JESUS, HOMOSEXUALITY AND THE CHURCH
by Ajith Fernando
Homosexual practice has gained a new acceptance today in society and even in some segments of the church. There are people in high places who are practicing homosexuals, and they are not making too much effort to hide that fact. The Anglican Church may be on the verge of a huge split over the consecration of a gay bishop in
JESUS AND HOMOSEXUALITY
As far as I know, there is no record of Jesus ever commenting on homosexuality. He did say that his more religiously inclined contemporaries in Israel would be more severely punished than the people of Sodom (Matt. 10:15; 11:23-24) one of whose more overt sins was acknowledged in those days as homosexual practice (Jude 7). This is a sobering reminder that homosexual practice is not the only thing we must battle in the church. It seems as if hypocrisy was considered an even more serious sin.
There are many times when Jesus says that he totally accepts the Old Testament (OT) and what it teaches. The OT is very clear in its denunciation of homosexual practice (Lev. ; ). Christians agree that those laws relating to ceremonial aspects of Jewish religious and national life are not binding for us today. So we do not generally require circumcision and abstinence from pork. But we accept that the moral teaching of the OT reflects the mind of God who does not change. Therefore we should take the moral prohibitions of the OT as binding for us today. This means that Christians must not commit adultery, or homosexual acts because they are condemned in the OT.
Yet both adultery and homosexual practice are condemned in the New Testament (NT) too (Rom. -27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11). Of course, we must remember that in these NT passages homosexuality is placed alongside many other sins with which we seem to be far more tolerant. We must oppose all forms of sin; and in the sexual realm, heterosexual and homosexual sin are both abhorrent to God.
My hunch would be that, if Jesus lived today, religious people would be amazed at how friendly and loving he is towards homosexuals without condoning their lifestyle. I believe he would be hanging out with them, showing them how to move away from homosexual practice and supporting them and helping them as they struggle to do so.
It is my understanding of the tone of Scripture that while homosexual practice is condemned homosexual desire would be presented as something that even righteous people could encounter and should resist. A person with homosexual tendencies would be required to be celibate just as a single person with heterosexual tendencies would be required to be celibate until marriage. One who continues to face homosexual temptation but remains celibate may serve God because he or she has resisted the temptation. This is similar to a person with the temptation to lie being able to serve God if he or she abstains from lying.
I believe however that Jesus would be harsh in his condemnation of those who aggressively advocate legitimacy for the homosexual lifestyle—especially those in the religious establishment. To give religious legitimacy to something that is clearly condemned in Scripture would be an act of arrogant disregard of the prerogative of God to determine what is right and what is wrong. It is a serious sin which must be roundly condemned and countered.
THE CHURCH’S RESPONSE
The Bible teaches that we can overcome all temptations to sin (1 Cor. ). As the Bible teaches that homosexual practice is a sin we can confidently claim that God will help even a person who has gone deep into a homosexual lifestyle to overcome temptations to homosexual sin. Some may have a lifelong battle but succeed in remaining celibate whereas others may be significantly cured of their homosexual tendencies.
The trend today in scholarly and in media circles is to equate the opposition to homosexual practice with “homophobia:” hating homosexual people. The mainstream of psychological scholarship has dropped homosexuality from its list of disorders. The official website of the American Psychological Association states, “The reality is that homosexuality is not an illness. It does not require treatment and is not changeable.” It warns that “conversion therapy… is poorly documented and could cause potential harm.” Attempting to heal people of this behaviour is said to inevitably cause severe mental distress. Christians helping homosexuals to change have had to go against the scholarly consensus and often incur the wrath of officialdom.
Two American academic psychologists Stanton Jones of Wheaton College and Mark Yarhouse of Regent Univsersity have recently published preliminary results of an ongoing study of several years. They are testing the impact of Christian programmes designed to help free people from homosexuality in a number of groups operating under an umbrella organisation called “Exodus.” It is an extensive study that is challenging the scholarly consensus. What they have found is that the results are comparable to the results of therapy for alcohol and drug addiction, for troubled marriages, or for personality disorders. There is significant though modest success, just like in these other programmes. They have also found out that there has not been an abnormally high incidence of acute psychological distress as a result of the resolve to change ones orientation.
Some have changed their orientation and become essentially heterosexual and others live celibate lives though still having homosexual inclinations. They would have to wait till they get to heaven until they are totally freed from temptation, but they have the God-given strength to happily live the life of holiness as prescribed in the Bible. Like all other Christian therapy programmes there are many in these programmes who do not overcome homosexual sin.
We know that Christians are notorious for hurting, by insensitive comments and actions, people with sexual problems, addiction and marital struggles. Working with this group calls for much sensitivity. In fact, generally during the early years of recovery, recovering homosexuals are generally more helped by having fellowship within the understanding environment of those with similar struggles. This is true of recovering drug dependants and alcoholics There will be those who, despite good intensions succumb to temptation, and they must be lovingly but firmly helped to avail themselves of God’s sufficient grace to forgive, to cleanse and to point them along the pathway of victory.
The growing acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle is presenting biblical Christians with a big challenge.
· We cannot join society in accepting this practice. To do so would be to rebel against God by denying what his Word affirms. As the media is trying to aggressively push homosexual practice as a legitimate alternate lifestyle, we will need to challenge that consensus using appropriate arguments just like Paul challenged the validity of idolatry using philosophical arguments in
· We must condemn with equal severity both heterosexual and homosexual sin. Christians have sometimes viewed homosexuals with a revulsion that is alien to the spirit of Christ who came to seek and to save the lost.
· We must ensure that homosexual sinners, like heterosexual sinners, must not be deprived of their basic human rights. But that is not the same as permitting practicing homosexuals to hold office in the church and other Christian bodies. Practicing homosexuals, along with those guilty of heterosexual adultery, of racism, of dishonesty, and of underpaying their workers, must be barred from holding office until a process of repentance and healing has been followed.
· As Jesus hung around with sinners as their genuine friend—with sacrificial concern for their welfare—may homosexuals today find Christians doing the same with them.
· We must be sensitive to the challenges faced by those who are grappling with homosexuality and avoid insensitive and glib statements which cause hurt and alienation. Jesus understands the severity of temptation and the struggle of the tempted and directs his love and power toward those who seek him. We must direct people to the healing he offers.
· We need to realise the complexity of the healing process and learn how to deal wisely with people who are tempted in this way and who fall even after starting along the path to recovery.
· We must find groups capable of working with them and direct those whom we can to such groups.
· Perhaps Christians interested in this field in
The church has faced numerous huge challenges in its two-millennium history, and some of the most brilliant and creative thinking and ministry in the church emerged as a result of those challenges. May that happen with the church’s response to the growing acceptance of homosexual practice in society!
 See Earl D. Wilson, Counseling and Homosexuality (Dallas: Word, 1988).
 As reported in Tim Stafford, “The Best Research Yet: Two Psychologists show that Homosexuals Should not be Discouraged from Seeking Change,” Christianity Today, Oct. 2007.