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Homosexuality Comes to Church

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M.D. Perkins Research Fellow of Church and Culture MORE

Homosexuality Comes to Church: Standing Firm in a Culture That Embraces Chaos

Over the past 50 years, homosexuality has been one of the most controversial topics among Christians. Is it a sin? Does the Bible endorse gay marriage? Is homosexuality an expression of God’s design? These questions have obvious answers and yet they have swirled around us incessantly - causing confusion and calling us to change our historic views. The confusion is not a result of the Bible being unclear - rather, it is the fruit of decades of targeted debates and attempts to shift conservative Christian views. 

A Brief History of “Gay Christianity” 

For two thousand years of Church history, homosexuality was understood to be an abomination (Leviticus 18:22), an incitement of God’s wrath (Genesis 19), a dishonorable passion (Romans 1:26), unnatural relating (Romans 1:27), and a lifestyle that kept a person from inheriting God’s Kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). This biblical understanding shaped Western social views until the 19th century as the influence of naturalism began to diminish biblical thinking. But it wasn’t until the 20th and 21st centuries that the Christian church would come to rethink homosexuality as well. 

The first Christian book to directly challenge the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality was published in Britain in 1955 but the ideas surrounding “gay Christianity” (the movement to affirm homosexuality in the Church) would not find a broad voice in America until the 1970s. This was due, in part, to the American Psychiatric Association - under direct pressure from gay activists - removing homosexuality from their list of mental disorders in 1973. Even though this was not a religious decision, the ripple effects throughout the Church would be enormous. 

The mainline denominations were riddled with theological liberalism, particularly in their view of Scripture. Theological liberalism doubted the Bible’s relevance for modern times and sought to make it more palatable for the modern man. When psychiatric professionals said homosexuality was healthy and normal, the push by theological liberals was to rethink the Bible in light of it. Gradually over the next 40 years, the mainline churches would become affirming of homosexuality - ordaining gay clergy, solemnizing gay marriages, promoting LGBT political causes, and declaring homosexuality no longer sinful. 

Evangelicals did not immediately follow suit. Many actively pushed back against the onslaught of gay social causes while also lamenting the worldliness of the mainline denominations. But, as debates surrounding gay marriage intensified in the 2000s and 2010s, more evangelical leaders began to openly embrace affirming theology. Other leaders simply became vague about their views - refusing to give straightforward answers when asked. As the culture has been won over to the LGBT agenda, there is tremendous pressure on evangelicals to rethink their strident positions.

How to Stand Firm 

Where we find ourselves in America today is in the midst of a culture that believes homosexuality is inborn and unchangeable and any viewpoint that counters that narrative is seen as abusive and cruel. The Church - by its teaching on sexual sin and the biblical acknowledgment that Christ sets people free from their bondage to sin - now lives with a target on its back. The pressure to compromise is great and the cultural cost seems so small. Empathy is prized over truth. 

So, how can Christians remain faithful while surrounded by confusion within our churches? 

Be rooted. We must be rooted and grounded in the truth (Colossians 2:6-7). We need the Scriptures to teach us, rebuke us, correct us, and train us in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If we are going to avoid being conformed to this world, then we must be transformed by the renewal of our minds so that we can properly discern the will of God (Romans 12:2). When we are grounded by the Word, we are not taken captive by vain philosophy and empty deceit (Colossians 2:8) and no longer tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). 

Be discerning. Discernment is the ability to make accurate spiritual judgments on situations and statements. There are many voices that clamor for our attention and not all of them are helpful or true (1 John 4:1). If something doesn’t sound right - even if it comes from a popular evangelical author or a long-time church friend - we should be cautious. Seek clarity and understanding so that a proper response can be given. 

Homosexuality may seem “nonessential” or “secondary” issue, but it immediately touches on doctrines essential to the Christian faith. What is sin? What does it mean to be a Christian? What is the purpose of the Church? These are questions immediately raised by the affirming of homosexuality. We might be told that testing what people say by the Bible is unloving but not according to the Apostle Paul. “With knowledge and all discernment” is the very way in which our love should abound (Philippians 1:9-11).

Be confident. Because God has called His people to stand firm and discern truth from error, He will also give us the grace we need to fulfill our calling (2 Timothy 1:8-9). If we fear God, then we have no cause to fear man (Hebrews 13:6). Sometimes, we will need to boldly confront those who are in error or who are being elusive in their answers to silence them (Titus 1:10-11). Sometimes we will need to patiently help someone understand how they have believed lies (Galatians 6:1-2). Both tasks require the confidence that comes from fearing the Lord (Proverbs 14:26). 

Be dependent on God. We are not sufficient for the task of bearing witness in a hostile culture (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). Our commitment to righteousness will look strange to those around us - perhaps even to some who sit beside us on Sunday mornings. We need the Lord’s sustaining grace to keep us focused and to protect us from falling. But the Lord is not unaware of the challenges we face nor is His arm short to save (Isaiah 59:1). Indeed, God loves to answer the prayers of His people (Psalm 37:4-6). “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

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