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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Homosexuality, Part 2

As the topic of homosexuality (and same-sex unions) continues to be a large focus in our country and in our church, I have grown increasingly disappointed in how supporters for each side have handled their stance.  This has led me to a series of posts that I hope and pray will reach the hearts of all who read them.  Last week, my focus was on the political side of the debate, the gist being that the government and the Church are different entities who should stop trying to tell the other what to do.  This week, my focus is on the religious spectrum.

We ARE to Speak Up:
Here’s the catch-22: while we (as Christians) cannot force the government to pass legislation based on our biblical beliefs, we also cannot sit idly by and do/say nothing (Barnabas Piper).  When issues of morality come to the front of the line (same-sex unions, abortion, etc), God needs people who are willing to speak out against them.  We don’t, as Mark Driscoll says, “argue like stupid fools,” but we must speak up.  Silence can be interpreted as approval (Ephesians 5:10-14; Revelations 2:6).

“Christians are not to be passive spectators in society’s culture.  While their primary task is the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8), they are to engage the culture at all levels, advancing moral principles and seeking to restrain evil” – Brian Tubbs.

Where we cross the line from advancing moral principles and seeking to restrain evil to arguing like stupid fools is when we fail to recognize the evil we are to restrain (Hint: it’s not the homosexual [or any other sinner].  More on this in the next post).

Let’s not be na├»ve, speaking against controversial, moral issues has its consequences (John 7:7).  “Many people believe that (Christians) are discriminating against other people by restricting marriage from gay couples…They see that as unjust and us as bigots” (Ed Stetzer).

I have a few homosexual friends, but unfortunately lost one back in college (I will call him Stan).  Stan, a non-Christian, and I had numerous discussions regarding my faith throughout college.  I enjoyed our conversations because they challenged me, forcing me to dig through my Bible for answers and understanding in order to further our talks.  Stan enjoyed our conversations because he was curious about Christianity (he was feeling a pull towards God).  One day, he asked if God would accept him as a homosexual.  I told him that God would gladly accept him.  Stan asked if being gay was a sin.  I responded with scripture.  Nothing more, nothing less.

I admit that I could have handled the situation better.  My knowledge was very limited, so I went to the only source I had: the Bible.  I never raised my voice.  I never pointed an accusatory finger.  I never told him to repent.  He asked a question; I referred to the Bible.

Stan did not like my answer.

Our conversation ended pleasantly shortly thereafter, but later in the day, friends came to me saying that Stan was claiming that I had “condemned him to Hell” for being gay.  I began receiving emails from people I barely knew, slamming me.  I was called judgmental, a hypocrite, self-righteous.  Numerous people said some form of “This is why I hate Christians/Christianity.”  Another non-Christian friend told me that he was disappointed because he had always respected me and my views…but not anymore.

First of all, I cannot “condemn” anyone.  None of us can (Matthew 13:40-43; 1 Corinthians 5:12-13).  Secondly, that hurt.  Stan had very little to do with me after that, and he made sure to bring as many people with him as he could.  I cannot fully articulate the pain I felt from this.  It went beyond losing a friend.  It went beyond rumor spreading and false accusations.  Through Stan’s claims, I wasn’t the only one being criticized.  God was as well.  I felt as though I had disappointed Christ; that I had somehow misrepresented Him and by my words and actions, drove others away from Him.

We know the Bible talks about being persecuted (Matthew 5:3-12, 10:17-18, 24:13; John 9:28, 34, 16:20), but we’re rarely ready for what that means.  Speaking the Truth isn’t easy, and you will often be hated for it, but it’s exactly what we’re called to do.

What Is the Truth:
They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.  Amen. – Romans 1:25

There is one truth: God’s.  We don’t have to like it—and many times we won’t (Driscoll: “That’s one of the reasons I know the Bible is inspired.  It says things that I don’t like.”)—but we must accept it.  We do not get to twist scripture to say what we want in order to find some form of approval for our actions (2 Timothy 2:18), and while we are to love everyone, we must not sacrifice scripture to condone sinful actions (Revelations 2:2).  It would have been unloving of me to walk up to Stan and call him a sinner.  At the same time, it would have been wrong of me to respond to his question with anything but the Truth.

Homosexual practices are sin.  There’s simply no way around this.  The Bible is clear and consistent.  It’s called a sin in the Old Testament (Leviticus 18:22).  It’s called a sin in the New Testament (Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).  “Homosexuality is never spoken of positively in the Bible” (Driscoll).  We live in a culture of justified sin.  If we like or want something bad enough, we will find ways to justify it.

Common Arguments for Homosexuality:
·        Jesus never talked about it.
Jesus never spoke about incest or rape either…does that mean they’re okay?  Still, “Jesus does talk about marriage.  He goes back to Genesis.  He (says) that ‘at the beginning, the Creator made them male and female…and for this reason, a man will leave his mother and father to be united to his wife.  Two will become one flesh (Matthew 19:4-5).’  That’s marriage for Jesus.  Man, woman, married, consummation.  That is marriage” (Driscoll).  What’s more, we even find ways to justify things that Jesus did talk about.  Well…that was just a parable, He didn’t literally mean what He said.  The Bible is the inspired Word of God.  Jesus is fully God.  If we accept those two notions, then we accept that the entire Bible is Jesus’s words…and at some point, we have to realize that maybe He actually meant what He said.

·        The verses regarding homosexuality were cultural.  They were meant for those people, not for us today.
I know next to nothing when it comes to interpreting the Bible culturally vs literally, so I turn it over to Gordon D. Fee, who is nearly eighty years old and has been reading, researching, and studying the Bible his entire life.  The following is an excerpt from How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, which Fee co-wrote:  “The homosexuality Paul had in view in Romans 1:24-28 is clearly…homosexuality of choice between men and women.  Furthermore, Paul’s word homosexual in 1 Corinthians 6:9 literally means genital homosexuality between males.  Since the Bible as a whole witnesses against homosexuality and invariably includes it in moral contexts, and since it simply has not been proved that the options for homosexuality differ today from those of the first century, there seems to be no valid grounds for seeking it as a culturally relative matter.”  Fee is considered one of the best experts on textual criticism of the New Testament in the world, and has been (until recently) one of the chief editors of the New International Version (NIV) Bible for decades.  I think I’ll listen to the guy who has spent the last sixty years of his life devoted to this kind of research.

·        Homosexuals are born as homosexuals, and God would not create someone who had no chance at salvation.
To me, the argument of whether or not homosexuality is a choice is a completely different issue altogether, and one that I’m not going to dive into here.  We simply cannot prove (at this time) if homosexuality is a choice or if it’s something produced at birth.  Regardless, it’s absurd to believe that God creates anyone with no chance at salvation.  That’s what salvation is—freedom from the chains of sin.  We are all born into sin.  We may be tempted by different sins, but we are all born into sin.  That does not justify our acting on those sins.  When we find Jesus, we turn from our sins and cut those temptations from our lives (Matthew 5:29-30).  Even if you feel that your sin is biological, God still made you.  He knows what He’s doing…which means that He has a specific plan for you.  Trust Him.  Seek Him.  Find the path that He’s laid out for you, and see where it goes.

·        “In Matthew 7…Jesus warns against false teachers, and he offers a principle that can be used to test good teaching from bad teaching.  ‘By their fruit, you will recognize them,’ He says.  ‘Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.’  Good teachings, according to Jesus, have good consequences.  That doesn’t mean that following Christian teaching will or should be easy, and in fact, many of Jesus’s commands aren’t easy at all – turning the other cheek, loving your enemies, laying down your life for your friends.  But those are all profound acts of love that both reflect God’s love for us and that powerfully affirm the dignity and worth of human life and of human beings.  Good teachings, even when they are very difficult, are not destructive to human dignity.  They don’t lead to emotional and spiritual devastation, and to the loss of self-esteem and self-worth.  But those have been the consequences for gay people of the traditional teaching on homosexuality.  It has not borne good fruit in their lives, and it’s caused them incalculable pain and suffering.  If we’re taking Jesus seriously that bad fruit cannot come from a good tree, then that should cause us to question whether the traditional teaching is correct.”
Over a year ago, a homosexual man by the name of Matthew Vines began speaking at churches across the country.  His message was spread on YouTube, on Facebook, on blogs, and in national publications.  Vines took the current tolerance discussion to a new level—biblical.  Using scripture, he attempted to prove how his homosexual lifestyle was not only approved by God, but endorsed.  The man has done his research and is a solid speaker, so if you’re looking for a challenge, check out the link provided above.  That lengthy quote was the crux of his message.  There are two massive problems I have with the point he's making here.  1) The Bible is the inspired word of God.  The New Testament is based on the teachings of Jesus.  The Bible (including the New Testament) says homosexuality is a sin.  Vines is claiming that the teaching of such a message is not correct because it causes pain and suffering to homosexuals; therefore, it must be bad fruit from bad teachers.  If the message is from the Bible and the teacher is Jesus, then Vines is claiming Christ to be a bad tree bearing bad fruit.  If Vines is claiming Christ’s teachings to be incorrect, then I think it’s clear who the real false teacher is.  2) Using his example, one could replace “homosexuality” with every sin and say that it’s caused them hardships; therefore, the teachings against it must be wrong and every sin is really okay so long as it makes the person happy.  Obviously, that’s not true.  “We are to follow Him, even if it’s difficult.  When we do, we must leave behind the things that keep us from Christ” (NIV notes regarding Matthew 9:9).

While there are numerous other arguments used, the bottom line is this: Vines (and others like Vines) attempts to “examine” scripture by picking it apart and explaining what’s wrong with what the Bible is saying or how it’s interpreted.  However, I have yet to hear one person find and use a verse that supports homosexuality.  The Bible takes one consistent stand on homosexual activity—that it’s sin.  Homosexual sin is no different than any other sin, but it is sin, and we are instructed to turn our backs to sin.

Homosexual Christians:
A “gay Christian” is not an oxymoron.  From all that I’ve read, including scripture, simply being a homosexual does not appear to be a sin.  “Same-sex attraction is not a sin in and of itself.  Sin is how we respond to temptation” (Christopher Yuan, a gay Christian).  It doesn’t matter if someone believes homosexuality is a borne trait or a life choice, attraction to the same sex is not the sin.  The action is the sin.  Being a practicing homosexual is the sin because one has fallen to their temptation.

This is why many churches do not accept practicing homosexuals as members or put them into leadership roles.  (NOTE: There is a huge difference between not accepting them into the church and not accepting them as members.)  It’s not a matter of discrimination, it’s a matter of habitual sin (1 John 3:4).  If my sin is an addiction to pornography, I can still be a Christian…but I have to turn my back to that addiction.  If I don’t, many churches will not accept me as a member or place me into leadership roles…and they shouldn’t.  A Christian is a follower of Christ.  If I continue to watch porn (or replace with any other sin), am I really following Christ?  One can find excuses for their sin (any sin) and make all the arguments they want, but the only source that matters is God’s Word.  If God says that what you’re doing is a sin, then it’s a sin.  Period.  To deny that is to deny God’s Word…and if you deny God’s Word, are you really following Christ?

“If you are a habitual sinner, you don’t go to Heaven.  I thought Jesus loves me.  He does.  I thought Jesus forgives me.  He does, but His love is transforming.  It changes you.  You can’t meet Jesus and not change.  That doesn’t mean you become perfect, but you change.  You get a new heart and new desires” – Driscoll.

In order to not fall into that temptation, many homosexual Christians take up a life of celibacy.  A lot of homosexual (and heterosexual) people feel that is not fair.  That it’s denying them the chance for love and that God never intended us to be alone.  I disagree.  The Bible is full of single men and women doing the Lord’s work.  History is full of the same.  Don’t assume that God wants everyone to marry (Matthew 19:10-12).  A person (even a heterosexual person that accepts a celibate lifestyle) actively denying that kind of love is a person actively seeking the love of Jesus Christ.  We sometimes can’t fathom a love stronger than the one we feel towards our spouse, but Christ’s dwarfs it.  Many celibate Christians experience a powerful, loving relationship with Christ that many married Christians never do (to the same intensity).

“I did not leave homosexuality because it was so bad.  I left homosexuality because I found something better, and that was Jesus” – Yuan.

If you are interested in reading more on the notion of a celibate, homosexual Christian, check out this long essay and this shorter one.

Next post: What Christians need to do to fix a problem they helped create.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Homosexuality, Part 1

When I began Cromulent Thoughts last year, I declared that its purpose was to be challenging.  Maybe even a little confrontational.  From Day 1, I knew the topic of homosexuality would be inevitable; however, I did not believe that I would be writing on it so soon.  To be honest, I was unsure of where I stood on the whole thing.  Over the last year, I have done a lot of soul-searching, reading, discussing, and praying; and while I feel closer to inner peace on the topic, I also readily admit that I have much more soul-searching, reading, discussing, and praying to do.

What I do know is this: We’re all wrong.  The political and religious battle regarding homosexuality as a whole (and same-sex unions specifically) has been absolutely bungled by everyone, and as more and more people are posting opinions and quotes and facts and posters and pictures and whatever else on all forms of social media, and as each person’s attitude just becomes nastier and increasingly petty—and sometimes just flat-out stupid—I have realized one thing:

I cannot stay quiet any longer.

At times, most readers will not like what I have to say.  I’m going to discuss whether or not same-sex unions should be legal (they should), and why the Church is right to be concerned with it (from a legality standpoint).  I’m going to discuss whether or not practicing homosexuality is a sin (it is), yet why I believe a homosexual can still be a Christian.  Finally, I’m going to discuss how I believe God is currently more disappointed in many of us Christians than He is with the homosexual community and their push for marriage equality.

You will disagree with some things that I write.  That’s okay.  I look forward to the possibility of respectful, intelligent discussions that this could bring.  I’ve already admitted that I have much more to learn, and am eager to do so.  One way we learn is through respectful, intelligent discussions.  Until that occurs, however, I ask for three things: 1) Patience.  There are multiple posts (about 3-4 as it stands right now).  You may agree with one post and disagree with another, but each is part of a larger message that we all need to receive.  2) Respect.  Controversial topics are controversial for a reason.  They cause polarizing reactions.  Emotional reactions.  When we react emotionally, we act foolishly.  When we act foolishly, fights occur and we grow to hate each other.  When we react rationally, we act intelligently.  When we act intelligently, progress is made and we grow closer together.  3) Read.  This issue is not going away, and ignorance is far from bliss.  Stop sitting in the dark and educate yourself.  I will be providing numerous links to assist in your education, but push yourself to find more.  Without that knowledge, all of your discussions will be emotional, not rational.

“My view is that we should try to disentangle what has historically been the issue of the word marriage, which has religious connotations to some people, from the civil rights that are given to couples, in terms of hospital visitation, in terms of whether or not they can transfer property or Social Security benefits and so forth…(I) would continue to support a civil union that provides all the benefits that are available for a legally sanctioned marriage.  And it is then, as I said, up to religious denominations to make a determination as to whether they want to recognize that as marriage or not.” – President Obama

What Homosexuals Want:
Imagine that you, a recently married (heterosexual) couple from Illinois, decide to move to Wisconsin.  Shortly after moving into your new home, you receive a letter from the state of Wisconsin saying that they don’t accept nor do they acknowledge your marriage.  You no longer are recognized as husband and wife legally, which now affects other federally-run areas of your life such as spousal benefits.  Sounds ridiculous, but that’s how it works for a homosexual couple.  As hard as it is for some Christians to believe, many homosexuals are not seeking a marriage graced by God.  For them, God has little-to-nothing to do with it.  They want what everyone else has—the identification of marriage.  They want the world to know, “I love this person.”  They want the same legal benefits (such as medical, insurance, and survivor) that heterosexual couples receive.  In short, they want a federally recognized, legal union.  Click here and here for a couple of quick sites that explain their legal desires better.

Why This Concerns the Church:
Here’s a question: When are we actually married?  A couple of weeks after our wedding ceremony, Steph and I received a letter in the mail saying that our marriage was invalid because we applied for our license in the wrong county.  The problem had to do with the address of the church and was immediately fixed over the phone, but for those two weeks, our marriage was not recognized by the State.  If we weren’t legally married, were we recognized as husband and wife by God?

Maybe the true question should be: Why are Christian priests, pastors, ministers, etc performing as agents of the StateThis is an absolutely vital question that needs to be answered, because as long as pastors conduct wedding ceremonies for the State, then we no longer have the separation of Church and State; which means that legally, the State could tell the Church who they should marry, and punish those that refuse (typically by removing their tax-exempt status, which would financially cripple many churches).  For more on the Church's concerns, please click here and here(While I don’t agree with everything this guy says, here’s another take on this concept.)

Some believe that this is Christian paranoia, but there have already been examples of this in other spectrums.  “In April 2008, an Albuquerque photographer was fined over $6,000 for refusing to be hired to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony…On November 19, 2008, eHarmony (a Christian-based matching service) was forced by New Jersey’s Division on Civil Rights to provide website matching services for homosexuals” (Rich Deem).  In fact, a story was reported this morning out of Hawaii where a lesbian couple won a lawsuit against a bed and breakfast who refused to lodge them due to the owner’s religious beliefs.

If Christian-run companies are facing legal ramifications over their religious beliefs, what would stop the government from doing the same to a church?  How long until a homosexual couple sues a church for refusing to marry them…and wins?  This is a valid concern for the Church, and is the primary reason it’s being so vocal in its opposition to the legality of same-sex unions.

One non-legal argument that many (not all of which are Christians, despite what some want to believe) cling to is the ever-popular “sanctity of marriage” slogan.  It’s time to let that one go.  When NBC runs a reality TV show in 2003-04 called, Who Wants to Marry My Dad…you don’t get to talk about the “sanctity of marriage.”  When any two drunken idiots can share the bonds of matrimony for $100 in Vegas…you don’t get to talk about the “sanctity of marriage.”  When “born-again Christians are slightly more likely to have experienced a divorce (32 percent) than atheists and agnostics (30 percent)” (Lisa Sharon Harper), or when over 27 percent of children (up from 9 percent in 1960) are being raised in single-parent homes (Bible News)…there is no room to talk.  Clearly, we as Christians (and heterosexuals as a whole) are doing a bang-up job at this “sanctity of marriage” thing.

“We just stink like hypocrites on this.  People who claim to be Christians get divorced more than people who aren’t Christians, and we’re arguing the sanctity of marriage?  If marriage has been devalued, if anything, it’s us.” – Mark Driscoll

So Should Same-Sex Unions Exist?
In a word, yes.  It’s insulting that it’s even a discussion.  When all adults acknowledge that we learn and grow from our past mistakes, it seems almost comical that America is consistently determined to repeat failures from its history.

There are many who claim that same-sex unions are a civil rights issue.  Others claim that it’s a moral issue.  For centuries, people argued the same about interracial marriages.  It began in Virginia during the 1600’s and continued through 1924, when the state passed an act to Preserve Racial Integrity.  “Under this act, Whites were to marry Whites, those who married interracially outside of the state and then returned back were to be prosecuted, and the children born out of such a union were considered illegitimate and did not hold any privileges or protections” (Angelfire).  This was not just taking place in Virginia, either.  In fact, as recently as the 1950’s, “half of the states held laws that banned interracial marriage…It wasn’t until 1967 that the Supreme Court ruled such laws unconstitutional (a vote that nearly 70 percent of the country objected to)” (B.A. Robinson).

That was less than fifty years ago, yet is very similar to what homosexuals are currently fighting.  When this nation (and at times, even the Church) has such a ripe history full of civil bigotry, it should not be so surprised when minorities speak up.  Obviously, all of this interracial nonsense is recognized as wrong now, but look at how long it took to do so.  Three hundred years.  While I believe the Church is coming from a stronger biblical foothold this time, I worry that those who oppose same-sex unions are handling it similarly.  Just replace “inferior race” with “perverts” and the same vibe is there.

“(Christians) have responded poorly at times and earned a reputation for intolerance.  Now, in seeking a more biblical and grace-filled response, we cannot erase our past mistakes; however, we can control our attitudes and responses in the future by being clear and gracious at the same time.” – Ed Stetzer

That’s the point I’m trying to make.  We (society as a whole) were wrong.  We now recognize those actions and sentiments as foolish.  While we cannot erase our past mistakes, what we can do is behave smarter moving forward to prevent repeating those same mistakes.  One small way to do that is to grant homosexual couples the same legal rights and benefits that heterosexual couples currently possess, so long as churches that disagree are not forced into conducting such ceremonies.

It bears repeating President Obama’s words:  “(I) would continue to support a civil union that provides all the benefits that are available for a legally sanctioned marriage.  And it is then, as I said, up to religious denominations to make a determination as to whether they want to recognize that as marriage or not.”  This is the ideal situation.  The civil rights of homosexuals would no longer be violated, and the moral standards of the Church would not be infringed upon.

I am frequently asked how I can have this political stance on same-sex unions as a Christian.  It’s easy: I’m an idealist.  I try to form my positions on topics based on how things should work, not necessarily how they do work.  We’ve made it very clear throughout our history that government and religion do not mix; therefore, neither the Church nor the State should tell the other what to do.

All About History has a pretty cool breakdown of the origins of “separation of church and state” and what it actually means if you’re interested.  Meanwhile, Driscoll points out that “as the church, we have to recognize jurisdiction.  United States of America is not a church…In the church, we have jurisdiction.  Scriptures rule.  Outside of the church, people aren’t Christians, so we don’t have jurisdiction.”

There’s nothing wrong with Christians who do not wish to see same-sex unions become federal law for moral reasons, but they can’t force the government to pass a law based on biblical views.  At the same time, if the government passes an act that directly contrasts biblical law, it can’t force the Church to comply (Luke 20:20-26; Acts 5:29; Romans 13:1).

So from a strictly political stance, same-sex unions should unequivocally be legalized, and it is my belief that many Christians would agree with that statement, so long as it stayed in the political spectrum and did not spill over into the Church.  America is not a church.  It makes decisions based on civil issues.  Politically, same-sex unions are a civil issue.  Basic American rights are being violated here, and it needs to be corrected.  For the Church, same-sex unions are a moral issue.  The Bible clearly and repeatedly speaks out against it; therefore, the Church stands against it.  Morally, it is allowed to do so.  America is not wrong for legally approving same-sex unions (should the Supreme Court make that decision).  In fact, they have a civil responsibility to do so.  The Church is not wrong for refusing to conduct and/or recognize same-sex unions.  In fact, they have a moral responsibility to do so.

The key is not blending the two.

Now that I’ve covered the political side of this argument, my next post will attempt to tackle the religious side.  In the meantime, check out this amazing sermon by Mark Driscoll.  (A big thanks goes out to Joe for sharing it with me.  It added tremendously to my research and knowledge.)  You can listen to it if you like, or click TRANSCRIPT and read it.  It’s really long, but it’s so right…so powerful…so honest…so humbling.  I quoted it twice in this post, and trust me…many more are coming.