“Do you think homosexuality is a sin?”
This is one of the most commonly asked questions when people wonder if you might be an open and affirming Christian.
I find this an odd question for a couple of reasons.
First, even though the term “homosexuality” encompasses more than just what people do in their beds, what I’ve found is that when someone asks this question, what they mean is, “Do you think gay sex is a sin?” Therefore, if a person believes that sex between two men or two women is sinful, then the answer for them becomes a simple, “Yes, homosexuality is a sin.”
Second, I’ve also found that my inability to give what the inquirer assumes should be a simple yes or no answer frustrates both them and me. Let me explain.
Imagine that you are a non-affirming Christian who is convinced the Bible condemns homosexuality. We’re hanging out, watching Monday Night Football, and the subject of sexuality comes up. You don’t know me that well, so you ask if I think homosexuality is a sin. I noticeably hem and haw, while nursing my pint of Belgian Ale, and you sense I’m about to monologue. You snort a little and tell me, “It’s a simple question, yes or no?”
I pause and look up at a screen, pretending to check on the score, “Well, answer me this . . . do you think premarital sex is a sin?”
“Yes,” you reply, “I do.” You follow up by acknowledging that some Christians feel otherwise, but for you the sacredness of sex is reserved only for a man and woman in the context of marriage.
Then I ask you, “How about if I, as a married straight man, had an affair with another woman?”
You roll your eyes. “Of course that’s a sin!”
I quickly follow up with, “Or what if, instead of an affair, I visited a strip club? Or maybe slept with a prostitute?”
You were in mid-sip at this point, and at the mention of “prostitute” you nearly spit your ale out. “Come on,” you shout, annoyed at me, “are you genuinely questioning me about the sinfulness of soliciting prostitutes? What are you getting at?”
I smile, enjoying myself, “Okay, just to be clear though, sex with my own wife . . . sinful or no?”
“No,” you retort. “Like I said—in the confines of the marriage covenant, consensual sex between a man and a woman is a beautiful—and non-sinful—gift of God.”
“Thanks for your honesty. So then, I have just one more question. . . . Is heterosexuality a sin?”
“Well,” you set your glass down, narrow your eyes, and tilt your head to the side, slow to respond, “I guess sometimes yes and sometimes no.”
We may not all agree on the criteria, but most Christians take as a given the space to parse out when heterosexual sex is a sin and when it’s not. As a result, giving a one-word answer to the question, “Is heterosexuality a sin?” is neither practical nor helpful. Nuance is demanded.
Given the Bible’s lack of condemnation thus far (the present two Clobber Passages notwithstanding, although they shan’t be standing much longer), I’m suggesting the same space be given for the “sometimes yes, sometimes no” position for homosexual activities. If you think about it, this squares rather well with what we’ve discovered so far in our study of the Clobber Passages. From a biblical perspective, we would be in safe territory, for instance, to suggest that same-sex rape, same-sex prostitution, same-sex worship orgies, and same-sex adultery could fall in to the “yes, that’s sinful” category.
I believe it is possible to be an open and affirming Christian while also holding fast to scriptural values and principles regarding sexual morality. I’m not proposing that we ditch verses we dislike or that don’t fit in our desired worldview. Nor am suggesting we turn to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and give them carte blanche to follow any and all of their desires. Instead, I’m hoping we can find a place, guided by the Spirit and Scripture, where all people, regardless of orientation, are invited to enjoy some expressions of sexual intimacy and avoid others.
But that proposition will be valid only if, indeed, I’m correct, and we need to rethink how we have understood, and misused, these final two Clobber Passages from 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1.
(This is an excerpt from chapter 10 of UnClobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality. If you want to read how I engage the two passages from 1 Cor 6 and 1 Tim 1, where Paul lists “men who practice homosexuality” (at least, according to one translation) as a vice incompatible with the Kingdom of God, then grab a copy of UnClobber over at Amazon.)