Ask a Pastor Ep. 45 - The Bible and Homosexuality
Welcome to Ask a Pastor, a podcast from Orchard Hill Church! Have you ever had a question about the Bible, Faith, or Christianity as a whole? Submit your question and one of our pastors will answer on the program. New episodes every Wednesday.
This episode our Senior Pastor, Dr. Kurt Bjorklund, talks with Middle School Ministry Leader, Evan Brem, and what the Bible has to say about homosexuality.
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Kurt Bjorklund: Hi. Welcome. Today on Ask a Pastor, I'm joined by Evan Brem. Evan is leading our middle school ministry at our Wexford Campus doing an outstanding job. If you have middle school students, you want them involved. It'd be to their benefit.
Kurt Bjorklund: Today, we are going to jump into a question that was submitted actually from some of our students about the issue of homosexuality. And I just want to say before we jump into it that I know that anytime you talk about an issue that is this controversial in our culture, that no matter how you approach it, what you say about it, that there will be some people that don't care much for whatever you say about it. But what we're going to try to do is just really address how does the bible address the issue, rather than just what we think about it, and then come back and make some statements.
Kurt Bjorklund: So Evan, this is a question. I assume working with middle school students, you get a lot of different questions around sexuality, and especially around this particular issue. So what does the bible say about homosexuality?
Evan Brem: Yeah. So before we dive into verses specific to homosexuality, I think just when talking about this topic, a sensitive topic and whether or not it's sin and how do we act on it in the church, I think it's just appropriate to start with Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall sort of the glory of God."
Evan Brem: As we begin to dive into this, into a sensitive topic, I think building up from the foundation knowing that we are all sinful and desperately in need of a savior. So that said, I think I'd just grab three New Testament scriptures that talk about this issue, and then, so we can kind of look at what the bible says about it.
Evan Brem: So I think the main question comes from, the main place of, is homosexuality sin or not sin? And then based on the answer to that question, how do we handle it as it is present in the church?
Evan Brem: And so the first scripture I'll look at is Romans 1:26 to 27. It says, "Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones in the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men and received to themselves due penalty for their error."
Evan Brem: And then the next New Testament scripture I'll look at would be First Corinthians 6:9 to 10. It says, "Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?" And not to say that people who do the things he's about to list will not inherit the kingdom of God. He's actually talking to people in the church, "Some of you used to be in this sin, and now you are saved by Jesus Christ."
Evan Brem: So verse 9, "Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters not adulterers, nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."
Evan Brem: Verse 11 I think is appropriate to add, "And that is what some of you were, 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."
Evan Brem: And then the third one I'll look at is First Timothy 1:9 to 10. That says, "We also know that the law is made not for the righteous, but for law breakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers, and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine."
Evan Brem: So, on the base question of what does the bible say about homosexuality, is it sin, I would say from those three scriptures, and then you can bring in just the overall narrative of the bible, how God created man and woman, I would say yes, it is sin.
Kurt Bjorklund: Okay. So just before we move on, let me just push back, and not because I necessarily am personally pushing back as much as just saying let's just make sure we deal with this. So even in our current political climate, I think one of the democratic hopefuls for president came out and he's a gay man who's also a Christian. And he said to, I think it was Mike Pence, "Your argument is with our creator, your creator, because he created me this way. It's good that I'm this, and that's my attraction, and therefore since I was made this way, it can't possibly be sinful or wrong," in essence is his argument.
Kurt Bjorklund: So, what do you say then when you take somebody like that to the scripture, and they would argue, and I can tell you the arguments that he might make, to say, "Here's why those verses are wrongly interpreted by you and the church and all of church history"? What's your response?
Evan Brem: Right. I mean, I would look first at the fact that in Romans, the bible points heavily at the fact that we have inherited guilt, and there's different scripture in, I believe it's the psalms, that talks about that we are sinful from even the time we're in the womb, so that, yes, we were designed in God's image and created in God's image, but sin has taken a hold of us from the moment of our conception. So just because someone is born with a certain predisposition, one, does not mean that that's how that is them being designed in God's image, but that is an effect of being born into a broken world.
Evan Brem: So, what I would say on that is just because we feel a certain way, we feel that we're born with certain predispositions, it doesn't necessarily make it right. It doesn't make it part of God's perfect design for us.
Kurt Bjorklund: Okay. So just to push on that, so somebody would say, for example, some might say, "Well, Romans 1 says the natural function," so the only time that that's actually sinful is if they've done something unnatural, and so as long as they're doing what's natural to them, then it's not sinful, so it would be just as sinful for a homosexual person to be in a heterosexual relationship because it's unnatural to them, and that all Romans 1 is pointing out is, "Do what's natural to you. Do what God has created you to do." So your argument there would be exactly what? Just so again, I'm tracking with you.
Evan Brem: Yeah. The argument would be that there is a natural way, that there's a specific natural way that God has designed and that because of the effect of us being born into a broken, sinful world, what we believe to be the natural way or what some people have predispositions towards in birth is not necessarily the natural way that God has created you.
Kurt Bjorklund: Okay. So if somebody has a predisposition to something in birth, then why would God hold them accountable? I mean, are you saying that some people have this predisposition?
Evan Brem: Yeah.
Kurt Bjorklund: Okay. So then why would God hold them accountable for that?
Evan Brem: Yeah. I mean, I think because he is a just God and because we are held accountable to the fullest extent for all of our sin and it is only through the saving grace of Jesus that we have the chance to be cleansed of that sin, so I would say God would hold them accountable simply because he is just and if that's the situation, that we are born into a sinful world, that we are born sinful, that we have inherited guilt from Adam, that God is going to hold us accountable for that, but that he has also provided the way out with the sacrifice of his son.
Kurt Bjorklund: One of the favorite arguments for some people would be to say, "Well, if you look at the Old Testament and the prohibitions there, they seem to appear almost right next to don't mix poly and cotton." I mean, it doesn't actually say that, but don't mix two linens, and put somebody out the camp when they're menstrual and all of this. So, almost in a setting that's bizarre, how could you take that as being definitive?
Evan Brem: Right. When I think the verse in Leviticus is taken out of context, it's a horrible use of it, when it's just taken purely out of context and saying, "This verse is Leviticus is specifically why you should not do this," because on that same token, there's tons of things. We definitely shouldn't trim our beards, then. We definitely shouldn't wear 50/50 polyester cotton blend shirts, then, if we're holding all of that.
Evan Brem: So in Romans again, it says that through our faith in Jesus, we do not abolish the law but we fulfill the law. So all of the law that is described in the mosaic law in the Old Testament, we fulfill that through our faith in Jesus. I think it's an important difference that we don't abolish it, but we fulfill it. And then the fact that we also see a lot of the moral law in Leviticus repeated in the New Testament and repeated by Paul in his writings, repeated in the way Jesus talks, we know that that is still standard for how we should uphold our actions today.
Kurt Bjorklund: So let's take this out of the realm of homosexuality just for a moment. Why does God care this much about human sexuality on a whole? It seems as if, and somebody could say, when you come to the bible, God seems to care a lot about people having one sexual partner for a lifetime, same sex versus issues, lust issues. Almost seems to be this driving issue at times, and has been frankly one of the big critiques of Christianity, that you go to a church and it's, "Follow Jesus and don't sleep with your boyfriend or girlfriend before marriage, don't be gay, don't look at anything you shouldn't look at." These are the cardinal things in a lot of churches. Why is that such a driving force, do you think, at times inside the overall scope of the bible?
Evan Brem: I want to start with something that I was blanking on earlier. I was trying to think of my answer, and I totally blanked on it. So someone who is born with a certain predisposition, especially if it's ... I'm sorry, I'm bringing it back to homosexuality for one second-
Kurt Bjorklund: It's all right. Absolutely.
Evan Brem: ... especially if it's toward homosexual and says, "This is me. I need this in my life, and there's no way that God would've created me to live without this if he made me this way." I think, and this is something that I can't speak from personally because I am married ... I'm blessed to be able to live in that kind of relationship ... but believing that way takes away from the level of intimacy that we can have with God, that truly in our lives, to fulfill that desire we have for intimacy, the only thing that we should need is a relationship with God.
Evan Brem: That's a lot easier said than done, and I think there's a lot of sin that breaks into that and takes away from that, but the belief that there is something else additional that we need to fulfill our desire for intimacy other than a relationship with God is not true, because he tells us over and over again that he is enough, that he is everything that we need.
Kurt Bjorklund: Right. And again, the pushback would be, "Well, that's easy for you to say because you are married and no one has told you you can't have lifelong love and romance."
Evan Brem: Right.
Kurt Bjorklund: Whereas what they would say and people would say is, but if you tell somebody who's homosexual that they are sinful to be in a homosexual relationship, then you're telling them that they can't have lifelong love and romance.
Evan Brem: Yeah, choose celibacy for the rest of your life.
Kurt Bjorklund: Right, and so they would say that's where God has made you that way. Yeah. Yeah. Clearly, I mean, just back to focus there just for a moment before the broader question, the issue of predisposition is an interesting issue. I would be very careful to grant predisposition across the board. And what I mean by that is, while I do think everyone has a predisposition to something ... I'm predisposed to be incredibly selfish ... That's sinful, that's wrong, so I can't just say, "Well, I'm predisposed to be selfish. Therefore, I choose to be selfish." Now, again, I'm not trying to equate those things directly, but I'm just saying you can't argue predisposition necessarily equates to legitimacy.
Kurt Bjorklund: But I would be careful to grant even that based on Romans 1 because if you read Romans 1 to say there is a natural way, then that would seem to indicate, and it says, "God gave them over," meaning that it was the desires of their own hearts, if you read through the text, that granting that just as an outright status is giving away something that maybe the scriptures don't give away at that point.
Kurt Bjorklund: Now, again, I realize that probably of anything we've just said on the podcast, that probably would be considered to be the most incendiary thing. But it seems to me that that is part of where this argument lies and why there's a generation emerging in our churches that says, "I'm not convinced that homosexuality is wrong, because if I have friends that were born this way, then who am I to tell them that they shouldn't do this?"
Kurt Bjorklund: This really does go at some point to also some of the other gender issues of our day, of saying, "Well, I choose to believe that I was born a woman, even though I'm biologically a boy, or I choose to believe that I was born a boy even though I'm biologically a woman." I would say the same thing about not granting that right away, to say, "Well, okay, if that's how you feel."
Kurt Bjorklund: Now, again, I realize in our political climate that that is not seen as politically correct, but if as a church, and I don't mean Orchard Hill, I mean the church on a whole, you grant those statuses, then to a certain extent, you've already seeded ground about how God has created people. The gender issue's a little easier because there is a biological reality to that that you can say, "Well, okay. You may feel that way. You may have a predisposition toward that, but that doesn't necessarily change the biology that exists here."
Kurt Bjorklund: Now, back to the homosexuality conversation, that's where I think when you get to Romans 1 and it talks about exchanging what's natural for what's unnatural, is probably one of the key passages in the bible on this whole issue because it seems to address the idea that there is a way that God has wired people.
Kurt Bjorklund: Now, again, that doesn't mean that I'm saying that there aren't people born with strong predispositions or even where it does feel natural, but what I'm saying is that doesn't make it so just because that's there.
Kurt Bjorklund: So, why does God care this much about, whether it be homosexuality, heterosexuality, solo sexuality? Why does this matter that it keeps coming up and seems to be an issue?
Evan Brem: Yeah. What I would say on that is that everything God has created is for his glory. And so God created sex to feel good, and so in some way, that is for his glory. Where I think it points to is the intimacy that we have with, in his bounds, a spouse, with sex, points to the greater intimacy that we can have with him. There is such a deep intimacy to be had with him greater than a man and a wife becoming one flesh that can only begin to be tapped into by sex within constraints of a marriage.
Evan Brem: Something that God has created for his glory that is so personal, that's so emotional, I think he designed those bounds around, one, to protect us and protect our relationships, and two, the bounds he has created I think keep it more within his glory and something that he's so protective of, sexual morality and lust and adultery because the things that he makes guidelines for and protects us against, when acted on, they take away from his glory.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. It's interesting because I think a lot of times, people outside the church think that this is the church's whole thing is sexual ethics. I think it was CS Lewis who years ago wrote about sexual ethics and said, "This isn't the main thing. Start with Jesus and then come to your sexual ethic."
Kurt Bjorklund: What's happened, because people want direct answers and clear, "Tell us where you stand," and have politicized it into you're either gay-affirming or anti-gay based on how you land, it's actually people outside the church who have driven the dialogue to be so acrimonious because most, and there are certainly exceptions to this, but most Christians I know who would say, "We believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman," are not at all as anti-gay as they're portrayed. What they are is people who say, "I believe that God has an order, and I care about trying to honor that order in life," and it's unfortunate that it's become an acrimonious discussion and to simply even say something like, "I don't believe that that's God's best," is against that.
Kurt Bjorklund: I think a good way to think about that is, so I would say based on my understanding of scripture, that I believe that having an extramarital affair is wrong. It's sinful. But that doesn't make me anti-affair people. I'm not against anybody who's an adulterer. I'm not like, "Oh my goodness." It just says I think God has a plan for people, and your life will be best if you follow it. And as a church, we'll welcome people who have had affairs. Now, if you're in the middle of one, we might want to talk about some of what that means and work through discipleship issues, but we would say that that ... or somebody might have a desire to have an affair and not have acted on it, and we would say that's all part of God's work in people's lives, and it doesn't create an us them or a hate relationship.
Kurt Bjorklund: It's unfortunate just from where I sit that it's going that way so often in the culture, but it almost seems that if the church continues to say we believe that something's wrong ... and you don't even have to say something's wrong ... You just have to at this point say, "We won't perform same-sex marriages," and if that's where you land, people will then say, "Well, you are gay-hating, not gay-affirming, and therefore."
Kurt Bjorklund: The truth is, God affirms all people, loves all people, wherever we come from, and therefore it's significant for the church to continue today to say how do we love people where they are while yet still holding to what we believe the bible says. How do we love somebody who says, "I have had multiple affairs, but I still need Jesus. I still want to be part of a community, and I might not be done having my affairs"? Now, I realize some people say, "Well, that's not repentance," but as a church, we want to meet that person where they are, invite them along on a journey, even if they've been down some paths.
Kurt Bjorklund: What other things have you found helpful just in talking about this with students, if you have one thought to give to, especially a student who was asking this question?
Evan Brem: Yeah. I think that's why I started with Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," because I think because of the political climate and the current social climate of this issue, it has gotten blown out of proportion as a sin, because it is a sin, but so are a lot of other things.
Evan Brem: And I think when in the church, if we look at it as being a greater sin as other sins, it affects our ability to love people and meet people where they're at, who come to us who are living a homosexual lifestyle. And outside of the church, when it gets elevated and becomes a sin that is more important to them to define than other sins, then that becomes the main issue in the church. They walk through the doors of a church and if the answer is, "Yes, I will affirm your lifestyle," then they'll stay. If it's, "No, I will hold to the scripture and not affirm the lifestyle," then they'll leave. So I think just one of the facts that it's gotten totally elevated I think as a sin, I think we have to be really careful about that.
Kurt Bjorklund: Well, and I think again, my analogy of the emerging generation would be to say a lot of people in the emerging generation would say, "I don't want to be a part of anything that feels judgmental." And this is one of those issues where people will say, "Well, and if the church takes any position at all, it feels judgmental. Therefore, I don't want to be a part of that kind of church."
Kurt Bjorklund: And I think what's going to have to happen is people are going to have to decide, "Will I stand with scripture? Will I not?" What's happening is there's enough people questioning the moorings of these texts to say, "Well, I don't have to believe it. It's disagreed upon," but that unfortunately probably short-circuits some of the very clear verses that you pointed to, and some others that you could argue. And certainly we don't have time in this podcast to address all of the nuances of that, nor is that necessarily our ultimate goal here, but there are some excellent works that do that. I think if people will avail themselves to that, they'll ultimately say, "We need to come to some kind of a consensus on that."
Kurt Bjorklund: So Evan, thank you. Again, if you have questions, you can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll be happy to address them in the weeks ahead.