I want to address a topic that is as difficult as any topic we could address today…. homosexuality.
It’s a subject that has become as politically charged as any in recent years. As the homosexual movement has developed a strong political voice, the response from traditional conservatives has become equally impassioned. A deep animosity has grown between portions of the homosexual community and those who embrace a traditional understanding of human sexuality and marriage.
As with other issues like this, the rhetoric has grown more political and polarizing. One side is cast as “homophobic” and the other as God-haters. One can find themselves caught between condoning homosexuality as morally right or condemning those with homosexual feelings altogether. In the heat of such polarization between condoning and condemning, what is often lost is compassion.
What’s lost are real people…. confused and trying to sort out their souls. What’s needed is a strength of conviction with a spirit of compassion. We can’t forget that homosexuality isn’t just an “issue,” it’s about people.
Some of those people whom I know, though I’ll change their names, include…
· Jeff - Jeff never had a lot in the way of parental involvement. He tried a lot of things in life to try to find out who he was…. including experimenting with homosexual encounters which left him confused about his own nature well into adulthood.
· Laura - Laura was made to be her father’s wife… never allowed to just have a mom, she had to be one. Later she would spend years in a lesbian relationship looking for love.
· Hank - So demeaned by his father that he was always like a child longing for love… from men and from Jesus whom he loved… until he died of AIDS.
· Julie - Julie was recently helping me at a store I was shopping at. As I was checking out… she asked if I was Brad Bailey. As she asked I immediately connected her familiarity. By her look I thought she must be the sister of a guy named Roger I knew in high school. What she said next I could never had imagined. She was Roger. “She” was really “he.” He knew I now pastored the Vineyard Christian Fellowship because he had been here before and he asked if we could step into a back room where he proceeded to tell me his story; a story he had told few … a story he wanted to share with me as a pastor … a story of never fitting in as a guy… of always feeling intimidated in his masculinity and deciding to change his gender to find a better fit in life.
All of these stories reflect a longing for love. Such longings become sexualized as adult longings for love often do; leaving one with desires that may be natural in terms of being genuine feelings, but not in terms of fit – that is, not fitting in regards to the complimentary nature of male and female.
What are we to make of these natural desires that don’t reflect the natural order of male and female?
Let’s begin by looking at…
I. The Created Order
In Genesis, chapters one and two, we are given a summation of the original creation. Even in it’s poetic literary form, it declares fundamental truths about God’s design and intentions.
“So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." ….
Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." ….
Then the man said,
"This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken."
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.”
(Genesis 1:27-28; 2:18, 23-24)
Here we find the completion of what God declares is “good,” literally “complete,” that is, everything that God intended. There are several basic truths which are revealed as part of this good and completed order:
1. Human beings were created to reveal the image of God.
2. Essential to that image is our uniqueness as male and female.
3. Our ability to create (reproduce) life is a part of this created order.
4. Becoming “one flesh” as husband and wife in the covenant of marriage is the context given for sexual intimacy.
Some have begun to argue that such ideas about our meaning and make-up as human beings are outdated and misguided. Even with further prohibitions against homosexuality found in the Old and New Testaments, some would argue that they aren’t relevant for today based on one of two general lines of reasoning:
1) The actions condemned were of a different nature than monogamous homosexual relationships between consenting adults. In other words, what was being condemned was some other factor in the actions than simply homosexual sexual activity itself.
2) That though such condemnation of homosexuality might have been understood as part of the Old Testament Law, Christ came to liberate us from such laws. In other words, such laws were nullified and have no meaning for those who are now received by God on the basis of one’s relationship to Christ.
While this is a very simple overview of the arguments, and worthy of a much more detailed response, the most fundamental response to such arguments is simply that of recognizing that these foundations for sexual morality are clearly based in the created order given in Genesis. Both Jesus and the apostle Paul refer to the created order as the plumb line for living rightly before God. (Jesus – Matthew 19:3-8; Paul - 1 Cor. 6:12-20.)
Paul sets out in the Book of Romans, chapter one, to describe the condition of our fallen world, referring to the Gentiles who were living apart from God’s created order:
Romans 1:18, 21, 26-27-27
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
…. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”
Paul is referring to the natural order of creation. Sexual morality is based upon the sanctity of the marital covenant between husband and wife. What God confronts refers to sexual relations outside of marriage, whether before or by adultery during such a marriage covenant. Sexual intimacy is understood as an act of experiencing oneness in the covenant of oneness between husband and wife. Jesus even raises the issue of our lusts and inward coveting as equally reflecting our adulterous hearts. Homosexuality is simply one of many violations of the sanctity of our sexuality. The moral question regarding homosexuality hasn’t arisen because God’s heart isn’t clear, but rather because our hearts have become misguided in terms of living in this light. (For a further dealing with Old and New Testament passages which speak against homosexual activity, see Genesis 19:4-8, Judges 19:22-24; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Peter 2:6-7; Jude 7 and Schmidt, chapter 5, in recommended reading. It should be noted that some of the Old Testament passages involve added circumstances of force and rape and should not be applied with the same intensity to same-sex attraction as a whole. However, neither can the sexual nature of these circumstances be ignored.)
If the created order seems clear enough, the contemporary question of homosexuality can still seem difficult to sort out.
II. The Contemporary Confusion
Much of what is so confusing about this issue involves some of the ways in which the issue is framed. Let me address three ways in which I believe we need to think clearly about the issue of homosexuality.
1. “Biological” - determination vs. disposition
Much of what compels people to feel they should agree to not simply accept those who practice homosexuality, but to accept homosexuality as normal and morally right, is the idea that people are born as such. Many of us today feel that to not accept homosexuality as normal is to deny biology and nature itself. And if one is trying to honor God’s view, it’s difficult not to think He must accept what He has created. This is where our thinking may be the most misguided.
The actual evidence reveals a biological disposition may be involved in some cases and even then only as one factor. So while there is some evidence that there may be biological elements involved in a disposition towards homosexual feelings in some cases, that in no ways speaks to whether it should be considered a normal, good, or right thing. There is more evidence that alcoholism and violence have biological components involved in similar dispositions and no one then feels compelled to consider this a basis for legitimating and encouraging such behavior. A disposition is just that. We all have dispositions. Simply put, disposition is not the same as determination. In general, if our dispositions aren’t towards positive traits, we hope that others are gracious with us as we seek to rise above them.
2. “Nature” or “Authentic” – acknowledging feelings vs. acting on feelings
Regardless of the causes, many consider homosexuality to be their nature and one can find it difficult to invalidate what someone else truly feels. If someone says, “This is just the way I am,” what can anyone else say? Should they deny their nature? Should they deny their feelings and no longer be an authentic person?
To be authentic people however, is to be free to acknowledge such feelings. It does not require that I act on them. Otherwise we should legitimate and encourage every feeling of greed, hunger, anger and sexual attraction to be lived out. When I look out into a group like our Fellowship, I see an entire group of people who recognize their “nature” involves many broken elements and destructive tendencies. I see numbers of single adults who have desires to go enjoy sexual encounters that they choose everyday to refrain from as they counsel their soul in what is ultimately good and wise. I see numbers of married lives that have desires for sexual pleasure outside their marriages but choose not to. I see people who can feel rage at times yet choose not to act on their desires to hurt others. Authenticity involves acknowledging feelings, not acting upon them.
When Jesus protects the woman caught in adultery from being stoned, his final words to her weren’t “go and do what you feel like doing.” Rather He said, “Go and sin no more.” He silenced the shame that likely drove her life, and then he called her out into a life where her longings for love could truly be met.
3. “Tolerance” and “Love” – open-minded vs. openhearted
Within our lifetime there has been a huge shift in sorting out our moral senses… a shift from truth to tolerance. The more militant homosexual movement is riding on this wave of “tolerance” that so many look to as the hope of our current culture. The problem with tolerance is that the idea of it draws us in with little thought as to the meaning of it – that is, what we believe tolerance should really imply. Until recently tolerance implied a level of basic respect for those I may be different from or disagree with. Here’s where the more militant homosexual movement has ushered in an unspoken shift in our cultural thinking. I’m no longer being asked to accept as fellow human beings those who practice homosexuality, but to approve of their practice as normal and morally right. I’m no longer asked to love them as people but to legitimate their actions; and in doing so, to legitimate a new understanding of what it means to be male and female. As a culture we’ve moved from accepting to approving, and from loving to legitimating, all because we’ve lost our sense of what true tolerance implies. Tolerance has nothing to do with granting a new moral understanding.
We need to wake up and recognize the distinction between loving people and legitimating their behavior. Is not the greater love that which calls me to care about those I disagree with? Don’t we sense that to simply placate someone because it’s easier and more popular is a very low idea of real love? As "open-mindedness" is raised as the virtue of our day, we cannot mistake this for resigning ourselves from having moral senses or positions. I believe if we think more deeply, we’ll realize what we value most is open-heartedness. This is what Jesus taught us; not to be open-minded but to be openhearted. For truth does exist. But we all fall short of living in the light of truth. That’s why along with truth we need grace.
III. The Christian Calling
What then is our response to homosexuality? We may do well to hear the Apostle Paul’s challenging words to Jewish believers who looked down upon Gentiles for their unclean life:
“You may be saying, "What terrible people you have been talking about!" But you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you do these very same things. And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things.
….Well then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but do you steal? You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you do it? You condemn idolatry, but do you steal from pagan temples? You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonor God by breaking it. No wonder the Scriptures say, ‘The world blasphemes the name of God because of you.’” Romans 2:1-2, 21-24
In humility and conviction, we can share in….
1. Our Common Confession – Sexual Brokenness
In responding to homosexuality it’s helpful to remember that I speak as a part of that group responsible for the vast majority of sexual wrongdoing in the world today – male heterosexuals.
On the surface of things it may appear as if there is a great divide between heterosexuals and homosexuals (or more accurately, those with heterosexually oriented attractions and those with homosexually oriented attractions.) There are certainly many characteristics that can distinguish our lives outwardly. However, if we look within our souls, all of us will find some degree of confusion and misguided love involved in our sexuality. Our sense of masculinity and femininity is fallen and often fragile. We have all tried to find security in our sexuality in ways that were influenced by family, friends, and popular culture. Apart from the light of God’s love we have experienced various degrees of darkness and brokenness in our sexuality. This may manifest itself in the subtleness of resentments and oppression between genders, overcompensation of cultural expectations (i.e. as a “macho” man or passive woman), inhibitions, or simply sexual activity that we know will never satisfy. Or it may manifest itself in more striking ways such as sexual addictions or abuse.
For those with homosexual tendencies there have often been unique experiences of alienation or attachment with parental figures. As Andy Comiskey describes, “This leaves him or her with tremendous needs for affirmation and affection. In most instances, the attraction for the same sex begins before the age of ten; it is emotional, non-sexual, and involuntary. With sexual maturity, these needs become eroticized; sexual intimacy becomes a primary means for feeling loved and affirmed.
Hence, sexual activity offers some sense of being truly accepted. What seems to be love is received, the person extending this love is idolized, and as the pain becomes covered over with pleasure, a momentary sense of self-esteem emerges, a temporary relief from the confusion of identity.”
In any case, those with heterosexual feelings and those with homosexual feelings are able to come to Christ together to be restored in God’s love. If we are able to share in a common confession of flawed and fragile sexuality… of false “idols” we have put our hope in and bowed to… we are able to come together as a common community to find healing and wholeness as we allow the light of God’s love to enter our souls.
2. Our Common Confirmation – Male and Female
As we come to Christ by grace, we are restored as “children of God” (John 1:12). Our identities, including that of being created male and female, are brought under the light of God whose image we bear. It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus touched the lives of many men and women as he enlightened their true nature. He challenged the competitiveness and lack of appreciation for children among his male disciples. To the woman at the well of Jericho he spoke into her false dependency on men to find meaning. Similarly to his friend Martha he spoke of her serving. To each he offered an alternative meaning to their lives in his presence.
We too can find our common confirmation as men and women in Christ. And as his living body, through whom he ministers, we can be a part of that process as we relate to one another in the light of God rather than simply that of common culture. Where lives were raised in the confusion of parental absence, animosity of gender, or even abuse, we can be a part of bestowing the true blessing of being male and female.
As Comiskey declares, “Jesus Christ is the alternative. He addresses the problem - man limited to self -and provides the way through which we can find fulfillment in God and His people. By releasing us from the dictates of the past, Jesus frees us to live as new creatures. The Holy Spirit carries on that process of change in our lives.
His grace is sufficient, for His strength is made perfect in weakness. He provides the mooring point for a new identity, the center out of which a true sense of well-being can be enjoyed. As we draw close to Him, we are enabled to reflect His image in our humanity more and more fully.
The goal of our growth is the freedom to love aright, to relate intimately but non-erotically to the same-sex, and to be able to address the opposite sex as a needed counterpart without fear or disinterest. Such love is Christ’s intent for us. We affirm His capacity to carry it out in our lives, and in the lives of those who seek to be free from homosexuality.”
I believe in real hope for those who find themselves with same-sex attractions and desire to discover change. Many consider the very notion of such change to be misguided because it offends the position that we are to accept our desires as “natural.” Such contention is merely based on the misguided assumptions already addressed. I not only believe in such change… I have seen it. I share life with people who have chosen the process of allowing the Spirit of God to enlighten their masculinity or femininity. Like those trying to change other areas of desire in their lives (i.e. alcoholism, etc.), such a process is challenging and ongoing. However, those who choose to walk in the light of God can find real peace and pleasure. There is real hope.
And in that process we must uphold…
3. Our Common Calling - Response-Ability
None of us are completely whole in our inclinations and as a result we’ll face various temptations. We must stand up against the confusion between disposition and determination. Our modern culture says the answer to teenage sexual drives is condoms and the answer to homosexual feelings is to pursue the sexualizing of same sex relationships. The underlying assumption is that we’re merely animals whose lives are wholly determined by our instincts and impulses. But we’re human beings and our dignity involves our ability to choose how we respond to our various impulses.
“And remember, no one who wants to do wrong should ever say, "God is tempting me." God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else either. Temptation comes from the lure of our own evil desires. These evil desires lead to evil actions, and evil actions lead to death.” James 1:13-15 [NLT]
Conclusion – True Love and Compassion
In the face of the cultural confusion that surrounds homosexuality, we are called to follow Jesus in sharing the Father’s heart of true love and compassion. If we are to really love those who experience sexual attraction towards their own gender, we need to search our own hearts.
Do such feelings in others cause me to feel threatened, awkward, or afraid of my own sexuality…. and in turn in need of rising above feelings of resentment towards them?
Do I need to rise above tendencies to want to placate the issue in order to avoid being personally misunderstood or rejected? Do I need to rise above desires to be politically correct and popular so that my love will grounded in the truth of God’s heart for sexual wholeness?
Only when truth and grace are nurtured in my heart together can I love as Christ does. A few years ago as I felt the challenge of Christ’s compassion for those seeking to find true meaning and love out of their homosexual attractions, He reminded me of the tragic immaturity of my past response.
I grew up here near the main local beach where all the local kids came to surf, play volleyball, and hang out. It was also the beach that adjoined what was becoming a gay beach way before there was much public sentiment for any openly gay expression. And the animosity towards those on the neighboring beach was high. I remember plenty of intense exchanges of words and some of force.
A nearby focus of attention was the infamous gay bar just across the road. The Lord reminded me of how one night, after drinking away with my co hoards, we were driving by and I jumped out of the car, kicked open the door to this bar and threw in a lit smoke bomb. I jumped back in the car as we drove off … never to think of it again.
As the Holy Spirit brought this to the forefront of my mind, I was gripped. I had hatred in my background. Ten years later God had brought me back to this area and through the Vineyard, many of my closest friends were those dealing with homosexual feelings. By this time I could deeply appreciate our common bond of faith and finding deeper wholeness in God. But this past represented a sin towards not only individuals but also a whole part of those God loves.
That Friday night after an evening ministry gathering…. 15 years after that particular incident… I drove back to that bar so infamously disdained by every kid raised near the beach. I went in and asked for the owner. Little did I know that the owner of the bar owned the primarily gay restaurant nearby… was there that night… and was the same man who operated them 15 years earlier. There I told him of what I had done and asked his forgiveness… even while keeping clear my convictions. He told me no one had ever come to him like this and he spoke graciously about understanding the ways people can act when they’re young. Then he simply invited me to come bring my family for dinner.
I don’t expect the coming years to be easy in regards to the issue of homosexuality. But I know Christ is not afraid of those who find themselves drawn to same sex intimacy. He will speak grace and truth into the wounds beneath every soul. Many will turn away from the very idea that such wounds and misguided longings are involved in their same sex attraction. It may be hard for them to enter the Kingdom of God’s grace that Christ offers. But as those who know such grace to wounded souls, we must let the light of his grace and truth shine.
For a more complete understanding of this issue, I highly recommend the 24-page booklet entitled The Kingdom of God & The Homosexual, by Andrew Comiskey. It is available through Desert Stream Ministries at (714) 779-6899 or www.desertstream.org where you can find many other helpful resources as well.
Pursuing Sexual Wholeness, by Andrew Comiskey, D.S. Ministries (714-779-6899 ext.1026)
Straight & Narrow? , by Thomas E. Schmidt, IVP, 1995 (Available through - 800-843-9487)
Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, by Jeffrey Satinover, M.D., Baker Books, 1996
The Broken Image, by Leanne Payne, Baker Books (Available through - 800-877-2665)
Setting Love In Order, by Mario Bergner, Baker Books, 1995