Coming Out of the Closet…And Into the Church
So how is the church to respond to this mainstream teaching?
A Bad History
Unfortunately this is a very delicate issue, and believers have to tread carefully because the church’s past response to the LGBT community has been not only callous, but unbiblical.
In the 20th century, the church’s response could probably be summarized with this one word: judgmental. People bearing the title “Christians” acted like anything but the Christ they supposedly represent. These “Christians” would single out homosexuals, condemning them, quoting passages like this one:
The hypocrisy of this situation is glaring. If one of these Christians lived in a cul-de-sac with only eight houses, and a homosexual moved onto the street, the result was often public condemnation. Forget the fact that two unmarried couples lived on the street, and a whole neighborhood full of liars.
This happened even more so in the church, all under the guise of “rebuking.”
What does this look like today in the 21st Century? Perhaps it would look like this:
This past Tuesday morning, a young man knowingly cheated a clerk out of some change. A few hours later he lied to his co-workers about his recent low performance. As the workday came to a close, he joined a few others in the coffee room, laughing and joking about an overweight co-worker in accounting. After dinner, this same young man spent hours browsing online pornography.
Cheating, lying, gossiping and lusting. Not bad for a day’s work.
But his church will still treat him better than a homosexual.
In Thursday’s men’s accountability group, this same young man confessed everything. The group leader thanked him for his transparency. Many of the other guys in the group shared similar transgressions, then they prayed and ate breakfast together.
On Friday a different young man at the same church confesses his “same-sex tendencies.” The pastors call a special meeting. What do we do with him?
A Polarized Response
In the last decade the church has become aware of this negative stigma it bears. Many have cried out for a needed change.
Sadly, many people in the church have made a shift towards political correctness. Embarrassed by their history of condemning gays, they have changed their theology instead of their methodology. “Sorry everyone. My bad! Gay is now okay.”
It seems as if now the church doesn’t know where to stand.
The web of homosexuality is a quite a tangled one. But with homosexuality’s strong foothold in political, social, and faith-based sectors, the church no longer has the luxury of ignoring the issue. The church must deal with it.
“It Is What It Is”
When it comes to homosexuality, too many in the church want to throw up their hands and exclaim, “It is what it is.” The ironic thing is, they don’t actually know what it is!
Before I share what homosexuality “is” I need to give you two disclaimers: First, I will limit my reasoning to the issue of homosexuality only, as opposed to the closely-related (and politically-charged) topic of same-sex marriage. Secondly, I’m writing to fellow leaders in the church; I’m only trying to convince fellow faith leaders – not the world – of homosexuality’s reality.
With that said, we can now call homosexuality what it is: a sexual relationship between people of the same gender – whom Jesus loves unconditionally – that’s conscious and sinful and undermines God’s purpose for creation and expression of love.
The best way to explain that conclusion is to dispel some of the most frequently repeated (and routinely believed) false claims about homosexuality. What follows is not an exhaustive list, but one that addresses the most-discussed claims of homosexuality in relationship to faith and life.
On the surface, this seems to be a strange argument; after all, almost every major translation of the Bible has the word “homosexual” (or variations such as “homosexuals” and/or “homosexuality”) in it. While the Bible’s mention of homosexuality seems completely straightforward, many argue that when the Bible uses the word “homosexual” it really means something else, though that’s never the case in any other issue addressed in the Bible.
So, what is this “something else” that the Bible supposedly means when it uses the word “homosexual?”
Some argue that when the Apostle Paul discusses homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9 or 1 Timothy 1:10, what he was really denouncing was pederasty, the sexual abuse of boys by men, which was sometimes practiced by Roman and Greek citizens.
I have just one question: Then why didn’t Paul just say that? You see, the Apostle Paul was a man of profound specifics, who at times would even “invent” words to get his point across, like the concept of “justification” (Romans 4 and 5). Am I to believe that he simply began to use terms that were generic or vague or even wrong when talking about such important issues?
If Paul wanted to address adult-to-child sin, he would have done that. The reason he didn’t speak of pederasty was because he was referring to homosexuality.
But this isn’t the only place the Bible talks about homosexual activity…
Understandably, this is a very convenient follow-up to the first myth of homosexuality’s relationship to the Bible, for if the Bible doesn’t even mention homosexuality, then it certainly can’t denounce it. We’ve seen that first claim to be false, now let’s look at this one.
Starting with the passage of Leviticus 18, we see in verse 6 that God bans sex between close relatives, including mothers (v7), sisters or half-sisters (v9), granddaughters (v10), and even aunts (v14). In the same chapter, God goes on to forbid a person from having sex with a neighbor’s wife (v20) and with animals (v23).
Located right in the midst of these prohibitions about sex is the command, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable” (Leviticus 18:22).
The overarching context of this entire chapter couldn’t be any more obvious: “Don’t do these things!”
No rational person among us today argues that sex with a child or with an animal or with a close relative is a healthy practice. So, then why is it that some lift the act of homosexuality out of the list and treat it independently, as though it were permissible by God? This may be one of the most heinous assaults to the notion of biblical context in the history of theological interpretation!
But let’s be honest-some of these Leviticus passages can be confusing. After all, even though this passage above seems to be clear about things morally unacceptable, if we turn a few pages we’ll find instructions about not planting two types of seeds or wearing two types of cloth (Lev. 19:19). These arguments are abundant all over the internet. One of the most powerful scenes is from the Emmy award winning show West Wing where President Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen) uses this kind of bad scripture interpretation to humiliate a (and I quote) “tight ass” Christian who refers to homosexuality as an abomination. The Christian was silent. Apparently both her and Bartlet didn’t know the scriptures.
In order to defend these sort of onslaughts, it would help if we understood the difference between moral and ceremonial law. Moral law is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Ceremonial law was for a given people at a given time. When God told his people to not sleep with animals or kids or people of the same gender, he was obviously talking to them about moral code. When he talked to them about crops and clothing, he was talking about a ceremonial principle of uniting two things together that don’t belong together. This was more of a teaching tool.
Ceremonial laws change. We saw an example of this when God spoke to Peter in Acts Chapter 11 and told him he could eat reptiles, birds and other “unclean” animals. Peter was resistant at first. But God said, “Kill and eat.” (Oh well, we just lost all the PETA Christians!)
Moral law, however, is unchanging. If you are ever confused about which of these laws are moral law, take a peek at which laws are repeated in the New Testament. You’ll find that the New Testament continues to teach against sexual sin, including both fornication and homosexuality.
In the New Testament, we see that Paul’s mention of homosexuality also occurs in rather definitive situations. For example, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, we read:
In this passage, Paul is unmistakably condemning certain lifestyles, with homosexuality being one of them – right along with “the greedy” and “drunkards” – lest we think that one sinful lifestyle is worse (or better) than another. These practices were something Christians shouldn’t be doing. Robert Hughes makes that point clear in his NT Commentary.
While some may want to see this passage as just another “clobber verse,” it is best viewed as a passage of supreme hope! Instead of remaining in their sin, the Corinthians were “washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified in the Name of Jesus and by the power of God’s Spirit!” That’s because God loves idolaters, adulterers, drunkards, thieves, slanderers, swindlers, and yes, homosexuals!
In Paul’s other reference to homosexuality, in 1 Timothy 1:10, he says:
Here Paul lists those who “practice homosexuality” among the “lawless and rebellious.” It is point blank doctrine: homosexuality is a lifestyle that’s contradictory to the Gospel. But, look what else Paul is doing. He’s also clearly saying that God has reached out to the “lawless and rebellious” with His perfect law. Rather than condemn them, God desires to redeem them!
That blaring truth cannot escape the church if it’s to reach homosexuals – or any other sinner – today.
Let’s not be confused on this issue any longer. In seminary, we are trained to “plainly teach what the Bible plainly teaches.” It’s a pretty good practice! With regards to homosexuality, it’s much easier to just believe what the Bible clearly says than to concoct a false justification of homosexuality’s acceptableness. It requires a lot of imagination (that I can’t muster) to think God finds homosexuality to be an acceptable and alternative lifestyle for His creation. Politically correct? Yes. True? No.
Well, not exactly. First, homosexuality can’t promote procreation. Simply put, if homosexuality were to be embraced by all people, then the logical extrapolation is that humanity would cease to exist, for children cannot be conceived through homosexual acts.
Let’s not ignore some of the more graphic dangers of homosexuality. The movie Brokeback Mountain was claimed to be a wonderful love story between two men. In that movie we saw a sex scene between the two lead males where sodomy was implied. Most health care professionals and doctors warn against the potential unwanted effects of anal sex, which is a staple of male homosexuals’ sex lives. And even if the highly debated theory of “shortened life span” – which proposes that gay people live shorter lives than do their heterosexual counterparts – is dropped because of all the differing research on the topic, it’s still a known fact that the homosexual community continues to reel from the lethal effects of the HIV/AIDS virus.
Dare I mention a spiritual danger? All throughout the New Testament we see a very dangerous sin penetrating the hearts of the people: pride. On a macro level, pride is what tells us we don’t need God, we can do it ourselves. Very dangerous. But on a micro level, pride creeps in and tells us that we should preach ourselves, not Christ. Pride tells us that our “human” identity and accomplishments are important.
Paul made it clear in numerous passages that our self esteem should be based on who we are in Christ as a new creation (II Cor 5:17). He even goes as far as to say, “We don’t preach ourselves, we preach Christ the Lord.” (II Cor 4:5, NIV)
One of the huge problems with the LGBT movement is the focus on “me.” All too often their whole identity is wrapped up with being “gay.” Rarely do you meet a homosexual who identifies themselves as a “follower of Christ.” “I’m Michael, I’m gay, and I’m proud of it.”
If only they had that zeal for Christ.
Imagine if I introduced myself as Jonathan, the heterosexual!
This is spiritually unhealthy, however you try to frame it.
For these reasons alone, it’s inaccurate to claim homosexuality doesn’t harm anyone. (But anyone familiar with sin knows the negative effects it can have on sinners and those in relationship with them. Sin is no respecter of persons.)
There are a number of problems with this claim, beginning with the fact that, to date, it’s absolutely unproven. It’s one thing for an unchurched person to cite this belief, but it’s especially disconcerting to hear a Christian make this claim because of all the intrinsic problems that accompany this stance.
Genetics-driven homosexuality creates quite a theological problem for those who wish to wed biblical values with a gay lifestyle. If God considers homosexuality a sin – and we’ve already seen that He does based on scriptural observations outlined earlier – then why would He intentionally create a person to be in opposition to His will? That hardly sounds loving, and the God of the Bible is defined as love (1 John 4:8).
But the most disturbing point about this argument is the double standard it creates as a by-product. Let’s just say for a moment that homosexuality is caused by certain genes, or is somehow inflicted upon people through nature. Why are we so willing to label homosexuality as “alternative” but not other lifestyles that claim to be based on biology or heredity?
Bob may claim to be born an alcoholic because his father and grandfather were both alcoholics, but Bob’s friends – if they truly love him – are still going to help him fight that weakness. Nobody in their right mind will say to Bob, “Oh, since you were born that way, I guess we just have to let you continue destroying yourself and your family through your ‘alternative’ lifestyle.”
Sandra would love to blame her cruel temper on her mom…or on the pressures of life…or even the abuse she received from her step-father as a child, but again, no one who loves Sandra will allow her to continue down a road paved with broken relationships and regret. Instead of labeling her temper as “acceptable,” those who love Sandra will challenge her to overcome her anger.
And just to be fair, let’s talk about Lance. Lance has a big sex drive…I mean a big sex drive! To satisfy it, he has a different girl every weekend…in spite of the commitment he made to his wife and friends and God at his wedding 9 years ago. Lance justifies his urges by pointing to his masculinity, his “need,” and his embedded desires. So he cheats.
Tell me: are you willing to dismiss his sin by labeling it “alternative”? I can’t imagine saying, “Hey, Lance. Don’t worry about the rejection you’re causing your wife, or the example you’re setting for your kids. What you’re doing is fine, because, well, you were born that way.”
The point has been made. All the other hang-ups in life people say they’re born with are still not labeled “acceptable.” So, why do we single out homosexuality in this way?
It’s a bit comical to me when I hear this “scientific” argument coming from the homosexual community, mainly because the words “natural” and “normal” are used in ways the scientific community never intended. For instance, advocates for the acceptance of the gay lifestyle point to the incidental occurrences of homosexual activity within the animal kingdom and label it “normal.” Homosexual activity within animals isn’t considered any more “normal” by scientists than rare asexual activity which can also occur within certain animal species. A fractional percentage of anything hardly constitutes “normal.”
And besides, just because an animal does it, doesn’t make it OK for me. After all, my dog eats his own poop.
On the discussion of “natural” – which tends to be a more religious term than a scientific one – it’s important to note that when the Bible speaks of “natural” it may very well be describing the negative/sinful aspects of people’s lives. For instance, Jude 1:19 contrasts those who act on their “natural instincts” with those who “have God’s Spirit.”
That being said, Romans 1:26-27 actually uses the words “natural” and “unnatural” to describe sexual acts that please God and displease God, respectively:
Paul makes it clear that homosexual activity was unnatural and outside of God’s perfect plan. Those of us who suppress the truth often convince ourselves that these kind of activities are okay. J. Vernon McGee comments about this reality in his Thru the Bible Commentary.
These are passions of dishonor and disgrace and depravity — regardless of what public opinion is today. Perversion entered into Greek life, and it brought Greece down to the dust. Go over there and look at Greece today. The glory has passed away.
Anybody who tells me that he can be a child of God and live in perversion, live in the thick mire of our contemporary permissiveness, is not kidding anyone but himself. If he will come to Christ, he can have deliverance. (McGee)
When we try to do things our own way, perverting his creating, we are turning away from God and giving into a life of sin. J.B. Green talks about this human condition in his article, The Death of Christ, in The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters.
Homosexual acts are just expressions of sin, expressions of turning away from God.
Regardless of the appeal made by advocates of homosexuality, whether to the realm of science or to the realm of theology, same-gender sex can’t be defined as natural or normal. In fact, homosexuality is a reversal of the created order.
The Church’s Response: Loathing or Loving?
As difficult as the church’s task is in properly defining homosexuality, it still has the most daunting task ahead of it: actually responding to homosexuality. (All that stuff above was the easy part!)
While some might argue there are many possible ways the church can react to homosexuals, all ideas essentially boil down to three different responses.
We can act like Pharisees, condemning the act of homosexuality, and the homosexual, as well. In biblical times, Pharisees were religious men who zealously proclaimed and enforced the law given to Moses by God. Almost everything they did, from how they dressed to how they prayed, showed others their concern for God’s decrees. Unfortunately, their private lifestyles often clashed with their public proclamations, and Jesus reserved His strongest indictments for this impious religiosity (Matthew 23).
A perfect example of their tendencies can be found in their dealings with a woman caught in the sexual sin of adultery (John 8:1-11). As the story goes, some Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery. They espoused the Law which called for her death (by stoning), but were interested in what Jesus had to say. Of course, they weren’t even honest about their motives; they were only using this woman to try and trap Jesus.
A good day for the Pharisees would have ended with a stoning; a better day would have had two…one killing the woman, and the second killing Jesus.
They got neither.
Reacting like a Pharisee may be the easiest and most natural of the three options. We see it all the time, and if we’re honest, sometimes do it ourselves. One of the clearest examples of this tendency is the hateful group known as the Westboro Baptist Church (unaffiliated with any mainline Baptist denomination) who regularly and despitefully campaign against homosexuals. Their message is usually so vile towards homosexuals it’s not even worth repeating.
But if we’re not careful, we’ll repeat their mistake. People in the church, from the pastor to the pew sitter, can easily look down a self-righteous nose and damn the sinner right along with the sin, forgetting that they were once living in sin themselves – or worse, still living in sin!
In the research for his book unChristian, David Kinnaman found that the church has a reputation among unbelievers for being “anti-gay.” No, not “anti-lust” or “anti-fornication” or “anti-immoral.” Just “anti-gay.” All of these are examples of sexual sin, but only one carries the full force of the church’s vengeance.
This doesn’t help the church’s reputation with the homosexual community. Kinnaman says it well. “Many people in the gay community don’t seem to have issues with Jesus, but rather with those claiming to represent him today.” (91, Kinnaman)
To be sure, the church should condemn all sin – while also avoiding all sin! – but we must make sure to steer clear of empty self-righteousness.
Thus, we can’t respond to homosexuals like a Pharisee would.
We can also respond like a Chameleon, changing our doctrine and theology to “blend in” with the world around us. Instead of calling homosexuality “sin,” we could just back down and label homosexuality something nicer like “alternative” or “misunderstood” or “innate.”
There are several denominations in America that are sliding toward this mistake. Most of them aren’t content with simply redefining homosexuality as “acceptable,” but are also intent on ordaining homosexual pastors and priests to lead the church, as well.
But if the church does either, it ceases to function biblically. God’s intention for the church has always been that it would be a particular people, so particular in fact, that they would appear to be “called out” from among the rest of humanity (which is the literal definition of the Greek word ecclesia, translated as “church” in the New Testament).
Imagine how the story from John 8 (about the adulterous woman) would sound if Jesus acted like a chameleon.
Pharisees: “Hey Jesus, some of our guys found this woman having sex with a man who wasn’t her husband. Mosaic Law considers this a sin deserving of death. What do you have to say?”
Jesus: “Yeah, about that. Let’s not get caught up on rules, or right and wrong. Besides, that law is centuries old, anyhow; it need not apply anymore. Who are we to think our labels or standards are best? The main thing is that this woman feels good about herself. To each, his own, you know? It is what it is!”
If Jesus had meant for His church to behave like a chameleon, maybe He would have acted like a Chameleon. But He didn’t, so we mustn’t, either.
The only godly reaction we can have toward homosexuality, or any sin for that matter, is to respond like Christ. Responding like Christ always means calling sin, sin, while loving the sinner caught in it.
Granted, we don’t have a known encounter between Jesus and a homosexual recorded in Scripture, but again, the story of the adulterous woman helps us understand Jesus’ practice. (Hey, sexual sin is sexual sin.) So in case you don’t know how the story in John 8 ends, let me tell you.
After Jesus shamed the Pharisees into dismissing themselves, He turned to the woman and asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” Her response is simple: “No one, sir.”
His final words were life-changing and life-saving: “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” (NIV)
What a brilliant and loving response to someone caught red-handed in sexual sin! He calls sin what it is, but then invites her to live a wholly different life.
Following Christ’s Example What a flawless standard Christ has put before us. For those courageous enough to respond to homosexuals as Christ would, a few points need to be kept in mind:
- Know what the Bible says…and what the Bible means. The only thing that’s worse than a well-intentioned Christian who’s marring the true biblical message is an ill-intentioned Christian who’s marring the true biblical message. Don’t be either! Know what the Bible has to say about homosexuality…and what the Bible doesn’t have to say about it. Pay very careful attention to what the actual verse says, as well as the greater context of the entire passage (and for that matter, the whole book). Otherwise, you might fall victim to someone who uses a dizzying – but distorted – interpretation of the Bible. (West Wing’s President Bartlet perhaps?)
- Be conscious of the church’s current reputation for dealing with homosexuals. We have a really bad reputation, but in most cases, we’ve earned it. I’m not saying we should walk on eggshells, beat around the bush, or cower away from calling sin, “sin.” But just know, we are walking through a mind field; one irresponsible step, or comment, and everything can blow up in our face.
- Stop singling out homosexuality. The quickest way to forfeit your credibility and influence is to treat certain sins with partiality and some with absolute scorn. God is as broken up over the heterosexual mom who continually gossips at the end of the cul-de-sac, as He is the entrenched homosexual. A gay person is no more distant from God than a liar or a porn addict or a thief. Sin is sin and sinners are sinners. And by the way, it should probably be said that heterosexual sin has caused far more damage to the church than homosexual sin ever has!
- Pray for homosexuals you know…and show them the loving kindness of Jesus Christ. How do you view homosexuals? No, really. Do you see them and begin to organize a mental argument? Are they less of a human in your eyes because of their lifestyle? Does God really hate them? Or, does He love them unconditionally, just like you? Has He given the life of His Son for them, as well? Of course God loves homosexuals! Our God-given mission is to share the love of Jesus with everybody: drug dealers, terrorists, homosexuals, and people with really rude kids. So, pray that God will use you to reach a homosexual in your life. As you pray that prayer, carefully look for ways God can use you to reach them. Their sin is no more daunting than yours or mine. Let’s offer them the love they are searching for in life.
In the last decade, homosexuals have been “coming out of the closet” in droves. As followers of Christ, we have two options: we can show them the door, or we can show them the life-transforming love of Jesus.
Let’s make sure we get this one right.
Green, J.B. “Death of Christ.” Dictionary of Paul and His Letter. Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993.
Hughes, Robert B. and J. Carl Laney. Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990.
Kinnaman, David. Unchristian. Michigan: Baker Books, 2007
Lockman Foundation, The. New American Standard Bible. 1963.
McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary- WORDSEARCH Database. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1983
Tyndale. Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Illinois: Tyndale House Publisher, Inc., 1996.
Zondervan. Holy Bible, New International Version. Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973.
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.