In this paper I attempt to explain my current view on homosexuality.
As a young person, my views were derived from my family and associates and community – the people I knew and trusted. It seemed obvious to everyone I knew that there must be something wrong when a male replaces the natural human attraction to females with attraction to other men. Homosexual men were to be shunned and were labeled “queers.” As an early teenager, I had not been brought up in the church yet had a general belief in God. In high school I began my journey with God that continues to this day. The views of the church against homosexuality seemed well founded since there are Bible verses clearly against it and there seemed little reason to question them. Homosexuality is a black and white issue: case closed. Homosexuality is immoral and they are sinners. This is what my church said, so I went along with it. For most of my life, this is how I saw it.
I no longer ascribe to this view. Please, let me explain why.
This seems to me to be a case where we find something in the Bible that confirms our prejudices or fears or some view that we hold dear and use a verse or two as “proof” of what we know is “truth”. For example, slavery. The southern pre-civil war slave owners claimed their case correctly that the Bible never condemns slavery. Yet what they couldn’t see was that the God of the Bible is the God who freed slaves from Egypt and is always on the side of the poor and oppressed. Slavery was to their economic advantage such that they were blind to the God of love and justice for all people.
In the case of homosexuality, there are specific admonitions against it that seem clear enough. So why not leave it there, call it an abomination that God detests and let the chips fall? Yet there are many verses in the Bible on other matters that seem as clear as black is from white that in reality are not so simple when considering the whole Bible in the spirit of Jesus. Here are some examples:
I Timothy 2:12 – “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man: she must be silent.” In spite of how clear this seems, a large number of Bible-believing Christians do not adhere to this. This is justified by pointing to other verses that indicate equality of the sexes and especially the life of Jesus who elevated the status of women. In spite of how reasonable it seems to many who do not adhere to this, there are many other good folks who maintain Paul’s injunction against women and claim higher ground above others that “do not believe the Bible.”
There are many things mentioned in the Bible that are not adhered to: handling poisonous snakes in worship, cutting off our hand if it offends, stoning those who do not honor their parents, and many more. These are obviously not to be taken in a dead literal way. So it should not be a surprise that a proper approach to understanding the Bible also involves at least a little thinking rather than simply looking at the words to blindly follow them. In fact, a dim view is given to those who adhere to these literal things. Such is the case in what Jesus said during his last supper, that the cup is his blood and the bread his body. So Roman Catholics claim to adhere to this and say the communion elements really do become the literal blood and body of Jesus, just as Jesus said. Is that believing the Bible more than others?
Coming closer to sexual issues, consider Jesus on adultery.
Matthew 5:32. “…anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to commit adultery, and anyone who marries a woman so divorced commits adultery.”
Mark 10:11-12. “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
Luke 16:18. “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
What has been done with Jesus’ teaching on divorce and adultery? Taken together, these verses leave a few questions about some details, but there can be no doubt that Jesus is against divorce and those who divorce and remarry commit adultery. In spite of this clear teaching the sad practice is widespread and accepted among most Christians. However, persons who fall in this category are not routinely labeled “divorcees” or “adulterers” and are not barred from full participation in the church. There may be a few Christian groups where adultery is still considered a sin which renders the sinners ineligible for full participation in the church. But for the vast majority of Christian groups who do not hold to this hard line, is it a sign they dismiss the Bible when they disagree with it, or plainly do not believe the Bible? Or is it a sign of grace being extended and love that “does not keep records of wrong”?
Since Jesus makes no mention of homosexuality it can only be inferred from his other actions how he might treat a gay person. Consider John 8:3-11, the woman caught in adultery. At great personal risk, Jesus stood between the powerful accusers primed to hurl stones and a defenseless, sinful woman. In her defense Jesus surely enraged those who tried to trap him – adding another nail to his coffin. Yes, he told her to “sin no more” – AFTER he risked his life and reputation for her. Jesus was definitely not one of her accusers. In fact, he was the only one qualified to “cast the first stone” but didn’t. Jesus was able to walk the fine line between moral purity and offering genuine love. The thin cliche “hate the sin and love the sinner” does not equate to genuine love when mixed with a heavy dose of condemnation.
The gospels show Jesus consistently reaching out to the poor, the outcasts and sinners – those whom the religious crowd have shunned. In my view of Jesus, I can see him standing up in defense of prostitutes and homosexuals against the condemnation of religious people who consider themselves morally superior and fit to judge. I am convinced that Jesus would not condone the long, sad history of discrimination and persecution towards homosexuals. What if, instead of joining in society’s misunderstanding and contempt, the people of God stood up for homosexuals against the rejection, condemnation, discrimination and persecution of the rest of our society? It would surely incur the same hostility faced by homosexuals. It would also send a powerful message that the Way of Jesus is a different way to live that does not accept the status quo of stereotypes nor use labels to put other people down. The Way of Jesus is to include all people into God’s kingdom who will follow Jesus. The way of the Pharisees is to exclude all who are judged unworthy. It pains me greatly to see my fellow Christians standing with the accusers to cast their stones!
Our society in general does not understand homosexuality and refuses to accept homosexuals as people with dignity. So we readily snatch some Bible verses that validate this prejudice and assume this is license to tag gays with various derogatory labels, which is the first step in treating any group badly. The people of God should do better than this. Bible verses against homosexuality do not give permission for disrespect and hostility. No wonder it is hard to convince non-believers about Jesus when they see us as not much different than they are.
I’m not just ignoring what the Bible says because I don’t like it. Nor am I on a slippery slope that leads to perdition. I claim that I believe the Bible as strongly as any Christian. I believe the whole Bible that tells me that a whole class of people should not be lumped in a common bucket and condemned outright with no consideration of the individuals involved.
As to how psychology and/or biology may explain homosexuality, I am not qualified to comment. The general lack of understanding of homosexuality leaves the door wide open to make up one’s own explanation on how a person can not be “normal”. So it is generally assumed there must be something “wrong” when a person does not conform to the generally accepted idealization of maleness or femaleness. Thus follows prejudice and fear and discrimination against them. Even with my recent move away from condemnation of homosexuals, I still admit I can’t explain it. Maybe it’s the same as when a child grows up to be tall or short. I cannot help but believe there are valid reasons behind it far beyond a simple matter of a sinful choice.
On gay marriage: I think gay couples who wish to commit their lives to each other should be able to have a legal status as a couple with the same benefits as married couples. But it should be called something other than marriage. It’s too late for that now, of course, since society has not willingly given them that status. But I do not see a great damage they are doing to traditional marriage. I see the damage to marriage already being done by heterosexuals who have long forsaken the idea of one man being married to one woman – unless this means, one at a time. I wish gay unions were not called “marriage”, but condemning gay marriage seems hypocritical to me.
I believe the issue is really larger than homosexuality. The whole area of human sexuality needs to be re-examined. What does it mean to be made in God’s image as sexual beings? And further, what is our image of God? Is God the eager smiter for our abominations or more like a father who has compassion on his children and remembers that we are made of dust? And what is the good news of Jesus? Is it only that he is the way for sinners who deserve hell to get to heaven after we die? Or isn’t it also the invitation to follow Jesus into God’s peaceable kingdom of love for all people?
I have only recently come to this view and feel I am a feeble spokesperson for it. I do not claim this to be very profound nor eloquent. There are others much more qualified to represent this.* But I pray for the day when homosexuals are treated in all our churches with dignity and love and allowed full participation as children of God – right along side of adulterers and the rest of us sinners.
Joe Vandegriff April 23, 2015