Same-sex marriage may be the most divisive issue in America today. The church cannot be silent on this political and cultural movement. While public opinion is clearly moving away from biblical marriage, God is neither surprised nor defeated. His truth still sets us free (John 8:32). And reality does not change when we redefine it.
What does Scripture say about homosexuality?
God created sex (Genesis 1:28; 4:1) and intends it to be celebrated within marriage (Proverbs 5:18‒19; Hebrews 13:4). Men and women are to be virgins until they are married (Deuteronomy 22:20‒21, 28‒29), because adultery (sex with a married person who is not one’s spouse) is forbidden (Deuteronomy 22:22‒24; 1 Corinthians 5:1).
Every time the Bible speaks to marriage, it describes a heterosexual relationship. For instance, Jesus stated: “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5, quoting Genesis 2:24). While God intends husbands and wives to have sex with each other, his word clearly teaches that homosexual activity is against his will.
The Bible addresses the topic of homosexuality in at least five places:
- “Do not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22).
- “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them” (Leviticus 20:13).
- “God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:26‒27).
- “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9‒10).
- “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted” (1 Timothy 1:8-11).
For more biblical background on homosexuality, see my article, “Homosexuality: A biblical overview.”
Clearly, Christians must acknowledge our own sins as we deal with the sins of others (Matthew 7:3-5). But the one does not preclude the other. A doctor may be suffering from cancer while helping patients deal with their own illnesses. For us to wait until we are perfect before we try to help other people would mean that no one ever receives our help.
While believers need to stand firm on biblical truth regarding homosexual behavior, we also need to make it clear that such activity is not the “unpardonable sin.” The “unpardonable sin” is rejecting the conviction of the Spirit that leads to salvation (Matthew 12:32). It is “unpardonable” because it rejects the pardon by which God forgives our sins and makes us his children.
Each of the five texts we surveyed places homosexual sin in the context of other sins. Leviticus 18 also warns against adultery with relatives and bestiality; Leviticus 20 rejects child sacrifice, adultery, and occult practices; Romans 1 lists 21 sins in addition to homosexual activity, including gossip and disobedience to parents; 1 Corinthians 6 includes homosexual behavior among nine sins such as greed and drunkenness; 1 Timothy 1 includes homosexual activity among 13 different sins such as lying and perjury.
God’s word consistently warns against homosexual behavior. But this sin, like any other sin, can be confessed with a repentant heart. Then God promises to forgive our sin (1 John 1:9), separate the sin from the sinner (Psalm 103:11‒12), cast it “into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19), and remember it no more (Isaiah 43:25).
After listing “men who practice homosexuality” among a variety of other sinners, Paul stated: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
What’s wrong with redefining marriage?
Why does God speak so strongly against homosexual relationships? In addition to biblical teachings, there are at least four reasons why our Father forbids homosexual activity.
First, God loves us and wants the best for us. There is compelling evidence that homosexual activity is harmful and even dangerous. According to the CDC, gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men are the population most affected by HIV in the US. In 2017, adult and adolescent gay and bisexual men made up 70% (27,000) of the 38,739 new HIV diagnoses in the US and dependent areas. Approximately 492,000 sexually active gay and bisexual men are at high risk for HIV. Psychology Today reports gay men experience more depression and suicide.
Second, same-sex marriages can be damaging to children. Doug Mainwaring, a gay man who writes for The Public Discourse, is a strong opponent of same-sex marriage. He was married and adopted two children before he “came out.” After a divorce and ten years living apart, he and his wife have put their family back together. As a father who has been raising children, he states, “denying children parents of both genders at home is an objective evil. Kids need and yearn for both.”
To be fully formed, children need to be free to generously receive from and express affection to parents of both genders. Genderless marriages deny this fullness. There are perhaps a hundred different things, small and large, that are negotiated between parents and kids every week. Moms and dads interact differently with their children. To give kids two moms or two dads is to withhold from them someone whom they desperately need and deserve in order to be whole and happy. It is to permanently etch “deprivation” on their hearts. . . . Two men or two women together is, in truth, nothing like a man and a woman creating a life and a family together.
Mainwaring concludes: “Marriage is not an elastic term. It offers the very best for children and society. We should not adulterate nor mutilate its definition, thereby denying its riches to current and future generations.”
Third, same-sex marriage legislation threatens religious freedom and free speech. When same-sex marriage became the law of the land, it became increasingly difficult for those who object to the lifestyle to do so freely. Religious and personal convictions have become grounds for persecution.
Employers who affirm biblical marriage are now required to extend same-sex partner benefits to their employees. All of us, whether we agree with same-gender marriage or not, pay taxes to provide governmental benefits to same-sex partners. Churches have so far been excluded from its enforcement, but other religious institutions have not.
How should Christians deal with this issue?
So, what should Christians say and do on the subject of same-sex marriage? Let’s focus our attention on parents of homosexual children, churches, and finally believers in general.
Parents of homosexual children
For parents, there are two pitfalls to avoid. One is to condone what the Bible condemns, for the sake of preserving your relationship with your child. Any loving parent would be tempted in this way. However, what we most want for our children is that they experience God’s best for their lives, and we know that a homosexual lifestyle is not one he can bless.
The other pitfall is to condemn those whom God loves, for the sake of leading your child out of homosexuality. Any parent would be tempted in this way as well, but no matter what sins we commit, nothing we do places us outside the love of God. He does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
In my view, our best model for this situation is the loving father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11‒32). The father allows his son to live in sin, knowing that if he were to force him to come home, he would likely flee again at the next opportunity. At the same time, the father never gives up on his son, always looking for his return. When his son does choose to come home, he finds a father who never stopped loving him.
In practical terms, I have counseled Christian parents of homosexual children to state their biblical beliefs clearly but in love. Do not burn bridges with your child, keeping the door open to their return to biblical obedience. Pray for them constantly and seek other resources that may help as well. All the while, know that your Father in heaven loves your child even more than you do.
Churches dealing with homosexuals
The biblical pattern for dealing with sin as a congregation is Matthew 18:15‒17:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
According to Jesus, our first step is to go directly to this person and “tell him his fault.” We are to do this “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). If the person will not respond, we are to bring two or three others into our conversation. If the person is still unrepentant, we are to make the matter public. As a last resort, we are to exclude the person from active participation in the congregation.
Note that these steps apply to any and all sin, not just homosexual behavior. We should be as concerned about lying, gluttony, drunkenness, or any other unbiblical lifestyle (1 Corinthians 6:9‒10). And we should work for restoration of all (v. 11).
Believers responding to this issue
It is vital that Jesus’ followers live with such integrity that our lives do not contradict our message. If I oppose homosexual activity but slander homosexuals, I violate Scripture just as much as those whose actions I oppose (1 Corinthians 6:10). The Lord seeks people “after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) and found such a man in David, since “he will do all my will” (Acts 13:22). We must have God’s heart before we can share his heart with the world.
A pastor with same-sex attraction says, “Heterosexuality should not be the goal. Holiness is our standard and we are all called to be holy whether we have heterosexual or homosexual feelings. Holiness with reference to our sexuality means one of two things. If you are married, complete faithfulness to your spouse of the opposite sex. Or if you are single, complete faithfulness through abstinence.”
God loves us all, whatever our sexual orientation and lifestyle. Each person deserves to be treated with dignity. “Gay-bashing” is always wrong. It is vital that those who support biblical marriage represent God in ways that reflect well on him.
It is also important that we advocate biblical truth firmly and graciously for the sake of our culture. Obedience to God’s word is the best way for each person to live. The One who made us knows us better than we know ourselves and has given us standards that lead us to our best lives.
As “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13‒14) we owe our Lord and our culture no less.
Interviewer Hugh Downs once asked Billy Graham, “If one of your children had been gay, would you have ceased to love that child?” He responded, “No. I would not. I would love him even more!” As the father of two sons, I would give the same answer.
As we represent our Father before a broken world, may we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) to a culture desperate for both.