Tuesday, 1 November 2016

What Attitude Should Christians Have to Homosexuality?

At the present time, homosexuality is an issue that is very much in people’s attention in Christian circles.  In Western countries professing Christians, i.e., people defining themselves as Christians, are increasingly abandoning the idea that homosexual practice is always wrong.  Instead, more and more of them are claiming that in certain circumstances it is acceptable to God. 

Those professing Christians who take this view are siding with mainstream Western society, which is, of course, very accepting of homosexual practice.

Going to the Bible

We who are seeking to follow Jesus as Lord, however, must never accept the values of society without testing them to the best of our ability.  And the most important way to test something is simply to see what the Bible has to say about it.  Scripture can rightly be described as ‘The Manual for the Human Life’, and we must all submit to what it teaches. 

Importantly, the Bible speaks on a number of occasions about homosexuality.  And what it has to say on this issue is not difficult to understand. 

Sometimes on a given topic there are biblical passages that seem, at least on a quick reading of the text, to be pointing in different directions.  And in such cases it is often not easy to reach conclusions about exactly what the Bible is teaching. 

Crucially, however, homosexuality is not in this category.  Scripture is consistent in its description of homosexual orientation as an abnormality.  And it is equally consistent in its strong condemnation of homosexual practice as sinful. 

Let’s turn now to look at some of the most important passages. 

Jesus and Sodom

In Matthew 11:23-24 Jesus says: 
23 And you will not be exalted to heaven, will you, Capernaum?  . . . For if the miracles that took place in you had taken place in Sodom, it would still be here today.  24 Nevertheless, I tell you that on the Day of Judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.’ 
He teaches something very similar, also by referring to Sodom, in Matthew 10:14-15 and Luke 10:10-12.

In these passages Jesus is clearly implying that what the people of Sodom did was very bad.  It is true that He is implying too that those who reject His message are even worse.  But the whole point of mentioning Sodom is because it is a benchmark for bad behaviour. 

So what sins of the Sodomites did Jesus have in mind?  Well, Genesis 13:13; 18:20-33; 19:13 tell us only that the Sodomites were very sinful.  No details are given.  In Genesis 19:1-9, however, they are portrayed as guilty of attempted homosexual rape.

Importantly, however, in first century Judaism the sin of the Sodomites had come to be associated simply with homosexual practice, without any connotation of rape.  This is similar to how ‘sodomy’ became a term in English to refer to male homosexual acts, also without any connotation of rape. 

Some might want to argue that Jesus could have had a different view from the usual one.  They might claim that when He condemned the Sodomites, He was specifically condemning homosexual rape, and perhaps other sins as well, but not consensual homosexual practice.

It is true that we shouldn’t just assume that Jesus held the views of His contemporaries on things.  Nevertheless, it is difficult to understand Him to be taking a different view of the sin of the Sodomites from that of mainstream Jews in His day. 

When Jesus says that on the Day of Judgment it will be more tolerable for the Sodomites than for certain others, He is giving a new piece of information – that the others will be in big trouble – by reference to a known piece of information – that the Sodomites will be in a lot of trouble. 

By using a comparison of this sort, it would be surprising if Jesus didn’t have the same understanding of the known piece of information as those listening to His words.  If He had differed from mainstream Jews in His understanding of what the sins of the Sodomites consisted of, it would’ve made much more sense for Him to have found a different way of stressing the sins of those who rejected His message.

Jesus’ sayings about Sodom therefore provide a significant piece of evidence that in His earthly ministry He condemned all homosexual practice as sinful and liable to severe punishment.

For more on these verses, and on other passages that provide insight into Jesus’ attitude to homosexual practice, see my related article: What Did Jesus Make of Homosexual Practice?

Romans 1

In chapters 1-3 of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he spends considerable time stressing how sinful human beings are.  Importantly, as he does this, homosexuality is one of the few things that he gives more than a passing mention.

In Romans 1:26-27 Paul states: 
26 Therefore God gave them [sinful people] over to shameful passions.  For their women exchanged natural sexual relations for that which is unnatural.  27 And in the same way men also abandoned natural sexual relations with women and burned in their desire for each other, men committing shameful acts with men and receiving in themselves the fitting penalty for their error.’ 
There are some who claim that in this passage Paul is talking only about homosexual practice in certain contexts.  They say that he isn’t condemning long-term committed relationships between two people. 

This is a patently biased reading of the text.  No one approaching these verses with any honesty could reach this conclusion.  Homosexual orientation is clearly portrayed in this passage as an abnormality.  And all homosexual practice is just as clearly portrayed as a sinful deviation from God’s created order.

1 Corinthians 6

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Paul warns the church in Corinth: 
9 Or don’t you know that those who are immoral won’t inherit the kingdom of God?  Don’t be deceived.  Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who sleep with men, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor those who are verbally abusive, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.’ 
My translation at the end of verse 9, ‘nor men who sleep with men’, is actually based on two separate terms in the Greek, which reads literally ‘nor malakoi, nor arsenokoitai’.

There is some dispute about the meaning of malakoi in this verse.  It is possible that it refers to men who act effeminately.  But most scholars take it to refer to the passive partners in male homosexual acts.  And this latter interpretation is to be slightly preferred.

Arsenokoitai is a compound word incorporating the word arsen, meaning ‘male’, and the word koite, meaning ‘bed’.  And it refers to men who sleep with males, i.e., to practising male homosexuals. 

If malakoi in this verse means the passive partners in male homosexual acts, then arsenokoitai will be referring specifically to the active partners.  If, on the other hand, malakoi means men who act effeminately, then arsenokoitai will be referring to all practising male homosexuals. 

Since I prefer to understand malakoi as referring to the passive partners in male homosexual acts, I therefore prefer the view that arsenokoitai refers specifically to the active partners.  And I have accordingly simplified things by translating ‘nor malakoi, nor arsenokoitai’ as ‘nor men who sleep with men’.  Those who understand malakoi as referring to men who act effeminately would translate malakoi and arsenokoitai by separate terms in English.

Regardless of which way we interpret, however, we need to understand clearly that in this passage Paul is condemning all male homosexual practice.  Either malakoi and arsenokoitai together condemn this.  Or arsenokoitai alone condemns it.  And although women are not mentioned, the passage certainly implies that homosexual practice among women is a sin too.

Paul says here that those who unrepentantly continue to practise the sins he mentions will not inherit the kingdom of GodAt least part of his meaning must be that those who practise these sins will not reach heaven.  So he is saying that practising homosexuals, as well as those who unrepentantly commit other sins, will end up in hell.

It is important to bear in mind too that in Greek society of Paul’s day homosexual practice was very widespread.  This society, like our own in the West today, was very accepting of homosexual practice and unoffended by it. 

It is therefore a mistake to say that Paul was condemning this practice simply out of a desire for the church to avoid causing offence to non-Christians.  Instead, he doubtless regarded it as evil in its own right.

Summing up

The three passages I have discussed all teach that homosexual practice is sinful.  And the Romans passage also teaches that homosexual orientation is an abnormality.  There are other biblical texts that say the same things too.

We must not allow ourselves to be deceived into thinking that the Bible is somehow mistaken in what it has to say about this issue.  Scripture is fully authoritative, and what it says should be regarded as final. 

Sexuality is a spiritual thing

According to the Bible, there is something deep and spiritual about sexuality and sexual acts among human beings. 

In Genesis 2:24 we read: 
‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife.  And they will become one flesh.’ 
Jesus quotes these words in Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7-8.  And in 1 Corinthians 6:15-16 Paul says: 
15 Don’t you know that your bodies are parts of Christ?  Shall I then take the parts of Christ and make them parts of a prostitute?  Certainly not!  16 Or don’t you know that the person who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her?  For He says, “The two will become one flesh.” ’ 
At the end of v. 16 Paul is certainly making a free quotation of the last sentence in Genesis 2:24.  And his words in this passage make it clear that this verse in Genesis is referring to literal sexual joining.  But Paul’s words would be pointless unless he also means that the sexual union is accompanied by a union in a deeper sense too.

There is apparently some deep spiritual joining that takes place between husband and wife in the sex act.  And Paul implies that this deep joining can take place in a wrong context too.

In some profound way, immoral sexual acts among humans, including homosexual ones, are attacking something that goes to the heart of God’s created order for us.  For humans, unlike animals, sex is not just a physical and emotional thing.  There is a spiritual element too. 

I would suggest that this is part of the reason why children who have been sexually abused are often so damaged by the experience.  Something spiritually evil has occurred.  And the same is true of other immoral sexual acts, including homosexual acts, even if obvious psychological damage doesn’t result as often as it does in victims of child abuse. 

Modern Western thinking

Those professing Christians in Western countries, who claim that homosexual practice is not always offensive to God, have obviously been very influenced by the culture in which they live. 

Mainstream Western culture typically says that if someone does something that doesn’t cause another person direct harm, then there is nothing wrong with it.  Instead of asking as a first priority what pleases or displeases God, His wishes are usually completely ignored.

Homosexual practice is not viewed as causing anyone direct harm.  And therefore our culture doesn’t condemn it.  Professing Christians who have been influenced by this worldview have followed its flawed way of thinking.

Changes in Western attitudes

Although Western culture today has this attitude to homosexuality, the change over the last 50 years or so has been huge.  The typical Western view has really gone from one wrong extreme to another wrong extreme.

If we go back some decades, the average Western man or woman on the street would have regarded homosexual orientation as abnormal.  They would probably also have regarded themselves, perhaps subconsciously, as in some sense superior to those with this orientation.  Quite often too there was contempt, at times even hatred, towards people with homosexual orientation.  Using a modern term, we could say that many people were ‘homophobic’.

It is true that homosexual orientation is an abnormality.  However, when those who don’t suffer from this particular problem look down on those who do, they are being hypocrites.  We humans are all members of a sinful race.  And we are all very damaged, morally and in other respects.

Of course, when Christians are born again, God begins the work of moral improvement in us.  But even that is a fairly slow process.  And, most importantly, it is only by God’s grace that we are able to enter into this process at all.  It therefore makes no sense for people without homosexual orientation to look down on those who have it.  It is very hypocritical.

In the Gospels one of the sins that we most often find making Jesus angry is hypocrisy.  And we can be sure that the typical Western attitude towards homosexuals some decades ago was one that angered God.  Hypocrisy and hatred always do.

In Western culture today, this type of attitude is much rarer than it used to be.  Nevertheless, there are still some, especially of an older generation, who think in this way.  Those who take this attitude need to repent.

Instead of just giving up this hypocrisy, however, Western culture has actually gone to the other extreme.  It now says that homosexual orientation is not a disorder and homosexual practice is not immoral. 

For a very different reason, then, we can be sure that God is angry with the modern majority Western attitude towards homosexuality.  And for a very different reason people need to repent. 

Helping Christians with homosexual orientation

Homosexual orientation is such a common problem that most churches will include Christians who suffer from it.  It is essential that church leaders know how to help those who are affected. 

The affected person may need reassurance that they are as loved, valued and valuable as those who don’t have this problem.  Furthermore, if there is any homophobia in a church, pastors need to deal with it firmly.  They must make it clear that unloving and hypocritical attitudes have no place among God’s people.

But church leaders should do more than just encourage.  Homosexual orientation is a particular tendency towards sin.  And God surely wants Christians to be free from such tendencies.  We can certainly expect to be tempted throughout our lives, as Jesus was.  But we should still expect God to act against any special tendencies towards sin within us. 

I have heard well-meaning Christian leaders say that if a Christian has homosexual orientation, it is a problem that God is using for the good of that person and no release from it should be sought. 

It is true that God works for our good in all things (Romans 8:28).  And He will use homosexual orientation for the good of those Christians who are affected by it.  But it is a big mistake not to seek release from it. 

If someone has a tendency to lose their temper, for example, it would be perverse to say that God wants this tendency to remain so that He can use it.  And the same goes for homosexual orientation.  Besides, there are Christian healing ministries that will testify to having some success in helping rid people of these problems.

Celibate living

I think many people are unwilling to condemn homosexual practice because they think it is unreasonable to expect people to live celibate lives. 

As I have just argued, however, Christians who are affected by homosexual orientation should be looking to God to deliver them from it.  There are some who have been freed from this, who have then gone on to get married.

What is more, even if deliverance proves slow or difficult, we need to be clear that the normal Christian life involves hardship.  God expects us to carry our crosses every day (Luke 9:23) and to endure hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:3). 

I myself am unmarried and therefore celibate, and it is not easy.  But this is part of my personal duty as a Christian, and God expects us to show courage.  Christians down the ages have endured all sorts of horrendous persecutions for Christ’s sake.  And the sufferings involved in celibacy are quite small in comparison with many of these, although I realise that being celibate is much more difficult for some than for others. 

Besides, those who say that it is unreasonable for homosexuals to remain celibate are usually very inconsistent.  They – rightly, of course – wouldn’t hesitate to say that people who have paedophiliac sexual orientation, and no other orientation as well, should remain celibate.  But if those with paedophiliac orientation can be expected to remain celibate, then so can homosexuals and unmarried heterosexuals.

Persecution of Christians

In recent years there have been examples of Christians in Western countries being sacked or demoted from jobs because they wouldn’t condone homosexual practice. 

Not many have suffered in this way so far.  Nevertheless, those of us who condemn homosexual practice, and who say that homosexual orientation is a disorder, will probably experience persecution at some level.  We will probably be falsely accused of homophobia. 

It is ironic that those of us who are following Jesus as Lord hate no one, yet those who accuse us of homophobia usually hate us. 

To be falsely accused, however, is normal for Christians, and we shouldn’t become anxious about it.  Being badly treated also gives us a golden opportunity to respond ‘in the opposite spirit’ by loving those who hate us (Matthew 5:38-46; Luke 6:27-36).

Christians with homosexual orientation

If you are a Christian reading this who is affected by homosexual orientation, make sure that you aren’t deceived by the culture in which you live.  The Bible is very clear that homosexual orientation is an abnormality and homosexual practice is a sin.  Unrepentant practising homosexuals are firmly on track for punishment in hell.

On the other hand, however, be assured that you are as loved by and valuable to God as anyone else.  And don’t let anyone look down on you.

Finally, seek the Lord patiently for deliverance from this condition.

See also: