The Great Divides
Part 1: Homosexuality
For the next four weeks, I’m going to talk about four issues that divide people—four things that stir up love or hate. But I’m starting with this premise: people are more important than issues, and so regardless of how we feel about these issues, we are going to get along.
I’m going to do my best to explain what the Bible says about each of these Great Divides, and address the questions that are being discussed in the public forum. Somewhere along the line, I will probably offend you. But I am an equal opportunity offender—I’m sure I’ll offend everyone, so you’ll have company. But let’s decide right now that we can be friends despite our feelings about coconut. Ok? The first of the four Great Divides is homosexuality—that’s what we’re talking about today. Let’s pray.
Few issues polarize people more than homosexuality. I want to look at three things with you today. First, we’ll look at the debate as it’s commonly framed in our culture: that debate centers around four issues. Then we’ll look at what God says about it in the Bible, and what He wants us as Christians to do. Finally, I’m going to interview two friends who will share their stories with us.
Let me begin by admitting that this subject makes people squirm—it makes us uncomfortable.
ILL: When I was in high school, I cruised Main Street with my friends. This was in the day of bench seats, and one day a couple buddies and I were sitting three abreast in my friend’s 56 Chevy. I was sitting by the passenger door, and when we got in the most crowded part of downtown, I bent down to tie my shoe. The other two guys in the front seat started screaming, “Get up! Get up!” They didn’t want to be seen snuggled up together in the front
seat. Why? They were uncomfortable with the idea that anyone might think they were gay.
During my first week at college, a big boisterous guy in our dorm greeted me with a huge hug. “Brother Joe!” he shouted, and gave me a big bear hug. I just stood there—it must have been like hugging a pole. I wasn’t used to guys hugging guys, and it made me uncomfortable. Why?
This subject makes people uncomfortable for many reasons. Perhaps the biggest reasons are ignorance and misunderstanding and fear. So let me start with two premises.
First, we are all people. Homosexuals are just people too; they are our neighbors and coworkers and friends. Some of them are our brothers and sisters in Christ. I have homosexual friends whom I love, who go to our church (or other churches), and who love Jesus as deeply and sincerely as anyone I know. And I’m proud to call them my brother or sister. And since they are people, created like you in the image of God, they deserve to be treated with love and respect.
Second, we are all sinners. In a few minutes, we’ll look at what the Bible says about homosexual behavior—I believe it clearly says that it is sin. But it’s not the only sin, the biggest sin, or the unforgiveable sin. It is one sin among many. The Bible is equally clear that all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. So this is a not an “I’m right, you’re wrong” deal. We’re all wrong—we’re all sinners equally in need of God’s grace and help.
Can we start there? With that in mind, let’s look at the debate.
1. The great debate about homosexuality.
The debate about homosexuality is complex, but much of it centers around the following four issues.
A. Prevalence: how widespread is homosexuality?
Ever since Alfred Kinsey published his famous reports on human sexuality in the 1940’s and 50’s, we’ve been told that 10% of the population is homosexual. You still hear 10% figure quoted often in spite of the fact that more recent and credible studies show the number is somewhere between 1 and 3% of the population. “When males and females are combined, homosexuality almost certainly characterizes less than 3% of the population, and the correct percentage combining men and women might be lower than even 2%.” (Jones and Yarhouse, Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate, pg. 44)
Why is the question of prevalence important? Two reasons. First, gay activists insist since homosexuality is relatively common, it can’t be immoral and ought to be accepted as a normal lifestyle. Opponents argue that since it is relatively rare, it is obviously abnormal and immoral. But the morality of an act can’t be determined by whether it is common or rare. Pride, lust and greed are all common, but that doesn’t make them right. Some virtues—such as self-sacrificing love—may be rare, but certainly wouldn’t be considered immoral for that reason. So prevalence doesn’t argue one way or the other for the morality of a particular act.
The other reason that prevalence is important is purely political. Gay activists know that they have a better chance of achieving their political agendas if lawmakers see them as a large and unified voting block. 10% is a lot more votes and political clout than 1 or 2%. When gay activists toss that 10% figure around, they may be motivated more by political expediency than scientific accuracy.
Bottom line: the best and most recent studies in the US and around the world indicate that 1-3% of the population is homosexual.
B. Cause: is homosexuality a choice or determined by other factors?
What causes a person to have a same-sex attraction: nature, nurture or choice? The answer is: yes. The best research indicates that our human sexuality is the result of the complex interaction of all three.
In recent years, gay activists have emphasized research that focuses on nature, finding a biological cause for homosexuality, such as hormones or genes. They believe that if a biological cause could be proven, then homosexuality is no different than being born left-handed, or with blue eyes, or black skin.
But the best and most recent studies have not proven that homosexuality is caused by biological forces alone. In 1995, Michael Bailey published research on identical twins that suggested a genetic link for homosexuality, and it made a huge splash in the media. However, since then, Bailey has done more and better research that casts doubt on the significance of genetics in the causation of homosexuality. This research didn’t get the same kind of publicity. Is it possible or likely that biological factors make someone predisposed to same-sex attraction? Yes. Has it been proven that this is the primary or only cause of homosexuality? No.
On the nurture side of the equation, there is a substantial amount of research on psychological and environmental factors that has not been refuted, but simply ignored in recent years. These factors include such things as parent-child relationships, childhood sexual abuse, peer-group influences, and adult experiences. There are many studies in which the presence of a domineering or enmeshed mother coupled with a distant, detached or rejecting father were commonly reported by homosexuals. Also, those who experience childhood sexual trauma are several times more likely to become homosexuals than those who don’t experience such trauma. But does everyone who has dysfunctional parents or experiences childhood sexual abuse become homosexual? No.
So what about choice? Almost every homosexual would tell you that they didn’t choose their sexual orientation, and many of them desperately wish they could change it. For a Christian to glibly dismiss homosexuality as just another choice is a terrible oversimplification of a difficult problem. But are there choices involved? Absolutely. You didn’t choose your sexual orientation, but you do choose your behavior. Homosexuals are not subhuman robots who can make no real choices about their behavior.
Many scientists believe that human sexuality is determined by a complex combination of all these factors—biological dispositions, psychological and environmental influences, and our own choices—and that all of these are weighted differently for each individual. But science hasn’t eliminated responsibility for our sexual behaviors. You may be predisposed to certain behaviors, but you still decide.
ILL: You may have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism, but you still choose to drink.
There is current scientific research that suggests brain chemistry may create a predisposition to violence in certain individuals. But no one is suggesting that this eliminates that person’s moral responsibility. “I murdered someone, but it’s not my fault. I was born this way.”
Other research indicates that there may be a genetic predisposition in some people to watch more TV, but the husband who uses this excuse to be a couch potato is on thin ice. “Honey, my genes are making me watch Monday Night Football.”
Bottom line: the best research indicates that human sexuality is determined by several interacting factors, but this doesn’t eliminate human responsibility for our behavioral choices.
C. Pathology: is homosexuality a normal, healthy alternative lifestyle?
A pathology is something abnormal. Is homosexuality a pathology, something abnormal, or is it merely an alternate but equally normal lifestyle? In 1974, the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove homosexuality as a pathological psychiatric condition from the DSM: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But many psychiatrists disagree, and as we’ll see, answering this question is more complicated than simply checking a manual.
Research has shown that homosexuals experience significantly higher rates of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. This is not to say that all homosexuals are depressed, abusing drugs and alcohol, or contemplating suicide. But the rates are clearly higher for homosexuals. Some would argue that this is due to the stress of societal prejudice—living as a gay in the middle of a disapproving straight world. But the gay lifestyle itself may be the cause for these higher rates of personal distress.
For example, research has repeatedly shown that the rate of promiscuity among homosexuals, particularly among males, is many times higher than among heterosexuals. This is not to say that all homosexuals are promiscuous. But the rates are clearly higher. Monogamy—an exclusive relationship with one partner—is a rare thing in the gay world. In a study of 156 gay couples in 1994, 62% of the partners had sexual encounters outside the relationship in the previous year. In fact, the average number of extra-relational sexual partners for each member of the gay couples in the previous year was 7.
There is a move in some pro-gay circles toward the acceptance of sexual relations with children before the legal ages of consent. There is a push to replace value-loaded terms such as “pedophilia” and “child sexual abuse” with more neutral terms like “intergenerational intimacy” or “adult-child sex.” This is not to say that all gays are pushing for this, but some are.
Finally, in his book Straight and Narrow, Thomas Schmidt bluntly discusses gay sexual practices. He explains how they violate the design of the human body, and why they result in a host of sexually transmitted diseases and other health problems. None of these things are normal or healthy.
Bottom line: homosexual behavior is not physically, emotionally or socially healthy or normal.
D. Change: can homosexuals change their orientation or behavior?
Many homosexuals say that since homosexuality is a genetic condition that is natural and normal, it is not possible or even desirable to change it. Others argue that people can and do change, and point to examples, such as the stories Bob Davies tells in this book, Portraits of Freedom.
What does research show? In a nutshell, research shows that change is possible, although difficult. Some scientific studies on change of sexual orientation indicate a positive outcome of approximately 30%, similar to the rates of recovery in many drug and alcohol rehab programs. Our sexuality is complex and reaches into the very roots of our human identity. Like most addictions, it yields very slowly to change. Most Christian ministries to homosexuals have lots of anecdotal evidence of change, but haven’t done the scientific research to verify their rates of change, so we don’t know if they are higher, lower or the same.
Bottom line: change is difficult, but possible. And in a few minutes you’ll hear from some people who are experiencing change.
2. What does the Bible say about homosexuality?
I’m going to read all of the passages in the Bible that directly address homosexuality and make a few comments. I’m also going to tell you how homosexuals often interpret these passages. There are four groups of verses.
The stories of Sodom and Gibeah
Genesis 19 tells the famous story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Two angels are sent from God to warn Lot of impending judgment. Lot offered the two men the hospitality of his home, and here is what happened.
Genesis 19:4-11 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.”
6 Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”
9 “Get out of our way,” they replied. And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.
10 But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11 Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.
The angels lead Lot and his family out of Sodom before God destroyed the city. The men of Sodom were guilty of homosexual sin, but the Bible is clear that wasn’t the only sin in Sodom.
Ezekiel 16:49-50 Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.
They were guilty of many sins, but clearly, homosexuality was one.
Jude 7 In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion.
Judges 19 tells a similar story about a Levite and his concubine who received similar treatment in an Israelite town. By the way, some homosexuals argue that Sodom’s sin was a failure to be hospitable—but I think the story itself clearly refutes that notion. Others argue that the sin of Sodom was attempted homosexual rape rather than a consensual relationship. Let’s see what the rest of the Bible says.
The Leviticus prohibitions
Leviticus 18:22 “‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.
Leviticus 20:13 “‘If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
This is very clear. Homosexuality was forbidden and declared “detestable.” Some homosexuals argue, incorrectly I believe, that what was being forbidden here is temple prostitution—that this was a religious taboo related to the pagan fertility practices of the nations around Israel. However, the immediate context is simply a list of sexual prohibitions that includes incest, adultery and bestiality.
Paul’s description of the culture of his day
In Romans 1, the apostle Paul writes about the decadence of the pagan world in which he lived, listing some of their sins and predicting God’s judgment.
Romans 1:24-27 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.
Paul describes homosexuality as unnatural, indecent and a perversion. And he says that it brings its own penalty which they received “in themselves,” referring in part (I think) to sexually transmitted diseases. Homosexuals argue that what these verses forbid is “unnatural” behavior—that is, for a heterosexual to engage in homosexual practice. That would be unnatural. But, they say, it is natural for a homosexual to engage in homosexual behavior. I don’t believe that is how Paul is using the words “natural” and “unnatural”. He is referring to God’s created order rather than an individual’s personal preference.
Paul’s other writings.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. 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.
1 Timothy 1:8-11 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
These two passages list behaviors that violate God’s law and keep us out of God’s kingdom. Homosexual behavior is included in both lists.
The words “male prostitutes” translate the Greek word malakoi, which means “soft to the touch”, and among Greeks meant the male who played the passive role in homosexual intercourse.
The words “homosexual offender” (1 Corinthians) and “perverts” (1 Timothy) translate the Greek word arsenokoitai, which means “male in a bed” and was used by the Greeks to describe the one who took the active role.
Thus, Paul forbids all homosexual behavior, either active or passive. Homosexuals argue that Paul forbids pederasty—sex with young boys—rather than consensual sex between adults.
Did you notice 1 Corinthians 6:11? “And that is what some of you were.” Some of them had been homosexual, but they had been changed by Jesus.
I believe these four passages are clear that homosexual behavior is considered by God to be sinful and unnatural, a perversion of God’s created order. More importantly, the rest of the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexual relations (see for example, Genesis 2:18-25, Matthew 19:1-9) teach that God’s standard is a monogamous, lifelong relationship between a man and a woman, and that any sexual conduct outside those boundaries is sin.
Again, while homosexual behavior is sin, it is not the only sin, the biggest sin, or the unforgivable sin. We are all sinners, equally in need of God’s grace and help. And I think it is important to understand that while homosexual activity is sinful, homosexual feelings or temptation is not. It is not a sin to be tempted.
3. What are we to do?
A. Ask forgiveness for our failures.
The church has an abysmal reputation with many homosexuals, and for good reason. Too often, we have failed to show the love of God to them, and have instead treated them with hostility and hatred.
ILL: Phil Yancey, in his book, What’s so Amazing about Grace?, tells the story of going at a friend’s request to the first gay march on Washington D.C. in 1987. About 300,000 gay rights marchers had gathered, and were greeted by a small but vocal group of Christian counter-demonstrators. These Christians were yelling inflammatory slogans at the gay marchers. “Faggots go home!” they chanted, and when they tired of that, they started, “Shame on you for what you do.” Or, “AIDS, AIDS, it’s comin’ your way.” In between chants, the leader shouted that God reserved the hottest fires in hell for sodomites and other perverts.
Among the marchers were at least 3,000 who identified themselves with various religious groups, including 1,000 from the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a denomination that espouses evangelical theology except for its stance on homosexuality. When the MCC marchers drew alongside the Christian protestors, they stopped, turned to faced them and sang, “Jesus loves us this we know, for the Bible tells us so.”
Yancey writes: “The abrupt ironies in that scene of confrontation struck me. On the one side were Christians defending pure doctrine. On the other side were “sinners,” many of whom openly admit to homosexual practice. Yet the more orthodox group spewed out hate and the other group sang of Jesus’ love.”
Does the incongruity of that strike you like it does me? There are many sad stories like this one, and each time we hear one, we should ask for forgiveness for our unChristlike attitudes and actions.
B. Offer the truth with grace and love.
On the other hand, we should clearly articulate the truth, but with generous helpings of grace and love. John Stott writes, “At the heart of the homosexual condition is a deep loneliness, the natural human hunger for mutual love, a search for identity, and a longing for completeness. If (they) cannot find these things in the local ‘church family’, we have no business to go on using that expression.” If there is any place in the world where people ought to be able to find love, acceptance and forgiveness, it’s here. I want our church to be a safe place for people struggling with sin—people like you and me—whatever the sin—to find love and grace and help. I believe that Jesus is the hope of the world—that He can forgive and heal and change anyone. And I believe that His family, the church, ought to be the place where that can happen.
If you discovered that the person next to you, or in front of you or behind you was struggling with homosexuality, what would you do? Would you be able to put an arm around them and assure them of your love and support? It’s not a hypothetical question. We have people in our church who struggle with homosexuality. They need our love and encouragement.