Monday, November 19, 2007

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 USA. Some churches are debating whether they should ordain practicing homosexuals to the ministry. But most significantly, people who encounter homosexual feelings (which is nothing new, especially with young people), are encouraged to embrace that orientation as being an authentic expression of their true self (and that is a new trend). This calls for some fresh thinking among Christians on our response to the issue, because we are being accused of causing harm to people by encouraging them to give up such behaviour.

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. 18:22; 20:13). 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. 1:24-27; 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. 10:13). 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.[1]

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.”[2] 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.”[3] 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 Athens.

· 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 Sri Lanka need to get together and help start ministries and encourage already started ministries among those struggling with homosexuality or with all kinds of sexual disorders.

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!



[1] See Earl D. Wilson, Counseling and Homosexuality (Dallas: Word, 1988).

[2] 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.

[3] Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse, Ex-Gays?: A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Sexual Orientation Change in Exodus Participants (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007). I have extracted the information here from Tim Stafford’s article “The Best Research Yet” in the October 2007 issue of Christianity Today. This same issue has another helpful article by Stafford entitled, “An Older, Wiser Ex-Gay Movement,” on the work of groups working under the “Exodus” umbrella. These articles could be accessed through the website www.christianitytoday.com.

2 comments:

Anthony Venn-Brown said...

I Nick....I was reading through your post and thought i might share some thoughts. I am quite personally aware of the things you speak about being a gay man and former Pentecostal Evangelist. I've had to grapple with this issue for most of my life, having gone through ex-gay ministries you mention as well as being married for 16 years. I resigned from the ministry after falling in love with a man, having realised that everything I'd done to change my sexual orientation was indeed useless. There are many of us who have led tortured lives, not because of our same sex orientation but the belief that we condemned because of it......and seeking to do the right thing tried desperately to change.

It seems to me, living as a ‘practicing heterosexual’ for 16 years, and living as an openly gay man for the last 16 years that some Christians are quite confused about the issue. Basically because they don’t understand sexual orientation. Indeed it was a concept that biblical writers knew nothing of and has only been a recent understanding in the scientific and mental health professional worlds. Current thought on the issue is well known to educated people. http://www.healthyminds.org/glbissues.cfm

Because of the ignorance in this area some have made the false assumption that homosexuality = promiscuity/immorality but this is no more true than saying heterosexuality = promiscuity/immorality. Our sexual orientation is amoral.

I wish someone had told me that as a young Christian......that my morality is a choice but your sexual orientation however isn't, then I could have lived a life that honoured God as a young gay Christian instead of spending years hating myself and thinking God was displeased with me because I was attracted to men not women. The secrecy, sense of shame nearly drove me and countless others to thoughts and even attempts of suicide (we can’t count the number who have succeeded) realising that no matter how hard we prayed, quoted scripture, had others pray for us, got counselling, etc etc.......in essence we were still gay. Possibly it wasn’t on Gods agenda to change us……as changing me from being left handed to right handed isn’t. The life I live is far more important to the Great Creator.

You mentioned that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality......i think that maybe incorrect. Matthew 19:12 “For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage [ Or have made themselves eunuchs] because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."

If you talk personally to gay and lesbian people you will know that for the vast majority of us we were born this way. We were brought up with good parents, we weren’t sexually abused. There was never a moment when we choose to be gay just as you never choose to be heterosexual. We discovered it about the same time you began noticing the opposite sex.

Some are celibate but Jesus said it was a particular calling. I think it would be more helpful if you didn’t tell people what their calling was but allowed that to be between them and God. I am not celibate and I have to admit I find it quite offensive when people call me immoral when I live in a loving monogamous relationship with my partner. The intimate love we share with each other in the privacy of our own bed is really no business of anyone else’s just I have no right to ask what different positions or sexual practices you and your wife enjoy. Quite frankly I don’t want to know the details…..just that you are happily married.

I wanted to say these things because I was concerned there might be some people who will read your post who would also be unaware of the scientific research about same sex orientation and have a false impression that God doesn’t like homosexual people and that He wants to change them. Particularly that there might be some young people who read your post and your comments could send them on the same fruitless path I followed for 22 years. There is no scientific evidence that says it is possible to change ones sexual orientation ( http://www.apa.org/topics/orientation.html#cantherapychange ). There are those who have made such claims but having lived that life myself, I know that the best one can hope for is a level of heterosexual functionality. This is not a change in orientation and is unfair on the straight partner who will most likely never know true intimacy with the person they have fallen in love with. Once again from my experience and that of 1,000’s who have now told me their story as well that even though they had sex with their partners they were unable to be truly intimate on all levels. In fact were often unaware of its existence till they fell in love with someone of the same sex.

Gay men and lesbians who are in heterosexual marriages have an experience that is exactly the same as men and women in prison or other situations who may engage in some same sex activities. It’s called ‘situational homosexuality’. When they come out of those situations they are not converted homosexuals they are still heterosexual. When I left my marriage of 16 years I realised that basically I’d been riding a stationary bike. When I got off I was still gay.

BTW……the verses you have quoted, when looked at in the light of the historical and cultural contexts as well as the original languages, do not condemn people such as myself. When these passages are studied in depth, and not just read in an English translation, we come to understand that whenever same sex acts are spoken of in the Bible, it is either referring to rape, idolatrous worship, male prostitution or pedastry ( http://www.ecinc.org/Scriptures/clbrpg.htm ).

The word homosexual didn’t even appear in an English version of the Bible till 1946. It’s a relatively modern Christian construct and interpretation.

I trust these thoughts and experiences of mine help to make things clearer for you......and thank you for acknowledging that the Christian churches attitude and responses to same sex oriented people has often been far from Christ like. All gay and lesbian people know they are condemned by many in the church....so few know of Gods love for them though.

Nick Hill said...

Anthony,

Thank you for taking the time to respond (and so long!) and share your life story.

Concerning your personal experience, there are many whose experiences would differ from yours (e.g. those who have genuinely changed; see
Healing Homosexuality: Case Stories Of Reparative Therapy
by Joseph Nicolosi). Therefore, although we do not want to discount
anyone's personal experience, we must deal in the realm of truth.
Feelings and our hearts are very deceptive.

Concerning the Biblical view, no one has been able to refute the excellent
work of Professor Dr. Rob Gagnon (MTS Harvard; Ph.D. Princeton)
called "The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermenutics"
(Abingdon Press, 2001).
See here: http://www.robgagnon.net/RevPraise.htm
http://www.pts.edu/gagnonr.html

Concerning your interpretation of Matthew 19:12 referring to homosexuality, this is eisegesis, putting one’s own meaning into the text, rather than drawing the proper meaning out of the text (exegesis). The NIV Study Bible interprets this verse rightly: “born that way. Impotent. made that way. By castration. have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. Those who have voluntarily adopted a celibate lifestyle in order to give themselves more completely to God’s work. Under certain circumstances celibacy is recommended in Scripture (cf. 1 Co 7:25-38), but it is never presented as superior to marriage” (pg. 1499).

Concerning sexual orientation...no, it is not wrong to have feelings or desires, but it is wrong to act on those desires if they violate God's Word. You, we, are not our feelings or our thoughts. They do not define who we are. (And trust me, many strange feelings and thoughts go through my head every day, but they are not me). It is only sin, in this area, when someone lusts or acts on their lusts.

Concerning loving relationships, one can have many loving relationships with men and women, without genital sex. I have a deep love for many men, but it is not genital. I have a deep love for many women but it is not genital.

Concerning Scientific evidence and the APA, it is known that the APA changed its position on homosexuality as a disorder because of political pressure, not because clear scientific evidence. Further research that contradicts the APA's position has been halted, not on scientific grounds, but on ideological grounds.

Concerning this, please see:

The God Of Sex: Sensuality, Spirituality, And The Transformation Of Western Culture By Peter Jones

Concerning why some turn to homosexuality, Joseph Nicolosi argues that often when one is young, if they do not fit in with the other boys (e.g. are not as rough and tumble, are more artistic, not as confident, etc.), they start spending time with girls instead. However, they are longing to be like the boys that they do not fit in with (kind of a love hate relationship). There is a mystery and longing to be with them. Because they do not spend time with boys, they are called derogatory names, etc., only reinforcing the separation. When the kid reaches puberty the longing is sexualized. Counselors, the media, etc., tell him that because he has these desires he is homosexual and he is born this way. And in this has nothing to do with sexual abuse.

See his books,

A Parent's Guide To Preventing Homosexuality
Joseph Nicolosi | Intervarsity Press

Reparative Therapy Of Male Homosexuality: A New Clinical Approach by Joseph Nicolosi

Healing Homosexuality: Case Stories Of Reparative Therapy by Joseph Nicolosi

May we know the truth. Jesus says: "you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).

Looking forward to further discussion,

Nick