(This post was posted elsewhere on this site before, but Anthony asked that it be given a seperate topic of its own. So here goes…)
I am a leader/elder/preacher in a ‘mildly’ charismatic evangelical church. I am a fully trained pastor and was in full time ministry years ago. Now I am an Ambulance Paramedic and one of three who lead and preach in our church.
Six or so years ago, I found out my eldest son was gay. He had grown up in a Christian home which was not, by deliberate design by his Mum and me, a particularly religious one. Honesty about life and God and both the difficulties and joys of faith were open subjects. He well knew the difference (which unfortunately, many do not) between going to church and knowing God.
After he had left home, he decided, quite apart from us, to be baptised and become a recognized believer in his own right. We were very happy about that.
Coincidentally, about the same time, I remember becoming convinced that the issue of homosexuality in the church was not as simple as many would like to believe and that it was not going to go away. I remember particularly one chapter of Philip Yancey’s ‘What’s so Amazing about Grace’ screaming at me that this was not simply an issue of ‘stop sinning’! I became convinced that the gay issue to the church today was something like that of the gentiles to the Jewish church or dark skinned people to white American Christians, or the position of divorced and remarried people in the church, in that there was a lot of hard thinking to do, and that it was difficult to separate traditional understandings with what Scripture was really saying.
But then, why was the Bible written the way it was? In the few verses applicable, it really did seem quite clear on the issue of what God thought of homosexuality.
When our son finally told us about his being gay, it was not quite the heavy blow to me as one might have predicted.
Perhaps this was because our relationship was very good, and it did not depend on him pleasing me. I would certainly hope so.
Perhaps also because I’ve always tried to take the view that we ought not be shocked when a difficulty (or suffering of any kind) comes our way. That’s what the Bible is all about. If the gay issue was a ‘problem’ in the church, why should it always be ‘out there’, apart from my family?
As we talked more about the whole issue, I tried to see the Biblical teaching from ‘their’ perspective. And not-really-so-slowly but surely, it made sense.
What follows – for those who are interested – is where I am currently at.
Hope it makes sense.
(And hope you stay awake – it’s loo-o-ong!
“Gay stuff and the Bible!!!!”
(how’s that for a non-stuffy theological title!!???)
Two pieces of background first:
There are often times when obeying a command in the Bible becomes difficult because we are forced to choose between two commands.
Jesus mentioned such a situation to the Pharisees. (Luke 14:5)
“Obey the Sabbath and keep it holy.” (ie – do no work)
“Love your neighbour as yourself.” (ie – help him out where needed).
What do you do, he asked, if your neighbour’s car gets bogged in the mud on the Sabbath? (car in mud = donkey in a ditch!) He needs your help now! On the Sabbath!!! So it is impossible to fulfil both commands literally.
He was very clear that the only way to resolve such dilemmas is to understand the basis of the commands.
That basis was ‘love for your fellow man’. Helping your neighbour takes precedence. Those who felt that God was a God who demanded religious observance as more important than practical love for people would have found this hard to understand. But Jesus made it clear that anyone who has a truly godly spirit would get it! He summed it up with 2 commands that are the basis of all commands. (Matt 22:37-40)
“Love God!’ (= be committed to him totally!)
“Love your neighbour as yourself.” (= be committed to other peoples’ good in the same way as you’d like them to be committed to yours!) (Aside: Jesus is presuming good mental health here. Some people expect others to wait on them all the time. He’s not meaning that sort of expectation at all.)
Paul said the same thing.
He re-emphasised those verses as a basis for the law in Romans 13: 10
He put the same idea in different words in Galatians 5: 6 when he said,
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love!”
The tenor of it all is that God places ‘religious’ observance quite low. He is not a religious God. The best way to love God, after you have given him your whole self, is to love people. For many of us this is not an easy thing to learn. Good thing he’s patient with us.
ALL the commands on what is right and wrong are expressions of love. Commitment to others’ well being. The parable of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25: 31 to 46 bears this out perfectly.
Second bit of background, which is made up of some applications of the above.
(a) Until recently, women had to stay quiet in Church. Why?
Because the Bible seemed to say so.
1 Cor 14: 34 – ‘As in all the congregations of the saints women should remain silent in the churches. They are not permitted to speak…” vs 35 “…it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church..”
1 Tim 2:11 – ‘she must be silent.’
Clear enough, it seems.
But last Century, as women got the vote etc in society, some women wanted to speak in church too. Some did so because they were good speakers and asked, “Why should intelligent and spiritually gifted women have to sit quietly when the only male who could speak was an idiot?” (Especially when churches were happy to send women as missionaries to ‘heathen’ people, where they had to teach men. Surely this was pure hypocrisy, they said.)
Others wanted to speak because they saw other passages in Scripture that seemed to be at odds with the ‘be quiet’ ones. How come a woman could prophesy (Acts 21:9) yet have to be quiet? What of the verses like the one in1 Cor 11:5 where it is clear that women WERE praying and prophesying ( = speaking) in church? And then there was Galatians 3:28, one of the cornerstone verses of the faith, which states emphatically that in Christ there was ‘no male nor female’.
How do the ‘don’t speak’ verses square up with these???
Different people take different views. Some believe women still should be quiet when males are present and that the verses that speak about women speaking in church are for women’s type meetings only.
Others believe that, though it is not clear in Scripture, the ‘be quiet’ verses are cultural – that they pertain to a period where women were not educated and their newfound freedom in Christ was causing them to ask too many questions in public. (hence Paul’s command “Let them ask their husbands at home.” 1 Cor 14:35)
What are we to do? How do we work this out?
Our only recourse is to look around and see, as best we can, what God believes. What do we see? Are women missionaries who ‘have authority’ over males clearly not blessed by God for their ‘disobedience’ to Scripture? Absolutely not! Are the churches that take the ‘liberal’ view, who allow women freedom to speak in churches, being less blessed by God than those who act more conservatively? Clearly no.
We go on and ask more direct questions:
“Is it a fact that women aren’t as spiritual or as good teachers as men?” No!
“Why is it acceptable for a woman to teach a heathen male and not one of ours?” It isn’t. This really IS hypocrisy.
“Would it be godly to deny a group of people excellent teaching from a woman and instead give them mediocre dribble from an ungifted man? Does the Scripture really imply that?” Of course not.
So with these questions answered, what does ‘love’ (a commitment to the good of all) suggest?
In this case, telling a woman to ‘be quiet’ purely because she is female doesn’t work, does it? Strictly applying such ‘laws’ doesn’t seem to be acting ‘in love’ at all. Therefore, we must conclude that whereas those ‘laws’ may have been an outworking of ‘love’ when they were written, they are not now, and should not be enforced.
I believe God wants us to be ‘risky’ in areas like this – to use Jesus’ principle of love and be game to love our brother/sister and pull the car/donkey out of the ditch even if it is the Sabbath!
Many churches, doing just that, have found that the verses that tell women to ‘shut up’ really don’t apply to us. Can we ‘prove’ from Scripture that they don’t apply? No. The only ‘proof’ comes by practising love and respect for both the Scriptures and women. It’s the only way.
(b) An even clearer example. Up until 50 years ago or less, divorce was a huge no-no in the church. Almost unforgivable!! Why? Because Jesus said, “Anyone who divorces his wife, except for unfaithfulness, causes her to commit adultery, and anyone who marries her commits adultery.” (Matt 5:32) Paul backed it up in 1 Cor 7: 10, “A wife must not separate from her husband. If she does she must remain unmarried or be reconciled – and a husband must not divorce his wife.”
How clear can you be?
And basically the ‘law’ worked because society had largely the same view and supported it. (Although it’s clear that ‘love’ for such people from the church was grossly lacking!)
Yet what do we see now?
As divorce gets more and more prominent, it is affecting the church more and more. Many have multiple separations before becoming Christians. Christians themselves are separating as well. Then there are those who have a lot of separations but who never bothered to get married in the first place.
Is the church now accepting remarried people? Yes! (In all but the most conservative anyway.)
There are many reasons we could go into but the point here is that quoting the letter of the law of these Scriptures at divorced and remarried people is not ‘loving’ them. The culture behind the laws in Scripture was different. In fact there was even a change from when Jesus spoke (in Matt 5, speaking to Jews) to when Paul wrote in non-Jewish Corinth. See his words in verses 12 to 16, where it seems that the different situation led to a ‘softening’ of the command, without lessening the respect for marriage. How did Paul get to his conclusion? He makes it clear it was NOT through a revelation from God. It was by applying love and understanding of the human condition and of the environment they come from. Love and understanding are ALWAYS to be the guide when applying a ‘command’ of Scripture.
The difficulty comes because the limits of that guide are often very hard to pin down and so people will always differ in its application. But we have no choice.
Does the church sanction divorce? Of course not.
Should the church love divorcees and remarried people? Of course.
But doesn’t this send the message to other people that divorce is OK? So some say.
It’s risky to love.
Going further, let’s be very realistic here.
One of the ways we sort out what to do and how to apply Scripture is by our knowledge of and relationship to the people we are talking about. It’s easy to say “Divorced people will not be accepted!” when we don’t intimately know any. But once we do know some closely, we quickly find out there is no ‘them and us’. We are all the same. Do we see that they love God less than we? Does God bless them less than us? Are they blatantly living in defiance of God’s commands? Is their sin really worse than any of ours? Do we honestly think that the Jesus we read of in the Bible would cast them aside, despite what he said?
When we love ‘them’ we can see more easily that Jesus never meant his teaching to be used as a weapon against accepting people. We see ‘them’ as people just like us; that they, like us, are on the road to working out how to be increasingly Christlike despite their sinful natures. It’s a tough road where we all need support.
Therefore we conclude that the Scripture that says “No divorce!” is one just like the Scripture that says, “No greed! No impure thoughts!” It is one that is the best way to go and the preferred one and one we aspire to – but a situation like any other where love and forgiveness is God’s way.
God accepts ANYONE who desires to come to him.
So with these types of situations in mind, we proceed:
What does Scripture say about gay people?
1 – the Old Testament.
Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 and Deuteronomy 23: 17,18 are very harsh. They say ‘no!’
But then the OT also is harsh against eating shellfish, having 2 kinds of fibre in the one garment, eating pork and touching the skin of a dead pig. (ie – NO footballs!)
Disobedient children are to be stoned to death!
The OT is a mixture of what many call the ‘moral’ code and the ‘purity’ code. The moral code in the OT is the same as in the new and expresses God’s character. (“Love God and your Neighbour”) The purity code had many purely religious aspects (how many doves to sacrifice after you’ve been sick etc etc) and many elements that are now recognised as very healthy for the people (eg: Do your toiletry outside the camp!) As a requirement to worship God, it was made null and void at the cross.
Where the distinction between a ‘purity’ and ‘moral’ command lies is sometimes hard to know. Even the 10 commandments appear mixed. The ‘Sabbath’ is there, which Paul clearly states is no longer binding. Circumcision could hardly have been more important in the OT, yet Paul’s attitude is very liberal towards it.
Again, how do we interpret the OT’s commands? “Love” is the key according to Jesus and Paul. “Love” sums up the law. The moral law anyway, which is the important bit.
Where do the sections that appear to refer to gay people fit? Are they part of the purity code or the moral law? It is not stated. So the relevance of the OT’s understanding on gay issues is unclear to us. We need the NT to interpret it for us.
But before we do, here’s another OT passage that’s relevant.
In it, the reason for Sodom’s destruction is given:
Ezekiel 16:49: “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. They were haughty and did detestable things before me.”
All the sins we know Sodom for are a consequence of their attitude. We will return to this passage later.
2 – the New Testament.
Three times in the NT the subject is referred to.
1 Corinthians 6
1 Timothy 1
a – Rom 1:18 – 32.
Here, Paul is discussing people who deny God for idolatry. The result is foolishness, a perversion of their sexual nature and all kinds of lawlessness and evil.
It sounds at first reading as if a gay orientation is ‘twisted’ and an exchange of what is natural.
But when we get to know some gay people we see that the passage doesn’t easily apply as a general rule to all. It’s just like getting to know divorced/remarried people and discovering they are not all horrible, sinful God-haters but people like ourselves. There is no ‘them and us’ – just people on the road to making God real in their life.
Follow the logic of the passage;
(Which, of necessity, still reads like ‘them and us’.)
Have all gay people denied God? No.
Have all gay people ‘exchanged’ their inherent heterosexuality for the gay lifestyle? Boy – do they deny that!!! (“Why would I ‘choose’ the hassles of being gay?” As many will say “I have ‘exchanged’ nothing. To pretend to be heterosexual would be to ‘exchange’ the truth about me and to live a lie!”)
Are all gay people full of ‘depraved minds, not thinking it worthwhile retaining the knowledge of God’ (Rom 1: 2? Clearly no!
Are all gay people ‘filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, envious, etc etc etc’. Of course not!
When we get to know for ourselves that many gay people are just like us, and not the monsters they are often painted to be, we see that the passage cannot apply to all of them!
So Paul must be talking about something else.
It is clear from the context and the logic that it is wilful idolatry that he is talking about. And it is clear that a perversion of natural sexuality is a result. But both the idolatrous cause and the evil outcomes in this passage are clearly NOT indicative of all gay folks.
Note too that the order here is the same as in the Ezekiel passage. The attitude is what leads to evil practices.
b – 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11
Paul uses 2 words here that in the NIV are translated ‘male prostitutes’ and ‘homosexual offenders’. Other translations say ‘those who abuse themselves with mankind’ and ‘the effeminate’. The actual Greek words are not really clear to us. ‘Effeminate’ comes from the Greek word meaning ‘soft’ and is usually translated soft (as in soft cushion!)
The other word is only used twice in the NT – here and in 1 Timothy. It has the sense of pederasty, that of castrating young boys to keep them from maturing and to keep them for sodomy. For years, the word was translated to mean ‘masturbation’, not homosexuality.
That the very words here have uncertain meanings should make us very cautious.
Apart from the specific meanings of these words, we have the contexts to consider.
First we note that in this context, Paul talks of ‘idolators’ immediately before them. This is the same context as in Romans 1. And we do know that the worship of Aphrodite (a bisexual god, which required heterosexual worshippers to have sex with a temple prostitute of their own sex to worship) was rife in Corinth.
Also: Why does Paul say “male prostitutes”? Why not ‘female prostitutes’ as well.
Homosexual offenders? Why not mention heterosexual offenders, who are just as bad? I think it must be because all the usual sexual sins were covered when he mentioned ‘sexually immoral and adulterers’ previously. With these two new types of offenders he is referring to something a bit more uniquely Corinthian. He is referring to old temple/idolatrous practices, where the ‘exchange’ of natural sexual orientation (as in Rom 1) was common and a part of the custom of many in this church.
Can I prove this? No.
But it sure fits.
At worst, this passage tells us gay people should never be excluded from a church.
Paul puts ‘gayness’ (if indeed that’s what he’s talking about) on the same level as those who are greedy. That could be all of us.
But he also singles out ‘thieves, swindlers, slanderers and drunkards’. Immoral, often criminal people, who have chosen to live that way. How can someone who is sincere, a worshipper of God, a believer in Christ, and ‘good’ person to others be put in the same category as these people, just because he is naturally attracted to his own sex rather than the opposite? That’s like saying “You can’t go to heaven if you are a thief, a robber or a red-head!”
c – 1 Timothy 1: 10.
In a list of evil people (lawbreakers, rebels, ungodly, sinful, murderers, adulterers, slave traders, liars, perjurers) is added ‘those who abuse themselves with mankind.’
The NIV simply translates as ‘perverts’, which to me seems much better. As well as the above meaning given, we could ask this question – why should a ‘good’ gay person be in the list when a slimy, heterosexual pornographer is not?
Again, to my mind, the company this ‘pervert’ keeps in this list shows that the context is not talking about quiet, God-loving gay people. It doesn’t make sense.
(And I have to ask – why is the word translated ‘pervert’ here, but ‘homosexual offender’ in 1 Corinthians’?)
I’m absolutely convinced that no Scripture is against homosexuality per se.
It is against a chosen perversion of homosexuality (for idolatrous, lustful reasons), just as ‘adultery’ is a chosen perversion of a sexual relationship with a covenant partner.
So what are we to do?
We do what Scripture says of course and accept and love ALL our brothers.
could my understanding of these ‘gay’ Scriptures be wrong?
But I’m convinced that God wants people to take a ‘risk’ and do the loving thing.
Just as Jesus wanted the Sabbath ‘transgressed’ to help the neighbour.
Just like we do with the divorced/remarried people.
Besides, what’s the alternative?
Be conservative and exclude all gay people? That’s not ‘loving’ in Christ.
Be accepting but insist they change (‘by the spirit of God’?) even though there is much evidence that this approach doesn’t work?
I’d rather take the ‘loop hole’ that I believe is in the Scriptures. I’d rather truly accept and love someone (as Jesus taught) at the risk of transgressing the Scriptures. Because I believe that’s how Jesus approached things. By doing that, you can’t possibly transgress the Scriptures anyway, because ‘love’ is the dynamic we are to live by.