No matter where we turn in the culture today, the issues of homosexuality and “gender identity” are being hotly debated. The “homosexual rights” ideology continues to seek legitimization and approval – not just tolerance – of homosexual behaviour, resulting in rapidly changing societal mores and values. This deeply impacts us in our day-to-day relationships with family and with fellow church members, neighbours and co-workers.
Even from within the church itself there is a theology that has been emerging for decades to legitimize homosexuality through a revisionist gay theology as a biblically based, better way forward.
To someone who holds to a high view of scripture, the answer seems obvious. Homosexuality is a sin – end of debate. That may have worked a generation ago, but today there is a concerted effort to fundamentally change your mind. What we are seeing, and have seen for quite some time now, is an attempt to usher in an uncritical acceptance and promotion of homosexuality into the wider culture, and much is being centered on churches and synagogues.
That’s because, homosexual activists and their allies know that the Judeo-Christian sexual ethic found in the Bible is the last bastion of defense holding back the widespread embrace of homosexuality throughout the western culture.
They know that if you and I can be convinced that homosexual behaviour is no longer sinful in God’s eyes, that it is in fact is a better way to live, then the battle to fully implement their political and social goals will be won and a new standard can be accepted as the culturally good standard.
But questions need to be asked. What if the historical Biblical standard along with the historical cultural standard are still the best ways? What if any other way of approaching sexuality, whether it be homosexuality, or intimate heterosexual relationships outside of a committed marriage relationship, is not the better way? What if the standard of sex within a committed marriage relationship between a husband and wife is not even a better way, but the best way?
Before I get into what I believe is the best way, allow me to address two other ways and what I see as obvious dilemmas they hold.
Addressing the Cultural Way
The modern understanding of finding self is a recent approach to identity. We are to look within at our desires – especially our sexual ones – and then determine (Freud) or create (Foucault) who we are, not allowing anyone else to validate or define us or make us feel guilty. We are then to demand that the world affirm our expression of ourselves. The result is that anyone who questions our self-view is by definition attacking us, doing violence, questioning our very existence, and ultimately denying us support. But should we believe and accept this understanding of identity?
In most of the non-western world, identity is communal. You don’t get to define yourself -identity is understood from within the community, and self-esteem comes more from duty to God, family, and others rather than from satisfying desires and self-interest.
But when the psychiatrist says: “You decide who you are – no one else can!” he or she is at that moment imposing a very individualistic, western way of understanding identity on the individual as if that is the only approach possible. It is “western” because it was grounded in the Enlightenment & Freud, & framed to be a new form of social liberation vs oppression, and based on Foucault’s account of language and power. And as noted, non-westernized cultures are far less individualistic and do not think this way.
The Obvious Dilemma of the Cultural Way
The obvious dilemma however is that you cannot discover a ‘real you’ by looking at your changing and contradictory inner feelings. You will always need a standard of values by which you can sift your inner drives & determine which ones characterize your ‘true’ & ‘false’ selves. Christians believe the Bible gives us that standard to determine our de-humanizing desires and our right, humanizing ones.
The other dilemma that needs to be addressed is that the modern identity is highly performative. In other words, you must realize your inner dreams and desires or constantly perform your suffering. This leads to fragility and a need for constant re-affirmation. No wonder any criticism at all is crushing or feels “controlling”. No wonder dialogue is hard, if not impossible to come by when differing views are presented. We live in a culture of rage. Don’t believe me? Post something on social media that speaks up against the cultural norms and prepare for the modern version of hate mail.
The reason that the Christian receives so much criticism when proposing the biblical sex ethic is that most people in the culture today assume the modern approach to self-identity as a given – it is assumed as self-evident to all when clearly it is not.
That’s why it’s important to keep reminding yourself that even though your identity may have been hijacked by a very individualistic, western way of understanding identity. It is not the only approach possible. The Christians’ deepest identity, is in Christ, who loves and accepts us counter-conditionally, despite all our flaws. That means then that Christian identity is received, not achieved. And that takes enormous pressure off of us to perform and earn our affirmations.
Addressing the ‘Revisionist’ Way
As a Christian who holds to a high view of scripture, I believe that sexuality is God’s idea, not culture’s idea. That means that we should learn from God what it is, a man and a woman created in beautifully complementary ways so that they form one flesh. And to try to do it another way is a distortion and a dysfunction of the way God made it.
However, there are some who would say that scripture doesn’t say what I believe it to say, and that I need to catch up to a better understanding of scripture. Are they right?
Gay strategists Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen, in their landmark homosexual public relations manual published in 1989, boldly encouraged gays “to muddy the moral waters, that is, to undercut the rationalizations that ‘justify’ religious bigotry and to jam some of its psychic rewards.” They go on to specify that this entails “raising serious theological objections to conservative biblical teachings.”
Further, gays are called to “undermine the moral authourity of homo-hating churches…by portraying such institutions as antiquated backwaters, badly out of step with the times and with the latest findings of psychology.” (Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen, After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear & Hatred of Gays in the 90’s, Penguin Books USA, New York, 1989, p. 179).
This campaign of misinformation is often referred to as “revisionist gay theology,” and it’s presently playing out in denomination after denomination with increasing conflict. This didn’t just start in the twenty-first century. It actually began to take place within the church, in the mid-twentieth century, with a systematic questioning of clear scriptural teaching on homosexual behaviour – recalling the serpent’s question to Eve in Genesis 3, “Did God really say…?”
Specifically, the intended effect of revisionist gay theology is to disengage the church from the wider cultural debate about homosexuality by redefining it as God-ordained and morally permissible. And just like the serpent’s temptation to Eve in the Garden, leaders in the “gay-Christian” movement are tempting us with the question: “Did God really say that homosexuality is a sin?”
But wasn’t the word ‘homosexual’ only addd to the bible in 1946?
A claim that I hear of more and more being presented, is that the Greek word used in 1 Corinthians 6:9, for homosexuality, “Arsenokoitai”, was not originally translated to mean “homosexual” until 1946 when it was added in the RSV translation of the time.
The claim is that the word ‘Arsenokoitai’ is not actually referring to monogamous, loving, committed homosexual relationships. Paul’s intent, they claim, wasn’t to deny the beauty of “loving, faithful” same-sex relationships but only denying those relationships involving abuse, coercion, temple prostitution or unfaithfulness.
The sentiment is that it’s the conservative individual’s prejudice against homosexuals that leads them to misread biblical texts about homosexuality. So, then scriptures used that supposedly condemn homosexual behaviour are simply mistranslated, or taken out of context to bolster a conservative, outdated claim that doesn’t apply to our present world and in fact is hurtful to current society as it fosters hatred, bigotry, and is essentially anti-freedom.
An argument being used is that the passage in Leviticus 18:22 that says in English, “Man shall not lie with man, for it is an abomination,” is not translated as homosexual, but rather translated in the pre-1986 German version to say, “Man shall not lie with ‘young boys’ as he does with a woman, for it is an abomination.” Leviticus 20:13 says the same thing in the pre-1986 German version, “Young boys.” And then in 1 Corinthians, instead of homosexuals, the pre-1986 German translation says, “Boy molesters will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Even Martin Luther’s original German translation from 1534 of the same passage uses the word knabenschander. Knaben is boy, schander is molester. This word “boy molesters” for the most part carried through the next several centuries of German Bible translations. Interestingly, Knabenschander is also found in 1 Timothy 1:10.
So then why is the same word (in Greek Arsenokoitai) translated as ‘boy molester’ in both the older English and German translations, changed to ‘homosexual’ in the English in 1946 and the German in 1986? Is it simply to reflect the church’s fear of the sexual revolution and to somehow regain control of the bedroom?
The Obvious Dilemma of The ‘Revisionist’ Way
Revisionist gay theology has an obvious dilemma in that it visibly violates God’s intentional design for gender and sexuality by saying that women don’t need men and men don’t need women. That comes out of a humanistic ideology that places human feelings and desires above biblical truth, leading people to believe lies.
So, instead of the conservative individuals prejudice against homosexuals that leads to misreading biblical texts about homosexuality, it’s more often those having a personal interest in the promotion of gay revisionist theology, that twist the plain teaching of Scripture to support and justify their behaviour.
That’s why we can’t base our arguments as heavily as some might wish on English or German translations, because that is exactly what they are – translations. So, to either bolster an argument or to refute one, it’s always best to go back to the language these versions were translated from if at all possible, and it is possible in this case. For the New Testament passages we of course must go to the Greek.
The Greek word Arsenokoitai is a compound word: arseno is the word for “a male,” and koitai is the word for “mat” or “bed.” Put the two halves together, and the word means “a male bed” – that is, a person who makes use of a “male-only bed” or a “bed for males.”
The word meaning “bed” carries a sexual connotation in this context – the Greek koitai is the source of our English word coitus (“sexual intercourse”). The conclusion is that the word arsenokoitai is referring to homosexuals – men who are in bed with other men, engaging in same-gender sexual activity. The fact that the English word ‘homosexual’ wasn’t specifically used until 1946 only indicates the English translations were keeping up with the changing language, not battling the changing morality.
This argument is further bolstered in that the notion that some homosexual relationships are accepted, is not even hinted at in the passages that are translated from Arsenokoitai. The men’s commitment level or the presence of “love” is not even addressed. Further, the idea that the condemned same-sex activity is linked to economic exploitation or abuse is also a forced reading with no textual basis.
When we read that homosexuality in Leviticus, Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy is mentioned in the wider context of sexual, immoral, and prohibited behaviours, all of which elaborate on the commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” we can’t help but understand it as a clear prohibition of sex outside of a male-female marriage.
In an attempt to make homosexual behaviour compatible with Christianity, you can’t just redefine the ‘Greek’ word. The lie of the enemy, “did God really say” … can’t work here.
A Better Way
In Genesis 1 we see God’s plan in everything. We continually see pairs of different but complementary things made to work together. For example, heaven and earth, sea and land, God and humanity, light and dark. It is part of the brilliance, wonder and the glorious dance of God’s creation that diverse, unlike things are made to unite and create dynamic wholes which generate more and more life and beauty through their relationships. As N.T. Wright points out, the creation and uniting of male and female at the end of Genesis 2 is the climax of all this.
That means that male and female have unique, non-interchangeable glories – they each see and do things that the other cannot. Sex was created by God to be a way to mingle these strengths and glories within a life-long covenant of marriage. Marriage is the most intense (though not the only) place where this reunion of male and female takes place in human life. Male and female reshape, learn from, and work together.
That’s why, in one of the great ironies of our western modern culture, when we celebrate diversity in so many other cultural sectors, we have truncated the better way, actual the best way in the ultimate unity-in-diversity – inter-gendered sexual union within the covenant of marriage.
But without understanding this vision, the sexual prohibitions in scripture just don’t make sense. But it’s because of this vision that helps one understand that homosexuality does not come close to meeting the need for this rich diversity of perspective and gendered humanity in sexual relationships. Same-sex relationships not only cannot provide this for each spouse, they can’t provide children with a deep connection to each half of humanity through a parent of each gender.
How Do We Respond To The Changing Culture?
It’s one thing to know what I believe, but it’s an entirely different thing to live out what I believe. When it comes to a response to the changing culture, specifically homosexuality, our response must be biblical and it must be saturated in love.
Someone might object, “But we are loving. We hate the sin but love the sinner.” I have news for you: the world isn’t feeling the love. According to recent research, when the vast majority of Christians and non-Christians want to describe the church, they call it “anti-homosexual.” We might understand what we mean by the “hate the sin but love the sinner” comment, but the phrase is highly despised in the LBGTQ community.
The problem isn’t our stance on homosexuality. We oppose this lifestyle because the Bible opposes it. We are right to be concerned when society drives at breakneck speed into a dense fog, with no apparent regard for what the future may hold. Our message may be right, but we are not as loving as we think we are. Why? Because we don’t express an essential element of love, we don’t “serve one another humbly in love” – Galatians 5:13 We need to do better at being known for humble love.
For one, we must humble ourselves for wrongly assuming that those who support a gay lifestyle do so out of disdain for morality. There are other reasons (maybe even good reasons) why people support gay rights, such as concern for the mental health of those struggling with same sex attraction, some of those struggles ending in suicide.
Many people support gay rights because they value authenticity. They reason that those who see themselves as gay should have the right to act consistent with their self-understanding. Some support gay rights as an act of resistance against what they see as untoward government intrusion. If we’re humble, we’ll be aware that those on the other side of this issue may have motives we can affirm.
We must humble ourselves, second, for how we’ve reacted. Some of us have lived by a double standard, condemning others’ sins but neglecting our own. We’ve not been good listeners, considering ourselves righteous for refusing to engage with those who differ from us. We’ve called our response “righteous indignation,” when it may have been only “fear of the other.” And when some of our own have honestly shared their same sex attraction, we have tended to treat them like enemies, not family. If we’re humble, we’ll admit we’ve responded poorly.
True love is not only humble, it serves others. If we were going overseas to work as a missionary, we would be very conscious that we were there to serve, not to be served. We would bend over backward to avoid offense. Among those already offended, we would bend even further.
The church must become a community that provides a loving environment for these who struggle with their sexuality and gender. After all, if “God’s kindness is intended to lead [us] to repentance.” – Romans 2:4, perhaps he wants to accomplish the same result from our kindness with others.
Please don’t mis-hear me. Telling the whole truth is needed now more than ever. But by only sharing part of the Bible’s message, we’ve made matters worse. We must not shy away from speaking of God’s disapproval of gay sex, even if this makes some unhappy. While at the same time, and with equal conviction, speak of the freedom to live above our natural state, to discover a better way. And back up our words with our example, lives of humble service that express the love of Jesus, because that is the world’s best hope and that is the best way.