1 John 4:8
In thirty-two years of ministry, I have counseled with one person who confessed to being gay to me. It happened many years ago. For this person to do so took great courage; they knew my Christian convictions about the practice of homosexuality. But the reason for their telling me was clear enough: They wanted some Christian they trusted to listen to them speak of their struggles with their sexual orientation.
And so the person told me simply, “I’m gay, pastor.” I responded in the only way I knew how to as a Christian and a pastor. I put my hand on that person’s hand and told them, “I understand and I want you to know that I love you and that God loves you too.”
In telling that person that God loved them, I wasn’t encouraging them to give into their own personal impulse to engage in homosexual relationships. But just as I would use God’s love as the starting point in conversations with any person struggling with temptation, I began with God’s love.
Love is always the place God starts in helping us to deal with temptation or sin in our lives.
As Luther points out in The Small Catechism, even God’s moral law, as summarized in the Ten Commandments, begins with the words, “I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of Egypt…”
God and His Word always begin in love. We see this in Jesus: God sent His Son Jesus into this world to save sinners; and if we are willing to turn from sin (and to keep turning from sin) and to believe in Him (and to keep believing in Him), God will save us for life with Him that lasts for all eternity.
But, as we deal with tonight’s question, “Is the Biblical view of homosexuality unloving?” we need to briefly mention a few facts we know about God through His Word and through Jesus, God’s Word made flesh.
Fact one: To suffer temptation is no sin. Every human being who has ever walked this planet, even Jesus, Who was both true God and true man, gets tempted to sin.
The orientation to homosexual behavior is no worse than the orientation to sin which is universal to human experience and no different from the particular sins that might have special appeal to us. (I often joke that we all have our own favored personal sins of specialization, along with all the other sins to which everyone else is drawn.)
Had I told the counselee who confessed to being gay that they were damned for their sexual orientation, I not only would have been unloving, I would have been lying.
Fact two: No sin is worse than any other sin. James 2:10 says: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”
All sin is a violation of God’s holiness and will. To judge the gay person involved with one or more people sexually to be worse than the heterosexual person involved with others sexually or than the person who routinely takes God’s name in vain, is wrong.
Sin is sin. And the wages of sin is death. But all who own their sin at the cross, trusting in what Christ accomplished there, has forgiveness and life with God.
Fact three: Love is not approval. When Jesus prevented a judgmental mob from stoning a woman caught in adultery, He didn’t tell her, “Go back and keep doing what you were doing.” He told her, "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:11)
Fact four: We in the Church hold what Jesus calls “the keys to the kingdom.” That means that we have the delegated responsibility to proclaim God’s forgiveness to the repentant and His condemnation to the unrepentant.
We are to speak God’s truth, even God’s uncomfortable truth, in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Imagine, for a moment, that you’re standing in front of the church building and you see two young people go out to play in the middle of Miamsiburg-Centerville Road.
Would you say to yourself, “That must be what they like to do”?
Or would you, instead, say something to warn them of the dangers in doing what they’re doing?
Love would compel you to warn them, I think.
Just so, the loving exercise of “the keys of the kingdom” should call us to tell anyone who asks what God has to say about the unrepentant practice of homosexuality: it places those who engage in it in a state of separation from God, no matter how much we love them.
So, what exactly does God’s Word say about homosexuality?
Exodus 20:14 tells us, “You shall not commit adultery.” This is the sixth commandment, which The Small Catechism explains: “We should fear and love God so that in matters of sex we are chaste and disciplined in our words and actions, and that husband and wife love and honor each other.”
The covenant of marriage between a man and a woman is meant by God to be the exclusive place in which sexual intimacy happens.
Now, let’s be honest: Jesus says that even when a husband looks lustfully on another woman, he violates this command. So, the chances are that no human being is guiltless when it comes to the sixth commandment. Not one. (If you think you are guiltless of violating this command, see me after worship. We'll talk. But you'll have a lot of convincing to do!)
But, whatever our sexual orientation, our call remains the same, to repent and believe in the gospel, the good news of new life through Jesus (Mark 1:15).
A section of Leviticus is known as the holiness code. Unlike other parts of Leviticus, which contains ritual/sacrificial law no longer valid because Jesus has become the once-and-for-all definitive sacrifice for our sins and civil laws meant to govern a theocratic nation that no longer exists (ancient Israel), the holiness code is an elaboration by God of the ten commandments. It's part of what the theologians call God’s moral law. One elaboration of the sixth commandment is in Leviticus 18:22. God says: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”
Of course, some people who think that there’s a divide between the God of the Old Testament and the God revealed in Jesus will object to our even mentioning passages from the Old Testament.
Such people haven’t paid attention to either Old or New Testament.
Jesus says of the Old Testament’s moral law: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).
Yes, some may say, but Jesus never condemned homosexual intimacy as a sin.
That’s not entirely true.
Every time Jesus spoke of sexuality, He spoke of it as something that happens exclusively within a marriage between a woman and a man. He quoted Genesis: “For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will live with his wife. The two will become one” (Matthew 19:5).
Homosexual practice was far more prevalent in first century Rome than it is today; yet Jesus always puts sexual intimacy within the bounds of a heterosexual marriage with three partners: God, a woman, and a man.
So, is God’s will about sexuality and homosexuality as expressed by Jesus and in various places in Scripture unloving?
For me, this boils down to one simple question: What is God’s reason for making us sexual beings? I think that the Bible identifies three reasons.
First, God intends to acclimate us to what a relationship with God is like.
God is eternal; we are mortal.
God is spirit; we are physical.
And yet, in Jesus, God reaches out to us and calls us to be in relationship with One Who is totally different from us, totally other.
Ephesians 5 and other passages of Scripture imply that marriage is a metaphor for our relationship with God in Christ. We marry the opposite and in that relationship, God intends for us to be made as complete as it's possible to be in an earthly relationship (despite all of the ways married people have created to get in the way of that happening), just as we are made eternally complete through our relationship with Christ.
Man and woman complement each other. They are the same but different.
In Genesis 2:23 [ESV], we’re told that Adam looked on the woman God made to be his wife and declared that she was the same, but different: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
People may experience a kind of love and sexual excitement in homosexual relationships, but they won’t be all that God intends for us.
We are most challenged to be our best selves, our fullest selves, in relationships with the other, not in those with the same.
Ephesians 5 says that husbands and wives are both to submit to each other in the same way that we are to submit to Christ. It's in the surrender to “the other” that God liberates us to be who God made us to be.
There are two other reasons that God made sexuality for married couples, I think: to provide pleasurable intimacy to one another and, when it is God’s will, to share their love with children.
In the Old Testament, Sarah gave expression to both of these purposes when she asked God about His improbable promise that she, in her nineties, would, for the first time, become the mother of a child: "After I am worn out and my lord [my husband] is old, will I now have this pleasure?" (Genesis 18:12) God’s answer was, “Yes!”
The gift of sexuality comes from God. God thought it up. He created it.
And it is a gift of love that He intends to protect from any adulteration of these three purposes.
God doesn’t say no to sexual intimacy outside of marriage because He hates us, but because He loves us and wants us to use His gift as it was (and) is intended.
In this, as in so many other aspects of our lives, even when we don't think it's true, God is love.
[You might also be interested in my take on the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. In a nutshell, as a civil matter of law for our pluralistic society, it didn't really bother me that much. Read the whole thing.]
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This was the final installment of our midweek Lenten series, Tough Questions.]