January 30, 2013
I read the article with interest. I’m still torn about this issue. The Bible is less than explicit on the precise issue of sexual orientation, but to the extent it does directly address homosexual activity, I will readily agree the references – particularly from the Old Testament – are negative, as they are to adultery. But the gay folks I have known – and you and I grew up with some of them, and at least one of them, I believe, took his own life because of the pain it caused him – were just hard-wired in terms of their sexual orientation. Indeed, I don’t believe any of the gay men I’ve known had any choice about their sexual orientation at all.
So I find it hard to condemn them to a loveless life, or to life as a pariah within the church, for what amounts to a decision in which they had no part.
My church has baptized gays and our communion table is open to all who acknowledge Jesus as their personal savior. So to that extent, we are “open.” But we have refrained from ordaining gays or directly or indirectly sanctioning homosexual unions. So we are not “affirming.” But many of my fellow South Mainers feel that we should move in that direction for the reasons I’ve outlined.
I believe you view the Bible as resolving the issue conclusively, Jimmy, and if I’m right about that, I respect that opinion, even though I don’t find the same level of absolute certainty in the scriptures, certainly as to the issue of sexual orientation viewed as a stand-alone issue. It’s the “hard-wired” part of the issue that I would like to hear your thoughts about, if and when you have time.
January 31, 2013
Good to hear from you, and look forward to trying to satisfactorily answer your question. Of course, it would be out of character if I did not chase a few rabbits in the process, so this answer may be longer than you bargained for. But I will try to be as succinct as possible.
First, let me begin by stating that it is quite likely that we do indeed view the Bible differently. I do, as you indicated, believe the Bible to be the very ‘breath of God’, which I know that you understand is the definition of inspired. When 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works,” it is literally saying that it is a God-breathed revelation. Because of this, I hold to the historical position of the Church that it is the inspired, infallible, and totally authoritative revelation of God to His creation. It is the Word of God to man, and while man changes constantly, God does not (Mal 3:6; Heb 13:5). What God declares to be sin remains sin, and our culture, our society, and even our own sense of fairness cannot change what God has declared.
Now, if I was writing to one unlearned in the things of God, I would take much time to explain what sin is, the reason for it, and how God has viewed it from the time of the Garden rebellion by Adam and Eve – two literal people who were created in the very image of God, but who in their free will chose to rebel against God and do what they wanted rather than what God commanded. Was it fair for God to forbid them to eat of the tree? It does not matter, because God is God, and he is holy and just in all His ways. But we can be thankful that he is also a God of love, and had already prepared to send Jesus in the likeness of man to pay the sin debt that man could not pay for himself. Jesus was indeed the “Lamb slain from the foundations of the world.” (Rev 13:8) So as we are of the race of Adam, we are sinners by nature and sinners by choice. But we are told that Christ died to set us free from the bondage of sin. Romans 6:15-23 states,
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Now, let us proceed to the question at hand. Is the practice of a homosexual lifestyle acceptable to God? That is the primary question that a Christian must seek to answer. For if it is not acceptable to God, then it must not be made acceptable to His Church. You rightly state that there are Old Testament references that teach against the practice of homosexuality. Just a couple are:
Lev. 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”
Lev. 20:13, “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltness is upon them.”
This sounds to me pretty explicit. God calls homosexuality an abomination. But that was the Old Covenant. Has God changed His mind under the New Covenant? Well, one verse that is often used is 1 Cor. 6:9-10, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” And yes, I am aware of the debate over the word translated as ‘homosexuals’ possibly referring to male prostitutes. That discussion can be for another time.
But there is no way to get around the teaching of Paul in the first chapter of Romans. In Romans 1:26-28 Paul states, “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.”
So, what is the reason for God “giving them over to degrading passions”? In the preceding verses (1:20-25) we are told, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves,who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” The bottom line is simply that the more we rebel against God, refuse to acknowledge His Word and His truth, the more God allows us to go our own way, and our way is always toward greater sin. And just as with the people on earth before the flood, “…the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen 6:5)
It seems from your statement that it is the issue of homosexuals being “hard-wired” that gives you pause. I do not disagree that, while there are many and perhaps most who willingly choose this lifestyle, there are some men and women who just seem to be born with the tendency of sexual attraction toward those of the same gender. Why? The bottom line is that it is a result of the Fall. We all have tendencies toward some sinful behavior: Perhaps a man who just can’t seem to be faithful to his wife, or a woman who has an addictive personality and continually seeks alcohol and drugs to feed her desire. And do we dare speak of the man who has an attraction toward young pre-teen girls – or boys? What about the kleptomaniac who just can’t seem to escape the desire to take what does not belong to her? Have you ever known someone who always lied, even when the truth would have served their purpose better? I am even in correspondence with a man about our age in a California prison serving life without parole. He has been convicted of two murders, but freely admits that he killed many more than that in fits of rage because it made him feel good. In fact, it has been suggested that he may be responsible for up to 40 murders, including one prison guard in the 1970s. For whatever reason, he definitely had a proclivity toward murder. He began when in grammar school taking a baseball bat to a classmate. Yet in the late 80’s he was saved in prison, began to study the Bible, and today is a Bible scholar and teaching our Wesley Institute courses to other inmates.
So here is my point. Are not all of these things called sin in the Bible? Do we not agree that God does not approve of any of these actions or lifestyles? Would we even attempt to suggest that the “Christian” adulterer be allowed to continue in his or her sin because it is their nature? Would you want to recommend a practicing murderer for ordination into Church leadership? What should the church do with a pastor who is found to be having sexual relations with a nine year old girl? Remember the 1 Corinthian 6:9-10 passage cited above (“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God”).
In the very next verse (v 11) Paul states, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” Paul is saying that when a person is truly born again and receives the Spirit and power of God, the old sinful nature can be changed – should be changed – into the very image of Christ (Romans 8:29). If God has ordained that all believers will be conformed to the image of His Son, then if I continue to practice sin, whatever it is that may be my “besetting sin,” then I have to understand that I am either in rebellion as to that which God has ordained, or else I am declaring that Jesus is the worst sinner of all.
So yes, what I am saying is that a person who has not willfully chosen to practice the sin of homosexuality, but is as you say “hard-wired” that way, can be set free from that sin. It has happened and continues to happen every day. Still, there may be some who never seem to get freedom from the desire of the flesh toward their weakness, but have to live daily in the power of the Spirit, dying daily to that sin if you will. Just as I have known some alcoholics who give testimony that after they were saved they never had another desire to take a drink, I have known others who confess that the desire never leaves them, but they walk daily in the victory that God gives them. Why the difference? I do not begin to know. But in His sovereignty God does. Both walk in victory by the grace of God!
I am sorry to say that today there are far too many churches that have departed from the truth of God’s Word. Men think they know better than God. They become an authority unto themselves. They have allowed political correctness, social pressure, and the desire to please man rather than God to sway their hearts and minds. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). “Professing to be wise, they have become fools” (Rom 1:22). I know we differ in many things. We can fuss and argue over politics and politicians. We can disagree over the right and wrong approach to economic and social policies. We can even disagree over Methodist and Baptist doctrinal distinctives. But we must agree that God alone is sovereign. He has established the rules by which we must live and by which we will be judged. If we do not warn the sinner to repent of his sinful ways, then his blood will be on our hands (Ezekiel 3:19; 33:8-9). I believe this to be such an issue. I hope you will agree.