This has been the most dividing issue of our time, with some Christians being as nasty and mean as mean can get: hateful, rude, and judgmental, while others are gay and pastors! Talk about the whole spectrum. Meanwhile, deep-felt questions are being asked:
“Are you saying that being gay is a sin?”
“Does the Bible actually say that anyone who is gay doesn’t go to heaven?”
“Why did God call homosexuality an abomination? Does God hate gays?”
“I don’t see anything abominable about two people loving each other. Jesus taught love, so why is this a problem?”
This is an emotionally-charged issue, so I’ll be as honest as we can with the what the Bible says.
I just have to start with this: What’s right and what’s wrong doesn’t come from courts, the lawmakers, what we think is right and wrong, what’s good for society, or even what is necessary for survival. What is RIGHT and WRONG is based on the nature and character of God. So, lying is wrong because God is truth; adultery is wrong because God is faithful; stealing is wrong because God does not desire what is not his—he is not envious. So all ethics and morals come from the unchanging nature of God. That’s what makes something right or wrong. Had to get that out of the way, because it’s the floor for everything I’ll be saying.
The issue of homosexuality first shows up in Genesis 19, and the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (dummmm – da – dum dum). Two men come to the city to spend the night, and by verse 4, a large number of men have surrounded the house with hostile intent—to violate the codes of hospitality in what is portrayed as a shameless proclamation of sin (see Isa. 3.9 for a reference to this night): to have sex with the men who have visited their city. Walton says, “The text does not discuss what social norms are being broken. The sin of the Sodomites is self-evident and multi-leveled, blatant and unambiguous. The standard is not the later Mosaic Law but civilized behavior regulated by laws in every city and country. There is nothing subtle or secretive about their behavior. No inhibitions interfere with their threats of violence or demands to indulge their lusts. The last thing anyone in the reading audience would be expected to do would be to come to the defense of Sodom or try to make excuses for their behavior.” (1)
Lot responds, “Don’t do this wicked thing. I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them.” Now, some people claim that the book of Ezekiel (16.49-50) teaches that the sin of Sodom was refusing to share with the poor, or a breach of hospitality. But if that’s all that was going on here, it’s highly unlikely that he would offer his daughters for gang rape (perhaps rhetorically rather than literally) as a substitute. He would never have suggested this course of action if the request were for tea and crumpets. It may be true that they were also guilty of hypocrisy, falsehood, arrogance, and rudeness, but other passages in Scripture highlight Sodom as an example of sexual perversion (see Jude 7; 2 Pet. 2.7-10), so that’s the thrust the Bible gives the events of the story.
What is clearly taught is that their homosexual behavior is considered wrong—because it’s not in the image of God, and for no other reason—and that their behavior is judged by God on that same basis. You know, this isn’t just an opinion of mine. You wanted to know what the Bible says.
Next, there are two verses in Leviticus: Lev. 18.22 and 20.13: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” And, “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
I guess we should start off by saying that Leviticus teaches the rituals of the community, but every ritual commandment has an ethical component (how it reflects the nature of God). You have to first learn the steps if you want to dance, y’know. That’s what this book is—the dance manual. Leviticus is big on the orderliness of the microcosm which informs the orderliness of the macrocosm, meaning the little things are what make up the big things. How we express our desires is what defines us. Holiness means self-restraint in food, work, and sexuality. So saying, there isn’t much to be said about these verses because they are so clear. They categorically and unambiguously condemn male homosexuality as an abomination to God, punishable in 20.13 by death.
Sometimes a response to this is, “We don’t keep the laws about sacrifices and washing any more. You can’t just pick out the ones about homosexuality and say those are still valid when you’ve thrown the rest away.”
Well, I can see where you think that’s a good question, but you haven’t done your homework. Jesus did fulfill the law, but he didn’t take it away (Mt. 5.17). Yes, the Old Testament law has been fulfilled—brought to full expression. But it hasn’t been changed. It has just been redefined and revealed more effectively.
Walton & Hill (2) say it this way: The Law was like a map leading God’s people to know how to be like him. Under Jesus, the map has been replaced by a guide. That doesn’t make the map wrong; it just makes it easier to get to the destination. The map is still good, but made obsolete by the guide.
Recently I visited my brother in New Jersey. We were an hour from his house, and I didn’t know the way, so he instructed me to follow him. My GPS was on and directing me differently, but I knew that my brother’s car in front of me was the most reliable guide. Sure, the GPS would have gotten me to the same place, but it took an easy back seat to following the man to his own house.
So the law is still valid, doing what it was intended to do: reveal God and how to relate to Him. Again by Walton and Hill (3), when we look at any law, we first try to understand what it reveals about God. Then we formulate a general principle about what the law reveals about God, and then use that principle to apply the revelation of God to our world. With that understanding, the laws about homosexuality are not nullified.
Now let’s go to Romans 1.18-32. Paul explains the fallout that happens when people make God who they want him to be rather than seeing him as he is. They give in to sinful desires—and sin is thinking, doing, or being anything that demonstrates a dissatisfaction with God. Verse 26 mentions women exchanging natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, and verse 27 talks about the men. Sex is one of several entities that touches the soul, and as such is a metaphor, or a living parable, of our relationship with God. Usually our sex lives are one of the first indicators of a disrupted relationship with God. Homoerotic activity, then, is one of the symptoms of rebellion against God. Paul says that all of the participants in homosexual acts are morally degraded, meaning what they were doing was against the knowledge of God (v. 28). As I’ve said, it’s not that they don’t truly love each other or that they are not responsible members of society, but that their relationship doesn’t mirror the nature of God. That’s always the point.
In 1 Corinthians 6.9-11, Paul is talking about lifestyles—regular behavior patterns that are habits of the way someone thinks and the way they act. He’s not talking about lapses, but routines that create a barrier between people and God. So what is he saying about homosexuality? That those who claim to belong to Christ need to avoid the practice of same-sex physical connection for orgasm. He is not speaking of inclinations, but only of behavior. We all have sinful urges; the point is to not act on them, whatever they are. A homosexual offender—one who acts on their inclinations in sodomy or lesbianism—is excluded from the kingdom of God. You know, I’m not making this up. That’s what it says.
There are still a few more. One is in 1 Timothy 1.8-10, and the last is in Jude 1.7, but they say the same thing as the others. The Bible has an uncompromising consistency in its teaching. The upshot is that homosexuality is wrong on the same basis that anything else is wrong: it doesn’t conform to the nature and character of God. It is making no comments on their happiness or what wonderful people they may or may not be. It’s just impossible to dismiss that in the Bible homosexual practice is considered a sin. (Notice I said homosexual practice, not homosexual orientation. Although Scripture speaks of homosexual activity, it does not speak of a homosexual condition.)
Let me say this again, and firmly: Nowhere in the Bible is a man or woman condemned for having homosexual feelings. It is the act, not the urge, that is condemned.Homosexual orientation is not inherently sinful, but sexual behavior belongs within the bounds of heterosexual marriage.
Also, while some sins are worse than others (Jn. 19.11), we are never told what the hierarchy is—which ones are “the worse ones.” The Bible does not suggest that homosexual acts are any worse than other sins. Romans 1.26-27 puts many sins in the same pot. But it’s also true that some sins do more earthly harm than others. Sexual sin often seems to have this effect, for it is deeply personal (1 Cor. 6.18).
You wanted to know. That’s what the Bible says about homosexuality.
So, you may also wonder, what is the response of Christians and the church supposed to be? Well, since we’re being straightforward and honest… (I’ll try to keep this brief)
- Christians aren’t supposed to judge anyone. Matthew 7.1. Judgment belongs to God.
- It is OK to judge in terms of what Christ wants or what is taught in His Word, but it’s not OK to judge a PERSON. Gays are not “the enemy.” Sheesh.
- It is proper to evaluate truth or error. We’re all supposed to always be doing that.
- It is OK to judge others if we are perceiving others as persons of value.
- It is OK to judge others if we are looking for the good.
- Christians are supposed to be honest and speak the truth, but to say so in love. Eph. 4.15.
- It is not OK to be unkind in what we say. Jesus made judgments about where people stand (Lk. 11.37-54), but not in such a way that he ceased to continue to offer them God’s grace.
- It is not OK to be happy about criticizing people in an unfavorable way. We should not treat people like outcasts.
- It is OK to make decisions or to discern right from wrong. Sin is always still sin. We’re supposed to think about and do what is right, and avoid what is wrong.
- We are supposed to be full of grace and love, but we must also be full of the truth. None of these three entities are negotiable.
- Christians are supposed to love everyone. That doesn’t mean we agree with everyone, but we love everyone. For instance, we would never hear Jesus say, “It’s OK not to love certain people.” Jesus loved everyone, but he didn’t approve of what everyone was doing (Jn. 8.11), where he basically said, “Hey, I love you, but stop sinning.”
- We don’t fear, and we don’t hate. The church is supposed to be a place of welcome and grace. It’s pretty simple. Gay bashing, gay-baiting, and jokes that mock homosexuals have no place in a decent society, and certainly not in the behavior of a believer in Christ.
So please ignore the people with the hateful signs. The Bible teaches us that we never have place to be hateful, no matter what, and no matter whom. So, talk to me. I know there are a lot of opinions, and this is a very hot conversation. Let’s talk, for real.
(1) Walton, The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis, (Zondervan) 2001, pp. 476-477
(2) John Walton and Andrew Hill, Old Testament Today, (Zondervan) 2004, p. 117
(3) Walton and Hill, Ibid. p. 118