Sunday, June 14, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
The Sex Talks
This is week four of The Sex Talks, and our subject this week is “Confused Sex”. I’m going to address the confusion about sexual orientation and gender identity. The confusion is not limited to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders—there’s lots of misinformation and plenty of confusion to go around! It’s a complex, difficult, and very tender subject.
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 homoerotic behavior and transgender issues. 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 gay and straight and everyone in between all want to be known as persons. You are more than your sexual orientation; you are a person, made in God’s image. LGBT folks are our neighbors and coworkers and friends. And many 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 LGBT 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.”
Why have some Christians reacted so poorly? Some say it’s hatred. Others bad theology. I think it’s mostly fear. We are often afraid of what we don’t understand. This is why it is so important that we take the time to know each other, hear each others’ stories, and understand each other.
I have often said that I am an equal-opportunity offender. Today, I may offend just about everyone. But please hear me out, and if I offend you, please forgive me and stay in the conversation. I’m still learning. Let’s not run away when someone says something with which we disagree. Let’s stay in community.
The Big Idea: There is plenty of confusion about gender identity and sexual orientation on all sides. We must know what the Bible says about this, speak about it with truth and grace, and love everyone always!
I’m going to frame the talk around three questions:
- What would Jesus say to Tim Cook? I want to give a Christian response to gay, lesbian and bisexual folks.
- What would Jesus say to Caitlyn Jenner? I want to give a Christian response to transgender folks.
- What would Jesus say to us? I want to give a Christian response to the church.
- What would Jesus say to Tim Cook?
Tim Cook is the CEO of Apple, the world’s most valuable company and maker of very cool stuff. He came out as a gay man last October, the only openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and ranked #1 on out.com’s power list of gays and lesbians. At last year’s shareholder meeting, when an investor was critical of Apple’s green initiatives led by Cook, he responded by saying, “We do things for other reasons than a profit motive. We do things because they are right and just.” I like Tim Cook.
What would Jesus say to Tim Cook?
Well first, I think Jesus would say, “Tim, you make really cool stuff!” I confess that I’ve been lusting after the Apple Watch.
Actually, I think the first thing Jesus would say is, “I love you, Tim.” Does God love gay people? Absolutely. God loves everyone always. God wants the very best for each person. “But,” you might be thinking, “aren’t they sinners?” Of course! And aren’t you too? This is the gospel, friends: God loves sinners. He loves broken people and wants to redeem and heal us. That includes all of us.
Romans 5:8 God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
When did Christ die for us? It was after we got over all our sin, when we had cleaned ourselves up. No—Christ died for us while we still sinners. Jesus loves sinners, and I’m glad, because I am one. God loves sinners and that’s the only kind of people there is! If He didn’t love sinners he wouldn’t love anyone.
God loves gay people. God loves straight people. God loves everyone always. And I think that’s what we’re supposed to do too.
Next, I think Jesus might say, “Tim, I’m sorry this is so difficult.” It’s not easy being gay.
I want to recommend a video that I hope all of you will watch. It’s called Through My Eyes, and it’s posted on www.gaychristian.net. Two dozen young gay Christians share their stories. They describe growing up Christian, their awakening realization that they were gay, the reaction of family and church, and their ongoing desire to follow Jesus. Over and over, these young Christians explained that they didn’t choose this: who would choose to be different, ostracized and rejected? They said that when they realized they were attracted to the same sex, they were horrified, frightened and confused. Many of them tried to change, unsuccessfully. And all of them experienced rejection and pain at the hands of friends, family and other Christians. I think Jesus would say, “I’m sorry this is so difficult.”
Jesus was known for His compassion. He felt compassion for the sick, the lost, the lonely, the broken. In his story of the prodigal son, a father had two sons, and the younger asked his father for his share of the inheritance—basically told his dad, “I wish you were dead; all I want is your money.” He got the money, moved far away, and wasted everything on wild living and ended up destitute. When he came to his senses, he decided to go home and ask his father to take him back as a hired hand on the farm. Here’s what happened:
Luke 15:20 But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
The Father in this story represents God, and the prodigal son is all of us; we’re all broken, messed up and far from Him. When we turn to God, what does God feel? Compassion. God feels compassion for us.
I think Jesus would feel a gay person’s pain, and express empathy. “This is difficult; I’m sorry you are going through this.” I think we need to do the same, which means we need to simply be friends, and listen and care. It’s not easy being gay.
Finally, I think Jesus would say, “Tim, repent and follow me.” This is Jesus’ call to all of us, to you and me, too. Repent and follow me. What does it mean to repent? It means that you turn from your sin and you turn toward God. You were going away from God, and now you turn and go toward Him.
So what sin should Tim Cook turn from? I don’t know. I don’t know Tim Cook personally, so I don’t know what his sins are. “But didn’t you say he was gay, and isn’t that a sin?” Yes, he’s gay; and no, it’s not a sin. Being gay isn’t a sin; having sex with the same sex is. That’s what I understand the Bible to say; let’s take a look.
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 gay sex as a sin. I am going to make a distinction between gay attraction and gay activity; 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 gay sex, 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, gay sex is viewed as sin—and it could be argued that it was 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, gay sex 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 gay sex.
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 1:26-27 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 gay sex 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 gay sex. 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 gay sex. But, they say, it is natural for a gay to engage in gay sex. However, I don’t believe that is how Paul is using the words “natural” and “unnatural”. He is referring to God’s created order, described in Genesis 1-2, rather than an individual’s personal orientation.
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. Gay sex 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 gay sexual activity, either active or passive. Some gays 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 sexually active, but they had been changed by Jesus.
I believe these Scriptures are clear that gay sex 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 all of Christian history, until the last few years.
- Tim Killer writes:
Until very, very recently, there had been complete unanimity about homosexuality in the church across all centuries, cultures, and even across major divisions of the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant traditions. One has to ask, then, why is it the case that literally no church, theologian, or Christian thinker or movement ever thought any kind of same-sex relationships was allowable until now?
One answer to the question is an ironic one. During the Civil War, British Presbyterian biblical scholars told their southern American colleagues who supported slavery that they were reading the scriptural texts through cultural blinders. They wanted to find evidence for their views in the Bible and voila—they found it. If no Christian reading the Bible—across diverse cultures and times—ever previously discovered support for same-sex relationships in the Bible until today, it’s hard not to wonder if many now have new cultural spectacles on, having a strong predisposition to find in these texts evidence for the views they already hold.
So I think the Bible is clear: gay sex is sin.
For some gays, this ends the conversation. One man asked a gay friend, “If I believe that the Bible says gay sex 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 gay sex is wrong and not be homophobic or hateful. Some gay Christians share this belief with me.
While I believe gay sex 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 gay sex, but greed, slander, drunkenness, stealing, idolatry and sexual immorality? Pride and idolatry are sins that show up far more often in the Bible than gay sex. And I want to repeat that while gay sex is sinful, same-sex attraction or temptation is not. It is the sex that is called sin—just like heterosexual sex outside of marriage is called sin.
What would it look like for a gay to repent and follow Jesus? I believe it means avoiding sexual activity. Some gay Christians believe that they are called to be celibate; based on my understanding of Scripture, I’d agree with them. Other gay Christians believe that it’s ok for them to be in a committed and faithful gay relationship or marriage, the same standard we’d apply to straights. I respectfully disagree—emphasis on respectfully—and continue to be friends and brothers and sisters in Christ.
Someone may object, “Telling gays to be celibate, to abstain from sex, is unreasonable or impossible. It’s a burden no one should have to bear.” I agree that it’s difficult because we are all sexual creatures. But to say that it is impossible is to ignore the millions of people—gay and straight—who have or are doing it. And it makes an idol of sex, elevating it to something indispensible for our life and identity. Jesus was single and celibate, and was the greatest man who ever lived. You are more than your sex drive. Yes, celibacy is difficult, but not impossible, and our ultimate fulfillment—for all of us—is not in having sex, but in following Jesus.
What does it mean for a gay to repent and follow Jesus? It pretty much means for them exactly what it means for a straight person. Turn from your sin whatever it is, turn to Jesus and follow Him. He loves you and wants the best for you.
- What would Jesus say to Caitlyn Jenner?
Caitlyn Jenner’s picture on the current issue of Vanity Fair marks a turning point in our culture. Transgender is going mainstream. About 700,000 people in America identify as transgender, which is an umbrella term for the many ways in which people might experience and express a gender identity that doesn’t match their birth sex. That’s .22% of the population, and that means there are about 1000 people in our county who feel this way.
- Transgender specifically refers to someone whose sense of gender doesn’t match their sexuality: a boy who feels like a girl in a boy’s body, or vice versa.
- Transsexual refers to someone who believes they were born the wrong sex and wants to or has transitioned through hormonal treatment and sex-reassignment surgery. This is Bruce to Caitlyn Jenner.
- Transvestite refers to someone who cross-dresses or presents as the opposite sex.
I am indebted to Dr. Mark Yarhouse’s new book, Understanding Gender Dysphoria. Dysphoria means feeling uneasy or dissatisfied with something. Gender dysphoria is a disorder in which one feels deep and ongoing discomfort with one’s gender. This is a different issue than sexual orientation. A person with gender dysphoria doesn’t feel comfortable in his or her own skin. It’s a complex problem for the individual, and presents complex challenges for all of us.
ILL: Dr. Yarhouse writes:
I had an acquaintance who is a male-to-female transsexual person and a Christian. She accepted my invitation to join my family for dinner one day after church. I had not really thought much about it. My parents invited people over for dinner all the time when I was a kid…but they tended to invite missionaries who were home on furlough. This was going to be different, and I don’t know that I thought it all through. Then as we spoke about finalizing the invitation, I realized she was bringing her wife. They shared with me that they were conservative Christians who had been married and raised a family together. They did not believe in divorce. Now, they looked like a lesbian couple. I was beginning to appreciate how complicated this could get.
A heterosexual Christian couple, married, and they raised a family together and don’t believe in divorce. All good. Then he decides he is a woman, and becomes transsexual, but they stay married, and now look like a lesbian couple. It’s complex, and it calls for humility and care and compassion, not judgment, rejection and name-calling.
What would Jesus say to Caitlyn Jenner, or anyone struggling with this?
Well, the first thing I think Jesus would say is, “I love you.” God loves everyone always—transgenders are no exception.
Next, I think Jesus would say, “I’m sorry this is so difficult.” I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to feel uncomfortable in my own skin; to feel like a girl when my body is a boy. Add to this family, friends and church who don’t understand what you’re going through and who may react very negatively, and you have a very lonely and painful existence. Perhaps this is why a shocking 41% of transgender individuals have attempted suicide. I think Jesus would show compassion; too often the rest of us just pile on.
Finally, I think Jesus would say, “Repent and follow me.” What does repentance look like for a transgender? I don’t know. What is the sin here? I believe that sin is something you choose to do, and transgenders, like gays, don’t choose their orientation. I can’t say their feelings are sinful. So is it ok? What’s going on? Here’s my take.
The Bible presents God’s original creative intention as man and woman, two distinct and complementary genders. When human beings rebelled against God, the created order fell into disorder, including us. All of us suffer from what St. Augustine called “disordered affections.” We’re all disordered in different ways. I would understand gender dysphoria as a disordered affection. Some of our disordered affections change; others don’t. I know gays and transgenders who prayed desperately and asked God to change them, and didn’t change. I prayed desperately for my son to be freed from Asburgers Syndrome, and it didn’t happen. I prayed for my friend Steve to healed from cancer and he died. Our prayers aren’t always answered. Our disorders aren’t always healed this side of heaven.
So what do we do? We try, with God’s help, to live as God intended—in this case, with our birth sex and gender—acknowledging our struggle and getting help from our brothers and sisters.
I want to be absolutely clear: Jesus calls transgenders to follow Him. And we are here to help anyone who wants to follow Jesus. Our mission is to help people find and follow Jesus—doesn’t matter who you are or how you’re wired.
- What would Jesus say to us?
I love you!
Repent and follow me! I think Jesus would call us to turn from our fear, our judgment, our hatred and suspicion of those who are different or who we don’t understand. Turn from our sin and turn to Him and follow Him. And that leads to the next thing:
Love everyone always!
We’ve got to love each other, even when we disagree, even when we don’t understand. And we must love our gay neighbors and friends—even when we 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 repent and follow, 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.
Let’s drop our rocks and help each other follow Jesus. Let’s love everyone always.
 Tim Keller, “The Bible and Same-sex Relationships: A Review Article” on The Gospel Coalition website.