Friday, January 3, 2014

Male and Female He Created Them

In a former post, I alluded to a future discussion of the use of the terms "gay" and "straight" by Christians. I now intend to discuss this in this post. The problem with raising the question to the validity of these terms is their role in our cultural, sexual orthodoxy. To question them is like questioning the Trinity in the Vatican. However, I think the use of these terms can be problematic for Christians for two reasons, first, it confirms the world's understanding of sexuality and secondly, it undermines the Scriptural way of thinking about identity. The latter point is crucial, these terms are identity terms, concepts by which people choose to identify themselves. It is important that we not lose sight of the identity we have in Christ, that which Scripture teaches.

Firstly, the use of these terms is fairly recent as is the use of sexual orientation (both as a term and) as a source of identity for persons. In classical times, there was no talk of 'sexual orientation' (be that good or bad). The ancients did not think of sexual activity as a defining characteristic of a person. This means that persons who engaged in homosexual activity were not thought of as "gay" or whatever word now best describes this sort of activity, but as men who engaged sexually with other men (or as the CDC would put it "MSM"). This is obviously different than how sexuality is perceived in today's culture, and especially in relation to "sexual orientation" which is something of a buzz word today. The point is not to return to an ancient thinking about sexuality, but it is important to note that when the Scripture authors condemn homosexuality, it is homosexual activity they have in mind. In our stance for truth, we cannot make blanket statements without considering all aspects of an issue. Likewise, we cannot condemn homosexual orientation, or having feelings of attraction towards members of the same-sex. These are things that happen to folks without their conscious effort (or sometimes without their desire to have them). What we are condemning is acting upon those feelings of attraction. This is the same of heterosexual orientation. We do not condemn anyone for finding a member of the opposite sex attractive, this is something that occurs to them without their conscious effort, in nearly the same manner, yet, what we condemn is acting upon those feelings, i.e. lust. It's important that we make this distinction in dealing with any sort of sexual sin but especially with homosexual sin.

The most dangerous point in this modern shift into language of "sexual orientation", which in itself is not bad, and accurately describes the nature of our sexual desires, to some extent, is that people have begun to assume their identities based upon their sexual orientation. This is the thing that we need to address when discussing homosexuality, and all sexual sin. The temptation as Christians, and as human beings in general, is to focus on those who are different and make them seem to be more "bad" than they truly are. Those who struggle with same-sex attraction are not more "evil" than anyone else, we are all equally sinful, and all of our sins are equally evil in the sight of God. It is convenient, at times, to cast the "bad guy" role onto those struggling with this sin because it makes it easier for others to ignore their own sins, even sexual sins. The trouble is that everyone has sinned sexually, whether they admit it or not. Lust, pre-marital sex, and pornography are just as bad as homosexuality and as equally damaging to the person and their mental and physical health. Divorce and remarriage is as equally sinful and harmful as acting upon homosexuality, not to mention a host of other sins, pride, greed, gluttony, and dishonesty. These are issues that need to be addressed in the same manner and with the same energy that is put into combatting homosexuality.

The use of sexual orientation as an identity is a huge problem and it makes addressing these issues from a biblical perspective equally difficult. The thing that we must understand is that when we say that "homosexuality is a sin", to a person struggling with homosexuality, who identifies as gay, this is the same thing as saying "you are particularly sinful", with the emphasis we place on homosexual sin it seems as if we are saying that they are especially sinful, when they are just as sinful as everyone else. This over-emphasis, culturally and in the church, on sex is a major problem and leads to this sort of thinking for all persons. The thing that needs to be addressed, before addressing the sinfulness of homosexual activity, is the basis of our identity in Christ Jesus and our own sinfulness. The "otherness" of persons suffering from same-sex attraction can easily be used as a mechanism for ignoring our own faults.

This is why we need extra careful not adopt the language of sexual orientation in identifying people. I do not identify as "straight", I identify as "male", for Scripture says, "male and female created he them; and blessed them", this is because my identity as a Christian and as a human being is not defined by my sexual preferences or desires, however pure or not they may be, but by my relationship to God in Christ. Moreover, beyond this, we are Christ's through his sacrifice on our behalf. We are no longer condemned because he has loved us in this manner. We have to realize that we are not identified by our sexual preferences, but by our relationship to God. When we put this in the proper perspective, we can see that God has created males and females, which he designed to be sexually compatible, this is within the divine plan and natural order.

I think the main point I wished to convey has already been expressed but just for thoroughness, we must look at the so-called "seven verses", those which directly address the issue of homosexuality. The trouble with trying to address this issue in any sort of moderation is that both "sides" tend to criticize you. The liberals think that I am not being gracious enough in my consideration of the issue and conservatives think that I am not dealing seriously enough with homosexuality.

I will briefly mention the Old Testament verses that condemn homosexual activity, but will not focus on them, instead focusing more on the New Testament texts (also in a break with tradition, I will be using the English Standard Version of the Bible in this post).

The two places in the Old Testament where homosexual activity is explicitly condemned are found in the book of Leviticus, besides the story of Lot and the men of Sodom in Gen. 19:1-11:
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (18:22) 
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (20:13)
When we turn to the New Testament, we have further explicit condemnation of sexual activity, which is found in the Epistles of the Apostle Paul:

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (Rom. 1:26-28). 
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10). 
understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine (1 Tim. 1:9-10).
Recently, the Hackney Hub has been learning some New Testament Greek, which has come in handy in dealing with this issue. There is some contention about the use of the words here by the Apostle and what he had in mind with these terms. I will quote here the Greek word used for "men who practice homosexuality" (as it is translated here in the ESV).
ἀρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoitēs 733)
1. abusers of themselves with mankind
(from ἄρσης (arsēs), a male; and κοίτη (koitē 2845), a bed).
2. defile one's self with mankind
(from ἄρσην (arsēn) a male, and κοίτη (koitē 2845) a bed) (this specific meaning occurs only in 1Co 6:9).
ἀρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoitēs, 733), -ου, ὁ, (ἄρσην a male;κοίτη a bed), one who lies with a male as with a female, a sodomite: 1 Co. vi. 9; 1 Tim. i. 10. (Anthol. 9, 686, 5; eccl. writ.) [This definition cites every instance of this word in the Greek NT.]
I will be relying on some remarks from Dr Robert Gagnon ( in my observations here. This Greek term was coined by the Apostle looking back to the Levitical prohibitions against homosexual activity -- it is a word not found in other Greek texts because of its origin. I do not wish to stay on this point for too long of a time but I do wish to point out that in taking a gracious 'pastoral' response to homosexuality, we must remember and never fail to proclaim that it is sinful. The temptation is to ignore the sinfulness of the activity in our dealing with people we know who experience these temptations (or act upon them).

The substance of my point was made earlier in the post but I hope that this brief look at the Scriptures will cement in your mind the issue at stake. The simple truth is that homosexuality is not a healthy option, as can be seen in many places, for instance the CDC. The rate of STDs is drastically higher in this community than in other communities (yet not confined to this community, obviously). The life expectancy of this group of people is lower than the average person, moreover, depression and suicide are more frequent amongst them. This should concern all persons, not just Christian people. We must realize that these are natural consequences of breaking natural law, as we have all broken, yet we must not give in when our culture questions the truth of God's Word. However, in our defense of that truth, we must not forget that God is a God of love and grace as well as of mercy and justice.

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