Jesus and Homosexuality
One of the things one hears with frequency in our current cultural soiree with regard to homosexuality goes something like this: “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality”, and of course the intended upshot is fairly obvious. As the reasoning goes, because we can find in the words of Jesus, recorded in the gospels, no mention at all, much less disapproval of, homosexuality, then Jesus, at the very least, must have not disapproved of homosexual contact, and perhaps even, by His silence and in accord with His (imagined) value of tolerance, gave tacit approval to it.
Before I answer this, I’ll just mention that this post isn’t, per se, about homosexuality; I have made my viewpoints pretty clear on the subject, and I won’t belabor them here. Rather, this post is more about the stunted reasoning that is often advanced with regard to the stance of Jesus on the subject.
The answer to this supposed silence isn’t particularly difficult, but in this age in which serious thinking is such a rare commodity, it’s surprising how much traction this pseudo-argument gets. But here is the truth: I have been preaching sermons, as recently as yesterday, for over 20 years. I have written down many, many times over the number of words that the gospels record Jesus as speaking. Do you know that in all of my preaching, those several million words undoubtedly, I have never once said one word admonishing people against incest. I have not spent any time, to my remembrance, on some other detestable practices that I won’t mention here. I doubt I’ve ever said, from the pulpit, “it’s a sin to beat your wives, men!” Not a word–and I have spoken, as I said, millions of words–whereas the number of recorded words of Jesus has to be, what, in the hundreds, several thousand at best? Would anyone seriously suggest, on the basis of my silence, that I condone such things? Of course not. Rather, there are things that anyone with any discernment at all would know that I stand against, without my having to say so.
Rewind to Jesus’ day: we have this annoying habit sometimes of trying to project our sensibilities, our issues, on Jesus and the Bible, and expect that His Word will directly address just the thing we are asking in just the way we are asking it. Further, we ignore the cultural milieu from which Jesus ministered. In Jesus’ day, there wasn’t a burning question regarding the rightness/wrongness of homosexual relations–much like today, no one seriously defends child abuse. For that reason, I haven’t preached on “don’t beat your kid”–and for the same reason, let me suggest that Jesus didn’t mention homosexuality.
This “argument from silence” isn’t really much of an argument at all, once you get just a hair beneath the surface.
It’s much like your child saying “but you never SAID not to put beans up my nose!”
The problem with your argument (and what many people are really saying when they argue “Jesus never said..” ) is that since he never spoke about the topic you don’t know what his stance on it was AND you are inserting your own biases about what you think his stance would have been.
Not a biblical expert, but I’m pretty sure Jesus had nothing to say about inter-racial marriage, does that mean he also disapproved of them? Or does it mean you have no knowledge about his stance on the issue? or maybe he did say something about it, but it was edited out?
Two pronged response (agreeing with the author):
1. Jesus covered practically everything by saying that He came not to do away with the law but to fulfill it. First and foremost this meant His atonement for our sins, but it also meant that what the law taught was right and wrong still is. Before anyone cites ceremonial practices, remember that they had everything to do with purification, and they are fulfilled by Christ’s atonement. What people understandably find difficult is believing that this includes something so deeply personal and perhaps even involuntary as sexuality. But Scripture tells us that all sin is deeply rooted and personal.
2. If one believes in the inspiration and inerrancy of the 66 books of the Bible (irrespective of our disagreements with the RC church on the Apocrypha), then one believes that the Epistles, which do address homosexuality and confirm that it is against God’s design, are also true. If one rejects part of Scripture, than they are really embracing a different religion from historical, Biblical, orthodox, catholic Christianity. We have no more in common with them than we would have with people who believe the Gnostic gospels, books people wrote about Jesus that not only aren’t Scripture, but portray a completely different Jesus.
To comment further, the New Testament does have a different tone on the matter, because of Christ’s atonement saving us from the punishment that the Old Testament rightly told us we deserve. While affirming the sinfulness of various sins, there is a particular tone of sympathy towards sexual sins as it is recognized that they are particularly harmful to the people committing them.
Ken, my response would be to say that, sure, in one sense we don’t know for certain what His stance was, of course, but what we do know is the stance of pious Jews of Jesus’ day, and as I understand it, homosexuality was an open-and-shut case. Given that Jesus never shrank from confronting the wrongheaded biases, prejudices, and accretions to the truth that were going on in Jewish thinking and practice, it seems to me pretty safe to assume that on this point, He stood with what was essentially the unquestioned consensus of His time–much like I stand with the unquestioned consensus of my time, though I’ve never per se preached on certain subjects.
So Jesus supported slavery then?
Selling off your daughters?
Any other OT stance that he didn’t explicitly speak about?
What about things that aren’t actually in the bible? Did Jesus believe that the sun revolved around the earth? That the earth was flat?
Your line of reasoning can be used to ascribe all sorts of undesirable stances to Jesus.
Ken, those are some interesting challenges to which I’m going to give some thought. I’m away for a week starting tomorrow morning, with limited access (El Salvador), but I’m going to ponder and get back with you.
Keep in mind my point isn’t whether Jesus supported slavery or believed the earth was flat. It is to point out that you are projecting your beliefs and attitudes about sexual orientation onto Jesus.
If you wanted to say what Jesus believed about helping the poor or how to treat strangers etc, you can easily cite biblical passages supporting that. So if you said “I believe in helping the poor because Jesus believed in helping the poor” there is support for that in the bible. However, you can’t do that with your attitudes about homosexuality. You developed your attitudes about gays and then projected them back onto Jesus (“Jesus believed as I do about gays”). You can’t say “I developed my beliefs about gays from Jesus’ beliefs about them”. And that is what people (many of them anyway) are pointing out when they say “Jesus said nothing about homosexuality.”
I never liked these sorts of arguments either. I don’t think it is in the best interest of the pro-gay-rights folks to get sidelined by “well the Bible actually says this” arguments. But there are a number who disagree with me. John Shore does a fine job of advancing a number of good points about why Christians shouldn’t condemn us based on what the bible says and doesn’t say. His best case is here: http://johnshore.com/2012/04/02/the-best-case-for-the-bible-not-condemning-homosexuality/
I’ll spare you the cut-paste.
But overall, I find arguments about what Jesus said or didn’t say strange. The issue here is liberty, equal treatment before the laws, and dignity. I don’t really care to try to change your religious beliefs. If you think I’m a’livin in sin, than fine, just don’t let your opinion of my life get in the way of my rights as a human being. And I’ll pledge to do my best right-back at ‘ya.
Been way too long responding; thanks for your patience, gentlemen. For the record, I was a week in El Salvador, 3-4 days recovering from El Salvador (Montezuma wreaked havoc on me), then away for a long weekend with my wife, celebrating our 30th anniversary, then beset by about a week of the “don’t feel like it’s”.
Let me respond to Blake first. I read Shore’s arguments, and while he makes them winsomely, he builds and knocks down a few straw men, it seems to me, as well as doing some overgeneralization and employs what seems to me to be some dubious hermeneutics. I could say more, but as an aside, he speaks of certain passages being “commonly known” as “clobber passages”, which I found funny, since at nearly 52 years of age, and with 20+ years of pastoral ministry under my belt, I’d never heard the term! Depends on the circles you run in, I suppose…
At any rate, I have to really commend your last paragraph, and think that if everyone had that attitude, we’d all get along so much better. I believe in liberty; I support “equal treatment before the law” (while rejecting the accomplishment of such by means of redefining marriage), and I believe in according dignity to every person; I believe we all share the “imago Dei”, and thus I try to treat others, even those with whom I vehemently disagree, with dignity and, hopefully, grace as well!
Here’s my beef (which you addressed very well): I have long believed, and articulated the fact, that homosexuals ought not be denied some of the basic rights they’ve been denied simply because of their sexual choices. I have supported overturning sodomy laws. I supported “don’t ask, don’t tell”, back when gays did and conservatives didn’t, and if it is really true that military preparedness is not compromised by open service (which I’ve honestly questioned), then I support open service. What frosts me are two things: one, that there is a percentage of folks who’ll call me a “bigot” simply because I don’t necessarily support anything/everything that comes down the pike from the gay movement, and two, those who begrudge me my religious beliefs on the subject (and use the “b word” if I don’t accept homosexual activity). Look, John Shore may be right, though I do not think he is, or I may be right, and of course I think I am, but you know what? One thing Shore is dead-right about is this: I don’t gratuitously condemn gay people. Given today’s climate, it’d sure be easy to compromise what I honestly believe the Bible teaches; the appeal of going-with-the-flow is strong enough, and I don’t relish being a “martyr” on that or any other subject. There are issues within evangelical Christianity, for instance, in which it’d also be easier to give in and take what would seem to be a more “with the times” position, but paraphrasing Luther, unless my conscience is convicted by the Word of God, I can’t change my position. I appreciate your respect for that, Blake, I really do, and as best I can, I pledge the same back at you!
Ken, had to read back over my piece to remind myself of the point I was trying to make, and while we might agree to disagree on what the “silence” of Jesus meant, my chief point was only to try to rebut the argument that His silence somehow argues in favor of homosexuality, which is an argument I’ve heard made on more than one occasion.
Now, it’s possible that I’m guilty of “projecting my beliefs back onto Jesus”; I think there is a human tendency to try to marshal support of those one esteems for one’s personal cause, right? I don’t guess I’m more immune to that than anyone else. But I address a little bit of this in my reply to Blake; to wit, because I believe that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior, and because I believe it to present a unified message, I believe that Jesus, to Whom I’d argue all of the Bible ultimately points, is in agreement with what I believe the Bible teaches on the subject. I can’t deny that, wouldn’t attempt to. But as I said to Blake, rightly or wrongly, it’s a sincerely-held belief, and only speaking for myself, is surely not one chosen with any prior animus toward anyone (as I said, it’d sure be easier to adopt a different position in today’s climate!).
So then I’ll go back to an earlier question. Do you believe that Jesus thought:
the earth was flat
the earth was the center of the universe
the sun revolved around the earth.
and WHY do you (or don’t you) believe this.
No, of course I don’t believe those things, because the Bible says otherwise. Job 26 and Isaiah 40 make this plain (flat earth). As to the other two, my simple answer is that I believe He was divine, had knowledge of such things, and believed nothing that was untrue. I can’t quote Scripture on them, though.
So you believe Jesus was omniscient, correct?
Given that then he would have known all that we currently know (and more) about sexual orientation. I.e. he would have known:
being gay was not a disease or mental defect.
homosexuality is a natural variation of sexuality.
that gays, like straights, are capable of forming committed, stable, loving relationships (and they, like straights, are capable of forming dysfunctional relationships as well)
that a person’s orientation is determined by many factors, both biological and psychological (in fact Jesus would have known EXACTLY why a person as of a particular orientation).
Knowing all of this, you believe he would have condemned being gay as a sin?
Lets put it another way Byron:
Do you believe in a god who gives a person the capacity to love and the desire for intimacy, yet forbids that person from acting upon those desires by declaring it to be a sin?
Good and fair questions all, Ken. Yes, I do believe Jesus is omniscient (with the caveat that He laid aside the independent use of that and other prerogatives when He came to earth…put another way, I believe that as God, He is omnipresent, but He laid that characteristic aside when embodied in human flesh). To your questions, I would agree with most, but not all, of the things that you suggest we currently “know” about homosexuality; don’t know if that is encouraging to you or not, but it’s the truth. To answer your question, though, the short answer to both is “yes”, but a simple answer sounds crass and needs explanation. I believe that the Bible teaches that the only context for sexual expression is heterosexual marriage. What that means is that I do not single out homosexuality in giving the answer I do, but I likewise would say that there are millions of heterosexual people for whom your last statement would be true, to wit: God gives many heterosexual people that same capacity to love, that same desire for intimacy, yet forbids those (heterosexual) people from acting upon those desires by declaring it to be a sin.
Do I necessarily like those thoughts? In one very real sense, no. Just like I like to be happy, I naturally want others to be happy, and that desire knows no bounds; I don’t wish sexual frustration on anybody. But at the same time, I can’t base my beliefs on such factors, just like I can’t tailor my beliefs and commitments around the things I may not like about the demands God makes on me (and of course, there are plenty of those).
I’m impressed you jumped over to Shore’s website & reviewed his bit. I don’t agree with everything Mr. Shore espouses, especially his Bushesque “you’re in complete agreement or you’re against me” attitude. His sense of moral certainty breeds the attitudes of a lot of those who unfairly call you a bigot. You may have a prejudiced opinion here and there, Byron, but you are not a bigot. In fact, in our online interactions you’ve struck me as nothing close to a bigot.
But subtleties are lost on most folks and we all like for the world to be simpler than it is. Moral certainty is such a source of confidence that I think people tie their egos into it in dangerous ways. But I think that is, at the same time, a perfectly understandable & ancient human flaw. As someone who has been told from a young age that I am wrong, terrible, destined for hell-fire, unrepentant, and outrageously sinful (first for being a “Mary Worshiper” in our predominantly protestant hometown on the southside & then, later, coming out as gay in high school) I’m used to the sort of false-indignant rage which arises from a since of moral certainty. So in a way, I guess I’m saying, welcome to the club. Now let’s work together to end this foolishness. But you’re going to have to grow a thicker skin or be doomed to constant distraction.
Pontificating over; back on topic.
I think we see mostly eye to eye even if we disagree on a key issue. Thanks for not gratuitously speaking out against us gay folks. Thanks for recognizing our basic humanity, dignity, and rights. But, of course, we disagree about that one key issue: Marriage.
I believe you see my marriage as a “gay marriage.” That is to say you see it as something that is more strongly influenced by the subculture from which my coupling emerged and is, therefore, distinctly different than other marriages. But I see it as a “marriage” in the very Catholic-straight way I was raised to think about marriage. While gay culture has certainly influenced my thinking in a number of ways, it has not eviscerated the moral values with which I was raised.
I share your concern for building & maintaining a strong marriage culture in our society. I just believe that including a small group of people traditional excluded from said institution is a better way to preserve the importance, dignity, and respect of the institution than creating a parallel institution to convey the rights of marriage and therefore distract from marriage. Especially since this movement for “Marriage in all but name” is born of and driven by religious based discomfort.
I’m working on becoming concise, so I’m going to spare you the three additional paragraphs of my first draft, but I do encourage you to reconsider your support for Civil Unions/domestic partnerships/marriage-lite. Rather, I would suggest allowing us gay folks to get married where all the other sinners, nonbelievers, and divorcees have historically gotten married: the courthouse and the Episcopal Church.
“God gives many heterosexual people that same capacity to love, that same desire for intimacy, yet forbids those (heterosexual) people from acting upon those desires by declaring it to be a sin. ”
I don’t follow what you are talking about here. Heterosexual love/sex is not a sin, there are simply rules about it (i.e. must occur within marriage). There is not such option for gays.
You believe in a cruel and capricious god byron.
Ken, try to remember: “There are issues within evangelical Christianity, for instance, in which it’d also be easier to give in and take what would seem to be a more “with the times” position, but paraphrasing Luther, unless my [Byron Harvey’s] conscience is convicted by the Word of God, I can’t change my position.” Proselytizing is not going to work. Try making an argument you can win instead of insulting your opponent’s concept of the divine. You think you landed a zinger but all you did was stir up some muck.
And don’t be purposefully dense to get your zinger in: “I don’t follow what you are talking about here.” Really? Let me spell it out for ya:
1. God doesn’t want people to have sex outside of marriage.
2. Lots of people want to have sex outside of marriage.
3. There is no moral sex outside of marriage (but lots of human temptation to engage in it).
4. Gay people are people.
5. There is no marriage to the same-sex.
6. Therefore there is no moral gay-sex (but lots of temptation to engage in it).
But I think you got that. Otherwise you wouldn’t have answered him logically with the counter-assertion you chose highlighting the gay-orientation-loving-God-biblical-dilemma. Well done, except, your argument presupposes that Harvey shares in your dilemma, but why would he?
Of course there is not an option in Byron Harvey’s straight-evangelical-Biblical-based-worldview for moral gay sex. Get over it. Short of divine revelation you’re not going to change his mind in that regard.
Remember too that Rev. Harvey is the best sort of ally we’re going to have from a biblical based worldview. He doesn’t speak gratuitously against gay folks. He doesn’t go out of his way to elevate our sin above others. He supports our civil rights, in principal. So why are you caught up in his personal, well thought out, long studied, and deep seated theology? Just because he’s “wrong”? A fine mindset for a missionary not a real good one for the culture wars.
Remember too that Rev. Harvey has every right in the world to read and interpret the Bible as he sees fit. That right includes viewing us as sinners. I suggest you deal with it and chalk it up to denominational differences. Just as divorcees are unrepentant sinners in the Catholic Church so long as they refuse to return to their God ordained spouse, gay folk will remain unrepentant sinners in certain denominations, forever. Or in our lifetimes, at least.
Our best argument lies in the fact that he does not, nor does the majority in our country, have the right to limit our civil rights as human beings due to their Biblical based understanding of our sexuality nor their Biblical based understanding of the social institution of civil marriage. We are guaranteed our civil rights by our humanity. So says our foundational documents & the Constitution. So says the United Nations and every western-style democracy. So says Byron Harvey’s worldview (short of marriage-equality). So say we all.
There. Now we have common ground. Now we have a starting place. Now we’re not talking about the nature of God nor the meaning of sin nor any other unprovable tenants based on deep, personal, and unshakeable experience. But rather about the nature of a secular institution which parallels a holy one.
Blake, I think byron can express his own views, you should be putting words in his mouth.
If Byron actually believes that saying you can only have an intimate, sexual relationship within marriage is equivalent to saying you can never have an intimate relationship with the person you love, I’d prefer he say that for himself.
Nor was my comment a “zinger.” You are correct that Byron is free to believe what ever god he wants, but I am also free to believe what I want about his god. And I believe that byron’s god is a cruel one.
Way too late responding, guys; I get caught up in other things, ruminate too long as well. Funny thing is that even after ruminating awhile, sometimes I don’t find anything terribly profound to say.
Several things: agreed, Ken, we all are free to make our own determinations with regard to God. Of course, we can’t both be right, but if there is a God to Whom we all will answer, then…it is to that God we will all answer one day, you, me, Blake, everyone.
Second, to Blake, one point of “correction”: I don’t just view you guys as sinners; I view every person on earth as sinners by nature. The apostle Paul viewed himself as the “chief of sinners”, and I know my own sin far better than I know yours. All sin is 100% sinful, and while you didn’t imply this at all by your comment, I just want to make it very clear that “we all sin in many ways”, according to the Bible. Yep, you guys are sinners; welcome to the club. We’re all in that (miserable) boat together.
Again to Blake, I’d have to agree that the argument you’ve stated is your best one; I’ve argued (and have no interest in rehearsing it again, of course) that it doesn’t hold water. Frank admission: I think your argument, regardless of my opinion, will one day carry the day. It may or may not surprise you guys that I feel that my way of thinking will inevitably lose, sooner or later, but I’m not stupid, and I can read polls and understand the sentiments of emerging generations with regard to the topic. I view that as sad; you view it, of course, as a good thing.
Finally, Ken, I again reiterate–recently preached, incidentally–that we each must reach our own conclusions about God, about Jesus Christ. Our discussion has been, of necessity, a quite narrow one, focused on one sliver of one subject with relation to God. A fully-orbed discussion of sexuality from an evangelical perspective might be a good thing, but that’s not what I mean to do here. I see God as anything but cruel and capricious, when the totality of His self-revelation is considered. That, though, is a call that we each are privileged by God to make. And as I said above, I believe it is to God we will ultimately answer. For what it’s worth, I fully expect that there are viewpoints I hold right now which are completely wrong. Obviously, if I become convinced of such, I try to change my viewpoint (and that has happened many, many times in my adult life, and I expect it will again, possibly many more times). I will answer to God for those which impact my relationship with Him. As will we all.