Questioning Biblical Christian Pro-Gay Assumptions

I’ve noticed recently there seems to be a trend amongst many Christians who would claim the Bible as their authority of endorsing same-sex relationships. The other day, for example, I was reading about Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian. Last year, Steve Chalke came out in favour of same-sex marriage, and there have been others.

I don’t want to deal with the Biblical case for or against same-sex relationships here (I’ve talked a little bit about it before), but I just want to pose a few questions which people who like to talk about the Biblical case for same-sex relationships don’t talk about very much (or at least, not as far as I can see). These are all aspects of the gospel which I think are pretty key to what it means to be a Christian, although none are directly linked to sexuality.

1. Christians should bear their Cross. Jesus is pretty uncompromising when it comes to what we have to give up to follow him. For example, in Mark 8:34-35 Jesus says: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Similarly in Matthew 10:37-38: “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

Why do I say this? Because so much of what I hear from the Biblical pro-gay camp seems to say, “God couldn’t possibly have given us a choice between heterosexual marriage or lifelong celibacy.” But it seems to me that this is massively understating the difficulty of the Christian life and the sacrifices it requires – for every Christian, not just those who are attracted to people of the same sex.

Christians are to deny themselves, follow Christ out to the cross and die there with him. In Galatians 2:20 Paul says: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

2. Christians are not promised fulfilment. No Christian is promised everything that they want in this life. Nowhere in the Bible does it promise that we will get what we want, nowhere does God promise for any Christian to have a husband or wife. In fact, the Christian life can be pretty hard. Rather than fulfilment, Christians are promised persecution, hardship, and suffering. 

In fact, similarly to the first point – rather than being fulfilled, our model is Christ Jesus and his sufferings. Romans 8:17: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Or 1 Peter 4:13, “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

Christ Jesus was not married, and he suffered terribly to the point of death. Many Christians in the past have done the same, and indeed are doing the same this very moment all around the world. As Martin Luther said, “They gave our Master a crown of thorns. Why do we hope for a crown of roses?”

God does not promise us fulfilment – God desires us to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16), to be like him. However, if you look at the Living Out website, you’ll find that there are Christians there whose experience has been that radical self-denial actually leads to life in an unexpected way. “I came that they might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10) – ironically true life is only found when we deny ourselves.

3. Our desires are all wrong. The Bible consistently paints human beings as people who have, in some respects, ‘gone wrong’. The Fall affects everything about us, including what we actually want – our desires. This is literally all over the New Testament, and the epistles in particular. For example, 1 Peter 2:11, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” Ephesians 4:22-24: “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” One more, 1 John 2:16-17 “For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives for ever.”

Those are just three examples from three different New Testament writers (Peter, Paul and John). You could pretty much pick a page at random in any of the New Testament epistles and you would find something similar. Christians are constantly told that our desires need to be transformed in line with God’s will for us. This includes everything: yes, including sexuality.

This post is getting long, so let’s move on swiftly.

4. Christianity is radically counter-cultural. I don’t think there is a single instance in the Bible where Christians are instructed to learn from the world, morally speaking. A lot of Biblical pro-gay arguments seem to be using ‘trajectory’ language, saying something like “the Holy Spirit is speaking through culture”. I’m not sure that the Bible ever talks about Christians listening to the world in that way – in fact it’s more the reverse. For example, James 4:4 “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” Or, Hebrews 13:13-14, talking about having a home which is not on earth: “Let us, then, go to [Christ] outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” Similarly 1 Peter talks about Christians being foreigners and exiles in this world.

The general picture is that ‘the world’ is not for God, but is actually against Him.

5. We are promised false teachers and teaching. Finally, the Bible promises that there will be many false teachers who do not preach the gospel. For example, in 2 Tim 4:3-4 Paul says, “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather round them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” Even Jesus himself said, “false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24). Paul said to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:30 “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” – in fact in the previous verse he calls them “savage wolves“.

The point is, we know that false teaching will happen and that God is opposed to it (see e.g. Revelation 2:6, in addition to the above). So the question is, how do we know what is false teaching and what is not, especially when it comes to the area of sexuality in the modern world? The upshot of this is, I think you need to have an absolutely bombproof Biblical argument for being in favour of same-sex relationships. As I understand it the Biblical pro-gay case is being made on two fronts: (1) God is loving, and so wouldn’t do that to people who are same-sex attracted; (2) Scripture does not prohibit same-sex relationships as we know them today (i.e. permanent, stable, faithful). The first one we’ve talked about already, the second one is – at best – an argument from silence.

Is that enough to change the position the church has held for the last 2,000 years?

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11 thoughts on “Questioning Biblical Christian Pro-Gay Assumptions

  1. The church will change their views. If they want to keep a hold on the few Religious followers they have left in the western world.

    I give it 10 – 20 years.

    Saying that it depends on Africa. One of the last places the church has a strong hold and they have little communication with the outside world, meaning the church is doing great (as always) at keeping a population down and under their control.

    The church is all about control.

    What I think is great, is to see the church’s starting to follow popular culture in a vain attempt to keep hold of some followers. Really losing grip/

    That Western European Christian boat is sinking.

    • People have been predicting the death of the church for 2,000 years. Somehow it’s still here, despite the best efforts of people who have tried to destroy it, and it’s still growing if you take a global view.

  2. Yea… if you take the uneducated African countries into view then yes the church is growing. Take the educated developed countries, and it certainly is not growing. It seems the more educated a country the less power the church holds and the more believers it looses. Funny that.

    Also I meant 10 – 20 years until gay marriage is accepted in the church in one way or another. Weather its blessing gay couples or something similar. etc. That all really depends on how Africa as a continent develops. If it becomes more developed and educated then the church will have to adapt to that.

    The church will outlive me that’s for sure, but it’s ‘golden age’ in the developed world is over. That is for sure.

    Thank god. haha.

    • Actually, Darren, Christianity is probably growing fastest in Asia:

      http://discipleallnations.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/the-top-20-countries-where-christianity-is-growing-the-fastest/

      About education – don’t buy into the myth that correlation equals causation. I think it’s more likely that Christianity is declining in countries which are wealthy, i.e. countries where you can afford to live a pretty comfortable life without God. It’s no surprise that atheism is pretty much the exclusive preserve of the middle-classes in rich countries.

      And don’t forget the USA – one of the most educated, scientifically advanced, secular countries in the world – has high levels of belief.

      By the way, I assume when you say ‘the church’ you mean the Church of England, because some churches have already accepted same-sex marriage. You may be right about the church on both counts, ultimately it’s not in my or your hands but in God’s.

      However, it’s interesting that the conservative churches (i.e. those which have a traditional view of the gospel and sexual ethics) are the ones which are growing. in contrast look at what’s happened to the Episcopal Church USA – accepting things like same-sex marriage has pretty much killed off the church.

  3. Dear Phill,

    would just like to respond to your piece above. I wasn’t aware of Matthew Vines’s book until I saw you mention it – it isn’t yet published and Amazon has no ‘Look inside!’ facility so I’ve no idea what I’d make of its arguments. But I should say that I’m a gay Christian, who on this topic is a fan of the work of James Alison, Rowan Williams, Gareth Moore OP and Rabbi Steven Greenberg.

    I think you have a point that those who affirm same-sex relationships don’t much talk about the 5 thoughts you list – although I’d add that that’s not a fair criticism of all (James Alison and Rowan Williams certainly touch on 1 to 4 in different ways at points). I’d like to have a go at discussing each one briefly…:

    1. bearing the cross
    Given your view that same-sex sex is wrong (is that a fair summary?) it’s fitting that your reading of Jesus’ words about bearing one’s cross applies them to gay people in a way that means we must face “a choice between heterosexual marriage or lifelong celibacy”. But if one doesn’t believe that same-sex sex is always and in every context wrong these words don’t have to be abandoned, but apply with the same force, if a different interpretation. For example: for gay people who come out, “the denial of self and the taking up of the cross correspond, among other things, to an insistence on living in a worthy and honest way in a social milieu which tends to count those gay people who strive for honesty, as it counts all people who seek to live with a certain integrity, among the transgressors, and for this reason to despise, calumniate and crucify them” (James Alison, ‘Faith beyond resentment’, p53). James doesn’t give any specific examples but remember how Jeffrey John was treated in 2003, for one.

    I should say that this challenges me and points up where I’m not striving to live with integrity – I’m not ‘out’ at work for a start…

    2. not promised fulfilment
    I think you’re right that we’re not promised fulfilment – but would like to challenge you gently on why it is you think that gay Christians are asking for this, and maybe give an example or two. Moreover, it must be possible for a straight Christian to seek to be married while yet not going against the grain of this or your point 1… and if so, then were it granted that same-sex isn’t always wrong, perhaps something analogous could apply?

    “There is a now fairly familiar suggestion that, if what is symbolically central in the Christian view of marriage, in Old and New Testaments, is not an arrangement for procreation but a condition of living ‘under promise’, living in commitment usque ad mortem…crucis, then the partnership of two persons of the same sex is in some way ‘showing’ what marriage shows of the God who promises and remains faithful. This is arguably very different from a claim to some right to fulfilment or self-expression…” (Rowan Williams, ‘Knowing myself in Christ’, in Timothy Bradshaw, ed., ‘The Way Forward?’, pp18-19).

    3. our desires are all wrong
    Again, it seems to me a question of how you apply this to gay people, rather than one of rejecting the assumption. The question turns on how you characterise same-sex desire: if it is a defect within heterosexual desire, one way in which heterosexual desire is distorted, then your implied application of this point would be right. (And, arguably, one implication of that would be that same-sex desire would be transformed into heterosexual desire as the person grew and was sanctified). But if same-sex desire is not a defective kind of heterosexual desire, but as it were its own kind of desire which starts from all kinds of distorted places, then things would look different – but as I say, this assumption (about human desire being distorted) would not be being rejected. That’s probably too brief and glib, but this comment won’t win awards for conciseness…

    4. radically counter-cultural
    Yes again 🙂 …and there are weak arguments around for both ‘sides’ of this ‘debate’, and I think that the kind of ‘trajectory’ argument you refer to isn’t strong. But yet again it could be said that this point is not being dismissed by those arguing for acceptance of same-sex relationships. Jeffrey John’s insistence (not that he’s alone in this, mind) on “permanent, faithful, stable” runs somewhat counter to gay culture in many places for instance – and again is a challenge to some of my own behaviour. And it is possible to argue for same-sex relationships without invoking a need to ‘learn from the world’…

    5. false teaching
    I’m sure you’re right that what’s key is how we know what teaching is true, and what is false…

    You “think you need to have an absolutely bombproof Biblical argument for being in favour of same-sex relationships” – but I’m not sure that there is any “bombproof” argument either way, much as I would like there to be. Even Robert Gagnon’s arguments are not impegnable… You add that “the Biblical pro-gay case is being made on two fronts” – I think it could be said that there are more “fronts” than that, but also that the second of them is not fairly characterised as “at best – an argument from silence”… but that would be another post! Thanks for the tone of your piece though – constructive and respectful.

    in friendship, Blair

    • Hi Blair,

      Thank you for your thoughtful and gracious comment. Part of the problem with the whole debate is that it is being made in many different ways in different places – the way Steve Chalke might put something is very different to the way Rowan Williams would! Williams is a scholar who thinks deeply about these things – a blog post responding to someone of his calibre would look very different. (I don’t wish to denigrate Steve Chalke, but he’s not an academic and I’m sure he would be the first to admit it!)

      I do think my points apply fairly and squarely to many in the pro-gay evangelical community at the moment who wish to affirm homosexual relationships – the argument seems to start with “God couldn’t possibly have said…” and then works outwards. What I was trying to do was attack some of the underlying assumptions which seem to contribute to that idea.

      So, as such my points do not really intersect with the kinds of arguments I think you would like to raise.

      However, I will reply to you to try and clarify my position!

      1. My point was simply that in theory, there is nothing that Jesus could ask of us which must be placed out of bounds. If he asks of some people lifelong celibacy, that should not be ruled out a priori (which is what I perceive some people do).

      2. I don’t think gay Christians specifically are asking for fulfilment; I think it’s our entire culture. It’s no secret that our whole culture is obsessed with sex. If you’re not in a relationship, you’re missing out – etc. etc. Essentially I think culturally we have all bought into the lie that all our fulfilment is to be found in ‘romantic’ relationships – and this applies to me as a heterosexual man as much as it applies to anyone else. As above, I feel that many in the pro-gay camp (and many outside of it) now think that romantic relationships are the be-all and end-all of everything, and to be without one is the worst possible thing that can happen. I think that is a cultural assumption and not a Biblical one.

      The desire for (heterosexual) marriage is no bad thing in itself; the bad thing is the expectation that God must provide, otherwise there is no hope of fulfilment. Whether the desire for a same-sex partner is good or not depends on your understanding of same-sex relationships, however I would be wary of an argument which seems steeped in cultural assumptions about how we find fulfilment.

      3. On this point I had in mind people who make the claim “God created me this way”. As you say it’s not necessarily that simple, however I think for many people it is and that idea is what I was arguing against.

      One point, however – I disagree that same-sex desire would be transformed into opposite-sex desire in the process of sanctification. Let me give an analogy: I have several friends, some very close to me, who suffer from depression. It can be horrific. Does God promise to rid them of it, this side of eternity? No. Instead, the walk of faith with God is the key: how we deal with our struggles and learn to put our trust in God. It’s His way (or one of His ways) of making us more like Christ.

      So, I would say to someone who is same-sex attracted, and who remains that way for their whole lives, it is God’s way of teaching that person how to take up their cross and follow Christ out to die. God can and does use different things in different people, obviously – I wouldn’t say that one was harder or easier than others.

      Incidentally, it seems like God does change orientation in some people, I’m not saying that it can’t happen. God has his own purposes – sometimes for healing, sometimes not. All are called to follow him.

      4. My target here was those who do want to ‘learn from the world’. Culture has raised the question, this is true, as it did with the role of women – but the answer should not be governed by culture or ‘the world’. I think we’re basically in agreement here 🙂

      5. In my opinion Gagnon’s arguments are more ‘impregnable’ than those on the pro-gay side, which I think ultimately does come down to an argument from silence. When the Bible speaks of homosexual relationships, it speaks negatively. When it speaks positively of any kind of sexual relationship, they are universally heterosexual. The witness of the church worldwide and throughout history has been that same-sex relationships are not approved by God. Couple this with my other points, and I stand by what I said: to make such a sea change in what the church considers moral and immoral – especially when said actions have previously thought to be condemned explicitly in the Bible – you have to make an incredibly strong argument. To my mind, no such argument exists.

      Blair, I’d just like to thank you again for the tone of your comment, which was very gracious and generous – especially in a debate which can be so emotionally charged. I wish more discourse on the internet could be like this 🙂 I hope we can still be friends even though my guess is we will continue to think quite differently on these issues.

      Phill

  4. Dear Phill,

    Thank you for replying at such length – appreciate it. I think you’re right that we’ll disagree but am hoping that we won’t be talking past each other. I’m aware that your original article was aimed at ‘pro-gay’ evangelicals but part of my intention in my first post was to comment on your list of assumptions from a slightly different context, in hopes of suggesting that it might be possible to build a case that same-sex sex isn’t always wrong, while not ignoring the 5 ‘building blocks’ you noted.

    But to turn briefly to the points you make above:

    1. If Jesus “asks of some people lifelong celibacy, that should not be ruled out a priori” – I think I agree with you on that, but what I was trying to bring out before was that how you apply this to ‘the gay issue’ depends on how you answer the prior question of whether or not same-sex sex is always wrong. You may well be right that some people’s arguments simply do rule this out a priori – maybe there’s a challenge there about making sure that that prior question is explicitly addressed?

    2. I think you’re right that much of this yearning for fulfilment “is a cultural assumption and not a Biblical one”, and also that “Whether the desire for a same-sex partner is good or not depends on your understanding of same-sex relationships”… perhaps that points us towards where we disagree 🙂 but I’m sure that like you I’m part of this culture and have bought into the desire for a romantic relationship. It is hard to see friends ‘coupled up’ while being single although I have found it’s helpful to try and keep watch for self-pity (often though I let it creep in….).

    3 .I think we could talk more about some of this although I don’t entirely disagree – the question of healing for all kinds of conditions is a very difficult one it seems to me, and a short comment can’t do justice to them… though I could question your use of depression as an analogue for homosexuality. Perhaps what I said before was a little simplistic – but maybe I should add that I accept that orientation does change for some people, though evidently not usually as an act of will and in a number of cases without it being sought at all (Jackie Clune, Stephen Daldry, Tom Robinson…). One of the difficulties I find here is how to interpret stories of orientation change – what does it mean, and how significant is it? Conversely – how significant is it that many (most…?), like me, have experienced no change in orientation? Those aren’t rhetorical questions for me by the way.

    4. Looks like we are largely in agreement here yes 🙂

    5. …but here I suspect is where we disagree…:”When the Bible speaks of homosexual relationships, it speaks negatively. When it speaks positively of any kind of sexual relationship, they are universally heterosexual”. One possible response to this could be to draw a parallel with usury, in that there are no Biblical verses commending lending at interest, and consistent witness from Scripture and 1600+ years of tradition that usury was always wrong. Dr Andrew Goddard’s article, ‘Semper Reformanda in a changing world’ (on Fulcrum if you want to search for it) is a good overview of Calvin’s hermeneutical method in arguing for a change in church teaching. I suggest that a very similar method could be used to argue for a change in the teaching on same-sex sex (though Dr Goddard rules that out, without giving any reasons… would be interested in your view on usury and the change in teaching there). That would be one reason why arguments for the “pro-gay side” do not come down to an argument from silence; moreover the arguments of the scholars I listed above could be characterised in number of ways, but not as arguments from silence.

    On Robert Gagnon’s arguments I would like to say a thing or two. One argument of his is to insist that the story of Sodom bears directly upon the current debate. I’d like to suggest this is untenable, not least because, as Gareth Moore OP points out, it is a logical fallacy to “think that a condemnation of all homosexual rapes is therefore the condemnation of all homosexual acts” (‘A question of truth’, p73). Additionally Dr Gagnon is inconsistent here: on Gen 2:24 he seems to attach great importance to Jesus’ quoting of the text, yet from what I’ve seen (I’m open to correction) he does not refer to Jesus’ mention of Sodom (see Matthew 10 and Luke 10), perhaps because it disagrees with his view. Dr Gagnon is also adamant that Jude 7 reinforces his reading of Sodom (I think it’s accurate to say), even though, given the Greek text says the men of Sodom went after “sarkas heteras”, that does not seem to support his case.

    Another of Dr Gagnon’s arguments is about sameness – that there is a “male-female prerequisite” for sexual relationships, so that bestiality is prohibited because it seeks to join beings too much ‘unlike’, and same-sex sex and incest are prohibited because they join beings too much ‘alike’. One problem with this is that, as you’re aware, there’s only one possible reference to sex between women in Scripture. If sameness of sex is the key problem, it seems odd that most biblical references to same-sex sex are only to sex between men. Another problem is the paralleling of homosexuality and incest. I think it would follow from Dr Gagnon’s argument that same-sex incest would be worse than other-sex – after all two brothers (for instance) would be ‘even more sameness’ so to speak than brother and sister. But nobody, and certainly no Bible text, makes a distinction between different kinds of incest. Moreover his suggestion of a parallel between gender difference and genetic difference seems to undermine his original argument that gender difference is the key one.

    I’ve gone on far too long! Thank you again for your thoughts.

    in friendship, Blair

    • Hi Blair,

      Thanks again for your comment. I think your reply highlights once again that your line of argument is not one I was trying to address in my original post. I’m sure you *can* make a pro-gay argument while still believing in the five points I mentioned, I don’t doubt that. But I do think those five are points which many pro-gay arguments dismiss out of hand, which seems particularly relevant to the likes of Steve Chalke.

      I won’t respond to all your points but there are a few I’d like to mention.

      I agree that it is hard to see friends couple up when you yourself are single – especially in a culture such as this. This is why I think the church should be a place where people who have all sorts of struggles can be supported and encouraged – Wesley Hill’s “Washed and Waiting” talks about this. So many times churches are places where one presents a ‘perfect’ face to the world, rather than where we can go to find support.

      Using depression as an analogy for same-sex attraction is not perfect, however I think it does show that sanctification does not cleanse us all in this life – it is a process.

      I don’t know why many should experience no change in ‘orientation’ – but then, many people have struggles with particular things their whole lives (e.g. depression). God gives to each the challenges he wishes to give. There will be no freedom from sin and the effects of the fall this side of eternity.

      Speaking of usury – my former ethics lecturer Ben Cooper has written a little book on usury 🙂

      I think you would be extremely hard-pressed to make the case that usury and marriage are equivalent theologically. 1. Marriage is a pre-fall institution; 2. Marriage reflects humanity (male and female both) in the image of God; 3. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32) – the consummation of all things is seen as the marriage of the church and the lamb (i.e. Rev 21:2). Surely the theological significance of marriage is far greater than usury!

      In addition to that, as far as I can remember there is no New Testament prohibition on usury. Not that I’m saying it’s a good thing in itself, but it seems that the command is simply not really picked up by the New Testament writers in the way sexuality is. So justifying taking out a mortgage is of a different order to justifying a change from traditional sexual ethics.

      Perhaps I am too harsh in an ‘argument from silence’; however I think one has to build a pro-gay case on arguments which are not rooted in the commands on sexuality in the Bible.

      I’m not a specialist in Gagnon’s arguments – all I can say is that I have read his some of his rejoinders to criticism and methodologically and logically he seems sound.

      I don’t see how Matthew 10 / Luke 10 disagree with his thesis. His exegesis of Jude 7 seems sound; I don’t see that σαρκὸς ἑτέρας (sarkos heteras) contradicts him at all, he deals with that in his argument.

      I don’t think it necessarily follows, too, that the ‘sameness’ argument means incest between same-sex siblings would be worse than any other kind of incest.

      Anyway, thank you once again for commenting, I appreciate your gracious tone while disagreeing.

      Phill

  5. For me, the key to sorting out all questions of religion is the commandment to do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Everyone needs help. They need more humans. There is no exception. We need someone to give birth to our soldiers, bricklayers, policemen, doctors, etc.
    Everyone ages. When they do, they need younger people to help out. Social Security is set up to re-distribute money from young workers to retirees.
    Simply put: If you want others to conceive & raise children for you then you must do the same for others.
    Oh, how Darren proved Paul’s statement that “knowledge puffeth up”. In fact, the arrogance of the educated has made them irrelevant to the next generation. Even the arrogance of heterosexuals has made them avoid having children until it’s too late. That’s why there can be no control set on illegal immigration: politicians know that they must have the taxpayers to pay off the debts left by the educated who are too clever to conceive.

  6. Incidentally, when Jesus commanded us to lend hoping for nothing again, usury became a forbidden practice.

    • I would say usury is forbidden by the Old Testament code e.g. Ex. 22:25. I think you are referring to Jesus’ words in Luke 6:34-35, and I’m not sure there he is referring to usury.

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