Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Homosexuality--Position statement



            Homosexuality is one of the hottest political and social issues of our times. Since it is discussed in the New Testament and since I teach New Testament, I wanted to produce a clear, concise statement of my position on this issue.
            First, a genuine Christian position on homosexuality must never be about hate. The New Testament is very clear that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. I do not consider gay people to be my enemies, but for those who do, I would remind them that Jesus commanded his followers to love even their enemies. All Christians should love gay people. Gay people should never be mocked, ridiculed, threatened, or abused. Gay people will never be won to Christ out of hostility. They should be treated with love and compassion.
            Second, the issue is not, or should not be, about orientation, but about behavior. The Bible simply does not address the issue of sexual orientation. It addresses behavior. In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19), the men of the city gather at Lot’s house and demand, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” That is about behavior, not orientation. Leviticus 18:22 says, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman.” That’s about behavior, not orientation. Leviticus 20:13 says, “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman…is detestable.” That’s about behavior. Romans 1:27 speaks of how “Men committed indecent acts with other men.” That’s about behavior. Finally the English Standard Version translates αρσενοκοιται in First Corinthians 6:9 and First Timothy 1:10 accurately as “men who practice homosexuality.” That too, is about behavior. The same is true of the condemnation found in Jude 7.
            Orientation is about attraction and temptation, neither of which by itself is sin. Personally, I am attracted to women and have sometimes been tempted by women—That fact alone does not make it sin. Even Jesus was tempted in all points as we are—yet without sin. So when a man is attracted to or tempted by another man, or when a woman is attracted to or tempted by another woman, that by itself is not sin.
There is a difference between attraction and lust. Lust has to do with strong desire that one chooses to focus and dwell upon. I think it was Martin Luther who once said, “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building nests in your hair. Both gay and straight people can choose what they focus on and lust after. They do not always choose to whom they are attracted. There is nothing, therefore, inherently sinful about a celibate homosexual. In fact, a Christian who is attracted to people of the same sex, but who refrains from sex with people of the same sex out of a deep love for Christ should be commended for his or her dedication to Christ!
In addition, there is also nothing inherently sinful about same-sex love that is non-sexual. The love David and Jonathan had for each other is said to have surpassed even their love for women, which is saying a lot considering David’s attraction to women!
            Third, while there is nothing inherently sinful about same-sex attraction or same-sex love that is non-sexual, the Bible is very clear that having sex with someone of the same sex is not only sinful, it is particularly heinous to God. Leviticus 18 and 20 are clear that God even expects pagan nations to know better, and that he will destroy nations over the practices listed in those chapters. Those practices include sex with close relatives, sex with animals and sex with people of the same sex.
The condemnation of the behavior of sex with people of the same sex is not just in the Old Testament, it is repeated several times in the New Testament. The Bible is very clear—sex with people of the same sex is sin, just like sex with close relatives is sin or sex with people outside of marriage is sin.
Objections
            People have, of course, raised all kinds of objections to this position. First, some will admit that the Old Testament condemns sex between people of the same sex, but the Old Testament also says we should stone murderers and we don’t do that anymore either. That’s true, but the fact that we don’t stone murderers doesn’t make murder any less of a sin. Besides, no one is advocating the stoning of gay people (except in some Muslim countries).
Second, some will acknowledge that the Old Testament condemns sex between people of the same sex, but will argue that the Old Testament also says we shouldn’t eat pork, etc. The implication is that the prohibition against sex with people of the same sex, like the prohibition against eating pork, should be ignored. It is certainly true that The New Testament teaches that the New Covenant has superseded the Old Covenant in some respects (for example, regarding sacrifices, food laws, priesthood and ceremonial purity), but that does not mean that we can just throw our Old Testament out. We know that New Testament writers continued to believe that the Old Testament was valid because they extensively allude to and quote from the Old Testament as their Bible and final authority. Unlike the sacrifices or dietary laws, the fact that the prohibition against sex with people of the same sex is repeated several times in the New Testament makes it clear that this prohibition was not annulled.
We should also note that the context of Leviticus 18 and 20 is not about sacrifices, ceremonies or dietary laws. As mentioned above, it contains numerous sexual prohibitions including sex with close relatives and sex with animals as well as sex between people of the same sex.
Third, some people object by pointing out that Jesus never condemned
homosexuality. It is true that there is nothing recorded in the Gospels about Jesus specifically condemning sex between people of the same sex, but Jesus didn’t specifically condemn sex between children and parents, or sex with animals either. Jesus did, however, specifically condemn sexual immorality (e.g. Mark 7:21 where the word "porneia" is used; a word which can include homosexuality according to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament; Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1968, vol.6, 581). In Jesus’ culture all Jews, including Jesus, agreed that the Torah was their Bible. In fact, Jesus strongly affirmed and upheld the Torah (Matthew 5:17-18)—and the Torah specifically condemned sex between people of the same sex.
Fourth, some people object saying that Romans 1 is discussing idolatry. They argue that Paul is, therefore, discussing the kind of orgies that took place in the context of pagan worship but that he was not condemning loving same-sex relationships. That Paul was not condemning loving same-sex relationships, however, is simply asserted by the critics, not demonstrated. There is absolutely nothing in the Bible that would lead us to believe that Paul would have approved of sex between people of the same sex in any context. That fact that he specifically condemns the practice three times—without qualification—shows that the critics’ objection is false.
While it is true that Paul is discussing idolatry in Romans 1, that is only a partial truth. The whole truth is that Paul is condemning the willful rejection of what may be known of God leading to idolatry. Paul says that as a result of this willful rejection, “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity” and to “shameful lusts” as well as to wickedness, evil greed malice, etc. The fact that Paul is discussing idolatry in Romans 1 does not  excuse any of the sins he lists in that chapter, whether murder, deceit, slander or sex with people of the same sex. Nowhere in the Bible is there any hint that sex between people of the same sex is acceptable to God.
            Fifth, another objection is that Romans 1 is about the behavior of the Caesars, not about loving same-sex relationships. Some of my arguments on Romans 1 above also answer this objection, but this argument about the Caesars ignores the fact that some relationships between an emperor and another man or a boy were undoubtedly loving same-sex behaviors! Paul still condemns the behavior, whether loving or not. Besides, there is nothing in Romans 1 about the Caesars anyway. That is something read into the text, not from it.
            Sixth, one’s sexual orientation is genetic—gay people are born that way. But the disputed question of whether people are genetically predisposed to being gay is entirely irrelevant to this discussion. From a biblical perspective, the issue is about behavior, not about sexual orientation or genetics. For example, it is not sin for someone to be genetically predisposed to being an alcoholic. It is not necessarily sin for someone to be tempted by drinking too much.  Becoming drunk, however, is condemned as sin in the Bible. Similarly, it is not sin to be genetically predisposed to being gay. It is not sin to be tempted by someone of the same sex. But the Bible teaches that it is sin to lust after someone of either sex, and it is sin to have sex with people of the same sex just as it is sin for opposite sex couples to have sex outside of marriage.
            Seventh, some people object saying that we don’t make other sins illegal, like adultery, for example. True, but this is a “straw-man” argument because the fact is that no one is arguing for making sex with people of the same sex illegal either.
            Eighth, some argue that people should be able to marry whomever they love. Really? Should the government also support or promote polygamy, polyamory, incestuous marriage or the marriage between adults and children? If the only issue is love, then the answer would have to be yes—In fact, some would say the answer should be yes. Others would say that this begins to make marriage, as the union of two people for the purpose of raising and supporting children, meaningless. At least one gay rights activist was honest enough to admit that making marriage meaningless was the whole point of the same sex marriage debate.
            Ninth, some will argue that even scholars can’t agree on the interpretation of the homosexuality passages in the Bible so we should avoid being dogmatic and judgmental on this issue. Actually, you would be hard pressed to find any subject on which all scholars agree. You could undoubtedly even find some perverted scholars who would say that having sex with children was OK! The fact, however, is that for more than 2,000 years virtually all scholars did agree that the Bible teaches that sex between people of the same sex is sin. It has only been very recently, when society began to push same-sex marriage, that so-called scholars have come out of the woodwork to re-interpret these passages to support their cause. Make no mistake about it—The Bible itself is very clear: Sex between people of the same sex is sin.
The real issue
Finally, the real issue is not about whether someone should be able to marry someone of the same sex. The real issue is about freedom of religion. In Oregon a Christian baker had been happily serving a gay customer for years. When the customer, however, decided to “marry” his gay lover and wanted the baker to bake the wedding cake, the baker determined that her religious convictions would not allow her to support gay marriage in this way and she refused. The state of Oregon pressed charges against her.
When gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts, the public school system began promoting it. One Christian family did not want their children exposed to this propaganda and asked that their children be exempted from the class sessions in which homosexuality would be promoted. The school refused. The family sued. The judge determined that since gay marriage was public policy in Massachusetts, the family did not have the right to exempt their children from such instruction (the idea that parents have no right to exempt their children from state indoctrination on any topic should concern all Americans of any social or political persuasion)!
In Boston, a Catholic adoption agency that specialized in difficult placements was forced by the state to go out of business because they could not in good conscience adopt to gay couples. In Maryland a Christian camp faced legal battles with the state because they could not in good conscience rent their own privately owned facilities out for same-sex civil unions. A Christian family in New York also faced legal battles when they could not in good conscience rent out the facilities on their own farm (which they made available for weddings) for a gay marriage.
In yet another case a Christian counselor faced legal opposition when she declined to counsel a gay couple having relationship problems. Even though the psychologist referred the couple to another counselor who was open to gay relationships, the gay couple sued anyway. Similar legal battles were faced by a Christian photographer who could not in good conscience photograph a gay wedding.
            Chai Feldblum, who was the Obama appointee to head up the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission once said that when gay rights clash with religious freedom there is virtually no case in which religious freedom should win. Several law school professors once wrote that the clash between gay rights and religious freedom was going to be a “train wreck.”
            It is very important to note that this issue is NOT about whether Christian camps, adoption agencies, photographers, psychologists, or bakers should serve gay clients. I personally don’t think it would be sin for a Christian photographer or baker, for example to photograph, or bake for, a gay wedding any more than it would be sin for them to serve clients who are living together outside of marriage.
This issue is also NOT about whether the government should be able to force people to violate their beliefs. For example, if someday the government passed a law forcing me to swap my gas car for an electric car because of climate change dogma, this would violate my belief that climate change is more political than scientific, but it would not violate my religious convictions.
The real issue, politically speaking, is whether the government should be able to force people to do (or refrain from doing) something that they sincerely believe would constitute sin against God! That is what the first amendment was designed to protect. There are always exceptions to any rule of course, (e.g. freedom of speech does not allow you to yell fire in a crowded theater), but generally speaking, a government is tyrannical that attempts to force people to do things they sincerely believe are sinful. This is just as true, whether we are talking (hypothetically) about a government that would force a Muslim grocer to sell alcohol, or a Jewish deli owner to sell ham, as it is about a government that would force Christians to promote homosexual behavior.
There is a very simple solution to this problem. If the government would simply ensure that any and all gay rights laws and regulations were also accompanied with strong freedom of religious conscience protections, the issue would largely dissolve. The fact, however, is that many gay rights advocates (both gay and straight) strenuously object to religious conscience protections, and such objections, in my opinion, are not only in opposition to the first amendment, they are fundamentally anti-American.
Summary
First, gay people are people for whom Jesus died—every bit as much as he died for me or you. Those who call themselves Christians but physically or verbally abuse gay people are like Pharisees, demonstrating that they really have no concept of God’s grace or the magnitude of their own sin.
Second, the Bible says nothing about sexual orientation. It is not necessarily sin to love, be attracted to, or tempted by someone of the same sex. Third, the Bible is very clear that sex between two people of the same sex is serious sin—so serious that the Torah said God would destroy nations over it. Finally, the real issue, politically speaking, is about freedom of religion.