Grace and truth in considering homosexuality

An overview.

Identity and fulfilment.

It is particularly hard writing on this subject in our day for two reasons. First, in matters of identity, we have been told that our sexuality is fundamental to it; second, in terms of purpose, we are told that peace, contentment and significance are found in expressing who we feel we are.

This means that anything which implies there are aspects of who we are that are not as they should be is seen as an attack on our very self that seeks to keep us from ever finding fulfilment in life.

However, when it comes to our sense of self, Christians have always held that because each one of us has turned from God, none of us are what we should be. And so, we need Christ, to renew us inwardly now, and one day raise us from death to be our true selves in the world to come.

Moreover, fulfilment in life is not therefore found in expressing who we feel we are, which is inevitably broken, confused and rebellious. Rather, it is found in living as those we are called to be - denying our selves to find joy in following Christ as children of God who are being reconstructed into his image.

We could say we are each like a car with the tracking out, constantly veering off the road God has laid down for us. As Christians, Christ gives us strength to turn against the drift. But we still await our full realignment. And in terms of sexual desire, this means that in this life every one of us will have feelings we have to suppress and not act on for his sake.

Now all this really is good news. But because it goes against the grain of our culture it is often perceived to be far from that. This means that many come to any discussion of sexuality with their guard up, presuming that what they will hear is hateful as it doesn't just accept people's sense of who they are, and challenges what they think is the path to fulfilment. But promoting the Bible's teaching is not hateful at all. It is simply to be convinced that God's way is the best way, and to be concerned that none miss out on that. In that sense it is loving.

Sex as God's gift.

We must begin by asking what exactly the purpose of sex is - what does it mean to remain on God's road in this area? And the teaching of the Bible is that sex is given by God for procreation - having children, delight - enjoying each other, and union - deepening togetherness.

The problem that has recently arisen with respect to this, is that contraception has enabled society to separate sex from procreation, and so from its biological context of male-female relations. It is therefore assumed that for the purposes of enjoyment and togetherness, everyone has a right to sex even if of the same sex.

But what is missed, is that in God's design what seem to be three purposes to sex are in fact one purpose. They cannot be divided. The reason God has given sex to unite a couple in mutual delight is for the purpose of sticking together so that they can have and raise children to know and love God. As Malachi puts it in speaking of marriage: "Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring." (Malachi 2v15)

Sex is therefore by nature heterosexual, as is evident in its basic biology. It is all about the complementarity of the sexes - uniting their differences in the great privilege of raising human beings, if the couple is able.

In this, it is to be expressed only in the commitment of marriage between one man and one woman because this protects the couple and any children against the devastation of splitting, so enabling them to fulfil this calling.

But it is more than that. It is to be expressed in marriage supremely because marriage is a picture and pointer to Christ's own relationship with the church, which the Bible calls his "bride." And that relationship is one of spiritual union and mutual delight, as Christ and the church work together in multiplying children of God through his message.

At its most basic, this is why the Bible teaches that all sex outside of heterosexual marriage is wrong. In some sense, it is like being gifted an expensive and so precious car, and not just drifting off the road, but happily driving it into the sea. It is to engage in sex in an environment it was not made for, without a concern for the one who has given it. And just as salt water ruins a car, so we see all around us how this has led to sex, marriage, and the complementarity of the genders being degraded.

But what about...?

Of course, people will ask how those who are same sex attracted or single can experience the joy and togetherness sex brings? And the answer is that unless their feelings or circumstances change (as they do for some), they can't experience these things through sex, because it is for heterosexual marriage. But that doesn't mean they must lead a sort of sub-life. Sex is not everything. Christ was the most fulfilled and happy man without it.

We mustn’t be naive and join our culture idolizing sex as the “must have.” Outside of marriage it often leads to greater heartache and emotional devastation when couples split. And in marriage the joy and togetherness it is intended to foster is often lacking because of human selfishness. Indeed, even when these are there, they can to some extent be negated by the sheer exhaustion and stress of raising children.

The fact is, those who are unmarried can usually give more than married couples can to finding a sense of joy and togetherness in friendship, and as Christians in their relationship with Christ. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7v33-34: "I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided."

In our day we need to recover a recognition that marriage and so sex is not for everyone. That friendship and singleness can offer an alternative path to what can be found in the best of marriages. And this is God's path for those who are same-sex attracted or who don't marry.

It is against this backdrop that we can now consider the issue of homosexuality more fully.
What follows is based on talks given in 2013. I would encourage you to take 15 minutes to read it all so that you can properly consider the issues raised.

A fuller consideration.

[1] Approaching the issue

1)    We must come humbly

2)    We must come lovingly

[2] The Bible’s teaching           

1)    Jesus teaches that the creation account defines what is acceptable for sex.       

2)    Jesus teaches that the Old Testament laws on sexual relationships still stand.

[3] Objections considered

1)    Isn’t this to ask the homosexual person to deny who God has made them to be?

2)    Doesn’t this condemn the homosexual person to a loveless life?

[4] Engaging the world

1)    We are to display grace

2)    We are to seek repentance

[1] Approaching the issue

A while ago a non-Christian friend raised the debate about sexuality within the Church of England: “I thought the church was supposed to be a check on culture rather than just go with it.”

Of course, there is much more to the church than that. But he spoke truth. The church is not intended to follow culture, but speak to it – sometimes commending it and sometimes critiquing it. That’s why John the Baptist spoke out about Herod’s relationship with his brother’s wife. That’s why Jesus spoke out about the permanence of marriage.

And so it is that we come to this contentious subject. I have to say that I come to it rather reluctantly. I would rather spend the time on other things. But our society is somewhat obsessed with sex. It therefore feels that this particular issue is being pushed at us from almost every quarter. That’s why we must think it through.

But as we do, I want to acknowledge from the start that some who read this may themselves experience feelings of same-sex attraction. Certainly, many of us will know and love those who do. Well, I hope you pick up that what is written here is written out of a desire to follow Christ in offering genuine welcome and acceptance as the context for considering what he has to say.

Therefore, if you would value meeting personally to talk further about struggles you may yourself have – whether with same-sex attraction or with what follows, please do get in touch.

For now, let’s consider two attitudes as we come.

1) We must come humbly

No matter what our instincts on this question, we must recognize our own fallibility. We are creatures or our own culture, and with all sorts of motives driving our opinions.

So, as human beings we must first humble ourselves before history. Homosexuality has always been around. But as far as I am aware, no other culture and no religion throughout history has ever seen it as normative in the way we are being encouraged to.

Now this should give massive pause for thought. It reminds us that views on this issue flow from entire belief systems.

The historic one that still prevails through much of the world is that there is a God who has designed us to live in certain ways that to a large extent correspond to our biological makeup. Christians add that the reason we nevertheless veer from those ways is down to a combination of three things: First, sin, which means that because humanity has turned from God, we are all born with an inherent tendency to embrace wrong desires and actions in order to satisfy self, rather than trust God or what seems to be pointed to by the created order and our consciences. Second, confusion, because this leads to societies that normalize such things, resulting in people presuming that what may be wrong is in fact right, and vice-versa. Third, brokenness, as the fallout with each generation passes is not just one of moral confusion, but internal struggle and instability.

The alternate belief system is much more modern. It believes there is no God (or no God who is involved), and so everything is in flux, and there are no givens as to how to live. And so, it is assumed that people can live as they please, and that individual freedom is the paramount value to be protected. This system of belief maintains a limit on freedom if others are hurt, but even this is often set-aside if it is felt the actor is acting according to who they feel they are deep down, or according to what will bring them true happiness.

The problem we face in Western culture is that each of these belief systems feels it is helping people to find their true self, and can therefore be hostile to the other for opposing or undermining that. Nevertheless, in comparing them we must ask whether we really want to be so bold as to declare that what has been seen as self evident for pretty much the entirety of human history in matters of sexuality is wrong, and that the view of our particular culture in this short moment of history must be right? When we consider that our culture is so defined by individualism and moral relativism, we have to ask whether it is these traits rather than a new enlightenment that is driving things.

Second, as Christians we must humble ourselves before scripture. In the last decade or so a number of churches in the UK have come to adopt an accepting view of homosexual relationships. And in feeling a discomfort over the traditional Christian teaching, it is very easy to assume that this means the Bible is not clear on the issue. But I am struck in reading scholars who critique the historic Christian view, that they readily accept the Bible teaches it. They simply state that the Bible has it wrong. For example, Walter Wink writes: “Where the Bible mentions homosexual behavior at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether that biblical judgment is correct.”[1]

As we will see, the Bible is not unclear. And if we call ourselves Christians, we cannot accept that, yet say it has got it wrong. We believe that Jesus is the Word of God who claimed to be “the truth.” We must therefore accept his teaching. And because he authorizes the Old Testament and his apostles, we must accept theirs too (John 10v35, 14v26). How else can we say that we are truly disciples, which means pupils of Jesus?

Indeed, if Jesus and the wider Bible are wrong on this issue, they could be wrong on any number of issues. In which case we can be certain of nothing about our faith and would be wise to give up on it altogether.

2) We must come lovingly

So often engaging this issue is considered unloving. In reality, the Christian engages with it out of love of their neighbour.                                         

First, we are to love the homosexual community. I hope you can accept the logic that if God has revealed that homosexual sex is wrong, then it must also detrimental. To use anything in a way that is not intended eventually breaks it.

Of course the media wouldn’t dare publish it, but in his book “Straight and Narrow” Thomas Schmidt documents the medical truth about homosexual sex. Not only can it cause painful physical damage to those engaging in it, but it means a much higher risk of STDs. Indeed, the American College of Paediatricians notes: “Violence between same-sex partners is two to three times more common than among married heterosexual couples. Same-sex partnerships are significantly more prone to dissolution than heterosexual marriages with the average same-sex relationship lasting only two to three years. Homosexual men and women are reported to be promiscuous, with serial sex partners, even within what are loosely-termed committed relationships. Individuals who practice a homosexual lifestyle are more likely than heterosexuals to experience mental illness, substance abuse, suicidal tendencies and shortened life spans. Although some would claim that these dysfunctions are a result of societal pressures in America, the same dysfunctions exist at inordinately high levels among homosexuals in cultures where the practice is more widely accepted.[2]

The squeaky clean picture we are fed about homosexuality is not the true one.

Consider now Jesus’ words in John 8v31-32: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

This has two implications for all of us. First, Jesus’ promise to those who obey his teaching in this area is that they will experience freedom. Now this doesn’t mean that their desire to live as they have done will disappear. But it does mean that in choosing to live Jesus’ way they will experience a far greater wholeness of being.[3] So our motive in questioning the increasingly received view is a caring one.

Second, we must note that Jesus calls us to repent – that is to turn from living as we wish to follow his teaching. And remember he says that it is only those who do who are truly his disciples. As he says elsewhere, only those who deny themselves for him, will therefore be saved (Matt 16v24-27). This means that it couldn’t be more serious and uncaring to teach that someone doesn’t need to turn from a certain lifestyle when Jesus teaches they do.

Second, we are to love our wider society. The past decade has shown only too clearly that this issue is not simply about what two people do in private. Homosexuality is being seen as acceptable as heterosexuality, rather like being left handed is as acceptable as being right handed. And month by month we are witnessing the logical conclusion of that: For holding a view that was the majority view of our parents, good foster parents have been rejected, adoption agencies closed, B&B owners prosecuted, registrars, counselors and politicians struck off, and nurses and teachers put under increasing pressure.

Bit by bit, we are therefore seeing Christians unable to enter numerous professions. And I am in no doubt that these issues will very soon mean church ministers will be prosecuted for refusing ceremonies that affirm same-sex relationships, or for even speaking or writing as I am here.

But I have to say, my greatest concern is for what all this is going to mean for children. Again, the American College of Paediatricians writes: “Children reared in same-sex households are more likely to experience sexual confusion, engage in risky sexual experimentation, and later adopt a same-sex identity. This is concerning since adolescents and young adults who adopt the homosexual lifestyle are at increased risk for mental health problems, including major depression, anxiety disorders, conduct disorders, substance dependence, and especially suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. Recent studies confirm that children reared by same-sex couples fare worse in a multitude of outcome categories than those reared by heterosexual, married couples.”[4]

But our own children and grandchildren will also be affected. You see if homosexuality is as equally valid as heterosexuality, then both should be portrayed in children’s films and programs, and both should be taught as valid options in our primary schools.

I have seen material from the East Sussex education authority that recommends subjects such as anal sex are taught to 7 year olds and homosexual relationships to 9 year olds.[5] It is not hard to imagine how all this could confuse and even define our children and grandchildren as they experience a right affection and love for friends of the same sex, and as they pass through the sexual confusion that often comes with puberty.

In 2015 it was reported that 49% of 18-23 year olds identify themselves as something other than 100% heterosexual, compared to 23% of the wider population; and 3.3% of 16-23 year olds identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual compared to 1.7% of the rest of the UK.[6] That's double the numbers. Whilst it may be true that more are “coming out,” the statistics may also reflect the fact that under the influence of this new ideology, many children and young people are being encouraged to consider and develop a sexual trajectory that they would not have done in a previous generation.

We really cannot shut our eyes to these things. If we establish that the historic Christian view on sexuality is correct, we have a responsibility to graciously enter the debate with our peers and to make our voices heard with our MPs. I for one do not want history or Christ himself to look back on this time and declare that I was silent.

The question before us is important then. We are going to consider the Bible’s basic teaching, and then some of the questions it raises and how we should engage with those who experience same-sex attraction with genuine love.

[2] The Bible’s teaching

We start by considering the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 19:3-11. Now, homosexuality is not explicitly mentioned here. But there is much on the topic that we can glean.

1) Jesus teaches that the creation account defines what is acceptable for sex.

We must recognize that Jesus would have been aware of homosexuality – and not just from its being mentioned in the Old Testament. Israel was surrounded and influenced by Greco-Roman culture, where both transient and committed homosexual relationships were known. There is even some hint of occasional same-sex marriages. Now consider verses 4-6. Being asked when divorce is permissible, Jesus quotes Genesis 2v24:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”  

Jesus reaffirms the core text on which Israel’s law on sex and relationships was built.

“One flesh” describes the oneness brought about by sex. Jesus’Jesus’ point is that by God’s act of creation, marriage is to be between a man and a woman, and it is in this context that sex is to take place.

And on what authority does he teach this? Merely that of whoever wrote Genesis? No, Jesus tells us that it was the Creator himself who declared the nature of marriage.

I hope you can see the point? The debate today is often said to be about commitment. So promiscuity is said to be wrong, but loving and faithful homosexual relationships right. But Jesus cuts right through that here. The issue is not one of commitment but creation. The issue is about whether we are conducting our marital relationships and enjoying sex according to the male-female order of things:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen 1v27-28)

This raises a key question to raise when engaging people on this issue: What is sexuality for? If we think it is for play and pleasure, then of course we will assume we can have sex with anyone. But the fallout from living this way, bears a tragic testimony that there is a problem with this view.

No, these verses tell us that our sexuality is a profound and sacred thing. It is for the uniting of difference through mutual delight, and in order to fulfil the God-imaging role of giving life through the raising of children, and serving the world by ordering it for good. In this it looks us forward to the uniting of difference in the union and mutual delight between Christ and the church, and in their role of bringing people to eternal life and one day reigning over this world made new (Eph 5v22-33). And this makes our sexuality precious - something to be protected, cherished, enjoyed, and used rightly.  

Of course, we might say this feels rather exclusive. What about those who find themselves not inclined to such a heterosexual relationship? Well, the disciples say that the permanence of such marriage makes it better not to marry at all. Jesus’ reply is then striking. From Matthew 19 verse 11:

“Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Now a “eunuch” is someone who is castrated. But Jesus is clearly using it in a figurative sense for those not able to enjoy a marital and so sexual relationship, because he talks about people who make themselves like that in service of God. For our purposes we just need to note that for Jesus, the only alternative to heterosexual marriage is celibacy. And he acknowledges that although some may choose that route, others will have had no choice, but are destined to celibacy by nature – they were born that way, or nurture – they were made that way.

We will think more on that later on.

2) Jesus teaches that the Old Testament laws on sexual relationships still stand.

Now we see this at numerous points. It is implied in what he has already said about creation. It is stated in Matthew 5v19 when he affirms that the law’s commandments should be taught and not broken.

But it is most explicit in his use of one particular word. It is “porneia” from which words such as pornography stem today, and is usually translated “sexual immorality.” So, Matthew 15v19:

“Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, SEXUAL IMMORALITY, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man unclean.”

Now imagine you are a Jew in Jesus’ day. From birth you have been raised to know the law of the Old Testament. It governs the laws of your society and the ethics of your community. It therefore defines what you understand to be moral and immoral. When Jesus makes a statement like that, what content would you give to the phrase “sexual immorality?” Would it be how we understand immorality today? Or would it be how your religion and society define it?

The answer’s obvious isn’t it? And it is an important one. You see, people often say that Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, or that it is only condemned by the apostles Paul and in just a few verses. But “sexual immorality” is critiqued, at my count, on 24 separate occasions and by all four gospel writers. And this is a critique of the sexual practices forbidden by the Old Testament law.

Only now then, can we consider that Old Testament teaching as it is found in Leviticus 18v22-30. By affirming the view of sexual immorality in his day, Jesus is affirming the truths of this passage. And it is striking to consider in the light of what we have learnt.

First, Leviticus 18 focuses not on the type of commitment but on the male-female order of relationships: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” (v22). Second, it links it with uncleanliness, which is to be unfit for God’s presence: “Do not defile yourself in any of these ways.” (v24) Third, there is at least a hint to sexual sin being a fracturing of the created order itself. If you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.” (v28).

This last verse is intended to shock in order to help us consider the seriousness of the issue. The sense is of the land sort of rejecting those who sin sexually like the body rejecting a food that it is not intended to digest. This may be to emphasize that such actions are against the created order.

Fourth, we are told that this law applies to all humanity and not just to Israel. Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled.” (v24)

This is particularly important to note. If you’ve listened to anything on the debate around homosexuality within the Church of England, you will have heard people dismiss the relevance of texts like this. The argument is as follows: The OT law teaches that we should not eat certain foods. Christians don’t feel they have to obey that. So, they are just being selective in saying we should obey its teaching on sex.

I have to say this is a slight of hand, and these people really should know better. No-one questions that some of what we read in the law applied directly to Israel only for a time. But in establishing what applies directly to us today, there are two very obvious questions to ask:

1)    Are there any hints that the law applied more broadly than to Israel itself?

2)    Is it reaffirmed in anyway by Christ and the apostles?

And as we have seen, with regard to homosexuality the answer is yes on both counts.


[3] Objections considered.

In my experience the Bible’s teaching raises two key objections.

1) Isn’t this to ask the homosexual person to deny who God has made them to be?

I have to say this is a huge assumption. And it is one that strangely puts more weight on the fact that someone has experienced homosexual feelings since childhood than the obvious fact that biologically God hasn’t created people for sex with those of the same gender. We just cannot therefore say that God has made people this way.

But this isn’t to say that there is no genetic factor that might play a part in homosexual orientation. In 2002 a gene was found that disposes particular people to violence. It was reported that when it is combined with an abusive childhood, it makes the individual highly likely to be a violent adult. But does this mean that God has made this person violent? Does it mean that they have no choice but to be violent? Of course not. Lying and stubbornness feel very natural to me. But if I engage in them, you would rightly call me out.

This raises a great irony in the argument that we should just follow what feels natural to us sexually. It is often assumed that what this would lead to is a peaceful world of committed couples – whether gay or straight. But let’s be honest, if we all followed our sexual desires consistently, our society would filled with the pain resulting from unbridled sexual activity, abuse, and worse. Just consider the sexual abuse of children and slaves in Roman society, or that which arises when people can get away with it in times of war.

One assumes that like the rest of us, those who are same-sex attracted are supressing their darker desires in all sorts of ways. So, if we are to define our identity by our sexual feelings, “gay” and “straight” really aren’t honest enough terms. Surely, we should be saying “I am a promiscuous adulterer” or something else. And this reveals the whole problem with assuming our inner feelings should govern our identity and morality. No, we all accept that we shouldn’t just act on sexual desire with the argument that this is how we are made. What we differ on, is over which desires should be supressed.

Here we need to think again about the Bible’s teaching on sin. You see, it actually teaches that because our race has rebelled against God, from conception all of us experience sinful desires in all sorts of ways. In other words, something has gone wrong with our nature. And if we find out that it is expressed at the genetic level, that should not surprise us.

Having said this, we should not simply accept the media’s presentation of homosexuality as something people are born with. In September 2016 some ground-breaking research was published in the New Atlantis scientific journal that concluded that there is “no scientific evidence” that sexual orientation is "an innate, biologically fixed property of human beings” rather than “the result of environmental factors that influenced both psychological and neurobiological traits."[7]

Indeed, the biggest study to date has recently concluded that the effect of genes on homosexual behaviour is less than 1%. Its authors add: “There is certainly no single genetic determinant - sometimes referred to as the "gay gene” in the media.”[8]

Peter Tatchell, a leading “gay rights activist” pretty much accepts this. He writes: “Who we are attracted to largely derives from a combination of social experience and ideology... Of course, there may be biological factors, such as genes and hormones, which also influence sexual orientation. However, the available psychological and anthropological evidence suggests that these biological influences are not as significant as social factors.”[9]

Whatever the case, all can choose not to live according to desires they have. People say this is for people to deny who they really are. But the Christian accepts that “who we are” now is broken, confused and suffering all sorts of sinful passions. No, who we truly are is the “us” that will be when raised from the dead in perfect humanity. As Jesus puts it, whoever would be his disciple is to “deny” themselves, or as Paul put it “put the old self to death” and “put on the new.”

2) Doesn’t that therefore condemn the homosexual person to a loveless life?

Well, here we do need sensitivity, but also clear thinking. Jesus’ call to follow him is a call to sacrifice for him recognizing he sacrificed everything for us. It is to put his will first, and it can mean giving up all sorts of things for the short span of this life. The Muslim convert may face a life without their family, even a life in fear of death.

Here we must recognise that we do not have a right to a sexual relationship. Jesus didn’t have one. Nor do we need a sexual relationship to be fulfilled or happy. We all know some who are married who are less fulfilled and happy than they might be single. Moreover, we should not underestimate the contentment that comes from knowing we are pleasing God and from being part of his church:

“‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.’” (Mark 10v29-30)

I have to say, these words are a particular challenge to the church not to be the sort of community where only couples feel they belong. In scripture and church history there has been a very high view of the benefits of singleness, and the sort of church family life in which singles are so included that they do not feel lonely, other, or unfulfilled. We need to be sharing our day to day lives with Christians who, for whatever reasons, are single.

Having said that, I want to cautiously say that we shouldn’t necessarily assume that there can be no change of sexual orientation for those who come to Christ. Heterosexual marriage may therefore be an option for them.

We should certainly be very sceptical of Christians who speak of instant healing. Homosexual desire is like all sexual desire. And it’s not normal for the Christian with a strong desire for promiscuity to be instantaneously healed. Rather we expect that through prayer, self-discipline, removal from temptation and involvement in a positive environment, their desires will change.

And do we really think that God cannot do this in the realm of homosexuality? It is already acknowledged that because of the influence of environment on our sexual desire and orientation, it often alters as we grow up and have different experiences.

The non-partisan New Atlantis scientific journal notes: “Longitudinal studies of adolescents suggest that sexual orientation may be quite fluid over the life course for some people, with one study estimating that as many as 80% of male adolescents who report same-sex attractions no longer do so as adults (although the extent to which this figure reflects actual changes in same-sex attractions and not just artifacts of the survey process has been contested by some researchers).”[10]

Consider a friend of mine called Andy. He speaks of how after becoming a Christian he began to experience heterosexual feelings as well as his old homosexual ones. Now as a Christian, he knew that these were the ones to embrace. And this led to him being happily married with children. Of course, his wife knows about his past, and Andy is not naïve. He is clear that he will always have a degree of homosexual desire. But the point is that with Christ there is hope for change in all of us. We are new creations being transformed bit by bit by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 3v18, 5v17).

We really must reject the determinism our society foists at us in areas of sexuality – the tendency to define people by their desires as if that is who they really are. We constantly change in all sorts of ways as we face different circumstances and make different choices.

Obeying Christ’s call to repentance may mean that the homosexual person never has a sexual relationship. But it does not necessarily mean that. As with every Christian, they are called to trust him and so submit to his will.


[4] Engaging the world

Here Jesus’ interaction in John 8v1-11 is enlightening. It’s uncertain whether this was in the original John’s gospel, but it is consistent with Jesus’ teaching elsewhere. And Jesus’ example gives two simple lessons in engaging any and all in a Christ-like way:

1)    Display grace

2)    Seek repentance

There are two extremes when it comes to relating to others over the issue of homosexuality. One is a sort of self-righteous abhorrence. I have to say I’ve rarely come across this in our country. But it is there. And if you sense in your heart a hostility to those who are homosexual, then you need to listen hard to the first of these points.

On the other hand, there are those who display an all-accepting libertarianism. This is much more common. Well, if in your heart you sense a hostility to the Bible’s teaching on this issue, then you need to listen hard to the second point.

1) We are to display grace.

That means we are to show we do not condemn others for their sin.

Jesus is masterful in dealing with the Pharisees. They bring an adulteress to him, no doubt to test him because of his reputation of accepting sinners. They are ready to condemn her, to have her stoned to death in punishment. But Jesus isn’t. Instead, he points out that her condemners are sinners too. “‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’” (v7)

Interestingly, they are convicted and disperse. And then Jesus speaks to the woman: “‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you…’” (v10-11)

Now we need to think carefully about what it means not to condemn here. It doesn’t mean that we cannot ever think or say that someone is guilty of doing wrong. Nor does it mean that we should never encourage them to turn from their sin. No in verse 11, Jesus is quite prepared to do all these things.

That means it is not wrong for Christians to influence law on moral issues because we feel it will be good for our society. Nor is it wrong to gently and wisely suggest a friend’s lifestyle is not the best one for them.

No, not condemning someone actually assumes they are guilty of sin. But it refuses to pass sentence on them. It refuses to suggest that they are beyond God’s care. It refuses to punish them for their sin by excluding them from company, or by talking them down or scoffing.

Now it is true that Jesus and Paul did say there does come a time when Christians may need to distance themselves from other Christians that are persistent in certain sin. This is an act of love, to show them how serious that sin is. But Paul explicitly states that this doesn’t apply to how we relate to non-Christians (1 Cor 5v12-13).

So not condemning others is not so much about how we view them as about how we treat them. We are to treat them with grace.

Well in doing this Jesus here urges two things on us.

First, we are to examine ourselves. “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.” We must constantly realise that we live each day only by the grace of God. If God were to treat us as we deserve, we know where we would be. So how can we possibly condemn others?

And just think: If we had lived in different circumstances, who knows what other sins we might have committed or might find ourselves struggling with.

Out of all people it is Christians who should understand the power of sinful desire. Out of all people it is us who know how ingrained it is. Out of all people it is us who should sympathise with people’s failings.

Could it be that our tendency to condemn is because we don’t have a deep enough grasp of sin? Only by constant self-examination and confession will we ever begin to see ourselves in a true light and so be more understanding towards others.

Second, we are to emulate Christ. What is striking about Jesus is that he did not just state all this, he went out of his way to show it. Consider Zacchaeus and Levi. Both were tax-collectors. In Jesus day that meant they were immoral money swindlers and agents of the corrupt Roman State. Yet Jesus took the initiative with Zacchaeus by inviting himself to his house – to the man’s amazement. And he accepted Levi’s invitation to a party where there were very obviously all sorts of disreputable types – and this to the outrage of religious people!

Well, it leaves us asking whether we are doing the same with those we may consider “sinners,” and especially within the homosexual community. When you consider how, like Zacchaeus and Levi, they are likely to assume Christians condemn them, how wonderful it would be for us to make a point of prioritising them so that they see in us Christ’s readiness to come to all.

We have a very close friend. We’ll call him Jo. We have always known that he has lived a homosexual lifestyle. A while ago, however, he actually told us, and showed us some pictures of his partner.

I was impressed that he did talk to us about it. It must have been very hard for him. And as I drove him to the station later on, I felt I wanted to acknowledge the fact that he knew our views on the matter. So I basically said something like this: “Jo, you know as Christians we don’t agree with your lifestyle. But I want you to know that it will not affect our friendship.” He acknowledged that and we drove on.

And it is important now that it doesn’t affect our friendship. It is important that we go out of our way to show Jo that we do not condemn him. And this can be challenging. Jo is a very close friend. Our children call him their uncle and might be confused by his relationship. But we should not hold back from having him and his partner around socially. And we have enjoyed time as a family with them both.

In the same way, if you are known as a Christian at work, Christ’s model suggests it is important for you to make an extra effort to spend time with any homosexual colleagues in order to show that you do not condemn them – to show that you don’t consider yourself any better, and that disagreeing with their lifestyle doesn’t mean you don’t feel genuine love and affection for them.

This is an increasingly important principle to get right in our workplaces because equality legislation prohibits discrimination against people because of their sexuality. We do need to realise that the day may soon come when this requires Christians to affirm or support the promotion of practices that in conscience they can’t. At that time, we will need much strength from the Lord to graciously but firmly state that, even if it risks our losing our jobs. However, what we can do now is not only ensure that we are free from discrimination in all legitimate areas – but show in less formal ways that we genuinely value all people as human beings, irrespective of their actions.

2) We are to seek repentance.

Having said all this, we should not compromise the need to turn from what is against God’s will. We must note that in verse 11 Jesus did say to the woman: “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Consider the following words from 1 Corinthians 6v9-11: “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

These verses are hard for us to read in our current cultural climate. But they are clear that only those who repent, who turn from sin, including homosexuality, will inherit the kingdom of God. And the reason is that we are saved through faith in Christ. And faith in Christ is proved by submission to him as Lord – to bring our lives in-line with his will.

Yet there is great encouragement in these verses too. Since the first days of Christianity those classed as homosexual have come to Christ and turned from their previous lifestyle. And those who do gain a fresh start. They are fully accepted by God. They are cleansed from any wrongdoing. And they begin a new life in which God’s Spirit forms in them the person God intends them to be.

Our greatest concern with all our friends, homosexual or not, is not therefore to speak to them about their lifestyle, but speak to them about Jesus. But when they start to draw towards him, the subject of their lifestyle will need to be raised if they are to receive all he has for them.

[1] Wink, Walter. “Homosexuality and the Bible” in Homosexuality and Christian faith: Questions of conscience for the churches, Ausburg Fortress, 1999, p47.

[3] This four minute video from Sam Allberry, who experiences same-sex attraction helpfully explains this:

[4], accessed 7/2/2017.

See also Sociologist Patricia Morgan’s book, “Children as trophies?” She considers 144 academic papers including 50 on same-sex parenting.

[5] Supplied by the Christian Institute.


[9] equality.htm