The gay issue just won’t go away. In fact it should be the issue du jour for many days to come with the election of a practising gay to the office of bishop in the U.S. What is at stake here? The answer is both simple and complex.
The simple answer, and one where the church must draw a line, is the issue of biblical authority. Evangelicals, of which I consider myself one, believe that the Bible properly interpreted is the supreme authority over the life and beliefs of the church. What the Bible says, God says. In the words of J.I. Packer:
Built into Christianity is the principle of authority. This is because Christianity is revealed religion. It claims that God our Creator has acted to make known his mind and will, and therefore his revelation has authority for our lives. Biblical religion is marked by certainty about beliefs and duties. The diffidence and indefiniteness of conviction which thinks of itself as becoming humility has no place or warrant in Scripture, where humility begins with taking God’s word about things.
No amount of hermeneutical sleight of hand can change the fact that homosexual activity is outside the will of God. John Court summarizes the biblical material as follows:
Homosexual practices do receive mention in both the Old and New Testaments, but such references are few. The conservative interpretation of passages such as Genesis 19:5-9; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Judges 19:22-28; Romans 1:26-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; and 1 Timothy 1:8-11 is that there is a clear condemnation of homosexual behaviour that goes beyond the commands to Israel and has binding significance for Christians today. This interpretation comes from setting such injunctions into the broader context of sexuality generally, especially the creation principle of male and female.
The nature of human sexuality is predicated on the very image of God (Genesis 21:27). And He has made human kind male and female. The ideal couple in the pre-fall Garden was male and female. Human sexuality is heterosexual. Any capitulation on this point is a jettisoning of the very foundation of our faith.
However, we would do well not to underestimate the power of the gay rights movement. In the U.S. in particular, the movement taps into the energy, momentum and memories of the civil-rights movement, a movement that led to the abolishment of the unequal treatment of Afro-Americans in America. It is one thing to ensure that homosexuals are not preyed upon and discriminated unfairly in a modern pluralistic society. It is quite another to say that homosexuality is an alternative form of normal human sexual behaviour.
What must also be borne in mind is that the debates that are raging from Singapore to Minneapolis are actually a mixed bag of issues, including:
- How do you define homosexuality?
- Does the Bible permit openly practising gays to hold positions of church leadership?
- How do we help Christians with strong homosexual urges be fully accepted in the community of believers and receive help to remain celibate?
- How do we help homosexuals who are struggling to find the truth and to find healing to hear the gospel?
- What is our answer to a militant gay movement that is pushing so hard for homosexuality to be accepted as an alternative life style?
- How do we speak up in the public square for a biblical position on homosexuality in a modern pluralistic society?
- How do we speak the truth in love?
These are just seven questions that need to be addressed in the present debate over homosexuality. I am sure there are more. So while the biblical position on homosexuality is simple, the various debates that are going on are not. And Christians are often not clear which of the above questions they are addressing.
I have seen heated debates between Christians, where one side was answering question 3 while the other side was answering question 5. Both sides were adamant about their positions without realizing they were talking past each other.
This is a tough time to be a Christian with homosexual tendencies fighting to remain true to the Bible’s demands for purity. When the church brings its heavy cannons to bear on the militant gay agenda, it is scary indeed. And runs the risk of hurting homosexual brothers and sisters struggling to be celibate, with friendly fire. (In the meantime, there will be gay groups, some “Christian” who will tell them that they are fully loved and accepted!)
One good thing about the present homosexuality controversy is that it seems to have shaken some Christians out of their theological lethargy. That is good and to be welcomed. But we must be very clear at all times which question we are addressing. And then we must ask God for wisdom as to what to do, what to say, and how to say it.
We must also remember that the present homosexual controversy is by no means the only battle that requires the prophetic voice of the church. Evil continues to manifest itself in many, many forms throughout the globe and in the church. And thousands continue to die daily without food. And without God.
It’s a time for clarity and wisdom.