Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Tainted Love?




A Christian understanding of homosexuality is a topic I've shied away from, although I obliquely address it in The Liberal Agenda, because it can be so divisive. That it is a divisive and difficult topic makes me deeply sad. A refusal to face a topic because it is difficult could reasonably be called cowardice, so here we are.

People love to know the rules don't they. It's a fact of human nature that we want to be told what we're allowed to do and what we're not allowed to do. This is "the law" and the old testament of the bible is largely the story of humanity understanding God's nature and how to be right with God through a very detailed set of rules.

In Jesus' time there was a group of religious people who particularly loved the rules. Read Matthew 23 for some of the choice things Jesus had to say to these men, the Pharisees:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.
You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
Heavy stuff! The trouble with the law is that it can't help you, all it can do is tell you when you've broken the law. The law can't save, it can only condemn.

Jesus didn't come to remove the law, but he did fulfil it. In effect he rewrote the rulebook, and in his new rulebook there are only two rules (from Mark 12:30-31 or Matthew 22:37-40):

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Love your neighbour as yourself.
In Romans 13 Paul simplifies this even further "Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:10 or similarly in Galatians 5:14).

There's obviously a great deal of working out of this to be done, but most of what Christians understand as sin - greed, hate, selfishness and so on - can be clearly seen to be against this law of love. (Or the law of liberty as it's called in the letter of James.)

Much of Christianity misunderstands sin (in practise if not in theory). The question of whether any individual act is "a sin" or not is mostly irrelevant. Our outward sins are symptoms of our damaged nature. Our real sin ("Sin" with a capital "S" - the sinful nature) is our failure and inability to love deeply. This is a topic I explore in Sin and Freedom.

However, if we are to categorise any act as "sin" or "not sin" (something Christians seem determined to do) then all we need to do is examine whether or not this act breaks the law of love. If an act hurts another person, or yourself, then there's a good chance it is against the law of love and can be called (if you insist) sin. A harmful symptom of the sinful nature. Conversely, if something is not harmful, if it is loving and upbuilding, then it is hard to categorise it as sin. You see where this topic is going?

In my essay on Sexual Purity in Marriage I discuss how lust is damaging, even within marriage, and how sexual intercourse can be an act of deep and genuine love. The sin in sex is not the act itself, but the selfish nature. So if sexual intercourse, between two people who love each other and are deeply committed to each other, is a genuine act of unselfish love then how does the gender of those involved change whether or not this act breaks the law of liberty?
Titus 1:15 To the pure all things are pure.
1 Corinthians 6:12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.
So, your understanding of specific scripture not withstanding (and to be addressed shortly), if you are to believe that committed homosexual relationships are not acceptable to God you have to be prepared to explain how they are harmful and therefore break the law of love.

Merely saying that these relationships are harmful because they are not what God intended, or are harmful because they are sinful, is a circular argument. The only possible explanation for why homosexual love (or the physical expression of that love) is unnaceptable to God, is that homosexual love is not the same as "straight love", that homosexual love itself is inferior and damaging - a tainted love. If the pure and unselfish physical expression of love between two homosexual people is unacceptable to God, or that a pure and unselfish physical expression of love between two homosexual people is not even possible, it must be because there's something wrong with the nature of that love (and therefore the nature of people who have an orientation towards that love). And because this is what your heart says when your mind and rulebook says that homosexuality is unacceptable to God, this is what homosexual people hear.

This is why the common Christian response of "acceptance" for homosexuals is inadequate. This attitude, currently the official attitude of my church The Jesus Fellowship, was exemplified by Hillsong in response to discovering that one of their choir leaders was gay (from Do I Love Gay People):
So if you are gay, are you welcome at Hillsong Church? Of course! You are welcome to attend, worship with us, and participate as a congregation member with the assurance that you are personally included and accepted within our community. But (this is where it gets vexing), can you take an active leadership role? No.
The idea that you can claim to love someone without being able to fully accept them into your church (in our church those in a homosexual relationship are not able to come into covenant membership nor live in our community) seems odd to me. Similarly, if they have a leadership ministry of any kind to claim to love them but not permit them to fulfil that ministry, not really permit them to be who they are, is odd. The real issue though, is that whilst you are claiming to love and accept them you are simultaneously stating that the physical expression of their love is harmful and damaging, that part of their nature, is unacceptable to God. You may think you're being loving and accepting, but they sure as hell don't feel loved or accepted.

The principle of acceptance of homosexuals, without accepting the practise of homosexuality, as adopted by many modern evangelical churches says that there is nothing sinful about a homosexual orientation but gay sex is still wrong (we're so obsessed with sex aren't we!). I don't think this is a rational and consistent belief. If gay sex is wrong it must be because either homosexual love can't be expressed in a pure and unselfish way, or because the pure expression of homosexual love is sinful. Either way it comes back to the nature of the homosexual love itself being wrong for the physical expression to be unacceptable to God. So to claim that homosexual love is not sinful but its physical expression is doesn't make sense. Or maybe it's not just the sex but the being in love that is the sin. Does that seem right? Not to me.

To put it in perspective suppose a married couple, say a black man and a white woman, came to your church. Imagine if your response was to welcome them, to make it clear that you loved them, but also to say that they couldn't fully join the church nor have any leadership role unless they divorced because you didn't think mixed race marriages were acceptable to God. A patently ridiculous position to take obviously. Do you think that couple would feel loved and accepted? Obviously not, they would feel hated and rejected. However much you may claim you love and accept homosexual people, if you believe that their love is unacceptable to God they will feel hated and rejected. Or they may be so conditioned by the belief of the world in general that homosexual love is wrong (and make no mistake this world hates Gay people) that they come to agree with you and reject themselves. This is sadly a common story for gay Christians.

So what about the bible and those verses that condemn homosexuality as sinful, the "six bullets in the gun" on the opposing side of this "debate"? Thankfully other people have written far more eloquently, and with deeper insight, than I could hope to. The definitive work on this topic, and on a mature understanding of the bible, is A Matter of Integrity by Steve Chalke. For those who want something shorter, or prefer video, I recommend this short one by Matthew Vines:


Reading and watching these it is obvious that the question of whether the bible outlaws loving same sex relationships is at the very least not straightforward. In this light any claim that the bible is "clear" on the topic is poorly informed at best (and really, really hard not to see as disingenuous).

It is possible to read and understand these and still disagree. This I can respect, we won't all agree and we have to be able to discuss difficult topics without acrimony. But please be clear about the consequences of your beliefs and statements. To believe that the expression of homosexual love is sinful is to believe that homosexual love is unacceptable to God, that the homosexual nature is damaging. This may well still be what you believe, but please don't at the same time claim you are loving and accepting of gay people.

The danger is that if homosexual love is acceptable to God, which is the only relevant question - not what the bible says but what the heart of God is, then we shut the door of the kingdom to people that God is desperate to welcome in. We may be confused on the topic, the church may be confused on the topic, but one thing is clear: God is not confused! For a genuine understanding of this topic, or any topic really, an understanding of scripture is not sufficient. We need a deep understanding of the heart of God, of sexuality and of gender. Without this we will quite simply get it wrong, misunderstand scripture and hurt and reject people. Let's not do that.

Sex at its best is an act and expression of love. If homosexual love is genuine love - deep and real in spirit and truth - do you think that its physical expression can never be acceptable to God? Is that what you think of the heart of God: that he accepts the love of heterosexuals but not the love of homosexuals.

If that is what you believe, surely the only way to reconcile that is to conclude that homosexuals don't really love each other, not in spirit and truth. That homosexuality is a perversion of real love. That's what the church has taught for centuries so you wouldn't be alone in that belief. I don't think this stands up to reality though, not to knowing and loving homosexual people. Their love is real.





19 comments:

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  4. I think one of the major problems in the sexuality debate is that we do it using language of the world not of God. The most obvious point being how the world gives a label to our sexuality, something not found in Scripture.

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    1. By "the language of God" do you mean the language of second temple judaism? What word would you use when talking about people with a homosexual orientation? It's not discussed much in the bible (which is what I suspect you mean by "language of God" because at that time they had no conception of sexual orientation (and the homosexual practises condemned by minor verses in the new testament would primarily have been the Roman practise of having sex with boys). So there *isn't* a scriptural language to use here.

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  5. Michael,
    I have to say that I love how open and thoughtful you are about the things you write and its a pleasure to read them. But with great love I agree and disagree with you on a few counts. I agree with you, what is important for the church should be the eternal salvation of the souls of people gay or not. Offering part membership based on sexual orientation is to my mind, like what Peter did and Paul cautioned him over in Galatians 2. So a lot of what you are saying along those lines I agree with. But you see, according to our Lord in John 14, one of the key signs of love, real love is obedience. Same sex attraction is not natural according to Romans 1 reading from verse 18 - 28. Every time I read this scripture it tells me that believers who are gay, have made a grave error, but the same as a believer committing adultery or even back sliding back into the world. Being gay is not the natural order of things set by our Father shown by Romans 1. Like all of us believers, anyone who sins should not be judged by the brethren more than necessary, rather love, mercy, faith, peace should be the disposition seen from the brethren. I cannot pretend to say I understand what believers such as yourselves in 1st world countries go through and endure. More worrying things happened before this same-sex relationship issue came up. To me same-sex relationships are just the artifacts of problems that the church ignored in time past and the results of such apathy is showing in so many areas (same sex relationships and marriage being one of the many).

    Lastly, Sodom and Gomorrah were a very wicked people according to the Bible and one of their evil acts was desiring intercourse with other men, when Lot offered his daughters, they refused and insisted on having the men who were guests of Lot. These are just the humble words of a fellow believer in a third world country...God bless you sir.

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    1. The spirit of this world hates gay people, and unfortunately most churches just follow along with this without questioning it. For example, see this article on how LGBT people have no human rights in most of the world:

      http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/jonathan-cooper/human-rights_b_8771484.html

      Romans 1:18-28 is *clearly* not talking about loving committed relationships, but addressing the lustful orgies of the time. People who are born gay have not "given up their natural desires", their natural desires are just different to yours.

      Homosexuality occurs in many creatures in nature, so you can't argue that it's against nature I'm afraid (except by circular reasoning).

      As for sodom and gomorrah, their sin was clearly wanting to rape people! Did you read the references I provided at the end of the article that goes through this?

      The main point of this essay is that "right sex" is as an act and expression of love. Paul and Jesus both state that love fulfils the law. So *if* homosexual love is just love, then its physical expression is acceptable to God. You haven't explained why that reasoning is wrong *unless* you believe that homosexual people don't really love.

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    1. Hey Joram. Thanks for your comments, I've replied to them inline below!

      Quote: “In Jesus' time there was a group of religious people who particularly loved the rules”
      By this statement, you are inferring that everyone who loves the rules is a Pharisee.

      Well yes, but only in a tongue in cheek way. :-) Although a major point of the article is to point out that Jesus, Paul and James all "reduce" the law to love God and love everyone else. So any other rules we add on top of that aren't from God.

      QUOTE: But David in Psalm 119 v 97 says “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day”.

      I am *not* against the law of God in *any* way. But love fulfils the whole of the law.

      QUOTE: Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees for loving the rules, but rather, for not obeying them, and for their proud elitism and lack of humility and mercy to others. Your inference is that everyone who stands up for truth and calls a spade a spade must be a Pharisee.

      I am not saying that at all. Standing up for love is *enormously* important. We differ on some of the details of that, that is all.

      [quote] But how can this be? By this logic, you would say this verse in Galatians 5v 19- 21 is a Pharisaical statement.
      The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

      You don't seem to think I believe in sin. I really do. :-)

      QUOTE: There is a clear case in the New Testament for calling certain things sinful and against God, and to do so does not mean one must be therefore be a Pharisee.

      I agree.

      Quote: “If an act hurts another person, or yourself, then there's a good chance it is against the law of love and can be called (if you insist) sin.”
      The Bible clearly speaks against sin and defines it in no uncertain terms. We should insist on calling sin sin because that is what it is. To define sin only as things that hurt another person or yourself is not a full understanding of the problem. Sin first and foremost is rebellion against God. Rebellion against God’s word is the true root of sin and is the acid test under which all of our lives, doctrine and practice must be subjected. Sin does hurt other people, and ourselves, yet that does not mean that everything that doesn’t hurt people or ourselves is not sin. For instance, I could tell someone a small lie. That hasn’t directly hurt me, or the person I told it to, but it is a sin against God because in Colossians 3 v 9 it says “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.”

      I disagree that lying doesn't hurt you. I think it forms a habit of untruthfulness which damages you.

      I agree that sin is rebellion against God, but I think that's just another (and actually less useful) way of framing the same thing. When I say that love fulfils the whole of the law I am quoting scripture. So if we love *completely* (we don't) then we have no sin - so sin is (in a practical sense) a failure to love completely.

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    2. Quote: “Much of Christianity misunderstands sin (in practise if not in theory). The question of whether any individual act is "a sin" or not is mostly irrelevant. Our outward sins are symptoms of our damaged nature. Our real sin ("Sin" with a capital "S" - the sinful nature) is our failure and inability to love deeply.”
      These are untrue statements.

      Obviously I disagree. :-)

      QUOTE: As said in the previous paragraph, sin is rebellion against God, not just a failure to love deeply. A failure to love deeply is a symptom of the deeper root cause of our rebellion against Gods holiness.

      God's holiness *is* love. God is love. Love fulfils the whole of the law. What James calls the law of love. You really seem to want this not to be the case (not an accusation - just how it seems).

      [quote] Certain individual acts clearly are sinful and are listed in the New Testament, see the previously stated example of Galatians 5v 19- 21 as just one of many examples of lists of sins in the New Testament.

      Me kicking someone and hurting them would be an individual act that is sinful - for obvious reasons. So I don't *really* disagree, but I think there's a deeper point.

      Our acts are a symptom of who we are. We could stop doing all of the individual acts considered sinful and still be separated from God. And trying to stop doing things our nature compels us to do is trying to change ourselves.

      We need our nature changed - what we need to repent of is who we are. If we grieve over the fact that we don't love deeply, that we are separate from God, then we can change. That's the true repentance.

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    1. Quote: “If something is not harmful, if it is loving and upbuilding, then it is hard to categorise it as sin.
      God is the judge of what is sinful, not man. Why? Because primarily sin is against God, not man. As David says in Psalm 51 v 4- “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight”

      Sure, but he isn't an arbitrary monster. We *can* understand something of his nature and his ways. Again, love fulfils the whole of the law. Something is only a sin if it is against the law of God, so if these acts are sins they must contravene the law of love. If they don't contravene God's law they aren't sin. God's law *is* love. This is entirely scriptural.

      Just because something looks good and we cannot personally see the harm in it does not mean it must be good. As Proverbs 14 v 12 states “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” The whole point is that God is the one who defines sin, not us. It is our job to trust and obey Him, not dissect and analyse and try to wriggle round the truth

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    2. Quote: “If sexual intercourse, between two people who love each other and are deeply committed to each other, is a genuine act of unselfish love then how does the gender of those involved change whether or not this act breaks the law of liberty?”
      Another way of framing your statement here would be to use the idiom “If it feels good, do it”.

      Absolutely not, that is not in *any way* remotely close to what I'm saying. The standard is pure love, completely pure and absolute love. Not feelings or appearances.



      Quote: If it feels good to have a same sex relationship and if there seems to be love and trust then it must be OK is what you are saying here.

      Nope. I am saying *if* the relationship is pure love, and the physical expression of that love is pure, then by the law of God it is acceptable to him. This is the *same* standard for heterosexual relationships by the way, and indeed the same for any act.

      I am not preaching permissiveness - read my article on sexuality and marriage. The standard of God is utter purity.

      Quote: Just because there is love and trust and commitment in a relationship does not make it right, it does not create a moral absolute. For instance, you could commit adultery and be in a loving, unselfish and committed relationship with another man’s wife but that does not make it right- why, not just because you are hurting the betrayed man, but because you are sinning against God.

      Well, I agree that adultery is wrong - but I think it's wrong because of the broken trust and the hurt (that are inescapable in such a situation). So that is why it is wrong before God.

      Quote: You have misunderstood the law of liberty. The law of liberty according to your interpretation is “if it feels good, do it- as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone”.

      I'm trying to assume you're not trying to deliberately misunderstand me but you're not making it easy!

      Quote: Yes we have liberty in Jesus but it is a liberty to follow Gods commands. Christ fulfilled the Law and as we follow him in obedience and faithfulness his righteousness in us fulfils the law- that is the law of liberty, not a license to do what ever you feel like. God is the one who says what is sinful and what isn’t, not us. "For you brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another" (Galatians 5:13).

      I quite agree.

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    1. Quote: “Merely saying that these relationships are harmful because they are not what God intended, or are harmful because they are sinful, is a circular argument.”
      It is not a circular argument to say this. It is clear to anyone who opens the Bible and reads without an agenda or a preformed set of opinions or ground that they are determined to defend, that the Bible says that homosexuality is wrong. Oh for a simple, humble heart that reads the Bible and believes what it reads. There are two types of Christians, those who let the Bible change them, and those who change the Bible. If you let the Bible change you it is because you have been before God with a humble and honest heart, determined to let the truth wound your flesh and pride, until you come out carrying more and more of the heart of Jesus Christ.


      Did you read the references I provided. That's just not true, and I really don't think you're coming "without an agenda" here. Sorry.

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    2. As an added note, many of your sincere brothers and sisters in Christ have read those scriptures, and commentary on them, and come to a different conclusion to you. So if you're determined that conclusion isn't possible with an honest heart then you have a bad heart towards them - as far as I can tell because of your determination that you know the truth. That *is* an agenda.

      I may well be wrong, but I don't think the reasons you've given hold up - largely because you misunderstand what I say and my heart in it.

      I'm done with replying now.

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