Can You Be Gay and Christian? Understanding the Debate
For virtually all of church history, Christians have always considered homosexual behavior a sin. While the secular society around them may affirm same-sex relationships, God's people have remained steadfast in their stance because of what the Bible says about this topic.
But does the Bible really condemn same-sex behavior? Is it be that our view of this topic is possibly mistaken? Can you be gay and Christian? If you go online, you'll see a plethora of Christians authors who pose such questions. They'll argue that not only is it ok to be gay but that the Bible actually supports same-sex relationships. In other words, some Christians affirm homosexuality not simply because "love wins" but because God seems to affirm it.
Of course there are a number of Christians who responded to this - as most recently seen in the Nashville Statement that basically reaffirm the historical Christian view of homosexuality. But this statement got a lot of pushback not only from secularists but from Christians too. You see, this conversation is changing within the church, which is why more and more churches today are accepting homosexual relationships.
I'm sure people from my tribe (conservative, Reformed, Asian) are confused how this is even a debate. I mean seriously, how can any Bible-believing Christian justify their faith with their gay identity? Well, let me explain.
Understanding Where Affirming Christians Are Coming From
There are plenty of Christians out there who affirm homosexual behavior because they simply don't take the claims of Scripture seriously. And this is what most conservative Christians think when they see articles online where a "Christian" argues how being gay is ok. We think they're one of those "liberal Christians" who don't see the Bible as God's Word.
However, there are other affirming Christians out there like Matthew Vines (God and the Gay Christian) and Justin Lee (Torn) that are different. Like most Christians, they have a high view of Scripture and used to believe it condemned homosexual behavior. However, after reexamining the biblical text, they've now concluded that the Bible actually affirms same-sex relationships.
But it's important to know that affirming Christians don't believe the Bible affirms any type of same-sex relationship. Like most Christians, they believe the Bible speaks against sleeping around and jumping from partner to partner. But what if a gay couple is involved in a committed, loving relationship? What if two people of the same-sex make a covenant with one another that's centered on mutual self-giving? Does the Bible really speak against this?
Again, a growing number of Christians are beginning to question this. And they're arguing that they're not abandoning the faith or undermining the authority of Scripture. Rather they are simply relooking at the question and are coming to different conclusions. Why so?
A Summary of Affirming Beliefs
As mentioned above, I've read a lot of affirming Christian articles and books re: this subject. And while each author has his or her unique emphases, I notice they all make the same arguments on why the Bible affirms same-sex relationships. Here is a brief, general summary of those arguments.
1) The Bible Never Condemns Committed Same-Sex Relationships
Authors like Vines and Lee claim the biblical authors never spoke against all same-sex relationships. How do they know this? Well, all same-sex behavior back then was exploitative (e.g. pederasty, rape, etc.). The idea that a gay couple could be in a loving, committed relationship wasn't even a category in the minds of the biblical writers.
Therefore, whenever the Bible speaks against homosexual behavior, it's only speaking against exploitative ones. But today we're talking about something totally different.
2) The Biblical Prohibitions Aren't Saying What We Think They're Saying
When you look more closely at the six biblical passages that address homosexuality, you'll realize they're not really saying what we thought they said.
Sodom and Gomorrah? Their sin was inhospitality and rape - not homosexuality. Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13? These laws are speaking against improper gender roles in a patriarchal society. Romans 1:26-27? Paul is condemning excess desires - not committed same-sex relationships. 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10? The Greek words for "homosexual practice" (malakos and arsenokotai) are ambiguous and translate better as "soft" and "exploitation." Though we were taught these passages speak against gay relationships, further examination supposedly nothing of this sort.
3) Christians Have Been Wrong Before
It's tempting to think that such views means affirming Christians are undermining the Bible. However, they argue that they're not challenging the authority of the Bible but are challenging the traditional interpretation of the Bible. After all, Christians have been wrong before in their understanding of the Bible. For example, 16th century Christians used the Bible to defend a geocentric solar system. However, new scientific discoveries made Christian relook at this interpretation.
With all the new discoveries we've learned about homosexuality in recent years, isn't it possible that our interpretation of the Bible may be mistaken? Shouldn't Christians at least relook at our long-held interpretation of the biblical texts?
4) Human Beings Were Made For Intimate Relationships
According to the Bible, God made us in His image (Gn 1:26). Therefore, like our Trinitarian God, we were made for relationships. That's why Genesis says it's not good for man to be alone (Gn 2:18). Therefore to deny gay Christians the option of marriage is not only unfair - it's denying them of their basic humanity. And perhaps this is why so many gay Christians experience leads to such torment - because people weren't made to be alone.
5) Gay Christians Are Really Struggling With This Issue
Perhaps the most powerful argument from affirming Christians are the personal testimonies of Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction. Again, most of these authors grew up in the church and know the historical Christian view of homosexuality. Therefore to be gay in a Christian context is a scary thing. They're not just struggling with sin - they're struggling with the prospect of being ostracized by their church community.
Hearing their stories evoked a lot of newfound sympathy from me. I realize this issue is not just about abstract principles; it's about real people. And if you know people who are really struggling with same-sex attraction, I can understand why you'd relook at what the Bible says about this issue.
Some Initial Thoughts
Again, I know these aren't the only arguments that affirming Christians make. But based on my readings, these tend to be the major ones that most of them utilize to show how you can be gay and Christian. And after reading these guys, there were actually a lot of things I appreciated about their books.
For example, I appreciated how well these Christians understand the traditional view of homosexuality. There's nothing that non-affirming Christians could say that would make these authors think, "Oh wow, I never heard that one before." Rather, most of the authors I've read can state the arguments I'd make as well as I could state them. That shows me the've listened to the other side.
I also appreciated the integrity that many of these authors have. They don't hide behind emotional rhetoric or personal stories to make their case; rather, they really researched the issue and try to present a logical argument. Unlike Christians on Huffington Post or Buzzfeed, they don't dismiss difficult biblical texts but tackle them head on. I respect that.
Lastly, I appreciate the tone that most of these Affirming Christians have. Most of the books I've read are pretty respectful - at least compared to the angry rhetoric that tends to surround this topic online. And this creates room for true dialogue where you can talk about your disagreements while learning something from the other side.
Some people may read what I'm saying and think I'm about to become an affirming Christian myself. Just to make it clear, I don't agree with them at all. However, I'm a firm believer that we need to listen to them before we have the right to critique them. Christians who only read about homosexuality from guys like John Piper and Kevin Deyoung tend to think it's ridiculous how any self-professing Christian could possibly think it's okay to be gay.
But that's because you're only reading about the subject from one perspective. If you want to understand how a Christian could possibly believe something is true, you need to hear it from them. You need to hear their arguments and rhetoric and story. You may not agree with them, but at least you'll understand why they came to their conclusions.
So while I read Piper and Deyoung's take on this subject, I try to also read as many affirming Christian books and articles as I can find. That way I can make sure that I'm understanding their arguments and, most importantly, empathize with their position.
With that being said, I hope I dignified what affirming Christians are generally trying to say. So next week, I will take time to offer some critiques.