Public perceptions of homosexuality have changed over the years. In the Greco-Roman culture during which the New Testament was written, homosexuality was an accepted practise. Over the centuries that changed. By 1800’s in England homosexuality was a crime. The well-known playwright Oscar Wilde was jailed for two years for homosexual practises. Homosexuality was later seen as an evil that needed to be dealt with by exorcism or shock treatment. Still later, homosexuality was considered not as evil, but as a psychological disorder that needed therapy or sexual experimentation with the opposite sex. Now homosexuality is viewed as a viable, healthy, valid, alternate lifestyle, perceived to be a foundational human right. Public perceptions have radically changed.
The church has responded to homosexual people in two equally wrongs ways.
The first incorrect response has been repulsion. We remember seeing Christian protesters holding signboards saying: “God hates gays”. Historically, many Christians have acted in repulsion, but then have at the same time often not been repulsed by other sinful behaviour. We forget that Jesus came to save sinners, not those who think they are righteous. Homosexual behaviour is a sin, but so too is homophobia.
The other incorrect response has been complete acceptance. Certain church groups have welcomed practising homosexuals into their fellowship without calling for repentance. The Metropolitan Community Church believes:
“New scientific information, social changes and personal experience are perhaps the greatest forces for change in the way we interpret the Bible and develop our beliefs.”
In other words, our interpretation of the Bible changes as the world changes around us. If the world accepts a particular behaviour, so should the church. Evangelical Christians would argue that the Bible’s message remains constant and we should understand the world around us in the light of the Bible. Is God anti-gay? The quick answer is no; God is anti-sin, sin in whatever form. How then should Christians think about homosexuality?
1. Homosexual practise is a sin
Notice, I say homosexual “practise” or “behaviour”, not orientation. Orientation,“inner desire” or, in biblical language, “temptation” is not sin; when we act on that desire or temptation it becomes sin. For example, the book of Hebrews in the Bible tells us that Jesus was tempted like us in every way yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:15) Orientation or desire is not sin.
Notice I say homosexuality is a “sin”; it dishonours God, it’s against his good laws and it’s not for our good.
Notice I say it is “a” sin, not “the” sin. Homosexuality is not the unforgivable sin. It is a sin that can keep us from heaven, just like many other sins mentioned in the Bible.
What does the Bible tell us about homosexuality?
Genesis 1 tells us that God created man and woman in his image and told them to be fruitful and multiply. Genesis 2 gives us a bit more detail. God creates Eve as a suitable companion for Adam and in Genesis 2:24 we discover that God’s general purpose for humans is that one man marries one woman and in that secure relationship they enjoy companionship and sex, and if God wills, have children.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)
In Genesis 19 is the account of Sodom and Gomorrah. Male visitors stayed overnight at Lot’s house and this is what happened:
4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. 5 And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” (Genesis 19:4-5)
The men of Sodom did not want to have tea with the visitors, but sexual intercourse. Sodom was judged by God “as an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:6).
We see that God takes sexual sin very seriously. A life characterized by sexual sin indicates that you are living in rebellion towards God.
Leviticus 20:13 is a controversial verse:
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (Leviticus 20:13)
Please note the following:
(a) Clearly homosexual practise is dishonouring to God. Some liberal theologians argue that this verse is actually condemning idolatry of which homosexuality was merely a neutral by-product. This can’t be correct as this verse is in the context of sexual sin, not idolatry.
(b) Homosexuality was not the only sinful behaviour punishable by death, so were adultery and incest.
(c) In the Bible a number of other sexual sins are called “abominations”, including deceitful speech, pride and murder.
(d) This verse does not mean we should kill or imprison homosexual people today. If we had to take all the Old Testament laws to Israel and apply them straight to us today, we would need to execute couples living together, anyone who has had an affair and all rebellious children. The Old Testament laws show us what pleases and displeases God, but we are no longer living in a theocratic state and so we can’t apply those laws woodenly or directly to us today. Very often we need to establish the principle behind the individual law.
I think governments today should not criminalise homosexual activity between two consenting adults, but neither should they incentivise homosexual lifestyle or treat it as an alternate lifestyle. Governments, I would argue, should not legalise same-sex marriage as God defines marriage, not the state.
Romans 1 is also very clear on the issue:
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 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. (Romans 1:26-27)
This passage tells us two things about homosexuality: It’s a sign of God’s judgment and it is unnatural.
Homosexuality as a sign of God’s judgement
V26 starts by saying, “For this reason”. The reason is the temporal wrath or judgement of God coming on the world for its failure to acknowledge God as God. One of the signs of God’s judgment on a society is homosexuality. Please understand that this is not God’s judgment on an individual person, but on society as a whole – a society which has enabled, made possible and condoned a culture where homosexuality can thrive. Homosexuality is like the red warning light on your car’s dashboard – it tells you that there is something more profound and more serious wrong.
Homosexuality is contrary to nature
In v26 homosexuality is described as “contrary to nature (ESV)” or “unnatural” (NIV).
Some liberal theologians will argue that what is denounced in this passage is heterosexual people committing homosexual acts, in other words, it’s contrary to their own nature. Paul, they say, is not condemning all homosexual acts but only that which goes against your own sexual inclination. However, the words “natural” or “nature” don’t describe our own inclination or what feels natural to us, but the fixed ways of things in creation. The design of creation (and human anatomy) tells us that homosexual behaviour is not God’s purpose. When we desire things that God has forbidden, it shows us how much sin has impacted us and our world.
1 Corinthians 6 says:
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
In this Corinthian passage Paul gives examples of people who will not be in heaven, included are “men who practise homosexuality”. Again liberal theologians will argue that this passage refers to homosexual prostitution or forced homosexual practise, not sexual liaisons in a loving, faithful relationship. On the contrary, this verse speaks to the practise of homosexuality in general no matter the context. Homosexual sin is serious.
2. Homosexual sin is not inescapable
The very next verse in 1 Corinthians 6 gives us much hope:
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11)
However deep-seated someone’s behaviour, homosexual lifestyle is not inescapable. It is possible for someone living a homosexual lifestyle to be made new by God. In Christ we are no longer what we were. We may be tempted to go back to our past sins and sinful lifestyle, but those past sins no longer define who we are in Christ. Homosexuality is a sin but it’s not the unforgivable sin. It can be can be repented of and one can be forgiven – as with all other sins. As Christians we might still struggle with homosexual desires and temptations, but like all temptations they are to be resisted.
Christians may struggle with same-sex attraction
When a practising homosexual becomes a Christian they should not expect that they will suddenly have no more same-sex attraction. For example, if you’re addicted to porn or food and become a Christian, the temptation to porn or food very seldom disappears immediately or ever.
Sam Alberry is an evangelical Christian minister who struggles with same-sex attraction. He has written an excellent book, “Is God anti-gay?” He knows that homosexuality is a sin and that marriage between one man and one woman is God’s only design for sex. He has chosen a life of singleness and celibacy to honour God and for his own good. He makes the good point that when we become Christian we don’t become perfect and that as Christians God may change our same-sex attraction, but he may not. You may have to fight that temptation until you get to heaven.
Therefore, we deal with sexual sin the same way we deal with all sin: repentance and faith.
Many churches that deny that homosexuality is a sin love quoting Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery in John 8:7, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone!” “See”, they say, “Jesus didn’t condemn her; neither should we condemn anyone!” They are quite right. Ultimately only God can condemn. Nevertheless, we must not forget Jesus’ next words to the woman, “Go, and sin no more.” Jesus said, “I don’t condemn you, but you need to repent and turn from sin.” Jesus says that to all of us whatever our particular sin may be.
3. Homosexuality is not genetic, but sin is
Is homosexuality genetic? Is there a gay gene? The answer is no and yes. No, in that no gay gene has been discovered. Yes, in that the Bible does tell us that we are all born with a natural, inherited bias towards sin and rebellion. We naturally don’t want to honour God and the Bible calls this the sinful nature. People are born with biases towards sin and different sins. A person may especially struggle with porn or greed or homosexuality or pride. On top of that, they are definitely certain influences and environments – especially in our childhood years – that may predispose us to certain sinful lifestyles.
Nature or nurture
In my reading about homosexuality and talking to those that have counselled homosexual people, I’ve seen that common contributing factors to homosexuality is childhood sexual abuse, distant or emotionally absent fathers and overbearing mothers. Let me be clear: there is no one-to-one cause and effect, but there are definite links with childhood trauma – even if the trauma is perceived trauma. We can understand why some girls, who have been molested by men they’ve trusted, may grow up to loathe men. We can understand why some boys, with no male nurturer, may grow up craving affection from men. Nevertheless, we are all human beings created in the image of God and therefore capable of making choices and we will be held accountable by God for the choices we make. If you are homosexual, you may have many contributing factors behind your homosexuality; but you are not simply a product of your environment. You have the capacity to repent and trust in Christ. You can receive Christ’s cleansing and forgiveness – like all other Christians. Christ can empower you to live a life that honours him.
4. We are to hate sin, but show compassion to sinners
How are we as Christians to respond to homosexual people? Not in disgust or in complete acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle; but in compassion, showing friendship, sharing the truth of God’s word, pointing people to Christ, and in the context of friendship calling for repentance and faith. We also need to respond with wisdom as to know where to draw the line. Jesus befriended sinners, but never condoned sin. You may be invited to a homosexual friend’s wedding ceremony. How will you respond? We will need much wisdom in showing compassion to the sinner without condoning sin.
REACH SA’s official, biblical stance on homosexuality says:
It is beholden on every true Christian to follow the plain teaching of the Word of God, and therefore to avoid homosexual activity as sin on a par with stealing, murder, and covetousness, which displeases God and makes us liable to the judgement of God.
As believers in the Christian gospel it is every Christian’s privilege to assure those who turn to Christ from whatever sinful path into which they may have strayed that they have God’s complete forgiveness and that they are wholly cleansed and brought into fellowship with him, and are true members of his Church.
Repentant homosexual offenders are as eligible as any other church member (we are all repentant sinners) for appointment to offices of the church, in accordance with wisdom and the normal prudence, discipline and procedures of Scripture, and church.
The Sunday church services are public and open to everyone to attend; they are not restricted to members or believers. REACH SA encourages enquirers to attend and expects they will be from various non-Christian lifestyles. Its churches know that sometimes a person will attend church as an enquirer for many months before they have decided for or against faith in Christ.
Church members or those seeking membership are expected to live a Christian life and to struggle against sin. Members seen to be practising a sinful lifestyle will be urged to change. If they refuse to do so they will be removed from any official church position or office, told not to attend the Lord’s Supper, and their membership will be terminated until such a time as they indicate an honest repentance.
I enthusiastically recommend these two books:
Is God anti-gay? by Sam Alberry (Avialiable at Christian Book Discounters in South Africa).
I have relied heavily on these two books in this post. All credit to the authors and all errors are mine.
Click here for my earlier article on the homosexual debate.