The sermon I do not want to give…
I stand before you prepared to preach a sermon I do not want to give. Many in society think that Christians have a fixation (and a negative one at that) on homosexuality and sex in general. This talk will be seen as further proof that we have it out for people who just want to live and let live.
Why am I hatin’ on gay people?
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
“They” are forcing the issue
First of all…the only reason I am preaching this sermon this week is because “they” are forcing the issue. I’m pretty comfortable with “live and let live”…but whether it be:
- A friend of Heidi’s sending her supposed biblical proof that homosexuality is okay
- A federal judge in California ignoring the will of millions of voters and making gay marriage legal (throwing in a ruling that “religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians”1)
- Or Kevin Jennings (Obama’s safe school school czar) believing there should be “a gay friendly curriculum in the public schools from kindergarten onward”2
It is the homosexual rights activists who are forcing the discussion.
(And it should probably should be noted that not all gay people are behind their “in your face” tactics…)
What I am not
And some of those “in your face” people will say that…
- That I hate gay people. I do not really hate anyone…let alone gay people.
- That I am a homophobe. My Mac’s dictionary defines homophobia as “an extreme and irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people.” Although I will admit I have a significant aversion to the behavior involved, it is not extreme…irrational…or directed at homosexual people. Also…it would seem to me that the make-up of the word “homophobe” would really mean that I am afraid of gay people…and I do not fear them.
- That I think I am better than a homosexual or that I am judging homosexuals. I do not…I know that I am just as much of a sinner in need of a savior as they are…and that my sins are no lesser or greater than theirs. The difference is that I acknowledge that I am a sinner and thus I can be healed by a compassionate Lord. Homosexual activism celebrates their behavior.
The crux of the matter
Ultimately the crux of the matter is that many gay activists will not be satisfied until everyone acknowledges that homosexuality is okay…and that anything short of that, verbalized, is considered hate speech. I would not be surprised if it will be illegal in a decade for me to preach this sermon. If you think I am being a Chicken Little…ten years ago how many of you honestly thought that we would have same-sex marriage in New Hampshire right now?
What the Bible says…
Traditional (and I would argue “true”) Christians believe that neither we as individuals nor society has a right to define what is right or wrong. We know there is creator who not only laid out the physical laws of the universe–He established the moral ones too.
So…the remainder of this sermon is to look to God’s Word to see what the physical and moral designer (and absolute authority) says about homosexuality, and then discuss some common arguments made “for” not interpreting those scriptures the way they naturally read (or why the verses should be discounted).
It is not within the scope of this talk to respond pro-homosexual folks who do not believe in God, our god, or the authority of Scripture. The only comment, for now, that I’ll make is that if there is no absolute moral authority who can honestly say anything is wrong…or right?
In my opinion there are only 5 scriptures that specifically (and undeniably) speak to whether practicing homosexuality is right or wrong…and two of them are in the Old Testament.
Before we look at those two…probably good to note how I added “practicing” before homosexuality. We are not discussing the desire a man might have for another man or a woman for another woman…we are discussing God’s view of acting on that desire. A red herring that can be thrown into this conversation is the question of whether the homosexual inclinations of a person, which may be genetic for all we know, are wrong. If you go sniffing off that direction (to continue with the red herring analogy) you’ll step onto a land mine–that somehow someone is inherently “bad” for something they have no control over–that they were born with. Society only legislates against acts, not inclinations.
Well, that is, until the concept of hate crimes legislation came to fruition. But I digress…
The first time the Bible clearly speaks to homosexuality is in Leviticus 18:22:
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
Now…there are some arguments over whether the word “abomination” is a correct translation of the underlying Hebrew…but make no mistake of it…whatever the proper English word is…it is not positive.
The second time God’s Word discusses homosexuality is also in Leviticus, this time a couple chapters later in Leviticus 20:13. It is actually is harsher:
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.
Especially considering the severity of the punishment…again it is clear the Bible is saying that practicing homosexuality is wrong.
And…that’s it for the Old Testament.
Now, some might appeal to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as condemnation of homosexuality…and I do believe that it was part of their degenerate state–but a strong argument could be made that the townspeople’s abhorrent demand for the angels was so they could commit an act of domination (something done throughout history…and even now in prisons). Thus it could be argued that God’s denunciation was against that (and the lack of hospitality–also a major “sin” in the cultures of that day). Reality is that homosexuality was just one symptom of their overall degeneration, for instance let’s take a look at Ezekiel 16:48-50:
48 As I live, declares the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.
As you can see…Sodom had a real issue with being selfish and uncaring…so the fire and brimstone probably wasn’t just because there was active homosexuality. Having said that, Jude 6-7 makes it very difficult not to think that God especially had an issue with that part of their debased state:
6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day– 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
I guess my point when it comes to Sodom and Gomorrah is that appealing to their history in the Old Testament as God condemning homosexuality may be a legitimate, but it’s probably not best to count it that way. Even what I just quoted in Jude could be read as condemning rape, not homosexuality (and is part of the reason I would also not count the Jude scripture as one definitely speaking to the issue of homosexuality).
Since two of our five scriptures were in the Old Testament, that leaves three for us in the New. Based on the order of the books, the first one is in Romans:
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error (Romans 1:26-27).
Ouch. Again…a natural reading doesn’t look so good for active homosexuals. Additionally, the levitical references only spoke to male homosexuals…and this one loops in females.
Two to go. The next is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. 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.
The good thing about that list from Paul is that it also reminds us of what I mentioned before…that we are no better than those whose sin we are discussing today. “And such were some of you”…and sadly…I suspect some of us are still guilty of items in that list…especially idolatry.
And the last time practicing homosexuality is directly and undeniably discussed is in Paul’s advice to Timothy 1 Timothy 1:8-11:
8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
Again we have a great reminder that any judgment we reserve for gay people comes right back at us…for instance how many here still have to fight lying? If you get off the hook on that one, I promise you it is likely you can be trapped in the principles behind the other ones.
So…based on the natural reading of those five scriptures…is practicing homosexuality right or wrong?
Wrong…and anyone who says otherwise is either lying or delusional.
The other side…
And if we were only discussing the natural reading of the Bible, then there would be little debate about this subject in modern Christianity. But, in fairness to those we disagree with, their “biblical” arguments should be given a fair shake. They should be allowed the opportunity to present reasons those verses should be interpreted, or perhaps translated, differently.
We do not have time to answer every argument that is given to say homosexuality fits the Christian worldview. I will try, however, to discuss some of the most prevalent biblical arguments for homosexuality…and will also try to be fair.
#1 — You must keep all the law/holiness code/Leviticus…
One of the most common approaches with the two blazingly clear references in Leviticus is to say something like, “Well if you condemn homosexuals based on those, then you must say everything else in the Law is applicable today…so why do you eat shellfish? ” They often additionally throw in an appeal to emotion by asking you something like, “So are you also saying we should stone someone for breaking the Sabbath?”
You nasty Christians…not only are you hypocrites you want to stone gay people!
First, I would argue that if they believe we should discount what Leviticus says about homosexuality because we don’t keep every other rule it gives…does that suddenly mean that incest is okay? If being condemned around rules we don’t think are pertinent today makes something “okay” then they can’t pick-and-choose what that nets world-view wise.
Second, isn’t it ironic that those who probably put human reason over biblical authority then make an argument that implicitly says that humans don’t have the mental faculties to properly divide that which is logically no longer applicable from the moral pronouncements that are timeless? What they are really saying is, “You aren’t bright enough to rightly divide the Word of God, but I am.”
Although this “you must do it all” argument has many forms, the most specific is narrowing it to the levitical holiness code. Guenther Haas has some pretty pertinent comments within his article, “Hermeneutical Issues In The Use Of The Bible To Justify The Acceptance Of Homosexual Practice”:
In response, two points can be made. First, the fact that practices are condemned within the Holiness Code does not preclude the fact that they have a moral force apart from their connection with ritual purity. We are not always forced to choose between ritual and moral import, but can find the two concerns coinciding in injunctions in the Holiness Code. Second, it is certainly clear that the ceremonial regulations–those expressing purity in outward forms–are abrogated after the coming of Christ (cf. Acts 10:9–15; Acts 15:19–21). But numerous other prohibitions–such as those against incest (Lev. 18:7), adultery (Lev. 18:20), and bestiality (Lev. 20:15–16)–are readily acknowledged to have abiding significance, even though they are included in the Holiness Code. As Ukleja notes: “A moral unity exists between the Old and New Testaments.” That is because the character of God, which is the basis for His standard of righteousness, has not changed.3
Basically Haas does a better job of saying, “There is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater” than I do.
Finally…in response to the emotional appeals via the harsh punishments found in the Old Testament…punishments change with circumstances…but morality does not. What is wrong is still wrong, even if a society no longer deems an immoral act worthy of the punishment a previous one did.
#2 — Leviticus only condemns homosexuality because it was part of pagan religious practices and the Israelites were to be different
First, I just recommend you read around the two verses in Leviticus…and then try to explain how those two verses can be pulled out as ones specifically condemned because pagans did it. Doesn’t make a whole bunch of sense…nothing in the text demands it.
Second, Haas helps us out again:
Sherwin Bailey notes that homosexual coitus is meaningless in the context of the ritual of a fertility cult, with its heterosexual rationale. There is no evidence that it was ever practiced in this connection. Bailey concludes that the two prohibitions in Leviticus “relate to ordinary homosexual acts between men, and not to ritual or other acts performed in the name of religion.”4
Quick version? There is no evidence homosexual acts were part of pagan rituals in the nations surrounding the Jews.
#3 — God made me this way so it’s the way He wants me
This is not a scriptural argument…so really there is no biblical response…other than saying God only made Adam and Eve…and that we all can acknowledge that there are many aspects of intrinsic (and perhaps genetic) modern human nature that would be difficult to believe are the way God intended–as compared to that which is the result of original sin and thousands of years for our natures (and genetics) to degenerate. Nobody would dare say, “I’m a pedophile so it’s the way God wants me”…so that argument is bogus for homosexuals too.
And no, I am not comparing homosexuals to pedophiles…but one cannot ignore that both are felt to be sexual preferences that people are born with that cannot be changed.
#4 — The writers of the Bible did not know of homosexuality as it is understood today, so they couldn’t have been condemning it
An example of this argument is given by Reverend Mel White, cofounder of Soulforce:
The Bible is completely silent on the issue of homosexual orientation. And no wonder. Homosexual orientation wasn’t even known until the 19th century.5
This kind of approach assumes that men wrote the Bible as just men…without the help of inspiration. However…clearly God knows every heart, including that of a homosexual…so when He led Moses or Paul to write, they weren’t limited to the psychological understanding of that day. Additionally, do we really think that nobody, at least in Roman times, new of men who only liked men? Just because it took until the 1800’s for someone to officially categorize it (assuming that is even true), this argument fails if anyone believes the Bible is inspired.
Additionally, there are plenty of scholarly reasoning against White’s view. For instance, looking at Romans 1, Haas reviews the associated argument that Paul is only condemning heterosexuals who dabble in homosexuality, not homosexuals who practice homosexuality. These people are basically saying that “against nature” is speaking of an individual’s nature. Haas notes:
Boswell’s argument that para phusin means ‘beyond nature,’ in the sense of ‘beyond one’s natural orientation’ (rather than ‘against nature’), will not stand up under careful scrutiny. Hayes points out that para phusin in all its use throughout Hellenistic philosophy and literature means “contrary to nature.” Furthermore, para phusin is frequently used in Greco-Roman moral philosophy and literary texts, as well as in Hellenistic Jewish writers (Josephus and Philo), to categorize homosexual practices as worthy of condemnation.6
Finally, it becomes apparent that the attempt to read the notion of a distinction in sexual orientation into Paul’s comments in Romans 1 is eisegesis, a reading of one’s own agenda into the text. There is no hint of such a distinction in the New Testament, or any other writings of the ancient world. Nor does a faithful exegesis of Romans 1 lead to the conclusion that this distinction is the necessary condition for understanding Paul’s argument.7
As you can see…the natural reading is the scholarly reading too.
#5 — The underlying Greek does not refer to today’s homosexuals
This is somewhat a repeat of #4…but basically I mention it to confirm that homosexual advocates who claim to believe the Bible do try to make original-language arguments to support their views. This, at least, is not discounting the Bible outright (although I have a hard time believing anyone who accepts their views doesn’t have a fuzzy commitment to Scripture).
I apologize ahead of time to those who have to listen to this section for the long excerpts I am going to read to you. However, I think they are important so that when some elite professor tries to make you think that you are neanderthal with too little mental capacity to say, “That’s not right”…you realize other people with a whole bunch of degrees are backing you up.
A good example of appealing to the Greek is the question of the inclusion of practicing homosexuality in the lists of 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. Generally the pro-gay argument is that they are not discussing today’s type of homosexual, but instead that of pederasty (and the sexually abusive relationships inherent in it). For instance, White writes:
We all need to look more closely at that mysterious Greek word arsenokoitai in its original context. I find most convincing the argument from history that Paul is condemning the married men who hired hairless young boys (malakois) for sexual pleasure just as they hired smooth-skinned young girls for that purpose.8
In responding to a bit more thorough version of White’s argument by a gentleman named Scroggs (who also says that thus we cannot know what Paul’s view of contemporary homosexuality is), White notes:
I think we can concede to Scroggs that Paul had primarily pederasty in mind in his three references to it in his letters. We accept this from the evidence, which Scroggs presents, that this was the predominant form of homosexuality mentioned in Greek and Hellenistic Jewish texts. But it is also evident that Paul had other forms of homosexuality in mind when he refers in Rom. 1:26 to women who “exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.” Scroggs himself admits to being amazed that Paul refers to female homosexuality here, since it is never referred to in any Jewish and Greco-Roman discussions. His contention is that Paul is merely repeating the standard arguments against pederasty found in Greco-Roman and Hellenistic Jewish texts. Hence, Scroggs’ amazement is understandable, given his thesis that Paul’s condemnation merely borrows from the preformed tradition and has only pederasty in mind (especially the more sordid expressions of it). But such amazement is readily dispelled if one understands Paul’s condemnation of pederasty to be the result, not of simply repeating the standard Greco-Roman and Hellenistic Jewish tradition, but of drawing upon the general biblical prohibition against same sex relations. He applies this not merely to men with men [arsenes en arsesin (1:27)], but also to unnatural sexual relations [chresin para phusin] between women [theleiai] (1:26).9
And if that’s not enough…White ties the Greek word in question in those two texts back to the original levitical prohibition…which clearly weren’t about pederasty:
Wright also surveys the use of arsenokoites, as well as arsenokoiteo and arsenokoitia, in the patristic literature. Not only does his survey find that church fathers from Eusebius to Chrysostom use these terms to condemn male homosexual activity, but he also discovers numerous appeals to I Cor. 6:9 and I Tim. 1:10 for the same purposes. This certainly undermines Boswell’s claims concerning the early church. And it calls into question his scholarly ability, if not his scholarly integrity.
Another element in Boswell’s argument is his claim that no early Christian writers appealed to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as having authority in condemning homosexual acts. Wright points out that it is precisely this claim that prevents Boswell from seeing the Septuagint translation of these two verses as the probably source of arsenokites and related terms. The Septuagint translates the Hebrew as follows:
Lev. 18:22 – meta arsenos ou koimethese koiten gunaikos
Lev. 20:13 – hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gunaikos
The use of the terms arsenos and koiten in both verses, especially their juxtaposition in 20:13, presents an obvious parallel to Paul’s use of arsenokoitai. Since it is clear that the Hellenistic Jews condemned the homosexuality they encountered in the Greek world, the reasonable conclusion is that arsenokoitai came into use in the intertestamental period, under the influence of the Septuagint of Leviticus, to designate that homoerotic activity the Jews condemned. The plausible conclusion is that the verses in Leviticus not only encouraged the formation of the term but also informed its meaning.10
Now…I will stop here…but I think what should become clear about the discussion of Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy is that the “it doesn’t include today’s homosexuals” argument is on very, very shaky ground.
Although this sermon has run long…it is far from a complete review of the various “biblical” arguments that homosexuality is okay. For instance, pro-gay scholars argue that the levitical condemnation is connected to pagan religious practices because of other uses of the Hebrew word translated “abomination” in the Bible…and…there is frequently an appeal to the “love” part of God’s nature (although I consider that more of an appeal to emotion than to Scripture).
However, at this point I think you can see that there are plenty of logical and scholarly reasons to trust the natural reading of the verses that prohibit and condemn practicing homosexuality. It’s one thing to have one or two difficult verses you have to explain away…but pro-homosexual “Christians” have to explain away every one, and can’t locate a single reference that speaks of homosexuality in a positive context.
None of this, of course, excuses the horrendous treatment some gay people have received through the ages…or even today. It just means if we are right and there is a God, He’s revealed Himself in the Bible, and Scripture is an infallible manual for life–then homosexuals need to repent of the practice.
If anything, as Christians, our understanding that we are really no different than a gay person–that we were, are, and will be sinners–should cause us to see them as fellow patients in God’s clinic instead of soldiers in an enemy’s army.
However, as I noted in the beginning of this sermon, there are homosexual activists who are not willing to “live and let live”…so yes, there will be times we will have to “battle” them. As Paul notes not too many verses away from where we’ve discussed in Romans, “Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32). We cannot just roll-over and play dead when people are actively evangelizing people to accept practices that lead to death.
That would not be loving…and we should love homosexuals just as God does.
2http://www.washingtontimes.com/weblogs/watercooler/2009/oct/06/kevin-jennings-boy-scouts-should-either-pay-and-st/ & http://media.washingtontimes.com/media/audio/2009/Oct/06/homosexual_curriculum_jennings.wav
3Trinity College and Seminary. (1999; 2006). Global Journal Volume 1. Trinity College and Seminary.
6Trinity College and Seminary. (1999; 2006). Global Journal Volume 1. Trinity College and Seminary.
9Trinity College and Seminary. (1999; 2006). Global Journal Volume 1. Trinity College and Seminary.