This is a very complex and far-reaching topic. I’m going to try and be concise, but if you follow this blog you know that probably won’t happen, so bear with me.
The Lay of The Land
Right now there’s a lot of discussion on whether or not homosexual marriage will be legalized in the USA. There are a couple cases in front of the Supreme Court right now which will largely decide that, and set precedent for any number of connected issues. There are people claiming this is the last great human/civil rights issue, meanwhile the Westboro Baptist cult goes around being as offensive/hateful as humanly possible without getting physically violent (though I wouldn’t put it past them) all in the name of Christianity.
Christians are divided on this issue. There are several like Rob Bell, who believe that the most important thing is to love them, since Christ said to love people, and then once people see that we love everyone, then they’ll come to our potlucks and we can share the gospel or something. In this instance, loving them means accepting whatever they do as being ok. There is a way to love someone, while still maintaining the position that what they are doing is wrong or sinful. In this helpful blog post, John Piper lays out some ground rules for what churches should do if a homosexual couple repents of their sin. I think you can certainly apply those principles to homosexuals who have not done so either, and thus show them love.
A very common obstacle in this discussion is the fact that the common phrase “hate the sin, but love the sinner” doesn’t really work. In a perfect world, we should be able to disagree with one another’s beliefs about something without committing the ad hominem fallacy. That fancy schamncy Latin just means that when you disagree with someone, you shouldn’t attack their person. For example, if I think we should be allowed to have guns, I shouldn’t argue for that by saying something like “people who think we shouldn’t have guns are idiots”. The problem when it comes to homosexuality is that this is something that is intensely personal for people, and the tendency is to regard any disagreement as an attack on their person.
This is understandable, since sex is such a private thing. However, I want to stress up front that as much as it is difficult to do, please try to understand that when I talk about any belief or activity, I’m not attacking the person. Even if I disagree with something that feels entirely natural. It is quite common today to see that someone has entirely wrapped their identity up in being a homosexual. In such cases, it may be impossible to lovingly disagree with them on that issue. But where it is not, we need to be very careful in how we talk about this topic.
There are also a whole slew of issues related to homosexuality, homosexual marriage, and the like that I will try to either at least touch on or link further resources to.
I think the first thing to address is what we mean by the concept of sin. A few years ago, when the homosexuality movement was gaining steam and therefore the attention of many in this country, it seemed to focus around the idea that Christians were calling things “sinful” or “an abomination” and that was bad. Those are pretty strong words, but Wayne Grudem gives a concise definition of sin in his Systematic Theology as follows “Sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature.” I like this definition, because it encompasses many aspects of the debate. This definition touches on the fact that all humans are born with a sinful nature, and also covers sins of commission (things we do, when we shouldn’t) and sins of omission (when we chose not do things we should). It encompasses our thought life as well our actions and our natural state. It’s pretty broad reaching. For a more extended discussion of sin, check here (sorry for the bad formatting, it was 3 years ago). Also, check out the “Calvinism?” tab up top for some more information on what reformed people mean by Total Depravity.
So when we’re talking about sin, there are many places in the Bible related to God’s moral law that address the issue of homosexuality and homosexual behavior. There are a few places that people usually go in the Old Testament, but I’ll address those later, right now I’m just going to go to Romans 1. The chapter starts out with Paul talking about how whether someone is a Jew or a Greek (this distinction is often used to describe the whole world in the Bible), they can have salvation because of the power of the gospel. The righteous (everyone who believes the gospel) live by faith. Then he talks about the wrath of God on all unrighteousness (sin). He talks about how people suppress the truth of God (this is our natural, sin nature unless the Holy Spirit goes in and changes our nature), and how nature has revealed certain aspects of God so clearly that people are left without excuse as to His existence. Ultimately, the passage builds up to a discussion on idolatry.
“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (v. 24-25) “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (v. 26-27)
Under the definition of sin listed above, homosexual desire or acts do qualify as sinful behavior. This is an objective statement, and should not be interpreted as “I hate who you are!” as popular as it is to do so. The issue of sin that clings extremely closely to you is one that I have personal experience with. I was addicted to pornography for many years, and even though I knew that objectively what I was doing was sinful on many levels, it was something that I felt a natural draw to. It felt like it was just something about who I was. Even after pornography was no longer an issue, there was still a nearly constant struggle with lust in some way. Now thankfully, God decided to one day remove all traces of that from me (because I tried everything in the book in my own strength, believe me). I only mention that to point out that I know how hard it is to disassociate who you are with what you do/feel, especially in an area related to sex. Despite the difficulty in doing so, it is something that is necessary when engaging people of different beliefs. This is part of what the word tolerance actually means.
I think most people think of marriage is basically just being something you do after you date someone for awhile. It’s just kind of a social progression, right? Dating followed by engagement followed by marriage. What you do before, during, and after that doesn’t really come into it. However, this is not what marriage is, and that common view actually betrays much of what has broken marriage down today. We essentially view it was a bundle of rights, granted by the state, that comes with the title “marriage” and all that word means is that we have strong feelings for someone. Kind of crass, but that’s more or less how marriage is viewed. That’s why it sounds so strange when people refer to “the institution of marriage”. This was one of the steps in the breaking down of marriage: changing marriage to simply the expression of a bundle of emotions, or the next logical step to dating.
There’s a meme out there on the interwebs that has a cartoon old man/woman holding hands and walking down the road with the caption “in my generation, we fixed something when it was broken, we didn’t just throw it away” or something like that. It addresses the issue that marriages are more important than just getting a divorce when things get hard. If you go to divorcerate.org you’ll see a whole slew of stats, but basically, the percentage for people getting a divorce in America is between 40-50%, and only goes up if you get married again and again. Personally, I have found it interesting that more often then not, when you see celebrities get divorced from one another, they cite “irreconcilable differences” as the reason. Does that seem kinda weak to you? There’s a reason for that, and it’s called No-fault divorce. With the advent of no-fault divorce back in the 70s (Governor Ronald Reagan signed on to that one. The dude wasn’t perfect), we saw a shift from “till death do us part” to “inconvenience and just about anything else will separate us”. This was another important step in the breaking down of marriage: removing any sort of law which might impede divorce.
Interestingly enough, there is a connection with another hot-button issue that often gets overlooked in this discussion, and that is the connection with abortion. One of the main functions of marriage (definition forthcoming) is to produce and protect/raise children. If marriage was designed with that in mind, and you remove the idea that children are worth it (check the link) then all you are left with is a set of rules that can be changed in whatever way seems best and applied to anyone. This is another crucial step in the degrading of marriage: the disregard for children.
If those are 3 important steps to breaking marriage down, then what was it before? Well, that has to be taken back far beyond the 70s. If we look way back at creation, we learn a lot about what marriage was intended to be. We see in Genesis 1:27-28 that God commands Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” and there we see the issue of children addressed. In Genesis 2:18-25 we see a more detailed description of the creation of man. In it, we find the statement that “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” and then proceeds to create Eve. It’s important to realize that he created a woman as the one that was fit for him. This was the blueprint for marriage, and we see the instillation of it as between a man and a woman, and in Genesis 2:25, we read that they are referred to as “man and wife” meaning that it was, in fact, marriage. Also, in verse 24, it says that “man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” This is to show the type of relationship that marriage is. This is what Jesus refers to when He is having a discussion with Pharisees in Matthew 19:3-6, where He says “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
So the definition of marriage from the begging, as God decreed it to be, was one man and one woman for life. We have seen some of the key steps in breaking down this definition, and now we find ourselves at the current controversy.
In this article Kevin DeYoung explains what the main arguments are today for the legalizing of homosexual marriage. “I don’t think the arguments for gay marriage are biblically faithfully, logically persuasive, or good for human flourishing in the long run, but they are almost impossible to overcome with most Americans, especially in younger generations.” Why is this the case? Because they pack an emotional punch. If you are against homosexual marriage (or even questioning it) you are immediately painted as hateful, bigoted, intolerant, against progress/love/equality and the like. This is definitely not what anyone wants to be perceived as, and so it is definitely an uphill battle. DeYoung gives Christians some advice at the end of the article:
“And if we are interested in being persuasive outside of our own churches, we’ll have to do several things better.
1) We need to go back several steps in each argument. We’ll never get a hearing on this issue, or a dozen others issues, unless we trace out the assumptions behind the assumptions behind the arguments behind the conclusions.
2) We need more courage. The days of social acceptability for evangelicals, let alone privilege, are fading fast in many parts of the country. If we aren’t prepared to be counter-cultural we aren’t ready to be Christians. And we need courage not only to say what the Bible says, but to dare say what almost no one will say–that gay sex is unnatural and harmful to the body, that abandoning gender distinctions will be catastrophic for our society and for children, and that monogamy and exclusivity is often understood differently in the gay community.
3) We need more creativity. Statements and petitions and manifestos have their place, but what we really need is more than words and documents. We need artists and journalists and movie makers and story tellers and spoken word artists and comedians and actors and rappers and musicians who are galvanized by the truth to sing and speak and share in such a way that makes sin look strange and righteousness look normal.
4) We need a both-and approach. In the months ahead I imagine we’ll see Christians wrestle with whether the best way forward is to form new arguments that appeal to people where they’re at, or whether we simply need to keep preaching the truth and trust God to give some people the ears to hear. I’m convinced we need to do both. Let’s keep preaching, teaching, and laboring for faithful churches. Let’s be fruitful and multiply. Let’s train our kids in the way they should go. Let’s keep sharing the good news and praying for revival. And let’s also find ways to make the truth plausible in a lost world. Not only the truth about marriage, but the truth about life and sex and creation and beauty and family and freedom and a hundred other things humans tend to forget on this side of Adam. The cultural assumptions in our day are not on our side, but if the last 50 years has shown us anything, it’s that those assumptions can change more quickly than we think.”
What are those new methods? Well, Greg Forster has spent a lot of time thinking about that and suggests here, here, and here what that might look like. For the sake of space, I’ll just strongly suggest that you read what he has to say. The issue of framing the discussion in a language and narrative that both more adequately explains reality and engages people where they are is an important task. In fact, I’m not very good at it yet, and that’s one of the reasons this blog has been so long in coming (and why there will probably be related blogs in the future).
But what about some of the other arguments? What about people who come at the topic from the issue of civil rights? Here in America, we have a pretty nasty history when it comes to civil rights, and so this carries an extremely deep amount of emotion with it. The idea is that people (and, unfortunately, a lot of Christians) were against the idea of equality for African Americans, and the same arguments that were advanced then are being advanced now to be against Homosexuals. If it is true, this may be a powerful argument, but if it is not, then this is elaborate smoke blowing and the fallacious appeal to emotions argument. Addressing that particular argument is Voddie Baucham in an article entitled Gay Is Not the New Black.
There has also been an attempt by Rob Bell and others to try and argue for the fact that people can be both Christian and homosexual. They argue that there is support for this position in the Bible and that people who use the Bible to support a different view are using it incorrectly. This is a serious accusation, and one that needs careful attention. Apologist James White has devoted an extensive amount of time to this topic. I believe they took 2 or 3 radio programs and put them all together, so the total time is 5 hours! So take it in chunks if you have to, but if you want to know how to engage with people who hold this belief, then I would strongly encourage you to listen through it.
The Definition Problem
In recent discussions with people within the homosexual community and activists, I discovered a very strange thing. In the discussion on whether homosexual attraction is something you’re born with or something you chose (the community will push for one or the other, depending on which is culturally advantageous at the time) , one of the main issues that is brought up is how human sexuality is fluid. This will change as you grow and discover more about yourself and your culture/society. Now this discovery will be couched in different language based on which of the above 2 choices is being promoted at the time. Either someone choses that being a homosexual is the right path for them, or they discover that that is their true orientation. However, this becomes a problem when it comes to the government granting rights. Perhaps this is merely a logical problem, and that’s just how my mind works, but it seems like it would be difficult to grant rights to a group that you can’t define to do its fluid nature.
Webster has a definition of the word “gay” and that is
- attracted to same sex: relating to sexual attraction or activity among members of the same sex
And if we go by that definition, then someone is gay who either is attracted to the same sex or engages in homosexual activity. In my discussions, it was quickly pointed out that anyone who “changes” and becomes straight later on or who only got drunk and had a same-sex fling one night is more accurately described as being bisexual. In other words, someone who is truly a homosexual is one who perseveres to the end.
Why is this important? Well, because I think it gets to the heart of the issue. I don’t think it has much to do with a bundle of rights granted by the state, otherwise why not just fight to have the same rights granted to civil unions? And I don’t think it’s necessarily just about “gay” marriage, because that would discriminate against everyone else in the LGBTQI (I may be missing some letters) community. I think it is more about wanting to do whatever you want, and have as much “permission” as can be granted on earth. Why? Remember way back (seems like forever, doesn’t it?) at the beginning of this blog where we mentioned the passage from Romans 1? “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” emphasis mine. What truth? That marriage is defined by God as the union of one man and one woman for life. So in an attempt to wrap up this already long blog, where does that leave us? Where does that leave us as people, as Christians, as homosexuals, as secularists etc?
First, to those who would not consider themselves Christians. What I want to avoid is the fallacious argument of the slippery slope. However, slippery slopes are not always fallacious, and unfortunately, this one is being proved true. For years, Christians and others have pointed out that by using certain arguments for the advancing of homosexual marriage, they were opening the flood gates as it were, for all sorts of different things. I need you to hear me very clearly when I make a distinction with what I am saying and what I am not saying. Currently, there are different groups in the world who are advocating for the legalization/normalization of relationships that most people find to be wrong. This includes “intergenerational intimists” more commonly known as pedophilia, and intraspeciesists, more commonly known as bestiality. I am absolutely not saying that those groups and homosexuals are the same. What I am saying is that the very same arguments that are commonly advanced by those within the homosexual community (progress, love, rights, equality, tolerance etc.) are being advanced by advocates within those communities as well. See here if you don’t believe me. There is going to have to be a lot of work done if you wish to still see those behaviors/relationships as deviant, but still use those arguments to legitimize yours. Also, what do you say to the group that defines themselves as people who are gay, but support traditional marriage?
Finally, to the church. This is a very difficult topic, and we must handle it with both care and boldness (and probably better than I have done). However, if we think this is difficult, what is coming in the future will be much more difficult. It is likely that homosexual marriage will be legalized in the near future, but I believe that is not going to be the end of the discussion. For what good is it if it is legal, but churches retain the right to marry or not marry a homosexual couple? That will be the next battle. Look to Canada if you want examples of how this is likely going to go in our country in the future.
End of Line
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! I’d give you a gold star but I’m broke and those sound expensive. As you can see, this issue is huge and covers a plethora of topics. I have only scratched the surface, and have missed some things entirely. But I hope this will start discussion and will make you think. Ultimately, I hope this is edifying to the people of God, for His glory. SDG
Fighting with you,