Issues of Homosexuality and the Church

INTRODUCTION

I am a heterosexual male born in 1966 to Southern Baptist parents who raised me in a conservative farming community in northeastern North Carolina. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Wingate College, a North Carolina Baptist school, in 1988. I then attended The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky where I earned a Master of Divinity Degree in 1992. After serving as a pastor for over ten years, I received my Doctor of Ministry degree from Gardner-Webb University in 2005. I was married to my wife of 26 years in 1988 and have two children. My son is 19 and my daughter is 17. I am currently ordained as a Disciples of Christ minister and am the senior pastor of First Christian Church in Farmville, North Carolina.

The only thing that sounds strange to me in the introductory paragraph above is the word “heterosexual.” This may be the first time I have introduced myself as a heterosexual. When I meet another person for the first time, I never mention my sexual orientation. The word “sex” or any word containing this powerful, three-letter word is never used during any introduction.

Thus, before I begin this article on the topic of homosexuality, I wish to state how uncomfortable I feel when identifying other people with terms such as “homosexual.” First and foremost people are people. They are human beings. They are our family, our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors; and for those of us who belong to a church, they are our sisters and brothers in Christ. Their sexuality helps to define who they are; however, it is not the only thing that defines them. Furthermore, I am also uncomfortable using the term “issues” to discuss homosexuality, because in most situations, I do not believe there should be any “issue.”

I am writing this formal statement in response to a recent request from an old college friend. Earlier this week, I received the following message on facebook: “Jarrett, I pray all is well with you and yours. Over the past few months I have read many of your posts with interest regarding the issues of homosexuality as it relates to church and a life of faith. As I continue to dig and examine my own stance on these and other issues, I was wondering if you would mind spelling out your stance and the basis for it. I would appreciate it. Thanks in advance.”

I replied: “Although I have many thoughts on this subject that may appear in some of my sermons and writings, I have never written a concise statement dedicated solely to this issue. So thank you for encouraging me to do so.”

As a pastor since 1992, the fact that this is my first attempt to “spell out my stance” on the issues of homosexuality as it relates to church and the Christian faith reveals not only the complexity of these issues, but also my fear of the powerful emotions that these issues invoke in others, especially in people of faith. As a pastor who lives paycheck to paycheck and seeks to avoid unnecessary conflict within the church that could stop a paycheck, there is a part of me that is fearful of the possible consequences of “spelling out my stance.” Yet, there is another part of me that believes that making such a statement is a necessary risk. Then, there is another part of me that realizes that the risk that I am taking by honestly and openly sharing my beliefs is insignificant when compared to the enormous risk my LGBTQ friends and family have taken through their honesty.

Thus, it pains me when I consider that my stance on these issues has changed very little since my seminary days in the early 1990’s, yet this is the first time I have “spelled them out.” During seminary, I was very aware that I would need to develop a stance if I was going to be a pastor the 21st century. Therefore, as a student I studied the scriptures and read all that I could read on the subject to develop a stance. However, for over twenty-five years, for purely selfish reasons, I have kept my stance rather private. There have been times when I have touched on it in informal conversations, alluded to it in sermons, led a brief Bible study or two on it, and posted or tweeted a snippet here and there; however, I have never “spelled it out” in black and white in a manner that is fully visible to the public. So, to all of my LGBTQ friends, and to family members and friends of LGBTQ persons, I sincerely apologize.

PREFACE

The first title of my blog Stumbling, Fumbling and Bumbling Behind Jesus aptly prefaces any “stance” that I take on any issue as it relates to faith. When it is about faith and theology, I do not have all the answers. I have not “arrived” as a Christian or Christ-follower. I like to think that I am on my way. Yet, along the way, I have the propensity to make many wrong turns and even break down on the side of the road. I have come a long way, but I still have a long way to go. For me, life is as mysterious as it is miraculous. The existence of God and the revelation of God through Jesus Christ is even more miraculously mysterious. God, the creator of all that is, is so large that I will never be able to wrap my mind around God. But I am comfortable with this. As Harry Emerson Fosdick has shared, I am at peace living “in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than living in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.”

My mind is not only small, but I believe it is also flawed. Whether one calls it “original sin” or “the Fall of Humankind” or just a “messed-up planet,” I believe that all of creation is fragmented. Consequently, as a creature on this earth, I will always understand God and God’s will for the world as “seeing through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13).

Yet, to give my life meaning, purpose and fulfillment, I choose not to believe that God is completely unknowable. I believe life is in an inexplicable gift of grace, and I am compelled to express gratitude for this gift through a life of faith in the Giver. I have chosen a meaningful life of faith in God opposed to a meaningless life of agnosticism, and I have specifically chosen a life of Christian faith in God. I often wonder if I would have chosen this faith if I was born to parents in a part of two-thirds of the world’s population that are not Christian. Nonetheless, I am glad that I have had the opportunity to make this choice, and I am grateful for the way that this choice informs my beliefs and enriches my life.

Consequently, my limited understanding of who God is, how God acts and what God desires is derived from the words and actions of Jesus as revealed in scripture. This understanding continues to grow, change and mature, even through my doubts, as I “stumble, fumble and bumble” behind this Jesus with others who are on the same journey.

Therefore, any “stance” that I take on any issue as it relates to the church and the Christian faith is flawed and incomplete. Yet, I believe that it is always beneficial to articulate current beliefs with the purpose of sharing them with the wider community of faith so those beliefs can be tested, challenged and grow.

ISSUE OF CHOICE

I begin with what I believe is the obvious presupposition that one’s sexual orientation is not a choice. I believe most homosexual persons would rather live heterosexual lives if there was a choice involved. In fact, I have never met a homosexual person who did not tell me that at some point they wished they were attracted to the opposite sex to avoid the severe pain of rejection and condemnation from their friends, families and communities. I believe avoidance of this pain is the reason many homosexual people date and even marry someone of the opposite sex. I also do not believe in any psychological therapy or religious ritual that can change a person’s sexual orientation.

One day I had lunch with a self-professed, former homosexual man who had been through a Christian program to become “reoriented.” During lunch, he proudly announced that he had been “reprogrammed” by God to be attracted to women, and he was currently “happily married” to a woman. However, during the conversation he also shared, “Now, don’t get me wrong. I am still tempted almost daily by men I find sexually attractive.” As a heterosexual man who cannot fathom being sexually attracted to men, I did not deem his reprogramming very successful.

ISSUE OF SHAME

I believe any discussion on homosexuality and the Christian faith must acknowledge the shame that is associated with sexuality within many Christian faith communities. Outside of the church’s traditional definition of marriage, all sexual acts, including masturbation, are often characterized as vulgar, nasty, and just plain wrong. Even sexual desire and arousal are regarded as something indecent or lewd.

Many churches denounce sex education to children in public school curriculums, yet they have been too prudish to have any open and honest conversation regarding human sexuality in the church. The Song of Songs or Song of Solomon, which is filled with descriptive sexual encounters, is seldom, if ever, read in the church as many find such content embarrassing, to say the least. As a preacher, I have upset people in the church by using the word “pregnant” to describe the mother of Jesus instead of simply saying “with child.”

At home, many Christian parents avoid the “birds-and-the-bees” conversation with their children until it is much too late; that is, if they do not avoid it all together. Even living in a world saturated with mass media inundated with sexual images, Viagra and Cialis commercials running 24/7, many Christians are more comfortable living in some puritanical state of suppression or denial than acknowledging that our sexuality is an innate part of who we are as human creatures. Consequently, sexual sins are widely regarded by people in the church as more heinous and more perverted than other sins, and the thought of same-gender sexual contact stirs up strong emotions of detest and disgust.

The church must recognize the disproportionate weight that it assigns to perceived sexual sins and honestly accept that humans are sexual beings created to experience ourselves and love others sexually. However, for this to happen, the church must learn to become willing to have an open discussion about our sexuality without shame and a misguided charge of emotions. Furthermore, many in the church should honestly admit that it is the perceived vulgarity of the images in their minds of same-sex genital contact that fuels part of the disgust they feel for homosexual persons.

ISSUE OF CELIBACY

Many people in the church teach that homosexuality is not a sin; however, homosexual acts are regarded as sins and should be avoided. Thus, they accept a homosexual person’s orientation, but they disagree with their lifestyle. Consequently, they encourage homosexual persons to abstain from same-gender sexual contact and to commit to living a celibate lifestyle. Although I believe there is a small fraction of a percentage of the human population that can, and probably should, commit to such a lifestyle, I believe it is wrong for any Christian, especially one who enjoys the intimacy and pleasures of sexual love, to encourage celibacy based solely on one’s sexual orientation. I believe it is blatantly arrogant to say, “You’re gay, so you can’t do that.”  It is also a preposterous suggestion. I believe that the studies of the struggle with celibacy among Roman Catholic priests and nuns teach us something very valuable about the importance of sexual love to a person’s mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.

ISSUE OF SIN

I often hear people say, “Love the sinner and hate the sin.” This implies that the sinner is somehow separated from the sin. Sin is reduced to a specific action that can be avoided. However, I do not believe sin is something that human beings living in a fragmented creation can avoid. Members of the church have asked me: “Pastor, if I go to Vegas and play the slot machines, will I be sinning?” My response is: “Even if you manage to somehow miraculously avoid walking through a casino while you are in Vegas and read the Gideon Bible in your hotel room every night; you will not be any less of a sinner than you already were.” Sin and brokenness are so much a part of this world and our lives, that there is no escaping it. The Jews once believed that sin could be avoided if 613 laws were obeyed. Not only is that a formidable task for any human, I believe Jesus would say even if one obeyed all 613 laws, they would not be any less of a sinner than the one who broke every one.

I have heard many people in the church use the euphemism “sexually-challenged” to describe homosexual persons. Every time I read or hear that, I want to respond: “Aren’t we all?”

I believe the church must understand that sin is a part of all of us, and there is no way we can escape that truth by avoiding certain acts or suppressing certain desires. I believe this is why Jesus said that those who have lust in their heart are just as sinful as those who commit adultery (Matthew 5:27-30). This is also why the Bible-believing religious people dropped their stones before the poor woman “caught in the act of adultery” when Jesus said, “Let those without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7).

ISSUE OF BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION

Scripture is very important to me as I seek to follow the Christ that I believe is revealed in scripture. This faith in Christ begins with my reading and understanding of the written words. However my faith is not in the written words themselves, but in THE WORD that the written words reveal—the same WORD that was with God and was God and became flesh and dwelled among us (John 1).

I do not believe the Bible was ever meant to be read and followed by picking certain verses out of their context. I am fully aware of the seven passages in the Bible that some Christians pick out of context to condemn same-sex love, as I have studied them extensively. I am also aware of many more passages in the Bible that have been picked out of context to support slavery, Jim Crow laws, apartheid, the suppression of women, and even genocide. Reading and interpreting the Bible can be a dangerous exercise. It should be done carefully while prayerfully keeping in mind the overall message that is being revealed.

Historical and Cultural Context

There are several ways that I interpret scripture. One way is in the light of the historical and cultural context in which the words were written. Although the Bible states that God made the sun stand still (Joshua 10:12), I realize that was written in a time when the sun was thought to circle the earth, so I interpret the passage accordingly. Although the Bible speaks of the earth having four corners (Isaiah 11:12), I realize that it was written at a time when the earth was believed to be flat. Although the Bible describes epileptic seizures as demonic possession (Mark 5), I realize that was written at a time before the advent of psychology in the 19th century.

As a Christian I do not denounce science, but believe science to reveal truth about our world. Since I believe God to be the source of the world, I believe God to be the source of truth. Therefore, in the 21st century, I do not argue that the world is flat or that the sun revolves around the earth. I also do not practice demon exorcisms, and I do not believe for one minute that my college friend who suffers with severe epilepsy is possessed by a demon.

There was no knowledge of homosexuality as an orientation during the time period the Bible was written. Therefore, the word “homosexuality” does not occur anywhere in the Bible. Only words describing homosexual acts occur. In an age that was centuries behind any psychological or scientific understanding of sexual orientation, I believe some of the passages against same-gender sex were written with the understanding that all people are born with a heterosexual orientation. Therefore, the homosexual actions that are being condemned are actions of heterosexual persons. Thus, all homosexual acts were considered “unnatural” (Romans 1). Furthermore, such sexual acts were often committed to humiliate or dehumanize others. Thus, I believe some of the passages which are used to condemn homosexuality are actually condemning violent acts of degradation; not acts of self-giving love by two people of the same gender who are committed to loving one another.

I believe this is the sin most evident in the story of Sodom that we read in Genesis 19. The story reads:

The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2He said, ‘Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way.’ They said, ‘No; we will spend the night in the square.’ 3But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. 4But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house;5and they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.’

In the story, Lot extends gracious hospitality to two visitors (angels). These are considered to be unwelcomed outsiders or strangers by the people of the town. Verse four reads that “the men of the city” came and asked to “know” these men. “Know” is a biblical euphemism for sexual relations. Lot then “begs them not to act so wickedly.” Therefore, many have said that the wickedness of Sodom was homosexual behavior.

However, when one considers “both young and old, all the people, to the last man,” then it becomes obvious that this is a story of heterosexual persons desiring to have homosexual sexual relations for evil purposes. They desire to gang-rape these two outsiders as an act of humiliation to punish them for coming into their city. The wickedness of Sodom was violent acts of degrading inhospitality. Ironically, it is the same wickedness of many in the church who desire to mistreat and dehumanize homosexual people.

In the cultural context of scripture, I also understand that many of the laws of Moses (Leviticus 18, 20) were written to build a nation and to ensure that the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied. Therefore, since homosexual actions did not produce offspring, it was obviously condemned in the law. Semen, which was considered to be the source of future generations was understood as something very precious and was not to be wasted. This is why we read in Genesis 38 the story of God killing Onan for letting his ejaculate fall to the ground. Do I believe God really wants men to die if their semen is not always used for procreation? Of course not.

Jesus as a “Filter” in Interpreting Scripture

The main way I interpret scripture is as a follower of Jesus Christ. I confess Jesus as my Lord. This means that Jesus guides my interpretation of life itself. Jesus, then, becomes my criteria or my “filter” for interpreting all scripture. For me, Jesus is the fulfillment of all scripture (Matthew 5:17). Therefore, if a scripture passage is not in accord with the words and the works of Jesus, then I understand it as unfulfilled revelation.

There are countless examples of what I call “unfulfilled revelation” throughout the Bible. Because I seek to follow the way of Jesus, if my teenagers disrespect me, or I smell beer on their breath after they break curfew, I will never follow the scriptures’ command by having them stoned to death in the town square. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 reads:

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid.

When I conduct pre-marital counseling sessions, I never advise the groom to stone his wife to death if it is discovered that she is not a virgin on their wedding night. Deuteronomy 22:20-21 reads:

If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

I also do not believe adulterers should be stoned (Leviticus 20:10), nor someone who marries his mother-in-law (Leviticus 20:14), nor someone who belongs to another religion (Leviticus 27:29), nor anyone for that matter as I cannot envision Jesus stoning anyone. Therefore, when I read that homosexual acts are an abomination and those who commit such acts should be stoned to death (Leviticus 20:13), I simply say, “Thank God Jesus has taught us a better way.”

Although the New Testament admonishes women to remain silent in the church (1 Cor 14:34), I dare not ask the women in my church to keep quiet. Not because I do not want to be fired, but because I do not believe Jesus wants them to remain silent. The Jesus revealed in scripture continually liberated women, making them disciples, allowing them to even sit at his feet (a place reserved for only male disciples of a Jewish Rabbi) as he interpreted the scriptures. Furthermore, although the New Testament admonishes slaves to obey their masters (Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22, 1 Peter 2:18) my faith in Christ who loved and valued all people does not permit me to argue for the institution of slavery.

Throughout the gospel narratives, Jesus continually lifted up the lowly, stood on the side of the marginalized and outcasts, ate and drank at the table with presumed sinners, and offered unconditional love, extravagant grace and unearned forgiveness to all. Therefore, when I read scriptures that command the hate and stoning of homosexual people or the marginalization or oppression of any group of people, I understand it as being unfulfilled as it is in disagreement with the words and works of Jesus my Lord.

ISSUE OF NATURAL THEOLOGY

Natural Theology is widely used by Christians as an argument against homosexuality. Natural theology argues: “If it is natural, it is good. If it is unnatural, it is sinful.” This is why some Roman Catholics do not believe in contraception and discourage masturbation. Sex is for natural procreation; not unnatural recreation. However, I know of no one who believes that the only purpose of human sexual relations is for procreation. Most all understand that “making love” is important for intimacy and bonding in the relationships of persons committed to one another. There is no denying that my wife and I are closer and are more connected because of our sexual relationship. There is a good reason we call it “making love” as sexual intimacy makes the bond of love stronger. This is one reason we do not want our young teens to have sex. It is not only the risk of pregnancy that we fear, but also the risk of them becoming emotionally connected to another before they are ready for such intimacy and love.

The Natural Theology argument that heterosexuality is good because there exists a natural opportunity for procreation also falls short when one considers the violent act of rape. This argument follows to the logical conclusion that if the rape is heterosexual, and there are no contraceptives in place, then it is natural, and thus good.

The reality is that not all heterosexual acts are good. Some heterosexual acts are pure evil, such as rape and the exploitation of trafficked persons. Other heterosexual behavior, albeit non-violent, can be degrading and selfish. The church and society has been guilty of overlooking this reality. It is a tragedy that when I married my wife in 1988, it was still legal in the state of North Carolina for a man to rape his wife.

CONCLUSION: ISSUES OF GRACE AND LOVE

It is not the flaws in Natural Theology or even using Christ as the criterion for scriptural interpretation that truly informs my stance on this issue in the light of faith. For me, it comes down to my faith in the extravagant and oftentimes offensive grace of Jesus.

In Ephesians 1 we read these words: “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.”

I believe the entire Biblical witness testifies to this grace. It is a grace that lavishes. It is a grace that is extravagant, offensive and even appears overdone. The following are words I gleaned from a sermon by William Willimon:

Cain killed his brother Able in the very first chapters of our Bible. And what does God do? God lavished Cain. Cain is exiled from the community because of his actions, but God promises to go with him to protect him (Genesis 4).

Moses killed an Egyptian, breaking one of the big Ten Commandments. But God chose that murderer to reveal those commandments to the world and to lead the Israelites out of bondage into the Promised Land (Exodus 2).

David not only committed adultery, but killed the husband of his mistress (2 Samuel 11). Yet, Matthew proudly announces David in Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1).

When it comes to forgiveness, when it comes to grace, when it comes to love, God lavishes. God always seems to overdo it. The riches of God’s grace are extravagant and even offensive.

The story of Jesus’ first miracle is a great example. When the wine gave out at a wedding party, what does Jesus do? He turns water into more wine. Not just some water into a little bit of wine. He makes, according to John’s estimate, about 180 gallons of the best-tasting wine they ever had. That sounds very gracious and extravagant to me. It also sounds like he may have overdone it a bit.

Then, there are all those stories that Jesus told. A farmer sows way too much seed. Most of it was “wasted,” falling on the wrong type of soil. But I suppose when sowing good seed in bad soil, you have to overdo it. You have to lavish the dirt with seed. And the seed that did manage to take root produced a harvest that is described as abundant.

The father of the prodigal son didn’t just welcome his returning son (who had committed untold sexual sins). That in itself is extravagant. But the father lavished the son. The father said to his servants, “Quickly bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on my son; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate!

It wasn’t that the Good Samaritan stopped and helped the wounded man in the ditch. It was the way he stopped and helped. It was the way he lavished the man pouring expensive oil on his wounds. Then he put the wounded man in his car. He took the man to the hospital and told the doctors, “Forget about filing insurance! Here’s all my credit cards, my checkbook, everything. I’ll be back in a week, and if that’s not enough money to treat the man’s wounds, I’ll give you even more!”

The reason that so many of us attend church at Easter is because God lavished us. When God offered us the very best gift that God had to offer, the gift of God’s self through Jesus of Nazareth, we reciprocated that gift with the very worst that we had to offer, the cross. But three days later, God not only raised Jesus back to life, but God gave him right back to the very ones who nailed him to a tree.

There’s something built right into the nature of God, it would seem, that tends toward extravagance and abundance and excessiveness.

As people who have been called to inherit this nature, as the Body of Christ in this world, how do we live?  Are we stingy with our love?  Are we miserly with our forgiveness?  Do we scrimp on grace? Are we tight-fisted with the good news? Do we truly believe that the greatest commandment is to love God and our neighbor as ourselves? Do we truly believe that the greatest gift of all is love?

For me personally, the issue of homosexuality as it relates to the church and faith all comes down to the following:

I am an imperfect man living in an imperfect world. I have chosen to give meaning to my life and to others by deciding to follow Jesus as a disciple. My discipleship is not perfect.  I stumble, fumble and bumble behind Jesus. I do not have all of the answers, and while I am attempting to follow Jesus, I am bound to make many errors in judgment. However, if I am going to make an error when it comes to loving, accepting, and embracing another, especially one who has been marginalized and demonized by society and the church, I have chosen to err on the side of grace, even if I overdo it.

There are two things I do every Sunday morning that informs my theology. One is praying the Lord’s Prayer. The second is sharing the Lord’s Supper. I pray “forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I drink from a cup and remember Jesus’ words: “This cup is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” I pray for forgiveness and I drink forgiveness and am reminded and challenged that as I am forgiven, I am called to forgive others.

Even if other Christians believe that I am wrong, and they firmly believe that in God’s eyes homosexuality is “an abomination,” I believe the overall message of the Bible persuades them to choose not to condemn, but to forgive. Choose not to hate, but to love. Choose not to restrain, but to lavish. Choose grace. Always choose to err on the side of graciously overdoing it.

Furthermore, for the very life of me, I can think of no harm that can come to the world or to the cause of Christ by overdoing it on the side of grace. I know of no lives that have ever been destroyed by overdoing it on the side of love. However, I am very aware of the irreparable harm and the deep wounds that come from withholding grace and restraining love as countless lives have been destroyed and lost to murder, war and suicide. The church has been embarrassingly and tragically guilty of doing tremendous damage to the world, as well as to the mission of Christ, by failing to follow Jesus’ simple command to love one another.

Of any human institution on this fragmented planet, the church should be a place where all people are welcomed to join a community of grace, love and forgiveness. Without fear of being judged, condemned and ridiculed, all people should feel welcomed to come as they are and honestly and openly confess their sinfulness and brokenness. And receive grace. Receive love. Receive salvation. And then share it with others.

ISSUE OF CHURCH LEADERSHIP

Sadly, the majority of churches exclude homosexuals from church leadership. Current leaders of countless churches have judged their lifestyles as sinful, and thus unfit for leading others to love others. However, because I believe all Christians are sinners, yet God calls all people to do ministry, then I do not believe there is any issue whether or not a homosexual person can be a leader in the church.

There is no doubt in my mind that homosexual people who have been mistreated and condemned by society and especially by the church, have a very powerful message of love and grace to offer the world. I believe they have something very valuable to teach all of us about the love and grace of Christ, as well as what it means to be fully human.

ISSUE OF SAME-SEX MARRIAGE       

“Biblical marriage” is convoluted to say the least. As far as we know, Jesus was not married. The Apostle Paul did not recommend marriage (1 Corinthians 7:8). Polygamy is endorsed by the Old Testament as a valid lifestyle for men (not women). The Old Testament is also full of archaic laws treating the woman as property in marriage. One law states that the wife is to be awarded to the husband’s brother in the event of the husband’s death (Deuteronomy 25:5). The Ten Commandments even treat the wife of a husband as property (Exodus 20:17).

Jesus spoke of marriage (Mark 10), but whenever he did, he did so to forbid divorce in order to protect the rights of the woman. Jesus valued women not as property but as children of God. Thus, when Jesus spoke of marriage, he was more concerned about the injustices that had been perpetrated against women within marriage than he was setting forth a prescription for marriage. Jesus spoke more about the importance of loving and upholding the rights of our vulnerable partners in marriage more than he spoke about males and females loving one another in marriage.

Many argue against same-sex unions stating that the purpose of marriage is for procreation. However, I cannot count the number of weddings I have officiated for couples who have surpassed the child-bearing age or are otherwise unable to have children. I have never said in any marriage ceremony that the purpose of the union is to bear children. What I do say is that “God has ordained the institution of marriage to guard, hallow and perfect the gift of love.”

If two adults love one another and desire to make a commitment to God to remain faithful to one another, to selflessly love and to cherish one another in a monogamous relationship until death parts them, to guard, hallow and perfect love, I cannot envision the Jesus that is revealed to me through scripture condemning such a desire nor preventing such a commitment. I have yet to officiate a same-sex marriage ceremony. However, in this fragmented world filled with such hate and loneliness, I will never stand as an obstacle to love.

ISSUE OF CIVIL RIGHTS

People in the church are using the Bible today in the 21st century to support the discrimination of homosexuals with the same type of biblical interpretation that people in the church used to support slavery in the 19th century and the Jim Crow laws of the 20th century. As a follower of the Jesus who continually stood up for the rights of the poor and disenfranchised, I believe the church should do everything in its power to stand up for the rights of all minorities, including homosexuals.

ISSUE OF TRANSGENDERED, BISEXUAL, ASEXUAL, QUESTIONING PEOPLE

This issue probably deserves another 6,000 words. However, because the original question that I am addressing is regarding homosexuality, I am going to sum my stance in only a couple of short paragraphs.

We live in a fragmented world. I believe each person in this world, including me, is fundamentally flawed. This is why we need grace. This is why we need love. This is why Jesus said he came into the world to save it, not condemn it (John 3:17).

The Southern Baptist Convention recently voted to condemn transgendered people, as they have homosexuals and bisexuals (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2014/06/the-southern-baptist-convention-throws-transgender-people-under-the-bus/). Southern Baptists do not think they have made an error. They have no doubt about it. As I previously stated in the beginning of this document, I am hardly ever that sure of myself. However, I am sure of one thing. I believe in love. I believe God is love. I believe Christ exemplified and commanded love, especially toward those considered to be different, those that society marginalizes. I believe we were created for such love.

Again, if anyone thinks I am in error in dealing with this issue, I am perfectly okay with that; because if I am going to make errors in this world, I am always going to err on the side of love. I am going to err on the side of grace. And I am going to overdo it. I am going to do my best to love God and all of my neighbors. And all means all.

 

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53 thoughts on “Issues of Homosexuality and the Church

  1. Joyce R Lewis

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this volatile subject. I appreciate your spiritual approach to the LGBTQ community. As for me, I too chose love.

  2. Bruce Baker-Rooks

    Jarrett – This was so eloquently stated, well-thoughtout, and logically stated. Thank you for the honor of reading this. Let me say, regarding myself, although there was a time when I wished I was heterosexual, for many, many years now, I have and am thankful that God created me homosexual, and I would not want to be heterosexual for anything in the world. Even with the occasional “push-back” I receive, my life is so full and blessed, I could never want to be anyone different than who God created me to be. (Although I wouldn’t mind being the same person with a little more money…) I’m very glad to have found a new friend in you! Blessings!!

    1. Bruce, the sad truth is that the main reason that any homosexual person ever once wished they could be different is bad religion and society’s general fear of those who are different. However, I believe as more people in the church rediscover Jesus’ radical grace and loving embrace of all people, especially those who are different, the time will come when no one will ever wish they were another sexual orientation.

      1. James Bogle

        Listen, I understand the desire on the part of many to sweeten the scriptures so as not to offend homosexuals. The recent mini-series The Bible did the homosexuals a great kindness by completely side-stepping the issue for which the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. Society has been so kind to homosexuals that today schools throughout the United States of America will begin teaching the life-style even explaining the sexual techniques that make sodomy such a physically fulfilling and refreshing sexual practice.

        http://www.lovethetruth.com/evils/homosexuality/glsen.htm
        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…/public-school-sex-ed…
        http://www.massresistance.org/media/video/brainwashing.html

        My faith teaches me homosexuality is wrong. When will the schools give Christians equal time to counter the teaching for the sake of our children? Sodom was destroyed because of the practice of sodomy; a practice our schools will be teaching to our children…I think we’ve been too kind to homosexuals.

    1. It is a lot to ponder. I think it would be a very good idea to have a small-group Bible study and discussion on some of these thoughts. Many churches are watching and discussing a great movie on this subject entitled: “The Bible Tells Me So.” I would recommend this to anyone.

  3. Chandler Nohr

    Thanks for providing a thoughtful, comprehensive view on such a controversial issue–especially in the church. I appreciate that you provide your OWN support versus being another pastor speaking for an entire church.

    1. Thank you Chandler for your kind words. The wonderful thing about our congregational tradition as Disciples of Christ is that no pastor every speaks for entire congregation.

  4. John

    Love is the key and we are to love all who sin and pray for them. I Corinthians 7:2 and Romans 1:25-27 & 32 make it pretty clear that men with men and woman with woman is not God’s plan and is sin. Heterosexual men are just as weak when it comes to lusting after women, as homosexuals are when it comes to lusting after members of the same gender. The ONLY way that I know of to break these sins and have victory over them is for God to empower you with a greater motivation to live righteously than to live un-righteously. God can give us daily strength to overcome the urge to follow our fleshly desires. God bless

    1. As a gay man I would like to thank you with my very soul about your feelings towards me and my community. It gives me hope that maybe just maybe people will go back to believing what Jesus was truly about and not some words misinterpreted to suit bigotry….Thank you very much….

      1. Thank you Alan. My hope is more people will open their eyes to the truth that loving and accepting our neighbor, especially the foreigner our midst, is the heart of the gospel and an overall theme the Old and New Testaments.

  5. Jason

    While I was reading this, I could not help it, but it brought tears to my eyes. I will not go into all detail of the story of my life for it will be way to long. I was one of those kids that grew up in a very loving and lucky Christian home. I went to Christian school my whole life. But I was picked on picked on every day at school from the start of 6th grade. I was called gay and all nasty names as you can imagine. My car was vandalized and destroyed when I was 16 by my classmates. The thought of being gay was too much to handle, and I tried to take my own life. High School finally came to an end and I went to college. It was there that I came out to my parents. This was the first time I came out because I did not want to be gay. Let’s just say that was one of the hardest days of my life. It put me back in the hospital the next month as I tried to commit suicide again. I did not want my parents to live with a gay son. When I got out of the hospital, I was sent to a “straight Camp.” I was 18 and only wanted my parents to accept me and love me like they used to, so I told them that God delivered me from the demon of homosexuality. I only did this so I could have a relationship with them again plus I needed to go to college, LOL. Well, fast forward several years, thanks to my ex, I finally accepted the fact that God loved me for who I was and that I was not going to hell. I definitely believe God puts people in your life for a purpose. That was a great four years of learning about myself and understanding that, yes I can be a Christian and do works for the Lord. I still struggle every now and again. I think, “I hope I can still go to heaven being gay.” Then I remember that it’s all about LOVE. That’s what my ex taught me. So reading your words about GOD’S LOVE was something I needed to hear. Thank you. I want to post your article on my facebook wall so bad. While I was reading it, I kept thinking, my parents need to read this. But unfortunately, I can’t because now, 10 years later, I still have not told my parents again that I am gay. The “church” focuses so much on the negative stuff, forgetting the true meaning that it’s all about God’s Love and Grace. You are an inspiration, and I am truly thankful that I had the opportunity to read this.

    1. Bruce Baker-Rooks

      Jason: First, you are not alone. I know so many people who have traveled a similar journey as yours. Second, I pray that in time you will be able to recognize and embrace the journey you have been on, and know that you know that you are exactly who God intended you to be. Everything from the hairs on your head, to your sexuality, to your intellectual gifts were all given to you by God as a gift. A friend of mine once gave me a framed poster that said, “What I am is God’s gift to me; What I become, is my gift to God.” Third, I don’t know where you are geographically located, but find a church that will embrace you completely. You can go to a website – http://www.gaychurch.org – and find a welcoming and affirming church in your area. They list churches of all denominations. There are many, many churches where you will not only be welcomed and affirmed, but where you are wanted. I am currently in the Durham, NC area, soon to be moving to the Charlotte, NC area. If you are in either of these two areas and need to talk or need a friend, my husband and I are here for you. Prayers of blessings to you as you continue to seek to live the life God created you to live.

  6. Thanks for this most lucid and helpful summary. I’ve reposted it, forwarded it and saved it because I’m sure I’ll have reason to refer to it again to refresh my “talking points” on the topic. And, of course I agree with you. God’s love is unlimited… and I wish ours was, too!

  7. Andy Swink

    Very well written, Mr. Banks (I’m not sure what your correct title is, so I will just address you as Mr.) Let me preface this by saying that, on a good day, I am an Agnostic. Perhaps Deist is more the proper term. Although I believe in a “Supreme Being” I do not subscribe to any organized religious edict. I guess you could say I subscribe to them all and none at the same time. Religion, as is sexual orientation, is a personal matter
    I own several very expensive Swiss watches. The existence of a watch implies a watch-maker. The Universe, with all it’s unknown miracles and mysteries much more wondrous than any watch more MUST imply a “Universe Maker” What He or She is…..my mind is too small to fathom. I just sit back and enjoy the proverbial scenery.
    I live in Greenville and was here when Amendment 1 was being to put to a vote. I was driving to work when I saw a group of demonstrators, several of which were holding placards that read: “Homos Go To Hell” Being a firm believer in that a persons sexual orientation is said persons business and not mine, I decided I was going to pull over and “talk” with these people. So I went up to one of the placard holders and asked him if God did not love all of His/Her children equally? His answer was “Yes, everyone knows that” I then asked him: “Except for homosexuals?” His answer: “Uh…no…they go to Hell” Me: “So homosexuals are NOT God’s children?” Him: ” Yeah….well…uh…” I then informed him that he had just contradicted himself. He had no answer. He then started to berate me (we had a crowd around us by now) and screamed at me that I was a sinner and was going to Hell. That is when I decided to commit a sin and dumped my Slushee on him.He yelled that I had just assaulted him and I told him he just assaulted both my intellect and sensibilities so we were even.
    Again, your article is very well written. I wish more people had your sensibilities and intestinal fortitude.

  8. Jean Mezera

    I am a Roman Catholic and I came to my faith by God’s Grace and Love. I believe that the Body and Blood of Christ is present to us when we receive Him with love. I believe God made each of us and loves each of us. The sin in all of this I believe it is when people exclude rather then include everyone in expressing their faith in God. Churches are so wrong in excluding people for any reason. I believe it is up to God to Judge each of us as we all fall short in someway to what He wants for us. He loves us and forgives each of us even when we fall short of His wish for us. Jesus included everyone and did not exclude anyone. I personally believe the sin is in promiscuity by anyone, not in the choice we make as to whom we choose to love. Sex where people are treated as sex objects rather then human beings is the greater sin not in “the act of making love” with someone you love.
    I am not Gay. I am a mother of four children one of which is Gay whom I love dearly. A fifth child we adopted spiritually when he was a young boy. I feel blessed that God put all of these fine children in my life to love along with their families. Each child and their wives, I claim each as my gift from God.
    Loving God and Loving our neighbor as ourselves is Christ wish for us. If you don’t follow these commandments, You can’t love yourself therefore you can’t love God or your neighbor. It takes all three to find love and peace in your life.
    Like John Legend’s song says “All of Me loves All of You”, “All your perfect imperfections”.
    God Bless each of you.

  9. Adam C. Beck

    I agree that you have some good points here, Pastor. How can anyone disagree with love and grace? That’s kind of a “gimme.” Just think of how ridiculous an opposite statement would sound: “I believe all humans should be hated and condemned.” That’s silly. So of course, all humans should be treated with love. It goes without saying and you didn’t really need to go to seminary to figure that out.

    It seems to me that you believe in a powerless god who offers no hope to homosexuals who do not wish to be homosexuals. Your christ cannot heal or deliver because your christ created people who are destined to live a life trapped in sexual frustration and shame.

    The God I believe in loves homosexuals and is powerful enough to deliver them from anything. The Christ I believe in can heal anything, change any circumstance, defeat any demon and answer any prayer. The Bible I read still teaches that there is a devil and there are demons and they attack and effect Christians to this day and they need to be combated appropriately.

    All you say here, Pastor; what hope does it offer to someone who wants to change? To someone who cries out to God out of desperation? You appear to be among those who say to the frustrated Christian who struggles with homosexuality, “Embrace who God made you to be.” I must disagree with this. Yet you’re afraid to say “Christ can set you free” because you don’t believe He can. I believe He can.

      1. Perhaps I do understand little, Dr. Olson. Yet I believe you err in presuming that all homosexuals are as you are. They are not. If you read again my comments, you’ll see that I am not addressing contented people such as yourself and your husband, but rather hurting and desperate people who do not wish to be as they are.

        Many of these people are coming to the church looking for a God who can deliver them from sin. What they are often now hearing is something like this: “You are loved just as you are. Your intrinsic sexual tendencies and desires do not warrant repentance because God put them there.”

        The first statement is true while the second is not. Beyond that, this message is not a message of faith, power, or even love. These people want to change. Remember? Telling them that the only reason they are not satisfied with themselves is because the church has wrongly told them that homosexuality is a sin is simply not true and is quenching the work of the Holy Spirit inside them.

        If you want to be gay. Fine. Subscribe to what is written here. If you want to change, Jesus is willing and able.

  10. Ashley

    I read your comment on the article regarding the magistrate that refused to marry a same-sex couple, which led me here. I just want to say thank you for conveying what I have been trying to say. I think if we showed more people grace and gave them an opportunity to know Jesus regardless of situations then the world would be a better place. Instead we remain divided and bicker over who deserves the kingdom of heaven more than others. I wish more people thought like you.

  11. carolb12

    This is the most thoughtful reply I have ever read. I agree with every single thing you said, and I am going to copy this to keep in my Bible. I am the mother of a gay son whom I fully accept and love because I have known since he was around 3 that he was most likely gay. I tried my best to fast and pray it away, because I was taught such untruths about LGBT+ people. My son is 28 yrs old now and the most amazing brave and courageous young man! I would give anything to go to a church like yours or have a pastor like you. Tyou!!!

  12. Nienke Blaauw-Jenkinson

    Thank you for speaking up for people who are so often condemned and hurt by others who profess to follow Christ. The greatest truth that has ever been revealed straight to my spirit came in two parts – there is therefore NO condemnation in Christ and the most amazing truth that people seem to struggle to grasp – Jesus came to fulfill the law. Jesus is my law. I accepted the gift He paid for so dearly – I am truly and honestly free.

    I pray that through theological discussions like this, other Christians will all be truly set free…so that we can move on to our real callings – to love others just as Jesus loves us all.

  13. Jerry

    You wrote a lot, but didn’t really say much. The way you explained the men of Sodom and Gomorrah only using sodmy as a mean of degrading the visitors is so off base. If a heterosexual male commits a homosexual act, he is by definition a homosexual. I have know men who went into prison as straight men but came out changed. I believe this is an act that has the ability to change certain men forever, with just one encounter. By beholding, we become changed. It seems reasonable to assume that all those men of Sodom were not born that way, they chose their course of actions. I have known a number of men who were all born with strong homosexual tendencies and in each case where they submitted, there was a turning points, a point at which they were “turned” by a practicing homosexual. Being effeminate or soft, does not make one homosexual, it just means there is a greater possibility for him to adopt that lifestyle. If you had a very sensitive child, would you want him/ her exposed to an influence that could alter their whole course of life? I think not. Finally, every gay person I have ever known, was always looking to indoctrinate the rest of the world, that way, all stigma would be removed. From my observations, It is a very unstable and extreme painful life style. Each of the individuals I referenced, died a very violent death at the hands of a so called lover. How natural can anal intercourse be?

  14. Carrie Bussell

    Wonderful!! Very proud that this came from a DOC minister! I too believe God wants us to love one another more than anything, no matter gender, race, culture, sexual orientation, etc. To love another IS to love God.

  15. Reblogged this on Susan Irene Fox and commented:
    Jarrett Banks writes truthfully of lavish grace, and of Christianity’s misguided attempt to disproportionately weigh sexual sin more heavily over others while blatantly disregarding the historical meaning of the word homosexual. This is a thoughtful, well-written, edifying piece calling for all of us to follow Jesus and “err on the side of grace.”

  16. Paul

    I followed here from Susan Fox’s blog. Well written article Jarrett. As a follower of Christ myself, I have a large issue around this topic – arguing that God define’s Himself as Love and therefore any consenting adults who enter a loving relationship should be encouraged as following God’s desire. My issue is that my Mother is a lesbian and that is frowned upon by most “Christian” followers. I define myself as heterosexual – although I suspect that psychological sexual orientation is a continuum with male at one end and female at the other. It is my observation that very few are at the extreme ends, and most have a portion of both. In fact I would posit that for purposes of communication and understanding, we have to have a small portion of the opposite sex in each of us. I would estimate that I am about 90% male and 10% female – which is useful in communication.I also do not think that physical and psychological genders are always the same. I believe it is possible (and occurs) for a physical male to be predominately female in psychology. And vice versa. All the permutation and combinations that this paradigm implies are quite evident in our society and yet are denied by many Christians. As you pointed out it is apparent to me that people are born with their psychological sexual orientation as much as they are born with their physical sexual organs.

    Great post – Thank you.

  17. This is by far the most endearing, emphatic, and reasonable rationale I’ve read in a very long while regarding this subject.
    It once again reassures me of the original intent I’ve always believed the Father had for man….to be like him!
    We talk of evils as though we are an authority on it, but I ask, what about the Father, the book, and man’s interpretation of evil? Cain killed Abel. The Father designed it so, so he would populate our world with good spirits in order to maintain the balance between what he’s created as vessels to honor, and those to dishonor.
    We qualify, quantify and assign evil and abominations so freely, we fail to wonder why there’s so many ills in our world. Those who have appointed themselves as generals to purge this earth, forget that if the Father will them success, a whole new creation would ensue, because there will be no one here.
    I pray many read this as I have shared on fb, and perhaps, grace and love will overwhelm , and brotherhood be restored .

  18. A CHOICE WE MAKE
    Jarrett I want to thank you for taking the time to right such a lengthy explanation of your feelings surrounding this topic of sin.I have to say I disagree with you on quite a few of your opinions. In saying so I can also agree to disagree in the spirit of love.
    I hope you don’t mind if I share my thoughts briefly. I do not believe that man or woman are born as homosexuals or Lesbians and certainly not transgender. The bible says we are created in God’s image. Therefore I would have to say God being a Holy God then we to our created the same. I want go to deep here. Most of my comments are for others that will read this post that might not be bible literate. I realize you are a educated man about the bible.
    We are born into a broken sin filled world. Here is the problem for us created in God’s image(WE ARE ALL CREATED IN HIS IMAGE) and Holy as He is. I believe we have choices to make. The bible said choose today life or death. Therefore I believe folks make choices as to how they will live. They have been doing it since the fall of man. They then like to write it off as I was born this way or I will just continue to live in sin and God will forgive me.
    When I address the topic of homosexuality and other gender sin. I naturally
    want to stay away from the labels, because for me as the bible explains gender sins ,it is sin and nothing more. I believe God frowned more so or spoke more so about these sins because of the strong hold they place on a persons life and he did not want them to experience this. God is and always will be a loving God ,always working towards restoration for all of us.
    In closing I would say I whole hardly agree with you about grace and love. In my mind I want to always think of grace and love. Ready to accept others with love as Christ has. I cannot see how the church could ever turn homosexual people away from the church. God never said bring me the clean and mended. I believe it was the broken and sinful. God will do the cleaning up. Its not our place to judge. Its our place to love. I believe if the church would just take a stance on what the bible actually says and open the doors for all the broken people to come many would come. For not one is without sin but all our broken. Thank you for letting me share my thoughts with you and others.
    Much Love Tom

    Love you

    1. Thank you Tim for reading and for sharing your responses. I also believe all are created in holy God’s image, but I believe the image of God is more of something we do, than it is something we are. I believe we are called to image God, to mirror God’s likeness. And I believe we do that best by following Christ, by humbling ourselves to selflessly and graciously love others. I am not sure how much I believe sexuality has to do with imaging God. I believe I image God more when I lovingly embrace and forgive strangers and foreigners than I image God when I lovingly embrace my wife. I am not even sure if that makes sense. But I am sure of one thing. I am sure that we are all called to love one another, to love all our neighbors as ourselves. And all means all. Thank you for stressing that in your response.

      1. I want to leave with this familiar scripture for all of us Jarrett.
        Numbers
        24The LORD bless you, and keep you;
        25The LORD make His face shine on you,
        And be gracious to you;

        26The LORD lift up His countenance on you,

        Much love Tom

  19. Joy Paul Schwenke

    Very well written. I am gay, a former Baptist pastor. I would like to share this on my facebook wall. Please allow me to share this, so my friends can hear this important message.

  20. Anonymous

    Thank you for this. I have been struggling so hard lately. I am 26 years old and about to marry my partner whom I love and want to be a better person for each day and shower him with love all the days of my life. So from that, obviously I am gay and in a loving relationship and always felt guilty and unworthy because of what society spits in my face. Throughout my life I have come to Jesus and walked away from him on and off on and off. I know now that I am loved and saved not by what good I do or bad I abstain from but simply just because Jesus showers his love onto me. I would gladly give up everything in my life and of this world to be with and serve him, but I am human and weak; I struggle with pride and this has been my conviction saying that I am not perfect no matter how I WILL it. His grace and love has reached even me, a terrible sinner and one hated so much by society, as to be out casted by the church. I realize now, I it’s through him that I will be MADE perfect. I can place my worry and shame on the cross.

    Through reading your piece, I know now to place trust in Christ more and to know that even in my darkest times he will shine a light of grace so bright that it makes me speechless brings me to my knees in awe. I literally caught myself saying in my head “wow Jesus is AMAZING” as I read some of your profound points. Jesus Christ truly speaks to us through each other. I feel so blessed. God bless. Love and peace to all.

    1. Thank you for your inspiring comment! I am glad that you have found some encouragement. Please feel free to share it with others. The world needs love now more than ever!

  21. Jana Rugg

    I have always struggled with the way the Church condemns homosexuality. I have several friends and relatives who are homosexual and know for certain it was never a choice that they made. My best friend’s nephew is gay and we could tell he was gay when he was three years old. I’m convinced God doesn’t make mistakes. As a straight female, I can’t fathom the struggle these people go through, especially those indoctrinated that it is “wrong”. Some day we will all know the answers. Until then, we just need to love each other. Thanks for some amazing insight, Jarrett. I plan to share this with several friends and family members. 🙂

  22. Bill

    Jarrett, Very bold and well expressed thoughts. We all are so influenced by our environment, especially when young and most impressionable, thats it’s almost impossible to interrupt scripture on its own merit. I, like you, don’t understand what makes a person “gay” or “straight” but have decided to accept all people for who they are and love them as I would like to be loved. God calls us to love and show His love through service, not to be judgmental. Thanks again for sharing.

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