Archive for the ‘Ethics and morality’ Category
You couldn’t watch or listen to the news for more than a few minutes this week without hearing about the Florida pastor’s plan to burn Korans on the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
After it was reported that General Petraus had expressed his concerns that this could very easily put American soldiers and expatriates at risk in Afghanistan and other countries, I wrote an email to Pastor Jones asking him to reconsider his plans – both as a brother in Christ and as a fellow leader in ministry.
I don’t know if he actually received or read my email. But given that both the State Department and the White House have found it necessary to weigh in on this, my words seem fairly insignificant anyway.
It is now being reported that others are also planning to burn copies of Islam’s holy book, even though Pastor Jones may be ready to change his mind. (Although even as late as 6:00 PM on Friday evening, Fox News is reporting that it still isn’t certain exactly what he is finally going to do.)
I’m quite sure that even though emotions might be running high on the eve of 9/11, there are probably few, if any, ABI readers who would remotely consider such a plan as being anything but ill-conceived and misguided for any number of practical reasons. But the bigger question is whether or not there are biblical principles that should guide and inform our thinking about this. Does the Bible have anything to say about what we can and should do concerning such religious materials – things that arguably contribute to the kind of evil worldview that spawned those horrific events nine years ago?
In the Old Testament we find multiple examples of God’s clear instructions to burn and destroy everything related to the worship of false gods. However, the historical context (Israel’s conquest, settlement and rule over Canaan) and God’s purpose for commanding such actions are equally clear – and we, as Christians, are not at all in a similar situation. On the other hand, there is an incident in the New Testament that does give insight into what is almost certainly the right strategy for us in this age.
In Acts chapter 19, we find an extended report concerning Paul’s two-year ministry in Ephesus (a city in the region that would later be at the heart of the Ottoman empire). As you may recall, at the end of those two years, Paul and his ministry team found themselves in an extremely dangerous situation. The entire city was in an uproar and they were out for blood. Crowding into the city’s amphitheater, the angry mob dragged Gaius and Aristarchus in with them as they shouted religious chants against them for two hours nonstop.
Do you remember what it was that ultimately sparked this riot? A religious book-burning!
But, who was it that was burning whose books? It was a group of men who had responded to the proclamation of the gospel – men whose hearts had been completely changed through faith in Christ – men who consequently burned their own religious books (worth a small fortune)!
I wonder if there might be a lesson there…
(This article is available in downloadable and printable PDF, 2 column article format: Click here to download)
According to an April, 2009 article on MSNBC, a Washington Post/ABC poll released that month became the first to indicate that the number of Americans supporting same-sex marriages (49%) is now greater than those who oppose it (46%). Although the two numbers are within the typical poll margin-of-error of each other (±3%), there does seem to have been a significant shift in attitudes over the preceding 5-year period, when a Post/ABC poll put the percentage in-favor at just 32% in 2004.
Between 1982 and 2007, Gallup reported a significant shift in attitudes toward the acceptability of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle. In 1982, only 34% indicated that homosexuality “is an acceptable alternative lifestyle” with 51% indicating that it is not. However, in 2007 the numbers had more than reversed with 57% of Americans stating it is acceptable and only 40% indicating their belief that it is not.
On the other hand, one encouraging statistic is that over 80% of evangelicals still oppose gay marriage, with a statistically negligible shift since 2004 (according to a 2008 Pew Research Center poll). However, the pressure is on evangelicals because in the mainline churches only 40% oppose same-sex marriage – essentially the same as the Post/ABC poll results for the general population.
The “Homosexuality-Neutral” View of Scripture
Coinciding with the increasing social pressure to accept the homosexual lifestyle, is additional pressure by those who take this a step further by seeking to defend their views on biblical grounds. In most cases, the passages which have been historically understood to condemn homosexual behavior are interpreted as being at most “homosexuality-neutral” (my term). In other words, it is argued that these passages were not intended to address the issue of loving homosexual relationships, but rather inappropriate sexual behavior in general, that in some cases simply happened to involve homosexual acts.
To many — not all — liberal/progressive believers, the Bible is silent on loving, consensual same-sex sexual behavior. God accepts persons of all sexual orientations and approves of sex that is consensual, non-manipulative, safe and within a loving, committed relationship. Liberals and progressive have a range of beliefs concerning save, consensual, and casual sex by heterosexuals, bisexuals or homosexuals.
However the Bible condemns:
• Male rape of other men.
• One of two behaviors:
–- Either men engaging in ritual sex in Pagan temples, or
–- Men having sex in a woman’s bed.
• People having sex that violates their sexual orientation. For example:
–- Heterosexuals having sex with a member of the same sex.
–- Homosexuals having sex with a member of the opposite sex.
• Men sexually abusing children. The passage also condemns young victims of sexual molestation.
• People engaging in bestiality: having sex with non-humans.
Some gay Christians would contend that the Bible condemns only promiscuous homosexual behavior (not homosexuality in general), just as it condemns heterosexual promiscuity.
Passages Cited as Affirming Same-sex Relationships
Beyond arguing against traditional interpretations of certain passages, some Christian gay groups also cite other passages which they claim affirm same-sex relationships. One such group is Gay Christianity 101, which contends that the relationship between David and Jonathan was explicitly homosexual (reference):
Did God bless David and Jonathan, a same sex couple in romantic, committed, sexual partnership? The Bible devotes more chapters to their love story than any other human love story in the Bible. What does God intend us to learn from that dramatic emphasis?
Many gays believe that Jonathan and David were same sex lovers, based on the way God presents their story in scripture and based on the Hebrew words used to describe their relationship.
Although Gay Christianity 101 acknowledges that this is not the view of even most gay Christians, it is the one, as a gay-friendly ministry, they hold and promote. After presenting six other possible interpretations, it is concluded that a seventh one best fits the text. (reference)
David loved Jonathan. In reminiscing about Jonathan, David describes Jonathan’s love to him as “wonderful, passing the love of women-wives.”
To make David’s statement refer to platonic friendship, ‘I was closer to Jonathan than to any of my close female friends’ is a woefully inadequate understanding of the text.
Because Jewish men in David’s time did not have close, platonic friendships with females to whom they were not related by blood or marriage, it better fits the text to accept David’s statement at face value.
The romantic, emotional, sexual love between Jonathan and David was more wonderful than the romantic, emotional, sexual love between David and his wives.
It is also suggested by some that Ruth and Naomi had a sexual relationship as did Daniel and Ashpenaz (both in a brochure on the state of Connecticut’s website, Homosexuality and the Bible, p. 13). Other passages which are said to involve homosexuals who are not condemned (and therefore at least implicitly affirm them), include Matthew 8 and Luke 7 concerning the Roman centurion, and Acts 8 concerning the Ethiopian eunuch.
In the remainder of this article (and at least one subsequent article), it will be demonstrated that the attempts to find homosexuality-compatible interpretations fail to adequately handle the relevant passages, while the historical condemnation of homosexuality has solid biblical support.
Arguments for the Neutrality of Scripture Regarding Homosexuality
GENESIS 19 AND THE CITY OF SODOM
In dealing with the exegesis of 19:5, the author of an article titled “Bible Abuse Directed at Homosexuals” makes the following argument:
The key verb here, transliterated ya,da (or yadha’ ) , is usually translated as “know.” This verb appears 943 times elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, where it generally means “to know a fact” or “to know a person well.” It has an obvious sexual connotation in only ten of these cases, all of which involve heterosexual relationships.
The translation, then, could have the following meanings:
* Gang rape the angels (a common way to humiliate men – especially enemies – at the time);
* Engage in consensual homosexual sex with them (possibly what the NIV translators intended with “have sex with them”);
* Interrogate them. (The city had in the recent past been sacked, and the strangers might have been spies sent to check out the fortifications which provided some protection for the trade routes that passed the city.)
In choosing the proper meaning, consider this. In Biblical times, travel was slow and dangerous, and safe places to rest were few. Travelers could only pray for the hospitality of strangers – an important theme in the Bible. And Jews, having been ill-treated travelers in Egypt, had particular reason to be hospitable, and emphasis on it permeates Jewish law. For many reasons, hospitality, once offered, could not be breached.
Gay Christianity 101 also endorses the inhospitality view (reference):
For almost 1800 years after the events in Sodom, Jewish prophets in the Bible and Jewish authors outside the Bible, understood this story to be about inhospitality, not homosexuality. Sodom is mentioned 48 times in the Bible and never in those 48 passages is homosexuality given as the cause of God’s judgment. Isn’t that interesting? Have you given that astounding fact the weight it deserves in your thinking about this true story?
Some contend that rather than the sin of the Sodomites being homosexuality in general, it was that they intended to homosexually rape the angels (who appeared as men) as a means of humiliating them as their enemies. (reference)
Most feel that Genesis 19 is totally unrelated to consensual same-sex behavior.
It is obvious that Lot wanted to protect the angels from the city mob. The people of Sodom, having recently been under attack by foreigners, might have been worried that the angels were really military spies. Alternately, the mob might have wanted to humiliate the strangers with homosexual rape which is as abhorrent as heterosexual rape.
Furthermore, concerning Sodom, Gay Christian 101 states what it calls “six surprising facts” (reference):
1. Genesis 19 never mentions homosexuals in Sodom.
2. Genesis 19 never mentions a homosexual act being committed in Sodom.
3. Scripture never mentions a same sex relationship in Sodom.
4. Scripture never tells us that the inhabitants of Sodom were homosexuals.
5. Scripture never tells us that God destroyed Sodom because of homosexuality.
6. Sodomite, in scripture, never refers to homosexuals. Every time sodomite is used in scripture, it refers to cult, shrine, temple prostitutes who worshiped the Canaanite fertility goddess.
A BIBLICAL RESPONSE
Sodom and Gomorrah are first mentioned in Genesis 10:13, with the second reference in chapter 13:10-13, where the men of these cities are characterized as being “exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.” In other passages in Genesis (7:19; 15:1; 16:10; 17:2, among others) where the Hebrew is translated “exceedingly” by the NKJV the context indicates that the word carries the force of “beyond measure.” That the lack of hospitality, even to the point of actual ill-treatment, would be described as “wickedness beyond measure” seems very unlikely.
And while it is true that the author of Hebrews writes, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2), it seems immediately apparent that the problem in Sodom was not simply that of not being hospitable. Even if their treatment of strangers went so far as to warrant a rebuke in that Near-Eastern culture, the suggestion that God would have utterly destroyed these cities for this reason just does not seem to merit serious consideration.
The suggestion that the passage could possibly refer to the men of Sodom simply wanting to interrogate the angels just doesn’t seem plausible as a cause for inviting God’s judgment. For a country on a war-footing, having genuine concerns about the motives of foreigners who just showed up could hardly have been considered outrageously wicked behavior. Also, there is nothing in the text that indicates there was concern that these foreigners might be spies in the first place. And of course they had made no initial attempts to hide as they planned to spend the night in the town square (19:2).
Furthermore, the men of the city threatened to treat Lot worse than they intended to treat these strangers, which is clearly a threat of violence (19:9). But even if the treatment that the strangers would receive as captives under interrogation would have been sufficient to warrant judgment by God, this is ultimately a moot point. God had already determined to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah prior to the angels entering the city.
The passage certainly rules out the possibility that the men of Sodom were hoping for a consensual same-sex encounter with the angels (who were obviously thought to be men). But even though gang-rape is fairly clearly in view, neither was this intended detestable act the reason for their coming destruction. Again, God’s stated intent, prior to their arrival, was to wipe out the entire society – because of a lifestyle so wicked and so prevalent that fewer than even ten decent people could be found.
Sodom and Gomorrah were apparently Canaanite – a culture known to be one of the most morally reprehensible in history. The Canaanite fertility cult involved both heterosexual and homosexual encounters with male and female shrine prostitutes. With this in mind, consider this question: Is it reasonable to think that the “beyond-measure” wickedness of these cities could have somehow excluded sexual debauchery as at least a significant part of the basis for their annihilation?
Additionally, the overall flow of the narrative seems to suggest a direct connection between the incident with the angels and Sodom’s societal wickedness. What they were demanding was not something new to them. And certainly it must be asked if such an utterly wicked warfare tactic like gang-rape could even be considered if sexual debauchery were not already characteristic of the entire culture. And, as we know, all the men of the city came out and surrounded Lot’s house.
At this point, it could be argued that we’re still not talking about loving, monogamous same-sex relationships – but about a culture that was characterized by adulterous relationships, both hetero- and homosexual. However, I think there is one more element of the story that specifically pinpoints homosexual behavior itself as the ultimate trigger for the execution of God’s wrath (independent of whether or not it was occurring in a “loving, monogamous” relationship).
The inescapable problem with the homosexuality-neutral view of Genesis 19 involves Lot’s daughters. No one on either side of the debate would defend rape of any kind as morally acceptable. So, whether the rape would be against Lot’s daughters or against the angels (again, who were thought to be men) is another moot point in and of itself.
This means that there had to be some incredibly significant reason why Lot would be willing to allow even his own daughters to be brutally raped by an out-of-control mob rather than turn over the two angels to them. (And nothing indicates that Lot had any reason to think his guests were not men.)
So, what was this additional factor that struck terror in Lot’s heart as he contemplated this no-win situation? Could it be that Lot so clearly understood that homosexuality is such a detestable abomination in the Lord’s sight that he was unwilling to allow the sin of a homosexual encounter to be added to the sin of rape?
Earlier it was noted that not even ten righteous people were to be found in Sodom. But the obvious implication is that there was not a single person in Sodom who was not guilty of whatever specific sin (or category of sin) was in view. Given the overall wickedness of the Canaanite culture – which even included child sacrifice – what could have been the unique sin of Sodom and Gomorrah among all of the Canaanite cities?
And there is yet another factor that hasn’t been noted concerning Genesis 13:13:
But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.
The word translated “men” does not simply mean “people” in the generic sense – it literally means “men,” i.e., “the males of Sodom.”
So, it appears that the “exceedingly” wicked sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was uniquely committed by the men of those cities – and it involved all of the men. As bad as it would have been for the men to gang-rape their enemies, or worship their gods through encounters with male shrine prostitutes – the overall situation was worse than that. The society was dominated by male homosexuality. And the seriousness of this situation brought the complete destruction and utter desolation of those cities as God hurled fire and brimstone – annihilating every man, woman and child – and everything that had life. Only the judgment of the Flood exceeded the judgment that God brought upon Sodom and Gomorrah on that day.
In the next article in this series, we will examine other passages to see if the biblical record as a whole supports the view that homosexual behavior, independent of the context in which it occurs, is the sin that incurred God’s wrath in Genesis 19.
(This article is available in downloadable and printable PDF, 2 column article format: Click here to download)
Homosexuality and the Believer’s Identity in Christ
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12–13, NKJV)
There are many things that distinguish Christianity from the religions of the world, not the least of which is the believer’s identity in Christ. In other religions, philosophies and worldviews, one’s identity – how we view and value ourselves, and how we are viewed and valued by others – is inseparably tied to an endless list of things like ethnicity, gender, appearance, physical and mental abilities (or disabilities), skills, talents and anything else that we think helps us to order the world around us. We use these to identify ourselves and others, while also usually comparing ourselves to others.
However, in Christ our unique identity as individuals is properly found only in and through our relationship with Him. For those of us who have trusted in Christ for salvation, we are first and foremost children of God. As such, we are heirs and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Romans 8:16–17, NKJV)
Through faith in Christ and his finished work on the cross, God mercifully forgives our sin and graciously gives us the free gift of eternal life.
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. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22–23, NKJV)
Whatever we may have been through our physical birth has been transformed through our spiritual rebirth.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV)
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. 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. (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, NKJV)
A Manufactured Complexity
Unfortunately, more and more within the church are asking, “What does this have to do with homosexuality?” And unfortunately, more and more are answering, “Very little, if anything.” However, this has not been the historically-accepted view – and with good reason: God has clearly and unambiguously condemned homosexuality in the Scriptures as sinful. And yet, that this is true is being increasingly challenged – even by some who would identify themselves as part of the evangelical community.
These challenges to the historical view seem to fall primarily along two lines of reasoning. The first has to do with the issues of physiology that I mentioned in the first article in this series. This challenge ultimately seeks to discredit the accuracy and authority of the Bible on the basis of ignorance on the part of the biblical writers. And in reality, it is simply part of the tired, yet oft-repeated argument that the Bible was written by people in ancient societies who lacked the cultural sophistication and scientific knowledge that we now possess. Therefore, we have wrongly condemned something that the Bible wrongly condemns.
The second line of reasoning is arguably more insidious because it superficially gives the impression that the inspiration and authority of the Bible is being kept intact. In this case, it is argued that it is not the accuracy of the text that is being challenged, but rather, the historical interpretation of the text. In other words, the contention is that for centuries even scholars have misinterpreted the passages which mention “homosexuality.” It is maintained that the inherent meaning of certain words has been misunderstood or that there has been a failure to understand the cultural context. Therefore, we have wrongly condemned something that the Bible doesn’t really condemn.
However, I believe that both lines of reasoning unnecessarily introduce layers of complexity to an issue which is not nearly as complex in general as it is often made out to be (even though it may be somewhat complex in certain instances). Whether intentional or not, the apparent complexity introduced by both the quest for the “homosexual gene” and for obscured meanings in the biblical text must be ultimately viewed as being driven by the pursuits of those whose hearts are darkened by sin and who seek to suppress the knowledge of the truth.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. (Romans 1:18–19, NKJV)
Scientific Evidence and the Word of God
Although, I presented some fairly well-documented evidence of the scientific complexity in the first article, my point was to demonstrate that genuine awareness of these issues does not require that we abandon God’s Word in dealing with them. We need to understand that evidential complexity does not necessarily equate to spiritual complexity. While it may be true that humans are psychologically complex, this doesn’t mean that solutions to psychological problems must necessarily be equally complex. Biblical solutions, though often not easy to implement because of our sin nature, don’t involve complicated concepts or convoluted methods.
Yet, when we encounter such complex scientific evidence for the first time, it can be a faith-shaking experience. This can happen, for example, when we start getting into the issue of creation versus evolution. And of course, whole ministries have been established for countering the claims of the scientific establishment that the evidence unequivocally proves evolution to be true.
However – and this is an extremely important point – the issue is not the evidence itself. Everyone has access to the same evidence. It is not as if the evolutionists have access to one set of evidence and creationists have access to different set. The real issue is the interpretation of the evidence. Therefore, the task of those who trust the Bible as God’s inspired, infallible and inerrant Word is to reconcile what may appear to be contradictions between the Scriptures and the evidence.
However, apparent contradictions are not reconciled by simply ignoring the evidence. That is dishonest. But neither are they reconciled by ignoring clear biblical texts nor by irresponsibly re-interpreting those texts. True reconciliation occurs when both the Bible and the evidence are properly interpreted. This is the essence of the task of apologetics. And it is a central part of the ministry of The Alliance for Biblical Integrity as we seek to apply a biblical hermeneutic to the tough issues and difficult questions that threaten to weaken the church in this generation.
Sorting It All Out
In future articles I will address how to apply biblical principles to the physiological issues and potentially-related temptations which I noted in the first article. However, in the next article I will begin to examine the biblical passages that directly address the issue of homosexuality and respond to some of the exegetical challenges that form the basis for the second line of reasoning used by an increasing number of opponents of the historical view.
This is the first in a series of articles on the topic of “Homosexuality and the Bible.” However, the series will not necessarily be presented in consecutive blogs.
A Faltering Consensus
The consensus among conservative evangelicals is that the Bible provides the final and authoritative word on all aspects of life. Historically, there has also been broad consistency in how the Bible has been understood and biblical principles have been applied to a variety of moral issues, including homosexuality. However, this consensus seems to be slowly dissolving in the face of seismic shifts in the views of society toward homosexuality and those who engage in homosexual behavior. As society as a whole closely tracks with the downward spiral into the spiritual and moral abyss of homosexual behavior, very explicitly described by Paul in Romans chapter one, the church is following remarkably close behind. Behaviors and lifestyles that would have been broadly condemned as sinful by virtually the entire evangelical community just a generation ago are being increasingly viewed as acceptable and normal.
This naturally raises the question as to how this is even possible when the Bible seems to so consistently and unambiguously condemn such practices, and goes so far as to clearly warn of eternal consequences for those who would choose a homosexual lifestyle. Part of the answer may be related to some of the complexities that have not often been acknowledged or considered (or at least openly addressed in my experience) by many conservative evangelicals. When the hard questions aren’t asked or dealt with sufficiently, God’s people can find themselves ill-equipped to respond biblically when challenged—or they can find their faith shaken when they first become aware of some of the more difficult issues.
Note: Although some may find parts of this article to be controversial, my purpose is to show that an awareness of some of the more difficult biological issues surrounding gender and sexuality do not require us to abandon the historical, conservative evangelical position concerning homosexuality.
A Complex Issue
Perhaps the first complication involves the definition of homosexuality itself. Historically, homosexuality has been viewed as a choice and defined in terms of being a learned behavior rather than being an inherent aspect of someone’s nature . In other words, by definition, in this view, a homosexual is someone who engages in homosexual behavior. It is what someone does, not who someone is.
In this historically-prevalent view, homosexuality is considered to be unnatural, learned and morally wrong. This is consistent with the sense of justice which says that God would only condemn and judge evil behavior—things that we might choose to do, rather than those things over which we have no control – such as our gender, for example. On the other hand, those who may experience feelings of same-sex attraction, but choose to not act upon these urges are not generally considered to be homosexual and of course they are not guilty of sin if these feelings do not go beyond the realm of temptation. In essence, this view presumes that everyone is naturally a heterosexual at birth and that homosexuality is a life-style choice, often thought to stem from homosexual experiences while growing up, either through sexual abuse by older children or adults, or because of curiosity and experimentation.
However, a search of the internet for the phrase, “scientific studies on homosexuality” shows that opinion remains divided on the answer to the question, “Are homosexuals made or are they born?” Some studies seem to indicate that genetics may play a role in sexual orientation and that homosexuality has a biological basis, while other studies suggest it does not or are inconclusive.
For example, when asked if homosexuality was rooted solely in biology, gay gene researcher, Dean Hamer, replied, “Absolutely not. From twin studies, we already know that half or more of the variability in sexual orientation is not inherited. Our studies try to pinpoint the genetic factors…not negate the psychosocial factors” (Anastasia, 1995, p. 43). In addition, brain researcher Simon LeVay has acknowledged that multiple factors may contribute to a homosexual orientation (LeVay, 1996). (NART website)
And there are apparently additional issues that I had never even thought about until doing some research for this series. These do concern matters of physiology and biology, and should at least be taken into account as we seek to develop informed convictions in this matter. Though rare, some people are actually born with what is termed “ambiguous genitalia” which include characteristics of both male and female sexual organs – or internal sex organs of one sex, with external sex organs of the opposite sex. In this situation, at the chromosomal level most are still either males (XY chromosomes) or female (XX chromosomes), with no particular “sexual identity issues”. But in terms of social interaction and personal relationships, such physiological ambiguity can understandably present some very difficult emotional challenges, let alone spiritual ones.
In some very rare cases there are abnormalities such that there is a male / female mix at the chromosomal level. In less rare cases, the “intersexed” person is either a male or female at the chromosomal level, but primarily have the external genitalia of the opposite sex. In the latter case, even though, again, there may not be a conflict between their chromosomal sexual identity and their psychological sexual identity, there is a conflict between their chromosomal sexual identity and their physical appearance.
Such physiological factors seem to raise some important practical questions:
Biblically, with whom may a person with these congenital defects enter a marriage relationship and engage in sexual relations?
Are such people alone free to choose a partner of either sex?
Or must they marry someone who is of the opposite sex at the chromosomal level, even though they are essentially the same sex at the external physical level?
Or are they required to live a life of celibacy to remain morally pure?
Admittedly, very few of us will never encounter such a person and some may feel it is misguided to bring such rare occurrences into the discussion. However, especially for those of us in ministry, we have a responsibility try to find biblical answers to life’s questions that sometimes turn out to be more complex than we may have supposed. We must be able to give godly counsel to fellow-believers concerning their life-decisions in this area. Perhaps because of my background in science and engineering, as I have pondered this and many other issues in light of the Scriptures, I am frequently reminded of the care required to avoid repeating some of the blunders of the past—as happened with Galileo, for example.
And beyond these cases of physically inter-sexed individuals, there seem to be other situations that also require biblical wisdom and spiritual maturity to handle appropriately. In my experience, there seem to be “degrees” of masculinity and femininity such that these rather subjective areas are not defined by rigid boundaries marked off by our identity as either a male or female (even assuming no physiological abnormalities). Even when chromosomes are not an issue, hormones and other factors seem to be. Some men seem to have more effeminate characteristics and mannerisms, while some women seem to be “less feminine” in any number of ways. And there seems to be an unbroken continuum between the two, such that these characteristics may be more or less pronounced in any given person apart from any personal intent or desire to appear or act in a way that is gender-ambiguous.
When both biological and environmental factors are taken into consideration, it is not difficult to understand how and why some may experience genuine internal conflict and have to deal with truly unwanted sexual urges and temptations. And this is undoubtedly not limited to the issue of homosexuality, but to sexuality in general.
Furthermore, it seems that all of us have different areas of weakness and tendencies toward particular types of sin to varying degrees. Some struggle with anger, while others struggle with honesty. Some struggle with worry, while others struggle with fear. Some struggle with laziness, while others struggle with lust. And while it is not too difficult for us to sympathize with those with whom we share common struggles, it can be difficult for us to understand how others can genuinely struggle with things that are not a particular problem for us. But the fact is that any struggle in any area can lead to moral failure if we fail to withstand the temptations that inevitably come.
Certainly there are those who simply choose to fulfill their sexual desire in sinful ways that are condemned by the Bible. There is a troubling and growing trend within the more conservative evangelical community that has existed for a long time within the broader liberal church—that of changing attitudes toward homosexuality. This behavior and lifestyle is being accepted on various grounds, including the argument that the Bible does not label as sinful committed same-sex relationships. In the next article in this series I will be looking at the relevant biblical texts to discuss whether or not such a position is biblically defensible.
On the other hand, we need to recognize that difficult genuinely physiological gender-related situations do exist, even though we may them awkward, distasteful or even repulsive. We all know of a few men who don’t exactly fit the mold of what is commonly considered to be “manly.” We all know a few women who are less feminine than others. Yet, during the twenty-five years I have been a believer, I don’t recall some of these particular issues ever being addressed or even mentioned in any context.
I think we have an obligation to both respond biblically to clearly sinful behavior, as well as to provide godly instruction and biblical counsel when fellow-believers experience problems that cannot be merely condemned as matters of choice alone. The sufficiency of Scripture allows us to confidently tackle the tough issues of life with neither fear nor apology. In a future article, I will delve into the matter of ministry to those who have particular struggles in this area.