The real issue (for me, and I think most conservative Christians) is not homosexuality, but rather, the bible. It wouldn’t make any difference to me if the specific topic was something entirely different – in fact, I would greatly prefer that it was. What is at stake here is the way we view and interpret the Bible.
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Homosexuality and the Bible I: Introduction & Ground Rules
Greetings, dear friends. This week I will be embarking on a short series about homosexuality and the bible. This is a “hot topic” right now, and it has important implications for how we view and interpret the bible. I admit, I am fearful as I begin this. I have been marginalized by my family over this issue. I would not be surprised to find that in the future, it will be illegal to say some of things I will say in this sermon series.
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I am going to take a short pause in our series on the book of Matthew in order to do a short (3-4 messages) series about homosexuality and the bible. Believe me when I say, I am not eager to do this. This topic generates a lot of emotion, most of it apparently anger. Also, I want to say up front that homosexuality, as a single issue by itself, is not a major doctrine of the bible – there are only a handful of verses specifically about it.
So why am I taking the time for three or four messages about it? First and foremost, because I believe that is what the Holy Spirit wants me to do. I think he is prompting me to do it because at this point in time, in Western culture, homosexuality is a hot topic. It is very relevant to the news and social media, to what people are thinking and talking about right now. In addition, though homosexuality is not a major point in the bible, it is being used by some people in such a way that the truth and integrity of the entire bible will be called into question. To put it bluntly, every verse in the bible that talks about homosexual behavior labels it as a sin. This is not my opinion – I’m simply stating a fact. Yet many Christians are now saying, “No, it is not a sin. The Bible was mistaken about that.” If we say the bible is wrong about this, what is to prevent another person from saying, “Well then, the bible is also mistaken about Jesus saving us from sin”?
In other words, the real issue (for me, and I think most conservative Christians) is not homosexuality, but rather, the bible. It wouldn’t make any difference to me if the specific issue was something entirely different – in fact, I would greatly prefer that it was. What is at stake here is the way we view and interpret the Bible. Trust me, I will explain further, but this an important and profound subject, which is why I will take three or four messages to do so.
Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I usually like to preach directly from scripture, and sequentially through a book of the bible. Here, I will be teaching directly from the bible, of course, but obviously these messages will be topical, rather than from one book. In this first message I want to lay some ground-rules, and set up a framework for our discussion, so it may be a little more “light” on scripture than usual. However, I think what I say can be supported by the bible. And honestly, I think Christians on all sides of the issue should be able to agree with what I write in this first installment.
Also, this, and the messages about this issue that follow it, are written specifically for Christians. I am writing to Jesus-followers and for Jesus-followers. If you are not a Jesus-follower, you are absolutely welcome to read what I have written here, but I do not expect you to agree with me, nor do I expect you to abide by the standards of Jesus-followers. If you are not sure you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, you are sitting in on someone else’s family discussion. Again, you are welcome to be here, but please do not accuse me of trying to impose Christian standards on non-Christian people.
For those of you who are Christians, I think it’s a good idea to take the same approach. Many non-Christians feel that the moral code of Christianity has no relationship to them. I am sad that they aren’t followers of Jesus, but their position on morality makes sense to me. They aren’t Christians, so why should they live like Christians? When Christians try to get such people to obey the Christian moral code, it comes off as silly at best, but possibly even offensive. The point: I think it is usually pointless and often offensive to argue about homosexuality with people who do not follow Jesus. We Christians would do well to remember this, and let it shape the way we engage socially and politically. Jesus said:
“My kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus. “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here.” (John 18:36, HCSB)
We are not called to make the governments of our countries into one big church. We are not called to “make everyone behave.” Nowhere in the bible does it suggest that the main mission of disciples of Jesus is to “build a Christian society.” We are called to make disciples. If we make enough disciples, that will result in society becoming more Christian, but the goal is not to have a country with more Christian laws, but rather, to have more disciples. We should consider this before ranting about the actions of the Supreme Court. In fact, I suspect that if conservative Christians had taken all the energy we put into politics and social reform, and instead put them into disciple-making, our culture would be at a different point right now.
I want to add another caveat. I expect that by the time I am done I will have angered and offended a large number of people on all sides of this issue. I am truly sorry if I cause anyone hurt or pain through these messages. I do ask that you read my words and consider them carefully before making judgment on me. I also ask that you do not quickly go through these messages and cherry-pick either the things you like or dislike. This is a complex issue with profound implications for a lot of things; a tweet, or a meme or a comment on Facebook are entirely inadequate to express the things we will discuss here. I will absolutely delete comments that are not thoughtful or respectful, or which reveal that you have not read and understood what I’m saying.
Please do me a favor, and give me the benefit of the doubt wherever you think I am not speaking in love. I may express myself poorly, but my intentions are honestly loving and sincere. Everything I’m about to write proceeds from love. I write because I love God, because I love the church, and because I love my gay friends and family. By love, I mean “a commitment to honor and value.” Love is not a feeling, it is a commitment to the very best for another. True love has never meant total agreement with the beloved or endorsement of every action of the beloved. If you think that you cannot love without totally agreeing with another, you do not understand love. If you think that you cannot love without endorsing every action of another, you do not understand love. Popular author Rick Warren puts it very well:
“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense”
That’s actually a great place to begin with this subject: the first and most appropriate Christian response to those with whom we disagree is love. It does not mean we agree, and it does not mean we endorse. But it does mean that no Christian should be guilty of hating gay people. In fact, no Christian should be guilty of hating at all. There is no room in Christianity for hateful, spiteful words or violence against people simply because we disagree with them or don’t like them, or are afraid of them. To the extent that we act in unloving ways, we are not acting as true Christians. John writes:
The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1John 2:9-11, HCSB)
He is speaking specifically about Christians loving other Christians, (which Jesus also did in John 13:34), and many people don’t realize that. It isn’t “general love for all mankind” but love among Jesus followers. We should keep this particularly in mind, since many Christians disagree about the subject of homosexuality. However, let’s remember that we are called to love our enemies also:
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? (Matt 5:44-47, HCSB)
Jesus came to redeem us from many things, including hate.
I know that there are many Christian people who endorse the gay lifestyle. I intend to address that in the second message, but for now, let me speak especially to you: if you call yourself a Christian, there is no room for hate on your part either. Just because conservatives feel that homosexual behavior is a sin does not give you the right to hate them, or speak spitefully to them or about them. The same verses about loving other Christians, and loving your enemies apply equally to you. In my observation so far, there is much more hateful speech coming from those who support gay marriage than from those who do not. My experience may be different from yours, and perhaps it is unusual, but that has truly been my experience.
If you consider yourself a Christian, no matter where you stand on this issue you must turn away from hate and obey the command of Jesus to love and forgive. He said to expect persecution and unfair treatment. He said that our response to it should be to forgive and turn the other cheek. This is true for all Christians, no matter where we stand on issues concerning homosexuality.
For those of you who feel pressure and even a kind of “persecution” about this issue, let me remind you once more of the words of Jesus:
“You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men. (Matt 5:11-13, HCSB)
You are being mocked, or accused falsely precisely because you are “salty.” The world tastes the difference in you, and doesn’t like it. If you find yourself at odds with the world, it may be that you aren’t “on the wrong side of history” but rather, you are the salt of the earth. Jesus said we should expect to be at odds with the larger culture on many issues. We can take comfort in that. But we must also remember, forgiveness and love are the only appropriate responses to those who persecute you.
Sometimes an action that proceeds from love is not understood by others as truly loving. However, not everything that is called “hate” is truly hate. Our culture at large understands that hate is still a sin, so it often happens that people label whatever they don’t like as “hate,” even when it isn’t. I reiterate: disagreement does not have to be hate. Not even painful words are always hateful. When a surgeon cuts a patient open, it doesn’t always feel like love – in fact, it hurts. The surgeon may or may not be successful, but her goal is always to heal, and sometimes causing pain is part of the healing process.
In the same way, sometimes words spoken in love can cause pain. This does not necessarily mean they are hateful. Sometimes the path to healing leads first through pain. Like a surgeon, sometimes love causes short-term pain in the hope of long term health. Here’s another quote, this time from Adrian Rogers:
It is better to tell the truth that hurts and then heals, than to speak a lie that comforts and then kills.
Do not be too quick to attribute hate to another person – it may be that they are doing or saying what they believe is best for you. This could be true, even if they are mistaken. Even if their words or actions hurt, they may be given with the most loving of intentions, while others may make you feel good, not because they love you, but only because they don’t want the hassle of a conflict, or because affirming you affirms their own point of view as well.
Let me make something else clear. According to Christianity, God does not hate gay people. Any Christian who says “God hates gays” does not have the authority of the Bible to do so. There is no verse in scripture that says “God hates homosexuals.” I know some people calling themselves Christians have said such things. But they have no biblical basis for saying them.
I want to plead for some common sense here. I have seen a video clip or two on the internet where some “Christian” wacko says that God hates gays, or some other terrible, hateful untrue thing about gay people. However, I firmly believe that the media pays far more attention to these things than to the millions and millions of Christians who consistently live and speak in a loving manner toward those with whom they disagree.
Think of it like this. If you watch American police/crime dramas on Television very often, you might be led to the conclusion that American policemen are constantly shooting at criminals. In actual fact, the vast majority of police officers go through their entire careers without even drawing their weapons in the line of duty, let alone actually firing them. Now, obviously, some police officers do fire their weapons in the line of duty. I have even met one. It does happen, but it is extremely unusual. However, if you rely on either TV news or TV police dramas for your information, you will be grossly mistaken about how often policemen fire guns in the line of service.
In the same way, obviously there are some idiots who call themselves Christians who say hateful things about gay people. But the vast majority of Christians do not say such things, and are not hateful, even when they have an opinion that differs from that of others. If you rely on social media or even mass news media, you will probably not have an accurate sense of how conservative Christians really respond to homosexual people. I have been involved in conservative, evangelical Christian communities all of my life, and I have never, not once, heard anyone say, live and in person, “God hates gays,” or “I hate gays.” I know it happens, but I doubt it happens as often as many people believe.
These are the ground rules we need to have a rational, calm, loving discussion about the bible and homosexuality:
· The debate about homosexuality and bible should be between Christians – in other words, preaching morality without Jesus is pointless.
· We are not called to make “Christian laws,” but followers of Jesus.
· God does not hate gays, and neither should any kind of Christian
· everything must be said and done in love;
· we must we willing to forgive one another,
· we must willing to believe that even things that hurt might be said in love,
· and we must be patient and forgiving when we are mocked, falsely accused and persecuted.
This is true for all Christians, no matter where you stand on the issues surrounding homosexuality.
Next week: what does the Bible say about homosexual behavior?