homosexuality and the church

I don’t enjoy writing on this topic, but I’ve heard recurring questions from Christians that seem important to address. Here are four questions, and what I think is a helpful response. I’ll answer two today and two more next week.

1. Why must the church make homosexuality an issue?

It hasn’t. The culture has made this an issue. I’m sure you can find a pastor somewhere who loves to preach damnation on homosexuals, but every church I know that is speaking publicly about homosexuality is simply responding to the culture’s increasingly aggressive assertions. No pastor I know was looking for this fight. All wish it would go away. They don’t wish any person would go away, just the sin.

Why doesn’t the church speak equally about the sins of gluttony or materialism? Well, we can always do better, but we do preach against these sins, especially materialism. In fact, in our fight against materialism we often overcorrect and leave Christians wondering how many earthly things they are allowed to possess (For an antidote to such false guilt that doesn’t fall off the other extreme into materialism, see Becoming Worldly Saints).

Why don’t we hear more about gluttony? Probably because there isn’t a national movement that condones the sin of gluttony, passes laws and declares judicial edicts that enshrine gluttony as an unassailable good, and requires us to applaud gluttony in all of its forms.

If the culture tried to force gluttony upon us, we would say more about it. As it is, our culture is waking up to the problem of gluttony—at least when it comes to food. When the First Lady encourages exercise and healthy eating, when the news includes recurring segments on healthy living, there is less need for the church to take a stand. We simply encourage our people to do what even their non-Christian neighbors are doing.

2. Why must conservative Christians be so divisive?

They’re not. Schism is a tragedy that must break all of our hearts. The church of Jesus Christ should not be divided. But as Trevin Wax wrote last week, it’s important to ask, Where is the division coming from?

Christians who support homosexual practice are not merely opposing conservative churches. They are opposing nearly every Christian who has ever lived, up until five minutes ago. No Christian church, East or West, Roman Catholic or Protestant, ever thought that Scripture might be okay with homosexual activity (a new book, Unchanging Witness, documents this fact).

It’s disingenuous to start a fight and then blame the other side for standing its ground. At least have the self-awareness to admit that while something has changed, it’s neither the Bible nor the Christians who follow it. You may think they are wrong to do so, but you can hardly blame them for the division.

The homosexual issue is tragically dividing the church. Christians who disagree about sex and marriage must inevitably disagree about the authority of Scripture, the nature of God, humanity, the church, and salvation. It is impossible for both sides to stay together. Each side may bear some responsibility for the division, but only one of them started it.

Photo by spatz_2011. Via Flickr. Used by permission.

20 Comments

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  1. Thanks, Mike. This is helpful, but could it be that the Church did start it by accepting the bullying of those whose sexual ethics deviate from those of Christ? May the vitriolic response be due to that? I never recall a church preaching against the bullying and mocking of those who have different sexual ethics. If the Church had, would we be facing the same type of wrath we are today? Just some questions from the corn stubble, Dave

    >

  2. Dave, you are right that we need to confess our former arrogance and lack of concern for the humanity of gay and transgender people. Absolutely. But I haven’t heard anything remotely like that in church in decades. I’m sure it still goes on in places, perhaps even in some presidential campaigns, but I doubt that not speaking out against bullying has led to where we are today. It may have contributed something, but I doubt that preaching against bullying in the 70s and 80s would have stopped our culture from pushing gay marriage. There are too many other more obvious causes.

  3. This is great, I love this … “It’s disingenuous to start a fight and then blame the other side for standing its ground.” Thanks, I’m really enjoying reading your blog posts! Keep it going.

  4. Elden Stielstra March 4, 2016 — 2:21 pm

    Well said. It is interesting how some want to let societal fades drive their exegesis. I don’t understand how they can break from centuries old doctrinal standards all because it might make someone feel less guilty about their life style. Augustine’s voice still holds true, “Love the sinner but hate the sin.”

  5. I’ve found it important to create a secular argument to supplement “the bible says so.” God need not explain himself, but in a culture that doesn’t accept his authority, I think the church needs to present a secular case.

  6. Yes. I assign students “What Is Marriage?” by George, Anderson, and Gergis. This is a very good attempt, but we need even more.

  7. Found an interesting article on lifeissues.net: “Five collections of Christian ethics were produced in the first three centuries. Three of them prohibit pederasty but none forbids homosexuality per se.”

  8. Another worthwhile title to add to your students’ reading list is another work by Ryan Anderson, *Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom* (Regnery Press, 2015). He actually started writing it prior to the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision last summer.

  9. You’re right, Bill. The early church was probably okay with it.

  10. Elden Stielstra March 4, 2016 — 5:36 pm

    Where do you find that the “century’s old church” ( Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, et al) were “OK with it?”
    At age 78 I can’t be that far out of the loop. Can I? Or should I have spent more time around the monetary?

  11. Sarcasm, Elden. I thought you knew my spiritual gift.

  12. Sarcasm from Dr. Wittmer? He never used to be that way …

  13. Elden Stielstra March 5, 2016 — 9:19 am

    You get that way over the years of by hanging out will sinners.

  14. Elden Stielstra March 5, 2016 — 9:20 am

    Sorry. I’ll try again. You get that way over the years by hanging out with sinners.

  15. Thanks for this timely post, Doc. My sister and I were just discussing this last night. Our uncle is a bishop, and yet also an adamant supporter of gay marriage. He maintains that Franklin Graham is not helping the kingdom through mission work anymore, because of his “homophobic” stance. All sins are sins to God. My gluttony or lust or sloth is not better than another person’s homosexuality. But to accept the gay agenda, which is clearly not biblically supported, just so that we aren’t perceived as “bigots” and “haters”, is disingenuous, to me. I think Allistair Begg had a good sermon on this recently. He asked, do we want to be hated in the short term, and loved for eternity, or loved here now, and despised for eternity for not proclaiming the truth when it could have helped someone? I think I’d rather be a villain for Christ.

  16. Look! I read it, and even liked, like, more than 50% of it!

    Question: Is it fair to say hermeneutics have changed, particularly since (what I’m going to dramatically call) the rise of science? What I mean is do you think both sides of the Church in this argument are reading Scripture through lenses shaped by the scientific mindset? The “pro” side is saying, “Scripture is one of many pieces of evidence,” and the “con” side is saying, “Look through all of Scripture – there is not one bit of evidence in support of gay marriage”? Because if both sides are reading inductively – one side reading what we might call “lived experience” of which Scripture is a part, and the other side reading Scripture only – then maybe we should back up and ask about that.

  17. I don’t think I worded my last comment well. I know you know all about the various lenses used to read Scripture. I was just wondering out loud. Blah blah blah…

  18. Thanks for reading it Lois. I think this is much more than hermeneutics, as many on the pro side have acknowledged. They know what the Bible says and agree that it is clear. They just don’t want to do it. So this is really about authority.

    I didn’t see myself or most informed Christians in the options you presented. The choice isn’t between elevating experience above Scripture or reading Scripture only. The right way is to read Scripture through the lens of tradition, reason, and then experience. Scripture is our final authority but it’s not our only authority–we learn how to read Scripture from the creeds, councils, then church fathers (don’t mean to exclude here, just can’t bring myself to say church parents), and as you say, by practicing sound hermeneutics.

    In sum, the pro side has everything going for it (Scripture, tradition, biology) except popular culture. That should tell us something. If this really is about hermeneutics and I’m reading my Bible incorrectly on this point, then I will stop reading any book because I clearly do not know how to do it.

  19. “They know what the Bible says and agree that it is clear. They just don’t want to do it.” I believe this is unfair. There are people who believe the Bible proscribes homosexuality but just don’t want to follow that proscription. However, there are many who believe the scriptures were not referring to the full range of same-sex behavior we might today think just reading the words in English without looking at the meanings in the original culture and language. They believe the activities proscribed are generally activities which large numbers of people who favor same sex marriage would agree are objectionable – activities which are clearly exploitative – not consensual, covenantal same-sex relationships (which they generally believe are not addressed scripture). Those interpretations are controversial, but certainly not everyone who believes same sex marriages are moral thinks that the Bible proscribes them.

  20. We hear arguments like this again and again, but Paul is really clear in Romans 1:26-29. That’s being generous, and leaving the Old Testament out of it. “But Jesus never said!” I hear that, too. John 21:25 covers that. The bottom line is, the Bible says homosexuality is wrong. I would like to read something else, too, but I can’t.

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