LATE LAST WEEK I got the email.
I can’t say much more about it than what you read in the title of this article. The news is too fresh and too sensitive.
But this question comes from a young person who’s sis came out as gay: “What does the Christian religion have to say about that?”
I’ve written about this many times in several of my books and in blog articles. But I don’t think I’ve covered that topic any better than I did in 100 Tough Questions about God and the Bible.
I’m not sure that anyone connected to the email I got would ever read the book. But if I put that short chapter in this blog article, perhaps some of them might see it – and get an answer to the question.
And who knows, maybe someone else would find help in the article, too.
What they’ll discover is that some Christians say it’s wrong to live the gay lifestyle.
But other Christians say there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the gay lifestyle.
It’s not surprising that Christians disagree with each other. What’s surprising are some of the arguments they make to support their opinions.
Surprising and a bit unsettling.
Here’s the article from my book:
Why does the Bible say homosexuality is a sin? Don’t science and our own observation suggest that some people are naturally homosexual?
Christians are at each other’s throats over this question—at least in some churches—debating what to do about homosexuality.
Many churches forbid homosexuals from joining their community of faith. Other churches ordain them as ministers. That’s how far apart Christians are on this controversial topic.
Most churches pitch their tents in one of three major camps:
- I’m okay, you’re okay. Homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality.
- Gay is okay if you don’t have sex. There’s nothing wrong with having homosexual desires, but it’s a sin to act on those desires by engaging in homosexual sex.
- There’s nothing okay about gay. Homosexuality—the orientation as well as the act—is a sin requiring forgiveness and, if possible, healing.
There’s nothing okay about gay
Christians in this camp take their cue from the Bible, which in all the main English translations certainly seems to condemn homosexuality.
- “It is disgusting for a man to have sex with another man” (Leviticus 18:22 CEV).
- “When a man has sexual intercourse with another man as with a woman, both men are doing something disgusting and must be put to death” (Leviticus 20:13 GW).
- “No one who is immoral . . . is unfaithful in marriage or is a pervert or behaves like a homosexual will share in God’s kingdom” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10 CEV).
- “We also know that the law is not made for good people. . . . It is for people who are against God and are sinful . . . who take part in sexual sins, who have sexual relations with people of the same sex” (1 Timothy 1:9–10 NCV).
Christians who have pitched their theological tents in this camp say that if we take the Bible seriously and treat it as the Word of God, there’s no way we can do what is politically correct: accept homosexuality.
Instead, we have to do what is biblically correct: reject homosexuality as sinful. If we don’t, we find ourselves among an unfortunate group of souls: “How terrible it will be for people who call good things bad . . . who think darkness is light . . . who think sour is sweet” (Isaiah 5:20 NCV).
The spiritual cure for homosexuality, as far as these Christians are concerned, is the same as it is for any other sin: repentance and forgiveness.
Beyond that, some Christians say, homosexuals may be able to experience physical healing as well. Through counseling, prayer, and the work of the Holy Spirit, a homosexual can become a heterosexual. There are Christians who identify themselves as heterosexuals healed of their former homosexual desires.
Many Christians in this camp acknowledge that not all homosexuals will be freed of their attraction to the same sex. Counselors advise homosexuals who convert to Christianity to treat their desire the same way the apostle Paul treated his mysterious “thorn in the flesh,” a difficulty he never identified: “I was given a problem that caused pain in my body. . . . Three times I begged the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak’” (2 Corinthians 12:7–9 NIRV).
Gay is okay if you don’t have sex
Christians in this camp have a lot in common with Christians who say “There’s nothing okay about gay.”
Both groups treat the Bible as God’s Word—something that should not be ignored or overruled by conventional wisdom or political correctness.
The biggest difference is that Christians in this group see absolutely nothing wrong with having homosexual desires. They would compare that desire to any other sinful desire or temptation we might experience. There’s nothing wrong with the desire or the temptation. It’s wrong only when we give in to that sinful desire.
Many Christians in this group seem willing to accept the idea that some people may be naturally oriented toward homosexuality. Some compare this to the way many folks seem wired with a predisposition toward addictive behavior—folks who become alcoholics and drug addicts.
Alcoholics Anonymous teaches that if you’re an alcoholic, you’re an alcoholic for life. Your lifelong task is to stay away from alcohol.
In much the same way, a homosexual may be homosexual for life.
Some Bible-revering, tradition-minded Christian counselors are beginning to acknowledge that attempts to straighten out a gay person generally won’t work. Dr. Mark A. Yarhouse, professor of psychology at Regent University—founded by Pat Robertson, chairman of the conservative Christian Broadcasting Network and a former Southern Baptist minister—put it this way in his book, Homosexuality and the Christian:
A realistic expectation would not be a categorical change (from completely gay to completely straight), but rather modest shifts along a continuum of attraction.
I’m okay, you’re okay
Some Christians say there is absolutely nothing wrong with homosexuality—in orientation or in sexual activity.
The question for many other Christians is this: How do pro-gay Christians justify their end run around what the Bible says on the topic?
Here comes a scholarly term: Wesleyan Quadrilateral.
Scholars who have studied the life and teachings of John Wesley (1703–1791), founder of the Methodist church, have come to the conclusion that when he faced tough theological problems, he studied them from four angles:
- Bible. What does the Bible say about it?
- Tradition. How have Christians throughout the centuries dealt with it?
- Reason. What seems like a reasonable way to deal with it?
- Experience. What does our personal experience suggest we do about it?
As far as many Christians in this camp are concerned, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral vote comes out in a dead heat—two votes against accepting the homosexual lifestyle to two in favor.
Two votes against: The Bible says “don’t.” Tradition is obvious; the church has a long history of rejecting homosexuals.
Two votes for: Reason says it makes sense for us not to tell someone else whom they can and can’t love. Experience reminds us that even among our own circle of family and friends, some are wired with same-sex desires.
Reason and experience seem to get a boost from science:
American Academy of Pediatrics: “Counseling may be helpful for young people who are uncertain about their sexual orientation. . . . Therapy directed specifically at changing sexual orientation is contraindicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.”
American Psychiatric Association: “The APA opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy, which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the . . . assumption that a patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.”
But what about the Bible? It’s God talking, many Christians insist. And he says “don’t.”
A tiny minority of Christians say the Bible translators got God wrong.
For example, the Queen James Bible, a gay-friendly translation, says one writer was talking about heterosexual men who were having sex with male prostitutes in pagan temples: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind in the temple of Molech: it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22).
The presumption: normal gay sex is okay.
Most Bible experts would call that creative and wishful thinking.
It’s more common for Christians in this camp to approach the Bible’s anti-gay passages this way:
Jewish law is obsolete. “Faith in Christ has come. So we are no longer under the control of the law” (Galatians 3:25 NIRV).
Paul was quoting the obsolete law. When Paul wrote in his letters that homosexuality is sinful, he was drawing from his studies as a Pharisee, an expert in Jewish law—remarkably, the same laws he said elsewhere were obsolete. That leaves some folks trying to figure out which Paul to believe—Paul who rejected the law or Paul who rejected homosexuality because the law forbids it.
When in doubt, follow Jesus. Jesus never talked about homosexuality. But he did talk about judging others and loving others.
Most Christians who embrace homosexuals as full members within the community of faith put more theological weight on those teachings. They argue that the rule of love trumps the obsolete Jewish law about homosexuality as well as the anti-gay teachings of Paul, a former Pharisee who they say may have been deferring to Jewish law.
Love others. “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other” (John 13:34–35 THE MESSAGE).
Don’t judge. “Don’t judge others, or you will be judged. . . . You hypocrite! First, take the wood out of your own eye. Then you will see clearly to take the dust out of your friend’s eye” (Matthew 7:1, 5 NCV).
Gay minister V. Jill Sizemore, senior pastor of Metropolitan Community Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, told me that when she has to deal with “those stubbornly ensconced in their argument of the infallible word of God,” she appeals to love:
“Put down the book that you would use to hurt me. Look into my eyes and tell me that you would have me scorned, bullied, discriminated against. . . . Now who is the pervert?”
She said that in her view, “Love trumps all arguments that clearly favor injustice of any kind.”
Many Christians, however, insist that God isn’t just about love. He’s about holiness, too. And they say their Bible teaches that homosexuality is sin—and that God won’t stand for it.
Several Christian denominations have split over the question of what to do about gay believers.
100 Tough Questions about God and the Bible, by Stephen M. Miller, chapter 47, pages 120-125, Bethany House Publishers.