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Friday, September 29, 2006

More on homosexuality

Homosexuality is an issue that is often on the front burner.

It seems to me that Christians often err on this subject, in two different ways. One of them is to think that homosexual activity is the worst sin, or the only sin, and to hate people who do such things. The other is to think that there is nothing wrong with homosexual activity. The Bible does not support either position.

Conservative Christians are generally opposed to homosexual activity on scriptural grounds. However, there are only a few scriptural references: Genesis 2:18-24; 19:1-5, 12; Exodus 20:14; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Hosea 1-3; Matthew 19:4-6; Romans 1:24-27; I Corinthians 6:9-20; Ephesians 5:3, 21-33, I Timothy 1:10; Revelation 19:6-8, Jude 1:7. There is controversy over the meaning of some of these.

Critics state that Genesis 19 is about gang rape, not homosexuality (see previous post, which discusses Sodom and homosexuality, and points out that the Bible, itself, seems not to say that homosexuality was the primary sin of the inhabitants of Sodom); that the passages in Leviticus and Romans aren't relevant for today's practices, because they condemn unnatural acts by heterosexuals, while today's homosexuals are doing what is natural for them; that I Corinthians and I Timothy are against pederasty, not the homosexuality of today.

There is probably some relevance to some or all of these arguments, but I believe that there is, nonetheless, a strong biblical argument against homosexual activity. It is mostly not direct, from the texts cited above (although they are part of the evidence) but comes from the overwhelming scriptural portrayal of heterosexual fidelity as God's ideal for humans, as shown consistently from the earliest parts of Genesis to the portrayal of the church as the bride of Christ in Revelation.

Some biblical ideas which are related come from Gilbert Bilezikian, "Understanding Homosexuality: Part I, Biblical and Theological Understanding," in Understanding Homosexuality, edited by Bilezikian and others. (Center for Applied Christian Ethics of Wheaton College: Wheaton, IL, 1995) Bilezikian proposes that the idea of punishment by stoning for homosexual acts between males (but points out that there were about 20 other offenses that carried the same penalty); the distinctive nature of the church; the Biblical principle that sexual activity isn't necessary for complete personhood; and that sexual activity pertains to heterosexual union, all are important parts of the biblical understanding of homosexuality, and lead to the conclusion that overt homosexual behavior is sinful.

Other authors, in the same book, believe that there is no one cause for male homosexuality, and that scientific findings that homosexuality is influenced by hormones, chromosomes or genes have not been sufficiently replicated. The evidence suggests that at least some homosexuals can change to become heterosexual.

My FAQ on homosexuality is as follows:
1. Is homosexuality wrong? Yes and no. Based on scripture, it seems to me that homosexual activity is wrong. I don't see that homosexual tendencies are wrong, any more than heterosexual ones. If I am attracted to someone other than my wife, because I have heterosexual tendencies, and act on it, that's wrong. (Acting on it doesn't mean just adultery or fornication--deliberately exposing myself to pornography, or lusting after movie stars, etc., are ways of acting on heterosexual tendency, and acting sinfully.) It isn't wrong to have heterosexual tendencies, so why should it be wrong to have homosexual tendencies?

2. Can homosexual humans become happy heterosexuals? At least some of the time. Always? I'm not sure.

3. Is homosexual tendency inherited? It would be amazing if it weren't at least partly inherited, since all sorts of other behavior is influenced by heredity, and there is some evidence for this with homosexuality. Does that excuse homosexual activity? I would argue that it does not, any more than being pre-disposed to heterosexuality excuses rape or adultery.

(Added May 26, 2009: Recent evidence seems to indicate that homosexual preference in humans is significantly influenced by exposure to hormones in the womb. There are brain differences, physical and chemical, between homosexuals and heterosexuals.

4. Can homosexuals form long-lasting same-sex relationships? Apparently. However, especially with males, this usually doesn't happen. (Most unfortunately, it often doesn't happen with heterosexual marriage relationships in the U. S., either, but that's another sad story.) Are such relationships identical to stable Christian heterosexual marriages, in God's sight? I don't think so. They aren't God's plan. It would be theoretically possible to have a long-lasting sexual relationship with a dog, but the fact that it's long-lasting doesn't make it right.

5. Isn't having homosexual tendencies, but not being able to act on them without sinning, unfair? My faith tells me that God is not ever unfair. He may demand more of some than others, at least in certain aspects of their lives. All of us are born with lots of tendencies that we must control in order to live Christian lives. It isn't just homosexuals that are called to celibacy -- some heterosexuals are. All heterosexuals are, until they are married.

6. What should be the Christian attitude toward homosexuals? Practicing homosexuals, like practicing gossips, gluttons or thieves, are sinners. We should love them, but not love their sin. Overt sinners should not be leaders in churches, certainly not pastors.

7. Do non-humans form homosexual relationships? There is some same-sex copulation, or other seemingly sexual activity, in non-human vertebrates, but, so far as I know, there are no animals, other than humans, that have an exclusively homosexual class or group, nor in which there are long-lasting homosexual relationships. I believe that the existence of such individuals in humans is one of the effects of the Fall, and, like other disorders in humans, was not God's original plan. (Note added May 26, 2009: There is evidence, in sheep, that some males are sexually attracted to other males, and not to females. This may mean that there is an exclusively homosexual class in male sheep, and, perhaps, in other non-human animals.)

8. Is homosexuality the biggest threat to marriage in North America? No. If there were no homosexuals at all, marriage would still be under continuing and violent attack from its real worst enemy, namely that a woman and a man don't make Jesus Christ Lord of their relationship. Homosexuality is, of course, one threat to marriage, as God planned it.

9. Is homosexual activity the worst sin? No. Perhaps it isn't even the worst sexual sin. See this list of curses, in the Bible, for sinful activity. Four such were curses for sexual misconduct, and they didn't include homosexual activity. That does not, of course, make homosexual activity acceptable for Christians.

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Update, March 8, 2007. Stanton F. Jones, of Wheaton, has posted a position paper on homosexuality (.PDF file) here.

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I edited this somewhat on May 4, 2009. There were no substantial changes, other than adding items 8 and 9 to the FAQ.

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I added two dated notes above on May 26, 2009.

Thanks for reading.

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