This is long, get a coffee.
This piece does not seek to add to the debate about the Christian view of homosexuality, it merely seeks to explain why many Christians struggle to accept gay relationships. Christianity is a catch-all term that embraces many believers on a spectrum between deeply conservative and extremely liberal in their view and interpretation of the Bible. In this piece, I don’t claim to speak on behalf of any particular denomination or group, other than trying to explain the standard evangelical view and the current debate in the Christian community. This is my blog, this is my piece of work and any failings within it are my own. I am not here to pass judgement, I merely want to explain the Christian situation to those who might not know what it is.
Why am I writing this piece?
Because I, along with many other Christians in the UK are seeking to find a way forward in the whole debate surrounding “gay marriage.” But in searching for a way forward you have to start by educating yourself. It’s of absolutely no value to start spouting off on a given subject if you haven’t had the common decency to read up on it first. Many people are aware that ‘the Bible is against homosexuality,’ but most people don’t know exactly what it says. That’s what this blog piece is about. What exactly does the Bible say about homosexuality?
Evangelical Christians are those who assert the truth of Scripture and who also believe that you don’t just drift into being a Christian. That is, it’s a conscious decision that you make, you are not automatically a Christian if your Mum was one, etc. In making that decision, it usually follows that you start to take what Jesus says very seriously. So you take God’s word (the Bible) off your shelf, dust it off and start reading and applying it to your life.
There will be massive great chunks of the Bible that you will have no problem applying to your life. Everyone agrees that becoming a less self-centred, kinder, more socially aware person is a good thing and a blessing to society. You will have nose-wrinkle moments, reading books like Kings and Chronicles, where kings just seem to spend their lives killing thousands of people, for no apparent reason other than it’s go-to-war time (“In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war…” 1 Chronicles 20:1). You’ll have theological tussles with subjects such as creation, the role of women and why the Bible has a lot to say about keeping slaves. In all these things there is some sort of progression. Most people are aware of the Creation versus evolution debate. Evolution does not deny that God’s behind it all, it just gives a mechanism for how it might have happened. But evolution can’t explain why we’re here and I believe God is the reason we’re here. The fact that I can’t believe in a literal six-day creation, is not because I am denying God’s authority. It’s because I’ve spend too long grubbing about on my backside on Geology fieldwork, picking stuff out of the ground and knowing that it took millions of years to get like that. I do not believe that God is involved in some giant con-job, making out that the earth is much older than it actually is. It’s also because I believe God is not bound by time and space (“for a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by…” Psalm 90:4). Days are irrelevant to God but he used the concept of days to explain to people the order that things happened in, using terms that they could understand. Jesus does the same thing in the parables, conveying teaching using terms the people would be familiar with – the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 would be one famous example.
But there is possibly one subject, that is at the heart of current topical debate, that Christians are struggling with. The government wants to change the law so that gay people can get married in the way that we would traditionally understand what marriage means. Not a halfway house – a Civil Partnership, but a Marriage. There are few Christians who can wholeheartedly say ‘fine, go ahead’ to that, because of what the Bible says about the subject.
There are 12 references to homosexuality in the Bible. I have put in bold the ones I particularly want to mention: (Genesis 19:5, Leviticus 18:21-22, Leviticus 20:13, Deuteronomy 23: 17-18, Judges 19:22, 1 Kings 14: 23-24, 1 Kings 15:12-15, 1 Kings 22:46, 2 Kings 23: 6-8, Romans 1: 26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 8-10). The references that are not in bold, mention homosexuality in terms of cult prostitution and that isn’t the type of relationship that we’re talking about.
Genesis 19:5 is Sodom and Gomorrah and we’ve all heard of that. A lovely tale of a Dad’s very interesting attitude to his daughters in the face of the men of the town wanting to have sex with Lot’s visitors (a couple of angels). (“Please, my brothers,” he begged, “don’t do such a wicked thing. 8 Look, I have two virgin daughters. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do with them as you wish.”) Great parenting there, Lot! Because of Sodom and Gomorrah’s sins (which were numerous and not just to do with sex); God rained down fire and brimstone and obliterated both places from the face of the earth. As for what happened to his daughters, it just got a whole heap worse; with a realisation that Dad’s the only bloke for miles and a plotline that even Virginia Andrews would’ve struggled to come up with. As we say these days… just don’t go there. We’re only nineteen chapters into the Bible and hopefully everyone’s lost the impression that the Bible’s full of butterflies, roses and perfect people. Judges 19:22 is almost the same tale again but in the town of Gibeah. Worse, this time a woman is raped and dies as a result. It’s a completely hideous thing to read. It serves as a clarion call for the Israelites to wake up to what is going on in their midst. Ironically delivered by the man who sent his concubine out to be brutally raped. We never know his name.
Then we move into Leviticus, which is where the laws for the Jewish people are mostly concentrated. They cover their rituals and their morals. While the laws on rituals have been abolished in Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, the moral laws are still in place, those have not been repealed. Therefore, in Leviticus we find the two passages that speak explicitly of forbidding homosexual practice:
22 “Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin. (Leviticus 18. This is in amongst all the other laws about who and what you can’t have sex with).
It’s reiterated in Leviticus 20 ( 13 “If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense.)
That’s it for the Old Testament, apart from the other situations I mentioned earlier, which I don’t think are relevant to the picture. On to the New Testament. As this is the life and outworking of Jesus’ ministry, this is the section of the Bible that most Christians will pay particular attention to. Whilst the Old Testament has much from which we can learn, it’s the NT that we turn to for examples of how to live out the Christian life.
It is true that Jesus did not mention homosexuals. However, Paul, charged with taking the gospel out to the Gentiles (non-Jewish people), did in three places. Firstly in Romans Chapter 1, where we see the only instance of this relating to lesbianism: 26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.
It’s mentioned again in 1 Corinthians: 9 Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.
And finally, in 1 Timothy: 8 We know that the law is good when used correctly. 9 For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders. 10 The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders,[c] liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching…
So that is what the Bible says about Homosexuality. What is under fire is not same-sex attraction, but acting on that. Therefore, it has traditionally been seen by Christians that the only biblically based way of “managing” yourself if you are attracted to members of the same sex, is to practice celibacy.
I’ve spent the last week reading various debates within the Christian community about the way forward on this issue. Secular people may take one look at these passages and conclude, that as they were written in the first century and earlier, they have nothing to say about life in the twenty-first century. Nor do these people have any knowledge of modern, monogamous gay relationships. Therefore, Christians should just ignore it and move on. It has no relevance to today.
But for many Christians just ignoring it is not an option. As I’ve already said, celibacy is seen by many as the only biblical option, but that is a high calling indeed. For other Christians, they can see how Civil Partnerships can work and some clergy themselves are in Civil Partnerships of their own. Some Christians have absolutely no experience of friendships with gay people and therefore do not struggle with the concept of being ‘against’ something they have no experience of. Whilst others battle between loving friends and family members who are gay, but find it hard to condone what they do because they know what the Bible says and want to remain true to that.
In the last week the debate has moved on apace with Steve Chalke putting forward his view – essentially setting the same standards for homosexual couples as the Bible gives for heterosexual couples. That is; no sex before marriage and marriage is for life. Steve has received a lot of criticism for his use of what some people are calling hermaneutical gymnastics (basically, using the same principles of progression that are used in the consideration of slavery and of women’s roles and applying it to the issue of homosexuality). Traditionalists argue that you can’t do this as, unlike the former issues, there is no progression (change in) what is said between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Paul, writing in 1 Corinthians warns against this very thing; “Do not go beyond what is written…” (1 Corinthians 4: 6). Similarly in Revelation, there is the warning not to add things or take them away (Revelation 22: 18). Steve Chalke does not say these things lightly, but the mere presence of the whirlwind now surrounding him is evidence of the strength of feeling on all sides of this debate. For all those who are pointing out where he is wrong, there are similar numbers shrugging their shoulders and saying “sounds sensible to me.” What is true is that we HAVE to talk about it and Steve Chalke just provided a welcome catalyst for that, whatever side we find ourselves on.
Having spent the week up to my eyes in homosexuality 😀 I can now see why any movement forward is going to have to be as a result of a gargantuan amount of prayer, contemplation, theological wrestling and talking to each other until we’re blue in the face. This is not going to be an easy situation for Christians to move forward on, but don’t think that we don’t want to try.
The church has been guilty of some of the most appalling treatment of homosexual people over the years and in many cases this is too little, too late. Still, we’re addressing the issue now. I’ll be honest. I look at the advice to ‘love the person and hate the sin,’ and find it the most useless piece of advice because I have no clue where the boundary is. Should I stop going to my friend’s houses? Should I stop sharing food with them? Therefore, I’m sure my flagrant associations with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Asexual people (I know at least one of each), aren’t going down too well in more conservative quarters. If homosexuality is the sin the Bible says it is, then why am I, with raging food abuse issues, more acceptable in church than a gay couple living in a stable, faithful relationship? Why am I not politely shunned? Is Compulsive Overeating a more acceptable sin than homosexuality? But surely sin is sin and we’re applying double standards? This is the debate we find ourselves in today and I fervently hope we can find a way forward.
At the heart of everything, we have to remember that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for EVERYONE and the church is not a club for the exclusive use of a bunch of white, middle-aged, middle class – to borrow from Bridget Jones – “smug marrieds”. Jesus was none of those things and he was also rather insistent that we let him do the judging.
It is never my intention to cause offence with my writing, but if I have done so in this piece I hope you will forgive me. Like many I am searching and seeking a way forward. It’s a bit like groping in the dark at times, but I’m working hard to listen and consider what everyone has to say and hopefully, one day, there will be a way forward on which we can agree.