8495563In their commentary on Romans, M Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock have this to say about homosexuality:

“The Christian ethical perspective on homosexuality is a complex subject involving legal, social, psychological, and medical points of view as well as theological and biblical statements. Although the biblical teaching on sexuality and sin is an indispensable factor in Christian ethical decision making, this issue cannot be settled by quoting a few biblical texts.”

They are right of course. And I am always disturbed by the over-simplifiers in any debate, especially on a subject as emotional and as complex as homosexuality. However Christians cannot avoid struggling with the theological and biblical statements especially if we believe that the bible properly interpreted is the authority for our life, beliefs and practice.

Struggling with theological and biblical statements is also what we have to do since there is also a growing Lesbian and Gay Christian movement who maintain that the church has misread the Scriptures and that there is no biblical prohibition on homosexual practice, especially for faithful monogamous homosexual partnerships.

(This matter has surfaced with a vengeance in Malaysia when recently a high profile Christian writer and thinker went public with his homosexual orientation and the fact that he was in a committed relationship with a same sex partner. He is at present finishing doctoral studies in Sociology and Theology in the U.S. and hopes to return to Malaysia after his studies to start a church sympathetic to homosexual unions.)

What does the bible teach about homosexuality and homosexual practice? I think the church should always be humble enough to relook at the biblical material. After all it wasn’t that long ago that some in the church justified racism and slavery from their reading of the bible.

And looking at the bible we have to admit that the passages that discuss homosexual behaviour are few. Richard B. Hays is right when he reminds us:

“The bible hardly ever discusses homosexual behavior. There are perhaps half a dozen brief references to it in all of Scripture. In terms of emphasis, it is a minor concern — in contrast, for example, to economic justice.” (The Moral Vision of the New Testament, p.381)

Nevertheless, the few places where homosexuality is mentioned, the teaching is clear. Romans 1: 24-27 is particularly critical.

“Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (NET)

A full exegesis of this passage is beyond the scope of this essay. Readers are encouraged to read up commentaries on the book of Romans of which there are many. We do note a few things. First Paul is addressing homosexual acts and not homosexual orientation. Both male and female homosexual behaviour are addressed. And, unlike places like 1Corinthians, Paul is not addressing specific people caught in specific sins.

Here Paul is talking about humankind as a whole, laying the case for the fact that all of humankind is in sinful rebellion against their Maker. His point is that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23), but interestingly he chooses homosexual intercourse as the sin that best illustrates the falleness of humankind.

Again Hays is helpful:

“Paul singles out homosexual intercourse for special attention because he regards it as providing a particularly graphic image of the way in which human fallenness distorts God’s created order. God the Creator made man and woman for each other, to cleave together, to be fruitful and multiply. When humans beings ‘exchange’ these created roles for homosexual intercourse, they embody the spiritual condition of those who have ‘exchanged the truth about God for a lie.'” (p.388)

Paul chooses homosexual practice as the example of a fallen humanity because a key expression of God’s image in humankind is the fact that we were made male and female.

“God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 NET)

Any turning away from male-female sexuality is finally an assault on the very nature of God.

Of course we now live in a fallen universe. Some people are born with strong homosexual desires. Heterosexuals who do not know the loneliness and unfulfilled desires of homosexuals could do with more listening and less lecturing.

One of my favourite writers on spirituality is the late Henri Nouwen. Many of his books speak of his deep loneliness and pain. It was only after his death that I discovered he was homosexual. But he was also celibate. He had chosen to remain celibate rather than indulge in homosexual sexual intercourse. He sounds like a follower of Jesus who took up his cross.

It is painful to be broken human beings living in a broken world. We long for that perfect world to come when final healing will come. Paul talks about a creation groaning and suffering while waiting for the ultimate rebirth and the coming of the new creation in full. (Romans 8:18-25)

If we claim to be followers of Jesus Christ then we are to strive to live in a way that aligns our present lives with the perfect life to come and not to give in to the broken patterns of a fallen world. This will be tough for all of us, and tougher for some than others. Much grace is called for.

(Is there pressure to start churches orientated to homosexuals because our churches have failed to show love and acceptance to our brothers and sisters struggling to follow Christ in the midst of their homosexual struggles? God will hold us accountable.)

There is much soul searching to be done by all. If we are really sincere about fighting for God’s ways then we should fight for all of God’s concerns and not single out homosexuality. I suspect there are more of us excited about the issue of homosexuality than about economic injustice. And as Hays reminds us God has so much more to say about economic injustice.

But what we cannot do is to make the bible say something that it doesn’t. For me Romans 1:24-27 is clear. The bible does not permit homosexual practice.

Your brother,
a heterosexual sinner saved by grace,
Soo-Inn Tan