Posts Tagged ‘Discipleship’
(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.