“Marriage Equality” and Same Sex Attraction

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Reading: Romans 1:16 – 2:1

Today there is good news! Something has happened, and the world is different as a result. Jesus has come into the world: his life, death, rise and rule has changed everything, changed our world. This is good news: not just good advice. Not something you can take or leave. This good news says Jesus changes people, empowering them to live a new life of love.

This love is not an unrestricted love. It is love within limits. And these limits are good, and our society typically knows this (as the arrest of that man, who with 8 of his friends, allegedly systematically abused his 13 year old daughter over a two year period). There are some in our world who say that sexual love between adults and consenting children should be allowed. This is a heinous crime, however, and it not love. It is abuse of the worst kind. It has crossed the line. We say this because we know love has boundaries.

But do those boundaries preclude Same Sex Marriage and homosexuality? I want to address this and the related issue of same sex attraction by responding to a number of questions and seeking to bring Scripture’s light to bear on them.

Question One: What is the issue with marriage equality?

People who are same sex attracted want the right to marry, like any heterosexual couple might. The question is being positioned as one of rights: The marriage equality lobby argues that if they they are not allowed to marry, they somehow have less rights than everyone else. If you believe the polls, most Australians seem to agree with this. If anything, this indicates that we do not really understand what marriage is.

My first comment is that marriage is not a right: it is the God given, legally protected, socially received institution whereby a man and a woman maintain family life. All through human history, people have seen marriage as a means to legitimise, protect and raise children. It is the way people have solidified family and blessed society. If marriage is a right, then those who do not have it are somehow deficient. This is what the marriage equality lobby believe. But it is not true: for we would never say that widows or single people are deficient in their rights compared with those who are married.

Even so, the marriage equality lobby has positioned the discussion very effectively as a rights issue when it is not a rights issue at all. I think this has led many people to connect the issue with human rights, and who then can stand opposed to such rights? In a sense, this had led most Australians to think less critically about the issue than they ought.

Question Two: is the church just being bigoted when it opposes marriage equality and same sex attraction?

Once again, the marriage equality lobby has very effectively positioned anyone who disagrees as bigoted and hopelessly out of touch. This has been an intentional strategy for the last 25 years. Today, Christians and anyone else who upholds a traditional understanding of marriage is immediately and vociferously pigeon holed.

But having said that, I would also say that Christians and churches have sometimes, maybe often, displayed prejudice when dealing with those who are same sex attracted. We have joked about gays, teased gays, and parodied their behaviour, and in Christian communities, often left them marginalised. This exposes our fear and prejudice. Such actions, however, only last as long as it takes to discover the gay people in your family, or amongst your friends.

To complicate this further, the church has dropped the ball on this issue several decades ago. In the early 90s I was a founding member of United Christian Aids Concern along with Tim Costello, Eugene Goh and others. We sought to develop a compassionate response among conservative churches toward the growing numbers of AIDS victims. Apart from small handful of exceptions, churches were not interested. The Christian Reformed Churches [CRCA] in Victoria were not interested. My own church at the time was not interested. This illustrates how we have insulated ourselves and lost important opportunities to speak the grace of the Gospel into this issue. So it is harder now for us to engage with credibility.

Question Three: What does the Bible say about “marriage equality”

Marriage equality, as it is being discussed in the media today, is not directly addressed in Scripture, but we do have some very direct teaching about marriage itself. Scripture sees marriage as a permanent covenant between one man and one woman for life. Marriage is not a human invention: God spoke this covenant into the human race.

“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24, NIV)

Our own marriage form says:

Marriage is for the mutual enrichment of husband and wife, so they might love each other with delight and tenderness.

Marriage is given to provide the secure environment into which children may be born so they may know and love the Lord
[CRCA Book of Forms]

One thing we must remember: while Christians have clear views about marriage and its biblical purpose, the church does not ‘own’ marriage: it is not a sacrament. Further, Australia has a secular constitution. So the church cannot demand that laws about marriage are consistent with biblical teaching. Nor can the Government make religious laws: they cannot tell churches how to practise their religion. This is also seen in how we celebrate marriages in the Christian church. In Australia, religious celebrants like me can only marry “in accordance with the rites of the CRCA”. If the CRCA believes that its rites preclude same sex marriage, that may be enough to free us from any obligation to perform same sex marriages should they become legalised. But the legislation has not yet been framed. Our response will need to wait until that time.

Paul Kelly argues, if parliament legalises same sex marriage, they must also act to uphold the religious freedom of those who do not believe it is a biblical practise. One group’s freedom cannot be used to overrule the conscience of another group.

All this is not to say Christian marriages are necessarily better or happier than the marriages of those who are not Christians. With a heavy heart we have to agree that some Christians have dysfunctional and abusive marriages, and some of those marriages fail. This too is totally other than God’s plan. Further, many same sex parents do an excellent job, and we should be thankful for any context of love, security and safety for children.

Question Four: What does the bible say about same sex attraction?

For over 4000 years the church has consistently seen homosexual practice as something outside of God’s created order. The few texts we have to deal with: Leviticus 20, Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 consistently describe homosexual activity as sin. I want to look at Romans 1 to illustrate this.

Paul’s main argument in Romans 1 opens with a beautiful proclamation:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16, NIV)

Paul goes on the teach us how the wrath of God is being revealed against fallen humanity because they neither knew God nor glorified him as God. Then he works through a number of examples which show the result of human separation from God.

A few things to note:

Homosexual practise is included, but it is included with other destructive behaviours, including idolatry, degradation of mind and desire, shameful lusts, homosexual practice, wickedness, evil, greed, arrogance, boasting, habitual gossip, slander, incapacity to show love and mercy… These things are often spoken of as the cause of God’s wrath. That is, people live like this, God gets angry, and casts these people away.

In actual fact, these behaviours are not the cause of separation from God, but the effect of separation from God. Separation from God results in a whole range of behaviours that affect all humanity: homosexual behaviour is one of those.

The point of Romans 1-3 is that sin affects and impacts us all. As Paul says in 2:1

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1, NIV)

True: Who has not lusted? Who has not had feelings of greed? Who has not on occasions refused to show mercy? Compulsive gossips – are they nowhere to be seen?

This is how God’s word cuts to the heart, friends. It drives us to see the fall in our own hearts, and we are convicted by the word as much as any same sex attracted person.

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23, NIV)

So, does God reject homosexual activity? Yes. As much as he rejects all behaviour which neither glorifies him or give thanks to him: arrogance, judgemental attitudes, greed, sexual unfaithfulness, and sexual immorality before marriage to name a few.

We need to remember that same sex attracted people are not kept out of the Kingdom of God because they are gay. In the same way heterosexual people do not make it to heaven because they are straight. What keeps us out of heaven, out of the Kingdom, and away from God is sin. What brings us to God and his heaven is Jesus and his grace

To sum up on this question: what does the Bible teach about homosexual practise? Scripture says homosexual practice as a distortion of God’s created order for creation. This is not something Christians should feel superior about. If they reflect the heart of God, as Richard Hayes reminds us, people who love and follow Jesus will see this is a heartbreaking tragedy. Romans 1 is not about homosexual practice per se, it is about how separation from God has led to the distortion of God’s created order. The effect are everywhere: sexual activity and desires which do not reflect God’s design, substance abuse, compulsive gambling, murder, greed, and habitual gossip.

…people are more than their sexual choices and desires

So: Can I follow Jesus and hold that same sex activity is OK? No. Jesus came to restore God’s design for life and relationship, and those who are in relationship with him are called to bring that new restored life to light. They don’t just receive the good news, they live the new good. They don’t just receive new life in Christ, they must also live to his glory.

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:11–14, NIV)

Question Five: What about the studies which show a genetic connection with same sex attraction?

If there is a gene that predisposes someone to one or the other activity, that does not mean the activity is necessarily a good thing. Not all inborn traits are desirable and welcomed. For example, some studies are suggesting ‘the gambling gene’, or ‘the substance abuse/alcohol gene’. A gene may be there, but it doesn’t mean there is no other choice. It doesn’t remove personal responsibility. It does not determine one’s behaviour. If anything, it reminds us that the fall has affected every aspect of our being. It reminds us how important it is to find restoration in Christ.

Question Six: How should Christians view people who are same sex attracted? How can we love our same sex attracted friend or family member?

Think of it this way: Anyone here have an arrogant family member? Can you still love them? Can you love a greedy family member? Can you love a Muslim family member? Of course. To love a person does not mean we’re happy with a person’s behaviour. So you should love your SSA friend or family member. You should love them very much. God’s of to us is not conditional on perfect behaviour, neither should your love for others be conditional on their behaviour.

A few things to keep in mind here. One: all human beings are created as God’s image. Before we say anything about a person’s behaviour or life choices, we say “You are created as God’s image”. Think of the way God looks at people. He does not just tolerate people – he loves them. Isn’t that what we read in John’s Gospel?

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV)

God so loved the world. That world is fallen humanity. His love for the world is a love which, through Jesus, will have them find more life than they could even imagine.

Two: we must remember people are more than their sexual choices and desires. I do not think of same sex attracted people as ‘homosexuals’. In the same way I did not walk in here and think, ‘Well here I am talking to a bunch of  heterosexuals.’ That would be just bizarre and weird. So let us not reduce people to their sexual choices. This is as bad as judging people by the size of their bellies or their skin colour. We must see every person as someone who needs the forgiveness, love, and restoration Jesus gives. As Deb Hirsch reminds us “When you invite the messiness of broken humanity, you also invite the amazingness of grace” (Redeeming Sex, 2015)

As Christians we must not view one section of the community as being more sinful than another. God calls us to look into our own heart, and decide whether we can throw any stones.

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1–2, NIV)

Question Seven: If I am same sex attracted, can I still follow Jesus and will he love me?

Just ask: Do we believe the Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes? Or not? Of course we do! Hallelujah! Then Jesus can bring healing and forgiveness and transformation to any fallen, sinful, broken person, right? God loved the world which was in open rebellion. He still loves people who live in open rebellion. The reason Jesus came was to redeem us from that open rebellion. This redemption is a free gift. He lived the life we could never live. He died the death we should have died. This Jesus comes into our lives purposefully: he forgives and cleanses to lead us into a new life.

When you follow Jesus, you bow before him as Lord, and you commit to living life his way. This is necessary aspect of following Jesus. This is true for everyone who receives his grace. So, the claims Jesus makes on any same sex attracted person are no more or no less than the claims he makes on any other person. Christ calls us all to change. His promise is that he will bless us with his Spirit, enabling and empowering the change he calls us into.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1–2, NIV)

“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” (Romans 8:5, NIV)

Question Eight: If I am same sex attracted, can I switch to heterosexual preference?

Studies have shown that claims which suggest people can be routinely delivered form same sex attraction are overblown. A few years ago the major organisations which promoted this view, like Exodus International, stepped away from it very publicly.

So, you may not be able to change the inclinations, but you may be able to change the behaviour. In this respect the challenges facing a same sex attracted person who follows Jesus are no different to the challenges faced by any heterosexual person. Persons who do not marry are required to lead a celibate lifestyle. Yes, celibacy is a challenge, but quite probably Paul and most certainly Jesus led this life. It is a comfort to know that the Christ who calls us to follow him knows the struggles we face, and will be with us as we walk with him.

Question Nine: How should the church respond to same sex attracted people? Can I be part of a church if I am same sex attracted?

Can a person who struggles with addiction be part of a church? Or someone who struggles with compulsive gossiping? Yes, of course. But they must embrace God’s call to resist their behavioural tendencies. Desires may still be there, but we choose our actions. The most fallen and failing people need to be part of a loving community of likewise broken and failing people. Together, we must find our restoration in the grace of Christ and the new life he gives us.

As church we must accept all the broken, love them, enfold them, provide accountability – without agreeing with the behaviour or judging harshly or hypocritically. We must accept everyone as persons in their own right, The church must accept all people. They are God’s image. That image is broken by sin. Yet that image can be restored by the powerful work of Christ.

When Jesus started his ministry, he proclaimed freedom for captives and prisoners. This is not a freedom where anything goes. It is the freedom, granted through his own sacrificial death, to – at last – live the life we were created to live. The life God gives by grace through his Son.

Some 700 years before, the prophet Isaiah saw that day, when those with messed up sexuality (like us), where those who have been outside God’s grace, where all who have been separated from God will be brought right into God’s presence, healed and restored (se Isaiah 56:1-8). This is God’s work through Jesus, for all who receive him, and who in sheer gratitude, choose to do what pleases him and who hold fast to his covenant.

Jesus says

““Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, NIV)

Jesus says

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV)

[Sermon Audio is available from Gateway Community Church’s Podcast on iTunes]

Leave a comment

5 Comments

  1. Davo, I loved this!! it is so wholesome and so Holy Spirit directed. Thank you! It has been a tremendous help to me. I would like to pass on to my homosexual and lesbian friends, if that’s ok.
    Bec

    Reply
    • davidgroenenboom

       /  August 4, 2015

      Of course, Bec. Thanks for the encouragement. I hope it’s helpful.

      Reply
  2. diggingdeeper3

     /  August 5, 2015

    This is an excellent example of speaking biblical truth in love. I believe your sermon should be considered and shared so I am emailing it to others and will reblog it on my website in the near future. Thank you for being used by God to help all of us sort through this issue biblically.

    Reply
  3. Joe Vermeulen

     /  September 14, 2015

    This is most helpful Dave!

    Reply

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