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Friday, March 11, 2011

Homosexuality and the Church

Continuing the conversation from yesterday about Jesus and the homosexual community, I want to think a bit today about what the church needs to do. If we're going to have this conversation, it needs to be based in what the bible says. A conversation can't happen when we're shouting at each other. I learned this from Carroll Osburn in his book: Women in the Church: Reclaiming the Ideal, which looks at the different sides of the issue of women in the church in a fair and reasonable manner. Essentially the conversation can't happen between the extremists. People holding signs saying that God hates homosexual people are not likely to do anything but shout, and the radical, vociferous minority of the homosexual community won't listen or respond coherently either.

We need to have an honest, theological and scriptural discussion not an argument. Stanley Grenz has a highly recommended book that presents different biblical interpretations and lands on the idea that the church ought to be: Welcoming but Not Affirming. In it he lays out both sides of the issue and looks at the scriptural underpinnings of the debate.

The reality is that there is a dearth of scriptural teaching on this point. We have all of four passages in the bible that mention it at all: Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Romans 1:26-27. Some would also cite the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as a condemnation of homosexuality since the men of the city wanted to have sex with the angels visiting Lot. However Genesis 19 isn't clear about the reason for the destruction of the city. 

Leviticus is the most clear about what the actual act being prohibited. It only covers male homosexual acts, however and doesn't condemn all homosexuality. Some would argue that this is due to the patriarchal society which sees women as unnecessary of mention. There is thought that the homosexual practice being prohibited is not a loving, consentual relationship, but rather cultic practices that relate to the worship of the Canaanite gods. Similar to tattoos and beard trimming that were both outlawed in Leviticus for what appears to be the purpose of keeping the Israelites from idol worship. Christians have dismissed the teaching about beard trimming, by and large, and many Christians don't see a problem with tattoos. The same reasoning could be used to dismiss the commands about homosexuality in Leviticus.

In 1 Corinthians we see a list of things that will exclude people from the kingdom of heaven, one of which is being a "homosexual offender." This could be taken to mean anyone who has homosexual relations, but within gay theology they argue that this is actually in reference to homosexual pedophilia which was common in Roman and Greek culture where an older man would take a young boy as a lover.  Their argument is that Paul is outlawing, not the relationship between two adults, but the dominant relationship of a man over a boy as sinful.

Romans gives us the only teaching about female homosexuality in the bible. To me, this is the most difficult one to dismiss, as it is fairly clearly talking about both men and women and apparently adult relationships. It takes more exegetical gymnastics to get around this passage. You could say that Paul is discussing temple prostitutes again. Or it could be a discussion of the ways in which sex and rape were used to exert dominance over weaker people and to fill them with shame, pointing out that everyone is shamed by such acts.

I think that's the basis for a biblical discussion. I believe that the bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin, but it is in no way a greater sin than others. Paul lumps it in with being drunk, greedy or a slanderer. Truth be told, Christians slander homosexuals regularly. It's time to stop slandering and start conversing so that we can understand each other.

What do you think?

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PastorGregO said...

As far as this post goes James I agree with you. The question I have has to do with how far we accept this behavior, or any other open sin, being practiced by those in the Body of Christ. If they refuse to acknowledge their sin or do anything to work towards growth can they continue to be part of our local faith community? There comes a point when love needs to be tough love, but always with the hope and effort at reconciliation.

James Wood said...

Continued, unrepentant sin isn't ok for any Christian. Any sin. I guess I just want us to be consistent. We don't discipline people for slander or greed, but we feel the need to discipline for sexual sins. I think that we should have more, not less accountability as we make disciples. But we also need to let people walk with us longer before we expect them to be full members of the church. Jesus had a large crowd of people that followed him, but he didn't place expectations on them. He just taught and loved them. He let them decide when the teaching was too difficult for them to continue (e.g. John 6). We don't have a good place in church for not-yet Christians to explore faith without the standards of a disciple applied to them. Prior to Constantine, pre-Christians would spend up to 3 years studying before making a faith commitment. What if we took the entire process of discipleship more seriously?