In the wake of the recent United States Supreme Court decision on June 26th, 2015 that imposed a same-sex marriage mandate in all 50 states, many Christ-followers are left wondering what this decision means and how they should respond to others affirming same-sex marriage. The following ten questions and answers are provided to equip God’s people to respond in a winsome, respectful way that honors their Lord without compromising orthodox biblical truths. While certainly not exhaustive of every possible question that may confront God’s people, this document offers some common talking points pertaining to the court’s decision and how the inviolable, timeless truth of God’s Word has spoken about same-sex marriage.
Some people accuse Christians of “cherry picking” Bible verses to support their view against same-sex marriage. For example, they bring up excerpts from Leviticus that prohibit the eating of pork or shellfish, speaking to a woman who is menstruating, or wearing clothes made with mixed fibers, and allege we are being at best inconsistent, and at worst, dishonest, for not upholding these laws while upholding the Levitical ban on homosexual relations.
This has become a common “gotcha” point raised against Christ-followers, but the point has no merit as it commits the logical fallacy of appealing to an unknown ending. Said another way, those who make this charge are actually the ones cherry-picking God’s Word, because if they were aware of the whole breadth of Scripture they would know that the Levitical laws are distinguished by those temporary/redemptive laws and the moral law of God. The temporary laws were solely intended for the people of Israel, specified by God for the worship of Him by His covenant people, and looked forward to the person and work of the Messiah who would preclude any future need of these temporal types of activities. For further proof of application to Israel only, consider that no foreigner, Egyptian, Assyrian, etc., was ever condemned for not following these temporary laws—it only applied to God’s covenant people. These temporary laws were further categorized as dietary and ceremonial laws (also called redemptive laws). The purpose of these laws was also to set apart a people God has called to be holy from their pagan neighbors. The holiness of God was then expressed in the above examples by protecting them from prevalently contaminated foods, by keeping His people clean from blood—seen as the equivalent of life—discharging from a living person, or by keeping His people adorned in unmixed purity to reflect His unmixed, undiluted holiness. In short, these temporary laws were meant for the holiness of Israel as “a shadow of the good things to come” (Heb.10:1). Ultimately, when Jesus came as the promised Messiah, He made a one-time once and for all atonement for sins, fulfilling what the temporal laws were pointing towards, and is therefore the mediator of the new covenant (Heb. 9:15).
The moral law is the universal, unchanging laws of a holy God, which represent His holy character, and is binding for all peoples at all times. God’s moral law includes human-to-God precepts as well as human-to-human precepts, which function as infinite expressions of God’s holiness. Thus, it is always wrong, according to God’s moral law, to lie, covet, murder, commit sexual sin, etc. God’s institution of marriage and its parameters are established in Genesis 2, and are upheld in the Levitical law as part of His moral law. When one reads prohibitions against homosexual behavior in Leviticus, it clearly harmonizes with the moral order of creation in Genesis 2, as well as the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 19.
So the answer to this question is that the reason we don’t have any double standard by eating pork is the same reason we don’t offer animal sacrifices: the perfect sacrifice in Jesus has come and the temporary ceremonial laws have been met. To continue sacrifices and other measures of the ceremonial law would be to insult the perfection of Christ’s sacrifice. However, sexual relations are moral relations as God has defined them, and are accordingly part of His moral law. The simple answer is the prohibition against blended garments of cotton and wool was a temporal ceremonial law that is now obsolete ending with the atonement of Christ, where homosexual relations are part of God’s moral law that apply for eternity.
Will homosexuals go to hell? If so, is there any hope for homosexuals to be redeemed?
Perhaps the emotion of this question can be defused when examined from a general theological perspective absent any particular moral situation. We look at Jesus’ response in Luke 13:5 to the tragedy of a tower falling in Siloam and killing 18 people. What was His answer? “Do you think they were worse sinners than the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The key here is repentance, which is essential for the redemption of any fallen human being to be reconciled to God.
To be sure, homosexuality is a sin. Throughout the Bible it is clearly condemned as such (Genesis 19:5; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:10; Jude 7; Rev. 21:8). Of all these texts, perhaps 1 Cor. 6 speaks best to our point. In verse 9, like any good teacher, Paul anticipates his audience’s response and implores them not to be deceived. This timeless warning speaks as much to those in Corinth as those today who appeal to emotion instead of God’s unchanging truth to insist there is no condemnation due to homosexuals, adulterers, or others living in lifestyles of sexual sin. What follows is Paul delineating those marked by a lifestyle of specific sins (Note: Paul is not talking about isolated acts that have been confessed and repented of, but a lifestyle marked by such sins), including those who practice homosexuality. Paul is so graphic and specific that he makes the effort to describe both the active and passive participants in homosexual acts to demonstrate the guilt of both. Paul lists other sins such as those living adulterous lifestyles, those living in fornication, those living the life of an alcoholic, those who live in idolatry, etc. Then, Paul ends the statement by noting that none of them will enter the kingdom of Heaven. (Rev. 21:8 makes the same pronouncement.)
So the simple answer is, yes, unrepentant homosexuals are bound for hell. And the same ultimate end awaits those unrepentant drunkards, swindlers, fornicators, etc. The key word for all is repentant. The Bible teaches there is no salvation apart from faith in Christ and repentance. A Christian is one who by faith and repentance has enjoined in spiritual union with Christ, who is our salvation. One cannot be bound in genuine and repentant union with Christ and live a life in rebellion to Him. A life devoid of repentance is one devoid of Christ. And that is why the term “gay Christian” is an impossible oxymoron. When we repent and it is Christ who lives in us (Gal. 2:20) we have a new identity in Him, that submits to Him and all He commands (1 John 2:3-5). That is why a “gay Christian” is incompatible with the gospel of Christ. Though this is not to say that homosexuality is the worst sin, because it isn’t (Matt. 12:31).
But the good news in the passage above is the final verse (11): “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 our God.” Paul reminds those in Corinth that some of them, now redeemed, were once lost in these lifestyles. He closes by offering the kind of hope that all of those entrapped in these sinful lifestyles have today: that upon repentance and washing in the blood of Christ, their identity and salvation rest firmly in Him. The inspiring testimonies of redeemed former homosexuals such as Rosaria Butterfield, Christopher Yuan, Sam Allberry, etc. are worth reading for the hope they convey in pointing to the power of the gospel for transformation.
How do I respond if I am called “homophobic” by standing for the biblical view of marriage?
Just because I disagree with something doesn’t mean I am afraid of it. To suggest the contrary is illogical, and it is sometimes telling of the confidence people have in their beliefs if they have to resort to such tactics. We are to be salt and light, and to have our speech seasoned with grace as we speak the truth in love. However, it is impossible to be loving without speaking truth. We should not only say that we are not afraid of something simply because we oppose it, we should show that we are not afraid by engaging in conversation and dialogue, gracefully, with those accusing us of “being homophobic.” We are to represent Jesus and know that the real enemy is not flesh and blood, but Satan. We are called to love them as we love our neighbors—as we love ourselves.
Is it true that Jesus never addressed same-sex marriage?
No, this is not true. The argument here is from silence, which is always dangerous when intended to extrapolate to larger issues. However, in this case, God has not closed His mouth, and God incarnate—Christ himself—did speak to this issue.
First, Jesus in every way, shape, and form upheld the Old Testament law. Thus, he upheld the Old Testament teaching on homosexuality (John 10:35). If anything, we find in the New Testament a continuity, a more pervasive expression of the Old Testament moral law. For example, Christ taught repeatedly that it is not the mere outward performance of the law or deed which made it good, but rather, the motive behind the deed also must be out of heart that seeks to please God. The Pharisees had many good works, and honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him (Matt 15:8). Secondly, Jesus didn’t just deem the action of sin as sinful, but the heart or desire for the sin as sinful as well, as he notes that those who look at a woman in lust has committed adultery in his heart (Matt. 5:28). And third, Jesus does actually speak to the issue of the same-sex marriage debate. Jesus, when asked about divorce in Matthew 19:3, takes the opportunity not only to affirm the original Genesis 2 institution of marriage, but unequivocally defines marriage as between a man and woman, inviolably heterosexual, and inarguably normative for all times as God’s moral law.
If God is love, then why would He have an issue with same-sex couples loving one another?
This question contains an inherent logical fallacy as it begs the question assuming that love is God’s essence and not one of His attributes. While1 John 4:8 certainly says that God is love, it doesn’t say that God is only love. Rather, it means that there is no greater expression, manifestation, or source of love than the holy love of God. The human expression of love pales in comparison to love expressed by God as one of His attributes. However, God’s love cannot be elevated above His essence, which is His holiness. This bears out logically as well as biblically. Logically, a God who is only love cannot be just, merciful, or even punish sin and rebellion. Reason then says He must tolerate all because He is “love.” However, a God who allows sin to reign and evil to oppress people without just punishment would be anything but loving. And a god that ceases to be holy is a God that ceases to be God. Thankfully, God’s perfectly holy character and infinite purity and majesty require that He punish sin because He cannot compromise His holy character. Biblically, nowhere in the Bible is God’s love mentioned as a triad superlative—he is never called “love, love, love.” He is, however, called “holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3; Rev. 4:8). God’s essence is His holiness. His love, like His mercy, His justice, His omniscience, etc. are His attributes.
Once we better understand the holiness of God, our answer as to why He would take issue with same-sex couples loving one another is easier to understand. As God’s love is the pinnacle of love, only He can define love. Love, as one of God’s attributes, is always tied to God’s character and manifested by God’s holiness, not contradicted by it. To deny the Bible’s clear teaching would be unfaithful to God and unloving to others. The epitome of God’s love is effected to us in Christ through His love for His bride, the church, which the marriage institution is to reflect. A love that knows no parameters shows no concern or true love for its recipients. As a loving father, God alone is sufficiently good and wise to properly construct love as a reflection of His character, to befit His image bearer.
Is it true that the church has never, historically, held a consistent, prevailing view on homosexuality? As such, are we on the wrong side of history?
First, we should care most about being on the right side of God, instead of being on the side of men (Mark 8:33; Matt. 10:32). Secondly, the above assertion is categorically false—the history of the church has been unanimously consistent in considering homosexuality to be sinful behavior. Even before Christ, rabbinical writings (compiled in what is called the Talmud which contained of teachings from thousands of different rabbis on assorted topics) and synagogue instruction uniformly denied homosexuality in accordance with the teachings of the Torah/Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament).
There is most certainly uniformity in the New Testament on the subject, from the mouth of Jesus, to the preaching of Paul, and to the pen of John. But beyond Christ and His apostles, the next 2,000 years of the church and its most prominent leaders consistently held homosexuality to be a sin. Tertullian, the Christian apologist of the 2nd century whose sway was felt well into the 3rd century, openly advocated and defended male/female heterosexual relationships within the context of marriage as God’s design—this as a minority voice in a waning Roman culture that openly rejected biblical precepts for sexual relations. Fourth century pastors John Chrsysostom and Ambrosiaster, renowned leaders in the church during this period, strongly repudiated homosexuality as rebellion to God. Likewise, the great theologian Augustine held the same biblical view against sexual sin, as one who was redeemed from a life of sexual sin himself, and who influenced the church for centuries to follow. Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th and 12th centuries and Thomas Aquinas through the 13th and 14th centuries held homosexual behavior to be sinful whereby practitioners needed to repent. The steady, consistent biblical view flowed forward from Luther and Calvin in the 16th and 17th centuries, to Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield in the 18th century, to Charles Spurgeon in the 19th century, to Billy Graham—one who seldom weighed in on controversial topics, but unequivocally denied with same-sex marriage—in the 20th century, and into today. The evidence is clear: the church of Jesus Christ has always and uniformly held to the biblical view that homosexuality is sinful.
What does the Supreme Court Decision mean for our church?
The Supreme Court’s ruling means that same-sex marriage is the law of the land in all 50 states. However, the various implications of this decision will be sorted out in the weeks, months, and even years to follow. While the court recognizes same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, it did hold, for now, that we have a first amendment right to religious freedom that protects how churches operate and that we will be given “proper protections.” Obviously, the first amendment and the recent decision stand in opposition to one another, as one of the dissenting justices stated his fear that the decision will “vilify those who dissent from the [decision].” So the future outcome remains to be seen. Pastors will not be legally required, at this time, to begin performing same-sex marriages. However, legal challenges may soon contest this freedom. Likewise, churches and non-profit organizations and para-church entities currently retain their tax-exempt status, but there are already threats to file suit to put an end to tax exemptions on the basis of the recent Supreme Court decision.
Churches should be proactive to protect their ministry and stand for the word of God. All churches and religious organizations should update their statements of faith and bylaws (something Concord has done) on the issues of marriages, sexuality, and gender. Churches should also update their Facilities Use policies to ensure that nothing takes place on the church’s property that is not consistent with the church’s beliefs on these issues.
Doesn’t the book of Romans state that God gives governments their power and that people should accordingly obey the government? If so, aren’t Christians wrong to oppose same-sex marriage if God gave government (via the Supreme Court) the authority to sanction it?
This question and its premise are flawed on a couple of levels, one being how it confuses the purpose, place, and priority of government, another being the logical fallacy of false attribution, i.e., assuming that something that came to pass did so by way of God condoning it. Let’s look first at the purpose of government.
It is true that Romans 13 calls upon Christians to submit to governing authorities. Verse two tells us that those resisting governmental authority resist what God has appointed. Then in verse four, the governing authority is called God’s servant and is given the “sword” to enforce its laws. But what undergirds these passages calling for submission to the civil magistrate is a deference to God as the source of all governments. The sword Paul alludes to in Romans 13 can, unsurprisingly, be pointed back to the origin of government in Genesis 3, where the first form of government appears, created by God, and wielding a sword for enforcement. It is important for a holistic and theological understanding of government to examine its origin, which establishes God’s purpose, place, and priority of government.
In Genesis 3:24, we see that after Adam and Eve revolt against God as husband and wife, they are driven out of the garden. God places a cherubim, a heavenly creature that oversees and protects God’s holiness, at the entryway with a flaming sword to protect the way to the tree of life, which later came in the perfect holiness of Christ. A cursory reading of the Bible will show that this is the first government that appears on the earth, and it came as God’s instrument for the purpose of protecting life and property. In its most fundamental form, “government” means “force,” which is precisely the role of the cherubim in this case to protect God’s property, the new lifestyle of His first couple, and His Holy name. Here the Bible lays out this normative plan from the 3rd chapter of sacred Scripture extending to the end, that the priority of government is that it is derived from God, created by Him thus subordinate to Him, and the purpose of government is to protect life and property. But what about the place of government?
Again we refer to Scripture to find that government not only has a sequential subordination to God in the created order (God as infinite obviously existed before all things and thus has sovereign authority over them), but also a theological and sequential (in time) subordination to the institution of marriage. Like government, the marriage institution was created by God, and only He, as its creator, has the right to define its purpose and function. However, unlike government, the institution of marriage was imbued with very specific guidelines, directives, and purposes versus the general purpose of government to protect people and property by force. And unlike government, the divine institution of marriage (and its guidelines) was given before the fall when all was good. Whereas government was created as a reaction to sin and when you think about it, is dependent upon it for its purpose, for without sin government is not necessary!
Finally, unlike government, marriage not only was instituted to possess a redemptive element of sanctification to reflect the coming and ultimate union of Christ and His bride: the church. That is not to say marriage in itself redeems us, but reflects the marriage of Christ who redeems us and His church. Marriage is the institution essential to meet God’s desired end for humanity to “complement” or “fit” one another as indicated in Gen. 2:18. The translated word for “fit” literally means that which approximates and complements something else—impossible in a homosexual pairing. Marriage is also the promulgated means to fulfill God’s procreative command to be fruitful and multiply. And unlike government, God deems the created order to be incomplete or “not good” until his prized creation and image bearer was given a wife to be joined in spiritual union by marriage (notice God didn’t say “it is not good that man be without governing authorities on earth”). All of these textual proofs demonstrate that marriage not only has theological priority to government, but also has sequential priority over government because it was created and existed prior to government. Thus, government has no God-given authority to define/create/alter the institution of marriage which preceded it, but rather, as a subsequent entity, to protect marriage as God’s property that He gifts to men and women joined in spiritual union according to God’s precepts for marriage.
Therefore, the background theology of marriage and government is essential to bear in mind when we later turn to Romans 13. Paul writing as a Jew through the lens of the Old Testament Torah carries forward the normative truth that government, as an instrument of God, is to rule in congruence with the precepts of the God that gives it its power. (Likewise, Paul in Eph. 5:31 affirmed the Gen. 2 truth of the one-flesh union of marriage being a divine institution between a man and a woman.) One cannot read Romans 13 in piecemeal fashion detached from the holistic view from which its author wrote; a view that carried forward implicit belief in the Gen. 3 subordination of government to protect persons and property—marriage being one [of His properties] as a divine institution.
Clearly, as governments are run by fallen sinners they are not infallible. Government fallibility was as true in biblical times as it is today. Just because the Supreme Court ruled (in a split decision) to affirm something, doesn’t make their decision right or – more importantly – congruent with God’s truth. The Supreme Court has been wrong before—such as the Dred Scott Case when it ruled to deny citizenship for African Americans, or the Roe Vs. Wade decision to legalize the murder of the unborn—and it will be wrong again. Given Scripture teaches that the unregenerate cannot discern spiritual truths (1 Cor. 2:13-14), we should not be surprised with the court’s ruling given none of the nine justices are evangelical Christians (though two justices had previously officiated same-sex marriages, but did not recuse themselves). Even Israel’s kings committed heinous sins that God punished them for–He certainly did not condone it even if he permitted it to occur! Thus, if a government requires what God forbids, or forbids what God requires, God’s people cannot then submit, and must obey God over men. Acts 4:18-31, 5:17-29, and even John 19:9-11, illustrate examples of such civil disobedience. The duty to follow God, as well as the reverence for God’s institution of marriage, exists prior to the rights of government.
Are people born gay?
In spite of massive research efforts to prove that people are born gay, there is no evidence to support this claim. While a number of research findings have surfaced over the years that some have used to make this claim, the conclusions have been very gratuitous and often based on flawed sampling methodologies (Levay study) and lack of control groups (Hamer twin study). If that weren’t enough, the researchers themselves have conceded their work does not conclude a genetic link to homosexuality, as the aforementioned Simon Levay (a gay researcher, himself) said, “I didn’t show that gay men are born that way, the most common mistake people make in interpreting my work.” Dean Hammer, in his study that failed to show homosexuality linked to the X chromosome, said, “The pedigree study failed to produce what we originally hoped to find: a simple Mendelian inheritance. In fact, we never found a single family in which homosexuality was distributed in the obvious sort of pattern.” Studies of identical twins with identical genes whereby one was gay and one was not, have also dispelled speculation of the existence of a “gay gene.”
Moreover, even many leading voices in the gay and lesbian community deny that people are born gay. Lesbian activist and feminist Camille Paglia says that, “No one is born gay… The idea is ridiculous.” Homosexual professor and gay activist John D’Emilio stated, “What’s amazing to me about the ‘born gay’ phenomenon is that the scientific evidence for it is as thin as a reed, yet it doesn’t matter.” And the American Psychological Association, an organization supporting same-sex marriage, has declared, “There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation.” Thus, the “born gay argument” is a myth that even many leaders in the homosexual movement don’t believe.
At this point, after debunking the myth that people are born gay, we should be very careful to point out that people don’t choose to develop homosexual propensities. We should be very clear and compassionate as Christ-followers to demonstrate an understanding that people don’t arbitrarily set out to choose same-sex desires. (While the word “orientation” is the new word used in contemporary discussion, the apostle Paul was not ignorant of “orientation” and referred to it as “desire.” c.f. Rom. 13:14; Gal. 5:16). However, the common ground that homosexuals, adulterers, liars, gossips, etc., and every Christian all hold together is that we can choose whether or not we act on sinful temptations. We can empathize with homosexuals on this ground, and point to Paul’s example in 1 Cor. 9:27 where instead of sin, he opts us to “discipline our bodies and keep it under control,” thus illustrating our submission to the lordship of Christ.
Finally, even if – for argument’s sake – people were born with a genetic proclivity towards homosexuality, it still would not justify the actions of such behavior. Take for example people who have been diagnosed with biological influences towards alcoholism, which, unlike homosexuality, is classified as a disorder. Hardly anyone would disagree that the manifestation of the proclivity of alcoholism destroys lives, hurts families, and is a scourge on the community. Gluttony is another biological disposition – though with different spiritual/personal/communal impacts – that is both theologically sinful, and socially inconducive. Ultimately, it is the human heart that holds the greatest predisposition—a disposition towards sin and away from righteousness. And ultimately, this demonstrates why our greatest need is Christ.
What other resources are available to equip me with a biblical response to this issue?
There are some great resources available to educate and equip one on this important matter. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as the Gospel Coalition have been out in front of this issue and can offer an abundance of resources on this topic. Some of the web addresses for good resources are provided below.