Who or what determines sexual ethics?
The Christian gospel has a number of sharp edges to it that many find difficult to hear. Today, one of the sharpest of those edges seems to be what the bible teaches about sexuality. As Christianity becomes less and less influential in shaping people’s approaches to morality, people are becoming increasingly critical of what they see as an old-fashioned, conservative, traditional, homophobic attitude toward human sexuality.
One of the most frequently referenced scriptures forbidding homosexual behaviour is Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Yet this ethic extends beyond the law given to the people of Israel, as Paul repeats in Romans 1:26–27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9. When you read verses like these, there’s no beating about the bush. It’s clear that scripture describes homosexuality as contrary to God’s created intent for human sexuality.
However, a key aspect of this debate involves discerning whether these teachings were culturally specific to the time they were written or intended as universal moral principles. This question echoes similar discussions about other Biblical teachings that contemporary societies view differently, such as slavery and the role of women in the church. For instance, the Bible’s references to slavery and the instructions for women not to speak in churches (as found in Ephesians 6:5 and 1 Corinthians 14:34, respectively) are generally understood in a historical context by many modern readers, who argue that these teachings were relevant to the societal structures and norms of the time but are not applicable in the same way today. For instance, in the ancient world, slavery was a widespread and integral part of society. The Biblical texts, rather than outright endorsing slavery, recognised and regulated an existing social institution in order to encourage fairness. This perspective argues that the Bible was speaking into the cultural norms of the time without necessarily approving of the institution of slavery itself.
Interestingly, it was predominantly individuals driven by deep Christian convictions who spearheaded the fight against slavery. A notable example is William Wilberforce, a key figure in the abolitionist movement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Wilberforce, inspired by his evangelical Christian faith, was instrumental in the campaign against the slave trade in the British Empire, which culminated in the passing of the Slave Trade Act of 1807 and eventually the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. His story, as depicted in the film “Amazing Grace,” highlights how his theology intersected with social justice issues. Furthermore, other historical figures, such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass in the United States, were also motivated by their Christian theology to fight against slavery. Tubman, known for her critical role in the Underground Railroad, saw her efforts as a divine mission, guided by her strong Christian beliefs. Douglass, an escaped slave who became a prominent activist, writer, and speaker, often used Biblical rhetoric and scriptures to argue against slavery and for the rights of African Americans.
When it comes to interpreting the Biblical instructions about women speaking in church, it is also essential to consider both the historical and cultural context of early Christian communities and the broader theological implications. The Apostle Paul’s directives, as seen in passages like 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12, appear to be responses to specific situational challenges within particular churches, such as addressing disorder during worship in the Corinthian church. These instructions might not have been intended as universal church practices, but rather as pragmatic solutions to maintain order in the face of groundbreaking societal changes, including the increased participation of women in religious gatherings—a notable departure from some traditional Jewish and Greco-Roman practices.
So, we may ask whether it is a similar case for the biblical text on same-sex sexual relations. Just as the passages about women in the church are understood in the context of addressing disruption in specific early Christian communities and cultural norms, the texts on same-sex relations can also be examined in their historical context. For instance, in ancient societies, same-sex behaviours often occurred within very different frameworks (like pederasty or temple prostitution) than contemporary understandings of consensual and loyal same-sex relationships.
However, this is where things get a bit uncomfortable; the interpretation of scriptural references to same-sex sexual relations suggests that they explicitly outline moral behaviour, rather than being metaphorical or culturally relative. Theology indicates a deeper biblical meaning and purpose to male-female sexual relationships that is not paralleled in same-sex relations, a topic we will elaborate on later. The Bible’s references to same-sex relationships are not under the purview of civil or ceremonial laws or rules, which were specific to certain times and cultures, but rather they are categorised as moral laws. This categorisation implies that the prohibitions against same-sex relationships are viewed as universal, transcending their cultural and historical context.
So, the question then arises: why this distinction? Clearly, God has an idea of what sexuality is for, and homosexual relations aren’t a part of that. But I still desire an explanation, after all, same-sex instincts are quite real for a lot of people, and the empathetic side of me wants to understand. We all have our own ideas about what sexuality is for. To many, sexuality is seen as a mechanism for enjoyment, a tool for deepening romantic relationships and a way to define ourselves. I certainly agree with those first two remarks. But reading those verses and others related to sexuality, it’s clear God has said a lot more about what sexuality is for, and we’ve only retained a small bit of it.
Why is homosexuality outside God’s intent for human sexuality? I’m torn, and I want an answer.
Of course, not all believers think like this; it is a fault in our nature to bend information in the direction of our own desires. There have been zealous attempts to redefine and reinterpret particular biblical passages in order to approve of homosexual behaviour (for more, see page eight onwards of Answering revisionist gay theology). Those Christians who argue for changing the traditional Christian sexual ethic claim that if homosexuality is the result of biology (which is not yet known), then same-sex behaviour is not outside of God’s will for sexual expression. Believers struggling with this question often ask, “why did God make me gay?” This points to the broader topic of a theology of sexual identity, including theodicy. It is a question of how to make sense of experiences we encounter of ourselves (We explore this in greater depth in our essay – ‘Living Whole as a Same-sex Attracted Christian’).
The true intent of the biblical narrative – from Genesis to Revelation, taught and affirmed by Moses, Christ and Paul, and espoused in both Judaism and Christianity for thousands of years – shouldn’t be changed or twisted to fit a different sexual agenda. In reality, the reasoning of revisionist gay theology falls short, and we will need to address the incongruence between the cultural embrace of homosexual behaviour and God’s standards forbidding such.
The Bible is a collection of scriptures written between 3000 BCE to 120 AD, and when you read verses like the one above, the cultural dissonance is striking. Can you imagine someone saying that today? But perhaps a more interesting question would be: Why don’t we hear anyone saying that today?
In the past 200 years, we’ve seen a shift in what we consider the starting point of human existence, from the external anchor of God and His Word to the internal reference point of our own personal values, personal morals and personal feelings. Now, although this has led to a great deal of personal freedom, I wouldn’t say that freedom is all it’s been made out to be.
Here is where I think our culture clashes: the Judeo-Christian worldview establishes a fixed basis for morality, claiming that right and wrong are objective and absolute. This often causes conflict in our culture as so many of us try to dictate our own moral preferences in life. Yet we all live as though we believe in objective standards around sexual ethics. Most people agree that no one should be forced to have sex against their consent, yet this claim can only carry weight if we believe there is an objective standard outside ourselves against which to measure our sexual ethics. However, if morality is entirely subjective, being merely a matter of opinion relative to one’s culture, ethnicity, background etc, then there’s no external rubric by which we can say consent is always necessary and sexual assault is always bad – it’s just a matter of opinion, and yours is as strong or as weak as the person you disagree with. This leaves us all with the following options:
- On the one hand, you may believe that there are objective moral duties, that certain actions are absolutely right or wrong independent of one’s thoughts or feelings. In this sense, morality is discovered.
- On the other hand, you may believe that all morals are subjective, that no action is universally right or wrong since there isn’t an absolute basis for right or wrong independent of human opinion. In this sense, morality is invented.
The first view is incompatible with atheism; the second is incompatible with Christian theism. If there is no absolute basis for morality even around sexuality, then there are no definite moral limits to sexual behaviour.
When we rightly insist that it’s always wrong for the strong to rape the vulnerable or for the rich to steal from the poor, we are acting as if morality is objective, discovered and universally applicable. We are therefore not the ultimate arbiters of moral standards, something or someone else is. In the Christian worldview, God, as the ultimate cause and explanation of the human mind, establishes a moral limit to sexual behaviour and rules out sexual relations between the same sex.
The question is why has He chosen these specific moral standards?
Side note – a Christian confession of hypocrisy
Before we dive into this question, we need to remember that no matter how much our worldviews may differ on this, we shouldn’t mistake disagreement with devaluing someone. Let’s keep that in mind. While you may find parts of this essay challenging and contentious, please preserve judgement until the end. For me, this isn’t about politics. It’s about people. People I love and care about. And it’s not like we can single out homosexuality as the great and deadly sin above all else – read what the Apostle Paul said:
“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.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
Paul doesn’t say that homosexuality is worse than any other, he also calls out the sexually immoral. That’s a term that includes (heterosexual) men and women who sleep around with people outside of marriage or those who define a person’s worth and dignity solely by how hot they look on OnlyFans. It’s a strange, inconsistent quirk in Christianity that there’s so much attention given to LGBTQ+ issues, and yet so little noise made about the evils of sexual immorality or the pornography industry, evils which are overwhelmingly due to the sexual appetites and demands of straight men!
Perhaps it’s because the majority of the people preaching about ‘sin’ on Sundays are straight men, and it’s easier for them to talk about something that doesn’t affect them directly. In fact, I am confident that so many straight Christians would be pro-same-sex marriage if they were same-sex attracted (SSA). Imagine having to choose between God and romantic desire. I’m sure that would be a test of your faith.
It would be disingenuous to make some distinction of priority between ‘straight’, ‘gay’, ‘asexual’, or any other sexual orientation – as if some should be sublimated into other directions and others indulged because ‘boys will be boys.’ The Christian attitude towards homosexuality should be the same as the Christian attitude towards heterosexuality: that sex is a gift from God to be enjoyed as He intended it.
Homosexuality and the Christian Sexual Ethic
To understand why God forbids sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage, we need to understand God’s intentions for sex, that is, the Christian sexual ethic.
Christianity affirms that God created people to be in families (Gen 1–2). Creation teaches and Jesus, Paul, and others in the New Testament affirm that God intends people to be born into families within heterosexual marriages. This is important because it is in this context that God also places sex. Christianity affirms that sexuality in general and sex in particular are good things. Sexual activity is the means of procreation, which not only brings about life and reflects the divine act of creation, but also is the basis for family life in all cultures throughout history.
Many have the idea that the Bible is somehow disapproving of sex, as though it was something we discovered behind God’s back. But instead of talking about sex as something illicit – as if we found out about sex by opening Pandora’s Box, or going down to the locked room of Bluebeard’s castle – the Bible actually tells us that sex is commended and encouraged by God; one of God’s first commandments was to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1 v 28).
Sex is God’s idea and he wants us to bonk.
Sex was not our invention but His gift. God gave us a means of reproduction that was not just functional but deeply pleasurable. Part of the purpose of sex here is to express and deepen the unity between two people who have joined in covenant. The marriage covenant is supposed to be a deepening picture of love and virtue beautifully intertwined. Not only should desire and feeling be encouraged within marriage, but all the virtues like respect, patience, sacrifice, loyalty, and dedication to your commitment are required to make the lifelong partnership work. It’s within a marriage union of growing love and virtue that sexual desire finds its purpose.
In Christian theology, sex is not just describing the sense of togetherness a couple might feel while caught up in the height of passion. It is something objective and real. Physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually, two people are becoming knitted together, hence why sex is biblically expressed as being confined within marriage. God designed this marriage union to be permanent, committed, exclusive and self-giving. It is a complete union—emotional, spiritual and physical—with the possibility of producing new life (Genesis 2:23-24). As C.S. Lewis writes of the marital union:
“The Christian idea of marriage is based on Christ’s words that a man and wife are to be regarded as a single organism—for that is what the words “one flesh” would be in modern English. And the Christians believe that when He said this He was not expressing a sentiment but stating a fact—just as one is stating a fact when one says that a lock and its key are one mechanism, or that a violin and a bow are one musical instrument. The inventor of the human machine was telling us that its two halves, the male and the female, were made to be combined together in pairs, not simply on a sexual level, but totally combined.”
Because this relationship is so central to creation and humanity, God’s heart for marriage is woven throughout the Old and New Testaments. While hookups are only meant to last the night, covenants are meant to last for life. The marriage covenant is a safe and secure space for sexual relations, so that sex is a way to express the vulnerability and intimacy of that sacrificial commitment. God has designed it to work that way and it works very well. Sex is a good thing. The binding effect of sex in a relationship is what makes the breakdown of a sexual relationship so painful. And the more that union is forged and then broken, the more our capacity for deep and abiding unity is in some sense diminished. We are simply not designed for multiple sexual relationships. The sex may be just as functional, but it often becomes less relational and potentially less meaningful as a result.
God created sex as a good thing. Marriage is good for sex.
God’s oneness and marriage
In fact, God created everything to be an expression of His nature, and everything finds its greatest harmony and fulfilment when it aligns with His intentions for His creation. Marriage is no exception to this – God intended it to reflect something of His nature. Genesis 2:24 describes the union of a man and woman in marriage when it says they become one (echad) flesh. The man and woman—as counterparts—are intended to form a complementary union. In 2:24, it is written that “Then a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” This same word (echad) is used in the most famous creed in the Old Testament, that reminds believers: “The Lord our God, the Lord is One.” This not primarily a mathematical observation, it is an assertion about God’s nature. He is united. We see in the Bible that God is triune – He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three distinct persons, but all that this one God is, does, and says is perfectly integrated. He is One.
Mysteriously, the oneness of marriage is a wonderful God-given way for humanity to reflect the unity and diversity that is seen in God. That is what Christian marriage is about. God’s oneness is not sameness, as though the three persons of the Trinity were identical to one another. It is unity in difference, not in uniformity, and the same is true of the union of a man and woman in marriage.
But some may be agreeing with everything we’ve said about sex and marriage, but ask why this can’t apply to gay people too? If sex is great for marriage, why can’t gay people get married and have sex?
Because God’s creation is an expression of His nature, He intends to express the nature of His diverse unity through marriages that are diverse in gender. Gender and sexuality are not, according to the Christian worldview, indistinguishable, but actually frame part of our very being. We are male and female: “for this reason a man will leave his parents…” Christian marriage is based on gender, it would not exist without the sexual differences between men and women.
The same is not true of gay sex. While a man and woman reflect the union of diversity of their creator, two men or two women cannot. This is not to say that commitment, faithfulness, emotion and passion cannot be present in a gay relationship, or that they automatically exist in a heterosexual relationship just by virtue of the couple’s heterosexuality. The issue is not the feelings of commitment that two people may have for one another, but rather, the kind of union God gives to a man and woman when they become physically “one”. However else we may differ from one another in temperament, personality, culture and background, it is ultimately the joining of male-female that leads to the one-flesh union. From this union flows the possibility of new life. Procreation is not the sole purpose of marriage but it is clear that procreation is intended to be rooted in marriage.
Same-sex intercourse loses the sacred and symbiotic dimension of the two-becoming one present in the male-female marriage. Homosexuality is particularly egregious because it rejects God’s design at its deepest point: Male and female were created for each other and together reflect the unity and diversity present in God. Same-sex relationships imply that the unique attributes both male and female bring to the table don’t make much difference, and that man and woman are virtually interchangeable.
But some may object that they wouldn’t find fulfilment with someone of the opposite sex as they’re not attracted to that sex. That’s understandable. The point, though, is not that our ultimate fulfilment is to be found in marriage – this is the idolatry of romance. We find ultimate fulfilment in relationship with our maker, and out of this relationship flows a God-centred lifestyle that reflects His nature in a hundred different ways. Marriage is just one of those ways, but not a necessary part.
A vision for marriage
There is also another mystery of marriage I want us to unravel. Marriage is created and defined by God in the Scriptures as the sexual and covenantal union of a man and a woman in lifelong allegiance to each other alone, as husband and wife, with a view to displaying Christ’s covenant relationship to his bride, the church.
From the beginning, there has been a mysterious and profound meaning to marriage. Paul the Apostle enlightens us on this mystery, it is this: God made mankind male and female with their distinctive feminine and masculine natures and their distinctive roles so that in marriage as husband and wife they could display Christ and the church.
This means that the basic roles of wife and husband are not interchangeable. The husband is meant to display the sacrificial love of Christ’s headship, and the wife to display the submissive role of Christ’s body. Of course, the principle of ‘gender roles’ set by God is often perverted. The husband naturally has a tendency to try to dominate his wife or to become a doormat for his wife. The tendency for the wife is the same. However, God’s original plan is for the husband to love and serve his wife, putting her good above his own, and for the wife to respect and help him.
In this way, God set marriage to foreshadow what He intends and has promised for his people in the future (Ephesians 5:25-33) – a spiritually intimate relationship between God and humanity. In this “marriage” between Christ and his Church, Christ is metaphorically presented as the “husband” and the Church the “bride”. The temporary covenant of marriage now, “until death do us part,” is a sign of the eternal covenant God has promised His people.
In this way of thinking, our sexuality acts as an inner desire for completion. Our sexuality reminds us of our need for God as we experience in it a longing for completion in another. Indeed, a Christian understanding of sexuality focuses more on affirming this longing for completion as something that exists regardless of marital status or sexual experience; it is fundamental to what it means to be human. We long for the other, for completion, and even marriage, the context in which sex is enjoyed, only points to the eternal or transcendent reality of completion in another. The marriage relationship, scripture explains, reflects the relationship between God and ancient Israel and between Christ and the church, the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22–33). The creation account in Genesis lays out this male and female based, matrimonial picture and sets the stage for the final, eternal union of God and His people—of Christ and His bride—described in Revelation.
Christianity, then, affirms that sex in marriage is a “life-uniting act” that is both physical and tied to transcendent purposes. That is why Scripture compares the intimacy of Christ’s relationship with the church to the marital relationship. Sex has a spiritual dimension to it, such that any sex outside the context of a marriage covenant violates the meaning and purpose of sex. And scripture further describes how God recognises marriages as a lifelong covenant between man and woman, and why. While homosexuality is not the focal point of the Christian sexual ethic, it is one of many sexual acts that fall outside the context of a life-union between a man and a woman, including premarital and extramarital sex, pornography, and so on.
So not only is marriage intended to express the union seen in God (as we mentioned earlier), but it was also brought about by God as a signpost for what He has promised for his people – a renewed relationship between God and his followers for all eternity. The reason God forbids homosexual relations is due to his pre-set purpose for sexuality, which is to be expressed in opposite-sex marriages. In this union, sexuality finds its God-appointed meaning, whether in personal-physical unification, symbolic representation, sensual jubilation, or fruitful procreation. Sex is a good gift that God has given exclusively for opposite-gender marriage. Outside those perimeters, sexual relations go against God’s intentions.
Can we redefine marriage?
I can understand the response many would give to what’s been said so far: “Don’t agree with gay marriage? Don’t get one. Someone’s gay marriage doesn’t change anything about your straight marriage. These new rights don’t take away yours. So don’t try to deny them to the gay community.”
I get why many would argue that. When we see happy gay couples, why wouldn’t we invite them to join the party and get married? A friend of mine recently had a gay wedding. She’s one of the nicest people I know, and so it feels uncomfortable to say that the wedding was wrong. Anyway, it’s not like straight couples have done such a good job of commending the institution. Besides, If they aren’t harming anyone else, then who can deny their gay marriages equal protection under the law?
While this argument tugs at the heartstrings, it remains simplistic. It’s pretty obvious that there’s a lot at stake in the debate over gay marriage. Harvard University professor of government, Michael J. Sandel, questions whether we can welcome gay marriage on purely libertarian, non-judgmental criteria. “In order to decide who should qualify for marriage, we have to think through the purpose of marriage and the virtues it honours…”
According to Judeo-Christian theology, marriage is an institution of God’s creation order. When cultures debate marriage-related questions and discuss the ethics of sexual relationships, there is a fundamental divide between those who consider marriage to be, in its essence, a thing “given” by God and those who regard it as a cultural construct.
Marriage is not a cultural construct. Human cultures may seek to reinvent or reshape what marriage is and who marriage is for, but under God who gave and defined it, it stands as an unchangeable foundation for human life. While marriage as an institution benefits us all, it is also deeply sacred.
Speaking of the creation of woman from man, Genesis 2 verse 24 reads “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Initially, this text appears to just be describing marriage as a human cultural response to creation. And if it’s cultural, it’s not set in stone. If we invented it we can mould and redefine it to suit our needs.
However, when Jesus was asked about divorce, he quoted this same scripture, beginning by saying “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.’” Here he explicitly states that God spoke the words beginning “this is why”. The text therefore has God defining marriage through His creative action and edict, not that the writer of Genesis simply describes marriage as a cultural response to creation.
The reason marriage is excluded to opposite-sex couples is not to attack same-sex couples, but because the gender difference is a vital part of what marriage is meant to signify. For these reasons, “Gay marriage” is not marriage within the Christian understanding of things. While gay marriage does not force anyone to become gay, it cements the already popular belief that marriage has nothing to do with creation or procreation.
The fact is, secularism did not produce marriage; religion produced marriage. What marriage is and who it is for is not a matter of democracy. It’s God’s idea. Don’t believe in God? Then why are you interested in marriage? If someone wants to enjoy what marriage provides while changing what constitutes a marriage, that’s like wanting to have a Ferrari made out of aeroplane parts. It’s something fundamentally different. So when charitably understood, the Christian view has nothing to do with homophobia or denying the equality or rights of the gay community.
That isn’t a matter of rights, it’s a matter of definitions.
To put it bluntly, secularists have borrowed the institution of marriage from the Church, ignorant of its full purpose, redefined it according to their own preference, and now demand the church to accept their redefinition or be titled “intolerant”.
The root of this modern problem is due to the close relationship between the church and the state. When the church acts as an agent of a democratic government in administering legal marriage it will inevitably be forced to administer a view of marriage held by the majority. As society becomes increasingly less religious it will therefore continually force the church into a corner. This contortion of a Christian institution into a secular institution is essentially cultural appropriation. It would make more sense and cause less headaches for everyone if the law entitled the gay community to other forms of relationship such as a civil partnership and the like. But it makes no sense for it to adopt and adapt Christian commitments for itself.
Perhaps it is worth re-emphasising this point – the state and governing bodies exist, in part, to uphold the desires of the general public, but the church as its own private entity does not exist for that purpose – it exists to demonstrate and uphold the standards and virtues of God. The church is not a part of the government, and as its own private entity with its own beliefs and separate role, does not have to be informed by public rights and the public liberal liberties we are familiar with. Instead, the church stands on its own conception of good as defined by God’s nature. It’s crucial to make this distinction between church and state. Just because by law people in society are able to join in certain partnerships does not automatically change the definition of a Christian sacrament. As a private institution the church has its own parameters of what marriage looks like. The church, as its own independent entity, does not and should not have to bend towards the social norm. Just because our secular society has its views on what a flourishing human union looks like does not mean that the church has to blindly follow suit and in fact to do so would be a breach of the church’s own right to religious freedom.
In the secular world, we already have equality in law – people can enter civil partnerships to accommodate their preferences, such as a same-sex union. That is their prerogative. However, the faith is inherently discriminatory. God is discriminatory. He sets conditions on us being a part of his ‘kingdom’. In the context of this essay, the condition isn’t about sexual attraction, whether same-sex or otherwise, but about honouring sex within Christian marriage and not partaking in sexual relations outside of God’s intention.
It is not a free for all. We are all called to repentance, to displace our own preferences for right and wrong for the objective moral duties that God has blended into our purpose. We must give up the right to define ourselves and adopt our God-given identity. God has asked us to quit controlling reality and take our rightful place under his authority – under the concepts of a world He has provided, for our own benefit. There is a difference between the sinner and their sin. All sinners are called to God through repentance, but they must leave their sin at the door to enter God’s welcome. And God joyfully welcomes same-sex attracted people with open arms.
The accommodating church
Now, there are some in the Church who have abandoned the traditional Christian sexual ethics in order to be more accommodating with the world. Indeed, it would be a radical departure from church tradition for Christians to bless or sanction same-sex behaviour and relationships today. In 2022 at the Lambeth Conference, 175 bishops signed a statement affirming the holiness of committed love of same-gender couples. In February 2023, the Archbishop’s Council of the Church of England allowed blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples. During its 221st General Assembly (19th June 2014), the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to allow and approve of same-gender marriages.
But are they right to do so? Should the church get with the times? Did God know less then, than we know now? Those Christians who are making this shift seem to be doing so based on emotion and personal experience rather than the teachings of Scripture or church tradition. 2,000 years of doctrine cannot be twisted to the preferences of a few authoritative church leaders. What is God-ordained cannot be adjusted to fit our current liberal views. God defines marriage, and it is heterosexual, ordained for the appropriation of children, for a remedy against fornication, for the mutual benefit of society, as a symbolic representation of God’s nature and as a vision for God’s plan with His people. This is marriage in God’s plan, and the heterosexual element does actually mean something. The church is attempting to marry itself, and leave Christ out of the picture. They are undermining God’s plan as He has revealed it to us, replacing His authority with their own. If marriage is no longer between one man and one woman, then are we open to the idea of polyamory? If we can disregard the heterosexual aspect, why not the monogamous aspect too? If ‘love is love’ who is to say that three men loving each other is not the same as two? Where will the border move to next now it has been taken from God’s hands?
God is love, and He sets the terms. God intended sex to be rooted in marriage, and since He created marriage exclusively for the male-female union, sexual relations between the same sex are a violation of God’s intentions. Christianity cannot and should not recognise gay marriage as “marriage”. It simply isn’t. All objective (that is, discovered) morality is derived from God’s fixed purposes. Therefore, same-sex sexual relations are morally wrong. This is a hard teaching, no doubt Christians will be despised and hated for holding it, but it is a standard of God.
I fear that those church leaders who accommodate same-sex marriage do so in order to appear more inclusive, but is Christianity exclusive or inclusive? In one way it’s the most inclusive philosophy in existence, in another way it’s the most exclusive. As Jesus said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24). Firstly, Jesus swings the doors open to anyone who will receive him. No one else opens the door as wide as Jesus. We all have people we’d prefer to cancel, we all have a bar of how much we’ll tolerate, but Jesus loved His enemies by dying for them, and that’s the radical mercy he calls us to. Our modern liberal conception of tolerance is pale in comparison. I believe very deeply that Jesus will never turn someone away because of their past or their sexual attraction.
Yet Christianity is also the most exclusive philosophy around. The quote continues: “let them deny themselves.” It’s been said that the door into the kingdom is low and we must all bow to come in. We are all in the same boat, whether gay or straight, none of us can come in on our own merit. Jesus will tolerate no rivals and all must be ready to die to our own desires and be changed by the pain of crucifixion to join Jesus in his resurrection life.
The church should be inclusive. Absolutely. Christ spent time with all types of people deemed ‘unrighteous’ by the religious decree of the culture, but it was they who went away changed, not Christ. The doors of the church should be open to all, but not to affirm all that is said and done. Anyone can be followers of Christ, regardless of what they have done or who they are, but remember his condition: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
A warning to straight Christians
Be warned, while this is the standard of God and it should be upheld, Christians should be mindful not to become overly judgemental of those in homosexual relations as if to think they are morally superior. While St Paul affirmed the ethics of first-century Judaism, which included sex being designed for a monogamous marriage between a man and a woman, in Romans 1-2 he was more concerned about the deeper sin of pride. In Romans 2, Paul addresses those who were judging Gentiles (and gay people among them) and says:
“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgement on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgement do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgement against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgement on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgement?”
We probably have bigger problems to address in our own lives first. That doesn’t at all mean we should never speak up for what’s right, but we should always do so in humility. Paul, who wrote the above admonition to believers, also called himself “the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15-16). Similarly, while we’re called to witness to righteousness, as we also fall short of this standard we mustn’t stand in judgement over other sinners, whether they call themselves Christian or not.
While we may have gone about it in different ways, we have all dishonoured God’s intentions for us and his purposes for sexuality. We should therefore remain humble, seeking God’s grace and reaching out to those lost before Him. Like God, who became human in Christ and reached out across our human experience, we must learn to love others, made in the image of God, by identifying with them while still upholding what is right and wrong.
What if I’m attracted to the same sex?
Throughout this essay, we have discussed the Christian sexual ethic in regard to homosexuality and raised the debate on gay marriage, but that doesn’t actually help someone who is same-sex attracted. It’s easy to write about something distant and far away, but what if this was real to you, to me? What if I was attracted to the same-sex, as many are. Then what? Does being attracted to the same sex make us rejected before God, automatically part of the “immoral” camp?
Not at all. In fact, I think Christianity offers a wealth of knowledge and advice for those attracted to the same sex. In part two of this essay, we focus the shift on the wrestle with same-sex desires, why we can all find ourselves with desires contrary to God’s intentions, and how you can be still Christian with same-sex attraction.