The Oklahoman reported in an article from May 21 that the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) ratified a measure allowing the ordination of gay and lesbian ministers. According to the article this is a debate that has “raged within the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) for more than three decades.” And though this recent decision finally gave regional church bodies the ability to decide for themselves, some PCUSA Churches have been affirming non-traditional sexual preferences for years. When I read the article I was deeply saddened that the PCUSA has ignored or perhaps abandoned the Bible altogether on this issue. However, some have tried to validate their position with the Bible, including a Presbyterian (PCUSA) Church in Stillwater where I pastor.
The following is part 2 of a blog I wrote in response to statements made by a Presbyterian Pastor in local newspapers:
But before I unpack two passages from the New Testament, it might be helpful to have some insight into Greco-Roman Culture so as to understand the context of the passages. For instance, it was quite acceptable for men in Roman times to have homosexual lovers who were slaves or even children. In addition, most of the Roman emperors were known to be either homosexual or bisexual. GLBT lifestyle preferences were prevalent and accepted during the time of the Bible, especially in Greco-Roman Culture. Everett Ferguson, Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Abilene Christian University, writes in Backgrounds of Early Christianity:
“The numerous words in the Greek language suggest a preoccupation with this aspect of (sexual) life. Homosexuality was a common result in Greek society, which was considered the noblest form of love to be friendship between men. Some of the greatest names in Greek philosophy regarded it as not inferior to heterosexual love, but it was practiced primarily among males between their early teens and early twenties.”
Paul was not just being culturally mainstream by opposing GLBT relationships, but rather in his letters to the Christians in Rome and Corinth, he was condemning acts and lifestyles that were widely accepted as appropriate. If anything, Paul was out of step with the culture of Rome and Corinth and the prevailing thought regarding permissible sexual orientation.
In Rom. 1:26-27 Paul writes:
“For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for the which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”
Paul’s intended condemnation of GLBT relationships reads crystal clear to me, but my guess is that this text as a prohibition against GLBT relationships gets dismissed by proponents of GLBT relationships on the grounds that the relationships this passage is talking about are, “unnatural, abusive, violent, perverted sexual activity (Edwards).” But let’s give Paul a little bit of credit as a writer or as one who could dictate clearly. To extract from this text that natural GLBT relationships are not the relationships that Paul is condemning in this passage is to ignore the plain meaning of the text. Paul is clear that what is degrading about these relationships is that they are unnatural because they are women with women and men with men. There is no evidence that unnatural means Paul is arguing that a gay man or gay woman shouldn’t be in a relationship with a heterosexual man or heterosexual woman. Paul is condemning relationships that are something other than biblical, loving and committed heterosexual relationships. This can only make sense in light of the fact that elsewhere, (Eph. 5:21-33 for example) Paul refers to marriage as between a man and woman.
Paul also writes to the church of Corinth in 1 Cor. 6:9-11:
“Or 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 effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor the drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
This passage (1 Cor. 6:9-11) looks to be absolutely definitive, because Paul not only condemns “homosexuals” but also the “effeminate.” The word effeminate (malokoi—grk) is describing the person who is “being passive in a same-sex relationship” (Walter Bauer’s, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature). The word homosexual (arsenokoitai—grk) is describing the aggressive “male who engages in sexual activity with a person of his own sex.” Paul is covering all of his bases, showing that all homosexual behavior is unnatural and therefore sinful. Furthermore, it can’t be argued from this passage that Paul is speaking of an “unnatural, abusive, violent, perverted sexual activity.” If that were the case, then how does one arbitrarily argue there are unnatural, abusive, violent and perverted fornicators, idolaters, thieves, covetousness, drunkards, revilers or swindlers? What makes all of these vices unnatural, abusive, violent and perverted is that they are all unnatural, abusive, violent and perverted by God’s moral standard as expressed in God’s Word. You can’t say that homosexuality is acceptable to the degree that it isn’t abusive and then say that all forms of adultery are wrong. Any latitude given to homosexuality would also have to be given to the other vices. Are there some thieves that are not unnatural, abusive, violent and perverted when they steal? To take either representation of homosexuality in the passage and try to salvage it is to ignore how nonredeemable the rest of the list is. These particular sins that are condemned by Paul are wrong because it is impossible for them to be right—at least if you believe that the Bible is God’s authoritative Word.
To be fair, this passage also reminds us that heterosexual relationships can be perverted and sinful as well. The case for biblical marriage has not been represented well by the staggering number of divorces among those professing to be Christians, as well as by the population at large. Adultery and fornication are perversions of God’s intended plan for a man and a woman, and divorce for any reason among couples is the result of sin and produces sin at some point. As a matter of fact, besides Jesus, I doubt there has never been a person who wasn’t an adulterer in light of Matt. 5:27-30. We are all in need of God’s grace in Christ Jesus, but grace does not increase, or exist, so that sin may continue (Rom. 6:1), whether it is the sin of adultery or homosexuality.
To tell people that the Bible does not condemn GLBT relationships is clearly not true, and for that reason not loving. Every one of these sins is a violation of an infinitely holy God, and to say that a person can participate in these deeds without repentance and not be condemned by God is a perversion of the Bible, and it distorts the Gospel to the point that whoever teaches this has lost the Gospel for both themselves and their hearers. So if someone wants to say the Bible isn’t authoritative or that it isn’t the word of God, then that is one thing, but let us not entertain any nonsense that the Bible does not condemn GLBT relationships. To come to a different conclusion requires some very creative, interpretive gymnastics.
The beauty of the God’s Word is that whether any person has engaged in homosexuality, adultery, lying, drunkenness, stealing or whatever vice they may be inclined to engage in with their bodies, every person can be forgiven and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 6:11). The same Word of God that condemns all sin, whether heterosexual or homosexual, also offers forgiveness and life. So the way you love your gay, lesbian, transsexual, bisexual neighbor is by respectfully telling them the truth. Telling people that they are wrong is not hateful if they are respectfully being told the truth. Of course there is a way to say the truth, and there is a way not to say it. On the other hand, it is harmful, even hateful, to say that you love someone and then mislead them about the truth of God. To love someone with your words and actions you must say to them: “We all have sinned against God and we all struggle with sinning against God. We all have vices and as long as we are in our present bodies we will struggle, but while we were yet adulterers, liars, homosexuals, child abusers, thieves and so on, Christ died for us, (Rom. 5:8) and bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin (1 Pet. 2:24) and live for Him who rose again on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:14-15). If we repent and believe (Mark 1:15, Acts 20:21) we will be saved in Christ as a new creation and the old will be gone because the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).
May God give us the grace to be respectfully honest about God’s Word so that we can tell others about forgiveness for sins in Jesus. That’s how you truthfully love your neighbor.
Brent Prentice is senior pastor of Stillwater, Eagle Heights.