Modern Challenges to the Ancient Faith: Homosexuality
Is Christianity Homophobic?
I have recently read from a woman who claims to be a Christian, but had what we call “homosexual tendencies.” Like many Christians of this generation who feel more drawn to those of their own sex, it’s a story of carrying the burdens of legitimate needs and complex desires, and a cavernous fear that disclosing one’s feelings would ruin friendships.
It’s a story of trying to reconcile her lifestyle with the Bible and failing; of committing to Jesus above sex with women and failing; and then gradually growing in obedience and ability to resist temptation. It’s a story of dependence on Jesus’s love and trusting that His no to sexual relationships with women meant a better yes to a deeper relationship with Him.
This woman who apparently never gratified her urges, and a friend of hers who did gratify her urges before she, too, became a Protestant, are both now married to men—men they love and respect and depend on. But they both chose to marry men because of their commitment to Christ over their emotional and sexual preferences
Two Ways to Be One Body
In the last lesson I gave last month on the biblical teaching that women need to submit to their husbands, as an imperfect relationship but anticipating the perfect relationship with Christ, we argued that just as God created parenthood to show us how he loves his children, so He created sex and marriage to give us a glimpse of what it means to be united to Christ. As we saw, the Bible presents marriage as a one-body experience: a man and a woman knit together in a spiritual one-flesh reality, illustrated in the fleshiness of sex, and manifested by the combining of two parents’ DNA in each child. But there is another biblical dimension to being one body.
Now, let me, perhaps throw you for a loop… The Bible commands same-sex relationships at a level of intimacy that Christians seldom reach.
Paul argues that Christians are inextricably bound to together: “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:16–17).
One-body unity is not just for husbands and wives: it’s for everyone. Christians are not designed to work alone any more than lungs can work without a heart. “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body,” Paul explains, “so it is with Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12). He concludes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26).
Christians are “one body” (Rom. 12:5), brothers and sisters (Matt. 12:50), “knit together in love” (Col. 2:2), comrades in arms (Phil. 2:25). Paul calls his friend Onesimus his “very heart” (Philem. 12) and likens his affection for believers in Thessalonica to that of “a nursing mother taking care of her children” (1 Thess. 2:7).
New Testament Christians are seen sharing their resources, living communally, bearing one another’s burdens, loving each other deeply, and expressing love physically. The command “Greet one another with a holy kiss” appears in the New Testament five times.
But the one-body reality of gospel partnership—best experienced in same-sex friendships—is not a lesser thing. Christian men should have close relationships with men and women should have close relationships with women. Think of the relationship between David and Jonathan! Jesus himself, who never married, invested deeply in friendships, and declared, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
When Rachel was pregnant with Ana, I wondered if I would not love her as much as I loved Jewell. But when she came, God expanded my heart. My love for my children is powerful and intimate, but it is not exclusive. I love your kids too. And your grandkids.
Understanding the different kinds of boundaries that operate in marriage and in friendship will help us understand the purpose of each.
The Benefits of Boundaries
We humans thrive on boundaries. We need freedom, to be sure. But we need boundaries to create the right kind of spaces for the different parts of our lives. If we listen closely to the Bible’s sexual ethics, we find that its clear boundaries create both a safe space for sex and a whole arena for different kinds of intimate connection.
Within a Christian framework, opposite-sex marriage is set apart as the only place for sexual intimacy. Every Christian is called at times to sacrifice his or her desires. But marriage also creates immense freedom and security for loving, sexual intimacy without fear of critique or abandonment. The boundaries of friendship fall in a different place: they prohibit sex, but they create space for intimacy with multiple people who will touch our hearts, minds, and bodies in different ways.
We see different kinds of love and boundaries operating most clearly in family structures. Close family relationships, physical touch. The boundaries that operate within a family create space for different forms of intimacy. But before long, our children realize they also need friends—not to replace their family relationships, but to complement them.
By the same token, physical intimacy can play a key role in friendship. Often, it’s the ritual of greeting. Hugs to say hello and goodbye to friends punctuate life and bring joy.
In our sexualized world, we might think that a deeply meaningful hug with a friend or a loving arm around our shoulders is inevitably dwarfed by the greater physical intensity of sex. But while sexual contact may involve a more powerful physiological response, it is not necessarily more truly intimate.
Rather than seeing sexual and romantic love as the high point on a scale where friendship laps at the low-water mark, the Bible invites us to pursue human love in different forms, governed by different boundaries. Like any other Christian, we need safe friends with whom we can be utterly honest, and who will call us out and help us make corrections when the pendulum of our heart has swung too far in one direction. And we need a level of intimacy with our spouse that allows us to bring our struggles to him and refocus our desires on him.
Whatever our sexuality, we are all more prone to eat junk food when we are hungry, and many of us are more prone to seek illicit relationships when our core relational needs are not being met or we think they’re not being met. For Christians capable of experiencing attraction to same-sex friends, the solution is not friendship starvation but healthy nourishment.
We thrive on a range of relationships. And while sexual and romantic relationships may have the intensity of meat, a vegetarian will thrive and flourish where a human carnivore sickens. In modern society, we are led to believe we cannot live without sex. The Bible says “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Our society has changed that to “Love is god” (Justin Gerhardt). In fact, I believe we are more likely to wither without friend and family love.
A Call to Longing but Not Loneliness
People who want to practice homosexuality often say it seems unfair that same-sex-attracted Christians should be sentenced to loneliness. Read the book of Acts and observe that the Christians experienced nearly every kind of suffering but one they did not face: loneliness.
We should refresh our minds on the Bible’s view of singleness. Jesus himself never married. While Paul commends marriage, he values singleness more (1 Cor. 7:38). Where church culture inhibits this by overemphasizing marriage and parenting, Christians need to fight for culture change and embody the biblical reality that the local church is truly their family.
Ultimately, every Christian is called to sexual self-restraint. Saying yes to Jesus means saying no to sexual freedom. This does not diminish the longing that many single people feel. Rather, it gives it meaning.
What Does the Bible Really Say about Homosexuality?
The Bible is unequivocal on the question of homosexual sex. First, men sleeping with men is prohibited in the Jewish law (e.g., Lev. 18:22; 20:13).
The prohibition on homosexual sex are reaffirmed multiple times. Jesus’ framework for His teaching on sexual morality was consistently stricter than the Old Testament law - Matthew 19:4-6, 9-10.
To be sure, Jesus routinely scandalized those around him by associating with those known for their sexual immorality. But far from expanding the options on sexual relationships, Jesus tightened the Old Testament law.
All sorts of sexual immorality in the New Testament remind us that the Judeo-Christian restrictions on sex were always countercultural. Ancient Greek culture allowed sex between males—typically between grown men and teenage boys—and celebrated homoerotic desire.
In the New Testament, we find explicit prohibitions of the homosexual sex (1 Tim. 1:9-10). Sexual immorality, including homosexual immorality, is listed here between the sins of murder and slave catching.
Now let us take a look at Paul’s life. Far from thinking he is better than those whose sin he lists, Paul presents himself as worse: 1 Tim. 1:12-16. Paul describes people abandoning worship of God and throwing themselves into sexual relationships: Rom 1:26-27.
But all sexual sins are forbidden by Jesus Christ: Matthew 5:29. No one can listen to Jesus and not be shocked, offended, and broken by his stance on sexual sin. While Jesus’s condemnation of sexual sin is terrifying, his consistent welcome of repentant sexual sinners is equally shocking. We see this in the Gospels, and in the early Christian movement (1 Cor. 6:9-11). According to this passage, some of the very first Christians entered the church with homosexual histories and desires.
No Room for “Them and Us” in the Church
This teaching on the universal nature of sin leaves no room for a “them and us” approach. While I do not believe that upholding biblical sexual ethics is innately homophobic (defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “Having or showing a dislike of or prejudice against homosexual people”), many Christians today do need to repent of their unbiblical attitudes.
Every Christian is a struggling Christian, dependent on help from brothers and sisters who know their needs and vulnerabilities. Lungs don’t work without hearts, or legs without feet. We’re simply not designed for solo flight.
Disentangling Sexuality and Race
There are certainly commonalities between the ways in which racial and sexual minorities have experienced ill-treatment, equating these two groups is problematic in at least five ways.
#1 - Sexual activity involves choice - while we do not choose our sexual attractions, we do choose our sexual actions. They therefore carry moral weight in a way that racial heritage does not.
#2 - Scientists have tried long and hard to find significant biological differences between races, they failed. But, except in rare cases, there are real biological differences between men and women
#3 - White Westerners are far more likely to affirm gay marriage than people of color.
#4 - While the Bible cuts strongly and emphatically in favor of racial equality and integration, it cuts equally firmly against same-sex marriage.
#5 - Opposition to homosexual sex is common to the two largest global worldviews—Christianity and Islam—as well as to most other religious traditions. Given the global population trends, the claim that those who oppose gay marriage are on the wrong side of history is simply false.
Last Words, from Jesus
Matthew 19:11-12 - First-century eunuchs were typically males who had been castrated in childhood. They performed specific roles, ranging from singing, to guarding high-status women. But some decided they preferred heaven to sex. This point should help us understand our life and service are of immense value to God.
Finally, there will be no marriage (Matt. 22:30) in heaven. Why? Because marriage is a temporary state, designed to point us to a greater reality. At the resurrection, no one who has chosen Jesus over sexual fulfillment will have missed out. Compared with that relationship, human marriage will seem like a toy car next to a Cadillac, or a kiss on an envelope versus a lover’s embrace.
Next month: Doesn’t the Bible Condone Slavery?