- Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality?
- Was Sodom the First All-Gay City?
- Sex at Sodom: Was it “Homosexual”?
- Does Leviticus Actually Condemn Same-Sex Intercourse?
- Leviticus 18: A Text Dripping with Blood
- Leviticus 18 & 20 Revisited…for Real
- Are Leviticus 18 & 20 Still Relevant for Christians?
- Homosexuality in Ancient Rome & Why It Matters
- Was “Homosexuality” Unknown to Paul?
- Biological Influences on Same Sex Attraction According to Rome
- Jesus & Homosexuality
- Jesus, Sexuality, & Same-Sex Love
- Jesus, Unconditional Love, & LGBT
- Celibate Gay Christians
- Homosexuality & Romans 1
- Does Romans 1 Only Prohibit Illicit Same Sex Activity?
- Maybe Romans 1:24-27 Is About Purity But Not Sin?
- Is Romans 1 About Straight People Having Gay Sex?
- Does Romans 1 Address Specific Idolatrous Forms of Homosexuality?
- Paul Prohibits Homosexual Sex–But Why?
What does Jesus’s love for harlots, tax-collectors, and other outcasts tell us about how He would approach the issue of same-sex love today? Put differently: Since Jesus loved sinners unconditionally, does this mean that Jesus would be (or is)
frustrated at Churches today who oppose same-sex relations?
The reverend John Spong says yes: “the church…cannot claim to be the body of Christ if it fails to welcome all whom Christ would welcome.” And since Christ welcomed harlots and tax gatherers—the sinners of the day—so also the body of Christ should welcome the LGBT community, especially since they have been emotionally (sometimes physically) beat up by the church.
Part of what Spong and others say is correct. I too condemn as unchristian the hate speech and abuse that some so-called “Christians” have hurled at anyone made in God’s image. A good chunk of the Evangelical church has gone about this issue all wrong, and I have a genuine pain for anyone—including several friends—who have been hurt by the church over this issue, and I want to learn how to mediate Christ’s love to all areas of our broken world.
I also cherish, embrace, and promote—sometimes amid much criticism—the radical, counterintuitive grace of Jesus, which I have blogged about here, here, here, and here. And here and here. And here. I’m certainly not some crusty curmudgeon who wants to put grace on a leash to protect our churches from being overrun by gay people, or other sinners like smokers and drinkers and dancers. The more the merrier, I say. I genuinely hope that our churches become filled with gay people. After all, Jesus wasn’t born in a feeding trough in order to attend some plastic church in the burbs. He came to seek and save the lost, heal the sick, and chase down wayward sons.
But what does Jesus do when He finds sick people?
He heals them.
This is the main problem I see with the logic of those who enlist Jesus’s radical grace in service of unconditional support of the LGBT community: Christ-like love does not demand unconditional acceptance of behavior.
We celebrate Jesus’s healing of the sick, finding of the lost, and cherish both Jesus’s acceptance of the woman caught in adultery and His life-given command to “go and sin no more.” That’s because Jesus’s love, though not conditioned upon behavior, does not endorse sin any more than a righteous physician would ignore an infection.
If we take the rhythm and pattern of Jesus’s life seriously and swim with the same ethical current, Christians today should hang out with, build relationships with, listen to, have drinks with, and show compassionate love toward LGBT people who have been beaten down, marginalized, and outcasted by society.
But such unconditional, counterintuitive, scandalous love does not demand an unconditional acceptance or approval of behavior. When Jesus embraced the sinner—the one in need of healing—He didn’t applaud their behavior: He proclaimed “Go and sin no more,” not “go and turn a few more tricks tonight, and I’ll buy you a cup of coffee tomorrow.”
Jesus reached out to and befriended tax-gatherers, but he didn’t endorse extortion.
He hung out with prostitutes, but he didn’t sanction illicit sex.
He admired the faith of Roman soldiers, but he didn’t endorse violence (or the paganism that saturated the Roman military).
I’m not trying to smuggle homosexual love in the back door of Jesus’s prohibitions. I’m only trying to make a larger point that Jesus’s radical love for sinner does not mean that He was indifferent to sin, even though his love was not conditioned upon us fixing our behavior. Indeed, the physician doesn’t expect the patient to come to the hospital with a head start. “Here you go, doc! I went ahead and ripped out my tonsils; you can take it from here…” The Physician joyfully works on patients in a coma with no health care (eat your heart out, Obama!). But…He works. He operates. He heals. He takes old pieces of His beautiful creation and restores and transforms, spinning out masterpieces of new creation.
Could it be that our culture has defined “love” as unqualified and unconditional toleration and affirmation? But Jesus, being true to His first-century Jewish context, never saw love and behavior as incompatible: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 13), not “If you love me, you can live however you think will bring you the most earthly happiness.”
Marriage, sex, and children are gifts given by the Creator, not inherent rights demanded by creatures.
“Yes,” you may say. “Love the sinner and hate the sin!” But I’ve got one better. How about we “love the sinner and hate our own sin.”
When heterosexual Christians seek to love LGBT people, they should hate their own greed, pride, self-righteousness, and the lack of love shown to their heterosexual spouse. Let’s put to death our own deeds of the flesh with humble, relentless passion before we reach out to the “other sinner” in some clinical fashion. Heterosexual Christians are sinners plugged into the life-support of grace. Remember that.
Now, you logicians out there have noticed that this entire post begs the question: “Is homosexual sex a sin?” So far in my study, I’d say yes. But stay tuned for the rest of this (rather long) blog series. We’ve still yet to cover the most important passage in the debate: Romans 1:24-27.
What do you mean by healing in this context? Are you referring to God healing in terms of them going from being homosexual to heterosexual?
No, no! I definitely don’t mean that!
Thank you for clearing that up 🙂
My initial response: if someone who I didn’t know was writing this blog, they would have lost me here:
“But what does Jesus do when He finds sick people?
He heals them.”
know you have said they are not your audience, but at this point you
may lose your gay and/or progressive readership. Or you may actually
offend them. I cringed when I got to this point, because that seems to
draw the parallel between homosexuality and sickness. I don’t know you
that well, but I don’t THINK that is something you are trying to
communicate. I can speak firsthand to the kind of emotional and
spiritual damage that whole line of thinking has caused people. That is
another story though.
think I get what you are trying to say, and maybe it would better to
drop the whole heal the sick and physician metaphor and just point out
that when Jesus did encounter sinners he had compassion on them, loved
them, etc etc, and told them to go and sin no more. This way, number
one you don’t run the risk of being misunderstood and offending anyone,
and two you aren’t misunderstood and continuing to perpetuate this idea
among conservatives that the can/should convince gays to be straight or
something like that.
impression I get, is that you trying to start the bridge building work,
and opening conversations. However, I think that metaphor in
particular will do more harm than good.
Thanks so much for reading, commenting, and offering some very valuable feedback! Seriously, this is exactly the type of feedback I’m looking for.
It may help to know that when I blog, I’m “testing things out,” seeing what lands, what resonates, what offends, what challenges, and what causes people to stop reading! In a sense, my blogs are weeding out stuff that needs to be weeded out before I publish stuff in a book. So I’m more than willing to retract stuff that needs to be retracted.
Now, I definitely don’t want to suggest that the “healing” that needs to happen is to make gay people straight. I think the conversation has successfully moved beyond that, especially with the closing of Exodus Int.
However, what about my caveat at the end, that I was admittedly begging the question? Does that help, or should I have fronted that? Because–would you agree–if the Bible does say that homosexual intercourse (or whatever) is a sin, then it is something that needs healing? Would you agree with this on a purely logical level? If so, how could I say this in a way that doesn’t unnecessarily offend?
Again, I’m trying my hardest to not unnecessarily offend with stupid language, lack of love, naivete on the issue, etc., yet not shrinking back from letting the God offend, if necessary, through this word.
I hope you hear my heart in all of this, Joe! I’m genuinely trying to mediate the truth and love of Jesus to a broken world, because his truth and love has healed my broken soul.
I was a sick person in need of healing, and I live in a constant need to Jesus’s daily healing.
I agree with Joe, phrased that way, talking about “healing” gay people might be inflammatory. I don’t think it’s a wrong way of phrasing, but standing alone it draws on a lot of bad history and connotation. Speaking of healing in terms of broken people being healed, both Christians of hateful/harmful attitudes and behaviours – sin committed towards God and His children whom He died for – and homosexuals of their sin, a large proportion (if one may speak of it in a quantified sense) is the same as anyone else’s – lust, greed, selfishness, theft, fornication, and it’s true (or provided you find it to be true from your study) homosexual acts and/or love. In the holistic context of Jesus healing all sin and infirmity rather than just “homosexuals of their homosexuality” (or at least the implication of that narrowness in meaning), I think much less offense may be generated than direct use of the term to that one issue.
We can’t disconnect from that though, if we find homosexuality to be a sin and want to also talk about the gospel in the same context, Jesus’ coming to save us from sin and restore us has to connect at some point with all of our sin, including homosexuality.
Thanks David. That’s helpful, bro. I appreciate the distinction you make between a single saying and the larger context.
I did qualify it both at the end and in the middle of the post when I said: “I’m not trying to smuggle homosexual love in the back door of Jesus’s prohibitions. I’m only trying to make a larger point that Jesus’s radical love for sinner does not mean that He was indifferent to sin, even though his love was not conditioned upon us fixing our behavior.”
But I don’t think I was clear when I made the “heal the sick” comment that I was thinking of sin more generally and not homosexual acts exclusively.
I have to be honest – I thought you meant that you weren’t trying to sneak homosexuality into the list of Jesus’ prohibitions, and I didn’t really understand that in the context of that paragraph.
I understood what you meant by heal the sick.
Also, I don’t want to be crude, and I’m not saying you need to change anything, but I feel bound to point out that the term “backdoor” could be construed to have other connotations in the context of this discussion than it’s reference to entering a house by the yard rather than main entrance.
Thanks for the response, I totally get the whole “testing things out”
and I think it’s a great idea. Better to hash it out here, then after you have a bunch of copies of a book floating around in black and white.
I do hear your heart, and I have appreciated reading your posts. After
I graduated from Cedarville, I purposefully stayed away from any kind of posts or conversations from/with evangelicals on this topic. It has a tendency to bring up old emotions and reactions that I don’t always know what to do with, and I generally just don’t feel safe being in the conversation. That to say, I think your heart comes through, and I feel you have fostered a “safe environment.”
As far as sins needing healing, sure I would agree with that on a logical and theological basis, Christ came to (among other things) heal us/creation from sin. However, I think in this particular case the language may prove to be a stumbling block (if I may use the phrase). Perhaps I should have rephrased my initial post, it isn’t just about offending, but probably more so the emotions that can be invoked by utilizing this particular language. I was involved in reparative counseling and such, and they spoke the same exact way.
So, at least for me, when I hear that sort of language it immediately brings back a ton of negative feelings.
I personally feel like choosing a different way to speak about the
restorative work of Christ would be more helpful. If you still find homosexual acts to be sin, I still think you can speak of Christ’s work by drawing on other language/metaphors. However, I think if you keep the language of healing sickness, David offered some really good advice, and framing it that way will help the reader understand what it is you are trying to communicate, and not communicate.
Also, I sure hope the conversation about “healing” homosexuals and making them straight is done. 😉
Got it! Thanks Joe. I really appreciate it. And since “healing the sick” isn’t language that I necessarily need to use, I may consider dropping it altogether. As you know from my first post, I’m trying to use neutral language that doesn’t conjure up all sorts of pain and emotion. I think this is, among other things, one of the ways we can move the discussion forward.
All that to say, thanks! Your thoughts are invaluable. And I would love to continue this conversation with you, if you have the time and desire.
Ya, absolutely and feel free to drop me a line anytime. Either FB or email.
When I was in college in Perth, Australia (admittedly somewhat removed from my current cultural context in the states), various campus clubs and groups had common rooms. I hung out with a people from my performing arts and Communications and Cultural Studies classes a lot, and we tended to congregate in the “Queer Room” – the LGBT common room with couches and amenities conveniently located close to student union, tavern, library, and most of our lecture halls etc. Some of us were LGBT or whatever term was preferred, but we would talk about lots of different things, they knew I believed and drank, and believed elements of their lifestyles were ungodly – drunkenness, promiscuity and fornication, along with homosexuality etc, yet I was pleased to know, work and be friends with them. I don’t think my life or witness were perfect – I was considerably less mature then than now, but I believe my openness and acceptance of everyone as people even while disagreeing with the accuracy of their theology allowed those relationships to grow and for us to have some pretty good open dialogue, hopefully with seeds planted. I think I intrigued some people though, because I treated them very differently than other Christians they had encountered because I was both caring and honest with them.
I would echo the concerns stated previously regarding the use of healing language. The use of such language could cause serious mis-understandings on both sides of the discussion.
1. Some may feel like you are trying to heal them from same sex attraction to hetero-sexual attraction (as previously mentioned).
2. Some may feel like you are just out to fix them, and thus alienating meaningful relationships (although that is not the tenor of your series at all).
3. Some may use sickness/illness language to foster a passive/victimization approach for those who need to be “healed.”
4. Some may dismiss the discussion at this point as an over simplified treatment of an incredibly complex issue (Which I know you recognize, it would just be a shame if people dismissed most of what you have written up to this point, because of metaphor).
While your explanation/justification for using such language was helpful (it also took you a few paragraphs to explain what you meant) perhaps there are other avenues to pursue to communicate the need for redemption/restoration, but that is another topic.
Agreed and this is very important to say. But it also begs the question (which you are clearly arguing elsewhere) if Gay sex is a sign of sickness.
To jump on board here, sin always destroys human beings and those who would minimize the damage done by sin partner in the destruction of real human beings.
Preston: After following this blog, my question is when or if you are going to approach the foundational questions of what is a man, what is a woman, what is the purpose in God’s creation for sexual differentiation, what is marriage, what are the purposes for marriage, and does homosexuality fit into this framework? Because if we do not begin with such a framework then we have nowhere to base an understanding of the sinfulness or “diseasedness” of homosexual activity (or sex, which seems to have been the focus of this entire series). If homosexual acts are sinful (which I believe is the direction you are heading), then we need to understand the underlying reason why. And this cannot be accomplished without a well developed theology of humanity. Otherwise what we end up with is another “What does the Bible Really say about Homosexual Sex?” and no theological hooks to hang it on. Any thoughts?
My thoughts? My thoughts are: Can you write a blog about this!
Ya, it’s in the plan. And I have some thoughts on it for sure, but I need to buckle down and dive into a more in depth study of “a theology of humanity, gender, sexuality, creation, etc.” Admittedly, my blog series is more focused on those the main passages that explicitly mention homoesexual acts (Gen 18, Lev 18/20, Rom 1, and others). So, I want to wade through those before I step back and ask (and hopefully answer) the larger theological questions about gender/humanity. And I triple-like your statement: “we need to understand the underlying reason why” homosexual acts are sinful–if indeed they are.
Does that help?
So ya, your question is a crucial one. Hopefully I’ll get to it soon enough. I’m still trying to sort out Rom 1 for the time being.
I wish I had time to blog on a topic of such keen interest. At this point all my writing is directed toward fulfilling requirements for my studies. Unfortunately it doesn’t match my research question, otherwise I would kill two birds with one stone.
Hey Preston, I appreciate your blog about this topic, but I am also a little wary about the way it was presented as being a “sickness” that needs to be “healed.” I agree with JTobias and David when they say that this one could/would do more damage than help the conversation between heterosexual Evangelicals and the gay community. I appreciate your grace and willingness to fine-tune the way it is being presented.
I’m curious what you see as the “healing” of their “sickness” being in the big picture/long term? It is one thing to tell a tax collector to stop cheating people, and another thing altogether to walk up to someone and tell someone to change sexual and romantic feelings that they have and always have had. That’s like asking a single heterosexual man to not feel romantic feelings toward any girls he knows and stop being sexually stimulated by the beautiful female image…. forever. I know plenty of Godly men that would love to accomplish that but know in their hearts it is an impossibility. Luckily they know they can remain faithfully celibate and marry later on, channeling their sexual feelings toward their wife. But what what would the future of an LGBT person be? Would they be told by well meaning Christians to live an entirely celibate life, despite not being gifted with the gift of celibacy? (The “gift of celibacy” typically being a lack of a sex drive and lack of desire for a spouse). Is their only other option to marry someone they are not attracted to and never in love with? (How difficult and damaging would that be for their spouse, and how unnatural and inauthentic would their emotional and sexual life be?) It seems like this is an expose on biblical homosexuality with no forseeable end game for those men and women that are wired explicitly toward the same sex. It seems that the fruit of this “celibacy or marry someone you’re not attracted to” message is that countless LGBT men and women are being driven away from the message of the cross and Christianity. Are we putting a yoke on people that they were never meant to bear? If we are to judge a tree by its fruit… wouldn’t the fruit of this theology be loaded with thorns and thistles? It seems to restrict and strangle the joyfully obedient life of every LGBT person it encounters. (as well as many heterosexual Christians that love LGBT people.) I am struggling to see the purpose of the hermeneutical argument when the result of the teaching is so consistently unfruitful. What do we do with this?
Does it matter that the “woman caught in adultery” story used by christians to support their “hate the sin but love the sinner” attitude toward gays was added to John’s gospel centuries later? Here’s the footnote from NAB: The story of the woman caught in adultery is a later insertion here, missing from all early Greek manuscripts. A Western text-type insertion, attested mainly in Old Latin translations, it is found in different places in different manuscripts: here, or after ⇒ John 7:36 or at the end of this gospel, or after ⇒ Luke 21:38, or at the end of that gospel. There are many non-Johannine features in the language, and there are also many doubtful readings within the passage. The style and motifs are similar to those of Luke, and it fits better with the general situation at the end of Luke 21:but it was probably inserted here because of the allusion to ⇒ Jeremiah 17:13 (cf the note on John ⇒ John 8:6) and the statement, “I do not judge anyone,” in ⇒ John 8:15.
Hey Jim! Glad to see you on my blog (and not just my Facebook)!
You raise a good point, my (new) friend. Couple thoughts:
First, I’m NOT in support of the “hate the sin but love the sinner” mantra, as I said in the post. So, I really don’t know (or want to represent) the view of those who hold that.
Second, most NT scholars would agree that John probably didn’t pen that John 8 passage. However, they would also agree that the story probably did happen, but just didn’t make it into John’s gospel. They would argue that the story very much resonates with what we know about Jesus from his many other accounts. So, while the retelling of the story may not be inspired, the historicity, or the theological gist, of the passage is most probability true.
So, in references this passage (and others, like Mark 16:8ff), I’ve avoided all the technical and quite geeky text-critical defense of what I see to be legitimate truth in it.
Is that fair? I guess the burden of rests on those who would say that John 8 DOES NOT reveal a legitimate ethical posture of Jesus.
So why think the story “probably happened” if it’s not in the text? I’m no bible scholar, but that certainly seems odd.
Just like we could include a gay story about the “disciple whom Jesus loved…who laid on Jesus breast”?
I’m curious about this – if it’s true that those verses weren’t in the original text, penned by John etc, then why do we keep it in our text? Doesn’t that come to an impasse with he who adds or takes anything etc? I mean I could make up a story about Jesus encountering a guy looking at pornographic frescoes or jars taking cues from the woman at the well and Jesus’ teaching about lust in the heart, but although it might be faithful to something that might have happened and to what Jesus would probably have done in such a situation, we wouldn’t add it to the Bible.
Hi Preston –
By quick way of introduction, I’m a middle-aged man who is Christian, gay, and married to a wonderful husband. You and I are starting out from very different places in this conversation. I don’t know you, and I assume you have the best of intentions. I’d like to offer one criticism and an alternate viewpoint.
The idea that people who are gay can “be healed” has caused immense harm. Even the most conservative Christian researchers agree that sexual orientation change is not possible “for everyone or anyone”. The gay person embarking on a journey to be “healed” is bound for devastating disappointment. That path has too often led to self-harm. So if by “healed” you mean orientation change or elimination of sexual desire, that is exceedingly rare, and it’s unjust and dangerous to project onto a gay person. Alternatively, you may mean that gay people must opt for celibacy; that, of course, would presume that every gay person is gifted with celibacy which is obviously not the case. I urge you to rethink this concept of “healing” gay people – it has caused untold tragedy.
Beyond SOCE – I’d like to offer you another thought. The traditional sexual ethic pathologizes people who are gay (i.e., viewing us “broken” or “disordered”) and says that our suffering is necessary for the flourishing of humanity (i.e., “God’s design for human sexuality” forbids any expression of homosexuality). When that’s your starting point, is it really possible to love gay people with Christ-like love? The conservative ethic encourages those who hold it to stigmatize and marginalize gay people – gay relationships (and the people in them) are sinful and immoral, and therefore homosexuality must not be condoned by society. It’s also a toxic message to the fourteen year old gay kid in the front pew – “you are deeply flawed and unworthy of even the possibility of giving and receiving romantic love”. The conservative sexual ethic has done much harm to flesh-and-blood people.
I’ve said for a long time, if the Church is serious about loving people who are gay better, we must change our theology. We must believe differently. We must believe in a way that doesn’t cause harm.
If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to explore the entire spectrum of Christian belief about homosexuality. I’d particularly encourage you to look at accommodation theology as a pastoral approach. It basically says that covenant gay relationships aren’t God’s ideal, but are the best gay people can do with the cards we’ve been dealt. That is a belief that honors the traditional perspective but causes far less harm.
Thanks in advance for seriously considering these comments. Feel free to reach out to me directly using the email associated with this comment if you would like to discuss any point further.
Nice to meet you! And thanks for dropping in and offering some very helpful comments. I appreciate your honesty and well-thought out response. I hope to glean from both your wisdom and experience regarding this issue.
Let me respond to several of the question you raise in no particular order.
First, in reading your comment, I would suspect that you have not read the previous 12 posts (fair enough–that’s a lot of reading!). I’m not sure I would fit the traditional conservative category you may assume I’m coming from, and I think this would come out in my previous posts. It just so happens that I made some fairly sloppy rhetorical moves in this post–moves I’m more than willing to concede. But please do read the previous 12 if you have time and interest.
Second, you said: “I’d encourage you to explore the entire spectrum of Christian belief about homosexuality.” Indeed, I have done so and continue to do so. In fact, my study plan is to go back and forth between traditional and (for lack of better terms) “non-traditional” studies of same-sex love. So, I’ve read everything from Bosewell, to Brooten, to Nissinen, to Helminiak, and many others who say that whatever the Bible says or seems to say, God sanctions consensual, monogamous love between people of the same-sex. In fact, I’ve found their arguments more convincing, at times, than some conservative defenses of the traditional view (DeYoung’s book is particularly poorly argued and clearly biased). Others have done a good job, though not without their faults, from a more traditional view, including Hays, Gagnon, and–in an ironic way–Brooten mentioned above. (She says that Paul prohibited same-sex love, but that the church shouldn’t follow Paul.)
Long story short, I’m working as hard as I can to understand all the arguments on both sides before I evaluate them.
Third, regarding my language of “change” and “heal,” ya man, I get it. You read the other comments, right? You’re, like, the 10th person (including Twitter and Facebook) to call me on this, including my own colleague, Spencer (see above). So, I’ll truly work harder in the future not to use sloppy language–language that unnecessarily miscommunications what I’m really trying to say, and opens up deep wounds that are unhealthy for the discussion. I take full-responsibility for this. So thanks for reinforcing the widespread pushback I’ve received here. That’s why I blog–to receive healthy criticism.
For what it’s worth, I do NOT think that the goal should be to make gay people straight, even if same-sex love is wrong (I’m aware of the stats in “Torn,” the closing of Exodus Int., the debated evidence put forth by the Jones-Yarhouse project, etc.). That wasn’t my point.
So, does that leave us with Celibacy? I don’t know. Perhaps. I’m still working through all of that at the moment. I will say, though, that there are a good number of celibate gay Christians (e.g. Wesley Hill) who have gone this path and in the midst of much loneliness and pain have experienced joy. So I would not rule it out as a ridiculous option or some impossible standard set forth by happily-married-heterosexuals.
So, you said: ” Alternatively, you may mean that gay people must opt for celibacy; that, of course, would presume that every gay person is gifted with celibacy which is obviously not the case.”
Rather, I would say: I presume that gay Christians who out of conviction pursue celibacy are indwelt with the God who spoke the stars into exists, divided the Red Sea, and raised Jesus from the dead. I think we diminish the power of God, who raises the dead, if we think he can’t grant unexpected joy and fulfillment in this life to people, like Wes Hill, who have picked up their crosses and died with Christ with the hope of cherishing Him forever in uninterrupted joy in the life to come.
Please hear my heart here. In NO WAY to I diminish the real pain, loneliness, and struggles that a celibate gay Christian may–or will–face in this life. I don’t want to diminish this at all. Rather, I want to elevate the surprising and counterintuitive power of God in the gospel and the eternal reward that pulls us through the suffering in this life.
I’m still thinking through the issue of celibacy and want to talk to many people who have either taken or rejected this path to get a “flesh and blood” perspective on this issue.
Lastly, you said: “I’ve said for a long time, if the Church is serious about loving people who are gay better, we must change our theology.”
Ya, I can’t say I agree with this. It’s that “must” part that I struggle with. I also struggle with applying this logic across the board. Again, as I said in the post, I don’t see Jesus taking this approach. I don’t see him loving people (which he did) by approving of their behavior (which he didn’t). Of course, as I said, this begs the question: Is gay sex a sin? I’m on a journey trying to answer that question, so bear with me. But if “theology” is not “my thoughts about God,” but my “recognition of God’s revelation to us,” then I can’t–can I?–follow your plea here. I would have to reconfigure my entire methodology of what I believe theology to be.
Again, I truly appreciate and value your interaction here. I hope I don’t sound defensive or reactionary, or desiring to “prove” my view at all cost. I truly want to learn how to engage this discussion in a way that honors both truth and love.
Email me anytime, brother!
Thanks for the very thorough response, Preston. I’ll take you up on your offer of moving this exchange out of the com box.
Hi! I went to Cedarville a few years ago. All I can say is I am glued to my laptop screen right now, soaking up all your research!! I’m in grad school for social work and have been struggling as how to honor God, love others, and ethically practice social work in regards to clients in the LGBT community! Thanks for all your time on this – I’ll buy your book!
Well said! Thanks Spencer.
Dude, I love this stuff. I haven’t read all of your posts on this issue, but the ones I have read have been good for me!
I think an interesting question someone needs to tackle (and maybe someone already has and I am just not aware) is how distinctively “Christian” marriage, in and of itself, is. Here is what I mean. Most evangelicals in my tribe talk against homosexual marriage, saying that marriage is “one man plus one woman for one lifetime” since this is what God (the God of the Bible–i.e., the Christian God) commands. The assumption, as far as I can tell, among people like me (conservative, evangelical, etc., ) is that marriage is legitimate insofar as it conforms to the ethical ideals, commands, and will of God (Yahweh). That is, “marriage” proper is legitimated only under the authority of the Christian God. After all, we appeal to Scripture for our justifications, right? Again, this seems to be the underlying assumption–and a big one at that!
But if this is truly the assumption (whether we are cognizant of it or not), then how does this all work out consistently for us? That is, what about our Buddhist friends who have been “married,” not under a Christian ceremony/authority, but under a Buddhist one? Are they “really” married? Or what about our Mormon friends? Jehovah Witness couples? Typically, evangelical Christians have no problem accepting these couples as married. But how come?
The point is: How can we consistently say these people, who were married under the “umbrella” of decidedly non-Christian systems, are truly and legitimately :married all the while saying homosexual couples aren’t? (Again, I’m not for homosexual marriage; I’m just trying to figure out this for consistency’s sake.)
Maybe I’m mistaken. It could be, I guess, that I’m wrong that we evangelicals aren’t really making this “underlying assumption”? (Sincere question.)
maybe marriage is legitimate irrespective of whether or not it is “Christian” because there is a more general and cultural mandate from God (sort of a common grace thing). (But then again, aren’t we in a heap of trouble if we go down this road—the road that says, “Marriage is not a distinctively ‘Christian’ ideal”?)
I lean toward this latter view (I think), but I still feel like there is more to this issue than what some have addressed (or at least that I am aware of). For some reason or another this issue bothers me and has for a while. Ha!
Fun stuff, but difficult topic!
Thanks for your helpful comments! Ya, the jury is unanimous: The language of “healing” and “sick” is unhelpful. Thanks for pointing this out! As I’ve said in previous comments, I use this blog to “fine tune” my rhetoric, so the pushbacks along these lines have been helpful.
Okay, so let me try to interact with your comments.
You said: “That’s like asking a single heterosexual man to not feel romantic
feelings toward any girls he knows and stop being sexually stimulated by
the beautiful female image”
Ya, I totally get this, but I’m not sure it’s an exact parallel. I’m not saying that having the attraction is wrong, but–if the Bible says it is–acting on that attraction, whether through lust (which is true of both homosexual and heterosexual people) or sexual activity is wrong. So, I’ve got a friend who is straight, single, 37 years old, and doesn’t have the gift of celibacy. He desperately wants to get married. I would say that he’s in a similar situation and he has no “hope of getting married in the future.” He wanted to get married at 23! I would call him, and he would call himself, to not pursue sexual relationships with other people. And he’s been there since he was 13, so for 24 years. Now, I get it. Not an exact parallel. But he currently struggles with similar battles of lust, lack of intimacy, inability to fully satisfy his desires, no definite hope for satisfaction this side of the resurrection, etc.
Again, you said: ” I know plenty of Godly men that would love to accomplish that but know in their hearts it is an impossibility.” But as I said in the comment above, I don’t believe that believers indwelt with the Spirit who whispered 10 billion galaxies into existence can biblically talk about the “impossibility” of God not being able to give his risen-from-the-dead children divine power NOT to act upon desires that cultivate sinful acts. (I know, I’m begging the question about whether gay sex is sinful, but the principle applies to more than this moral issue.) I just can’t read the Bible and talk in terms of moral impossibilities. It should be impossible for Nick Vujicic, who was born with no arms and no legs, to find any joy in life, let alone a wife–but he has. The Bible seems to spit on the idea of “impossibility” when it comes to the moral right–and the joy reaped from pursuing the moral right.
The question, then, is what is the “moral right.” And that’s what I’m on a journey (through 13 blogs now!) to find out.
Now, you raise so many good questions in the second paragraph! Let me pick out just a few to converse with. And please view this as just that: a conversation.
You said: “Would they be told by well meaning Christians to live an entirely
celibate life, despite not being gifted with the gift of celibacy? (The
“gift of celibacy” typically being a lack of a sex drive and lack of
desire for a spouse).”
Again, I haven’t worked through all the nitty gritty issues and pains of gay celibacy, but I have seen people who have chosen this route and have found joy in the midst of pain and loneliness. And more importantly–more important that our earthly happiness, which is never the ultimate goal of human life–they have been used by God to bring healing, peace, and salvation–the gospel!–to a broken world in hope that they will participate in the final triumph of Jesus in the end.
” Is their only other option to marry someone they are not attracted to
and never in love with? (How difficult and damaging would that be for
their spouse, and how unnatural and inauthentic would their emotional
and sexual life be?)”
Again, I’m not saying this is the route for everyone. Certainly, it SHOULDN’T be the route for many gay Christians and it definitely isn’t the ultimate goal (get gay people to marry women and start families). However, I have talked to people who have struggled with unwanted SSA who have ended up getting married, had families, and in the midst of continual battle have lived a joy-filled, Christ-honoring marriage. Is this the best route for every gay Christian? No. Is it a legitimate option? I have to say yes, it is an option that needs to be carefully considered (e.g. based on the level of SSA on the Kinsey scale, etc….I don’t know).
“It seems like this is an expose on biblical homosexuality with no
foreseeable end game for those men and women that are wired explicitly
toward the same sex.”
Ya, I totally see what you’re saying, but this sounds too Sadducean. The Sadducees didn’t believe in an afterlife and therefore found all their fulfillment and satisfaction in this life (and the Torah seems to give them good grounds for believing as such). But I just don’t see the NT supporting this logic. The NT seems to say that following Christ will entail suffering, trials, tons of pain, yet an eternal reward in the resurrection, where gay and straight believers will enjoy their God forever and ever and ever. I see the “end game” as our participation in Jesus’s victorious reign over all things, both here and now, and not some perceived sense of fulfillment in an earthly marriage.
Okay, gotta go! Seriously, I so appreciate your very good questions and hope you continue this dialogue with me. Thanks again for taking the time to give your honest and very sharp comments on my blog.
Jeff, thanks for dropping in, brother! I really wish you would give a more thorough articulation of what you’re saying here–it’s tremendously important and so theologically rich, that I wonder if we’re all grasping the full significance of what you’re suggesting.
In any case, I’m flattered that you took the time to comment at all! So I’ll take what I can get 🙂
Love you, bro.
So, would you say that such “destruction” must be empirical; that is, visible and recognized by fellow humans? I’m just thinking out loud here, but what if the destruction of a sinful activity is NOT visible. That is, what if “destruction” is happening right under our noses, but we don’t realize it?
I’m not even thinking of homosexual acts in particualar, but just wondering if your logic can be verified across the board. It certainly doesn’t seem to work for “old covenant” sins. Not being circumcised was a sin worthy of death, but there is no visible outcome of destruction for those who kept their hat on (sorry…couldn’t help myself). Or how about the dietary laws? Did eating catfish produce the visible sign of destruction?
Again, just thinking out loud.
Okay, so maybe “sin = visible destruction” is only a new covenant thing. Does it work across the board? Do all sins bread visible sings of destruction? And on the converse, do all acts of obedience cultivate life and shalom?
Before I sign off on what your saying–if I’ve represented your view correctly–I’d need to make sure it works across the board.
But again, I’d love to see your tease this out a bit more. (Or should I just read Plantiga?)
Hey man, I’m not making claims about the “visibility” of sin. The real soul killing sins reside in the heart, and are not always obvious.
All I’m suggesting is that sin kills people. That is its function (if we can say it has a “function”). Those who would minimize “sin” and its power partner with the demonic. So your post is quite right. Grace is healing, not permission giving.
However, as I argued before (and perhaps this is the empirical/visible side of the debate) sickness is one reason I find it hard to call monogamous gay relationships sin–they do not seem to be killing anyone, in fact I find the opposite true.
Ya, that makes sense. I still see a bit a conflict, though. You are measuring whether or not monogamous gay relationships are killing people based on empirical observations (“they do not seem to be…”). Would this correct?
Also, what happens when another person says that they see gay relationships, even monogamous ones, breeding the destruction that you say comes from sin?
I’m not a philosopher by any stretch, but I think I would say that my ethical system is more deontological, even though I’m not sure I can define what that means 🙂 Is that incompatible with virtue ethics, or are they apples and oranges?
(1) It seems to me “knowledge” about our world comes primarily through experience. We initially select our perspective (and thus our hermeneutic) based on the experiences we have. As such, experience ends up being a primary influencer on our values. I don’t know how else we would get there.
As a Biblical example, one reason we think it is just fine for women *not* to wear head coverings to church is because we simply see no damage coming from those who refrain. If we did see damage, you’d see more pastors teaching on 1 Corinthians 11. Now, the Bible certainly shapes our values, points in certain directions for us to see the fully alive life, and certainly Jesus own words are decisive (and must be interpreted well). But no one thinks that if we saw a Hittite, Amorite, Perizzite, etc, it would be our ethical duty to slaughter them (even though the Bible says we should.)
(2) If someone else does observe monogamous gay relationships being soul-damaging I would love to hear their observations. And if valid, count them as evidence. This is exactly what I’m asking for. My claim is that I can see why greed, pride, lust and the rest destroy a human soul. I simply do not see the connection in the monogamous gay relationships I observe. In fact I see the opposite.
BTW – its worth noting that God does give us five senses and they are part of the good creation, and a worthy source of knowledge and self-understaing. Empirical experience is by no means bad (not that you are saying otherwise, but its okay to say something obvious here).
(3) Its worth jumping into the conversation of ethical theories. NT Wright address deontology and virtue ethics in Christian terms at the beginning of “After You Believe” (though its introductory for sure.)
I would argue that Jesus rejects deontology (which asks, “What are the rules I should obey?”) and embraces a virtue ethic (which asks, “What kind of person should I become?” and says the good person has certain “virtues” or excellences of character). The Sermon on the Mount strikes me as one long portrait of what the “good” person looks like and Jesus routinely captures the fully alive person in virtue-oriented language: “be perfect as your father is perfect,” “Good trees bear good fruit.” Get rid of lust and anger, get rid of jealousy, greed, and worry (these are moves to make ones character in line with God’s). Work on your heart; build it on this rock. Virtue ethics is a heart centered ethics, where deontology is an action centered ethic. In fact Jesus criticizes the pharisees for being overly concerned with the rules and neglecting their hearts (ex Matthew 23). Apparently, you can follow all the rules and be an awful human being. Peace!
Perhaps we could have that conversation.
I would love that conversation, bro! I’ll dig into Wright as an entry point (“After You Believe” is one of the only books of his I haven’t read!) and think through some methodological questions. Then I’ll fly up to Greeley so we can hang out and banter around about this issue. How does that sound??!
Yes He did say ” Go and sin no more”…He did not say ” it’s OK you were ” born that way” so carry on
Thanks so much, Annie! Glad that the series has been helpful!
Many blessings on your ministry.
Dude, thanks for dropping in! Great thoughts on marriage, and I’ve actually said similar things to conservative friends of mine who are torn over whether they can attend a gay wedding. And my comeback is that if they would attend a wedding between two heterosexual unbelievers, where the marriage is outside of Christ, then consistently they should be okay attended a gay marriage as well. Plus, attending a wedding doesn’t mean you affirm everything about the marriage, the lifestyle of the people, etc. Still a tough issue, but your comment made me think of this. (Of course, my analogy works better with your first proposal.)
Hey Matthew, you make some interesting points to consider here. Just curious, what Scriptures would you use to support the radical view that marriages outside of the church are not recognized in the eyes of God? If this were true, then every non-Christian would be living in sexual immorality right? Their children illegitimate? Married couples who convert would need to get remarried in the church? Just thinking out loud 🙂
So, does that leave us with Celibacy? I don’t know. Perhaps. I’m still working through all of that at the moment. I will say, though, that there are a good number of celibate gay Christians (e.g. Wesley Hill) who have gone this path and in the midst of much loneliness and pain have experienced joy. So I would not rule it out as a ridiculous option or some impossible standard set forth by happily-married-heterosexuals.
First, I haven’t read any of your other blog posts on this matter, so maybe you addressed this issue already. But isn’t this whole series a charade? That is, there is only one possible conclusion you can reach (that is, celibacy is the only option for gay men and women), otherwise your conclusions 1) never get posted here on the faculty blog and 2) you lose your job.
Thanks Phil, I appreciate your honest opinion. I don’t think it’s a charade, but you can read the rest of the series and see if you think it is. And I wouldn’t loose my job over this issue. My school upholds the Bible not tradition as our ultimate authority. So I don’t have any outside pressure on this issue.
But I’m sure that no matter what I say, some people will think it’s a charade. I’m glad, though, that my LGBT friends haven’t thought that it’s a charade. There are plenty of Christian charades out there, so if I contribute to this mess, then…well…I’d have to renounce my believe in nonviolence and punch myself in the face.
I too have a comment re. tone that is similar to the ones about healing and sickness. When I read the paragraph that mentions ‘turning tricks’ it sounds to me like you are associating gay people with turning tricks. I know that that is not what you mean but I thought I should point it out. Maybe it’s worth modifying your language a bit there. However, I think your argument is valid.
Great work so far, these blog posts are really great!
Thanks Billy. That’s helpful.
Hey there! I was referred to the first post in this series earlier this morning and have now managed to find myself finished with the most recent post (I guess the internet equivalent to “couldn’t put the book down” would be “couldn’t click the red x”). It is so refreshing to read a Biblical, researched, and non-judgemental take on this issue from someone who is trying to discover what the Bible actually says instead of aiming to uphold his already formed opinions. Thanks for all your research and for being willing to start an honest conversation. I look forward to reading future posts & the soon-to-be book. Grace & peace.
Thanks for reading, Erin! And especially for your very encouraging words!
Professor–– you and I have have already talked by email but I just wanted to reiterate publicly how grateful I am that you’re exploring this topic in such a bold and yet also gracious/loving manner. And I have also been delighted to see how everyone is interacting with you in an equally kind way. Blessings to you as you continue this series & I will definitely be buying your book!