In the next few weeks I plan to post some reflections on the gospel and homosexuality. This first post exists to lay some groundwork.
Homosexuality will be the cultural issue facing the church for the foreseeable future. The church’s responses to it have run in two polarizing directions: blanket derision or wholehearted acceptance. Some churches shun homosexuals. Others ordain them. Thoughtful, prayerful, biblical consideration of how the gospel addresses homosexuality has been woefully absent from the conversation.
Any gospel approach to homosexuality must acknowledge, first of all, the clarity of God’s prohibitions on homosexual behavior, and secondly, the complexity of sin and brokenness. To put it another way: the Bible condemns homosexual activity, not homosexual orientation. Because we live in a fallen world, some people feel same-sex desires. Those desires are not ideal. They are a result of the Fall. But they are not in and of themselves sinful (unless cultivated, cherished, acted upon). Heterosexual men will at times feel attracted to women they are not married to. That attraction is called temptation, and it must be fought rather than indulged. Likewise, those who struggle with same-sex attraction may feel tempted by homosexual desires. Those desires are to be fought rather than indulged. But those who feel them are not “more sinful” or “less Christian” than others. They are simply broken in a different way. (If Christians would acknowledge what I’ve written in this paragraph, it would go a long way toward healing some of the wounds we’ve caused).
A gospel approach to homosexuality must also address the issues of righteousness and identity. These are the foundational questions of the human condition: Who am I? And how do I know that I’m OK? The gospel answers these questions: my identity is found in Christ, and my righteousness comes from him. The homosexual subculture also answers these questions: my identity is found in my homosexuality, and damn you if you don’t agree that I’m OK, righteous, good. Homosexuals often assert: “I have a right to live this way! This is who I am!” Christians must see that these assertions betray deep longings for righteousness and identity that are ultimately satisfied only by Jesus. Rather than arguing, we should identify with these longings. Apart from Jesus, where did you find your identity? In your job performance, your status, your education, your relationships? Do you remember the power that identity had over you? How did Jesus free you? Now you have some common ground to start from.
This righteousness/identity dynamic explains why some homosexuals (those not yet transformed by the gospel) seem to feel a need to cling to their orientation and define themselves by it, while other homosexuals (those who have been changed by the gospel) don’t. Their identity in Jesus becomes the main thing; they are free to struggle against sin and temptation just like the rest of us. Homosexuals who claim to be Christians but are still actively engaged in the homosexual lifestyle define themselves primarily by their sexual orientation: “I’m a gay Christian.” Homosexuals who have been changed by the gospel may still feel same-sex desires just as strongly, but their primary identity is rooted in Christ: “I’m a Christian who struggles with same-sex desires.” There is a world of difference between the two.
Lest any reader surmise that I’m writing these posts from ignorant isolation, a bit of narrative may help. One of my college roommates – a faithful Christian brother – was the first to confide in me about his struggles with same-sex attraction. Walking with him over the course of years gave me a keen insight into the particular struggles and challenges of Christians who face this temptation. Our first case of church discipline at Coram Deo was a young man who, after helping us plant the church, departed the faith into a lifestyle of active homosexuality. Since then, Coram Deo has ministered to dozens of homosexuals – most of them looking to me personally for discipleship and counseling. As I write this post, I’m aware that numerous personal friends of mine will read it: some would consider themselves “previously homosexual;” others would currently identify as homosexual but are living in chastity and walking with Jesus; still others would claim to be Christians and yet are actively practicing homosexuality (and think I am wrong for calling such behavior “sin” like the Bible does).
One of the reasons I’m compelled to write on this subject is because my friends who have been the deepest into the homosexual lifestyle are the ones most frustrated with the state of the conversation. They are upset at the church’s failure to winsomely, humbly, and charitably engage homosexuals. But they are even more upset at the lies and half-truths propagated by the gay community. Some of them are former homosexuals whose sexual orientation has changed by God’s grace (contrary to gay culture’s insistence that this is impossible). Others are living faithfully in chastity and celibacy, “choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25). All of them agree that the cultural mantra that “homosexual behavior is just as natural/normal/honorable as heterosexual behavior” is a pernicious and damaging lie.
In the posts to come, I’ll be using the words homosexual and homosexuality in varied ways. The statement below, from Bethlehem Baptist Church, summarizes well the biblical and theological nuances in this matter and will be helpful to readers who are new to this discussion.
1. We believe that heterosexuality is God’s revealed will for humankind and that, since God is loving, a chaste and faithful expression of this orientation (whether in singleness or in marriage) is the ideal to which God calls all people.
2. We believe that a homosexual orientation is a result of the fall of humanity into a sinful condition that pervades every person. Whatever biological or familial roots of homosexuality may be discovered, we do not believe that these would sanction or excuse homosexual behavior, though they would deepen our compassion and patience for those who are struggling to be free from sexual temptations. [Notice the behavior/orientation distinction here]
3. We believe there is hope for the person with a homosexual orientation and that Jesus Christ offers a healing alternative in which the power of sin is broken and the person is freed to know and experience his or her true identity in Christ and in the fellowship of his Church. [Notice the primacy of ‘true identity in Christ’ as the foundational component of healing]
4. We believe that this freedom is attained through a process which includes recognizing homosexual behavior as sin, renouncing the practice of homosexual behavior, rediscovering healthy, non-erotic friendships with people of the same sex, embracing a moral sexual lifestyle, and in the age to come, rising from the dead with a new body free from every sinful impulse. This process parallels the similar process of sanctification needed in dealing with heterosexual temptations as well. We believe that this freedom comes through faith in Jesus Christ, by the power of his Spirit.
5. We believe that all persons have been created in the image of God and should be accorded human dignity. We believe therefore that hateful, fearful, unconcerned harassment of persons with a homosexual orientation should be repudiated. We believe that respect for persons with a homosexual orientation involves honest, reasoned, nonviolent sharing of facts concerning the immorality and liability of homosexual behavior. On the other hand, endorsing behavior which the Bible disapproves endangers persons and dishonors God.
From Desiring God