly (e.g. murder, theft, rape, abortion). No homosexual will say, "The Christians say I can't marry whoever I want? Time to become a Christian!" No, they will hate us and revile us for it. One may say that is expected, for Jesus said that we will be hated. Hitler was hated, but that didn't make him right. If we are to be hated, let it be to satisfy the will of God and not our own political agenda.
There is a lot of misinformation about what Christians say and about what the Bible says on this hot-button issue. The true message of Christ gets muddled in with political agendas and ideologues. Our goal should be to stick with biblical truth and not go beyond it. We must also not bind Christian doctrines to people who are not Christians. They have to voluntarily make that decision for themselves, to submit to the will of God. We cannot force them into submission and call ourselves loving and compassionate Christians. Let them do what they want to do. It is we who plant the seed and water it, but it is God who gives the increase. All we can do is tell the world about Christ and Him crucified, and tell them they must repent. We cannot force them. Why not let God take care of that?
BOTTOM LINE: I do not support gay marriage, but I will not hinder it through law either. It is the duty of a Christian to tell someone about sin, not to forcibly prevent him from doing it.