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Is Gay Good?

The closet doors are wide open these days; homosexuals are stepping out, asking for our acceptance.

I understand their desire to be accepted. The heart of the homosexual condition is the human condition–a deep loneliness, a search for identity and a normal and natural longing for unconditional affection. As Frank O’Hara said, “I am the least difficult of men: All I want is boundless love.”

We owe all men and women love. However, love is not incompatible with moral standards. Gay is not good and we do gays no good when we say that it is. Homosexuality inveighs against biblical and traditional notions of human sexuality and marriage–the fundamental social concept of one man and one woman together for life–and it can only result in final tragedy.

Homosexuality is no more wrong than any other sin. When it comes right down to it, there’s no fundamental difference between any of us. Only the incident of temptation is different. Given the right incentive we all fail–voluntarily and repeatedly. Bad habits develop, gather strength and eventually enslave us. If God were to unilaterally and comprehensively judge sin, who could stand?

But still, we must say that homosexuality is wrong and despite the media blitz and the tide of public opinion we must stand against it. As followers of Christ we have no alternative.

The current debate One problem with the current debate is that it’s impossible to have a reasonable debate. Those who express even the slightest uneasiness about homosexual practices are dismissed as homophobes. On one NBC special, Maria Shriver explained all opposition away by concluding, “It all comes down to fear.”

Opposition to gays and gay rights, however mild, is equated with racism and bigotry. Hugh Downs, the host of ABC’s 20/20, recently used his commentary to compare those who express anti-gay sentiments to the Ku Klux Klan. Scott Simon, the host of NBC’s Today Show compared those involved in Oregon’s anti-gay rights initiative with Hitler’s Nazis, describing the wording of the initiative as “language which some leaders of Oregon’s Jewish community recognize and revile.”

Gay advocates take the higher ground–they’re the kinder, gentler, truly tolerant folks. They portray homosexuals as a legitimate minority compared to blacks and Jews. The issue is civil rights, a cause much like the struggle for equal rights by ethnic minorities. Those who express discomfort with that position, who sincerely believe that homosexuality has to do with behavior, are characterized as hate-mongers: intolerant, repressed, racist bigots who get their kicks from bashing gays.

I find that even Christians are confused on this matter. Our minds have been muddled by the media. We, of all people, ought to be known by our love. What can we say to those who charge us with bigotry and prejudice when we say gay is not good? Where do we stand when gay Christian activists and so-called biblical scholars are telling us that gay is good, claiming that Paul, Jonathan and other biblical paragons were homosexual. Some even suggest that Jesus’ single state and all-male apostolic company imply that he was gay. So we ask: What are we supposed to believe?

The place to begin is with the scriptures to which our Lord himself was subject. They are our final court of appeal.

Genesis 19:1-10 There are several passages that bear on this subject. One is the story of the infamous Sodom:

The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.” “No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.” But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom–both young and old–surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” “Get out of our way,” they replied. And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door (Genesis 19:4-10). Moses describes Sodom as exceedingly wicked–“sinners before the Lord” (Gen. 13:13). The Hebrew idiom is literally, “sinners in the face of the Lord,” suggesting blatant, high-handed rebellion. (In your face, God!) One aspect of their resistance to God’s will is singled out: wide-spread homosexual practices. The men of Sodom have been historically linked with homosexuality, so much so that the term sodomy is equivalent to homosexuality. However in recent years there has been a studied effort to deny that the Sodomites were characterized by sodomy.

Some years ago, author Sherwin Bailey, in a book entitled Homosexuality and Western Christian Tradition, attempted to overturn the traditional interpretation of this passage by insisting that the demand to “know” the strangers was merely a desire to get better acquainted with them. He suggested that Lot, a comparative new-comer to Sodom, had breached their etiquette by housing the two strangers without being fully aware of their credentials. Bailey argued that the word “know” in this context merely means “to know” and has no sexual connotation. He points out that of 943 occurrences of “know” in the Old Testament in only fourteen passages does it refer to sexual intercourse.

This is a remarkable bit of exegesis ignoring as it does a fundamental rule of interpretation, namely that context determines meaning. The Hebrew word “to know” occurs only 14 times in the book of Genesis and in 10 of those occurrences it clearly refers to sexual intercourse.

More importantly, in the near context, the word is used with respect to Lot’s presumably more attractive offer to swap his daughters for the strangers. He argues that they are virgins–they have not “known” a man (Gen. 19:18). Clearly here some sort of sexual encounter is envisioned.

Gay advocates also allude to a passage in Ezekiel that refers to the Sodomites as being merely inhospitable (Ezekiel 16:48). Their sin, they say, was that they treated strangers with grave disrespect, a serious sin in a Semitic society. But the text is not that simplistic: While it is true that Ezekiel indicts the Sodomites for their lack of hospitality he also insists that they committed “abominations” before God, using a Hebrew word that means “shameful”–the word that is applied to homosexual practices elsewhere in the Old Testament (Cf. Lev. 18:22; 20:13). It is for that reason God “removed” Sodom (Ezek. 16:50).

The last word on this subject is Jude’s: “Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them…indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, (and) are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7).

Leviticus 18:22 Do not lie with a man (Heb: zakar–male) as one lies with a woman; that is detestable (Heb: to`ebah–an abomination, something shameful). The Hebrew of this text is very precise: It envisions two males engaging in a sex act and defines the practice as shameful. The background of this verse is the Lord’s instruction to Moses: “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees (Lev. 18:1-5).

This was preparation for life in Canaan where every conceivable form of sexual expression was permissible. This portion of the law occurs in the so-called Holiness Code and delineates the ways in which Israel was to be different from the nations. It prohibits incest (18:6-18); sexual aggression (18:19), adultery (18:20), child prostitution (18:21) homosexuality (18:22)

and bestiality (18:23), because these practices would defile God’s people.

Some have sought to evade the implications of this verse by saying that the law no longer binds us. This is true. We’re not bound by the Old Covenant, but by the New. However, the New Testament provides the inspired interpretation and explication of the Old. It leads us to set some portions of the Old Testament aside (The civil and ceremonial laws, for example); others are brought over intact and restated in the New Testament. In this case, as we shall see, the New Testament reiterates the Old Testament teaching that homosexuality is sin.

Others have thought to work around this text by insisting that Moses is only condemning rape, cult prostitution or, in another variation, illicit homosexual affairs. They argue that Moses is silent about homosexual “marriage” and long-term, loving commitment.

But that won’t wash unless we’re prepared to say that incest, sexual brutality, adultery and pederasty are equally acceptable as long as they are practiced in a context of love and commitment. Few would be inclined to go that far.

Romans 1,26,17

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. The argument of this passage begins in verse 18 where Paul asserts that God’s wrath is revealed against ungodliness by permitting men and women to do what they please. One aspect of that terrible freedom is same-sex unions. Paul labels such activity “unnatural,” which does not mean that homosexual orientations necessarily feels unnatural. (Some gays would say that their sexual preference seems quite natural.) No, by “unnatural” Paul means that homosexual behaviors are against the nature of God’s created order and are an indication of the lengths to which men and women will go when they let go of God. Homosexuality is not the worst sin. It is merely the most degrading thing that one can do to his or her body.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. Here’s an ugly list of sins in which we all can find ourselves. This passage clearly teaches that those who continue in a settled course of sin, without repentance, will not inherit the Kingdom of God, i.e. they cannot call themselves Christians.

Some have argued that taking this list literally disqualifies all of us, but this overlooks the biblical distinction between those who struggle against sin and those who pursue a course of willful rebellion. It’s the latter Paul has in mind here: “The sin (one) dwells in, those pervading his thoughts and ruling his conduct. His present live sins. The sins he keeps doing and will not give up. Those he is called to abandon but cleaves to” (George MacDonald).

Two words in this list are significant: “male prostitutes” and “homosexual offenders.” Some argue that the words translated “male prostitutes” (malakos) and “homosexual offenders” (arsenokites) only refer to cult prostitution or illicit, casual, sexual unions, but the terms simply don’t have that limiting force. The primary meaning of malakoi in Greek literature is “soft to the touch,” and lexicographers see this as a reference to the passive partner in a homosexual relationship (like Nero’s boy, Sporus, whom he married as his wife). The other term, arsenokoitis, literally means “men in bed” and was the general word used throughout the ancient world for a homosexual. Lexicologists Arndt and Gingrich translate, “a male homosexual, pederast, sodomite.” It’s the word used in the Septuagint, an very early Greek translation of the Old Testament, in the text above–Leviticus 18:22; 20:13. (Cf. 1 Timothy 1:9-11 for a similar list of sins in which arsenokoitis occurs.)

In summary Most exegetes, who are not themselves homosexuals or gay advocates, conclude that homosexual acts are sinful by their very nature. “Only towering cynicism can pretend that there is any doubt about what the Scriptures say about homosexuality… The Scriptures throughout, in a variety of cultural and historical contexts spanning some 1500 years, teach uniformly that homosexuality is contrary to the divine will” (Michael Ukleja). Throughout scripture homosexuality is assumed to be unnatural–a rejection of God’s created intention for men and women.” It denies and defies God’s fundamental order.

Sex and marriage in the Bible For myself, however, there is more conclusive argument: It has to do with the fundamental issue of human sexuality and the purpose for which God created the sexes. For this we must go back to the beginning–to the first two chapters of Genesis.

There are two verses that are important to understand:

God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27). For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame (Genesis 2:24).

God’s word brought the universe into being as a habitat for the human race. Then he created Adam, the first man, and put him in the place that he had prepared for him. But he noted that Adam was lonely. “It is not good that man should be alone,” he mused to himself. Having established Adam’s need for a partner, the search for a suitable one began. God brought all the animals by and Adam proceeded to name them “with reference to him, as the Hebrew idiom puts it, symbolizing the unique place each would have in his life. But, for Adam, no suitable partner was found and so a special creation was necessary: He made a woman for him. And so the sexes were differentiated. In summary, “Male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).

Why male and female? The answer follows in Chapter 2: “For this reason (because of this unique creation) a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame (Genesis 2:24).

“They became one flesh.” The sexes were made for love and love-making and that enjoyment of one another is envisioned in the context of a heterosexual, monogamous love relationship: one man and one woman, loving one another for life, bearing children and raising them in the fear of the Lord. That’s the original match. John Stott puts it this way:

A fact needs explanation, namely the extremely powerful drive of the sexes to each other. Whence comes this love “strong as death” (Song of Songs 8:6)

and stronger than the tie to one’s parents, whence this inner clinging to one another, this drive toward each other which does not rest until until it again becomes one flesh in the child? It comes from the fact that God took woman from man, that they actually were one flesh. Therefore, they must come together again and thus by destiny they belong to each other. Scripture defines marriage in terms of heterosexual monogamy. It is the union of one man with one woman, which must be publicly acknowledged (the leaving of parents), permanently sealed (he will “cleave to his wife”) and physically consummated (“one flesh”). And Scripture envisions no other kind of marriage or sexual intercourse for God has provided no alternative (John Stott, Homosexual Partnerships? Why Same-Sex Relationships Are Not a Christian Option, InterVarsity Press, p. 16,17). In summary, the only “one flesh” (sexual) experience that the Bible recognizes is the sexual union of a man and his wife. In that exclusive relationship no shadow of shame or embarrassment will ever be cast. Every sexual relationship or act that deviates from that norm, then, is ipso facto wrong. This includes, pornography, fornication, adultery, polygamy, polyandry, bestiality and homosexuality.

What does Jesus have to say? Gay Christian activists are quick to point out that Jesus had nothing to say about homosexuality. That’s true, if they are thinking of specific reference. However, Jesus accepted the full authority of the Old Testament and unconditionally accepted the teaching of Genesis 1 and 2 that the only sexual expression sanctioned by God is between a man and a woman in a permanently sealed marriage union. He agreed with it and commented upon it: “`Haven’t you read,’ he replied, `that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).

Jesus proscribed homosexuality by prescribing exclusive heterosexual marriage. For Him, there were only two options: heterosexual monogamy or celibacy. (He chose celibacy.)

What then shall we do? We must be willing to repent of our own sin. The sins in 1 Corinthians 6 should end harsh, simplistic condemnation of homosexual persons. God does not grade on a curve. Homosexual sins are not in a special category meriting our hatred and disgust. To be Christians we must regard as sin all that God regards as sin.

We must continue the classic Christian response to sin: we must love the sinner even as we hate the sin. Jesus never condoned sin, but he was ever and always the friend of sinners (Luke 7:34). We must offer compassion for the AIDs victim even as we speak to the behavior that is responsible for his disease. We must always speak the truth in love.

We must speak the truth in love, but we must speak the truth. In the midst of our culture’s addled and confused notion of tolerance–a tolerance that demands that we accept homosexuality as a legitimate life-style–we must draw the line. As Chesterton pointed out: “Morality is like art: it consists of drawing a straight line”

We must speak the truth despite the sympathetic argument that homosexuality is not chosen or learned but inborn–the result of genetic or biological factors beyond one’s control. The evidence is not good, however, certainly not conclusive, though the media treats the studies as though they were. Scientists who have reviewed at the raw data tell us the research is seriously flawed.

But even if the evidence becomes conclusive that some homosexuality is genetically determined it must not deter us from standing against it. There are other inborn tendencies and predispositions which society restrains those for the common good. What about the alcoholic who is destroying his life and endangering the lives of others? The “I-can’t-help-myself argument doesn’t hold up there.

It’s a simple fact that the life span of homosexual males is now less than half of the normal life expectancy projected for heterosexual males. In some states AIDs is the number one killer of men. And it can only get worse. According to recent surveys most homosexuals still engage in extremely risky behavior, even in the face of AIDs, Hepatitis B and other sexually transmitted diseases.

But far more significant is what homosexuality and every violation of God’s order does to one’s soul: Researchers have conclusively documented that gays have much higher rates of depression, suicide attempts and substance abuse than the general population. Is it right to say nothing to their condition?

Change is possible. You’ve heard it said that homosexuals cannot change their orientation. This is simply not true. Every study reports some success, ranging from 30 percent to 60 percent. In a curious form of logic, however, opponents use the lowest cure rates to prove that no cure is possible.

Change is difficult, but in the context of God’s grace no one is hopeless; no one has yet out-sinned the grace of God. Paul wrote to his friends in Corinth and reminded them: “And that (homosexual) is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:13).

But it is only those who cry out, “God, be merciful to me a sinner,” who go home justified (Luke 18:13). God has never yet despised a broken and contrite heart (Ps. 51:17).

“Sin is dark, dangerous, damnable,” F. B. Meyer wrote, “but it cannot staunch the love of God; it cannot change the fact of a love that is not of yesterday, but dates from eternity itself. The only thing that can really hurt the soul is to keep its confession pent up within itself. If only with stuttering, broken utterance it dares to cry, ‘Be merciful to me the sinner, for the sake of the blood that was shed,’ it instantly becomes white as snow on the Alpine peaks; pure and as the waters of mid-ocean, which the stain of the great city cannot spoil; transparent as the blue ether which is the curtain of the tabernacle of the Most High.”

God does not scorn us when we have fallen. He discerns the possibilities even in our defilement. He uses our sin to awaken our need for his grace, he softens us and makes us more susceptible to his shaping. When we fall we have fallen into his hands.

“The… remedy,” C.S. Lewis said, “is really and truly to believe in the forgiveness of sins. A great deal of our anxiety to make excuses comes from not really believing in it: from thinking that God will not take us to Himself again unless He is satisfied that some sort of case can be made out in our favour. But that would not be forgiveness at all. Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, that sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness; and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.”

We must all accept God’s offer of forgiveness and move on. Sin may have consequences with which we must live for the rest of our natural lives, but sin repented of, can only work for ultimate good. God takes the worst that we have do and makes it part of the good he has promised to do. He’s the God of failures; the God of another chance. Etiam peccatis (Even from my sins),” wrote Augustine, “God can draw good.”

This is what God calls grace. “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me…”

David Roper Idaho Mountain Ministries

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