Christians have not done a great job of articulating what it is about homosexuality that is problematic. There’s this tendency to look up “homosexuality” in a concordance to the Bible, read the references to it there, and slam the Bible shut again. Then the reaction to gay advocacy is just to say that homosexuality is immoral, or that it’s described as a perversion in the Bible, or, worse, that “it’s against my religion.” To someone whose worldview is informed solely by the culture, this is off-putting. In fact it smacks of smug self-righteousness. “Why are Christians bigots?” they must ask. Christians preach love, but practice hate, they feel.
The Image of God
Let’s get back to first principles. People are made in the image of God. That includes people who are in same-sex relationships. It includes people acting on homosexual impulses, whether they feel guilt about it or not. It includes people who may not suffer from same-sex attraction themselves, but feel that it is an immutable trait, and therefore conclude that same-sex attraction is as valid as opposite-sex attraction. That all of those people are made in the image of God tells us that compassion is called for, not condemnation. Anyone – anyone, Christian – can slide into progressively desensitizing moral failure.
Christians witness moral decline, and feel threatened. They should resist, however, the temptation to react with hostility. If homosexuality is error (that is, sin), then again, compassion is called for, not anger.
And of course, if it is not sin, then we should stop saying that it is. It’s one or the other. Although there is some debate on this, brought on by the pressures of public square debate on the subject in recent years, it’s tough to read the Bible as saying that homosexuality is not sinful, or that somehow its moral impact has changed over the course of history.
From the point of view of someone who absorbs their moral values solely from the culture around them, however, Christian belief about homosexuality appears to run counter to other moral principles; to be, in a sense, un-Christian. Isn’t love paramount? Shouldn’t we want freedom for others, as well as for ourselves? Shouldn’t we refrain from making judgments for other people, about what is best for them?
Suggestion. Let’s consult God. What is He telling us? Finding out is not a project of reading a few “proof texts” and then declaring that God agrees with our prejudices. We should avoid prejudices both ways, when genuinely seeking God. What is the message of the grand arc of God’s word, and the historical working-out of the significance of His revelation to us in the person of Christ?
While we live in the body, in this present life, we are to be “salt and light” to a dying world. We are to be hands and feet of Christ. We are to serve, not to be served. We want His increase, not our own. In all of this, God wants us to flourish. He wants us to have genuine freedom. He wants us to “live life abundantly.”
This doesn’t mean absolute freedom from moral constraint, obviously. To the contrary, we are urged frequently to seek purity for ourselves, and to encourage one another in the same moral pursuit. If we are “disciples,” that means we live with discipline. That discipline includes sexual restraint, among other things. And the end to it is that we will live better; more joyously; more abundantly; and, though it may seem paradoxical if we have but shallow understanding, more free. It’s o.k. to want this for ourselves. It’s o.k. to be greedy for it. We should understand it, desire it, and encourage one another in it.
It’s quite possible to live without personal discipline, in this society. It is built on a foundation of our ancestors’ discipline in moral matters, which in turn came from their seeking God rather than their own corrupted conception of joy, and abundance, and freedom. But we’re slipping toward mediocrity. Our discernment is losing its edge. It is becoming ever more difficult to live abundantly.
“Abundance” here doesn’t mean material prosperity. It means intellectual sharpness. Moral strength. Passion. Creativity. Love for one another. Joy in an honest day’s work. Peace. Goodwill toward those with whom we disagree. Contentment with the material things we have. A desire for transcendent values like honesty, justice, truth, and beauty. Experiencing the fullness of one’s existence as man or as woman. Seeking the fullest in relationship between sexes, embracing their complementarity, and rejecting the push to sameness between them. Most of all, abundance means ever increasing communion with the One who is the Author of all of these things.
Now the light is fading. The air is turning sour. The sea is withdrawing in a “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.” We feel it, but we don’t know what to do about it. Statism replaces individual discipline. Libertinism replaces moral restraint. Selfishness replaces moral consensus. We grasp after freedom lost, and wonder how it is that collectively we end up sliding toward totalitarianism. We grasp after freedom lost, and wonder how it is that individually we end up miserable in moral failure. We turn our backs on God, and wonder how it is that abundant life has become so elusive, though we may enjoy material prosperity.
In our lack of confidence and contentedness, we bring one another down to mediocrity. This is not the abundant life that Christians are told to greedily seek. It is the opposite. We should reject it. It is not for Christians to insist on a theocratic state, to be sure. But Christians should seek abundance in life. It is not our duty to slouch toward the weary moral resignation of the society around us. Quite the opposite. We should be compassionate and encouraging toward others who want the same abundance we all want, but don’t know how to find it.
That requires resisting the false affirmation that kills aspiration. The solution to the impulse toward moral compromise is to remove the compromise, not to re-characterize the impulse.