The apostle Paul says we should marry instead of burning with passion (1 Cor 7:9) Can’t a homosexual burn with passion as well?
God said it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Does that change if the man is a homosexual?
When the topic of homosexuality came up in campus-wide discussions in the year I spent at Taylor University, an evangelical non-denominational Christian college in the cornfields of Upland, Indiana, my answer was the trite “love the sinner and hate the sin”. I was 18 and even though I did ponder it a while, the answer still seemed simple. At that time I only knew–or so I thought–of only one supposed homosexual. But now I’ve gotten to know gay co-workers and aquaintances and neighbors. And it’s incredibly difficult to separate the two. If I’m so focused on hating the sin, it’s nearly impossible to love the person. If I’m focused on loving the person, it makes the sin seem not so bad. I guess you can hate it, the way you hate anyone’s sin including your own. In theory you hate it, but in practice you don’t spend the mental energy on it, except maybe to splash a bit of prayer over it.
My dear friend and I talked about homosexuality quite extensively about a year ago. One point she made is that especially for women, being a lesbian is convenient and easier than being with a man. We understand other women because we are one. Stick with what you know, right? But, she says, God rarely asks us to do the easy thing. He wants us to do the difficult work of being in this unique relationship with a person so physically and mentally and emotionally different. He finds joy in that unity and therefore so can we. When we do the right thing He is glorified.
In the past I’ve likened homosexuality to alcoholism. If you have it, then you just can’t drink. If you’re a homosexual, then just don’t have sex. (As you may have guessed, I write with the conviction that same-sex attraction is a product of our fallen world.) Because it is the act that is sinful, not the attraction. But I’ve been told that it’s wrong to think of it as a disease. Although I no longer think of it so dogmatically, I disagree. It is a disease to the extent that all good-gone-wrong is disease. We are diseased people; we have an infection that eats us alive until we look up to the cross of Jesus for our healing.
Where does healing fit in with homosexuality? Can heterosexuality be restored? I heard a sermon on the topic a year or so ago. Mostly his perspective was that Christ can heal people from their gay-ness. I have no first-hand knowledge about whether it is possible. But I did read quite a bit about it in Jeff Chu’s book Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America. I read about Christians who, like theologian Henri Nouwen, know they have same-sex attraction but live a life of celibacy. I also read about a man and woman who decided to marry despite one of them experiencing same-sex attraction. These stories are so encouraging. These brothers and sisters are true heros of the faith, willing to struggle and overcome through Christ every day in way heterosexuals take for granted. Chu writes about others believers who have tried to be healed of it through ministries such as Exodus but have been unsuccessful.
I was really glad to see that Chu interviewed Jennifer Knapp. Ironically, that same year in college at Taylor University when there was a lot of public dialogue about homosexuality on campus, Jennifer Knapp performed a rather informal accoustic show in our dining commons. (Not sure why she was demoted to the cafeteria given her popularity on campus, but that’s how I remember it). Her album Kansas was a relatively new release. She had a big following at Taylor for her guitar-playing prowess as well as her powerful Christ-centric lyrics. Since then, I haven’t really stopped listening to that album except for a short time after she came out as a lesbian on Larry King Live in 2010. Honestly, I just didn’t want to think about every confession song she sings being about coming back to God after being with a woman. But why? Her songs might not be about that, but even if they are why should that bother me more than if it were other sin she was trying to let go of? She sings that she is guilty, righteous and unholy. It shouldn’t disgust me more than if she’s singing about gossiping. It shouldn’t make a difference to me but it did.
But then I got over it. The songs are too good, too universally soulful and true to dismiss. So now I listen to it again. I learned from Chu’s interview that though her lyrics sound like she is a mature Christian she is actually not. She became a Christian as a teenager around the same time she was launching her music career. She didn’t know a Christian music scene existed. She didn’t grow up in the church and lived a very loose lifestyle before becoming a Christian. That makes a difference in how we evaluate her coming out. I think a mature Christian homosexual could make celibacy work as a special calling. A baby Christian might not be able to do that.
So, more about the celibacy option. I know that’s easy for me to say as a married heterosexual. But maybe for those attracted to their own sex this is the highest calling–a unique and high calling from God. Getting back to Paul, just before he said we should marry so we don’t burn with passion, he also says in 1 Cor 7:7 that he wishes all men could be celibate like him and sees it as a gift from God. I’m not sure all people in all cultures–especially ones that don’t emphasize individuality, sexuality and the pursuit of happiness as much as ours–would see celibacy as something so crazy.
It is an issue of spiritual maturity. (See Hebrews 5: 11–14) Not everyone can handle the intense spriritual discipline that is required of celibacy. Aside from self-discipline, it requires true companionship with God. While some homosexual Christians couldn’t handle it, and require spiritual milk, some are ready for the spiritual food found in celibacy. A less-mature Christian might have to settle for being in a monogamous homosexual relationship because that is all he or she can handle. God knows what we are capable of “digesting” (to continue the analogy of Hebrews) and where we are and expects our best.
One topic I haven’t heard in reference to this issue is the picture of Christ and the church. Is this reason enough to preserve marriage as a man and woman? Is this image tainted if we recognize homosexual marriage? Some would argue that that visual image is already so far from the cultural context in which the Bible was written. Then, a betrothed woman would busily prepare in anticipation for the the day the bridegroom might come, because she didn’t know when it would be that he would call her to his side. Ray VanderLaan in his “Streams of Living Water” Bible study talks about how all the betrothed village maidens would see a suitor coming from a distance and wonder, “Is it my beloved? Is he coming for me today?” If you look at it in the cultural context of the day, it’s really so beautiful to think of us as the Church that way–waiting for our one true love to come for us to take us home to a place where we can be together forever.
Obviously our culture is far from that. We train our daughters to not sit around and wait for a man, but do some good for the world. Thankfully, we say, women have more options and things to do with their time, what with being literate and all. Most would agree gender equality is good progress, human rights. In the name of progress we have lost some of that image of Christ and his Church bride already. As time wears on it looks more and more like history than like a currently applicable analogy. Isn’t it interesting that more heterosexual couples want nothing to do with exchanging vows and so many gay couples are eagerly awaiting the day when they can.
And what about progress? Does God feel it is inherently good or bad? Either way it seems we are powerless to stop it. (“Seek the Lord while he may be found.” Is. 55:6) Women and minorites have restored dignity because of it. Lately gay marriage has been presented as a human rights issue like racial and gender equality. I’m not sure it’s fair to lump them all together. But is sex a human right?
Perhaps the only compromise for our American culture war over the issue lies in civil unions. That might work legally, but would get a bit more complicated for the Church. For example, would we adapt our language and say, “sex outside of marriage (or civil union) is wrong”? I’m not sure we can change God’s definition of adultery for Him. And yet we’ve tweaked our scriptures and hymns to be gender neutral to reflect progress. Also, there would have to be an understanding that gays weddings wouldn’t take place in a church. It would recognize the union but not create or endorse it.
If a person has a lying problem or issues with greed, he or she isn’t barred from marriage until he or she it under control. It might come up in pre-marriage counseling and it would be great to address how it will affect the marriage, but there’s an understanding that we all have our junk that we’re working on. On the other hand, the liar isn’t marrying the situations that cause him to lie, either. He is not vowing to love and cherish and remain faithful to what causes him to lie. But if a gay couple marries in a church there’s no chance for remaining celibate and the church is then responsible for creating a relationship outside of God’s design.
I think it’s appropriate for us church folk, even if we allow for gay marriage, to be saddened by it. It is a reminder that things aren’t as they should be. Aren’t there a lot of things in life that make a Christian sad because we see how far things are–and we are–from God’s best? With the blessing of Christ, could it be something we don’t applaud, but something we allow, such as divorce?
There are things that God tolerates and puts up with. Like polygamy (King Solomon). Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg in their book Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus write “Like a good parent giving one kind of rule to a four-year-old and another to a fourteen-yearold, God work[ed] within the limits of his people’s capacity to obey. In Genesis, for instance, God let Jacob marry two sisters, Leah and Rachel. Then in Leviticus, though not prohibiting polygamy, God said that a man should never marry a woman and her sister. Later, Jesus clarified things further. God’s ultimate disire, he said, was that one man should marry one woman for a lifetime. Instead of trying to transform his people overnight, God taught them in stages over the course of many centuries”. God provided direction specific to where people were in their spiritual walk with Him.
Sometimes God gives us what we ask and lets us learn from it. God wanted to be the Israelites’ only king, but he gave them Saul anyway after all their begging. So too with divorce (Matt.19). He makes allowances for us because He gets it. We serve a mighty and compassionate God who understands. What if we thought about homosexuality in the church in the way that we now do with divorce. The church has come to accept it over time; it has recognized that it is so hard and deeply personal and reaches out to the try to listen and relate to divorced Christians rather than condemn. Though we know God hates it (Mal. 2:16), there is really not much stigma in the church attached to divorce anymore.
How can we make rigid judgments on things that have to do with our brain, our physiological make-up, our past, our human story or just the way a person has always been? It’s daunting to think that we could even attempt it. How as a body of believers do we uphold God’s holiness and also show support and deep concern and love for those he made and went to hell to save? Only Jesus himself can do that perfectly. At its most basic, this is about how we interpret what Jesus’ love is. Can it criticize constructively? Or must it always overlook and accept? Our well-intended-but-still-flawed attempts to live out either interpretation polarizes us as we end up overemphasizing unconditional love or God’s holiness depending on our life experience and theological roots. We can’t get it quite right. With the help of the Holy Spirit, should we try?
What did Christ’s love look like? It included a message of repentance (Matt. 4:17) but maybe more so overarching themes of generous and boundless grace. Though we don’t have any stories of him addressing homosexuality we do have one about how he interacted with the Samaritan woman at the well who had multiple husbands and wasn’t married to the one she lived with. He brings up the subject, but doesn’t tell her to repent and doesn’t condemn her. He seems to really see her heart and have great compassion on this woman and instead tells her about his Living Water. Perhaps this is all the example we need in how to help individuals dealing sexual brokenness and sin.
Most people in the church would agree that the ideal union is between a man and a woman only. Most of us Born-Again types agree that this was God’s desire, His plan. But do we make allowances because on this side of heaven we have dual citizenship. Clearly this is not a nation that wants to please God so why should it behave like one? Maybe we should lower our expectations.
I’m told that in Germany a couple gets married in a court first and then if they choose to they may have a ceremony in a church. Maybe this is the best way to compromise for gay marriage. Gay or straight, all couples could go to court for the marriage license. If a heterosexual couple wants to be married in a church after that, then they should do that. I don’t believe gay wedding ceremonies should be performed in a church because it isn’t God’s best. And the clergy marrying a couple shouldn’t be put in that position to bless and approve what isn’t God’s design.
There is a lot the church can learn from Christians dealing with same-sex attraction. Those staying celibate are to be praised and encouraged for their devotion and sacrificial gift to God. They understand very well what it means to take up their crosses daily and follow Christ. They are sacrificing much for His sake.
Ultimately, I don’t believe this is an issue of salvation. I think a practicing gay can be saved. But we shouldn’t be trying to get away with as much as possible either. Christ knows our hearts and what we are capable of and expects our heartfelt obedience if we love Him. “To whom much is given much is required” a friend once told me. I leave you with Paul’s words that everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial (1 Cor. 6:12).