An Attempt at a Compassionate yet Theologically Conservative Approach to the Issue of Homosexuality

When young outsiders are asked their perception of Christians, the two highest thoughts are are that Christians are judgmental and anti-homosexual. Interestingly, these are the same perceptions that young churchgoers have of Christians as well (unChristian 28, 34). And I don't think these views are unwarranted.

In 2009, a bill was introduced in Uganda that would hang people who were found guilty of having consensual homosexual sex. Eventually, more reasonable minds prevailed and removed that wording from the legislation although being a homosexual would still be outlawed.

The Los Angeles Times reports, “Anyone who counseled or abetted people in committing homosexual acts — including landlords who rented houses or rooms to gay people — would face seven years in jail. The bill makes it compulsory for people to report acts of homosexuality within 24 hours of becoming aware of them and penalizes those who fail to do so.”

In the proposed bill, gay sex in Uganda would carry a term of life in prison.


Apparently, the early church wrestled with homosexuality too. If not, they wouldn't have addressed the issue. We see Paul write about it in three places. First is in his setup to the his letter to the church at the heart of the empire of the day, the church in Rome.

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things."

"Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen."

"For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error."

"And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them." Romans 1:18-32 (ESV)

What we see here is a common, rhetorical approach. Paul is building up to declare us all sinners (Romans 3:23) and to elaborate that God is transitioning His chosen people from being the nation of Israel to being the church (Romans 9:6-7, 30-31). Yet he doesn't start with the lead. He is trying to convince people. In doing so, he starts with something that they all would view as a sin, homosexuality. That's his lead. From there he goes on to expand the list of sins. People would agree. That was what Paul was trying to do. He's trying to bring them along to his conclusion. But then he hits the hammer down and tells them that they are also sinners. We're all sinners, and we can't just point our finger at others and declare them sinners. This is the same approach that the Old Testament prophets would use at times, a culture that Paul was inundated with.

Paul includes homosexuality in his list of sins to the church in Corinth.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)

And here it is mentioned in his letter to his young protégé, Timothy.

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. 1 Timothy 1:8-11 (ESV)

Using the Old Testament story of Sodom, despite its prevalence, is not a great analogy against homosexuality. Nor is pulling out the Old Testament law. I understand that those sections reference the idea, but those passages come with other baggage. There is no reason to stretch and include those section because there is enough biblical evidence in other places. People can't relegate the teachings of Paul to being in the Old Testament Law.

Nowhere in the Bible is homosexuality shown as being okay. The argument to make homosexuality biblically permissible has to start by saying that the authors of Scripture don't say what they are clearly saying. The authority of Scripture and the historical methods of interpretation have to be attacked.

This is a method that some are willing to use. William M. Kent, at one time a member of a committee assigned by United Methodists to study homosexuality, declared that “the scriptural texts in the Old and New Testaments con­demning homosexual practice are neither inspired by God nor otherwise of enduring Christian value. Considered in the light of the best biblical, theological, scientific, and social knowledge, the biblical condemnation of homosexual practice is better under­stood as representing time and place bound cultural prejudice.”

To go down this road, we can then make the Bible say whatever we want it to say. Critics may claim that Christians already do that, but I would argue that we don't. We have methods of interpretation that are generally accepted.

The thing that I find telling is that the writers of the Bible will sometimes express that homosexuality is a sin while there are no verses that seem to imply that it is okay. There are certain issues in the modern church where we wrestle with Scripture (like women's role in the church) and people can come to different conclusions based upon their starting point and the way that they read Scripture. Homosexuality really isn't an issue like this.  The view in our society is definitely changing, but the view in Scripture doesn't.

In the end, I think the issue becomes an issue on hermeneutics (methods of studying the Bible) and how we go about that. Not that the issue is debatable in Scripture, but those who are proponents of homosexuality have to start discarding Scripture, as we saw in the Kent quote above. In doing that, the way that we have gone to Scripture since the early church is damaged.

To briefly explain, I wouldn't call myself a literalist. For example, I do not believe in young earth creation. I do not believe that Genesis is trying to give us a scientific view of creation when it tells the creation story. Instead, it was giving an anthropological view to give the original audience of the book and those who read it the same way through time an understanding that God is the creator and He is Lord; however, it is not trying to lay out a literal, scientific, or historical retelling of the story of  how this all came to be. It was trying to provide a framework for us to actually learn to live by. At the heart of this approach to Scripture, we are always looking for the principle behind the Scripture. We never discard Scripture because it is difficult. Instead, we wrestle with it through contemplation, study, and prayer. We believe that it is the inspired word of God. But that does not mean that it is always fact. Fact means that it is all 100% accurate. But that isn't the purpose of some of the sections of Scripture. With that said, not being fact does not mean that they don't contain truth. And it's that truth that we seek when go to Scripture. (This is as good as I can sum a whole semester and many books read on how to read Scripture in one paragraph.)

Another approach is to say the Jesus himself never dealt with the issue of homosexuality. My friend, Samuel Long, who is wrapping up his PhD in Old Testament Theology right now wrote this: "Although Jesus does not discuss homosexuality, and it does not come up in the New Testament with any regularity, when it does, it is clearly done so in a negative way. If God had intended homosexuality to be a viable sexual alternative for some people, He would not have condemned it as an abomination. It is never mentioned in Scripture in anything but negative terms, and nowhere does the Bible even hint at approving or giving instruction for homosexual relationships. Proponents of homosexuality have to start by saying that the Scripture doesn’t say what it clearly says. They have to start attacking the authority of Scripture. And while we can interpret and apply passages differently, discounting clear teachings out of hand make the Bible less than what it is."

Approving homosexuality, biblically speaking, always comes back to disregarding Scripture and reading it in ways that are not good Bible study methods. I have books pushing a pro-homosexual reading of the Bible. I have read articles doing the same. In the end, it always comes back to this.

So biblically speaking, I do not think we can make a case using historical Bible study methods that homosexuality is not a sin. Yet that still doesn't make it an easy issue.


Issues like homosexuality prove extremely difficult.

First, it does hurt a person with any sort of empathy to tell people who disagree or are kind, loving homosexuals that homosexuality is a sin. It hurts to alienate them over this issue. It just hurts to be what I feel is mean. I wish I could just tell people that homosexuality is okay for them if that is what they want. But that just isn’t what the Scriptures teach. I surmise that the Scriptures don’t teach it is okay because homosexuality, like all sins, is not what is best for a person’s life. Can I explain why that is? Nope. I wish I could explain it convincingly, but I can't. 

Second, saying that homosexuality is a sin goes straight in the face of what we are taught by our society to teach. And wrestling with our society is difficult on any issue.

Recently, the Presbyterian Church USA, began ordaining gay, lesbians, and transgender people. Reverend Janet Edwards from More Light Presbyterians explained:
 “We have opened up our hearts and minds to see God’s word to us now…We understand that change is a necessary part of Christian life. We are Reformed Christians. And Reformed means, ‘Always knowing that God will show us new things and call us forward.’”
“The emphasis is on the talents that these people bring and the witness of their lives…be able to sense the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and elect these candidates to ordained office.”
“The Great Commission of Christ is to proclaim God’s love to the whole world…This will strengthen our church, both within ourselves and the world, in proclaiming the gospel.”
“I know that there are those who are afraid of the future…but love casts out fear.”
“I entered into ministry convicted that God loves everyone and God’s gifts are given as God chooses, not as we do.  For me, it is awesomely humbling to be active in the church in a moment when we live out our basic gift to the whole of Christendom and to the world, which is reformed, always being reformed. God has shown us in my time, a new thing, and my church is in the process of embracing it and is reforming before my eyes.”
A recent Barna study showed that nearly half of all adults (48%) believe that sexual relations between consenting adults of the same gender should be legal, although only half as many say that such relations are morally acceptable (25%). Among born again adults, one-third (34%) say that sexual relations between gay people should be legal while just 9% say that such activity is morally appropriate.

There is a tide that we are swimming against when we think that the Bible teaches homosexuality is a sin. A tide that I would rather not swim against, but I can't if I still hold that the Bible is the inspired word of God. For some, they will just reject the Bible. Others, may just reject God. I am not comfortable rejecting either.


But even if homosexuality is a sin, does that mean that we automatically leap to wanting our earthly nation to legislating our morality. This seems to be where a lot of the conflict in our society over the issue comes from. 

I want to propose a different approach for the church.What if we focused on God’s kingdom rather than our earthly kingdom?

Our stance against homosexuality becomes a problem in our mainstream culture when we try to make our moral stance a political position, so we have to be very careful when we decide that we should become politically active on any issue. Are we not just hurting the gospel in our attempts to make those who don't claim to know Jesus or those who claim to understand Scripture differently live like we think they should live? Many Christian issues get dicey when we make them issues of politics.
To contrast, when we talk about abortion, we talk about how it is the responsibility of Christians to stand up for the oppressed. Are homosexuals oppressing anyone? Or are we, in our attempts to legislate morality actually becoming the oppressors?

Politics and our faith can get sticky. Often people just make the leap from "that's wrong" to "we must legislate our position." This ignores a whole discussion that must happen in the middle of those two questions. We must really ask ourselves whether our position is helping the oppressed and those who can't use the instruments of power to help themselves. In those cases, we just pursue helping those who can't help themselves.

When it comes to homosexuality, there can be a multitude of conclusions that one can come to.

  • One can believe that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin and hate homosexuals.
  • One can believe that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin and work to make laws to prevent homosexuality in our land.
  • One can believe that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, yet not fight against homosexuals to be homosexuals in society without judgment or hatred, having the ability to have all the rights of a married heterosexual couple, while differentiating that equality in society with an equality of service in the Kingdom.
  • One can believe that the Bible says homosexuality is not a sin yet still hate homosexuals.
  • One can believe that the Bible says homosexuality is not a sin and therefore they should have all the rights that a heterosexual would have.
  • One can believe that the Bible says homosexuality is not a sin and believes they should adamantly fight for equality.
  • One can believe that the Bible says homosexuality is not a sin and that it is a special class of people that needs to be protected.

And you may find yourself in another position. But the way it works is that we ask, "Is homosexuality a sin?" In that question is a lot of baggage. Is there such a thing as sin? If so, what is sin? It is a Christian's understanding that sin can be either an act of omission or commission. Omission is not doing something. For instance, I am supposed to love my neighbor. If I don't do that, it is a sin of omission. Commission is actively doing something. I am not supposed to lie. If I tell a lie, that is a sin of commission.

But even after we get an understanding of whether an issue is or isn't a sin, we still have the second part of the questions. What do we do with sin? How do we treat sinners? Is there a difference between whether we accept them differently than we do heterosexuals as fellow humans deserving of love, brothers and sisters in Jesus, or as potential leaders in the church? Should we work to actively ban this sin in our society?

We should ask on each step, "What's the harm if we get this step wrong?" "Am I being loving?" "Am I hurting or helping the mission of Jesus?"

Homosexuality is a different sort of issue. Instead of helping the oppressed, those who want to legislate against homosexuality are actually wanting to force someone else to live in the morals that we believe a Christian should live in. 

We are taught only to judge those inside of the church.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—  not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.  But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.  For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (ESV)

What good does it do to force someone to live as a Christian when they really aren't a Christian?

I would propose that legislating issues regarding homosexuality is not the purview of the church. As Paul clearly taught in the passage above, we are not to judge those outside of the church. And standing up against homosexuality in the public arena is not stopping oppression. For me, something must pass the oppression test for me to get involved politically on behalf of Jesus on an issue.


We often just miss the point of grace. Say that someone wants to give their life to Jesus, yet they are gay. Would we let them? Really, I can't even believe this is a question that I encounter.

Don't you think it's sort of hypocritical if we answered "no." Take for instance, the way we consume material goods. Personally, I think our materialism and the process we get our products is the gravest sin of our time. But I'm not here to debate that. If you don't think it is that big of a sin, imagine another sin and run a similar scenario.

When we buy imported goods that were manufactured in China or another nation where they use this era's version of slavery, we are sinning. Our purchase isn't just a one-time purchase of a good; our purchase is the way that a capitalistic system votes to keep things happening the they are. We are promoting the modern-day equivalency to slave labor just so we can save a little money buying some product. And let's be honest, we aren't going to stop. We can't stop. Nearly all the electronic devices, including the one that I am typing this on, are only available as a result of this evil, flawed system.
I would say that our acceptance of and participation in a society that promotes this behavior is worse than the sin of homosexuality.

Yet we do it. And we think nothing of it. We'll go up on stage and preach in our slave-labor produced clothes, broadcasting words with a projector, while using a digital device to hold the notes.
We live in a culture inundated with sin.

And if I expect grace for my sin, then I better give grace to others for their sins. Jesus once said something similar.

"For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,  but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15 ESV).

Just because my sin is accepted and not the popular one to rail against doesn't mean that my sin isn't terrible. It may be even worse.

A friend replied to me when talking about this: "I have no direct control over the conditions of China. I can only have direct control over my sin."

I responded: "You have control. You could choose to live differently. You could fight the fight to change trade laws. You choose not to because you have accepted our society's sin. Yet you still want God to show you grace. Yet you refuse to show grace to an unrepentant sinner, just like you albeit with a different sin."


So let's be honest. We accept sin. We accept our own sin. We expect forgiveness for our sins. But this doesn't really solve the situation. Because in this whole piece, I still called homosexuality a sin. And that doesn't make one of the crowds happy. They want to me to affirm that homosexuality is not a sin, not just accept them as a fellow sinner.

Nor have I made the religious crowd happy. They seem to want to bash on homosexuality. They don't want to recognize that their lives are lived in such a way that they are equally separated from God and are only able to have a right relationship with Him because of His grace.


What if Christians and local churches became places known for their grace and love and not for their judgment? Do you think that would be attractive?

At Antwerp, I had a gay friend coming to church. He wanted to help serve the Lord's Supper. At that time, the trays holding the emblems of the body and blood of Jesus were carried by four people and passed among the congregation. My gay friend became one of those guys. And one of the older people became upset because a gay person was handing out the Lord's Supper. I told him that I want our church to be a place where gays, whores, drunks, and people like me are welcome. He didn't like my reply because there is this tendency to make homosexuality a greater sin than the manufacturing process of the devices we carry around in our pockets and purses represent.

Homosexuality is not an issue I like to address regularly. It’s not beneficial. If we have homosexuals who come to our church (and I hope homosexuals feel comfortable coming to our church), then that is an issue we will discuss in relationships and counseling, not bash them with from the pulpit.
Along with grasping God's great grace, I think the issue for Christians is their understanding of the way that the church and state should relate to each other. For many American Christians, the United States has almost become synonymous with the church. This is heresy of the greatest sort, but in making this mistake a lot of missteps are made.

If we have a proper understanding of the role of the church and the role of the state, we will realize that we do not have to relegate our moral thinking to the State. Just because the State says something is right or wrong, doesn't make it right or wrong. Likewise, just because we firmly believe something is right or wrong doesn't mean that we should automatically move to legislate it. So we shouldn't spend our time fighting the political battles of our day. Instead, we should lead out in our society and love. We should focus on the things of an eternal perspective. 

What happens when the church gets hung up in trying to change the state is that the purpose of the church gets neglected. People will continue to do the things of the state without church intervention, but the things of the church will not get done if the people of the church don't do them. We have to work on our perspective of the world and not waste our time on lesser issues. We have a finite amount of time. Do we spend it fighting gay marriage or world hunger? Do we spend it outlawing homosexuality or spreading the gospel of Jesus?

As I think we all recognize, the recorded teachings of Jesus and the life of the early church show that oppressing others isn't why the church was established. It was established to love others and be a place for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. This mission cannot be neglected to play the game of politics.

Unfortunately, oppression seems to be the magnetic pull of any organized beast or collective group. Most groups -- from Communists to Libertarian, from Republican to Democrat, from black to white, from atheist to Christian, from American to North Korean -- want to denigrate those who disagree with them. Jesus taught an alternative way to the sectarianism of the world. I can understand the desire to ignore His teachings because His followers are ridiculously bad at actually living out this radical life that we are called to live.

What Jesus taught was countercultural, in His time and ours. We can see beautiful reflections of His teachings throughout the church's existence. People loving where there is no love. People helping in the midst of situations that inspire selfishness. People being fed where there is no food. People being giving light in the midst of great darkness, hope in the midst of hopelessness.

However, one doesn't have to throw out believing in right teachings to still be the church. It's those right teachings that should lead us to freedom and empower us to be loving. People who claim to follow Jesus just have to love those who they believe are misguided. There is no us and them. Only people like us who need the grace of God to be right with Him.

All of this does not ignore the complex issues surrounding such topics as homosexuality. But it does mean that we have a new and different starting point for our attitudes and actions: love and grace. Why? Because “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Are we willing to follow his example? Are we willing to live for others while they are still sinners?

We need to have a biblical stance on homosexuality, but we also must realize that this is not one of the large issues. We need to never let the biblical stance on homosexuality overshadow our call to love one another, to love the poor, to share the message of Jesus with the world. Unfortunately, with homosexuality, we do disagree with the world. We have to if we are going to take the Bible seriously. But that doesn’t mean we have to be obnoxious or hateful over the issue. Even in our disagreements, we need to always show love.