The Biblical Interpretation Of Homosexuality

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Homosexuality is difficult for the Church. It is hard to see it, understand it, and to feel comfortable theologically with it. There are some people who it is not a Biblical issue, it is unnatural and perverted and they will never accept it. But we have prejudices in other things too, race, gender, religion, etc. For others, it is not so much the issue of homosexuality as it is a question of faith. Does or does not the Bible condemn homosexuality? For this person, the question is not the issue of sexuality; it is a question of doing what God wants.

Let me be clear, we are talking of homosexuality as being a committed relationship between two people of the same sex. We are not talking about promiscuity, polygamy, polygyny, debaucheries, orgies, casual sex, kink, unbridled lust, or any type of twisted sex act. Those issues pose their own problems in scripture and in society. We want to talk about a faithful, loving, committed relationship that is homosexual.

You look in a concordance and you will find many references in the Bible about homosexuality. These references are found both in the Old and the New Testaments. One can read all of the references but one thing is common in all of them, they all point back to Leviticus 18. Leviticus 18 is the origin and to understand Leviticus is to understand and interpret all references.

Many who are opposed to homosexuality will quote Bible stories to support their claim in the sinfulness of homosexuality. Genesis 18 (Sodom story) is the most quoted. It is often used as the defense of why homosexuality is wrong. The argument doesn’t even stand the test of the Bible itself that calls it a sin of “lack of hospitality” but disgusting because those who use this argument never deal with Lot’s willingness to give his daughters (sexually) to the men of the community. I find no story in scripture that is rightfully used to argue against homosexuality.

There are some important facts that have to be noted before we deal with Leviticus 18.
1. Jesus never says anything about homosexuality.
2. In the mist of Roman occupation, Roman societal norms and cultural values, Jesus never is quoted as addressing the problem.
3. All original eleven Apostles are silent on the topic.
4. The only New Testament writer that ever talks about homosexuality is Paul (who was trained as a Pharisee).
5. Everywhere in the New Testament that Paul uses the term “homosexuality” it is always listed with other moral problems ie., (1 Cor 6:9 Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.)
6. Why do we always offer less grace to the homosexual than to the adulterers, prostitutes, thieves, the greedy, the drunkards, etc.?

Here is the problem with Leviticus 18. Leviticus 18 gives a long list of things that we should not do. All of these things are displeasing to God. There are a group of chapters around the 18th chapter that all address the theme “Don’t Look Like The Pagan.” Again we lift out the issue of homosexuality and never talk about the forbiddenness of tattoos, or certain haircuts. They’re all there, and we rarely talk about the other sexual acts that are also forbidden, but of course they are heterosexual problems.

This is what makes it a challenge for us clergy to discern what the Bible is saying. Are these chapters around Leviticus 18 merely telling us that as believers God doesn’t want us looking or acting like the pagans? Or are these chapters just an extension of the laws that God expects of humanity? The ones that choose the latter as opposed to the former, now find that certain haircuts, tattoos, eating certain foods, can get us thrown into Hell.

Then I remember the words of Paul who said, “Everything is permissible for me”-but not everything is beneficial (1 Cor 6:12). What it comes down to is a question of what the Church is called to do or be. Is the Church to be an instrument of grace, or is the Church to be the guardian of the Law?

In thirty-five years of ministry I have seen many in and out of the Church who are homosexual. I rarely have much tolerance for the sexually immoral who sleep around with any and everyone whether homosexual or heterosexual. But I have also come to the conclusion that for those who truly have an attraction for the same sex and desire to be faithful, there must be something in the genetic code. Science has not proven it yet, and who knows when or if they will. If it is a part of the genetic code we cannot blame a person for the way they have been created.

As a student of the Bible I am inclined to believe that Leviticus 18 is part of a collection of things to avoid looking like the pagans. Therefore, it is not about the sinfulness of each single act, but the collection of acts that make us look ungodly. Therefore, I don’t condemn the person who is tattooed because the tattoo is not associated with pagan worship today. The hairstyle is not associated with worshiping idols. It helps me to understand why even when Paul was writing about homosexuality he always included it with other concerns.

Judgement calls on text are always difficult. The issue for God may not be found in what you are, but in what you do with what you are. That judgement belongs to each individual and to God. I always wondered what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was? The Bible never tells us. Even in my own struggles, Paul’s gift to me and perhaps to you, “My grace is sufficient.”

Salvation Without Baptism?

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Will Campbell tells the story of the day he was baptized in the East Fork River in Amite County, Mississippi. They baptized outdoors and his parents had ordered some baptismal clothes from the Sears & Roebuck catalog to make sure that Will would look good when he went under. Will’s brother, Joe, was a bit of a skeptic. Joe stood up on the creek bank and watched the preacher baptize two or three other people. As he watched, he got more and more concerned for Will’s safety, so he slid down that muddy bank and grabbed Will, saying, “Will, dear God, don’t let them do this to you. A fellow could get killed doing this.” Will responded, “It took me thirty years to recognize that was precisely the point.”

A few years ago a man opened the morning paper to find his name mistakenly printed in the obituary column. Can you imagine the shock of finding your name in the obituary? Greatly disturbed, he went to the newspaper office and complained to the editor: “This is terrible! Your error will cause me no end of embarrassment and may even mean a loss of business. How could you do such a thing?” The editor expressed regrets, but the man remained angry and unreasonable. Finally the editor said in disgust: “Cheer up, fellow. I’ll put your name in the birth column tomorrow and give you a fresh start!”

And that is exactly what happens to us at our baptism. We go from the obituary column to the birth column. We were dead to sin but are once again made alive!

Baptism in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) takes water, lots of water. Disciples practice baptism by immersion because it mirrors New Testament practice and teaching. In addition, we see baptism as a powerful symbol of our Christian faith. It recalls Jesus’ own baptism. It acts out and recalls the dying of Christ on the cross. It reminds us of the emerging new life that we have in Christ. Disciples typically are baptized when they can express, as a personal choice their desire to become part of the Church. 99% of all churches require baptism to be a part of the Church. Hillside Christian Church requires baptism as a prerequisite for membership into this congregation. Somewhere, at sometime, in some fashion, you had to have been baptized. We call it “believer’s baptism.” What 99% of all Churches are saying is that baptism is essential to salvation. JOH 3:5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (NIV)

Remember the old Western movies? A frequent scene was where the cowboys round up some cattle. The animals are first chased and lassoed — then they are held down and branded. The hot branding iron is applied and the identifying mark is seared into its hide. From then on, even though the animal might wander off, the distinctive brand on its side will indicate to whom it rightly belongs — it belongs to its owner. That is what Baptism does for us: it brands us, it marks us — it binds us to Christ. It tells all the world that we are Christians, that we belong to Christ.

Then the criminal said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:39-43) Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” How can he do that? This man hasn’t been baptized. This man hasn’t lived a good life. This man didn’t even go to church. However, Jesus grants him salvation! “…today you will be with me in paradise.”

From the very onset after Jesus’ departure, the Church stressed baptism. The process had always been “confession, repentance, baptism and then the gift of the Holy Spirit.” At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a Roman. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. (Acts 10:5-16 NIV) Peter: He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

ACT 10:48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. Peter has to get this straightened out. Paul even has difficulty at Corinth over the issue of baptism. What about the believers before Christ? (1Corinthians 10:1-2) For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.

What does all of this mean? God is probably far more merciful that we even realize. We believe in “death bed” confessions. Like the thief on the cross. It is possible to be saved moments before we die. I am far more comfortable with the man who confesses and dies without baptism, than the man who confesses and goes on living without baptism. However, the Church has to be faithful to its calling. The Church must preach and teach baptism. That is scripture. Jesus said it best, (Matthew 28:19-20) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

The only exception I find in the Bible to baptism is what we call a “death bed confession.” Just like the thief on the cross next to Jesus, if we at the last moment accept Jesus into our lives and do not have the opportunity to be baptized, God welcomes the sinner with grace. Otherwise, baptism is essential for salvation in Christ.

A Clergy Person Participation In Same-Sex Marriage

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I knew the question was coming. Finally at a Church Board meeting someone asked, “If you are asked to perform a same-sex marriage, would you?” It is a fair question for a congregation to ask, but the layperson generally has no idea what they are asking. While it involves the Bible for sure, it also involves issues in the Bible that are far wider than the single issue of homosexuality.

“It depends on several things I said,” answering the question. “If someone unknown to me, just walked in off the street and wanted to get married, I would say no. That would be like rubbing salt in the wound of members who are, for whatever reason, not on board with same-sex marriage. If on the other hand, someone that had been an active part of the Church that I knew, I would likely perform the service. However, I would expect of them the same standards that I have required of all pre-marriage counseling.” Who didn’t anticipate the next statement? “Well, that means you condone homosexual unions!”

We pastors all hear the same story. What we do and the actions we take all reflect on the Church. There is certainly some truth in that, but it is not the whole story. Just because I perform a wedding service does not mean I condone or approve of this union. I have always required pre-marriage counseling of those whom I have married. I can think of at least twenty couples in my thirty-five year ministry that at the end of the counseling, I would say, “I don’t think it wise that you marry at this time.” Of those twenty couples only one has heeded my advice. The one that did, is now happily married and the other nineteen wished they had listened to me. Yes, I performed the wedding service, but it didn’t mean I agreed with their decision to get married, nor did it in anyway mean that the Church approved of the marriage. Look at the sheer number of unchurched couples that get married in the building every year. “Joe and Sally want to get married. All in favor say “I” and those opposed “NO.”

I remember when I first came to Hillside Christian Church as the Senior Minister. I was thirty-five years old, married with two children and still had a lot to learn. One of the things I noticed was that we were getting asked to perform a lot of weddings from a mega church in town. I assumed it was because they had such a large sanctuary that they didn’t want the wedding service to look swallowed up. What I noticed was that many of these couples would attend Hillside for a year or so and then return to the mega church. Most were asking for Dr. Boyle (long time Associate Minister and a really nice person) to perform their marriages. I asked Dr. Boyle, what is going on? It seems that all of these couples were living together before they were married. The mega church would only allow them to have their wedding at the mega church if they lived apart until the marriage. They were circumventing the requirement, getting married at Hillside, and then returning to the former congregation.

I ask Dr. Boyle, “Don’t you feel that you are being used?” His response taught me something about grace. “I want to show them the love of Christ, so that they may have a positive, not condemning experience with the Church.” If you knew Dr. Boyle, you knew it wasn’t because he condoned them living together. He was right. It is not my place to sit in judgement, the mega church was doing that very well; it was my place to act for Christ. I still haven’t figured out who married Adam and Eve. Whoever it was has a lot to answer for!

When in my former pastorate, I was asked to perform the funeral of the man who had been attending (not a member) our church, who in his earlier years had been the head of the KKK in southeast Arkansas. I was horrified at first; what would this say about ME? But I remembered something he had said to me one day at a pot-luck dinner. “Pastor, I have done a lot of things I now regret.” The service wasn’t about me, it was about him and Him! As the pastor he shared with, I knew something that had changed inside. My conducting the service was not about my condoning the things he had done, it was about showing the incredible love and grace of God to a sinner that needed a Christian funeral.

If I decide to conduct a same-sex service it will not be because my Church has condoned it or sanctions it. It will not even be because I condone or sanction the union. Just as there are some heterosexuals that shouldn’t get married, there are some homosexuals that shouldn’t get married as well. It is not my place to pick life mates for others. It is my place to heal broken relationships, extend grace and reflect God’s love. This I choose to do for all the lambs in the flock that God has graciously given me charge of.

A Tale of Two Sons Like Us

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One winter day a man went shopping at the local neighborhood mall. When he returned to his car he noticed a rather foul odor coming from under the hood and so he checked the engine. In the compartment he discovered a dead cat rather mutilated from being caught in the fan belt. The poor cat had sought shelter from the snow and cold and didn’t realize the dangers of resting on the engine block. Mr. Jones was lucky though, one of his shopping bags was made of plastic and so he emptied its contents and proceeded to scrape, pull and push the cat corpse into the bag. With a bang he slammed the hood down and walked off to wash his hands, but looking back he noticed something unusual.
He had left the bag on the hood of the car. He was about to return and pick it up but just then a lady walks by, looks suspiciously in both directions, she grabs the bag, and with her cart she then speeds off for the mall. “Well this is too good to be true!” the man thought as he laughed at the lady.

He decided to follow her and see what would happen next. She went to a restaurant and proceeded to survey her prize. “Yeek!” she screamed as she looked in the bag. And then over she fell. Of course, the management was equally alarmed that a customer had fainted in their establishment and so they called the paramedics. The woman in no time at all was strapped to a cart and ready to be hauled off to the ambulance. But the man couldn’t resist. “Hey lady!” he shouted, “don’t forget your package!” And with that he gently laid the cat corpse filled bag on the lady’s chest, just as the ambulance doors were closing!

With the 20th and 21st chapters of Matthew the time of reckoning had come. In the 20th chapter we find the story of the workers in the vineyard. For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. The owner goes out four times during the day at different hours and hires workers for the vineyard. The problem arises at the end of the day when all the workers are paid the same. The ones that worked only an hour where paid the same as those who worked all day. The message is clear to the Hebrew people – you have carried the torch of the good news all these generations: Your expectation is a greater reward. But the Gentiles, who are new, will get the same reward. Jesus concludes the parable with, So the last will be first, and the first will be last. That statement sets the tone for the parables to follow, the entry into Jerusalem, the conflict at the Temple.

There once was a bus driver and a minister standing in line to get into Heaven.
The bus driver approaches the gate and St. Peter says, “Welcome, I understand you were a bus driver. Since I’m in charge of housing, I believe I have found the perfect place for you. See that mansion over the hilltop? It’s yours.” The minister heard all this, and begins to stand a little taller. He also thinks to himself, “If a bus driver got a place like that, just think what I’ll get.” The minister approaches the gate and St. Peter says, “Welcome, I understand you were a minister. See that shack in the valley.” St. Peter had hardly gotten the words out of his mouth when the irate minister said, “I was a minister, I preached the Gospel, I helped teach people about God. Why does that bus driver get a mansion, and I get a shack?” Sadly St. Peter responds, “Well, it seems when you preached, people slept. When the bus driver drove, people prayed.”

There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, `Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ `I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing.
He answered, `I will, sir,’ but he did not go. “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did.

We hear the echo of those words, the last will be first, and the first will be last – it is what we don’t anticipate. Our attention goes to the son who says he won’t do it and yet he does. Somehow we hold the son who says he will do it and then doesn’t in low esteem. We want to compare the Jewish leaders to the son who says he will do it but doesn’t. We the Christian want to see ourselves as the son who says no, but does it anyway. Remember back to our earlier story, the laborers in the vineyard all get the same pay. The reality of this parable is that the father is not pleased with either son. Neither son in the story was the kind of son to bring full joy to his father. While the former son is clearly better than the later. The ideal child would be the one who accepted the father’s orders with obedience and unquestioningly carried them out. Put in the context of Near Eastern values of public respect for the head of the family, we know there are conflicts and tensions within this family.

The beauty of this story is that we are allowed to decide which son pleases his father. We want to come in and put labels on everyone. He is good. He is bad. We want to define who is the Christian and who is the non-Christian.
Who is the insider? Who is the outsider? The beauty of the story is that both are the man’s sons.

Luke tells us about two other sons, LUK 15:12 The younger one said to his father, `Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “But the father said to his servants, `Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

The bottom line is that we are to never forget that we are God’s children and always welcome at home. Some of us are rebellious up front. But then we repent and change our ways and come home. Some of us pretend that we are being obedient but are rebellious. The challenge of the believer is to be better than both. To be the child that is both respectful and obedient.