September 23, 2012

Pastor Joe Wittwer


#3—Gay marriage


    Today, I was going to talk about gay marriage, but that subject is so polarizing that I decided instead to talk about puppies.  Everybody loves puppies!  Just kidding…we’re talking about gay marriage.  

    We’re going to look at what the Bible says about homosexuality and marriage.  We’re going to look at the arguments for and against gay marriage.  And of course, I am going to insist that you have to love your neighbor, even when you disagree.  That means that you have to love me too—and some of you may not agree with me.  Don’t you wonder what I’m going to say?  Me too!

    Let’s pray!

Introduction and offering:

This is part 3 of “Polarized”. We are talking about three things that polarize people: religion, politics and gay marriage (where religion and politics are colliding right now in our state). Our culture has become increasingly polarized: Christian vs. atheist, Democrat vs. Republican, gay vs. straight, pro-life vs. pro-choice, conservative vs. liberal, Huskies vs. Cougars.  We line up our slogans and sound bites and we lob them at each other in angry rants.  We shout a lot and listen very little. To a great degree, we have lost the art of robust, respectful and civil discourse.  I’m arguing that as Christians, God demands that we love our neighbors, even those with whom we disagree.

I think it is fair to tell you where I am coming from.  

First, as a follower of Jesus, I have to take the Bible seriously.  So we are going to see what the Bible says about homosexuality and about marriage—let’s see what it says.  If you are trying to follow Jesus like I am, I hope you will take the Bible seriously too.

Second, as a follower of Jesus, I have to take the Bible seriously—and it tells me to love my neighbor.  I must love my neighbor even when we disagree.  Gay and straight—we must love each other. We are all just people.  And I think that homosexuals and heterosexuals both want to be known as persons.  We are each more than our sexual orientation; we are persons.  Homosexuals are our neighbors and coworkers and friends.  How many of you know someone close to you who is gay?  These are people we know and love.  And some of them go to our church (or other churches), and are trying to follow Jesus. Each person, regardless of sexual orientation, is created in the image of God, is loved by God, and is someone for whom Christ died.  Therefore, each person deserves to be treated with love and respect.

So I want to start by saying “I’m sorry” to my gay friends. Too often, some Christians have failed to show you the love of God, and have instead treated you with hostility and even 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 face 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 I hear one, I want to say, “I’m sorry.”

As followers of Jesus we take the Bible seriously.  We take what it says about homosexuality and marriage seriously; we take what it says about loving our neighbor seriously.  This creates a healthy tension for us that I will try to maintain in this talk.

I have often said that I am an equal-opportunity offender.  Stick around long enough and I’m sure to offend you.  Today, I may offend just about everyone. But please hear me out and hear my heart…and love me.  

The Big Idea: We may disagree about homosexuality and gay marriage, but we must still love each other.  

1. What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

    It may surprise you to know that there aren’t a lot of verses in the Bible about homosexuality; it may not surprise you that all of them treat homosexual behavior as a sin.  I am going to make a distinction between homosexual preferences and homosexual behavior; it is the sexual activity that the Bible treats as sin.  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 some gay Christians 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 on the cities.  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.  What was the sin of Sodom? Some argue that the sin of Sodom was a failure to be hospitable, and they point to the fact that Lot was willing to offer his daughters to protect his guests (an extreme version of hospitality that I find very weird). Others argue that Sodom’s sin was attempted homosexual rape, which is very different than a consensual relationship. They say the sin here is not homosexuality, but homosexual rape.  

Whether it was homosexuality or homosexual rape, 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 Jude suggests that homosexual sin was one.

*Jude 7 In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion.

The word “perversion” translates a Greek phrase that literally means, “going after other flesh”.  Most scholars understand this as a reference to homosexual behavior, in this case, men wanting sex with another man.

Judges 19 tells a similar story about a Levite and his concubine who received similar treatment in an Israelite town called Gibeah.  In both Gibeah and Sodom, homosexual behavior is viewed as sin—and it could be because it was rape.  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. In ancient Israel, homosexual behavior was forbidden and declared “detestable.”  Some gays 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.  Therefore, they say, what is being prohibited are religious practices that have long since ceased and the passage is irrelevant to gay partnerships today.  However, while the context contains some references to forbidden religious practices (such as offering your child as a sacrifice), it is primarily a long list of sexual prohibitions, including incest (sex with a family member) and adultery.  This passage isn’t primarily about pagan worship, but about Israel’s sexual boundaries, that included adultery, incest and homosexual behavior.

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 homosexual behavior as shameful, unnatural, indecent and a perversion.  Homosexuals argue that what these verses forbid is “unnatural” behavior—that is, for a heterosexual to engage in homosexual practice.  That would be unnatural.  They point out that women and men abandoned or exchanged natural behavior for unnatural; that is, they were heterosexuals who engaged in homosexual behavior.  But, they say, it is natural for a homosexual to engage in homosexual behavior.  However, 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.  There are two Greek words here.


  • 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.  Some homosexuals argue that Paul forbids temple prostitution or pederasty, that these words were used to describe 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 Scriptures are clear that homosexual behavior is considered by God to be sinful and unnatural.  As I have already pointed out, others disagree with me.  Could I be wrong?  Of course!  But I think that is the clear and best understanding of those Scriptures, and how they have been understood for most of Christian history.

    For some homosexuals, this ends the conversation.  One man asked a gay friend, “If I believe that the Bible says homosexual behavior is sin, am I a homophobe?”  “Yes.”  I don’t think we need to jump there.  I am asking you not to end the conversation.  I think one can believe homosexual behavior is wrong and not be homophobic or hateful.

    While I believe 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.  Did you notice that the list of 10 sins in 1 Corinthians included not just homosexual behavior, but greed, slander, drunkenness, stealing, idolatry and sexual immorality?  Pride and idolatry are sins that show up far more often in the Bible than homosexual behavior.  And I think it is important to understand that while homosexual behavior is sinful, homosexual feelings or temptation is not.  It is the sex that is called sin—just like heterosexual sex outside of marriage is called sin.

2. What does the Bible say about marriage?

Simply put, the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexual relations is that God designed marriage to be a monogamous, lifelong relationship between a man and a woman, and that any sexual conduct outside those boundaries is sin.

    In Genesis 1, God creates human beings “male and female” in the image of God, affirming the equality of the sexes.  In Genesis 2, a second version of the creation story emphasizes the complementary nature of the sexes.  The man is created first and is alone; he needs a companion.  “It is not good for the man to be alone,” God said.  So God made ESPN and a remote.  God put Adam to sleep and out of Adam, He made a woman. The sexes became differentiated:  out of the undifferentiated humanity of Adam, male and female emerged.  When Adam awoke and saw Eve, he broke into song.  “Oo-la-la!”  That’s the Hebrew.  It’s the first love poem:

Genesis 2:23 The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called ‘woman,’

for she was taken out of man.”

Adam awoke to see his partner, Eve, and sang this song.  Then this verse:

Genesis 2:24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

From “flesh of my flesh” to “become one flesh.”  Heterosexual intercourse is more than a union; it’s a kind of reunion as the man and woman become one flesh again.  

    This verse, Genesis 2:24, describes God’s intention for marriage.  It is later quoted and affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19 and by Paul in Ephesians 5.  Marriage, as defined by God in Genesis 2:24, is


  • Heterosexual: a man and a woman.  A man…his wife; male and female.

  • Monogamous: one man with one woman.

  • Primary: it is your highest human allegiance. Leave his father and mother.

  • Permanent: you cleave—you are glued together.  Be united.

  • Intimate: the two become one.

God’s ideal is monogamous, intimate, permanent marriage…between a man and woman.

    As I said, Jesus affirmed this; so did Paul.  So both the Old and New Testament describe marriage in these terms.# It has been the standard for Christian marriage for 20 centuries.

    Let’s move from the Bible to the argument in our culture about gay marriage.  How can we as followers of Jesus be true to what we think the Scriptures teach about homosexuality and marriage—and loving our neighbors?

3. The cultural argument about gay marriage.

    I will try to give both sides of the argument—pro and con—and my opinion.  Obviously, based on what the Bible says about homosexual behavior and marriage, I find it difficult to argue for gay marriage.  But I respect the desire of my gay friends to have a lifelong committed relationship of love and I am sympathetic with many of their arguments.  Here are a few.

    Those arguing for gay marriage say that it is a civil rights issue.  Gays have the right to be married just like anyone else.  Those with partners want visitation and health-care decision-making rights like a heterosexual couple.  They want the same inheritance rights, benefits and tax privileges as heterosexual couples.  And they want to be accepted as married couples.  I am sympathetic to any argument for civil rights—aren’t you?  Who wants to be against civil rights?  One of my pastor friends, who is conservative theologically, is voting for gay marriage because he believes it is a civil rights issue.  I respect that.

    But I don’t fully agree with it.  Here’s why.  In the state of Washington, the 2009 domestic partnership law—called the “everything but marriage law”—placed domestic partnerships on an equal footing with marriage.  This applied to both same-sex or opposite-sex domestic partnerships.  Since 2009, registered same-sex couples enjoy all the civil rights of married couples—except for calling it marriage.  For some, this is not enough. Representative Jamie Pedersen, the House sponsor of the bill, said, “Although we view this as an improvement that provides real and concrete protections to same-sex partners, it’s an inadequate substitute for marriage.”#  This is why some opponents of same-sex marriage have said that it is no longer a civil rights issue; it is about redefining marriage.  

    Those arguing for gay marriage want marriage equality.  They argue that a same-sex couple committed to each other for life should be treated equally with an opposite-sex couple committed for life.  It’s about equality.  Gays should get equal treatment under the law—and that should include marriage equality.  Again, how can you not sympathize with an argument for equality?  Who is not for equality?  

    But some opponents of gay marriage argue that marriage equality is a myth.  We have always had boundaries around marriage.  Four quickly come to mind:


  • Age.  You cannot marry a minor (under-age).

  • Relation.  You cannot marry a close relative.

  • Monogamy.  You cannot marry more than one person at a time.

  • Gender.  You cannot marry someone of the same sex.

Notice, “you cannot marry”.  We have never been able to marry whoever we want; there have always been some boundaries.  Opponents to gay marriage argue that we are redefining marriage by dropping one of those boundaries, and they fear that the other boundaries will soon fall too.  The next to fall, they think, will be monogamy.  

    Supporters of gay marriage say, “We’re not hurting anyone.  How does it hurt you if a gay couple gets married?”  This is the “live and let live” argument.  As long as my actions don’t harm you, let me be.  And it’s true that allowing gays to marry won’t affect most of us individually or directly.  

    Opponents answer that it will affect some people directly, and society as a whole.  For example, while pastors and churches will not be forced to perform gay marriage ceremonies, other wedding service providers such as photographers, caterers, wedding chapels, and justices of the peace can be sued if they refuse to serve a gay couple on the grounds of conscience.  It has already happened in other states, and the providers have lost the suits.#  

More importantly, opponents say, is that while gay marriage may not affect you individually, it does affect us as a society.  Marriage is one of the foundational institutions of stable societies, and once we begin redefining it, we risk increasing societal instability.  Also, a recent large longitudinal study at the University of Texas revealed that children raised by a mother and father fare better than those who were raised by same-sex parents.#  Opponents cite this study to argue that redefining marriage is not in the best interests of children or society as a whole.  Supporters of gay marriage respond by citing other evidence that children do fine in same-sex led families.

    So there are some of the cultural arguments for and against gay marriage.  I know Christians who support it, and Christians who oppose it.  While I sympathize with my gay friends who want to be married, as a follower of Jesus, I am constrained by my understanding of the Scripture, and can’t vote for gay marriage.  Some of you will agree with me, and some of you will disagree, which leads to my final point.    

4. Love your neighbor!

We’ve got to love each other…even when we disagree.  Followers of Jesus may disagree about how to vote on gay marriage given the civil issues involved.  But we’ve got to agree on loving each other—it’s the Great Commandment.

And we must love our gay neighbors and friends—even though we may think their sexual choices are not biblical.  I think of the story in John 8, the woman caught in the act of adultery, and the question put to Jesus, “Should we stone her or not?”  And Jesus said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  And one by one, people dropped their rocks and walked away.  Friends, we need to drop our rocks.  And we need to open our hearts and welcome anyone who wants to try to follow Jesus, gay or straight.  

When everyone had left, Jesus asked the woman, “Where are your accusers?  Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she replied.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus said.  “Go and leave your life of sin.”

Jesus forgave her completely.  And Jesus called her to change and begin a new life.  Jesus has given each of us full forgiveness, and called us to leave our life of sin and begin again.  We are to do that for others: offer forgiveness and help them into a new life.  But to do that, we have to drop our rocks.  

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 trying to follow Jesus, whatever their 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 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 gay, 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’re here.  We’ve all got our baggage.  Let’s drop our rocks and help each other follow Jesus.