It was easily a Top 5 Most Nerve-Wracking sermon for me. This past Sunday, as I mentioned in last week’s intro post, I came to 1st Corinthians 6:9-11 in our sermon series through the letter of 1st Corinthians. In these verses, Paul mentions homosexuality. That’s what made me nervous. No matter what I said, I thought, I’m almost guaranteed to tick someone off. I kinda feel the same way about this post…
But why? Because this passage is not really about homosexuality! Because homosexuality is such a live issue in our culture, though, I knew I couldn’t just skip past it. Paul only briefly mentions homosexuality in his list of vices in 1 Cor. 6:9-11, so I could have given it as much attention as the other vices in the list, about two sentences each. I knew I couldn’t do that though. The church needs to talk about homosexuality. But again, that wasn’t Paul’s chief concern, and I hope I did justice to what was his concern, namely, to remind the Corinthian believers “that is what you were!” A habitual lifestyle pattern of sin is what they were, but no longer. Jesus did such an amazing work of renewal in their lives, they are new creations, living a new way. His way, something he called the abundant life. Paul’s words are an amazing reminder and encouragement to us.
Also, this sermon made me so nervous because, not just in our country (and world), but also in the evangelical subculture, there is a wide range of perspectives on homosexuality. What I have found is that it seems people have a very hard time holding their positions with grace and love. Instead I have seen lots of hubris, vitriol and judgment. Blame and guilt all around. It is rare that I have seen people navigate this minefield with humility and a heart for unity. In fact I have seen people claim to be justified in their disunity and arrogance. I truly I hope I did better than that.
So as I share some further thoughts in this follow-up post, I want to start with a comment about audience. This blog is surely open to anyone to use as a forum for discussion. But the audience is primarily the people of Faith Church. I want to be clear that I am not attempting to make any political or societal proclamation here about homosexuality or marriage. While I believe that a society should have good governance and there are principles for such good governance found in Scripture, I am not making a pronouncement about that in this blog or in the sermon. Personally, I wish government would get out of the marriage business and leave that to the church. I want to distinguish that because I don’t see Paul as making political pronouncements in his teaching either. His audience was the people of the church in the city of Corinth. That’s who he is talking to, and by extension, to Christians. In the same way, my sermon and blog posts are to my church, and by extension to Christians.
I would love to hear your feedback. Please write your questions in the comments below. I would especially encourage you to read Wesley Hill’s book Washed and Waiting. I was deeply convicted reading this book, and I recommend it for any disciple of Jesus. Hill’s conclusion matches that of my own and that of my denomination, that sexual expression is to be contained to marriage, and that marriage is only between a man and a woman. Hill is a Christian and a homosexual. He’s also a top-notch scholar. Though he is not attracted to women, Hill has decided that he will still take God at his word, and God’s call for him is to be celibate for the rest of his life. That kind of sacrificial commitment is an example to me.
Others look at the biblical material and interpret it differently. They find a basis for seeing scriptural prohibition of homosexual acts as time or culture bound, or perhaps not applicable to monogamous homosexual relationships or marriages. I have to believe that purveyors of these views are not acting maliciously. I believe a guy like Justin Lee, that when he says he loves the Lord, he means it. But I humbly disagree with his hermeneutics. I believe there is probably a lot of theology and biblical interpretation Lee and I would agree on. I hope that in future conversations and ministry partnerships with those who agree with Lee, I will be able to emphasize those agreements. I find this article to very helpful in this regard. Unity is vital. Unity doesn’t mean uniformity. We can lovingly disagree about things, a lot of things.
But I will say that Lee’s hermeneutical method concerns me. He may be right. I may be wrong. I respect Lee’s heart and mind, and he does evidence a sharp mind. Read the book and I think you’ll see that. But I’m concerned that he has allowed himself too much leeway to veer away from an appropriate interpretation of Scripture. Again, I don’t think he does so maliciously. Instead I believe he is wrestling with his deepest impulses, how a loving God could give him impulses that seem so right, and yet declare them as wrong. Imagine with me that the tables were turned. What if Scripture declared that heterosexual expression of sexuality was a sin, that sexual expression was reserved for marriage between people of the same gender? You know all those attractions that the majority of you feel toward the opposite sex? What if you were told you were never allowed to act on those impulses, even in committed monogamous heterosexual relationship? Yet you felt these attractions and impulses always raging within you. But you are told that expressing those impulses, acting on that attraction, is against God’s Kingdom. That would be exceedingly painful to deal with. I bring up this argument to help people understand the emotional depth of anguish, even if just a bit better intellectual understanding. I admit I’ll likely never come close to an emotional understanding of what those with same-sex attraction are dealing with. In the end I believe it is possible to hold to the traditional biblical standard of reserving sexual expression in marriage, and marriage as only between men and women, and to hold that standard with gracious love.
I would love to hear what Hill has to say about Lee and Lee’s hermeneutics. Hill clearly disagrees with Lee. I also wonder what Hill has to say since the publication of his book and how our society has changed over the last few years.
I would also love to hear your thoughts. I’m not interested in a mean-spirited discussion, so I will not allow those comments to be posted. I hope you’ve heard my heart.
And let me say a few final words. Faith Church, we need to be there for our brothers and sisters who have same-sex attraction. We need to love them and express that love in genuinely loving ways. For those who choose celibacy, and we do recommend this as the option that best honors the Lord, leading to that abundant life I mentioned above, the church needs to provide great support. Imagine not have the companionship of your spouse. We need to provide that to celibate disciples of Jesus. Remember that this passage was not about homosexuality exclusively. Paul reminded of a kingdom lifestyle of holiness that we all need to hear about. This week what sin do you need to surrender to the Lord?