It was about halfway through my college years, when a friend of mine and I were talking one day about the intersection between the LGBTQ movement and Christianity. During our conversation he made a startling pronouncement that I’ve never forgotten: This will be the defining issue of our time, and he declared it would be the greatest challenge in our generation to what the Bible teaches. When he said that, I remember thinking that may have been a bit of an overblown statement. After all, George W. Bush had just won re-election, and opposition to social issues like gay marriage was part of what cemented his victory. Very few states at the time had legalized same-sex marriage, and the majority of Americans believed that marriage was a union between one man and one woman. Additionally, very few Protestant churches at that point had embraced homosexuality as morally compatible with Christian teachings. My, how things have changed in two decades. Today, believing that marriage is between a man and a woman, or believing homosexuality is a sin or that you are who your biology says you are will have you culturally looking like The Last Samurai. If this the recent Supreme Court ruling was any indication, it’s only going to get tougher from here for Christians.
In true ‘2020’ fashion, it was surprising recently that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling (whose views are fairly liberal on sexuality) came under intense scrutiny for daring to express concerns on twitter about the implications of gender identity ideology for women. We also saw Conservative Trump-appointed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch helped cement a legal victory that saw the Supreme Court redefine the word ‘sex’ as it redefined the word ‘marriage’ five years ago by applying the 1964 Civil Rights Act to sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace. While most of us, including most evangelical Christians, are not opposed to the overall idea that employees should not be discriminated against for their personal lifestyle; without specific religious freedom protections, the complexity and legal ramifications from the court’s decision to fundamentally redefine sexuality present significant concerns and legal challenges that will follow in the months and years ahead for employers and organizations that adhere to biblical teaching on sex and gender. All of that pales in comparison to the greatest challenge of all facing Christians in America, which is properly presenting, addressing and discussing what a biblical understanding of sexuality means.
As the tide has been shifting in our culture and as it’s messaging on sexuality has become louder it has become harder to ignore from just about every facet of society. Some evangelical Pastors and churches have opted for the cone of silence, but society has been loud and clear, while the church has been quiet and vague. Perhaps out of fear of offending or possibly in light of how complex, sensitive, and the difficulty in discussing sexual orientation and gender identity that is in today’s culture.
Either way, the reality is that for Christians who believe the Bible it is clear that sexual relations are intended only to be expressed within the context of monogamous heterosexual marriage. As the Apostle Paul wrote his epistles admonishing his audience to be faithful to their husband or wife sexually, it was common practice to engage in sexual orgies with temple prostitutes for worship in the culture he was addressing (1 Corinthians 6:15, 1Thessalonians 4:3-6). God’s standards of sexual morality never jell well with the society in which we live. If we think we have it tough to hold to biblical convictions, try and imagine what being a Christian in the Roman Empire must have been like. A Christian is called to be salt and light. Every Christian must rise to the occasion and the opportunity to be those things in the face of the cultural challenges we face in 2020 America and not avoid or ignore them.
How are we to broach these tough topics? With love and truth. It’s a simple yet profound balance that Jesus Christ came to bring on this earth (John 1:14). Jesus displayed by how he embodied compassion and conviction as He reached out in grace to the lost, hurting, and broken around Him but also challenged them to repent of their sin and follow Him with their lives. In the era of social media tribal warfare, we are increasingly losing the art of being able to have respectful, loving, friendly relationships with people with whom we disagree strongly. Christians’ response to the LBTQ movement and community has been plagued with mixed messaging. Under the ‘Christian’ umbrella, you have some churches and denominational groups that promote love to the LGBTQ community complete with rainbows outside their churches but abandon the traditional orthodox and long-held understanding of Scriptural teachings on sexual immorality. Other churches and groups under the same umbrella preach biblical truth in anger instead of love, with an overemphasis on homosexuality that treats this sin as somehow worse than any other sin in the Bible, failing to make a distinction between LGBTQ identifying persons who are to be loved as image-bearers but called away from the sin of homosexuality to Jesus.
LGBTQ identifying people are first and foremost loved and wanted by God, because they are created in the image of God, and should be treated with love and respect. When a gay nightclub in Orlando Florida experienced a mass shooting in June 2016 that left 49 people dead and wounded many others, it forced the culture wars to be paused. To Christians who believe homosexual behavior is a sin, we need to be reminded that the victims of this horrific tragedy were fellow human beings who should be loved, because Jesus Christ gave His life as a sacrifice for every member of the LGBTQ community, just as He did for you and me. ‘Westboro Baptist’ should not be the stereotype that comes to mind as even close to an accurate reflection of what evangelical Christians are like or what they believe, or how they treat LGBTQ identifying people. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor; He didn’t suggest it (Matthew 22:37-40). Like the meme with a giant billboard that I’ve seen on social media says, “That ‘Love thy neighbor’ thing…I meant that.-God”, and the reality is sitting in the pews of churches across America; we have fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who have and continue to experience same-sex attraction.
Yet, Jesus is calling us to love, which means to hold onto and to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). What is the truth about sex and gender? The Bible says in Psalms 1:1-3, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD and on His law, he meditates day and night.”
We have three choices: We can listen to how we feel inside and the desires we experience daily. We can also listen to what our culture and society are preaching to us daily, or we can choose to listen to what God says in Scripture about who He says we are and how we are to live. In the opening chapters of Genesis, we find foundational theological truths to understanding God’s intended perfect design for our sexuality. He created one man and one woman, male and female; biologically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually different yet made them to complement one another. A married man and woman are to have a special and exclusive bond and union, as a sacred symbolic reflection of the intended relationship between humanity and the Divine, fearfully and wonderfully made by Him. It is in this context that the Creator intended sexual intimacy to be expressed, which is a truth that is repeatedly emphasized throughout Scripture. The Bible is filled with more horror stories than the Adams Family as examples of what happens when we choose to live our way, like Frank Sinatra sang, instead of God’s way.
Our culture’s message is to do what feels right. The Bible teaches us to do what is right because God says so in His revealed Word. The world encourages us to live out our passions to experience pleasure to find happiness and satisfaction. The tragic irony of this is perfectly summed up by the great C.S. Lewis, who said, “Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us.”[i] We have been following Adam and Eve’s patterns established in the Garden of Eden, who, after a taste of infinite joy, chose to disobey God for what turned out to be a poor substitute. It’s been said that the true definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. In that sense, we are all a bit like Joker. Due to the fall of man, we are all plagued with desires and passions which are a distortion of God’s intention for our sexuality, and through Christ, we are admonished to no longer carry them out (Ephesians 2:3). And, while there are several recent attempts to somehow gloss over or reinterpret what the Bible says about homosexuality to somehow make Scriptural teachings on this issue compatible with our cultural norms, the Bible is unequivocal in both the Old and New Testament (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Romans 1:26-27,), that homosexual acts are sin.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”(Matthew 16:24-25). Jesus’ statement and call to each of us are to take up our cross and deny our passions and desires that are hindering us from wholeheartedly following Him. Such a call is not an easy sell in the times in which we live, because it contradicts everything that our society encourages us to do. Yet Jesus makes an offer that even Michael Corleone can’t refuse: He promises us it will be worth it. A loving walk and relationship with the Creator of the Universe through His Son Jesus Christ is more joyous, satisfying, and fulfilling than anything else we can experience in life. Our identity should be rooted in who God says we are. Becket Cook, a gay Hollywood fashion designer who lived a homosexual lifestyle for 25 years of his life and gave his heart to Jesus, said it best, “Christ showed me that my identity is in Him, not my sexuality, and His Spirit empowers me to live a life worthy of my calling.”[ii]
It is imperative that we dialogue with our children and grandchildren about sexuality and gender identity and to be intentional in imparting a biblical perspective on these difficult issues as schools and our culture are filling in the blanks for us. The church as a whole must cultivate an environment where these questions and struggles can be openly discussed rather than avoided and shamed, with a foundation of biblical love and truth upon which to interpret these tough topics. For any Pastor or clergy leader, let us remember the charge given to us from the Apostle Paul, who said, “I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). We must declare the whole counsel of God, even the tough, difficult, and toe stepping parts of the counsel of God because we will have to answer one day for our silence, and timidity to the Lord who sees and knows us. It’s time to be bold and address the defining issue of our time, with compassion and conviction, in grace and truth.
Colossians 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elementary principles of the world rather than on Christ.”
[i] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory.
[ii] Becket, Cook C.B. ‘The False Promise of Gay Pride’ Boundless.org
Stephen Mitchell is the Senior Pastor of Trinity Bible Church, a non-denominational Bible-believing church in Severna Park, Maryland. He has authored four books, spoken at various churches and retreats, and continues to write about the various issues and challenges facing Christians in the 21st century. He lives with his wife, and two children in Maryland.