Should churches accept and seek God’s blessing for certain same-sex relationships, or should they not? This question is being hotly debated among Christians. Many conservative pastors and teachers think that the Scriptures in Leviticus 18, Romans 1, and 1 Corinthians 6 settle the matter with no room for doubt. They are right that those passages have all forms of same-sex relationships in view, including those that might have been consensual, committed relationships between people whose lifelong orientation had been toward their own gender. All such relationships were forbidden to the Israelites when God gave them the law through Moses, and were also proscribed by Paul when the New Testament church was established.
However, several circumstances have worked together over recent decades to stir many pastors and teachers to ask whether God would have the Church now lift part of that proscription. The first circumstance is that in many jurisdictions same-sex relationships are no longer outlawed. Consequently, it has become possible to gain a much more objective, statistics-backed understanding of the homosexual world. It has therefore become clear to many that same-gender attraction is not a wilfully chosen deviation from heterosexual normalcy but is something that the person may have felt from childhood, even before there was any element of sexual stimulation in it.
The second circumstance is that, except in the most red-necked of conservative congregations, professing Christians who feel same-sex attraction are more willing to discuss it openly with their pastor. Pastors are therefore learning three things:
- Some people who have a credible testimony of faith in Christ and whose Christian lives are exemplary in every other way find their same-sex longings overwhelmingly strong.
- Many such people testify that, despite their prayers and struggles, God has not given them the grace for a celibate or heterosexual life. Believing with standard church teaching that their temptation arose from Satan, they have attempted to resist the devil but found that he did not flee. Therefore, they have wondered whether same-sex longings were a sinful temptation at all, or something else in God’s eyes.
- A response along the nouthetic lines, “Well, you just haven’t yet prayed long enough or resisted hard enough,” is a denial of the energy that many have put into their struggle and the agony they have felt.
Some pastors may have noted another anomaly, too, because Romans 1 teaches that the ancient world’s adoption of homosexual practices arose after societies replaced the worship of the creator with the idolatrous worship of humans and other creatures, because God then removed his restraining hand from them. Modern pastors, however, are meeting people who believe every word of (say) the Nicene Creed and who worship the Triune God who is represented there, and who affirm the goodness of God’s creation design, but who nevertheless find no release from their same-sex attraction.
It is valid to take from Romans 1 that the existence in the world of homosexual desires and relationships is a consequence of the Fall, but it is not valid to reason in the opposite direction and assert that everyone who experiences same-sex attraction or engages in a same-sex relationship is shown to be an idolatrous rebel against God. Kevin DeYoung is wrong in logic when he asserts, “According to Paul’s logic, men and women who engage in same-sex sexual behavior—even if they are being true to their own feelings and desires—have suppressed God’s truth in unrighteousness” (DeYoung, 2015, p. 52).
The question is therefore not resolved as simply as DeYoung and other respected conservative teachers believe it is. As I continue this series of posts I will, God willing, try to answer some of the other objections that have been raised against the idea of a change in the Church’s stance – for instance, DeYoung when he says, “It would be strange for the prohibition against homosexual practice to be set aside when the rest of the sexual ethic is not” (p. 48) and “If the “is-ness” of personal experience and desire determines the “ought-ness” of embracing these desires and acting upon them, there is no logical reason why other sexual “orientations” (say, toward children, or animals, or promiscuity, or bisexuality, or multiple partners) should be stigmatized” (p. 111).
I will also attempt to show that
- A change in the Church’s standards toward people in certain same-sex relationships would not run contrary to the doctrine of the unchanging simplicity of God.
- The Church has a God-given responsibility and authority to consider and make such a change.
- Such a change can be made consistently with a conservative view of the authority of Scripture. It does not require its holders to adopt a view of the kind that says that scripture is just the sum of believers’ imperfect and fallible testimonies to their experience of God.