What in the World Is Going On?
Like any father, I am concerned about the kind of world my children will inherit. I have a son who is nearly 11 and another who is 3. My daughter is turning 1 in a matter of weeks. There are a number of concerns that I've written about and spoken about in my life, but until sometime after Father's Day 2011, I had never addressed the matter of extreme moral decline in the U.S. epitomized by the public acceptance of homosexuality. For me, this was brought to light by a brightly-colored rainbow flag flying in front of the tallest building in our city in recognition of June as "LGBT Pride Month." (LGBT: lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender)
I'll admit, the sight of the rainbow flag flying right there with Old Glory was jarring, instantly making me aware that the rainbow agenda was gaining incredible momentum. The flag raising came on the heels of Obama's endorsement of LGBT Pride Month, as well as the Richmond city council's proclamation that designated June as LGBT Pride Month for our city. The leaders at the Federal Reserve Bank in Richmond, Virginia flew the colors of the gay pride movement at the request of a homosexual employee group.
Unprecedented, pro-homosexual, public statements are increasingly being made in public in the U.S. So, a Christian response to the contrary should not come as a surprise. However, I am greatly concerned by the spiteful tone of a number of the so-called "Christian" reactions. Angry comments on websites and viral video rants don't convey a faithful Christian viewpoint. Let's have a little more grace, civility, and reasoned biblical discussion for a change.
Here's my attempt.
Why Do I Care?
Perhaps, my main concern is for those who try to use the Bible and Christianity to justify homosexuality. Christians certainly need to pray, be humble, kind, and serve the less fortunate. But Christians also need to know what the Bible says, accurately interpret it, and be able to explain God's truth to others. As citizens, we have the freedom (for now) to speak and exert influence in the public marketplace of ideas.
The historic Christian view (according to the faithful interpretation of Scripture, read on) is that it is absolutely unconscionable to practice any expression of sexuality outside the sacred bonds of male-female marriage. You may not agree with this view. I may not agree with yours. But name-calling by either side is counterproductive and distracts from fair consideration of the issues.
As fellow human beings, we uphold and defend each others' right to freedom of speech, including humane disagreement. All people are created equal, but the same cannot be said for all ideas. Some are better than others. Unfortunately, a few professing Christians do a very poor job of representing Christ. Although they seem to get the most media attention, they do not speak for me. Neither do they speak for millions of ordinary Christians who are increasingly being lumped together with the lunatic fringe of Christianity. Bible-believers shouldn't be labeled as ‘hate mongers' for simply being true to the same historic christian faith that led to the abolition of slavery (contrary to the one-sided claims of theologians like james cone).
A Potentially Time-Saving Disclaimer:
In recent years, it has become unpopular to not go along with the doubtful assumption that some people are irrecoverably and genetically destined to act out same-sex impulses. In other words, we're not supposed to question the LGBT claim, "God made me this way." Such a question is being defined as "hate" by some. (Nevermind this is a fallacious stratagem that undermines fair consideration of the issues.)
In light of the reality of this widely used tactic, I offer the following disclaimer:
If the reader is hidebound by such a dubious assumption and habitually labels as a 'hater' anyone who dares to question the belief that LGBT behavior is unavoidably mandated by one's DNA, I think I should be kind and save you some time. There is a truthful explanation for why people engage in LGBT behavior, but you won't like it. You could continue reading this article, but it may do little good. On the other hand, there are probably more than a few readers who are genuinely interested in understanding why Christians so strongly oppose (or ought to oppose) the rainbow agenda. If this openness to understanding describes you in the slightest, then read to the end and please add to the discussion with your comments. Non-readers, withhold your comments (wait, re-read that). Freedom of speech means that you're free to write on your own blog or website. This article is an invitation for readers to take part in a productive conversation. Thank you.
So Then, What Does the Bible Say? (And why should I care?)
Contrary to the abysmal image projected by some professing Christians, homosexuality is not a special sin deserving of special disdain. In fact, if it helps take the edge off of the religious overtones of the word sin, what the Bible calls "sin" may be thought of in common sense terms as destructive behavior that promises fulfillment but doesn't lead to it. Ultimately, sin is any lack of conformity to God's holy requirements in the Bible. Sin begins with a false view of God that breeds disregard for God, which ultimately gives birth to attitudes and actions contrary to God's moral will (1 thessalonians 4:3-7). Not everyone understands or respects the gravity of this, so some attention will be given to explore what it means.
Simply put, Christians believe the Bible when it says: "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people" (proverbs 14:34). In other words, any society that condones destructive behavior (as Scripture defines it), is a society that will weaken and decline.
To anyone who prefers to live by his or her own rules, Christianity, particularly the Christian view of sex, is highly offensive to begin with. It makes a discussion like this tense enough from the start. When grown adults (Christians included) act or speak in a graceless, mean-spirited way it only makes matters worse. But truthful speech cannot be set aside for the sake of avoiding the healthy exchange of ideas. It's ultimately an act of kindness and compassion to inform people of truth, just as we tend to benefit from the truthful diagnosis of a doctor.
Some diagnoses come as a shock, and I realize that this may be a shock for some readers, but the faithful, historic interpretation of the Bible calls homosexuality a sinful, self-destructive act. The New Testament lists homosexuality right alongside lying (1 timothy 1:10), robbing, being greedy, swindling (1 corinthians 6:9-10), gossiping and committing murder (romans 1:25-31). Such broad lists like these are meant to convey one thing: we all have sin issues. It's bad news for all of us.
Repeat: we all have sin issues.
So, Does the Bible Need to Be Revised?
The bad news for those who engage in homosexuality does not go away simply by the spurious claim that somehow the Church has "misunderstood" these texts for centuries, only to be corrected by later revisionist scholars in recent decades. These New Testament Scriptures prohibiting any sexual sin outside the sacred bonds of male-female marriage are clear. They claim binding authority over all people in all time periods, regardless of whether people acknowledge such a claim. (Aside: philippians 2:7-11 predicts that you will bow to Christ's authority and judgment eventually. Scripture has a 100% track record of fulfilled prophecy.)
For readers who are for the first time seeing Bible verses that condemn homosexuality, they aren't quoted to be inflammatory. Rather, they are cited to make clear what scripture actually says. Biblical standards of right and wrong have stood the test of time. You might choose to ignore them, but changing them is not a valid option.
People who try to use the Bible to argue that accepting homosexuality is how we are to 'love our neighbor,' wrongly omit the first half of what Jesus said in that context. Jesus actually said, "The great and first commandment is 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'" (matthew 22:36-40). In other words, love for one's neighbor is bounded by one's primary allegiance to God. How can one claim to love God, yet hate what His Word says about homosexuality, or disregard His design for marriage?
Since When Did It Become Christian to Endorse Sin?
No matter how many are saying that homosexuality should be affirmed in the name of Christian love, such a position conflicts with the Christian view according to the Bible. When President Obama "made history" by endorsing same-sex marriage, he cited supposedly "Christian" reasons for doing so. Obviously, it is not a Christian virtue to hate people who sin. And while it's correct to say that Christians are not against people who practice homosexuality (just as Christians are not anti-liars; we simply affirm that lying is wrong), so we are not personally against people involved in homosexuality. It is, however, Christian to oppose sin. Therefore, Bible-believing Christians (just like the Apostles) must radically disagree with the U.S. president's view.
Who Gets to Say What the Bible Says?
Those who use the Bible to persuade others actually put themselves in the dangerous role of assuming to speak for God as a teacher (myself included here). According to james 3:1, teachers are subject to stricter judgment both for their character and for how accurately they handle Scripture. Unfortunately, biblical literacy is at an all-time low, even in churches. The naïve give equal weight to every opinion on or about the Bible, apparently unable to discern the many illegitimate would-be teachers who are out there sowing confusion.
But a valid teacher of the Bible possesses certain observable character qualities clearly spelled out in Scripture. In the books of titus and 1 Timothy, such teachers are referred to as overseers. They are “…above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (1 tim. 3:2). It’s noteworthy that one of the characteristics of a true teacher is that he believes in monogamy and upholds male-female marriage. Arguing for same-sex marriage on secular grounds is one thing. Arguing for same-sex marriage in the name of Christianity or the Bible is not only absurd, but the one who does so — whether clergyman, farmer, judge, or president — puts himself personally under God's condemnation as a false teacher.
In the Bible, God exclusively blesses male-female marriage (mark 10:6-9, hebrews 13:4, 1 timothy 1:9-10). He is clearly opposed to all sexual activity outside of that sacred relationship. (Bear in mind, everything that God forbids He forbids from a loving heart.) Sexual activity outside of male-female marriage not only disregards God's will but it also does harm to the participants, regardless of whether it's consensual, and regardless of whether the harm or the offense toward God is ever acknowledged.
God is all for sex in the context of a loving, male-female marriage as He designed it. Sex is a powerful, wonderful expression of love that also demonstrates HIs creative genius. God isn't against sex. Christians aren't prejudiced prudes. God is against the wrongful use of sex because He has our best interests at heart.
Far too many people wrongly assume that God exists simply for our happiness as we choose to define it. If that were true, then opposing the rainbow agenda would be just baseless prejudice. But God isn't a willing recruit for anyone's personal agenda. That's why this discussion can't be simply about who has the most Bible verses to shoot like missiles at the other side.
The Core Issue: What's Your View of God?
At the core of the topic of human sexuality, as with all topics, is either a sound understanding of God or a flawed understanding of God. People may say that morality can't be legislated, but that simply isn't true. Indeed, some view of God (conscious or not) undergirds every political decision and law that gets passed. This is not always apparent, but is especially visible with issues surrounding the rainbow agenda. Unavoidably, someone's view of morality is codified into human law, while contrary views of morality are overturned.
Rightly understood, the Christian view of sex is just as offensive to any unmarried teens and singles who are involved in premarital (heterosexual) sex as it is to a transvestite marching in a parade. God condemns all sexual expression outside of male-female marriage. So, the issue really can't be compartmentalized and made into just an issue about homosexuality. The rainbow flag flying downtown at Richmond's Federal Reserve building is simply a flashpoint that warrants discussion.
Shouldn't Christians Be Trying to Pass Laws Against Eating Shellfish Too? (No.)
Something should probably be said here about how the Old Testament fits together with the New Testament. Frequently, you'll see people struggling to make sense of the laws about not eating shellfish and not mixing different kinds of cloth when they also see a law against homosexuality in the same context (leviticus 18-20). They seem to think that they can discount the prohibition against homosexuality since the other laws have been nullified (acts 10:9-48). Such Scripture twisting is all too common. The Bible actually is quite clear and consistent, despite those who misinterpret it (2 peter 3:16).
The basic rule of interpretation is that whenever an Old Testament moral principle is re-stated in the New Testament, it means that moral principle is meant to be interpreted as still binding today. The passages quoted above from Matthew, Mark, 1 Timothy, 1 Corinthians, Romans, and Hebrews are all in the New Testament. They serve as excellent examples of this basic rule.
Because biblical literacy is so abysmal in this age, people don’t realize that after the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, the New Testament church age was ushered in, abolishing Israel’s ceremonial laws, dietary restrictions, and priesthood (cf. acts 10, colossians 2:13-17). The New Testament still upholds the prohibition of homosexuality, but the death penalty no longer applies to those who engage in homosexual acts. Such strict punishment was valid only inside the context of Ancient Israel.
Establishing a Theocracy Is Not the Christian Goal
Establishing a theocracy is not the Christian goal or ideal. Coercive human government (whether Christian or otherwise) is undesirable in the Christian view. An informed biblical worldview actually supports pluralism, democracy, and freedom. Christians neither tolerate coercive secularization of the government, nor do they aim to establish a theocracy. Anyone who presents those two as the only options presents a false dichotomy.
For those who honestly want to know God and understand the Bible, the widely accepted text how to read the bible for all it's worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart is a good resource. Two short articles that may also be useful are "choosing a bible translation" and "use a coherent method of bible study."
People may object that the Bible is just a human book or that it's been changed and cannot be trusted.1 But such arguments have been sufficiently answered both in short and at length. Anyone can be set free from the fruitless cul-de-sac of skepticism if they have ears to hear.
Is This Hate Speech?
The Richmond City Council, Federal Reserve leadership, and the U.S. president have turned truth upside down. Saying so might mean Christians like me will be wrongly accused of "hate speech." But to refrain from speaking out about moral decay would be hateful non-speech.
Each of us will face God in judgment. And as hebrews 10:31 says, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." And 2 corinthians 5:11, "Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade [others]" to "repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance" (acts 26:20).
Christians aren't out to judge others as if we're somehow better in and of ourselves. We simply embrace God's unchanging standard of morality and differ with those who would assault it, change it, or ignore it. As people who are limited in knowledge, we need truth from God, whose knowledge is infinite. We may not always like the truth we hear, but we certainly need it. The Bible is the anvil of truth that wears out every hammer in every age.
Christians admit that they're sinners and point to Christ as the solution for broken people who, like us, have gone against God's healthy design for their lives. We're no better than anyone. The solution is not to ignore God's moral standard though. Nor is it ultimately helpful to try to change it by misinterpreting the Bible.
The Christian hope for homosexuals is not heterosexuality, but holiness. We're not trying to make gays straight but take them straight to Jesus, just as we would anyone ensnared by sin. Once they trust Him, He gives them His perfect righteousness, frees them from sin, and transforms their lives from the inside out.
What About Tolerance?
As for tolerance, well, genuine Christians are all for living at peace with those they disagree with. Many today confuse the word tolerance with "acceptance" or "affirmation." People jump to conclude that anyone who refuses to legitimize homosexuality and/or endorse same-sex marriage is automatically a "hater." But that's just not the case.
The historic meaning of tolerance is that we should live peacefully and respectfully together, though we disagree even in outspoken ways. One person aptly wrote: "Not tolerating someone for his narrow-mindedness is perhaps the epitome of intolerance." (The Atlantic, "being gay at jerry falwell's university.")
Christians are called to something more than mere tolerance. We are called to express the truth of the Bible clearly. We are to do so with love, having as our aim the rescue and restoration of sinners just like us. That's what it means to love one's neighbor. An article like this may not speak to everyone effectively. And, certainly, no Christian is perfect. Still, we aim for biblical principles to guide us when discussing sensitive subjects with others who differ.
One motivation that compels Christians to engage with people is that the truths of Christianity are public and universal, not private and parochial. The historical record of Christ's life, death, and resurrection exists because it's true, not because it's a propped up religious myth. This fact has bearing on every life, acknowledged or not. Christians don't view their neighbors as mere flesh and blood, but eternal souls who will one day stand to be judged by their Creator.
As for so-called "homophobia," christians don't fear homosexuals, but fear for them, just as we would for anyone enslaved in sin of any type. We know the judgment that awaits all those who will not turn from their sin and turn to Christ. What Jesus accomplished saves sinners: His sinless life, His substitutionary death on the cross, and His rising from the dead. Christ sets free all who are enslaved to sin and removes all fear of judgment and punishment. Genuine Christians have a demeanor of love toward all people, even while they believe and proclaim a message of truth, which includes judgment—and that not by us but by God.
Christianity positively declares that knowing Jesus Christ is the greatest thing in the universe. We are rightly related to the God who made us, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God's grace. We want everyone to know true joy. It's not found in anything of this earth, but in Christ alone.
The Christian worldview not only makes sense of life, it includes the good news that God will restore all that sin has broken. In other words, the world we all want is coming — complete peace, justice, and human flourishing in the manifest presence of God. You can be part of it, but not on your own terms. Christ forgives those who admit to being sinners and who call out to Him for rescue from sin's control. By trusting Christ, you can be transformed into a person who lives in a way that pleases God. If you've somehow gotten the impression that Christianity is a negative, judgmental religion, I'm sorry. You've gotten the wrong idea.
Bible-believing Christians are concerned for our neighbors who struggle with same-sex attraction, and we seek their good. We affirm the dignity of fellow human beings who also bear the image of God. We all need the light of truth shined into our darkness. Jesus said, "I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness" (john 12:46). He said this knowing that people "love darkness rather than light" (john 3:19).
But instead of meeting God someday in condemnation, you can meet Him now in blessing. Wrong desires can be changed so that you begin to love the things He loves. Although, I have been personally guilty of numerous sins, I am forgiven because Christ died and rose again for sinners like me. Jesus Christ gives a clean slate (1 corinthians 6:11) and new desires (titus 2:11-14). The same offer of forgiveness and transformation extends to everyone reading this with a heart to understand.
Uniting Around Common-Sense Morality Does Not Equal Making the U.S. Into a "Christian Nation"
Admittedly, in the U.S., a number of our founders were Christians in name only. Some were merely deists. Still, the historic Christian faith was the worldview that provided the moral underpinnings of this country, and that worldview has weighty implications for matters of public life. One implication of the Christian outlook is that the improvisational morality of our times is, quite simply, a farce. A shifting moral foundation upholds nations about as well as the Sahara upholds skyscrapers. It goes without saying that condoning homosexuality represents a seismic shift in the moral landscape of the United States.
The implications of the rainbow agenda go far deeper than most people surmise by taking a superficial view of it. (See the article, "five gay marriage myths.") Dr. Albert Mohler astutely observed that people must wake up and come to grips with what is at stake:
"Marriage is first and foremost a public institution. It has always been so. Throughout history, societies have granted special recognition and privileges to marriage because it is the central organizing institution of human culture. Marriage regulates relationships, sexuality, human reproduction, lineage, kinship, and family structure. But marriage has also performed another crucial function — it has regulated morality. Redefining marriage is never simply about marriage. It leads to the redefinition of reproduction and parenthood, produces a legal revolution with vast consequences, replaces an old social order with something completely new, and forces the adoption of a new morality. This last point is especially important. Marriage teaches morality by its very centrality to the culture. With a new concept of marriage comes a new morality, enforced by incredible social pressure and, eventually, legal threats.2
But What About Civil Rights?
Martin Luther King, Jr. is a man greatly admired, and deservedly so. It's been well-established that historic Christianity was the moral authority behind not only the abolition of slavery, but also the triumph of the Civil Rights movement. To the dismay of many, however, it has become common to hear LGBT advocates claim that they are "today's oppressed people group," as if people with same-sex attraction are the heirs of the Civil Rights movement. The moms and dads I know in the African American community, as well as many of its courageous and outspoken leaders, are deeply offended at the LGBT movement for hijacking the Civil Rights legacy and using it to impose their agenda.
The Bible clearly affirms the dignity and worth of all people, regardless of skin color. But the Bible condemns homosexuality because it is rebellion against the created order of male-female marriage (romans 1:18-32). The Civil Rights movement was a welcome corrective to a pernicious evil — one that many professing Christians today are unfortunately still blind to, namely racism. Christianity does not uphold the gay pride movement in the least. As one writer put it, "gay is not the new black."
Again, we are all sinners. We all have temptations that we struggle with. Some people struggle with same-sex attraction. Others struggle with different sins. Honesty and humility about this is the pathway to peace. Coercing peoople to celebrate a lie will only exacerbate cultural conflict.
Tampering with the definition of marriage is like tampering with the atomic structure of hydrogen. The abomination of homosexuality will never be on equal footing with God's created order of male-female marriage. People of conscience will continue to firmly believe so. Some may call same-sex relationships "marriage" but such unions will never fit the Christian definition of marriage.
Most people (not just conservative Christians) reject the notion of same-sex marriage when allowed to think about the matter in the privacy of a voting booth. Polls will probably always report a different story, as evidenced by gallup recently. As hard as it is for some people to accept, millions of Americans just don't believe in so-called "marriage equality" and for good reason.
LGBT: You Make Up Less Than 2% of the U.S. Population, and Christians Really Do Love You
Genuine concern compels us to rescue people from drowning, not open the floodgates and drench the city. Apparently, the City Council and the leaders of the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank thought that opening the floodgates was the right idea. They made an rash move to shape society with their bully pulpit. So, how does one respond to a bully? Well, I'm just a dad. And like most American dads, I don't have a clue how to remove myself from the Federal Reserve System. I realize there is big political power behind the LGBT movement. I’m probably supposed to be a good little passive sheep and silently go along with the program. After all, I don’t have a tall building or a presidential office from which to issue history-making public statements. I edit a website. I teach the Bible and lead music at a local church. I don’t have a clue where this article might go or whom it might reach.
But I write this because my life has been forever changed for the better by Christ as I learned him in the historic Christian gospel. I write because people are misrepresenting Christianity to justify wrongheaded ideas about human freedom. I write because people don’t seem to fathom the danger of twisting Scripture and defying God.
For me, the growing moral decay all around serves as a daily reminder of christ's parting words that He is with His true followers even unto the end. Yes, worse changes may be blowing in the wind for America's children and grandchildren. But there will come a day of reckoning. The long view of human history doesn't end with prideful sinners seated sumptuously on high.
A piece like this might not avoid the typical rebuttals like "'Love the sinner, hate the sin' is just a mask for bigotry," "Hate is not a family value," or "Common sense is the first casualty of ignorance," etc. People have the freedom to state such non sequiturs if they so choose. I defend their right to say as they please. I'm most interested in reaching those who have a heart to understand and who want to discuss what is genuinely in people's best interest. Those who are looking for a pointless shouting match, please count me out.
Christians don't hate LGBT people. In their confusion, they distort the God-ordained beauty of human sexuality and it appears that they cannot rest until everyone affirms their behavior. How incredibly sad. Why must it be skewed as "hate" to disagree with, yet have sympathy for such tragic people? Flawed views of God lead them to think that He’s either non-existent or He's up in the heavens waving His rainbow banner of approval right along with them. Weighty chains bind their souls to empty promises of fulfillment that do not ultimately deliver. Only the short-sighted Christian cannot bring himself to pity or show kindness to a fellow human being caught in such a deadly trap.
Christians: Focus More on the Gospel, Less on Political Action (and angry Facebook comments)
When biblical truth resonates and takes root, people escape sin's entrapment and begin living in true freedom as God defines it in Scripture. As a by-product, there can be a reversal of moral decline in a society. That said, saving society is not the Christian's primary calling. Telling people the gospel of salvation is.
Rather than over-emphasize political action, Christians need to major on compassionately proclaiming the gospel. The failed "Moral Majority" experiment of the 1980s showed us that shrill debates and top-down legislation of Christian virtues doesn't effect lasting change in the hearts of people.
This is not to say that it's unimportant for Christians to participate in the political process. As citizens, we can and should call for biblical morality to be reflected in our laws. As mentioned before, someone's version of morality is going to be reflected there. Bible-believing Christians can be good citizens as well as faithful proclaimers of the good news of salvation in Christ.
But in the end, the Holy Spirit uses no other means besides the gospel to "turn the switch on" in people's hearts and illumine the truth, beauty, and love of Christ. As we proclaim Him, we leave the work of changing other people's hearts in His hands.
So, enough with the angry blog posts, snarky comments, and viral video rants. Christians are to be people of both truth and grace. This is not a call to be soft on the Bible, or make the gospel palatable to the masses. The gospel pointedly confronts blindness in those who are deluded that they can see.
That's an offense we will never avoid.
This article first appeared June 1, 2011 on Christianity.com. Updated: April 5, 2013
1. On occasion, someone will point to a passage like 1 corinthians 7:6-12 as grounds to say that Paul the Apostle often wavered between offering his own opinions and writing inspired Scripture. The spurious implication is then drawn that Paul's writings against homosexuality may also be viewed as non-binding. But in 1 Corinthians, Paul was neither denying inspiration nor saying that he was merely giving human opinion. Rather, he simply showed where he quoted Jesus from His earthly ministry (v. 10), and then he went on to write further revelation from God that had not been previously given. This was consistent with his ministry as well as the progressive way that inerrant scripture was revealed until its completion at the close of the first century A.D.
2. Dr. R. Albert Mohler, "The Challenge of Same-Sex Unions," from Tabletalk (April 2012). http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/the-challenge-of-same-sex-unions/