February 7, 1993

GAY LIBERATION

“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” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

The gay liberation movement has come a long way lately.  Not so long ago, it was against the law in many areas for people of the same gender to have sex together.  But gay liberation has made great advances in Britain and Canada other countries, and in the United States, the new president has promised to advance gay rights.  President Clinton has promised that his political appointments will include a fair representation of gays and lesbians, and he’s promised to compel a very reluctant military establishment to accept people who are openly homosexual.

Gay liberation has also changed the mental health profession.  Up until 1973, the American Psychiatric Association included homosexuality on its list of mental illnesses and psychological disorders, but a lot has changed since then, and today more and more professionals consider homosexual behavior to be perfectly normal.  Nowadays, when therapists have gay or lesbian patients, the goal of the therapy is often not to help them escape from being gay but to help them accept and affirm and enjoy their gayness.

Gay liberation has also begun the work of changing people’s minds on a broader scale through public education.  From kindergarten through university, more and more schools are trying to make students more tolerant and receptive to gay sexuality and to help them view the homosexual preference as normal and morally acceptable.  Part of the recommended reading for first graders in New York is a book called “Daddy’s Roommate.”  It’s a nice, heartwarming little book with cute pictures, where daddy just happens to be divorced and now lives with and eats with and sleeps with another man.  In some schools, by the time students get to junior high, they are treated to explicit portrayals of many forms of sex, both homosexual and heterosexual, along with advice on how to minimize the risk of AIDS while doing these things.  And at some universities, if a student protests at being placed with a gay or lesbian roommate, that protester is considered the one with the hangup, a candidate for therapy to be cured of homophobia and bigotry.

Gay liberation has also been winning victories in a number of churches and seminaries and divinity schools.  In the more progressive institutions, you won’t hear gay and lesbian sex condemned as sin.  For that matter, the person preaching the sermon may be gay.  An increasing number of religious leaders are telling gays and lesbians to celebrate who they are and to relish their own sexual preferences as a gift from God.

There’s no doubt about it:  the gay liberation movement has come a long way since emerging from the closet just a few decades ago.  Government has declared homosexual behavior legal;  psychiatry has declared it healthy;  schools are teaching that it’s normal; and religious institutions have declared it moral and a gift of God.

Some people who are “straight” may find all of this rather threatening, but for a lot of gay men and lesbian women, gay liberation has meant the freedom to express their own identity openly instead of secretly, and with pride instead of shame.  They feel a newfound sense of power instead of helplessness, of boldness instead of fear, of solidarity and support instead of total isolation.

Right now I want to go on the record as saying that I am a firm believer in gay liberation.  I believe that the Bible calls for gay liberation.  God’s love extends to gays, and he calls them to enjoy the freedom to be the kind of people he wants them to be.  Let me hasten to add, however, that the Bible’s message of gay liberation is very different from what people nowadays usually mean when they talk about gay liberation.  Gay liberation in the Bible is the message that gay people can be liberated from their slavery to sinful homosexual activity and its consequences, and they can be set free to become disciples of Jesus Christ who are destined to enjoy eternal life.

According to the Bible, God loves homosexuals, but he does not love homosexual behavior.  It is sinful and offensive to him. The Lord loves gay people in exactly the same way he loves sinners of every kind:  He loves them with a love that forgives and rescues and transforms, not a love that merely tolerates and approves and endorses behavior of every kind.  The Bible’s teaching about sin, of which homosexuality is one among many varieties, has two main points:  we need to be set free from it, and we can be set free from it.  No part of the Bible makes this clearer than 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.  Listen:

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived:  Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy or drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  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 (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

The church at Corinth included people who had formerly been involved in all kinds of sin, including homosexual activity, but they had been set free through Jesus Christ and through God’s Holy Spirit.

The first step in the gospel’s liberation of gays and lesbians is to show that they do need to be set free if they want to enter God’s kingdom.  God doesn’t mince any words about this (cf. Romans 1:24-27).  If you’re gay or lesbian, you need to accept the fact that homosexual behavior is sinful and you can’t afford to keep doing it.  It’s not simply a morally neutral feature of the way a person is, such as being left-handed or having dark skin.  It’s not just a harmless personal preference like preferring apples to bananas.  Gay and lesbian sex is sinful.  It’s wrong.  It is spiritually deadly.  “Homosexual offenders,” says the Bible, “will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Now, the fact that homosexual behavior is sinful doesn’t make it somehow worse than all other sins.  In the Bible passage I just quoted, you’ll notice that it’s only one part of a rather long list of sinful activities.  It’s not in some special category by itself.  In the eyes of God, a homosexual act is no more sinful than uttering a swear word or getting drunk or being greedy and self-centered, or having sex with a person of the opposite sex whom you haven’t married.  All these things, and many others, appear in the Bible’s lists of sins right along with the sin of homosexuality, and so if you’re guilty of any sin at all, you’re in no position to look down on homosexuals.  Before you heap abuse on gays and act as though homosexuality is almost the only sin there is, remember that you’ve got sins of your own which are equally offensive to God.

The Christian faith doesn’t permit us to hate homosexuals or heap abuse on them, nor, on the other hand, will it allow us simply to condone their behavior.  In the face of both extremes, the Bible insists that homosexual behavior is indeed sinful, and at the same time the Bible insists that homosexuals can be forgiven and renewed and adopted by God as his sons and daughters.  A gay or lesbian who repents and seeks God’s forgiveness is loved by God just as much as anyone else, and he or she is just as much a part of the church as any other repentant sinner.  This teaching of the Bible is a rebuke to those who hate and despise gays and consider them beyond redemption, and at the same time it challenges the politically correct wisdom that says homosexual behavior is just fine, that it doesn’t need to be forgiven at all, but only approved and condoned.  The gospel says both that gays need to be liberated, and that they can be liberated by Jesus Christ.

This message of the Bible, however, has been challenged in the light of recent scientific research, which, we’re often told, shows that gay people are born that way and that it is simply a matter of inevitable biology rather than a moral choice.  Before you reject the Bible’s teaching, however, keep in mind that it’s always hazardous to your spiritual health when you think that human research, with all its biases and hidden agendas, is more reliable than the infallible Word of God.  If God has spoken, that should be enough.  However, for the benefit of those who have been swayed by what they’ve heard about recent research, let me just take a few moments to examine the evidence more closely.

Simon LeVay, a neuroscientist with the Salk Institute of LaJolla, California, studied the brains of 41 cadavers, 19 of which had belonged to homosexuals who had died of AIDS.  LeVay found that the area of the hypothalamus, which some believe governs sexual activity, was smaller in the homosexual men than in the heterosexuals, and LeVay theorized that perhaps this physical difference accounted in large part for the difference is sexual preference.

In another research project, psychologist Michael Bailey and psychiatrist Richard Pillard did a study of gay men who had either twin brothers or adopted brothers.  They found that 52% of the identical twin brothers were gay, while only 22% of the fraternal (non-identical) twins were gay, and only 11% of the adopted brothers.  Doesn’t that point to a genetic factor, and doesn’t all of this prove that homosexuality is just something you’re born with, and therefore has nothing to do with moral choice?

Well, not quite.  Joe Dallas, the president of Exodus International, wrote a valuable article in Christianity Today recently (June 22, 1992, p. 20-23), which points out some reasons why we should be careful with how we view such findings.

Dallas reminds us that the researchers themselves were hardly unbiased observers.  Simon LeVay and Richard Pillard are both gay men, and Michael Bailey is a gay-rights advocate.  All three have acknowledged that they began their research with a definite agenda.  LeVay, for example, told Newsweek that after his lover died of AIDS, he was so eager to find an inborn cause for homosexuality that he would give up his scientific career if he failed.  Pillard was equally forthright about his goals.  He said:  “A genetic component in sexual orientation says, ‘This is not a fault, and this is not your fault.”

Not only did the researchers have their own agenda, but also, their findings were compromised by flawed methods and poor interpretation of the results.  The portion of the hypothalamus that Simon LeVay studied is smaller than a snowflake, and scientists can’t even agree on how its size should be measured.  Yet the disputed measurements of this mysterious little gland are supposed to outweigh the obvious and indisputable ways in which the features of the male and female anatomy are complementary to each other.

But just suppose LeVay’s measurements were valid.  We still wouldn’t know whether the behavior of gay men was caused by the smaller hypothalamus, or whether the smaller hypothalamus was somehow caused by their homosexual behavior or by the AIDS from which they died.  Did the biology cause the behavior, or did the behavior affect the biology?  There’s no way of knowing.

When we look at the study of twins, the results are equally unconvincing.  Identical twins raised in the same family environment are often dressed the same and treated very much the same, and so common sense tells us that a great many of the similarities in identical twins have as much to do with their shared upbringing as their identical genetics.  According to Anne Fausto Sterling, a biologist at Brown University, “in order for such a study to be meaningful, you’d have to look at twins raised apart.”

Not only that, but to the degree that the study is valid, it disproves the exact point it is supposed to prove.  We’re being told that people are homosexual because they were born that way.  Now, if that were true, if sexual orientation were based entirely on genetics, it would mean that genetically identical people should always have an identical sexual orientation.  100% of those who have a gay identical twin would themselves be gay since identical twins are born with identical genetics.  Yet in the study by Bailey and Pillard, only 52% of those who had a gay identical twin turned out to be gay themselves.  They were born genetically identical, they were raised in almost the exact same way, and yet half of them still turned out not to be gay.

So even if we grant that genetics can play a partial role in sexual orientation, this study is proof positive that genetics don’t play a decisive role.  There’s got to be more to being homosexual than simply being born that way.  Otherwise, how could identical twins have different orientations?

And yet if you listen to the media, you’d get the impression that people are simply born gay, and that science has proven it.  If you’re wondering how the media can trumpet all of this so confidently with so little basis, you might be interested to know that in a recent survey of people who work in the news and entertainment media, at least 80% said that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality.  In other words, four out of five people in the media want you to believe that homosexual activity is moral and natural.  Keep that in mind next time you listen to the news or read “Dear Abby” or watch “Roseanne” or “L.A. Law.”  You’re not getting scientific truth;  you’re getting propaganda.

Let me talk directly now to those of you who are gay or lesbian.  Many of you believe that you were born homosexual, that it’s a natural part of who you are.  You’re convinced of that, not so much because of scientific research but because of your own experience.  You know that there’s more to your condition than a simple choice.  You didn’t just wake up one day and decide to become a homosexual.  It goes much deeper than that.

When you think back, you can’t remember ever being attracted to someone of the opposite sex.  Your romantic and erotic feelings have been directed toward people of the same sex for as long as you can remember.  When you first discovered these urges, you may even have felt ashamed of them and wished they weren’t there and tried to change.  But you found out that it’s not that simple.  Those feelings just wouldn’t go away.  Eventually, when you acted on those feelings and had sexual encounters with partners of the same sex, it didn’t seem unnatural.  It felt like something you’d always wanted.

Oh, there may be some heterosexuals who experiment with homosexuality just out of curiosity, but for you, it seemed like there was never really any choice in the matter.  Whether it’s how you were born, or whether it’s related to experiences in your early childhood, or a combination of several things–all of that is almost beside the point.  The fact is that you’ve felt this way for as long as you can remember.

So what are you supposed to do when the Bible says that homosexual behavior is sinful and that you can be delivered from it?  Well, before anything else, you first need to take God at his Word.  If he says it’s wrong to be sexually intimate with a person of the same gender, then it’s wrong.  If Jesus says he can set you free, then he can.  That’s the place to begin:  to know and believe that God’s Word is true.  Ignore the politically correct propaganda, ignore your own feelings, and simply accept that God is telling you the truth.  You need to be liberated, and you can be liberated.

Having said that, let me hasten to add that the Bible is not simplistic or naive, or unrealistic when it talks about sin and about liberation from it.  God knows that homosexual behavior, like all other sins, is much more than just something you choose to do at a given moment.  The Bible doesn’t treat sin as something that you can freely turn off and on at will.  Sin certainly involves an act of will, but it goes much deeper than that.

The Bible teaches that sin is deeply ingrained in our very nature from the moment we’re conceived (Psalm 51:5).  Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, people have been born sinful.  All people are born with sinful tendencies, though the particulars may vary from person to person.  In that sense, it may well be true that some people are born with a tendency toward homosexuality.  But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to act on that tendency.

There’s an inborn aspect to sin, and also an addictive aspect.  There’s a sense in which sin controls us with a grip that’s beyond our power to change.  Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34).  Sin is a power that grips and controls us.

The inborn and addictive aspects of sin make it impossible to change yourself simply through an act of willpower.  This is true of sin in general, and it’s never more true than in the experience of homosexuals.

But the good news of Jesus Christ is that you don’t have to depend purely on your own willpower in order to become a new person.  1 Corinthians 6:9 gives that long list of sins which includes homosexual behavior, and then in verse 10 it says, “And that is what some of you were.”  They were that, but not anymore.  “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.”  They couldn’t have done it on their own, but God did it for them.

Homosexual sin, like all other sin, separates us from God and from eternal life with him, but that’s not the end of the story.  God refused to leave us in our sin.  He sent his own Son, and the condemnation we deserve was heaped on the back of Jesus Christ as he hung on the cross, suffering the punishment of hell to pay for our sins.  Jesus has opened the way to forgiveness for all who repent and believe in him and seek a new way of life.

That’s good news for all sinners, including gay and lesbian sinners.  There were homosexual people in the church of Corinth who found forgiveness and a new way of life in Jesus, and still today there are gay and lesbian people who experience the pardon and liberation that comes through trusting Jesus and receiving his Holy Spirit.

God not only grants forgiveness, but he leads us into a new way of life.  This means, with regard to your sexual behavior, that you either abstain from sexual intimacy entirely or else enjoy it in a marriage relationship with a person of the opposite sex.  This is a hard teaching if your only romantic urges are for people of the same sex.  For that matter, it’s also hard for heterosexual singles, but at least many of them can eventually find legitimate and holy sexual fulfillment in the context of a marriage approved by God.

Some homosexuals who become Christians find that their sexual preferences change through prayer or perhaps through therapy, and they may eventually end up enjoying marriage.  For many others, however, their old urges and preferences are still there and remain with them as long as they live, even though they are Christians.  What does freedom in Christ mean then?

It means this:  you have the freedom to deny yourself in order to follow Jesus.  You have the power of self-control instead of the addiction to self-indulgence.  Sometimes Christianity means not “being yourself” but denying yourself.  In Jesus you have a new self, a new identity to live up to.  As the Bible puts it in Ephesians 5,

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;  to be made new in the attitude of your minds;  and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 5:22-24).

In Christ, you will receive blessings that far outweigh the struggles and sacrifices, and God will also provide the resources you need to live the new life.  You have the Holy Spirit, you have the power of prayer, you have the support of fellow Christians, and where it’s necessary, there are also special Christian ministries to former gays and lesbians like Metanoia and Exodus International.  For any of us to live the Christian life, we need a deepening relationship with God, we need loving and caring and supportive relationships with other people who can encourage us and hold us accountable, and we need to be realistic about the nature of the struggle.

It’s not always easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.  You may still be tempted;  you may still have many of the old urges that were part of your old self; and when you do, you’ll have to deny yourself.  When you have those urges, it doesn’t mean that you’re sinning.  Remember, it’s no sin to be tempted;  the sin is giving in to temptation.  Christ gives you the freedom to say “No” to temptation, and if at some point you do stumble and fall, the gospel gives you the freedom to claim God’s forgiveness and to let the Holy Spirit pick you up again and continue the battle, rather than simply giving up and giving in to your old way of life.  That is God’s call to gays and lesbians, and it’s his call to all of us.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.