You don’t have to read many headlines to recognize that homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and a host of other related topics are hot-button issues these days. In previous generations Christians only had to give passing thought to the Bible’s teaching on these matters, but no longer. We may want to avoid the controversy, but it’s coming whether we like it or not. In some way, at some time or place, every Christian will have to take their stand on this question: what does the Bible say about homosexuality? Let me suggest two points I think we must state with both compassion and clarity.
1) Homosexuality is a sin
There are six texts that explicitly mention homosexuality: Genesis 19, Lev. 18.22, Lev. 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9, 1 Tim. 1:10. In addition, Jude 1:7 references the Sodom and Gomorrah story in Genesis 19 without using the word “homosexuality.” The clear teaching of these passages, Old and New, is that homosexuality is a sin.
Despite the clarity, however, there are many who argue that Scripture doesn’t actually say what it appears to say. Some pit the Old Testament vs. the New Testament – sure, there may have been some obscure law under Moses that forbid homosexuality, but the New Testament is about love and compassion and acceptance. But the obvious flaw with that line of reasoning is that the New Testament is just as clear in its labeling of homosexuality as a sin.
Others, noting that those three New Testament passages are all in Paul’s letters, pit Jesus against Paul. “Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners,” they say. “Of course he would have accepted homosexuals! It’s Paul whose the problem, introducing rules and polluting Jesus’ religion of love.” Notice what happens if we take this view. We’ve put ourselves in the position of judging which parts of Scripture we accept and which we reject. We stand above the Bible and render a verdict of true or false. But we’ve lost the ability for Scripture to ever confront us and tell us something different than what we already believed. It’s just those times when Scripture challenges us and brings us up short, even angers us with its audacious claims, that prove it’s the word of a living and active God. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, it’s only dream furniture that never stubs your toes and only a dream “God” who never corrects you.
There’s at least one more nuanced approach to explaining away Scripture’s clear teaching. This view argues that the commands against homosexuality are only against sexual excess, not committed homosexual relationships and that the Bible knows nothing of the modern concept of sexual orientation. But here’s the problem. The Bible not only gives commands about sexuality and condemns homosexual behavior, it also tells us why. And it’s that why that is so important.
The commands against homosexuality (and all heterosexual sin as well!) are set in the context of the story line of Scripture, and especially the goodness of creation in Genesis 1 and 2. There we learn that gender – male and female – is part of our very essence. There is no such thing as a gender-less human; we are either men in God’s image or women in God’s image. Sex cannot be divorced from gender. It is a gift of God with specific purposes that all take place in the context of the marriage relationship in Genesis 1-2. Appealing to “homosexual orientation” as a way to bypass God’s prohibition against homosexuality doesn’t work because God has already told us what our sexual orientation is supposed to be: one man for one woman, in the context of a marriage covenant. Just as you wouldn’t use an iPhone to hammer a nail (Steve Jobs didn’t design it for that), so too you cannot use God’s gifts for purposes that are contrary to his.
Despite the arguments against the biblical texts, it’s clear that Scripture says homosexuality is a sin. But there’s more we must say.
2) Homosexuality is a sin
The first point speaks to those who argue homosexuality really isn’t a sin. But now we have to emphasize that homosexuality is only a sin, not the sin. Some rationalize homosexuality, others demonize it. Think of the news clips of people screaming and holding “God hates fags” signs. This is just as much a distortion of Scripture as trying to make Scripture approve of homosexuality. “God hates fags” is a gross caricature of the gospel message, one that draws the line between “us” and “them,” with “them” defined as “sinners who do things I don’t do.” In truth, God hates sin in all its manifestations. Sometimes it marches in gay parades and sometimes it gossips over the fried chicken. Both are equally hateful to God.
No passage is clearer in labeling homosexuality as a sin, but only one among many sins, than 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
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, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 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 (emphasis added).
Note what Paul says. Men who practice homosexuality are among the unrighteous. So are idolaters and verbally abusive people. But the gospel changes the identity of just such people: “And such were some of you” – until God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit intervened!
Here’s the heart of the matter. The Bible refuses to let us label them as the problem. We are the problem – and that we includes kindly old grandmothers, card-carrying lesbian activists, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth farmers, and everyone in between. Our problem is much bigger than any one expression of sin. Our problem is a planet of 7 billion people each going his or her own way, with thousands of years’ worth of backstory to that rebellion. The tangled web that all of those rebels weave, a web of sinning and being sinned against, creates chaos and confusion that impacts every corner of the planet and every nook of our lives. Yes, homosexuality is part of that rebellion. But it’s not the sole cause of the rebellion. Labeling it as the sin causes us to miss our own culpability for vandalizing God’s good creation.
Homosexuality is a sin, but only a sin. In our current cultural climate, with pressures from multiple sides, faithfulness to Scripture requires us to say both.
Photo by Ethan Lofton