It almost isn’t news anymore. Things come and go so quickly these days in the news. However, the Supreme Court of the United States’ (SCOTUS) decision to nationally secure the right for same-sex couples to marry will no doubt have ripple effects for years to come.
For me, I have been reading about this issue, probably just like you have been. I have read news articles and numerous Christian responses to the SCOTUS decision. Some churches are employing the decision to make a shift themselves on the issue, becoming more accepting of the idea of monogamous, same-sex relationships. Other churches are digging in their heals and getting ready for a wave of religious intolerance like the USA has never seen.
In recent weeks, I have personally received two requests to respond to the issue. One came from a family member who received a disturbingly persuasive argument for same-sex marriage that claimed to be biblical, and the other came from a pastor friend whose daughter attends a church in New York City that recently shifted its stance on the matter of same-sex marriage to become more inclusive. Therefore, I imagine that just as I am receiving emails or letters like this, you probably are too.
I don’t know that I will add anything new to what many have already said—so much ink has already been spilled. However, I do want to at least provide a summary of some things that have already been said. Additionally, I think it is important for us to understand why some evangelical churches are shifting on this issue. Finally, where do we go from here as a local church? It is inevitable I think that some of us will have interactions with homosexuals—whether at work, friends or friends of friends, and perhaps even family members. And we need to be ready to respond in truth and in love.
Why Are Some Churches Shifting on the Issue?
The first and perhaps the major reason churches are making this shift is due to an improper hermeneutic. Hermeneutics is the art and science of acquiring the meaning of Scripture; that is, it is interpretive method. Some evangelical Christians today are looking at the major texts that touch directly on the issue of homosexuality (e.g., Gen. 19:5; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26–27; 1 Cor. 6:9; and 1 Tim. 1:10) and opening themselves up to interpretive methods that aren’t necessarily new, but rather are becoming more publicly preferred in our politically correct climate. I can sum these up into three.
The Postmodern Hermeneutic says that the Bible can say whatever the interpreter wants it to say. There is a movie that illustrates this problematic interpretative method called The Book of Eli. As the story goes, there is one Bible left in the whole world, and Eli has it. Throughout the story it is clear that God is with Eli to protect him and his word. But there is a bad guy. The bad guy knows that whoever has that book can use it to control people; the person who has the “word of God” can make it say whatever he wants in order to make people feel divine obligation to do what he says. President Mark Bailey of Dallas Theological Seminary once wisely stated that,
The inability to exhaust all knowledge does not mean that we cannot know some things.
The point is that, “No,” you may certainly not use the Bible to make it mean whatever you want it to mean. The Spirit of God in the church has a history of interpretation. The Bible many times even interprets itself. So, in the case of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, neither side can simply make the Bible say whatever they would like it to say. The Bible, believe it or not, has its own voice.
The Abused Redemptive Hermeneutic is an unfortunate use of an otherwise good hermeneutic. The redemptive hermeneutic at its most basic level helps us to understand trajectories in Scripture. For example, I think most biblical scholars would admit to redemptive movement in the role of women in religious service as you move from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament. The idea of male headship is continuous throughout Scripture in places like the home and in the pastorate; however, there is also a movement with the nature of salvation in the gospel that further redeems the role of women in the religious life of God’s people. For example, the priesthood of all believers applies to women too. Women receive gifting from the Spirit too in order to help build the church. Whereas in the Old Testament, women were more limited in the religious life and service. The idea of slavery seems to also experience transformation from the old to the new. Not only, does Paul call both slaves and masters to a commonality in Christ, but his letter to Philemon concerning the runaway slave Onesimus was socially different because of the gospel’s implications. Coming to the homosexuality and same-sex issue, I feel that this redemptive hermeneutic has been abused. The reason is because Scripture itself never ever indicates any change in trajectory with regard to homosexual relationships and practices. From the Old to the New, the message is the same—homosexual desire and practice are forbidden. Sexual immorality is treated the same; Marriage is treated the same.
Lastly, the Silence Hermeneutic is probably the most frequently used interpretive method that I see being used in writings on the issue right now. It goes something like this: “Since the Bible does not directly address the issue of monogamous, same-sex marriage and since Jesus himself never spoke to that issue, we can best respond to these relationship by love, acceptance, and inclusion within the body of Christ.” Such adherents would explain away the previously mentioned Bible passages (e.g., Gen. 19:5; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26–27; 1 Cor. 6:9; and 1 Tim. 1:10) as referring to a kind of exploitive homosexual behavior (such as rape or pederasty) or to an idolatry-based homosexual behavior. The problems with this way of understanding the Bible are very important. First, the Bible never addresses the idea of same-sex marriage because it forbids such sexual possibility. The Bible clearly forbids sexual possibilities with certain people and even with animals; for example, the Christian man is forbidden to consider the sexual possibility of a relationship with another man’s wife. It doesn’t matter if that man chose or did not choose to have feelings for another man’s wife, nor does it matter how strong those urges are, rather it matters that God has forbidden the sexual possibility of such a relationship. Therefore, because the Bible forbids the sexual possibility between a male and another male or a female with another female, we can easily correlate that same-sex marriage is a forbidden relationship. When the Bible uses the phrase “sexual immorality” or in the older versions “fornication” to translate the Greek word πορνεία, the phrase is functioning as a sort of “catch-all” for all of the sexual deviations from God’s original design for human sexuality. I personally see continuity between the Leviticus descriptions in chapter 18 with Jesus’ reference in Matthew 19:9 and with the apostolic decree at the end of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:28–29. So, the question begs, does the Bible view same-sex desire and sexual possibility as sexual immorality (which would preclude the idea of same-sex marriage)? In my view, this is exactly the biblical category to which it belongs, along with premarital sex, adultery, adulterous lust, exploitive sex, incest, idolatry-related sexual practice, etc. Second, the claim of some that Jesus never spoke to the issue is deceptive. When he was asked about divorce (as recorded in the Gospels), his answer was very clear, and the source on which he built his answer happened to be Genesis 2:24 and the broader Genesis 1–2 teaching on the topic of marriage. Therefore, he uses Scripture to provide a proper interpretative answer to the question about divorce (Mark 10; Mathew 19). I think it is fair and safe to assume that he would go back to the exact same place if he were to have been asked whether it was lawful for a man to marry another man, or for a woman to marry another woman. He would go back to the ideal set forth at the beginning. So, we must not trample all over Scripture in order to carry out a desire to become more inclusive and welcoming.
Where Do We Go from Here? Teach Truth; Love Well
My aim here has been to interact with the Scriptures and to assess how other churches are failing to faithfully interpret Scripture on this matter. I realize there are other matters weighing into the discussion, such as the more secular and material arguments for allowing same-sex marriage in the context of a democracy where every person is not a Christian. However, I am a Christian, and we are Christians here at West Lisbon, and for our part in this democracy of ours, to the best of our ability, we begin with what our God has spoken because we believe that adhering to his word leads to general blessings for ourselves and for those whose lives we touch (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:12–16). So, what is a church like ours to do in the midst of this wave of sexual immorality in our culture? Well, I’m convinced that we must continue to teach the truth of God’s word, and we must continue to love as Christ loves. We cannot afford to weaken on these two fronts.
On the truth front, we must faithfully teach God’s design for sexuality between one man and one woman in a committed marriage relationship until death breaks that covenant. We need to uphold this truth not only in the context of same-sex marriage discussions, but also in the face of the cultural trend of no-fault, easy divorce. Starting with our young, we need to instruct them about God’s ideals of sacrificial love and purity as something worth fighting for in relationships, thought-life, and technology consumption. We need to continue to help young people think and pray through the biblical expectation of the lifelong covenant of marriage; help them enjoy their single years pursuing the Redeemer and other significant friendships; prepare them with wisdom about finances and education decisions. We must teach the truth about sin and about the dangers of sexual deviation from God’s design. We must continue to teach the truth about gracious God who loves sinners and who wants to give them power to overcome the slavery of sin in their lives.
In an ideal world and in ideal scenarios, everyone just believes the truth at an early age and brokenness is minimized, and we all sing, “Shout to the Lord.” But what about for those of us who “come broken sexually to be mended, wounded sexually to be healed, desperate sexually to be rescued, empty sexually to be filled”? What about those of us who come to the church a sexual mess? Is there any hope? Yes, there is, and this hope begins to be experienced by the broken person when the church members love well. One of the ways we can love well is by being super passionate about seeing God gift to a person authentic humanity in Christ. If you are passionate about seeing such a thing develop, then you’ll be friends with the broken person. You’ll share God’s story with the broken person. You’ll sacrificially offer your time to the broken person. With specific regard to the same-sex issue of our day, I am convinced that part of authentic humanity—as God intended it in the beginning and which he is giving anew in Christ—is our respective male-ness or female-ness. We were made to be either male or female. I believe sin clouds the capacity of our respective genders to glorify God. Remember, God created us male and female to bear his likeness. This image-bearing potential is restored in Christ, so one of the ways that we love well is by affirming gender distinctions and by helping develop true manhood and true womanhood for the glory of God.
For Your Personal Study and Devotion
As I said earlier, a lot of ink has been spilled on this topic. Here, I’d like to list a few things to read and offer a final prayer for the church and for our world in general. You should be able to Google search all of these articles and books:
“The Bible and Same-Sex Marriage: 6 Common But Mistaken Claims” by Dr. Darrell Bock for The Gospel Coalition
“40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags” by Kevin DeYoung for The Gospel Colation
“Is Homosexual Orientation Sinful?” by Dr. Denny Burk for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung
The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard B. Hays
Slaves, Women & Homosexuals by Williams J. Webb
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
I also have been reading those who would be on the opposite side of this discussion, and if you would like some of those references, I’d be happy to give you those privately. Just let me know.
Consider the context of Romans 1:18–32, I’d like to leave you with a challenge to pray for the spiritual awakening of our nation. Personally, I think there is a deeper spiritual issue in our nation than homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I would say that these things are symptoms of a bigger, more dangerous, underlying problem. The problem is this: there is a sweeping neglect and suppression of the knowledge of God among Americans, even in the church. We have lived so long in comfort, ease, and recreation, that we have largely forgotten our desperate need for God. Pastor Tony Evans has many times said that the church is the spiritual immune system of the nation, if the immune system is weak, then you will begin to see the effects in the broader culture. What if God is turning us over to the decline in Romans 1:18–32 because we have stopped hungering and thirsting for him? And what if the church is at the center of the problem . . . and the solution? What if one of the ways you can minister to the homosexual community is by praying for personal revival that will lead to awakening in the church that will snowball into revival in the nation? God made and saves us to worship him; if we forget him, things always decline.