I have been asked and pressed a number of times on facebook and other discussions, to justify why I hold to the orthodox position on homosexual practices and, in particular, what was the basis for this belief. It is not a subject I ever wanted to speak about and I have been very reluctant to make any comment. I also feel that the onus to explain and justify the moves towards the normalising of same-sex relationships should fall to those who are proposing it. In a way there is no need to justify what has been the orthodox position for centuries. It is up to others to justify why the change is either, necessary, good or the right thing to do. This explanation should not have been necessary. Still, as the push towards this momentous change in society, which will have far reaching implications, has been overwhelmingly in one direction and the voices against, with some notable exceptions, all but silenced, I feel a need to state the case as best I can. It is difficult to distil the thinking into a few words, when others have devoted whole volumes and years of study to it, but I have tried and here is what I would say.
At the first I have to make the clear distinction between the person and the act. I have nothing to say about the person. I have no authority or qualification to do so. My position is wholly based on the act – sexual relationships between people of the same sex. This distinction is very important and has often been conveniently blurred. It is perfectly sensible and reasonable to believe that a person’s actions are wrong and disapprove of them and yet not discriminate against them. It happens all the time. The prevailing thought, however, is that if you are unwilling to embrace same sex relationships and believe them to be fundamentally wrong, you are harbouring homophobic thoughts and attitudes. This then is the breeding ground for prejudice discrimination, hostility and eventually violence. There is also the suggestion that such an attitude can precipitate the suicide of a perceived victim. Homophobia, in this definition, is just one step up from Nazism.
For me, the major explanation and authority comes from the Bible, and I know that many who do not accept the authority of the bible will be dismissive of it because of that. But my position is, however, not only based on what has been revealed in the bible, but also from what is clearly seen in nature. What I have called “self-evident” truth, although again some have objected to the use of that term. It is to do with the unarguable anatomical distinction between men and women clearly pointing to a design, and I would say to a designer. If there is a design then, in a world where we have free will, there is the possibility of a distortion, a spoiling of the designer’s intention. It seems perfectly plain. It is unnatural. It is something a child sees as obvious and doesn’t need to be taught. Even without the bible, I would take the same position that I do.
I do believe the bible to be the word of God not just parts of it. It is our one true guide to life but more importantly it reveals God and Jesus, the son of God, to us. I also believe it is a whole and needs to be read as a whole and so I would not try and pick out a verse here and there (what could be called “proof texts”) to make a point.
The first thing is that nowhere in all of the books of the bible is there the remotest hint that homosexual sex is anything but wrong and is often condemned in the strongest of terms. No one argues with this. But the place I would start is Genesis and the creation narrative. Nothing could be clearer that God created humans as male and female deliberately. It was the climax of creation and it was only then that he rested and gave his creatures the command to carry on the work of creation from the garden into the entire world. That is enough for me. From there the design is simply clarified and reminded in the positive and the negative. It is possible, as others have done with far greater clarity than I could ever employ, to trace this design throughout the bible, book by book, emphasising its central importance as a picture of the relationship between Christ (the son of God) and the church (his bride). Paul describes this as a mystery. It is a wonder and, at the same time, something extraordinarily beautiful and lovely. Because of that, any distortion any soiling of the picture is a blasphemy against God.
It is probably easier to start from what the advocates for the normalisation of same sex relationships claim the bible says. One of the big ones is that Jesus said nothing about it and so by default he was for it. He would have blessed a same sex union if there was one at the time in the same way that he blessed the couple at Cana by his presence. That is how the argument goes. It is of course a baseless argument. It is arguing from the negative. Jesus said nothing to contradict or supplant or nullify the moral law which condemned such practise in the strongest of terms. In the Sermon on the Mount he did not water down the moral law but he reinforced it. He said that sin starts in the heart. When it came to marriage he pointed back to the creation narrative which explained that the design was for a man and women to become one.
The moral law was defined in the Ten Commandments which included the seventh (or sixth) and amplified in Leviticus. So many people follow the well-trodden line set out by atheists, bishops and celebrity evangelicals who sneer and savagely mock those who hold to the orthodox view, by saying “You are hypocrites. You disregard some rules (on not eating pork, not wearing clothes made of different materials for example) while choosing to keep others (on homosexuality)”. This is the classic Jed Bartlett put down and is, of course, a great laugh. But those who say this have either not taken the trouble to read Leviticus or have deliberately misread it. It is not difficult to see there is a clear distinction between the cleanliness laws, the rules that apply to the business of approaching God , the laws that Jesus fulfilled by what he did, and the moral law which remains. The actual verse which specifically prohibits homosexual practise is not amongst verses on clothing or what not to eat, as people would have us believe, but is in a chapter devoted to the prohibition of many kinds of sexual sin and is in fact sandwiched between the law against sacrificing children and the law against sex with animals. By this logic, which the critics employ, there is no reason why we should prohibit sex with animals or the sacrificing of our children if, in the spirit some future enlightened age, it was thought the right thing to do.
In the account, God was about to punish the city because of its many sins but we are not told explicitly what they were. The fact that homosexual rape was involved, may simply suggest how bad thing had become but we are not told. The suggestion that it was because of their inhospitality to strangers is simply unfounded, as Lot, one of the chief citizens of that town, did in fact, offer and press on the strangers, hospitality, so that obligation was fulfilled. Also the sin of inhospitality is the not the one Jude has in mind when he wrote his letter. It is specifically sexual immorality and perversion.
David and Jonathan
The suggestion that David and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship and that Ruth and Naomi were lesbians, as I have heard some say, is farcical.
It is hard to get round what Paul says about homosexual practices both in Romans, Corinthians and Timothy without somehow denigrating Paul. Some have suggested that he was speaking solely about pederasty and not about long term homosexual relationships, which he would have been ignorant of. The first position (deciding that you can’t trust Paul) pretty much writes off the most of the New Testament and I think that you either accept the authority of the bible or you don’t. The second stretches language and credibility and also makes the astonishing assumption of what Paul did and didn’t know. Any reasonable person can see what he is talking about. In Romans he is beginning his thesis on the gospel of Jesus Christ, the core of the Christian faith, by focusing on the reality of God’ anger against sin. But it is not against homosexual sin, sexual sin or other specific sins, for the matter (of which he lists many) but the act of rebellion against God in which we are all implicated. Homosexual sins and the others he lists are a result of God leaving us to it and the consequences of that rebellion. This is the necessary backcloth to the scene, before he introduces the good news in the wonder and beauty of what Christ has done for us. It needs someone better than me to explain that fully, but what you cannot deny is that Paul describes homosexual sex as unnatural and a perversion of God’s design
It would be heartless, in the extreme, not to recognise that so much of this is very difficult and can be hard to accept. Many have been badly hurt and speak of great pain and anguish in the way the church, society and governments have treated them over the years. Being ostracised, discriminated against and left out in the cold. An unloving, censorious attitude has often prevailed but that cannot be traced back to the bible or laid at the feet of Paul or Jesus. The bible makes quite clear that homosexual sin is just one of many, no better no worse. We are all sinners. We are all in the same boat, so there is never any ground for discrimination or thinking of ourselves as better or above another person. Paul himself shows the way when he warns his readers that they will be judged by God, if they continue in their sinful ways, he includes those who practice all kind of sins and says no one will get to heaven, but then goes on to say to his hearers, that they were all like that too but have been washed and made clean. Finally he says that he too is a sinner of the worst kind but he has been forgiven and being made a new person in Jesus. That’s the Good news. The rest is bad.
References (or writings that have helped me on this)
William Hendrikson New Testament Commentary on Romans
John Paul II Man and Woman He created them ,
Timothy Keller Romans for you
John RW Stott The message of Romans
William Still Theological Studies in Genesis and Romans
Melinda Selmys Sexual Authenticity