The ‘homosexuality and Christianity’ debate has been one of the most controversial, explosive and emotional charged debates in modern history. The arguments have been around for millennia. However, the past 12 months have seen a large number of events unfold that have dramatically brought the debate of homosexuality in Christianity to the forefront of the media, politics and Church meetings.
In March of this year (2014), the same-sex marriage bill came into force in England and Wales; a bill which saw unprecedented numbers of churches and Christian organisations firmly voicing their opinion in public, and the three main political parties significantly divided in the Commons vote. 2014 also saw the public spotlight fall on the LGBT rights in Russia, as they hosted the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. As images and videos of harrowing discrimination against gay people flooded the worldwide media, many activists and public personalities called for boycotts of the games. This intense international scrutiny was perhaps only diverted by Russia’s annexation of Crimea, two days before the Sochi closing ceremony. And last month (August), Christian social media became abuzz when renowned Christian singer, speaker and media commentator Vicky Beeching “came out” in a moving interview for the Independent newspaper (1). Ever since she spoke up for gay marriage last year, boycotts of her music have been taking place, and her proclamation the she is a lesbian predictably re-fuelled the controversy.
What is “gay”?
I want to take a step back for a moment, away from the media debates and political campaigns. We first need to answer the most fundamental question in this debate: what is “gay”?
When most people refer to someone who is “gay”, they mean someone who is sexually attracted to members of the same sex. So when I refer to someone is “gay”, it does not necessarily mean they are practising homosexual sex/marriage (although obviously that may come into it). I’m simply referring to the in-built attraction to people of the same gender. I think this is the definition held by the vast majority of people.
The question then follows: are people born gay? As you can probably guess, my medical background has given me a keen interest to look into this. Most self-identifying gay people say that being gay is an inherent characteristic that they are born with. Upon looking at the medical evidence, I’m inclined to agree. A lot of the research has been inconclusive, and pinning down “gay genes” or even “gay hormones” is an area of interesting ongoing research. However, I think a reasonable medical case can be made for people being born inherently gay. (I’ll save the details of the medical evidence for another time.)
The idea that “God hates all gay people” is one that has been repeated endlessly in public spheres. However, as a bible-believing Christian, I find this view both confusing and upsetting.
“God is a God of love” has turned into a cliché in Christian apologetics. However, it’s true beyond imagination. Romans 5:8 says “God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (2) while 1 Corinthians 5:15 says “And he (Jesus) died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2)
God’s love is so universal and incomprehensibly extensive that it drove Him to send His son to Earth, to die an excruciating death for all of us. Is a commonly used saying, but if there was only one person on Earth, Jesus still would have died for them.
So the notion that God somehow hates a portion of humanity purely because they were born a certain way is wholly at odds with the central doctrine of the universality of God’s love.
Now, I’m not saying that God just blinks at sin. Nor am I saying that God does not hate those who sin unrepentantly; Psalm 11 says otherwise (3). However, my position is clear: being gay is not a sin. If homosexuality is simply an inbuilt characteristic that the individual has no control over (which I think it is), it is illogical to label homosexuality as a sin per se.
Rather than being a sin, Ravi Zacharias says being gay is a “predisposition” to sin in specific ways. (4)
So what are these “specific ways”? To my knowledge, the bible covers homosexuality in reference to 3 specific actions: lust, marriage and sex.
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul writes: “control your body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God.” (5). Jesus goes even further and equates lust with committing adultery in one’s heart. (6)
The bible is clear; lust is a sin and a serious one. However, this is not restricted to homosexual lust; according to biblical understanding, homosexual and heterosexual lust are both prohibited by God. We are commanded not to lust after anyone (other than our spouse), whether we are straight, gay or somewhere in between.
This is where the main controversy lies. Many political TV shows like Question Time and Newsnight, have covered the topic of gay marriage, and those opposed often appear to be in the minority and ill-able to defend their view.
This is a more complex issue than lust, partly owing to the fact that the theological, political and legal elements often get entwined and confused. I would like to briefly touch on these 3 in turn.
The bible first mentions marriage in Genesis 2, immediately after the creation of Adam and Eve. Genesis 2:24 reads “…That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united with his wife, and they become one flesh.” (7) This is the first mention of the concept of “husband and wife”, and thus is a clear depiction of God’s plan for marriage. So theologically, the bible is clear; the definition of marriage is “the union between one man and one woman”.
The legal perspective is slightly different. The debates running up to the Commons vote on the Gay Marriage Bill (2014) centred on the notion of “equal rights for all”. Universal equal legal rights is an idea that I and most others wholly support and happily advocate. So what then of the legal right to marry? This is where I think it’s appropriate to mention civil partnerships. Civil partnerships are exclusively for same-sex couples, and are legally identical to marriages. They are identical in registration time, divorce/dissolution laws, state pension allocation, and pension beneficiaries (7). The only difference is the religious ceremonial formation which is required for marriage and not required (but allowed) for civil partnership. Therefore, I would argue that since the introduction of civil partnerships (which I personally am not opposed to), same-sex and opposite-sex couples have had equal legal rights. Therefore the argument of equal rights is, in my opinion, a moot point.
Overarching these theological and legal implications is the political consequences. In the UK, we originally got our concept of marriage from the bible; this is a point of history rather than a point of belief. Even if you do not believe the bible to be true, it still stands that our notion of marriage originates there. Therefore, when the coalition government took a central Christian concept out of Christianity, and changed it to something which fitted the secular opinion but jarred with the original Christian definition, it was understandably immensely inflammatory! If this happen with another world religion, it could well have led to war.
Gay sex is something that the bible mentions quite a few times. There are five verses that explicitly mention homosexual sex (9), (and there are a few implicit references), and each one prohibits it. This is clearly one of the toughest things for a gay Christian to hear, and I honestly can’t imagine how I would feel upon hearing that I could never have a sexual relationship. However, the bible is clear and God’s commands in this area are simple.
I tried to make this blog post as fact-based as possible, which may then come across as unempathetic. So I want to end by saying that I honestly do not know how I would be able to handle same-sex attraction, if I had been born gay.
When I read about or witness homophobic discrimination, I am always appalled. I, as a straight Christian, have no right to judge, or even worse, enforce judgement, on those practise homosexual acts, never mind those who are simply born gay. I admire gay Christians who have committed their lives to celibacy and we all need to do more to stamp out homophobic discrimination, as we do with all other types of discrimination.
And there is one final point that it is imperative to make. In theological debates, there is a tendency to make Christianity appear legalistic, and obeying the commands of God as something to be done out of fear or trying to earn God’s good will. These are all false. God’s commands are not rules given to restrict us; rather, they are a frame-work to liberate us. God’s commands are for our good so we may live the satisfying, prosperous and fulfilled life He intended for us. Sometimes we can see why a command is good for us. However, other times we can’t. I do not pretend to understand why God prohibits gay sex and gay marriage. However, I trust that through His universal, incomprehensible love for us, as exemplified by the cross, He has given these commands for our good.
- The full article can be found at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/vicky-beeching-star-of-the-christian-rock-scene-im-gay-god-loves-me-just-the-way-i-am-9667566.html
- New International Version
- Psalm 11:5
- Ravi Zaccharias at Penn University. Video can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqTbXHsOrGM
- 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5 (NIV)
- Matthew 5:28
- Genesis 2:24 (NIV)
- Government Policy Paper, Comparison of Civil Partnership and marriage for same sex couples. Full paper can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/comparison-of-civil-partnership-and-marriage-for-same-sex-couples
- Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:8-10