I have elected to write this post so I can bring people back to this who may not have considered the issue in this light. If you landed here via a link, I pray that you will take the time to read this and prayerfully consider what I am saying. I’m willing to dialogue with you if you have any questions.
Let me start by saying that I do understand this issue. I have worked inside of the local church in various leadership capacities for 25 years. As I have matured in the faith, my position on this subject has evolved to where it is today. I also have many very dear friends and relatives who are homosexuals AND who are people of tremendous faith. Being a Christian and a homosexual are not mutually exclusive as so many seem to believe.
This may end up being a long post, but in the end I desire to make a convincing argument for Christian people to be affirming and embrace their homosexual brothers and sisters. We need to mature past the “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach that is anything but loving. I believe there is such a thing as sexual immorality, but homosexuality is not synonymous. It took me more than a decade of examining EVERY SINGLE TEXT IN SCRIPTURE and trusting what it said (authority) to get me away from my anti-gay upbringing. I hope others will consider how I got here.
Once the issue is boiled down, the issue is not homosexuality, the issue is authority. Those who tote an extremely strict line, do so because of their conviction that the scripture (God’s word) is explicit with regard to homosexual conduct and therefore the subject is not open for debate. They see those who contextualize passages that refer to homosexuality as skirting the issue, or as trying to avoid submitting to a biblical worldview. In their view, you can either have God’s word, or you can have an inclusive view of homosexuality, but you can’t have both.
Keep in mind that biblical authority is what convinced people that non-whites were second class citizens. It has convinced people that women are hierarchically lower than men and inferior to men. It is authority that creates groups like the KKK and countless other dehumanizing cults, or bizarre religious practices, or crusades and wars. Authority simply gives our racial, economic, political and religious biases power. Lots of power. If the desire is for God’s word to be the authority, then it is extremely crucial to do our best to carefully interpret those words, in light of all that was said in the book. In other words, we can’t highlight a few texts if the overarching meta narrative is not saying the same thing. It’s not easy to do, and no one is perfect at this. So the end result is that we do our best and our findings should foster healthy conversation.
This highlights an important point that has to be made, namely, that the “how” a person thinks is sometimes far more of a problem than the “what” the person thinks. A person who thinks in black and white terms, who subscribes to the notion that God’s word (printed in English of course) is binding on all people, is much harder to convince, not because of “what” (as in bible verses they believe) but because of the “how” (black & white, dualistic, in or out categories). Until a person matures and is honest enough with the fact that some things are not that simple, they will never approach things with the required nuances that Godly wisdom actually provides.
So I will approach this subject by viewing it through the following lenses.
- The “how” vs “what” approach to thinking and biblical truth.
- The issue of authority and whether a person truly has a biblical worldview.
- Practical implications of most religious beliefs and how they relate. (divorce, monogamy, etc…)
- The goal of Christianity.
The “HOW vs WHAT”
In my doctoral thesis I go into great detail about the difference between how and what people think. I summarize it in my book “Getting Better When You Can’t” . In short, a person who is taught and reinforced to think in black and white terms is not using higher critical reasoning skills. In all of our development we each go through a necessary stage where black and white, either/or thinking teaches us the rules. It gives us parameters for acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. This is normal and good when we are young. There are also places where this kind of thinking is still required and necessary, but as we enter a diverse and nuanced world, if we lack the ability to see reason through things, we end up with few categories for understanding things. It is the amount of categories that a person possesses that tells us how mature their thinking is.
A child has fewer categories. Therefore they cannot make sense of certain things. Adults who think in black and white will try and put things into simple categories without doing the work of thinking through the implications. This means that when you talk religion or politics with some people, it usually devolves into an argument or a fight so long as they lack the categories into which they can put NOVEL information. The only way to change this is to have ones perspective widened to include categories they didn’t before. Most people don’t or won’t do this until they are motivated by love (not force, duty, or allegiance ) to do so. You will not understand cancer until you or a family member go through it. You will not understand homosexuality either.
Black and white thinking is dualistic. One thing is good, the opposite thing is bad. It stems mostly from Platonic thought which deemed the physical world as bad and the spiritual world as good. Much of modern Christianity has adopted Platonic dualism into their systems of thought. Nancy Pearcey gives a great treatment of this in her book “Total Truth”. While many Christians are getting away from dualism, as Richard Rohr would say, many are still followers of Plato rather than Jesus who came to show us how to think in a non-dualistic way. The issue of homosexuality, closely follows these dualistic thinking tendencies. Those who lack a non-dual consciousness are the most adamant in their stance against homosexuality.
I don’t make this point to be insulting to those who hold strong convictions based on scripture against homosexuality. This is not just an intellectual jab saying, if you aren’t pro gay, then your a backward thinking person. My goal, rather, is to highlight this very real tendency because it does influence how we view scripture and other issues. Incidentally, this platonic dualism is found not just in religions, but in many aspects of academics, business, sports, the arts, and in politics. This is not a punch at religious fundamentalists, it is a statement that much of our modern world is still growing and developing, and many are still aligned with narrower ways of thinking. This makes communication about any subject a challenge, so its helpful to be mindful of where we are on the spectrum.
Authority and a “Biblical” world view
I used to serve as the Executive Pastor of a church in Denver that focused on giving people a biblical world view. I know first hand what it is like to live and work and operate within institutions that strive very, very hard to not only know the scripture, but to carefully and accurately interpret it and contextualize it for a modern world. I’ve read the bible more than 40 times. I’ve studied it in its original languages, I hold a PhD in Christian ethics from a very reformed institution. I say all this so you know that I have skin in the game. I know the science of hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) and I know how to contextualize to a modern world.
While these credentials might validate me within the circles of modern Christian thought, they almost certainly invalidated me when I tried to speak to the modern culture. In fact, it wasn’t until I left the organized Sunday church delivery system that I realized that the biggest hinderance to my message in the world wasn’t my content, but the fact that it was coming from INSIDE the cultural institution. I was playing a game of RED ROVER, RED ROVER with the city and few would come over. In the arena of homosexuality, the gay community is obviously skeptical of any church that isn’t openly inclusive and affirming. While I have always had a very pro-gay disposition, I found myself outside the norm within the church because those inside saw themselves as aligning themselves with the “Word of God.” How is this possible? Two people who are committed to scripture who have two completely opposite views. I remember taking my family to Pride Fest after church one day which sparked a big fight among us elders. Some thought I was in sin, I thought the church was in sin for not having a booth there.
So I began to prove to people, just as I will right now, that even the most staunch believer is at best only a partial believer in what the bible says. In other words, people don’t actually live by what the bible says as much as they want to think they do.
Most people start with Leviticus 18:22, “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman, it is an abomination.” For most, this is unarguable authority against male to male conduct. It’s black and white. For those who hold to this, I simply ask them to uphold all of Levitical law. To date, not one single person has ever been WILLING to do so. In fact, most will pick and choose which levitical laws will apply to them. For example:
- When they have mold in their bathrooms, most use bleach instead of calling a Jewish priest. (Lev 14:38)
- When their wife or daughter is menstruating, they do not kick them out of the bed, couch, chairs for seven days. (Lev 15:19)
- How does such a person justify getting a tattoo given the explicit, black and white teaching of Lev 19:28?
- What about eating lobster, pork, and other deli items. Can’t do it.
- When was the last time you celebrated the festival of booths?
My point is easily being made here. If you are to tenaciously hold to the English version of the words on the page and call them the “Word of God”, then do it. But do all the words, not just some. The reason people can be anti-gay yet still have a tattoo is because the culture has adopted tattoos and not gays. This is not about what the Bible says, because they freely ignore countless verses in the bible. Those pastors and bible teachers who have tattoos (I’m one of them) understand the difference between the essence of the law and the letter of the law. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:6 that the letter of the law kills us but the spirit of the law gives us life. This is a vital New Testament perspective that Jesus taught that was designed to liberate all people (Jews and Gentiles alike) from the ineffective black and white issues of the law. If the founder of the New Covenant gives us a pass on levitical code, then he gave us a pass. We cannot look to the Old Testament for a justification against homosexuality.
We must adopt a perspective that is alignment with the teachings of Jesus and Paul. This doesn’t mean we ignore Old Testament theology, remember, Jesus said he came to fulfill the law not to abolish it. But it does mean that we now are given a wider category into which we can put the teaching of OT scripture. According to the writer of Hebrews, we don’t have to live according to the written law, because we are now under a new covenant of living by faith. This means that each person lives in accordance to their own conviction, not according to a universal edict. Romans 14:5 says that when it comes to laws, each one of us should be convinced in our own mind how to respond to the laws. Some will be more strict than others. That’s OK. This means some pastors would never feel comfortable with a tattoo, while others have the freedom to garner an entire sleeve. When it comes to homosexuality, some will feel uncomfortable with it while others will not have the least bit of doubt about it.
Another vital point needs to be made about how we interpret scripture. This is vital prior to our getting into Paul and the New Testament teaching about homosexuality.
First off, there is nothing in scripture about an internal combustion engine. The reason is that this wasn’t even fathomable during that time. The scripture could not speak to the scientific advances that had not yet come. It was only capable of speaking to what was. This means that the biblical perspective reflects the worldview of its writers. This doesn’t diminish its ability to communicate profound, lasting and timeless truth, but it does mean we must qualify what is being said in light of the context it was written. It wasn’t written to modern people as some read it, it was written to a very distant ancient people who shared a very different worldview. At an essence level, people are still the same, at a cultural level, we couldn’t be more different.
Therefore, we have to get good with the notion that the bible may not be saying what we think or what we have been taught it is saying. We cannot be overly dogmatic about what we read. We can and should use it for nuances and hints at our character but as far as conduct goes, we need to be careful. If we don’t, we will conclude really quickly that no woman should ever speak in church, and that they are saved by making babies (1 Tim 2:12-15). Our muslim brothers and sisters may have a culture that is closer in proximity to that of the biblical worldview, but does that make it right? Is allegiance to the past the path forward? Isn’t that regressive thinking? Show me one church today that teaches women are saved by reproduction. This may have been the worldview of Paul, but our world is different now. We are well beyond the idea of hierarchies. Women and men are different but equal. We compliment each other not rule over each other. In fact the ruling over each other is evidence that we have not grasped the teaching of Jesus nor the law of love, and have instead adopted a letter that kills.
I bring this passage to the forefront because in the same way that salvation through childbearing misses the point of Paul’s letter to Timothy, so does his admonishment of homosexuality along with the junk drawer of other things he sees as bad. Just because Paul sees women as 2nd class citizens doesn’t mean we should too. Just because he sees homosexuals as equivalent to liars, doesn’t mean they actually are. We can get the gist of what Paul is saying, without being punitive or judgmental toward those who have same sex attraction. All of us can actually subscribe entirely to the goodness of his message while living either a homosexual or heterosexual lifestyle and without diminishing our women.
This can and does apply for most of Paul’s teaching. The Bible can still be a guide for moral living today, but it need not be representing the only available worldview. Most of scripture is “indicative” (tells us what IS) and only a small part is “imperative” (tells us what to DO). The Greek helps us clarify which is which. If we get these wrong we jack up the whole message. Do we really need to go back to ancient views of women, minorities, and homosexuality in order to fully uphold the essence of morality and the message of liberation and faith found in scripture? I think not.
Lastly, on authority I’d like to make a point that the bible doesn’t say what people think it says. For example, the bible doesn’t prohibit polygamy. It doesn’t necessarily prohibit pre-marital sex as our modern Christian culture does. The bible is explicit in its warning against sexual immorality but that definition is both wider and narrower than what most Christians want to believe. I know for some, I’m on shaky ground here, but try and hear me out.
While I don’t fully agree with the application in his book, I do agree with the hermeneutics and trajectory of Philo Thelos’ work entitled “Divine Sex.” My PhD dissertation was entitled “Hamartiology and the Church, an examination of Porneia” (hamartiology means sin, Porneia is the Greek word for sexual immorality). The point here is that if we exhaustively examine the scriptures (which I did in this work) within the context of their original culture and language, we discover something very different than modern Christian culture. In essence, we are free to do far more than we imagine, but not all things are actually profitable to us. Paul says all things are lawful, but not all things are helpful (1 Cor 6:12). He means ALL THINGS. The focus is that each person is to know and apply the law of love to all things sexual or otherwise. If we do this, we never violate another. We never take from another. We never are self seeking with another, and so on. (1 Cor 13, Luke 10:27).
This means the guidelines for sexual purity are not external but internal (Mark 7;14-21). When i was in college studying to be a minister I was taught that virginity was the only way to please God. So instead of having intercourse, I would have all kinds of “outercourse”. So long as my penis didn’t enter a vagina I was not having sex. Its the sort of Bill Clinton approach to Christian dating. Was I sexually pure? When I saw a girl whose body I’d covet, and I’d date her so I could get her naked and have outercourse with her and then move on to another, was I upholding the law of love? Of course not.
This is my point. Many of our religious cultural ideas are externally measured, not internally measured. It points to our immaturity in the faith. It’s the same for homosexuality. If I ask, “What exactly is it that makes homosexuality wrong?”, then we can get at this. If you say because God said so, then I will refer you back to the beginning of this section.You are being black and white. If you say it’s male on male sex. then I’ll ask if it is the oral or anal sex? If you say both, then I’ll have to ask if either oral or anal sex is permissible in a heterosexual marriage? Most say the marriage bed is undefiled (Heb 13:4). If so, then why would it be ok to stick your penis in a woman’s butt rather than a mans? If oral sex is forbidden then how many heterosexual relationships are in trouble, especially those who are saving themselves for their marriage? See my point. Is the problem then the love between two men? Didn’t Jonathan love David in a deep way? (1 Sam 18:3). It’s not black and white. The issue is NOT homosexuality, it is sexual immorality. They are different!
It can only mean that the bad thing about homosexuality is the same thing that is bad about heterosexuality, namely, that if we engage at all sexually, and we do so outside the law of love, then we sin against, one another, ourselves, and our Maker. While this internal focus may mean that some things are permissible that we used to think forbidden, we will soon discover that actually acting in a sexually pure way is far more difficult than we thought and it is not something we can do when we are immature in our faith. Thus almost all sexual expression, even when it is in marriage is likely immoral. (You didn’t see that one coming did you) The freedom comes with maturity. It’s a hard pill to swallow if you would rather have someone tell you a black and white rule to follow.
You see, the nuances begin to bubble to the surface once we widen our understanding. As we widen our understanding, we begin to see that scripture is still very much an authority, though not in the way it is typically or culturally understood and applied. This gives me tremendous hope for the future as we reacquaint people with a message that liberates and empowers them. In the bible this was called the good news or the gospel. (Isaiah 61, Luke 4).
Goal of Christianity
If you are straight, can you imagine what it must be like to be told that the only way you can please God and go to heaven is to marry and mate with a person of the same sex or as an alternative you can please God by living without loving another? That is the sad reality of the church’s message for many gay people today. The implications for missing the message of scripture and applying an external, black and white definition to people is that Christianity is being abandoned by many people in our modern culture. Well, in reality they are not abandoning real Christianity, they are abandoning fundamentalism, and I can’t blame them.
Sadly, we have turned Christianity into its own alternative religion, which was not the goal of its founder. Jesus came to complete Judaism not eradicate Judaism. In the same way the Christian principals of spirituality, and raising a non-dual consciousness are not there to argue against other religions, but to complete them as well and bring them into a broader understanding and awareness of who God is and how he is to relate to his people, for the sole purpose of bringing the world together in love and peace under the amazing power and influence of the cosmic Christ. This isn’t so radical if we know the scripture. It sounds weird if we have concluded that Christianity is the only real religion and conversion to it is the only access to God. While this is common in modern times, it is not the essence of scripture.
A life of faith in God, via the path of humility and even suffering is and always will be the way to God. For he opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). The work of the cosmic Christ has been bringing people through this journey of humiliation, suffering and renewal since the first atom ever existed. We are told that the Christ power inspired Abraham and his faith (Hebrews 11) along with many others. How is this possible? He wasn’t a Christian. If Abraham can be in heaven, then so can anyone who walks this path even if they have never heard the name of Jesus.
Just because the church has constructed a salvation delivery system, doesn’t mean that the work of Christ will be required to follow it. Scripture says that many do the work of Christ and don’t even know they are doing it (Matt 25:44), while at the same time those who are most engaged in religious activities are those who God ultimately says he doesn’t even know (Matt 7:21).
We all journey this path of suffering and dying and sacrifice in order for rebirth and renewal. It is the messianic story being retold in every atom of the universe. Each person pays tribute to this Christ story countless times in their life and they may not even know his name. This means we all carry burdens, and crosses that are put there by God to bring us into himself, or unto our greatest self found in our Creator. For the homosexual, they do not choose their same sex attraction. It is given by God as one instrument he will use to bring about their greatest self. For others God may use tragedy, or disease, or loss, or any myriad of things. At first we see these as bad things to be avoided, but later, as we mature, we are eternally grateful to them because of what they have made us to be. Every rock cries out to this amazing Christ story and every life is a testimony to it. In one sense, every knee has bowed and every tongue is confessing.
We should be affirming of every single person’s cross regardless of what it is. That is what love does. We should move away from thinking of these things as pointless, meaningless suffering, and begin to see them for what they really are. They are the most beautiful things in the world because they are the vehicles or the worthy opponents that will allow us to go back to God and be our true self found in him. Jesus’ death on the cross is perhaps the worlds greatest story of humiliation, suffering, betrayal, and human badness, but now we call it Good Friday.
Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that homosexuality is anything negative in and of itself, just like being a minority or a woman is not a deficiency or a negative thing. However, homosexuality in our present day (while better than days past) is not unlike any civil rights movement of the past. It is a painful distinction that God is using to bring all of us to a deeper humanity. I believe one day soon, the church and the world will be aligned in their uniform acceptance of all sexual orientations. The unifying principals of heaven will be loosed here on earth.
Do I believe homosexuality is a sin? I answer this by saying that I believe ANY sexuality that is not under the jurisdiction of ones faith is ultimately sinful and not God honoring. Whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom 14:23). We can abuse our heterosexuality and our homosexuality whether we are married or not. It’s not as easy to be pure and align ourselves with the laws of love as we think. Neither homosexual nor heterosexual is free to give full vent to their sexual impulses and desires. They are there to be enjoyed within the right context of true love and self giving, but we are all too easily swayed by their gravity and we all end up living in sexually immoral ways. This levels the playing field for all of us. Some homosexuality is a sin. Some heterosexuality is a sin. But not all. It’s not black and white. Homosexuality is simply an aspect of sexuality which is an aspect of our humanity. Our humanity must be matured and tempered by faith or it all goes bad.
When it comes to homosexuality or any other subject, I pray we all gain the eyes to see and that we can move into a world of acceptance, not just tolerance, and maturity so that we can experience the freedom that was paid for us at an extremely high price. If we miss this we have missed the whole thing. If we capture this, we will inherit the earth.