Homosexuality is a challenging issue for Christians. The Bible seems to be clear that homosexual activity is a sin, but when Christians teach this truth, they often end up sounding harsh and "out of touch" with reality. I believe that a clearer understanding of the full biblical teaching about homosexuality will enable us to "speak the truth in love" about this difficult issue.
Sin or Curse
Our starting point must be love and compassion. If we understood how tough the homosexual lifestyle is for those who are stuck with it, we would be more compassionate.
God created us male and female so that we can be united in marriage. To be shut out from this blessing is a curse, as much as it is a sin. Having known the joy of loving a woman, I feel sorry for anyone who is incapable of finding that joy. An old proverb says:
There are three things that are too amazing for me,
four that I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a maiden (Prov 30:18,19).
Every man who has fallen in love with a woman knows that this is true. How sad to be unable to experience "the way of a man with a maiden". Finding the spouse that God has prepared for you and being joined in marriage by him is a great blessing. Feeling shut out from the blessing of being made one by God must be an awful experience. Christians should feel compassion for those who are stuck in this place.
The human body is designed for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. It is hard for anyone who has enjoyed this gift from God not to feel sorry for someone can enjoy it. No matter what people say, sodomy is a poor substitute for God's gift, so those who declare that they enjoy being homosexual are probably making the best of a bad job, because they feel like they have no other choice.
Even those who staunchly celebrate their homosexuality will face hostility from some parts of society. It is tough being different from the rest of the world, and even worse if you are hounded for being different. Homosexual people face the problem that they will always be a minority. Some estimates claim they are ten percent of the population, but they real figure is probably much less, so they are quite a small minority. Christians understand what it is likely to be a minority, but at least we have the potential to become a majority, if we get on with the gospel. Homosexual people will always be a minority, so we should be sympathetic to their plight.
Most homosexual people would say that their lifestyle was forced upon them and is not something that they chose, so we need to understand why so many people feel like they have to live under this curse? The answer is that sin has consequences that are sometimes only fully worked through the generations. (2 Kings 10:31). When a sin is widespread in a society, worse sins dominate the subsequent generations.
Most Christians will be surprised to learn that Sodom's root sin was not homosexuality, but pride and greed. Ezekiel explains what really started the rot in Sodom.
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 (Ezekiel 16:49).
The original sins of Sodom were arrogance, laziness and refusal to care for the poor. It seems that when a society makes an idol of comfort and pleasure, it will descend into promiscuity and eventually into homosexuality.
Homosexuality is a second-generation sin. The sin of the previous generation curses the following generation to an even worse life. I am not saying that the later generation is not accountable for their actions, but their behaviour is often the consequence of a pattern established by the behaviour of a previous generation. What Lot found in Sodom was just the natural outcome for a society that worshipped comfort and wealth.
Our individualistic culture finds the inter-generational aspect of sin hard to understand. In some cases, it passes directly from father to son, but more often it works from one generation of a society to the next. When one generation moves into sin, the next is hardened or emboldened to go further. When we invite an evil spirit into our society, it goes and finds seven friends.
Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation (Matt 12:45,46).
Looking from the divine side, when the first generations sins, God restrains them for the sake of the faithful people that have gone before. When the next generation persists in the same direction, God stops restraining them. Each successive generation has less residual blessing, more bad experience, less restraint and more evil spirits, so they go deeper into sin.
Exchanging the Truth for a Lie
One sin always leads to another. This pattern of going deeper into sin can be seen in Romans 1:18-32. When a culture denies the existence of God, worships the environment and exalts human wisdom, they, or the next generation, will fall into sexual immorality.
They became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator-who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another (Rom 1:23-27).
When people persist in worshipping created things, they end up worshipping their bodies and they have no protection from lust. God gives them over to the "desires of their hearts" which leads to sexual perversion. This may take more than one generation to work through the culture, but without repentance, it is inevitable. The reason why homosexuality has become more common in our society is that previous generations stopped believing in a Creator and exchanged the truth about creation for a lie called evolution. Therefore, God has given the current generation of our society over to seduction and homosexuality.
Rather than condemning those who are inflicted, we should see their fate as a warning about the state of our society, and that we all share responsibility for this decline. The Church is the guardian of the gospel, so the greatest responsibility rests with us. Jesus might say to us what he said to the Jews about the eighteen who died when the tow in Siloam fell on them.
Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish" (Luke 13:4,5).
Like Sodom, we are a society that enjoys wealth and comfort; and the church has not been much different. Even those who do not accept the prosperity gospel are fairly serious about their comfort. Therefore, we should not be surprised that our culture is going down the same path as Sodom.
Instead of being stirred up about homosexual behaviour, we should be seeking God to find out how we turn our society round. God's invisible qualities, which have been visible in creation since the beginning of time, should be even more evident in the church. If society could see them clearly, we might now be on a path to blessing. Maybe we should be more agitated about the state of the church and God's witness in the world.
Leviticus is the only book of the law that mentions homosexuality. There is a reason for this, but it is not well understood, so many Christians have assumed that the homosexuality is a crime that should be punished by the civil authorities. They have not realised that Leviticus was solely directed to the nation of Israel. The book begins with God directing Moses to speak to the Israelites.
The LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting. He said, "Speak to the Israelites..." (Lev 1:1-2).
The phrase "Speak to the children of Israel" is used in over half the chapters of the book (1:2, 4:1, 7:28, 11:1, 12:1, 15:2, 18:1, 20:1, 23:2, 25:1, 27:1). In several other chapters, Moses was told to "Speak to the children of Aaron" This indicates that Leviticus was specifically written for the people of Israel.
The book focuses on the tabernacle, sacrifices, diseases, food, sabbaths, priests and feasts that were for Israel only. These things all contributed the uniqueness of Israel, but they have been fulfilled by Jesus, so they are not mandatory in the modern world.
The purpose of Leviticus is confirmed in the final chapters.
These are the decrees, the laws and the regulations that the LORD established on Mount Sinai between himself and the Israelites through Moses (Lev 26:46).
These are the commands the LORD gave Moses on Mount Sinai for the Israelites (Lev 27:34).
Protection from Evil Spirits
The provisions of Leviticus seem quite harsh, but they were necessary in the hostile spiritual environment in which the Israelites were living. Jesus had not yet died for their sins, so they had no spiritual protection from demonic attacks. The Holy Spirit had not transformed their lives, so they had no ability to cast our evil spirits. Entering the Promised Land was very risky for people without spiritual protection, because the wickedness of the Canaanites has increased enormously, filling the land with evil spirits. The only protection from evil spirits was to keep separate from people who carried them. Driving out all evil people from the land was the safest way to get rid of the demonic powers they had brought in.
Leviticus 18-20 deals with sexual activity. Canaan had become a stronghold for the demonic powers linked with sexual immorality. The penalties for sexual immorality were designed to prevent the Israelites from being polluted and defiled. Chalal, the Hebrew word for pollute, is used five times in these chapters. The following verses expand this theme.
Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants (Lev 18:24-25).
You must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you (Lev 18:26-28).
Everyone who does any of these detestable things-such persons must be cut off from their people (Lev 18:29).
Do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them (Lev 18:30).
The Israelites and their families were very vulnerable to the spirit of lust that had been rampant in the land. The only protection for their family life was to stamp out all sexual immorality.
The situation is totally different now that Christ has come. People can now be delivered from evil spirits in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. We no longer need to stamp out all sexual immorality, because we have much better protection through the cross of Jesus. He was able to eat and drink with prostitutes and sinners without fear of spiritual pollution. We are safe from spiritual pollution, because we have the protection of the blood of Jesus. Christians no longer need to physically separate themselves from sinful people to be safe from spiritual attack, because we have much better spiritual protection in Jesus.
The serious penalties for sexual immorality in Leviticus were designed to protect Israel against the spirit of lust. Their only defence against this spirit was to drive all sexual immorality underground or eliminate it from the nation. When Jesus defeated the demonic powers behind sexual sin on the cross, these laws became redundant, so Leviticus cannot be used to justify state action against homosexual activity.
The power of the cross did not exist in Old Testament times, so separation and destruction of evil was their only protection. Rather than condemning Israel for being harsh, we should be grateful that we have better spiritual protection.
Let Mercy Triumph
Christians seem to get really agitated about homosexuality, but this seems a little odd. Although homosexual activity is a sin, there is no clear hierarchy of sins in the scriptures. No sin is worse than any other, and we are all guilty. In the list of sins in Revelation 21:8, cowardice and lying are there alongside sexual immorality. When I think of the hundreds of times that I have failed to share the gospel, because I was afraid, I realise that I have a long history of being a coward. I don't expect to stop being a coward in the near future, so why should I be angry about sexual immorality.
God does not like homosexual activity, but he seems to be more stirred up about adultery than he is about homosexuality.
The LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce,
for it covers one's garment with violence (Mal 2:16).
God's dislike for adultery and divorce is not surprising, because they hurts the innocent spouse, and can do terrible damage to their children.
Many Christians are concerned that homosexual unions will undermine marriage. The truth is that adultery has done far more damage to marriage than homosexual marriage ever will, but we have been strangely silent about it. Christians should be really stirred up about adultery, but divorce is now almost as common in the church as it is in the world, and most divorce starts with adultery.
Perhaps the reason that we remain silent about adultery is that none of us feel completely innocent. Jesus made this issue awkward by tightening up the definition.
You have heard that it was said to those of old, "You shall not commit adultery." But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt 5:27,28).
Given the content of modern television and film, it is hard to see how any warm-blooded television watcher has not committed adultery, according to Jesus definition. This may be the reason we keep silent about adultery, but are stirred up about homosexuality.
Jesus showed mercy to those who were struggling with sin; he did not condemn them. Our attitude should be the same. Understanding that homosexuality is a curse that has inflicted the descendants of an unbelieving generation, should help us to stop blaming and start feeling compassion. Instead of being stirred up and angry, we should be compassionate and merciful. The fact that most homosexual people see the church as hostile and blaming is a sad indictment on our lack of compassion and mercy.
A common evangelical response is that homosexual behaviour is a sinful, so people who come to faith should repent of their sin and turn for the wicked ways. This seems quite straight forward, but there is a problem. Repenting and believing is the correct response to sins of choice, but it does not deal with a hereditary curse. If homosexual preferences are a curse that has come of a consequence of the sinful behaviour of the previous generation, it will have to be broken and healed.
This is a challenge for the modern church, as we are not well prepared for this task. We struggle to set people free from the curse of the common cold, so we do not know how to deal with a serious curse. Churches that have not dealt with the sins of comfort and prosperity will struggle to deal with distorted sexual preferences. If we have not dealt with the roots, we will find it had to change the branches.
Our gospel promises restoration. It is commonly said that people experiencing homosexual feelings when they are young were born that way and cannot change. It is true that they are born that way. The Bible teaches that we are all born in sin. This is another way of saying that we inherit some of the sins of previous generations. In our society, young people are particularly born in the sins of seduction and homosexuality. People are also born in the sins of anger and selfishness, but this does not mean that they have an angry or selfish preference that cannot be changed.
The Church needs to get much better at helping people who are struggling with deep-seated sins. We must have a message of hope for those who want to change. Our good news is that Jesus destroyed the power of sin on the cross. He even destroyed the power of sin that we inherit from earlier generations. The good news of the gospel is that the Holy Spirit can change people and set them free from their sin, whether it is sexual or cowardice.
Unfortunately, we do not have a very good record in this area. We are quick to condemn sinners, but are not so good at helping them to get victory over sin. Helping people to overcome tough sins will take a lot of love and patience. Many Christians expect instant results and are not willing to make a long-term commitment to helping someone overcome a social unacceptable sin. Some people will only be able to overcome their problems with the support of loving Christian community. If we are serious about dealing with sin, then we must be willing to commit to supporting sinners who are struggling with it.
Should homosexual people be allowed to participate in church meetings? The answer to this is fairly obvious. Jesus was quite happy to meet with tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17).
The church is Jesus home, so sinners should be welcome in it. Every Christian is a sinner, so if sinners were excluded from the Church, it would be empty of people. A church that excludes sinners is deluded and will die.
The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts people of sin. He is also the one who restores sinners to wholeness. This means that sinners will benefit from being at a place where he is present. If Christians believe that his presence is strong at their meetings, then they should want sinners to be there to encounter him.
A church meeting should be a place where sinners feel safe. They should find people who understand their struggle and pain. Most Christians will be struggling to overcome a sin, so no one should be condemned because they are not perfect.
Mature Christians will leave the Holy Spirit to do the convicting. Christians who need to confront every sin, run the risk of becoming Pharisees, who can see the sins of others, but cannot see the plank in their own eye. A Church that can welcome sinners without condemnation will have a very powerful witness to the love and grace of Jesus.
The only sinner who should be excluded from a Church is a person who is unrepentant and dangerous for other vulnerable members of the church. For example, an unrepentant paedophile should not be allowed to attend a Church where children are present.
Should a homosexual person be allowed to join in the Lord's Supper? We get into problems with this issue, because we have a magical understanding of communion. Many Christians believe that we receive Jesus by eating bread and drinking wine. They often believe that people who are not Christians should not be allowed to eat the bread and drink the cup. This belief divides those who are allowed to participate from those who can only watch.
This awful division comes from a false understanding of how Jesus is present at the Lord's Supper. He is present through the Holy Spirit. When Christians share a meal together, united in their love for Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes in a special way. We cannot shut someone out from the blessing of the Spirit by preventing them from eating and drinking, as he will touch whoever he chooses.
If the Holy Spirit can touch anyone present, it makes no sense for us to try and prevent those we think are unrepentant from eating. They Holy Spirit will touch them anyway. We should be careful about grieving the Holy Spirit and robbing everyone of his blessing. Any person who comes to a Christian meeting should be allowed to eat and drink with Jesus. None should be excluded, whatever their sin. They are participating in the Lord's Supper simply by being present. Praise God, cowards are allowed to share in communion.
An issue that has divided the institutional church is the ordination of homosexual people. Again, we get this wrong, because we ask the wrong question. We should really be asking if it is correct for the church to be ordaining bishops, priests, pastors and ministers. This practice has created a divide between the clergy and the laity that has severely weakened the church. Ordaining ministers cannot be justified from the New Testament, so instead of arguing about whether homosexual and women can be ordained, we should be looking for a leadership model that is true to the scriptures.
According to the New Testament model, churches should be led by teams of elders. If a church is really functioning as a body, the elders will emerge from the body. People become elders when others in the church submit to them and follow their example, not when they are appointed to a role. The elders will be the ones looked up to by the other members of the body. Their maturity and love will be evident in their relationships with the rest of the church. Before the church formally sets them aside (this is not necessary) they will have already been accepted as elders by those who relate to them.
Rules about who can be ordained will not guarantee that good people become elders. We have had rules for hundreds of years, but this has not prevented some dreadful people from being ordained. The problem of unsuitable elders should be sorted out within relationships and not according to rules.
The best protection will be spirit-led Christians refusing to follow those who are not called and equipped by the Holy Spirit. Prophets in the church will also provide a safeguard against people who usurp the eldership role. They will challenge those who lives do not match up with God's standards.
If an elder falls into serious sin, the other elders will have to decide what should be done. Their first priority must be protecting their people from evil. They should do whatever has to be done to keep their people safe. They should also work with the Holy Spirit to restore the elder's relationship with Jesus.
Homosexuality is not really a serious issue for Christians. It does not really do much harm to society. Even though homosexual activity has been decriminalised, it is not nearly as obvious in society as perverse heterosexual behaviour. Homosexual people will always be a small minority, so their influence will always be limited. The influence of Christians should always be greater. Adultery and divorce do far more damage to children. The church should concentrate on the issues that are really harming our society.
Christians should concentrate on helping homosexual people who want to change. The message they get from our culture is that they were born that way, so they cannot change. They should get used to their homosexuality and learn to enjoy it. For those feeling trapped by their sexuality, this is not really good news. The Christian gospel should be a message of hope to those who have lost all hope.
Leprosy was an appalling disease in Jesus time. The presence of a leper filled people with hysterical fear, so they were ostracised by society. Most spent their lives in a terrible isolation. Jesus response to the lepers who came to him was quite unique.
Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured (Mark 1:41,42).
Jesus was filled with compassion and touched the man. Touching a leper was very unusual behaviour in his culture, so this would be an amazing experience for the leper. Jesus did not stop with touching. He also healed the leper and set him free.
AIDS is a modern equivalent of leprosy. It strikes a similar fear as leprosy did in Jesus time. AIDS is part of the reason why Christians are so hostile to homosexuality. However, Christians should be following Jesus example and showing compassion to people with AIDS. We should love them in the same way as Jesus loved with the leper, by reaching out and touching them.
Compassion will not be enough. AIDS is now devastating many of the countries of Africa and other parts of the world. As the Kingdom of God advances in these countries, the people of will need to be set free from its destructive power. For the Christian witness to be effective, Christians will have to bring the same healing touch that Jesus brought to the leper. Evangelists will need to demonstrate that the grace of the gospel and the victory of the cross is greater than the destructive power of evil. We do not really have the right to condemn homosexual behaviour, if our gospel cannot set people free from its consequences.