North Carolina has just become the 30th state to enshrine the definition of marriage as one man and one woman in the state constitution. I am pleased by the outcome, but dismayed by the process and the rhetoric.
In the local newspaper, proponents and opponents of the marriage amendment lobbed scriptures back and forth as if a couple of verses settled the matter. That’s wrong for at least three reasons.
- A text without a context is a pretext. The authors had their minds made up and sought favorable verses as ammunition.
- The Bible is the unified word of God. All of the verses are true. All of them fit together. Anyone who uses one passage to argue agains what another passage says understands neither one.
- We are an increasingly secular society. Christians should not suppose that quoting Scripture will persuade non-Christians. Political discussions need political talking points. Christians ought to take their principles from Scripture, but find different language for taking part in political discussions.
My own position, as far as the amendment is concerned, is that marriage anywhere in the world and throughout all time has between men and women. Sometimes it’s one man and one woman, sometimes one man and more than one woman, or even between more than one man and one woman.
Societies have had varying degrees of tolerance for homosexual relationships, but none have included them within the definition of marriage. In our society, people can do pretty much whatever they want, but no minority has the right to redefine an entire institution and force everyone else to go along
In the absence of any compelling reason to redefine the whole concept of marriage, I am opposed to it. In the arguments made by opponents of the North Carolina marriage amendment, same sex marriage actually got lost in an avalanche of scare tactics about people losing insurance or protection orders. Others warned that it would be bad for the business climate.
Oh? Did any of that happen in any of the other states with similar constitutional amendments? Transparent lies about side issues while completely ignoring the main issue don’t win many elections, or shouldn’t.
So much for my political opinions. What does the Bible say about homosexuality, marriage and, love?
Homosexuality and marriage
The first explicit mention of homosexuality in the Bible comes in Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” (Unless otherwise noted, I quote from NKJV in this post.) That comes near the end of a long list of prohibited sexual behavior.
After the end of the list, the chapter goes on to say that the land of the Canaanites was defiled by such practices. The Israelites were commissioned to wipe them from the face of the earth in order to put a halt to them. If Israel ever became similarly defiled, the land would vomit them out, too.
Leviticus mandates a more immediate consequence of homosexual behavior in 20:13: both men shall be put to death. Is there any possibility, then of gay marriage under Old Testament law? Of course not.
But that’s the law. Christians live under grace. The entire theme of this blog concerns how grace (God’s unmerited favor) and judgment (the inevitable outcome when sin encounters God’s holiness) fit together.
In the first eight chapters of Romans, Paul describes a new kind of righteousness, based on grace and not works of the law. Remember the goal of his argument as you read Romans 1:26-32. And notice that I include four verses more than most people quote on the subject of homosexuality.
For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers,backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
Of course in order to understand the passage fuller, you need to start reading no later than v.18: “For the wrath of god is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men [used as generic for humanity], who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
In other words, the longer passage I quoted is only incidentally and partially about homosexuality. That is, the application of the passage is much, much broader.
Verses 18-32 taken as a whole do not describe some special class of depraved people. It describes the condition of the entire human race. God’s grace saves people from that condition, but it does not in any way make the saved people superior to anyone who is still in it. But about the shorter part I quoted, notice the following points:
- Paul calls homosexuality a vile, unnatural passion. And while Leviticus did not mention lesbian homosexuality, Paul does.
- God essentially gives all people determined to continue in sin (including but certainly not exclusively homosexuals) a debased mind. Basically, sinners have told God that they have no interest in knowing about him, so he takes that knowledge away.
- That debased mind makes repentance more difficult, but not impossible.
- Not only practicing homosexuals (among other sinners) deserve death, but so does anyone who does not practice a listed sin, but approves of it.
Once again, the concept of homosexual marriage is totally incompatible with the will of God as revealed in Scripture. But when Paul says people are deserving of death, don’t forget where he takes his argument, which does not finish until the end of the eighth chapter:
Everyone deserves death. God’s grace has found a way for sinners to be justified in his sight and not suffer the death they deserve. And that way is through faith in Jesus Christ.
God’s grace for homosexuals
Here’s another passage frequently quoted on the subject of homosexuality. As far as I’m concerned, it adds nothing to what the Bible says about homosexuality beyond what I have already quoted, but it adds a great deal about grace. Again, I’ll quote one verse more than I usually see.
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
- The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll go to hell, but that discussion will have to wait for another time.
- Homosexuals are included among the unrighteous. People who practice homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of God. But let’s be serious. It’s prevalence of adultery and the resulting divorce within the church that has weakened marriage to the point where our society can entertain the idea of same-sex marriage at all.
- Paul is writing to Christians, some of whom used to be homosexuals (etc.), but God’s grace has delivered them from it. Upon repentance and deliverance from former sins, they are now not only justified, but sanctified.
- Christians are under grace, not under law. There is no longer any point in appealing to the law (the Leviticus verses, for example) to govern Christian behavior. All things are lawful.
- That doesn’t mean that all things are okay. Sin still has consequences. And as long as we’re still breathing air, all of us will sin occasionally. As long as we don’t cling to habitual sin (homosexual or anything else), it doesn’t matter much. We can confess it, repent of it, and God nails it to the cross with all our other sins. But habitual sin still holds Christians under its power.
Human love for homosexuals
Whenever Christians use the passages from Leviticus, Romans, and 1 Corinthians to oppose homosexuality or gay marriage. Other Christians will toss various commandments about love back at them.
Now, non-believers are pretty good at cherry picking scriptures and using them as weapons, but there were plenty of ordained ministers tossing love scriptures into the battle. I have been around enough to know that the categories of non-believer and ordained minister are not mutually exclusive, but I know one of the ministers who wrote to the paper. He’s definitely a believer, and I’m willing to assume most of the others are as well.
It’s not only preachers getting into the fray, saying to vote against the marriage amendment out of love. I have some good Christian friends with a gay son. My more casual acquaintances include other fine Christian people with gay children who love them dearly. And I know that there are vast numbers of others I have never met or heard of.
Some Christians cast their gay children out of the family. In theological terms, they refuse to extend the grace to their children that their heavenly Father extends to them. I applaud Christian parents who continue to love their gay children without judgment or restraint.
But remember. No one who really understands Scripture can use any passage to argue against what some other passage says.
What does it mean, biblically, to love a homosexual?
Rmember the Galatians passage: people who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God. If you love someone, surely you want them to inherit the kingdom of God!
Remember the end of the Romans passage: people who approve of homosexuality (or any of the other listed behaviors) deserve death as much as people who practice it.
Love for homosexuals, in the context of the revelation of God’s will and character, cannot include approval of homosexual behavior. Period. Paragraph. End of discussion.
So how is it possible to love a homosexual without judgment or restraint and at the same time disapprove of homosexual behavior? Learn to love them the same way God does: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34, NIV–The punctuation there is clearer than NKJV, which has similar word order).