A New Kind of Christianity – The Sex Question

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For some reason, every time I write about the issue of sexuality, I get myself into trouble. I’m not sure how I do it, but I do.

McLaren seems to have the same problem; but I know why he gets himself into trouble. He refuses to take a position and yet he constantly pushes people to ‘expand’ their thinking. In other words, his position is that your position is wrong – specifically if you believe that homosexuality is a sin.

So, let me make my position clear – so the fundamentalists will be happy and the ACLU can get their lawsuit ready. The Bible is pretty clear that homosexuality is a sin. Sorry, that’s just what the Bible says. No matter how you try to manipulate the words of Romans 1:26-27, they are still pretty clear that homosexuality is an act motivated by sin.

That being said, I think we approach homosexuality as a sin WRONG.

Example #1 – The Couple

Consider this situation – a young couple comes in the back door of the church during service. They sit in the back row and the young man puts his arm around his companion. He whispers in his partner’s ear during the service. They might even be holding hands during the songs. They both smile and laugh at the right times. During conversation with one of the parishioners, they indicate that they are living together and looking for a church.

If the partner in the story were a beautiful young lady, we would smile and invite them to journey with us. Inside our heads, we would be saying, “Maybe as they grow, they will realize they are living in sin and need to get married.”

Now imagine that the partner is a handsome young man. This is a GAY couple. How would most churches’ response change? How would they have looked at the couple while they held hands there in the back row? Would the pastor have even been able to finish his sermon without calling them out? Would the ushers have quietly (or not so quietly) escorted them out of the building?

But what’s the difference? When we thought the partner was a female, they were living in sin. Now we know it is a male, and they’re living in sin. Both are SINNING. Adultery is a sin; fornication is a sin; homosexuality is a sin.

Example #2 – The Porn

A mother opens her son’s underwear drawer to put some folded clothes away and discovers his stash of girlie magazines. She is shocked and appalled. She tells her husband about them – after she’s thrown them away to keep her husband from sinning. When their son comes home from school, they confront him. The father takes his son aside after they talk with the mother. “Look, son,” he says with a bit of a secret smile. “I know you’re curious. Women are attractive. It’s not that big of a deal; but you need to deal with this so your eyes and mind are pure when you get married. Wouldn’t want your wife to have to live up to unrealistic expectations.” This is usually concluded with a snicker or a punch on the arm.

Now flip the situation. It is a teenage GIRL who has stashed female pornography. Mother is disgusted. Dad is ashamed. She comes home to accusations, “Are you a lesbian or something!?!” Her parents begin to wonder whether those sleepovers were really all that innocent. The girl is ostracized.

But what’s the difference? Pornography is pornography, regardless who it is that you’re looking at naked or having sex. Do you see the difference though?

I Call This The “Gays-Are-Gross” Factor

For most Christians, homosexuality is elevated above other sexual sin. It is treated as if it is somehow worse than adultery or fornication. This is cultural and not biblical.

(It fascinates me that this elevation of homosexuality has risen to such a level that we actually read it back into biblical accounts, like the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. We focus on the homosexual aspect of the passage while ignoring the fact that Lot permits a gang rape of his daughters. By the way, Ezekiel states plainly that Sodom was judged for greed and inhospitality, not homosexuality – Ezekiel 16:48-49)

We were created as sexual creatures. Sin has perverted that sexuality – whether it is perverted into pursuing multiple partners, using sex as recreation without consideration of its spiritual nature, pursuing homosexual gratification, using pornography, or whatever other perversion might come along.

Sexual sin is ALL abhorrent to God; and the answer is not ostracizing people who practice one sin while coddling others. The answer is to pursue a godly sexuality that is defined by God’s desires for sex and not OUR desires for gratification via sex.

So, Back to Brian McLaren

I seem to have used this post to expound on my frustrations, but we need to get back to Brian McLaren for a minute. I think McLaren’s fear of coming out and saying “Homosexuality is good” prevents him from making any kind of worthwhile statement in this chapter. He knows that people who read the Bible literally (i.e. people like me) will find that statement in direct violation of Scripture.

Personally, I think we should not be afraid of saying homosexuality is sin; but only if we’re also not afraid to say that other sexual sin is just as sinful. Even better than that, however, would be to embrace those who are in sin and lovingly speak the truth of God’s Word into their lives and see the Holy Spirit heal their sexuality.

For more information on ministries who approach sexual sin from this perspective, I recommend checking out http://xxxchurch.org (now called “Fireproof Ministries” but I think the original name was much cooler).

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5 thoughts on “A New Kind of Christianity – The Sex Question

  1. By the way, Ezekiel states plainly that Sodom was judged for greed and inhospitality, not homosexuality – Ezekiel 16:48-49

    Although I don’t completely disagree with this argument—indeed, homosexuality does seem to be in the same class of sexual sin as adultery, I think a wider contextual interpretation is in order. I believe Scripture testifies unquestionably that “the sin of Sodom” was expressed in manifold ways, and did, indeed, include “unnatural sexuality” (homosexuality?) and other sexual sins flagrantly practiced.

    Specificially, Jude 1:7 claims, “… just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”

    Ezekiel states, in the context referenced above (Ezekiel 16:46-50): “Not only did you walk in their ways and do according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. … Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.”

    Although we see the only named sin in the passage from Ezekiel is lack of hospitality in the midst of great prosperity, the “their ways” and “their abominations” references would indicate other sins. “Abominations” isn’t very specific, but I cannot think of any Old Testament reference where it refers merely to unkindness.

    Genesis 13:13 elaborates, “Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.” Genesis 18:20-21 reveals God pondering, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.” In Genesis 19:13, the angels tell Lot, “[W]e are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it.”

    Isaiah further illuminates Sodom’s sin (Isa. 3:9): “For the look on their faces bears witness against them; they proclaim their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves.” Whatever we might conclude it was, they seemed to relish it, practicing it flagrantly.

    Jeremiah 23:14 implies both sexual sin and dishonesty: “But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.”

    Certainly, one cannot claim that Sodom’s sin was exclusively homosexuality; nevertheless it is clear that it would be equally ignorant of the whole testimony of scripture to quote only Ezekiel and say it was merely failure to provide for those in need.

    (Now, if you really want to blow your mind, go read Genesis 19:1-11, then read Judges 19:11-30. But I digress …)

  2. LegoDoug, you bring in some great passages to consider and I appreciate your input. I have a few points to add that offer yet another perspective (oh boy, here we go…)

    First, it is important to note that in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah that they were seeking to gang rape a few innocent men. Indeed, from the purview of Scripture, (being inspired by God) we are told that these were not men – they were angels – or it was a manifestation of the Lord, an obscure thoephany of some sort. These were the three ‘angels’ (whatever you wish to consider them) who stopped by Abraham’s place of dwelling the previous chapter of Genesis. In Jude’s context, he mentions the rebellious angels in the prior verse (v.6). So, this “pursued unnatural desire (or strange flesh)” seems to be referencing the datum that they were seeking to engage in grotesque sexual acts with angels, which is similar to the Genesis 6 narrative, as well as the book of Enoch I, which Jude then quotes a few verses later. Moreover, I don’t think we can label inhospitality as merely “unkindness,” for in the ancient world, to not display hospitality leaves those rejected vulnerable to the elements, wild animals, and hence, death. This is no minor “unkindness,” like forgetting to say “thank you” to someone who just blessed one with a polite act. Erik is right – we read into the text our cultural assumptions. Therefore, I believe Sodom and Gomorrah has NOTHING to do with homosexuality, but gang rape (which is atrocious no matter what – homo or heterosexual) and going after strange flesh (angels or some celestial beings). Peter also seems to indicate this, who echoes precisely what Jude states (II Peter 2:4-6).

    Moreover, I would say that simply condemning all homosexual relationships as hamartia is not as simple as it seems on the surface. While there is much to discuss in this view, (and I don’t have time to expatiate fully) I think this is why McLaren is rather ambiguous about his position. I think his main goal with this book was an attempt to bring both conservatives and liberals (for a lack of better labels) together. Therefore, coming out and saying “homosexuality is fine in some contexts” would obliterate any hopes of him completing his overarching purpose of the book. I see your point, Erik, but I think McLaren has more in mind throughout the book.

    One further point: personally, I believe we need to focus more on “the flesh” rather than exterior manifestations of this inner beast. Tragically, I believe we have missed the mark (pun intended) entirely when we get caught up in these arguments (which sin is worse, etc). So I really appreciate your post, Erik. While I’m not sure I’m fully convinced that all homosexual relations are inherently hamartia, you bring up some excellent points, my friend. I would love to hear more preaching and focusing on “the flesh” – for if we can deal with this grotesque beast, all the sins (gluttony, greed, desire, apathy, lust, etc) would dissipate. I believe Scripture talks about these outer manifestations of the flesh so we can know when we are correctly taming this inner beast. Likewise, I believe the Bible does the same with its ethical principles. I don’t believe the NT is at all interested in ethics, but only agape, the love of Christ. When we live in this agape (Ephesians 5:1-2) we will have indicators that we are indeed walking in this living reality, like joy, peace, patience, kindness and the like. This is Paul’s main thrust in Galatians 5 – walking in the flesh produces x, y, z, while walking in the Spirit and faith galvanized by love will produce a, b, c. We miss the mark (pun intended) when we focus on the outward manifestation rather than the inward reality.

    One further point: it is interesting how we pick on homosexuality, as Erik wonderfully demonstrated, but the sin I am guilty of – and perhaps the majority of the church – gluttony, is hardly ever mentioned, even though Scripture discusses this issue over and over. In fact, according to Proverbs 28:7, those of the faith should not associate with me and my parents should be ashamed of me! This is HARSH! Thankfully, Jesus violated this proverb and exalted love above the law – any law whatsoever. Since He walked in the Spirit of love, there was no law to be followed. I ask, then: why don’t we make all the gluttons go and start their own “gluttonous churches” like we do to gay people? Perhaps because all of our funding would be going down the drain and most of our churches would shut down. We have no objectivity when it comes to Scripture it seems (me included). This is why I join Jesus in saying “I judge no one” (John 8:15) and will not judge according to the flesh. This judgment – not apathy, hate or indifference – is the opposite of love. It is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (a/k/a judgment of ourselves, others and God) which keeps us shut out from the Garden and the tree of life.

    So, that’s my perspective. Great dialogue, friends!

  3. Personally, I have no problem classifying all homosexuality as sin; but I class sin differently than most Western Christians. Sin in a broad context is the corruption of creation, so in its narrow application to the acts of people, sin is not that which is judged and condemned but rather that which needs healing through Christ.

    We cannot see God as defaulting to wrath and judgment but rather see Christ’s sacrifice and grace as God’s default. In the West, we always seem to see sin as something unconquerable and treat people we consider ‘sinners’ as if they are somehow inferior. This definition of sin is entirely egocentric and is itself a result of sin (the tree of knowledge of good and evil).

    So how do we respond? Do we not classify things as sin because we know that we also have sin? As Paul would say (via the King James translators’ knack for hyperbolic translation), “GOD FORBID!” Imagine a doctor seeing someone who was sick and saying, “Well, we all get sick. It’s ok.” We would definitely be seeking a second opinion.

    In the same sense, we cannot not address things because there are other sins. All sin must be dealt with – whether it is homosexuality, adultery, pride, gluttony, whatever it is.

    We must address all sin as such, but we must do so as the people of the Great Physician who wishes to heal, not condemn.

    • One last thought: by stating that I judge no one, I did not intend to mean that we can say “everything is okay” since we all sin. My main point was that faith working itself out through love is what will chane people. Surely, this will have us preaching on certain manifestations of the flesh’s corrupting influence. We should do this. My main point was that judgment is the opposite of love, (plus our judgment is myopic at best and arbitrary at worst) and the love of Christ is the only thing changing people – not our ethical assessments of certain people who we deem ‘unclean’ while we ‘holy ones’ huddle together and yell as loud as we can at those who we put on the outside.

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