The following message is based upon Genesis 2:18-25 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-17 and deals with the subject of marriage, gay marriage and how the church should respond. It was delievered at the Central Schwenkfelder Church on May 20, 2012
Today marks the beginning of a new sermon series on current events. It was Karl Barth who said that that a mark of a good preacher is to have a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. A topic that has come to the forefront of the news, especially over the last two weeks is on the subject of marriage. All one has to do is look at the latest cover of Newsweek magazine to notice that the question of who should get married; marriage rights, and related issues are in the news.
Normally, I would not venture into these waters so as to avoid appearing to promote a political agenda. As always, there is a risk of being misunderstood on such things when a minister wants to be relevant on social issues, whether it be gay marriage, abortion, etc. So is there a Christian response to these recent happenings in the news? I think so. The following is my response. I’d like to first ask…
WHAT IS MARRIAGE?
God designed humankind as male and female, as we read in the first couple of chapters of the book of Genesis. And when He designed our first parents, they were created in His image with a special ability to cohabitate and procreate. Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” More specifically, before He brought the woman to the man, he looked upon the man and saw that he had a need. Genesis 2:18 records: “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” And when he received his mate, perfectly matched for all of his needs, emotional, physical and spiritual, he said: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” This naming action implied a special covenant relationship that is foundational to our understanding of marriage; one man, one woman, helping, caring for and loving each other for the peace and propagation of society.
Then, as if we needed to be given the purpose for this covenant, verse 24 states: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” It is not to say that everyone is supposed to experience marriage, but that is the environment in which romantic love flourishes, commitment is established, perseverance is practiced and children are to be born. There is a synergy involved; a mixture, a bringing together of two complimentary parts to form a perfect union; such was the case with our first parents. Any other arrangement for romantic love taints the original design that God gave us; whether it is heterosexual immorality, an adulterous affair, homosexuality, polygamy, incest or anything else. All of these are unnatural. God’s design of marriage between one man and one woman is the natural choice. Deviating from God’s design and provision for romantic love invites all sorts of unnecessary pain and heartache. With this is our backdrop, we must also ask…
WHAT IS HOMOSEXUALITY?
For the record, I have gay friends. I have friends who have gay children and I have friends who have gay siblings. And you do, too. I think for one, to be reminded that the Scripture is clear that the practice of homosexuality is something of which God does not approve, from such places as Leviticus 18:22: “‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” Such sin is coupled with other sexual sins that God finds detestable.
In the New Testament, homosexuality is part of a broader issue of sexual immorality that is to be abandoned by the Christian, alongside of adultery and heterosexual promiscuous behavior. For instance, Ephesians 5 tells us that immorality must not be named among Christians. Paul writes: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” Or in Colossians 3:5 tells us that we must lay aside these sins. “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.”
As I said before, homosexuality is one example of sexual immorality. It is a sin, just as heterosexual sex outside of marriage is; just as adultery is, just as pedophilia is, etc. Paul goes on to express in 1 Corinthians 6:9 states that those who practice shall not inherit God’s kingdom. The English Standard Version reads: “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. And such were some of you. 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.”
Homosexuality was something practiced widely in the first century Greco-Roman world. Fourteen out of the first fifteen Roman Emperors practiced homosexuality. For instance, when Nero was emperor, He had taken a boy called Sporus and had him castrated. He then married him with a full marriage ceremony and took him home in procession to his palace and lived with him. When Nero was eliminated and Otho came to the throne, one of the first things he did was take possession of Sporus.
I visited Corinth in 2010 and saw the bathhouse where male and female prostitutes would designate themselves with a shaved head and a greased body, advertising their availability to the next client/worshipper. But then notice that he says: “…and such were some of you.” Paul taught that repentance was possible then; it is today as well. To say that this isn’t possible is to tell those struggling with same-sex attraction that they might as well give up. So many want to see their sexuality as their identity. But should any of us be identified by merely our sexuality? Isn’t that seeing ourselves as so one dimensional? I am not defined by my heterosexuality. Rather, I’m defined by who I am in Christ; and I’ve been blessed to be a male, a husband, a father, a son, a pastor,etc.
In today’s rhetoric on the subject, not many talk about the health risks of the gay lifestyle. Many want to point out that their gay friends have been together for years of monogamous love. According to a Madison and McWater study, Homosexuals have an 83% infidelity rate. Another study by Dr. John Diggs, M.D., stated that monogamy was extremely rare for gay couples. In addition, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has said as recently as 2010:
“The data indicate that rates of HIV infection among gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) are more than 44 times higher than rates among heterosexual men and more than 40 times higher than women. Rates of syphilis, an STD that can facilitate HIV infection and, if left untreated, may lead to sight loss and severe damage to the nervous system, are reported to be more than 46 times higher among gay men and other MSM than among heterosexual men and more than 71 times higher than among women.
Is this a part of God’s plan? With God’s revealed word, confirmed with the stated risk factors, I think the answer is plain. Some want to say: “Are not homosexuals born with that predisposition? Officially, to date, there are no biological factors, contributing to same-sex attraction; possibly environmental factors, but no biological factors are known to date.
So what are we to make of gay marriage? While I believe that one ought to have the opportunity to visit whoever they would like in the hospital; or leave their assets to whom they want. But to call it marriage is unnatural and runs contrary to God’s design. To put it as Pastor Kevin DeYoung does: “In our age of hyper-tolerance we try to avoid stigmas, but stigmas can be an expression of common grace. Who knows how many stupid sinful things I’ve been kept from doing because I knew my peers and my community would deem it shameful. Our cultural elites may never consider homosexuality shameful, but amendments that define marriage as one man and one woman serve a noble end by defining what is as what ought to be. We do not help each other in the fight for holiness when we allow for righteousness to look increasingly strange and sin to look increasingly normal.” Gay marriage is innovative. By allowing same sex couples to marry, are we not creating a new brand of human relationships? Should we be creating new forms of human relationships recognized by law? Is this not heading down a slippery slope? What about polygamy? What about incest? What about bestiality? As heinous as these are, do they not also deviate from the form which God has given us?
WHAT DOES OUR CULTURE SAY CONCERNING HOMOSEXUALITY?
You would have to be asleep to not notice that we are living in a culture that is constantly changing. Our sense of morality is eroding and there is a loosening of self restraint. Our changing culture is moving in a different direction. Never before have traditional views on sexuality been challenged. Cohabitation is commonplace. Marriage for life is a rarity. What is acceptable to one generation and setting is unacceptable to another. Starting in 2003, with the case of Lawrence vs. Texas, overturning sodomy laws, followed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court making gay marriage legal, there has been a gradual acceptance of the gay lifestyle. What would have been unheard of 25 years ago; now several states in the United States have laws allowing for gay marriage. As of 2012, same-sex marriage is recognized in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, Washington and the District of Columbia. New Jersey lawmakers recently passed a gay marriage bill, but the bill was vetoed by the governor. In contrast, just two weeks ago, North Carolina became the 30th state in our union to amend their constitution with a definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.
What influenced this change in society? Princeton Sociologist Kwame Appiah suggests: “If you ask the social scientist what has produced this change, they will… give you a historical account that concludes with a sort of perspectival shift. The increasing presence of “openly gay” people in social life and in the media has changed our habits. Over the last thirty or so years, instead of thinking about the private activity of gay sex, many Americans started thinking about the public category of gay people.” The challenge for the Christian is to adapt, rather than conform to a culture that is moving away from Judeo-Christian values.
This is not only an American political issue. It is something that is challenging the church of Christ in other parts of the world. Just this week, I met with a missionary who serves street people in a major European city. Among them are the transvestites who live sexually confused lives. He told me that such men: “…are not happy. They feel trapped and oppressed; caged with no way of escape. He told me that gays are in bondage to a lie. God has given us powerful feelings, emotions and desires. We try to fill them with other things. We’ve been duped into believing Satan’s lies.” Jesus called him the deceiver, “…the father of all lies, a murderer from the beginning. (John 8:44).” He recycles his ideas, always asking: “Did God really say that?” as he did in the Garden of Eden to Eve and in the wilderness to Jesus. What a disservice we do to those struggling with such issues if we stay silent. Woe to the church that allows those struggling to go the way of destruction without saying something!
I was ordained by a Christian conference that made the following statement: “Neither individual Christians, nor ministers of the Word of God, nor congregations of the Lord Jesus Christ, may take away from or lessen God’s prohibition of and warnings against the practice of homosexuality.”
In addition, the Church of England Evangelical Council, which is a conservative arm of the Church of England, states: “Because marriage is instituted by God, neither the Church nor the state is authorized to re-define it. A relationship between two men or two women cannot therefore be a marriage and neither the state nor the Church should describe it as such.” The Christian stance on the issue is over 2,000 years old and spans the world- it is not confined to the 2012 presidential election. For the record, Central’s marriage policy states, among other things: “Believing marriage to be the sacred union of one male and one female, under no circumstances, will a same-sex ceremony take place at Central Schwenkfelder Church.”
HOW ARE WE TO MINISTER TO HOMOSEXUALS?
That is a good question. I believe I can love someone, without agreeing with their lifestyle. I can treat a person with dignity, regardless of their identity or sexual orientation. We must love them with the love of Christ. But part of that love is being honest about what Scripture has to say concerning homosexual behavior. Allowing someone to fall off a cliff without telling them that the bridge is out, is not loving, is it? Thus, we would never want to approve of any promiscuous lifestyle, whether it is homosexuality, adultery or heterosexual promiscuity, which leads to unnecessary pain and heartache. But in our conversations on the issue, we can be loving, honest, willing to listen, civil and prayerful.
How can we minister to gay people, without being for gay marriage?” For one, we must draw a difference between same sex attraction and same sex behavior. Maybe you’re struggling with same sex attraction. Don’t believe the lie that you were made for this. God can give you the strength to overcome these urges, as you put your trust in Christ Jesus. Or if you know of someone who struggles with same sex attraction, you can come and talk with me; we can pray, I will give you resources that might help you in your concern. Secondly, to recognize that mistreatment of someone just because they are different than you, is not Christian, nor does it represent the gospel. Rather, we must show love and dignity to all.
I conclude with something that Pastor Bill said last week in his sermon on Deborah, the Old Testament prophetess from the book of Judges. Deborah was one who was immersed in life, a mother and a wife. And she spoke God’s truth. She was God’s representative for a strategic time. Her life was a testimony that God intervenes when we honor His authority and obey His commands. I encourage you to do that as you think not only about gay marriage, but about any social matter. The purpose of your life is to glorify God. You and I glorify Him by honoring His authority and obeying His commands. Let us have the mind of Christ on these issues. May He give us the grace to do so. Amen.
 Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cosmopolitanism, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006), 77.
 Statement of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, “Homosexuals and the Christian Fellowship,” found at http://jswat.net/cccc/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/PPLH_-_Homosexuals_and_the_Fellowship.pdf.
 “Wedding Policy for Central Schwenkfelder Church,” approved by Church Council on March 16, 2009.