For thousands of years, the Christian Church had a seemingly unmovable stance against homosexuality on the basis of what many thought were clear biblical standards. For this reason, homosexuality was, for the most part, considered to be a non-issue. In part, this may have been the result of same sex attraction being an issue for a small percentage of people when compared to the general population. Today, however, homosexuality is a very big issue facing society in general, and the Christian community in particular.
A Collision of Values
Like two freight trains hurtling toward each other on the same track, Western society, and most especially the United States, has been on a collision course of values. On one train we have the values of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” while on the other train are traditional Christian values. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are principles which Americans have held as sacred since the founding of the United States and which have been deemed as “unalienable rights” for every citizen. These values are so inextricably woven into the fabric of our society that they affect every citizen in countless ways each day. With regard to these rights, American citizens have expectations concerning property ownership, self-defense, privacy, justice, and the liberty to pursue their own lifestyle choices and personal interests based upon these values.
In recent times, there has been an increase in conflict between these basic American values and what has been advocated as godly, moral behavior in Christianity. Instead of colliding with each other like we see today, at one time these two sets of values were like two trains running along parallel tracks going in the same direction. There was a time when both sets of values meshed well together. From the Christian perspective, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were never intended to happen outside the boundary of Christian standards of holiness. Once free from the anchor of holiness, liberty floats adrift in the current of each person’s fleshly desires, soon giving way to all kinds of passions, lusts, and sensual behavior. In the same way, the pursuit of happiness becomes the license that gives us permission to the pursuit of pleasure and anything that feels good. Our American trajectory has slowly eroded the importance of holiness in the minds of Christians, giving rise to a form of hedonism in the faith that has prompted all sorts of conflicts within our society.
Conflict in the Church
Not only are we seeing increasing turmoil in society, but this turmoil is spilling into many church congregations. In the name of liberty and happiness, people feel the pressure to approve of behaviors that were at one time clearly considered aberrant and ungodly. Homosexuality is now being normalized and promoted as something that is, in the least, a misunderstood behaviorism, and at the most, something that should be accepted. Such uncertainty and ambivalent views have resulted in confusion for many and a deep divide within the Body of Christ.
The church has always had difficulty determining the proper way to handle sinful behavior, both inside the church, and outside when encountering it in the world. Sexual sin, which includes homosexual behavior, is no exception to these sinful issues the church has had to grapple with. Unfortunately, the Christian response to homosexuality has been multi-polar. Some Christians wrongly act in “un-Christ-like” ways toward homosexuals, but there are also Christians who will not take an opposing position against homosexuality simply because of the volatile nature of the controversy and because being “anti-gay” is frowned upon in society. This dilemma has exploded on its own into each group seeming to have a particular manner in which they believe the issue should be resolved.
There are still many Christians who believe that homosexuality is wrong, but others say that the Scriptures have been misunderstood all along and they seek to reinterpret key passages that seem to speak against it. At one extreme, some go so far as to suggest that homosexuals should be banned from church, while at the other end of the spectrum, there are Christians who support that practicing homosexuals are to be fully accepted in the congregation and can even be ordained to full-time ministry positions. One of the biggest struggles for people who desire to love people like Jesus did is how to reconcile the biblical prohibitions against homosexual behavior with the fact that many homosexuals are very kind and loving individuals, many of whom even confess Jesus to be their Lord and Savior. Two main questions that Christians need to answer are, “How should we approach homosexuality with biblical authority?” And, in light of Scripture’s repudiation of homosexual behavior, “How are we to still remain true to and follow the teachings of Jesus on love and grace?”
The topic of homosexuality can be very emotionally charged, and it is the subject of much debate today among many reputable scholars within the Church. It is not the purpose of this article to provide an exhaustive study on this matter, nor do I intend to attempt to refute all the claims from pro-homosexual theologians. Rather, this article will attempt to re-articulate the clear teaching of Scripture concerning the subject of homosexual behavior, and address the concerns of how Christians should properly interact with and treat homosexuals.
Gaining a proper understanding of homosexuality requires that we understand a little of the historical and cultural background surrounding it. On the basis of the work of Sigmund Freud, for many years homosexuality was considered a mental illness and was defined as such until 1974 by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). As a result of gay activist pressure in the 1970’s, the APA removed it from its classification of mental disorders and declared it to be “normal.”
Since the 1980’s, homosexuals have been more visible in society. Some of this is the result of the explosion of the AIDs virus, which is something that initially spread rapidly through the male homosexual community. Prior to this event there seemed to be limited discussion about homosexuality. But once AIDs began to be a major health concern in America, it was widely publicized because there was a need for increased public awareness and safety measures to prevent its spread.
Moreover, the increasing attention on homosexuality also brought with it greater openness and comfortability in people confessing to be homosexual, and this subsequently resulted in their efforts to increase public awareness of their sexual orientation through Gay Parades, Gay Pride, and Gay Rights Movements. Through such open demonstrations and broadcasting of their sexuality, homosexuals are often described as “coming out of the closet” in reference to their public declaration of their affinity for the same sex. The increased pressure for social acceptance in the public eye did not stay outside the Church for long. Soon it was knocking at its door, and most Christians were ill-equipped for understanding these new circumstances and issues that they were being faced with. This dilemma between homosexuality and Christianity is still raging today; many Christians still do not adequately understand what the Bible says about homosexuality, and more importantly, most Christians do not know how to appropriately interact with and respond to this invasion of homosexuality in society and especially in their congregations.
Although we would hope that the Church would be a driving force in affecting society and culture, sadly the Church often bends to conform to society, which is why there has been a shift in perspective by many churches and theologians on the topic of homosexuality.
How Prevalent is Homosexuality in American Society?
Although homosexuality has always been understood to be a minority issue—most studies suggest it involves only about 3-4% of the population—there is a sense that it is more prominent than that and is also increasing. Many people have the false perception that the percentage of homosexuals in the U.S. population is actually higher than it really is. This is partly the result of promotion of homosexuality in the various media. Some studies suggest that as many as 20-25% of the actors on television and in movies portray homosexual characters. This, coupled with the daily news stories of homosexual rights, same-sex marriage equality, adoptions by homosexual couples, and the ever-present high-profile personality “coming out,” portrays a sense that homosexuality is a very common thing.
Many of the “younger” generations, such as the Millennials (those born from 1980-2000) and the 2K’s or Gen Z (those born from 2000 to present), have grown up in a period when homosexuality is very visible and accepted by most of society. This has given rise to many young people considering it a “non-issue” and part of the way things should be. The other result is that many young people are confused and question their sexual identity, and it is often reported that many high school and college students are “experimenting” with bi-sexuality.
Getting Our Terminology Right
The term “homosexual” comes from the Latin homo, meaning “same,” sexus, meaning “sex,” and the suffix –alis meaning “having character of.” It refers to the sexual attraction or behavior between members of the “same sex,” such as men with men and women with women. Conversely, the term “heterosexual” comes from the Latin heteros, meaning “opposite,” along with sexus and –alis, and refers to sexual attraction and behaviors between men and women.
Over the past few decades other terms have been used to refer to homosexuals. Lesbianism is commonly used to refer to female homosexuals. Theorists who were describing females’ emotional and sexual interest in other females coined the term in the 19th century. The word “lesbian” was chosen because of an ancient woman named Sappho, who was perhaps the greatest female Greek lyric poet (c. 630-570 BC), because she was interested in other women and lived on the island of Lesbos. In the ancient world, the island of Lesbos was known as a center of Greek culture, pleasure, and licentiousness. And thus, the term “lesbian” was esteemed as an appropriate designation for modern females who also share Sappho’s proclivity for other women.
Another term that is used instead of the word homosexual is the word “gay.” Although it has somewhat decreased in popularity nowadays, “gay,” is typically used to denote homosexual males. The word “gay” originally meant being “joyful, carefree, or bright and showy.” However, in the 17th century the term began to be associated with immorality in the sense of living more loosely and carefree (i.e., being uninhibited by morals). By the 19th century, the term “gay” came to represent someone who slept with a lot of prostitutes and had an aberrant sexual appetite. And then by the mid-20th century, “gay” came to adopt its current meaning of one who practices homosexuality or exhibits traits and behaviors of a homosexual. “Gay” is a unisexual word that is used to describe homosexual men or women, but its usage in culture is predominantly in reference to homosexual males.
“Bisexual” is a term used to indicate a person who has sexual interactions with both males and females. It comes from the Latin prefix bis meaning “twice” and sexus and –alis and denotes a person who is attracted to the two sexes—males and females.
“Transgender” refers to a person whose self-identity does not conform to their respective male or female gender. In other words, it refers to a male who feels that he is really a female or vice- versa. When referring to the homosexual community in general, people often group these separate terms together and use the acronym LGBT (which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) to refer to all non-heterosexuals.
What Does the Bible Say about Homosexuality?
This is certainly a subject about which the Christian needs to have a solid biblical understanding in order to not simply bend with the pressure of society. One of the first things that must be recognized is that there are only a few places in the Bible that directly address homosexuality. Many people are surprised to learn this, but the fact is that it just doesn’t come up very much. Nevertheless, that does not mean it is not an important topic or one that God has not addressed. We will see that the few passages where God does speak about homosexuality, He seems to be very unambiguous about it.
The Traditional Argument from the Old Testament
The first record mentioning homosexuality in the Bible is in Genesis 19, involving Lot (Abraham’s nephew) and the men of Sodom—and in fact, the name “Sodom” has become so connected with corrupted sexual behavior that the term “sodomy” is used in our modern culture to describe the act of anal sex.
In the record, two angels visited Lot in Sodom to tell him that he and his family had to flee because the city was going to be destroyed. That night, the men of Sodom surrounded Lot’s house and demanded to bring out the men (angels) so that they could have sex with them.
Genesis 19:4-5 (NIV84
4) Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house.
5) They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”
Due to all of the wickedness and evil, God’s judgment and wrath were going to be poured out on Sodom. The homosexual desires of the men of Sodom to copulate with the angelic messengers were representative of the wickedness and evil that God was going to destroy.
Although this record seems to be a straightforward one condemning the sexual behavior of the men of Sodom, some critics point out that in later records, such as Ezekiel 16, God says the sin of Sodom involved arrogance, injustice, lack of concern for the needy and helpless, and lack of hospitality (Ezek. 16:49). It is true that the people of Sodom did commit those sins, but we cannot avoid the fact that God also condemned their immoral sexual behavior as well. In explaining the cause for the destruction of Sodom, Jude 7 reaffirms that it was the sexual immorality and perversion of the city that brought the wrath and punishment of God.
Jude 7 NIV84
“In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”
Also, God’s judgment against homosexuality is further reinforced with His clear command in Leviticus against such behavior.
Leviticus 18:22 NIV84
Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.
Leviticus 20:13 NIV84
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.
The Argument Against Homosexuality Forbidden in the Law
These commandments appear to leave little doubt that God considers homosexual behavior a sin, as He commanded Moses to tell the children of Israel. Nevertheless, the critics of this position do seem to make a legitimate argument when they point out that many of the behaviors that are forbidden in these sections of the Old Testament Law no longer apply. They make the case that it is inconsistent and therefore improper to enforce the admonitions against homosexual behavior but not all the others mentioned in the Law. As some have said, “If the Law permits slavery and forbids homosexual behavior, are we going to forbid one and not the other?” On the surface the argument seems to make sense, but upon closer examination, we can see a fatal flaw in this logic.
Most Christians recognize that there are a number of prohibitions in the Law that they are no longer bound to, such as the forbidding of wearing clothing woven from two different kinds of materials, the eating of particular foods, the requirement to cut hair a special way, and even the requirement for circumcision. It is not realistic or the intent of this article to do an extensive review of all the regulations in the Law and discuss which ones still apply today, and why. However, we will address the two most commonly used commandments in the Law that are often brought up to invalidate the injunctions against homosexual behavior: the Law permitting slavery, and the Law supposedly prohibiting interracial marriage.
The Argument Against Slavery to Invalidate the Sin of Homosexuality
Slavery is something that every Westerner is very familiar with. When we speak of it we are reminded of horrific times when Africans were captured, bought, and sold against their will to perform forced labor under terrible conditions. Countless people died while being held in the bellies of wooden ships in abhorrent conditions. And for those who did survive, many and their offspring were subjected to a life of servitude, torture, and completely inhumane treatment. No Christian in their right mind would ever condone such atrocities.
However, when the Law speaks of slavery, it is referring to an entirely different kind. In the Hebrew society, slavery, under the terms that God prescribed, was unlike slavery anywhere else in the ancient world. Today, when a person is unable to repay their debts, they just declare bankruptcy, whereas under the Law a person was obligated to work off the debt through servitude. The master was also given strict terms for the person’s care, and a maximum duration for which the person would serve (in the seventh year all slaves were to be set free). Slaves were also required to be released with enough provisions for their reestablishment in society. Such regulations for slavery in the Law are clearly different than for those types of slavery allowed in the ancient world or modern Americas. The fact is that if Israelite slavery were allowed today, instead of the current system of permitting someone to file for bankruptcy, people would deliberate a lot more carefully before borrowing. But the point is that attempting to discredit the Old Testament admonitions against homosexuality by advocating the Law’s permissibility for slavery is not a valid claim.
Other Old Testament Issues Used to Discredit the Sin of Homosexuality
While some have argued that, in addition to homosexual behavior, the Old Testament also forbids “interracial marriage,” that is not true. God made no commandment to non-Jews about who they could marry, and in fact, this particular prohibition only extended to the marriage of Jews and Canaanites (Exod. 23:32, 34:16; Deut. 7:3). God chose the Jewish nation to bring forth the Messiah, and in those days, looking forward to the coming of Christ, it was necessary that the bloodline through which the Messiah would come had to remain intact and pure. It is wrong to equate God’s protection of the Jewish bloodline until Jesus came with “interracial marriage.” The two are not the same.
Homosexuality in the New Testament
The Apostle Paul leaves no doubt that homosexual behavior is a sin. Many scholars who are promoting a pro-gay theology do so by attempting to reinterpret the meaning of a few Greek words from the text from which the New Testament is translated.
Paul explicitly mentions the sin of homosexual behavior with very precise vocabulary in his letter to the church at Corinth.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (NIV84)
Neither the sexually immoral (pornos) nor idolaters nor adulterers (moichos) nor male prostitutes (malakos) nor homosexual offenders (arsenokoites) nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
The graphic word arsenokoites (from arsen, “male,” and koite, “bed”) describes a man who “beds” another man. Although arsenokoites is sometimes used in a wide sense referring to all homosexuality, it also has a narrower sense, referring to the one who fulfills the active or “male” role in the homosexual act. The one who took the passive or “female” role was called the malakos. The word malakos literally means “soft” or “soft to the touch.” Although it had other uses such as “soft clothing,” or a “soft tongue,” it was the standard word in the Greek language for the “passive” person in the homosexual relationship.
Homosexual behavior is also addressed by descriptive phrases, idioms, and euphemisms rather than just through explicit terms that refer directly to it. For example, Romans 1 contains some very descriptive language that applies to sexual conduct.
Romans 1:24-27 (NIV84)
24) Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.
25) They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
26) Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.
27) In the same way, the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
Some have argued that the phrase “natural relations” does not indicate a heterosexual relationship on the basis that the context is idolatry, which is stated in verse 25. It is true that those whom Paul is speaking about have turned from the Creator to worship the creation. But Paul is also showing that their sinfulness consisted of “sexual impurity,” which included both men and women exchanging “natural relations for unnatural ones” (v. 26). What they exchanged is clarified in verse 27: women were “inflamed with lust for one another,” and “men committed indecent acts with other men.” Thus, the exchanging or abandoning of “natural relations” for “unnatural ones” is explained by Paul as women lusting for other women and men committing indecent acts with other men. Both parallel phrases are expressions of homosexual relationships.
The Blueprint of Creation as the Natural Order
Of all the evidence used to affirm the Christian position against homosexuality, God’s intention for creation as the Creator and Designer of life seems to carry the strongest weight. In Genesis, God made man and woman for each other.
Genesis 2:22-24 (NIV)
22) Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23) The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”
24) That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
The anatomical design and biological interdependence of the male and female body for the production of offspring is accomplished only through the physical union of the male and female counterparts. God’s original design for male and female union is prima facie evidence of God’s intent for heterosexual relationships among His creation.
The Apostle Paul also affirms the propriety of male-female relationships elsewhere in the New Testament when he discusses marriage by using only husband-wife terminology.
1 Corinthians 7:2 (NIV )
But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.
There are also additional admonitions that an elder or an overseer, one who provides leadership in the Body of Christ, is to have one wife, and must be faithful to her (1 Tim 3:2; 3:12; Titus 1:6). There is never any indication that any type of sexual relationship, besides the male-female relationship within the bounds of marriage, is appropriate for an elder or overseer.
Is Homosexuality the Result of Genetics?
It is often said that homosexual attraction is a result of genetics. This debate has raged for decades and there is still no definitive proof that this is true. At present there is no clear scientific evidence that this is the case. In actuality, there is a lot of conflicting evidence among scientists regarding these studies. Some studies suggest there is a genetic connection and others suggest there isn’t.
Furthermore, there are some studies that have identified genetic markers that suggest people might be predisposed to particular behaviors, such as anger, alcoholism, and depression. If this is true, then it may also be true that some individuals are in fact predisposed to same-sex attraction. Future studies may uncover currently unknown factors in the genome that affect us in certain ways. But from a Christian perspective, the “sin of Adam” means that all mankind is predisposed to sin. We all have messed up genetics in some form or another, and we all have the propensity to follow our fleshly desires.
Every human has a sin nature, and most people have a genetic predisposition to sin in one way or another. Some people tend to have addictive behavior towards drugs, alcohol, or even food. Others have a heightened sex drive, others are overly possessive, and on and on. God never excuses sin because a predisposition to sin exists. God does not say it is fine if an alcoholic gets drunk if he has a predisposition to drinking, or that it is fine if a person steals if he is overly possessive.
The genetic argument is that if there is a gene that causes same-sex attraction, then people with this gene can rightfully say they “just can’t help it.” Also making “homosexuality” the result of genetics means it is the equivalent of race or eye color, things which are certainly not the result of someone’s choices. Once we remove a person’s sexual behavior from the arena of choice, it means that people cannot be held accountable to God for something beyond their control, which is contrary to what God says about all sin. The Christian life is not about whether we are tempted to sin or not; we are all tempted in particular categories. The Christian life is about whether we choose to indulge those temptations and sin, or not.
The bottom line is that all behavior is a result of choice, and we are all accountable to God for ours.
Attraction Versus Action
We all have to deal with our fallen nature and the inclination to sin. What we must recognize is that people are not accountable for what they are attracted to; they are responsible for whether or not they act out on those attractions. Who or what a person is sexually attracted to is a very complex matter and one we do not understand much about (and maybe never will). It is the result of many factors that include genetic predispositions, environmental conditions such as family dynamics, childhood experiences, peer groups, and societal and spiritual influences. The end result is that some people have a same-sex attraction while others are attracted to the opposite sex. The real issue is that no matter what we are attracted to, we must make the proper choice to behave in a way that is sexually pure according to God’s standards.
A heterosexual is just as wrong for having sexual relations outside of marriage as a homosexual is for acting on his or her desires. Both practices are detestable to the Lord because they are contrary to the way that God designed his creation to behave and the way He intended them to live life. The sin is not in having these attractions but rather in acting on the attractions that are outside His boundaries for what is good, and right, and holy.
What Should Those Who Have Same-Sex Attraction Do?
We make no pretense that dealing with sexual attraction, whether homosexual or heterosexual, is an easy matter. Sin is a very powerful force that lives in every human being. The reality is that God has put constraints on how He intended for his creation to expressing sexuality. The proper order that God has established is that if you are not in a monogamous, heterosexual marriage, then sexual intimacy is not something that is permitted. This means that for the single heterosexual and for any homosexual, whether male and female, celibacy is the only viable option that honors God and exhibits godly character.
Denying sexual desires requires a person to deny one of their most primal urges. Thus, we do not purport that sexual purity is easy. On the contrary, it can be one of the most challenging aspects of our lives. But God is very clear: if a person is not in a monogamous, heterosexual marriage, then celibacy is the right choice to make.
How Should Christians Respond to Homosexuals?
The question, “How are we [Christians] supposed to behave towards homosexuals?” came up the other day in our home church, our weekly informal gathering of men and women who are doing our best to follow Christ. Here are a few of the points we all unanimously agreed upon.
- Be Non-Judgmental: Always bear in mind that God loves everyone and everyone has fallen short of God’s standards. Don’t be the type of person who compares sin—one who thinks that their sin is any less evil than another’s. There is no stratification between homosexual behavior, adultery, fornication, and other acts of sin. They all transgress what God has commanded. We are all sinners in need of a Savior.
- Criticism Doesn’t Help: Criticism of homosexuals does nothing except to point out that you disagree, and it only pushes others away, especially those of the younger generations. Outsiders see the typical Christian response as mean, hateful, and hostile towards homosexuals. It is never appropriate to be homophobic or a “gay-hater.” Jesus never responded in this way to those trapped in sinful lifestyles.
- Respond with Love, Kindness, and Compassion: God desires to use each of us as a means to channel His grace, mercy, and compassion to everyone, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. People’s hearts open up to those with whom they feel safe and genuinely loved.
- Be Sincere in All Your Interactions: Genuinely try to understand the other person and their heart. Get to know them, their struggles, and the issues they’ve dealt with in their life. We never know what has happened to them to bring them to this place in their life. True connection to others happens when we love and serve them.
- Don’t Compromise What You Believe In: In addition to being able to explain the gospel message, we must be able to help people see the idols in their lives, and listen to others if they point out some that exist in ours. A central message of the Bible is that idolatry is the source of sin. So, sometimes before a person can see the gospel, they must be able turn from worshipping the creation and turn back to the Creator.
God Does Not Hate Homosexuals
God is love and that means He loves everyone, sinner and saint alike. God does not love everything people do, but God never stops loving people, no matter what they choose to do. Jesus demonstrated God’s love to everyone he encountered. Whether a person is gay or straight, they need to be shown God’s love as Jesus taught his followers. But Jesus also called for those who want to be his disciples to deny themselves and follow him (Mark 8:34). Jesus demonstrated what it meant to obey God and do what pleases Him. Thus, when it comes to our sexual behaviors, we each should put God and what He has declared to be right before all else. That is the obedience that Jesus demonstrated on the cross.
In closing, let us not forget that God does not hate homosexuals, and neither should Christians. It is every Christian’s responsibility to stand on the truth of what the Bible says, including what is said about the sin of homosexuality, just like we must do regarding any sin. But we must always stand for truth while at the same time showing people God’s love for them. Remember, we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, and we are ALL in need of redemption.