(NOTE: The original blog post posted December 16, 2008, seven years before the SCOTUS decision in Obergefell v. Hodges [6/26/2015.])
Last’ week’s Newsweek cover story concerned the religious case for “gay ‘marriage,’” (with “marriage” in quotes because the Creator of marriage instituted it with heterosexuality inherent in the concept). Al Mohler and Robert Gagnon have made solid responses. I thought it wise, also, to offer thoughts on the acceptability of homosexuality in the church altogether.
Below is a reprint of “The Church Does Not Welcome Homosexuals,” Appendix B of Where Are All the Brothers? Straight Answers to Men’s Questions About the Church (Crossway, 2008). It is designed to make the case for a proper understanding of welcoming homosexuals into the church. It was written with the African American church in mind in particular, although the argument from Scripture is the same in all contexts. While it is not a response to the Newsweek article, I think it will reveal that the Newsweek article needed to consider a different line of reasoning.
“The Church Does Not Welcome Homosexuals”
From where you sit, it seems that the church does not readily welcome homosexuals. This idea exists in spite of the fact that we play and sing music written by James Cleveland, we quote the poetry of James Baldwin in our sermons, and we dress in outfits designed by Willie Smith. The church’s hesitancy to embrace homosexuals continues despite the fact that much of the music produced, sung, and directed in the church is done by homosexuals. The rejection continues even though some very well known ministers have admitted to being bisexual or homosexual. In addition, we know that there is an underworld in which African-American leaders are living a double lifestyle on the down-low.
Homosexuals are members of the African-American community. Many of the people in our community who are dying from HIV/AIDS have had homosexual relationships. Mainstream culture, including mainstream African-American culture, is opening their arms to people with different sexual orientations. It seems, therefore, that the church is out of touch with the times, hypocritical in its message about the love of God, or at the very least, just simply homophobic.
Yes, we are guilty. We, the church, do not readily embrace homosexuals with outstretched arms. Truthfully, some churches will not even accept a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy (see Chapter 3). We are in contradiction with mainstream culture. We have a problem with saying one can believe on Jesus and be a homosexual. We appear to be talking out of both sides of our mouths when on the one hand we say, “God loves you” and “love your neighbor as yourself,” but on the other hand appear to say, “such love does not welcome homosexuals into the family of God.”
As a pastor who has buried homosexuals (and those who have died from HIV/AIDS due to homosexual relationships) and who cares for his church members who have loved ones who are homosexual, I am familiar with your concern. I also know that many so-called Christians and church-goers have made hateful actions against homosexuals and have said many vicious, vile, and harmful things toward homosexuals that do not reflect God’s love for people made in his image. Nor do they reflect the grace, love, and kindness of the Christ who received lepers, accepted worship from prostitutes, dialogued with a Samaritan woman at a well, told the story of the prodigal son, selected a tax-collector to be included among his disciples, and ate dinner at the home of Zacchaeus. Moreover, Jesus welcomed into his kingdom the thief on the cross, one guilty of capital theft. In fact, it seems that Jesus expressed greater concern with the self-righteousness of the religious establishment of his day than with the sinfulness of those portrayed as society’s sinful. How then should we look at the church’s rejection of homosexuals?
First, let us be truthful about one thing: it is only recently that homosexuals are being readily accepted as part of mainstream African-American culture. In current attempts to revise African-American history, some people appeal to the exceptions, like the boldness of James Baldwin and the reception of Johnny Matthis by all audiences, in order to argue that homosexuality always existed as a norm within our community and American society. However, as late as 1984, in the movie Revenge of the Nerds, the actor cast as the African-American nerd was portrayed as a homosexual. To the filmmakers, for an African American to be homosexual was deviant from the norm for mainstream African-American life; it was nerdy, not normal. If there is any measure of values, attitude, and atmosphere of “mainstream” culture, certainly Hollywood acts as the barometer. In the case of homosexuality, the barometer was still low in favor of acceptance among African Americans in the mid-1980s. Even in 1993, Denzel Washington was cast as a homophobic lawyer in the movie Philadelphia. As an African-American lawyer, he did not readily embrace homosexuality and neither did our community in the early 1990s as represented by Washington’s character.
Second, the reality of homosexuality in the church does not mean it should be acceptable, if it can be shown that homosexuality violates the teachings of the word of God. In reality, many clergymen have been found guilty of embezzlement, adultery, plagiarism, and pedophilia. Surely this does not mean that these crimes and sins should be viewed as acceptable by the church? If this were true, what would make the church distinct from the rest of society? Not to mention, what trust would you put in the preaching and practice of a congregation full of unashamed embezzlers, adulterers, plagiarizers, and pedophiles? Would you put your money in its offering plate? Would you allow your spouse to attend any of its functions alone? Would you believe the minister heard from God or borrowed from someone else? Would you send your child to the children’s church? Would you believe that church’s message about God’s power to change your life when it could not change the lives of these criminals who claim to be following the message? Would you accuse someone of having embezzelphobia for not readily embracing practicing embezzlers as church members?
Now you could reply, “that’s not fair! Those items you mentioned are crimes. Homosexual acts between consenting adults are not illegal.” This is true, although it has only been legally true since the 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, in which the Texas statute forbidding two person of the same sex to engage in intimate sexual conduct was ruled unconstitutional. Nevertheless, I mentioned the above crimes because they are sins. I did this so that you might understand that the issue of rejection of homosexuals by the church is a matter of a lifestyle of sin, and not a matter of homophobia or hypocrisy.
This brings us to a third significant truth: the Bible identifies homosexuality as sin. “Sin” is missing God’s standard for holiness, and thusly missing the ability to have a relationship with God, for he is absolutely perfect in holiness. Homosexuality is an act that misses God’s standard for holiness, as seen in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:
Or 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. 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 (also see Gal. 6:19-21 and 1 Tim. 1:8-11).
Homosexual persons are labeled as “unrighteous,” as those who “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Moreover, these verses indicate that the practice of homosexuality is a behavior with which Christians have made a clean break by being “washed” (cleansed from sin by God), “sanctified” (set apart from sin for God), and “justified” (declared righteous in the sight of God) by Jesus Christ and the [Holy] Spirit. Homosexuality and following Christ are not combatable.
Moreover, homosexual practice and church membership cannot co-exist if the church is to remain free of evil, as seen in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people–not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you” (also see Eph. 5:5-8).
Christians, like those in the Corinthian church, have the responsibility “not to associate with sexually immoral people” who claim to be “brothers” of the faith, which includes homosexuals. Instead, each church has the responsibility to remove from their congregation those in a lifestyle of sin. Those with homosexual behavior may be received into the Church only after a profession of Christ that is accompanied by a complete break–repentance–from a lifestyle of homosexuality.
Yet it remains true that Jesus received people with sinful lifestyles. I cite several examples above. Let us look at each of these examples:
▪ When a leper approached Jesus, Jesus reached out his hand and touched him in spite of the outcast status of the leper. However, the Scriptures first record the leper saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (Matt. 8:2; Mark 1:40; Luke 5:12). The leper recognizes the deity of Christ, his sovereign freedom to cleanse or not cleanse, and his full ability to make the leper clean. The leper is not asking Jesus to accept him as a leper and allow him to continue in his leprosy. He is asking the sovereign God to change his life. In fact, the accounts in Mark and Luke indicate that the leper pleaded with Jesus to cleanse him. Similarly, the ten lepers cried “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” They, too, recognized Christ as master of their lives, and their need for mercy from him. In fact, the one who gave thanks for his cleansing was told “your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:11-19).
▪ One of the prostitutes who was received by Jesus in the home of a religious leader heard Jesus say, “your sins are forgiven.” As a result, “[her] faith saved [her]” from the penalty due her sins. The account of the demonstration of her faith says,
And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment (Luke 7:37-38).
The woman, in humility toward Christ, did not face him directly, but stood behind him so as not to look as if she were propositioning him. She took ointment for her occupation and used it to honor the Christ instead using it to allure Christ. She poured out tears of remorse, used her own hair as a towel, and demonstrated homage to him by kissing his feet (rather than attempting to kiss him in an erotic manner). The woman recognized him as Lord–the one who could forgive her sins. She did not expect him to allow her to remain as a prostitute. Furthermore, Jesus says that this was evidence of her “love” for the one who she sought to forgive her sins. Her love was not indicated by the “love” she offered on the street to men. Her love toward him came with shame for sin and a change in lifestyle.
▪ Jesus had a conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well with full knowledge that she was an adulterer. Jesus confronts this woman’s sins in a conversation leading her to recognize him as the Messiah. He does not leave her as simply a Samaritan, but leads her to acknowledge the Jewish man confronting her as the Savior of all people in the world (John 4:1-42).
▪ When Jesus called Levi to himself, he called him to “follow [him].” Levi (a.k.a. “Matthew”) responded by “leaving everything”–including his money made from cheating the people, indicating he was leaving his former ways. Later, while at Levi’s house eating with other tax collectors, Jesus informs the religious leaders he “came to call sinners to repentance.” He called Levi, Levi turned from his sinful way to Christ, and thus he left his sin as he followed Jesus as a disciple. Similarly Zacchaeus the tax collector, finding out who Jesus is, gave one-half of his riches to the poor and promised pay four hundred percent of what was stolen from each person from whom he collected taxes. Zaccheaus made a change of life when he met Jesus.
▪ In the case of the thief on the cross next to Jesus’s cross, the thief was fearful of confronting God as a thief. Rebuking the other thief for ridiculing Jesus, he recognized Jesus as the Jewish King, asking Jesus to remember him when he arrived in his kingdom:
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:39-43).
The thief fully recognized that Jesus, on the other side of death, would be king in the kingdom he had been preaching. He also recognized Jesus’s ability to bring him into that kingdom. In effect, he asked the king to pardon him for his sins rather than mock the king in his sinfulness (Luke 23:32-42). The thief’s repentance is evident from his apparent change in heart. He could not continue in the mocking of Jesus that he had been practicing with the other thief (Matt. 27:44; Mark 15:32). Jesus is able to assure the thief of acceptance in his kingdom because the thief has repented from sin and trust Jesus for his salvation.
▪ In the case of the prodigal son, in which the prodigal represents the sinner and the father represent God, the prodigal does not expect the father to express forgiveness. But as the son had turned from his wasteful lifestyle, he then returned home and was welcomed into the house by his father. For the prodigal, repentance from sin preceded acceptance by the father.
In summary, each person was received by Jesus as they 1) recognized him as Lord, 2) repented of their pasts–turned away from their previous lifestyles, 3) expressed faith him for salvation from their past ways of living, and 4) demonstrated change from their past to the standards for following Jesus. Initial reception of each sinner became ongoing acceptance only after a change of lifestyle by faith in Christ on the part of those practicing sin. The modern concept of “come as you are,” flaunting and justifying one’s sinful inclinations without thought of seeking a change in lifestyle, differs from the description of Jesus’s encounter with sinners in the Gospels. For Jesus, “come as you are” meant to come to him and be readily welcomed by him in one’s sinful identity. But it also meant coming to him in brokenness over one’s sin, seeking to be changed from that identity in order for there to be ongoing acceptance from him (i.e., salvation). Even the account of the woman caught in adultery depicts the woman’s recognition of Jesus as “Lord,” and Jesus’s demands for the woman to change her adulterous ways: “go; and from now on sin no more” (John 8:1-11).1
This type of reception of sinners was not limited to Jesus’s earthly ministry: this was the message preached by his disciples as they preached to people “to repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 20:26; also see 5:31; 8:22; 17:30; 20:21). This finds agreement in the epistles expectation that all people “should reach repentance (2 Pet. 3:9; also see Rom. 2:4; 1 Thess. 1:9; 2 Tim. 2:25; Heb. 6:6). Therefore, in order to be faithful to the Scriptures, the final authority for faith and practice as a Christian, the church must call homosexuality sin, reject from membership those who do not change from a sinful lifestyle, yet receive those who desire to turn from homosexuality and any other sinful lifestyle.
Therefore, if your homosexuality is the concern keeping you from church, go to church and observe the worship. You should be welcomed into the public worship service. Expect to hear that the Lord will rescue you from his judgment upon sin, give you the power to resist fulfillment of homosexual desires, and grant you the joy of life as a heterosexual in monogamous marital relationship of fidelity or in contentment as a single in contentment and holiness.
However do not expect the church to receive you into membership without your repentance from homosexuality, faith in Christ as Lord, and continued practice that gives evidence of the repentance and faith:
· You should move out from living with a homosexual partner and completely break off that and all such relationships immediately. If your concern is about feelings of love or loneliness, bear in mind that God’s love for you is demonstrated by the giving of his only Son to die for you. Once you have placed faith in his Son, God promises that he “will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5-6). The Lord is able to give you new, God-fearing, loving friends who will walk with you as you seek to live for him. This should be done after sharing with these unsaved, homosexual friends about the love of Christ, so that they can choose as well to accept or reject Him. This demonstration of love may be crucial to whether they may eventually choose Christ themselves or not.
· You must avoid homosexual bars, clubs, and similar gathering places common to the homosexual community. This includes gatherings of metrosexuals, bisexuals, transgender individuals, so-called homosexual churches and homosexual-welcoming churches. This may seem extreme. However, if you were an alcoholic desiring to repent from alcohol abuse, repentance would include staying away from bars, liquor stores, liquor isles in grocery and convenience stores, keg and drinking parties, and even a glass of alcoholic beverage with a meal. You would stay away from drinking buddies and fellow alcoholics who might offer you a drink until you were free enough from the desire for alcohol to resist drinking and lead others to do the same. This staying away is not meant to condemn those places or people. Instead, it is meant to provide the proper environment for you to be free from distractions that may take your focus away from God as you attempt to cultivate new habits.
· You must destroy all homosexual, erotic, and pornographic literature, audio and visual media, and paraphernalia in your possessions. A great portion of your battle to turn away from sin will be mental: your mind must be able to tell your feelings and desires the truth about God, his righteous standards, his power, and his love for you. As a Christian, one is called to live a new life and develop a new way of thinking based on the death and resurrection of Christ and the power to live a new life that comes from believing on Christ:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect, (Rom. 12:1-2).
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self,which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4:17-24)
· If in your life as a homosexual you chose to develop gender-marking characteristics typical of a person of the opposite sex, such as a change in tone of voice, a cadence or flare to your walk, a drastic alteration of the hair, or adorning yourself with clothing and jewelry common to the other gender, you must chose to stop using these markers. You must not send signals to homosexuals that you continue to deny your natural gender. While God “looks at the heart” more than one’s outward appearance, he is concerned about men and women having appearance appropriate for each gender, (see Dt. 22:5; I Cor. 11:14-15; I Tim. 2:9-10; I Pet. 3:3-6).
· You need to publicly declare your repentance among the people of God and seek out those who can help you walk in maturity. Christians are to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). You will need people to help you carry the load of the struggle of attempting to be free from homosexual desires. You will also need people to encourage you to continue to fight to overcome sin, to pray for you, and to be available if you fall back into your old habits while attempting to gain victory over homosexuality. Such people will be there to support you, reminding you that God even stands to forever forgive those that would humbly confess and start over rightly with him.
You should not be upset because the church has standards for membership. You cannot force your standards, or the standards of popular culture, on the church. The church should not and must not accept unrepentant homosexuals–or unrepentant sinners of any type of transgressions–into membership.
The church did not make the rules for her standards of conduct. The one true God, who is holy in all of his ways, made the standards. It is he who offers to you to believe on Jesus Christ so that he might give you salvation from your sins. He offers you Christ so that you may become a sinner saved by grace who lives holy among God’s people–the church.
So if it is acceptance you are seeking, go to Jesus first. Once you have met him in repentance, all of the other redeemed sinners will be glad to accept you!
For Further Study
Ash, Christopher. Marriage: Sex in the Service of God. Leicester, UK.: Inter-Varsity, 2003.
Heimbach, Daniel R. True Sexual Morality: Recovering Biblical Standards for a Culture in Crisis. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2004.
Schmidt, Thomas E. Straight and Narrow: Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexual Debate. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1995.
(1) It is recognized that the trustworthiness of this account as Scripture is textually disputed. For more, see D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John: An Introduction and Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1991, pp. 333-37.
From Where Are All the Brothers? by Eric Redmond, © 2008. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.