Archives For Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the seriesHomosexuality, the Bible, and the Church

Oh. My. Goodness. Bill Henson rocks!

Last week’s class was divided into two parts. First, a testimony and challenge from Bill Henson, who Skyped in from Massachusetts. And second, an introduction to what Romans 1 has to say about Homosexuality. Clearly, the first half was the best.

Bill Henson

Bill Henson

Bill Henson is the founder and leader of a ministry called Lead Them Home, which is an outreach to people who are LGBTQ and to those who struggle with same-sex attraction. Bill himself identified and lived as a gay man for a number of years before he found Jesus and fell in love with the gospel. I met Bill through a mutual friend, Lesli, who also Skyped in to our class a few weeks ago. I haven’t met Lesli or Bill in person, but I can say quite confidently—and on behalf of our class—that they have both reshaped how we should think about homosexuality and the church.

Bill is theologically conservative; that is, he does not believe that same-sex marriage is within God’s will. However, he has a heart the size of Texas for the gay community and has a very nuanced and compassionate approach to reaching the gay and lesbian people. His over-sized compassion probably stems from his many years in seeking identity and value in his own homosexuality. Now, he believes that Jesus, rather than his sexuality, should define and determine his value as human being.

Bill articulated with uncanny precision the need for Christians to unconditionally love people who are LGBTQ. No, this doesn’t mean that the church should affirm same-sex relations. Again, Bill is theologically conservative. But he doesn’t let the Bible—or a wrong interpretation of the Bible—prevent him from extending grace to undeserving people. We are all lost and in need of grace. Making such grace inaccessible, or creating a bunch of Pharisaic hoops for people to jump through to enjoy such grace, is neither gracious nor Christian.

“What the evangelical church needs to do,” says Bill, “is not change its theology but change its posture.” And “unless we change our posture, our theology will suffer.” A theology that believes that God died for undeserving enemies and extends scandalous compassion to sinners must—if it wants to be consistent—love others without footnotes and caveats. Again, such love does not demand affirmation of behavior, but neither does such love require prerequisites for relationship. If Jesus could befriend ancient gang-bangers, terrorists, and porn stars (Matthew 9), then His followers can certainly saturate the LGBTQ community with counterintuitive love and compassion.

Bill is also a huge fan of not reducing our view of LGBTQ people to issues surrounding sexuality. People are much more than whom they desire sexually, and Christians bill henson 2diminish the beauty and creativity of other humans by reducing them to a particular sex act. (I feel a passing reference to Phil Robertson coming on…but I refrain.) Gay and Lesbians desire relationship—like the rest of us. They desire love and value—like the rest of us. They desire acceptance, forgiveness, laughter, and joy—stuff that I have been given as a sheer act of grace by my Creator. A Creator who demands that I pass on such blessings to others.

There were too many truthful nuggets Skyped in last Tuesday night. If you desire to learn more, I’d highly encourage you to check out Bill’s ministry at blog.leadthemhome.com.

As far as Romans 1 goes, we took a look at the logic of Paul’s argument in Romans 1 (esp. vv. 26-27) and his use of the Greek phrase para physin, or “contrary to nature” (or “unnatural”). Everyone acknowledges that his phrase virtually makes or breaks one’s view of what Paul is talking about here in Romans. Is Paul talking about “nature” in the sense of “against cultural norms” (as he does in 1 Corinthians 11:14), or does Paul mean “against the design and moral will of the Creator?”

After looking at several Jewish and Stoic writers, along with Paul’s allusions to Genesis 1-2 in Romans 1, we concluded that he does indeed refer to the design and moral will of the Creator, not just to what is socially abnormal (like wearing a tank-top in Saudi Arabia, which is socially unacceptable but not intrinsically evil).

Now, many of you may be a bit lost. If you haven’t engaged in the raging discussion about the meaning of “natural” and “unnatural” in Romans 1, then theses distinctions may seem unclear. So, I’ll circle back around—both in this blog and in class next week—to make sure we all understand the interpretive options available to us. And as I said in class, while I believe that Romans 1 considers all forms of homosexual acts as sin, I would be the first one to acknowledge that there are some serious exegetical arguments to the contrary. Not everyone who disagrees with my traditional view of Romans 1 is tossing biblical authority to the wind. Again, traditionalists need to stop  quoting Romans 1 and start interacting with the contextual, historical, and exegetical complexities of this complicated passage if we are going to demand that people without the gift of celibacy remain single the rest of their lives, or pull our funds from particular Christian-based humanitarian organizations.

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the seriesHomosexuality, the Bible, and the Church

After two weeks of listening to testimonies and putting flesh on the “issue,” we dove back into the text last Tuesday night in week 8 of our Homosexuality class. As I warned my students, this week was going to involve some nitty gritty, in-depth, bust-out-your-lexicon interpretive questions.

After finding our classroom (you had to have been there…), we spent the first half of class finishing our discussion of Romans 1. Last week, we summed up the logic of Paul’s argument, and this week, we answered all of the “what about this” and “what about that” sort of pushbacks to the traditional view. Isn’t Romans 1 just about idolatry? Or lust? Or seven-vices-by-jim-fetter-40124360158heterosexuals having homosexual sex? Or isn’t Paul just talking about pederasty (sex with boys), or prostitution, or other forms of non-consensual, exploitative sex? If he is, then Romans 1 would be irrelevant for gay men and women seeking a consensual, monogamous, no-sex-until-marriage sort of relationship.

But after looking at the historical situation, literary context, rhetorical context, and the meaning of the phrase para physin (“against nature”) in light of its Greco-Roman and Jewish context (yes, it was a tedious first hour of class!), we concluded that Paul’s words do indeed apply to all forms of homosexual sex—not just the bad ones. But I’ve already written a bunch of blogs, perhaps too many, on Romans 1, so I’ll sum up the second hour of class.

I haven’t actually blogged about Paul’s references to same-gender sex elsewhere in his letters. So this part of the class was new territory for me. On two other occasions, Paul mentions some form of same-sex eroticism, but there’s a massive debate about what he’s talking about. Here are the passages:

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 (malakoi and arsenokoitai), nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor 6:9-10)

“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 (arsenokoitai), enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine (1 Tim 1:9-10)

In these passages, Paul mentions some sort of homosexual activity in a long-list of vices, and the words he uses—malakoi and arsenokoitai—have been subject to much debate. Hence Daniel Helminiak’s evaluation that “There is no real certainty about what these texts mean…Nobody knows for certain what these words mean, so to use them to condemn homosexuals is really dishonest and unfair” (Helminiak, What the Bible Really Says, 107).

I appreciate Helminiak’s interpretive honesty, but I’m afraid that his conclusion is terribly overstated. The Greek word malakoi (and its Latin equivalent) was widely used in the Greco-Roman world to refer to effeminate men. The word doesn’t describe guys who were artistic and bad at sports, but men who crossed gender boundaries in significant ways. Malakoi were men who dressed like women, acted like women, talked like women, shaved their body hair like women, and—not always but most of the time—were known for having sex with other men, just like women. Not everyone who was malakoi (lit. “soft”) received sex from other men, but many did. And since the word is listed after sexual immorality and adultery, and before arsenokoitai (a sexual term as we’ll see), it’s almost certain that Paul had in mind not just men with a limp wrists who couldn’t throw a football, but precisely men who received sex from other men. Or, as the note in the ESV correctly states: “the passive partner in homosexual sex.” Such usage was common in Paul’s Greco-Roman world.

This interpretation is confirmed by the meaning of arsenokoitai. Now, to be fair, arsenokoitai never occurs in all of the ancient Greek literature prior to 1 Corinthians 6. Paul creates this word, but not ex nihilio. That is, he coins this term by smashing two Greek words together: arsen (male) and koite (bed), or “one who lies with another male.” Where does Paul find his inspiration for such a word? Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13—the two passages in his Bible that mention and condemn consensual homosexual sex.

The Greek translation of Leviticus 20:13 reads:

kai hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gynaikos.

Even if you don’t know Greek, you can tell that the two words arsenos (“male”) and koiten (“lying”) look a lot like the one word arsenokoitai used in 1 Cor 6 and 1 Tim 1. That’s because Paul’s word is created out of Leviticus’ two words. In fact, the Hebrew original (mishkab zakur) of Greedy1Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 was widely used in Rabbinic literature to refer to male-male homosexual sex (b. Sanh. 54a; ib Sabb. 17b; b. Sukkah 29a; y. Ber 9.50.13c) and its likely that Paul—a Hebrew of Hebrews—is forging a Greek version of the Hebrew phrase. Most importantly, Paul is creating a term about homosexual sex from a passage (Leviticus 18 and 20) that prohibits consensual, same-gender sex.

The fact that 1 Timothy 1:9-10 references “the law” and also uses the term arsenokoitai, derived from Leviticus 18 and 20, suggests quite strongly that Paul is thinking of Leviticus 18 and 20 when he mentions homosexual sex in his list of vices.

Sure, there’s work to be done here. But after the words are studied, it seems clear that malakoi and arsenokoitai refer to the passive and active partners in homosexual sex. I don’t think Paul’s audience would have been terribly shocked or thrown off by Paul’s words. Paul is simply assuming the view held unanimously in Hellenistic Judaism that same-gender sexual relations are against the Creator’s will.

But—and here’s what it gets dicey—so is greed. So is heterosexual immorality (porn?). So is stealing (burning the latest Coldplay album and giving it to your friend). So is slander (Facebook comments?). Whatever we say about homosexual relations, we must also say about all the other sins mentioned in Paul’s list of vices.

Consistency. It’s a tough and often unpracticed virtue.

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the seriesHomosexuality, the Bible, and the Church

I wanted to say thanks to the 90+ students who attended my class, “Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church” this last semester at Eternity Bible College. I loved our interactions, discussions, and the very helpful feedback you’ve given me throughout the semester. As a brief recap, we spent most of our time in the text, working through direct and indirect passages relevant to the issue. We also listened to a few (former and current) LGBT people, who helped us put flesh on the topic. During the last few classes we discussed all the “what about…” questions that surround homosexuality. “Can I attend a gay wedding if I think homosexual behavior is a sin?” “What do I do when my child comes out?” “Should I vote against gay marriage?” and many others.

Silo Blog AdFor those who weren’t part of the class but wanted to be, I will soon release two online courses on homosexuality through The Silo Project, so stay tuned.

I often get asked, have you changed your views after studying the topic and teaching the class? Sometimes the question is genuine; other times the questioner has a sharpened pitch-fork ready to address the wrong answer. In any case, my answer is always the same: “yes and no.”

No, I have not changed my view about what the Bible says about homosexual behavior. The Bible says homosexual behavior is sin. I’ve tried to read the text from the affirming side—”monogamous, consensual homosexual behavior is blessed by God”—but I’ve found their arguments to be unconvincing. No doubt, there are several good points made by James Brownson, Matthew Vines, and others, and I may agree with some of their exegetical conclusions about some passages (e.g. Gen 19), but at the end of the day, there are too many interpretive problems with their view, so I can’t buy it.

So, I (still) believe homosexual behavior is sin. The difference, though, is that now I know why. I’ve worked through the passages, thought about the theological questions, and listened to countless testimonies from LGBT people. I’ve heard, weighed, and considered the main arguments for the affirming position and still remain traditional in my views not because I’m addicted to tradition, but because the traditional view rightly captures what the Bible says about homosexuality. Hopefully, now, my view is based on the Bible and not my upbringing or assumptions.

So I haven’t changed my view. However, I have changed my posture. I used to think that standing for the traditional view of marriage meant that I need to wear it on my sleeve and front my conclusion at the beginning of every conversation. But Jesus didn’t, and so neither will I. Jesus, of course, never mentioned homosexuality. However, he did take a conservative stance on various sins while dishing out grace quite liberally on those steeped in those sins.

Jesus stood against extortion, yet didn’t mention extortion when he encountered extortionists (Matt 9:9-13; Luke 19:1-10).

Jesus stood against violence, but didn’t mention violence when he befriended a leader of a violent superpower (Matt 8:5-13).

Jesus opposed adultery and even took a hyper-conservative view on sexual ethics (Matt 5:27-32), but he didn’t front sexual sin when he encountered people engaged in it (Luke 7:36-50).

Jesus didn’t often lead with law; instead, he led with love and he loved people into holiness.

I often wonder what made Jesus so compelling to sinners. Why were they “drawn to him” as Luke 15:1-2 tells us? I think it’s because his cosmic love for people seeped deep down into the bones of people who were broken and battered by a sin-tarnished world. In a round about way, my traditional view of homosexual behavior compels me—if I want to be like Jesus—to love LGBT people even more. jesus and sinnersNot, love the sinner and hate the sin, but love the sinner and hate my own sin. Because we’re all sinners. I should have more LGBT friends, and not less, if I’m true to my non-affirming view. Jesus had few friends who were conservative religious people, but he had a whole slew friends who were thugs, fornicators, extortionists, gangsters—or people who were simply rejected and unloved by the religious elite.

Therefore, I want to be known for hanging out in the gay district in town, for donating time and money for people suffering from AIDS, and for attending parties that are filled with gays, lesbians, and transvestites. Why? Because Jesus was known for attending such parties (Matt 9:10-13), so much so that it tarnished His reputation (Matt 11:19). But Jesus didn’t care about His reputation. He cared about grace. He cared about love. He cared about fulfilling the mission entrusted to him by His Father and energized by the Spirit.

So have I changed? Ya, I guess I have. Hopefully I’ve changed toward, not away from, Jesus. Such a shift will always be dangerous and invite criticism from religious people.

My understanding of the issue of homosexuality has also changed. That is, I no longer can see same sex attraction and orientation as some abstract ethical debate that I banter around with among all my heterosexual friends. Homosexuality is not an issue. It’s people. It’s Matt and Leslie and Dan and Jeff and Jeremy and Maddie and many other beautiful souls trying to find hope and peace in a broken world. Loving people doesn’t mean affirming whatever behavior they desire; such an approach has never resonated with historic Christianity. But loving people the way Jesus did involves deep and radical commitment, sacrificial generosity, and a burning passion to discover and delight in the humanity of God’s image bearers. If we construct walls of conditions and prerequisites—“I’ll love greedy people, but not gay people…I can tolerate gluttons at my work on doughnut day but I despise my lesbian boss”—we fail to mediate the healing love of Christ. And we fail to uphold the biblical gospel we claim to promote.

In any case, I’ll be blogging less about homosexuality. Why? Because I need some space to reflect, read, and have non-social-media conversations about this vital topic. Plus, there are many other beautifully complex truths that I’m passionate about.

So, my next few blogs will be about grace (or charis): that ever so familiar and ever so watered down truth that binds us to our crucified King.

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