Either “Is Homosexuality A Sin?” OR “Is Homophobia A Sin?”

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The modern Church’s overall inability to properly engage the culture in which it exists is none the more evident than in the issue of homosexuality. There is nothing more appalling (except perhaps our treatment of African Americans and women), than the pure hatred that the church has shown to the homosexual community.

This will be my attempt at helping to add something meaningful to this conversation by addressing the question: how should a Christian in today’s western culture understand the issue of homosexuality.

Recently Dan Wilkinson posted an article titled Why Homosexuality Isn’t A Sinwhich was widely circulated within social media. I was looking forward to reading Dan’s article when I first saw the posting on Unfundamentalist Christians Facebook page simply because very few good attempts have been made at writing about this issue. Perhaps my eagerness to see critical articles regarding this issue has clouded my judgment, but the article was anything but spectacular. The article uses C.S. Lewis’ “moral argument” in order to establish a foundation from which one can argue (supposedly) that homosexuality is not a sin. The argument is summarized below:

  1. Everyone has within them an innate moral law that enables them to appreciate what is right or wrong.
  2. Homosexuality neither hurts the self or another and its participants are exceedingly happy.
  3. Therefore, it must be the case that homosexuality is not in violation of the innate moral law.
This seems to not only be a fallacious argument, but also a complete misunderstanding of the innate moral law, In fact, I will argue the following:

The innate moral law shows us that the act of homosexuality is both “not natural” as well as “immoral”, and therefore to be considered sin. However, and infinitely more important, I will also show that this sin is no different from any other that the individual commits.

 

Romans 1:18-32

Paul presents us with two contrasting pictures of humanity and their relationship to sin. In the first picture he identifies those who “deny the obvious” – God’s existence as demonstrated by the creation itself. Moreover, all people know of God and as a result of this revelation are “without excuse”.

As a result of denying this obvious “innate” existence people began participating in all sorts of sinful behavior. Among these he lists homosexuality.

The second picture Paul presents us is the life in Christ.

In contrast to a life lived in sin, life in Christ does not push you away from God, but draws you to him. What’s more, it provides the individual with meaning and purpose for their existence.

Two important observations regarding this passage:

First, Paul clearly states that the practice of homosexuality is not “natural” behavior for humans. I do not think Paul is being scientific as much as he is being “obvious” in making this connection. The fact that it’s not natural does not necessitate that the behavior is sin. However, it does dismiss the claim that it is natural behavior. With that said, it could be argued that the act is an act against the natural order of things, in which case it could be deemed as sin on that basis.

Second, Paul does not differentiate this sin as being any worse than the others. He also does not give us permission to judge those to whom this applies. In fact, if you continue to read on, you will notice that chapter two is very clear: God is the judge of Sin, not man. Therefore, this is between the individual and God. I cannot help but think of that powerful story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone“. People, I urge you, put down your stones!

 

Being Honest

No doubt, for some, this section will be hard to read, but if you have made it this far, I encourage you to continue. The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow.

We need more homosexuals in the church! What does it mean that 99% (this is my sarcastic non-scientific number) of those who attend our churches are NOT homosexual? Is there any other “sin” that is so exclusionary to the point that we refuse to let the individual in on the basis of that sin. I would argue that there are more rapists and murderers in the church than there are homosexuals. In fact, there are hundreds if not thousands of churches and organizations that reach out to rapists and murders through prison ministries. There is much less love shown to the homosexual community.

I understand that in most cases sin is a very private matter. That is to say, we don’t walk around with signs that tell everyone what sins we have committed for the day. Moreover, having a practicing homosexual couple in the church makes their “issue” more obvious.

Here are the reasons I think we don’t have as many homosexuals in the church as we should. Please feel free to think of these as the great sins of our time:

We treat homosexuals much like many of our ancestors treated African Americans. We just don’t let them in. The unfortunate segregation that still occurs today within the church is an abhorrent result of the segregation that took place only a couple of generations ago. Can you imagine creating laws that purposely singled out individuals solely based upon the color of their skin? Just remember that the next time you go to the polls to vote. It was a sin then, and it’s still a sin now.

We are ignorant. We think homosexuality is some disease that is going to rub off on us or our children. I can’t begin to name all of the problems associated with this line of thinking.

Its complicated. We like our churches to be nice, neat and organized – not messy. We like our hour long church service (so we can make it back in time for football of course), and we don’t like disagreement. My response is simple: that’s childish, grow up!

It doesn’t line up with our politics. Good grief do I hate the fact that I have to say that. I am still baffled by the fact that being a Christian is almost synonymous with being  a republican. It makes no sense to me that we demand the government stay out of our personal lives; to not deny us our “rights”, etc. However, we are very quick to deny those same rights to others that we so vehemently demand for ourselves. And we do this simply because we disagree with a choice they made.

…and there are certainly more that I could put here, but alas I have ran out of energy.

 

Concluding thought: the real problem

I don’t think the real problem is homosexuality, but its much deeper. There is a problem with the church. There is a problem with the “modern worldview”. There are problems with how we understand the role of the church in culture. There are problems everywhere.

Homosexuals are not the problem. We are.

 

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  • Tricia Turner

    You might find Ralph Smith’s book “Heterosexism” a valuable support! He was professor at Wartburg Lutheran [ELCA] Seminary Dubuque Iowa when he co-wrote this book with our ethics professor (whose name I regret I can’t immediately recall, who left to serve as ethics prof at Loyola in Chicago soon after book published circa 1993). I appreciate your blog. Bless you — t

    • Eric English

      Tricia…thank you for the note and encouraging email. I will certainly look into the the title your recommended.

      Blessings.

      E

  • Steve Esther

    Here’s one problem: What happens when homosexuality is preached against in any church that invites homosexuals in. Are they willing to sit there and listen and be as uncomfortable as the rest of us are when God’s word convicts us of something? If so, that’s great, but we should not avoid the subject altogether just to avoid making people uncomfortable.

    • Eric English

      I have never been in a church that preaches against “homosexuality”, nor would I attend one. The preaching should focus on SIN in general.

      • Steve Esther

        But you still have to identify sin. When God destroyed Sodom and Gommorah, He did so because of their wickedness. Part of that wickedness was homosexuality. How about where it says(paraphrased) not to have a man lie with another man? Do we leave those teachings out? Look, I know people who are gay. One of my best friends is gay. He knows what I believe and why, and to me that’s “sowing the seed”. He goes to church. He hears certain teachings that he’s admitted bother him, but he listens anyway. Unfortunately, he’s probably one of a very few that will.

        • Eric English

          No we do not leave those teachings out. But your examples are out of context. In the first, God did not destroy the city because of homosexuality, he did so because of wickedness and sin. In your second example, I address this text in the above article.

          The point being, that the issue in and of itself is not as clear as you make it out to be. Now, I agree with you that it is sin, but my above article is meant to provide a unique interpretation on a passage of scripture (which you quoted) that has been used and abused (incorrectly, I might add), on both sides of the conversation.

          I think in order for you to understand why I addressed that passage above you might want to look at the common interpretations of that passage.

  • Derek Evans

    Hello!

    You have some great stuff here. However, I would like some help in deepening my understanding of homosexuality vs. the bible in general.

    We both agree that the bible is not the Word of God but is rather an excellent testimony to who God is. I think that more people are turned away from Christ than brought to a relationship with him because of the strong adherence in our churches to the antithesis.

    This is the question I pose; what do you believe causes homosexuality in a person? And further, whatever the cause, can we honestly use the argument that it “goes against the natural order of things” when the act of “doing the right thing” (as opposed to sinning) goes against the natural order of things itself. We are born into sin, are we not? And do we not have to teach our children to be good? I’m not saying that we are consciously choosing not to sin whenever we do something good, just showing that it is now part of the natural order TO sin. We are bad by nature.

    As I mentioned above, we do not believe that the bible is the Word of God. It can’t be. So knowing this, because the bible exists outside of the absolute truth (God is the absolute truth and he does not live in the bible nor did he write it) is it not then understandable that everything in the bible was subject to the fallacy of man? It is obvious that the bible holds an inherent truth, which is Jesus, but men wrote the bible and men (who are born into sin) are obviously prone to mess up, to misconstrue, and add their own opinions to everything.

    What would we know to be a “sin” if we did not have the bible to instruct / tell us? Sins are for God to decide, not “our” interpretation of what we think God says. (Which is why I completely agree with you that we should speak on “sins” in general, and not specifics.)

    I believe that something, such as homosexuality, a sexual attraction between members of the same sex, is so deeply ingrained in a person, that its hard to definitively peg it as a sin. Which is why I asked your (respected) opinion on what you believe causes homosexuality?

    Derek

    • Eric English

      Derek,

      First…let me mention how much I appreciate you taking the time to properly articulate your questions and opinions. It makes it much easier to interact with individuals when they have done this – so I thank you! I am in hopes that I can echo the same sincerity and tone to which your response deserves.

      Regarding the cause of homosexuality within a person. This is a great question to which I do not have an “answer” (nor do I think science does either – though they are quick to claim said knowledge). With that said, I want to careful, because I think there are probably several different causes for why someone becomes homosexual; and these causes tend to be different from case to case.

      However, I do have some thoughts as it relates to the question. First, I think it is important for everyone within this conversation to understand that “homosexuality” as we understand it today, is a different type of cultural phenomenon than it was in ANE and Roman cultures. Whereas much of the practice during ancient times was based upon religious traditions and practices, the current phenomenon seems to be driven more by culture.
      I think it’s related to three things: First, I think as a culture we have become more sexually tolerant; certain things that once would have been considered taboo, are now normal.

      Second, the issue is very political (and unfortunately with the political you also get the religious). But, what it really means is that a large portion of people will buy into it simply because it is part of their political or religious tradition. Third, I think it’s a misunderstanding of what it means “to be free”.

      However, I am in hopes that the main point doesn’t get lost here. That is, it is not the Christians job to legislate morality. My fear is that this worldview (legislating morality) moves us closer and closer to a Christendom.

      Regarding your question about the “natural order of things” and biblical authority. This is unfortunately one of those statements that come with a bunch of context, and probably wasn’t explained as well as it should have been.

      It is argued by proponents – both religious and non-religious that homosexuality can be considered “natural” for two reasons. First, it’s innate to the person (though this is unproven). In fact, sexual identity is developed much later in a person’s life in comparison to other attributes which contribute to a person’s overall identity. This leaves room for many things, which could influence how sexuality is developed; the least of which is genetic predisposition. Second, it can be seen all throughout human history. Although this later one is not a formal argument used it is assumed in many of the discussions that take place surrounding the topic.

      However, your main question is related to how it is justifiable to hold that homosexuality is NOT natural based upon the authority of the Bible, given my particular view on the Bible. This is a good question. I will be writing as one of my next articles on this very topic. So, here is a preview:

      Just because the bible is not the WOG, does NOT mean it’s without authority. At the very least, it must be the case for the Christian that the purpose of the bible is to inform the Christian (not the secular) on how to live rightly (or as Christ) as a witness to the world (and in turn glorifies a Holy God). The bible is one of many such things (prayer, worship, fellowship, etc), which brings forth the WOG within the individual. This is what teaches and instructs, etc.

      Yes, it is true we cannot know absolute truth, for only God is capable of such a feat. However, a proper view of subjectivity would require that we think of the absolute like we do perfection. It’s not attainable, but we should always be striving for it. With that said, the bible is still a testimony of those who have encountered God throughout history and as such gives us glimpses of truth that could not otherwise be ascertained.

      I simply used Paul’s statement to defend the idea that this type of behavior was not “normal” as is touted by Christians who use the same passage to defend their perspective that it is.

      I hope this answered your questions. Please feel free to let me know if I was unclear about something.

      Cheers!

      • Derek Evans

        Eric,

        Thanks for your quick but thorough reply! You’re an incredible help.

        While the insight the bible gives us, I cannot deny, I have to admit that the authority it holds over what is right and what is wrong feels lost to me or at least a little misinterpreted. (Whether it is on our end, or the various author’s.)

        The culture, as you mentioned earlier, was very different back then and what was considered “wrong” or a “sin” previously, might not be so today. (i.e. eating shellfish or the stoning of people being accepted.) I know these are OT examples but there are many more persistent throughout the whole bible.

        I feel that the only “truth” as to what is right and what is wrong that we can look to is God. God is love and when we can love, (love him as he has loved us and accept his Son, his gift of love, in our hearts) then we can truly know him.

        Jesus himself never mentioned homosexuality but he did speak of acceptance and of love. (I wish I didn’t use the word love so much ha.)

        I am thankful that our biblical text exists as it helps in pointing us to the way but I feel that the testimony cannot hold much more in it than that “yellow brick road.” It’s hard for me to take the bible any more seriously than just that, which I admit, is a big thing, but it cannot be the very definition of right and wrong.

        I believe that while the bible may never have changed since the canonization, the hands of men, as well as their minds, have been all over it. Men wrote it and as with any writing, influences of the time are sure to riddle the pages. As religion was more prevalent in the governments of the times, certain actions were deemed “sins” to control the people, unfortunately. Religion was made by men, and for man’s benefit. Jesus came to deny religion, right?

        As you said, the bible isn’t without, authority. But I believe that that authority is Jesus who preached loved. So we are to follow him and strive to be perfect by loving. Love is hard, and isn’t without discipline, but I believe that love is the line between wrong and right, not the bible.

        Correct me if I’m not completely correct, but “sin” implicates an action that can be changed by repentance (a true repentance.) Many friends of mine who are homosexual, christian and non-christian, wish or spend a great deal of time praying for God to change their sexual orientation. I’ve heard, “I wish I didn’t feel this way” and “I never wanted to be gay,” countless times. And in our world of judgement, that sadly, us “Christians” have partially created, who would want to live as the center of that judgement?

        From my understanding, when it comes to Sin in particular, it is something that we choose to do, no matter how natural that choice may be. And we can choose to do the opposite. But you can’t ask a gay person to be sexually attracted to the opposite sex. That would be the same as requiring a heterosexual to be attracted to their same sex. A change like that is impossible and as a heterosexual, I could not imagine someone asking that of me.

        I think that the reason it is hard to say “what” makes a person a homosexual is because there is no simple “what” to it. I think that it’s a nature vs. nurture thing. You spoke of predisposition and that obviously plays a great deal into it. But if God makes us just the way we are, then he has made said people with that predisposition and knew very well before they were born that they would be gay. So who are we to speak for God on the matter? (Which is where faith comes into the matter.)

        We tend to place our faith in the bible instead of God and that is a big mistake.

        I might not have been aiming at anything in particular here but these are things that I have only recently started to realize and I needed someone to talk to about it. I sure wouldn’t want to be making a God of my own choosing. But he has left us enough clues and still remains pertinent enough today to show us who he is.

        Thanks man!
        Derek

  • Eric English

    Derek,

    I feel like we are somewhat trapped in the “writing rabbit hole”. The longer we discuss, the deeper the hole gets. Don’t get me wrong there is a lot of great stuff to talk about – stuff that would be great to discuss over coffee or a beer. Ha. However, I will address as much as I am able to for now. I’m curious where you are located though?

    Now…to the topic at hand:

    I can’t help but mostly agree with you surrounding the ethics of the Bible. However, we must keep in mind that there are two types of ethics that exist: those that are culturally driven and those that are universal. Example: beheading chickens might be culturally acceptable, but not universally. Whereas murder (subject to its definition) is universally wrong. So I would agree with you regarding the cultural conditioning of the ethics that the bible espouses. With that said, I think it’s still useful to understand those ethics that are universal (Love the lord your God) and continue to adhere to them. But…ultimately you are correct in saying that the Bible is not a book of ethics (just the same as it is not a book of metaphysical truths).

    However, I am not referring to ethics with the statement I made in yesterday’s post about “living rightly” (presumably this is what you are referring to). I have my own interpretive method that is a modification and adaption of both “ speech-act theory and Perspectivism”.

    I have listed a few of the axioms to give you a little context:

    • The (t)ruth of a proposition can only be found within its contextual framework.
    • The probability of truthfulness is dependent upon ones historical position (the closer one is to the source the more accurate their assessment is) whether that be related to the characters within the story, or the person interpreting the story itself.
    • You cannot separate words from their action. For Jesus Christ to be “the Word” means he both “reveals” and “acts” within history. He is God’s speech-act to humanity. If we are to imitate Christ, then we are to take upon ourselves this same perspective.
    • You cannot separate “history” from the “bible”.

    The overarching ethic being “to be like Christ”!

    I also think there needs to be a distinction between “sin” and “right and wrong (or ethics)”, but that is for another conversation.

    As I continue to think more about your dilemma I keep coming back to the fact that when you say “look to Christ” for what it means to “love” you are using the bible “ethically”, are you not?. You have simply chosen “love” (as only one example I’m sure) as a primary “biblical” ethic that you espouse. So…perhaps I am unclear about your biblical dilemma after all (I’m with you up until cultural conditioning, but then after that, I seem to get lost).

    Regarding the issue of homosexuality: I agree with your perspective on the intentionality of sin. With that said, I disagree with your premise. Namely, that there is no choice in homosexual behavior. I think (at least until science proves me wrong) that there very much is a choice. However, I do think it’s a different type of choice than what we are use to. Let me give you an example.

    Not sure if you have ever been in the throes of love. If not, I can at least attest to the existence of how love can blind an individual to an otherwise obvious truth. We have all heard stories like:

    “a girl begins a relationship with a troubled boy. The boy is no good for her and yet she still dates him because she is in love. In fact, the boy is actually quite damaging to her both physically and mentally. Unfortunately, she’s in love and can’t see the almost obvious truth that she needs to leave this boyfriend before the situation gets out of control.”

    Does she have the choice? Yes. Are there things which are preventing her from making the “right” decision? Yes. Does it feel like she really doesn’t have a choice as a result? Yes.

    Just like the issue you take with the cultural conditioning of the Bible I take with the issue of homosexuality within our own culture. I think it’s an attitude that has conditioned us to think a certain way, or hold certain presuppositions (choice, freedom, etc.), that we all but have to come to the same conclusion as the culture does.

    Cheers for now!

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