Love and Same-Sex Relationships

In our church, we’ve been going through a series called Broken, exploring everything from our connection with God, abortion, foster care, addictions, and sexuality. Really nothing that controversial. But this week, we’re really stirring the pot, as I’m teaching on love and same-sex relationships. I’ve attached the sermon if you want to listen to the whole thirty minutes. However, I decided to attach a cliff-notes version for those of you who can’t stand to listen to my voice for that long.
 
This will probably upset both conservatives and progressives, both religious and irreligious. But we have to seek and SPEAK the truth, no matter the consequences from both sides of the debate. Because the truth will set us free.
 
The paradigm I want us to look through today is LOVE. I know love is a sloppy word, used for everything from pizza to apple products, to friends and family members. But biblical love is a steady, devoted commitment to something or someone, not merely a preference (for pepperoni).
 
Big Idea: When it comes to our experience of homosexuality, Christians need to love God (and ourselves), love our neighbors, and love our Christian siblings, because God in Christ first loved us.
 

I. Love God (with your sexuality)

 
In Matthew 22:36-37 a scribe asks Jesus: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” As the Bible Project dudes have pointed out recently, the word soul (ψυχή) has less to do with some immaterial part of you, and more your entire life, including your body. It’s the same word used for Jesus in Matthew 20:28, where Jesus says he gives his LIFE (ψυχή) as a ransom for many. Obviously, this includes his body.
 
One key passage in our understanding of what it means to love God with our bodies comes from 1 Corinthians 6:18-20: “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
 
It’s important to remember that God isn’t prudish when it comes to sex. He invented it. It’s his gift to us. We see this on the second page of the Bible in Genesis, we see this in Proverbs 5 (one time my dad had a sex talk with me from that passage before a soccer game. Talk about awkward!) Song of Songs is incredibly erotic. In 1 Corinthians 7:5, Paul encourages married people to keep doing it. As with any good, powerful gift, like my first .22 rifle, there are right and wrong ways to use it. And so God gives us a number of guidelines on what not to do with sex.
 
We love God by honoring him with our sexuality. And we love ourselves, in the highest sense of the word, by following his sexual guidelines for our lives.
 
Now we’re finally to the crucial question: Does same-sex sexual activity ever honor God? Is it ever a proper use of the good gift? To put it explicitly, from a Christian perspective, is gay sex ever okay? Even if it occurs within a committed relationship, a legal marriage as defined by law?
 
Until recently, Christians always answered that question as “NO.” Sex is only for marriage, and marriage is only for a male and female. It’s remarkable actually, the church had debates over the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and what books should or shouldn’t be in the Bible. But there was never any debate, from the Catholics to the Eastern Orthodox, to Protestants, for thousands of years on the morality of same-sex, sexual activity. It was always seen as “out of bounds.”
 
Recently, we have seen an explosion of those who identify as Christian, who affirm same-sex relationships. One of the most popular books arguing for the church’s need to depart from its traditional understanding is Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. I will reference some of the commonly raised objections to the traditional sexual ethic as we go through these texts.
 
Now if you identify as LGBT, or are supportive of LGBT relationships, I commend you for reading this far and am thankful that’d you’d even read what I’m saying. I recognize that some of these Bible texts that I’m about to share have sometimes been wielded as weapons towards the LGBT community, which I have no intention of doing. Hang with me through this part, and I think you will appreciate what I say about the need for love in all of our relationships, even when we disagree with each other.
 
 

Biblical Guidelines on Same-Sex Sexual Activity, First Text:

 
“‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”
-Leviticus 18:22
 
“‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
-Leviticus 20:13
 
Leviticus 18 and 20 contain the extensive, sometimes awkward sexual laws that undergirded Israelite society.
 
Objection 1: But wait, doesn’t Leviticus have laws that we don’t follow today? Like eating bacon?
 
Answer: We are thankful for bacon. Yes, it is true that we are not under Israelite law in the same way that they were. We (thankfully) don’t practice capital punishment to the same degree anymore either. However, there are a number of laws in Leviticus that we do continue to see as valuable, like laws against child sacrifice, incest, adultery, bestiality, and stealing from your neighbors. Every sexual law except one (menstruation law) is reaffirmed in the New Testament, including same-sex sexual activity. It seems relatively clear that Jesus and Paul reference this Levitical, sexual ethic.
 
Second Text:
 
“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way, the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” -Romans 1:26-27
 
Objection 2: Paul is referring to excessive lust and promiscuity.
 
While excessive lust seems to be a problem here, if you look at the broader context, as Preston Sprinkle notes, it seems that “men departed from their Creator’s intention by having sex with males.” Contextually, the issue isn’t lust or passion, which goes with any sex act, it’s the departure from what God intended for sex that’s the problem.
 
Third and Fourth Texts:
 
“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” -1 Corinthians 6:9-11
 
“We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.” -1 Timothy 1:10
 
Objection 3: Paul is referring to exploitative, sexual relationships: rape, prostitution, and pederasty (pederasty was a wide-spread and awful practice in ancient Greek and Roman culture where men would have sexual relationships with younger boys).
 
Answer: Paul could have used more specific words to refer to exploitative relationships (like παιδοφθορέω), but instead uses a more inclusive word (ἀρσενοκοίτης) to refer to all kinds of sexual, same-sex relationships, exploitative or not. In fact, the compound word arsenokoites, used in both 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, is the same word used in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT) in the Leviticus passages mentioned above: (arsenos koiten, Lev 20:13).
 
In summary, we love God by honoring him with our sexual desires and decisions. So what that means, Christian, is no matter what your sexual attractions are, saying “NO!” to these temptations is an act of love, trust, and commitment to God.
 
Sadly, many teachings on the topic end here. “The Bible says it’s wrong, that settles it. Nothing more to say.” But we forget that Jesus’ greatest commandment of love has two parts. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength AND…
 

II. Love Your (Gay) Neighbor As Yourself

 
“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”- Matthew 22:37-39
 
When Jesus says this, most people don’t realize that he is quoting from Leviticus 19, a passage that is right in between the two Leviticus chapters on sexual sin.
 
But who are our neighbors?
 
Anyone and everyone who comes into your life, whether you want them there or not: actual neighbors, coworkers, classmates, family and relatives, parents on the sidelines, even random people in need. And this should be obvious to us, but I don’t get a “pass” on this command if my neighbor identifies as gay.
 
I remember the first time I encountered a real person who identified as gay, other than on tv or abstract playground talk. I was probably a sophomore in high school, and a new, gay student shows up. I don’t remember much, but I do remember one day in science class, feeling a sense of superiority, self-righteousness, and judgment around him. I tried to avoid him. Is it any wonder that many think that Christians hate LGBT people?
 
This was not the way of Jesus. In Mark 2:13-17, Jesus calls a tax collector named Levi (Matthew) to come follow him. Tax collectors are despised and hated at the time because of their work for the Roman foreigners and their legal ability to steal from their citizens. Jesus extends an invitation to Levi, which would have been shocking enough. In appreciation, Levi invites Jesus over to his house and throws a dinner party. Respectable religious people won’t hang out with Levi, so who will hang out with him? Other social, sinful outcasts, like the drug and alcohol addicts, debtors, and prostitutes, people who society and synagogue have written off. So Levi’s friends are social losers. And yet Jesus attends Levi’s dinner party and is the center of attention. No religious or political person would be caught dead at a place like this. And yet Jesus makes himself at home.
 
Jesus’ habit of hanging with sinners earned him a few negative nicknames among the religious elite: like glutton, like drunkard, like friend of sinners, friend of tax collectors.
 
Imagine if I had pulled that new kid aside, or sat down at his table, and said: “hey Kyle (not his real name), you’re new, and I’m glad you’re here. Tell me about yourself. Can I help your transition to this new school in any way?”
  
And so Kyle, if you’re read, I’m sorry for the way Christians have treated you. I’m sorry for avoiding you. I’m sorry for withholding the love of Christ from you. And more than just to Kyle, if you identify as LGBT, and you’re reading this, I want to say that as a representative of Christianity, we are sorry for the ways we’ve treated you. We are sorry for the dehumanizing language we’ve used, for treating you more like a political opponent than a personal neighbor. We’re sorry for the ways we have not loved like Jesus. And we ask for your forgiveness.
 
As I go through this journey myself, I’m inviting us as Christians to examine our, pride and self-righteousness, our discomfort, our political allegiances, and our past pain in this area. What if we led the way in respectful dialogue? In listening, learning, and asking lots of questions? In being slow to speak and considerate of our language? In talking about Jesus first, and sexuality later?
 
We don’t just have work to do outside the church, but also inside.
 

III. Love Your (Same-Sex Attracted) Christian Sibling

 
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” -John 13:34-35
 
“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” -Romans 12:10
 
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” -Ephesians 4:2
 
The New Testament is ADAMENT about our responsibility to love other Christians.
While we love everyone, including neighbors and even enemies, there should be a particular, loving emphasis on those inside our family. Those who have our last name: Christian.
 
There are those in our Christian family who struggle with same-sex attraction; there are people reading this who experience same-sex attraction. Maybe you’ve told someone, maybe you’ve held it inside for years. I want you to know that there are people in this church ready to hear your story. Not everyone is ready, but many are. We LOVE you. We need you. You are a valuable part of our family. And you are no more broken than the rest of us; all of us are in need of Jesus. Don’t give up, don’t give in; we want to help, and we need your help.
 

My desire in all of this is for the church to be a safer place for people to share their sin and struggles. Jude 1:22 says: “be merciful to those who doubt” and 1 Thess 5:14: “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle (undisciplined), encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
  
This hasn’t often or always been the case. This statistic might blow your mind, it did mine: 86% of the LGBT people came from a faith community. Let that sink in for a second. 86% of LGBT people have spent significant time in church. AND perhaps more surprisingly, most say they didn’t leave for theological reasons. They left because of how they were treated. The church environment was not a safe place for so many to discuss their doubts and distressing sexuality. 96%, nearly all of this community, has prayed to God to make them straight. 96%!! Many want us to believe that this community is mostly secular and atheistic. But it’s not true. And we’ve dropped the ball in helping them.
  
We’ve had trouble with this for a number of reasons. As mentioned above, we are facing internal self-righteous, from a stigma or bias that we harbor towards those who struggle in this way. For me, I’ve had to reevaluate my sense of humor, as it’s so easy to tell gay jokes or to use the word gay in a derogatory way to mean lame or stupid. We also face theological confusion, failing to recognize that same-sex attraction or temptation is not sin. It’s what we do with it or how we act on it that crosses the moral line. And lastly, our Christian community has idolized marriage to the point where single adults don’t feel like they are a valuable part of the group. We’ll say things like: She’s so pretty, how is she still single?” With our comments and our commitments, we can act like life outside of marriage and sex is unfortunate. Jesus and Paul might argue otherwise.
 
This is not easy; this is a lot of work. Love always is. But it’s worth it. Are you a safe person for a person who identifies as LGBT? Are you a safe person for a person with same-sex attraction to talk with you about it? If not, what needs to change so that you can be more like Jesus in this way?   
   
The motivation for such a posture, for the work that will be required to examine some of our self-righteous stigmas, or our secret sins, comes out of a recognition for God’s great love for us: 
   
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” -1 John 4:10-11  
   
Thanks for reading! How can Christians continue to hold to a traditional sex ethic, while still loving their neighbors who may disagree with them?  
   
Tyler