Talk delivered at Flinders University on Tuesday, August 19, 2014

There is only so much that can be covered on this issue in the short time we have. I will acknowledge at the start that this will not be a comprehensive coverage of all the questions and dilemmas that spring from what has been an uneasy tension – some may say an all out war – between the Christian faith and the LGBT community. You may finish reading this feeling dissatisfied or maybe offended at what you read; I hope though that you may at least go away with a clearer understanding of the foundation for the Christian view of gender, marriage and sexuality.

For the Christian, this is not a matter of just altering their views on a minor moral issue. As we will see, this issue cuts right to the heart of the Christian faith and message; to require sincere, Bible believing Christians to change their views on this is to require them to go against their conscience and therefore to deny who they truly are. A Christian is not merely someone who holds to a list of beliefs that may be revised and updated; no, a Christian understands that God has done something profound in them to make them a new person; their beliefs are an expression of their identity.

I suggest that for a Christian to deny their convictions is not too different from requiring a gay person to deny their desires.

I will also acknowledge at the outset that the church as an institution does not have a clean record on understanding, accepting helping and including those with same-sex attraction. For what it’s worth, I apologise – if not for my fellow professing Christians, then at least for myself – for the pain and isolation that has been caused by Christians acting and speaking inappropriately about this issue, and for any judgmentalism and hypocrisy expressed towards Gay people – whether it be those who battle with a conviction that their desires are wrong, or those who have decided to accept and celebrate their desires.

In the life and teachings of Jesus we see both extreme compassion, acceptance and grace towards those who are ostracised and condemned by society; yet at the same time a firm, unshakeable commitment to God’s moral standards. That meant he never shied away from calling sin what it was, and calling people to repent. Because of this, I believe that grace and acceptance are not mutually exclusive to holding to a firm, even controversial moral position.

There are three positions on sexuality that you may encounter from those who fall under the broad umbrella of ‘Christendom’:

  1. ‘The Bible prohibits sexual behaviour outside faithful, monogamous, lifelong marriage between a man and a woman; however the world has changed, and we have progressed in our understanding of sexuality since Biblical times. We therefore can disregard those prohibitions as being no longer relevant or helpful for modern society.’
  2. ‘The Bible does prohibit some forms of sexual activity, however its prohibitions are related to specifically abusive, dysfunctional and degrading sexual practices. The Biblical writers did not know of the concept of a loving, committed homosexual relationship, nor did they explicitly say anything that would give us cause to prohibit it.’
  3. ‘The Bible’s prohibition of sexual activity outside of monogamous, lifelong marriage between a man and a woman is a principle that still stands, and presents a standard that all who profess faith in Jesus should seek to live by.’

This post today will be largely on showing the rationale for the third view. This is because the first two views essentially lack integrity:

The first, in that it diminishes the authority of the foundational document of the Christian faith – the Bible – allowing the influence of popular cultural opinion to override a person’s faith convictions. Doing so easily sets us up in a position of arrogance – where we become the arbiters of which aspects of our faith are valid and which are not. In the end, this results not in an authentic expression of Christianity, but in a tailor-made religion that is more an expression of someone’s personal preferences than it is a conviction that draws together and consolidates a community with a sense of purpose and identity.

The second, in that it does not do true justice to the particular texts in the Bible that deal with homosexuality. It claims to have only now shed new light on words and phrases that have already been clearly understood for nearly 2000 years by Christian Biblical scholars. It ignores the wider literary context of the whole Bible, and has a faulty understanding of the cultural milieu of the ancient world in which homosexual relationships, as we call them, did actually occur, and are documented.

The foundation of the Biblical view on sexuality is much deeper than simply the existence of a few statements in the Bible that prohibit or condemn alternate sexual expression. The reason for the Christian view on marriage is not that there are rules in the Bible about it; rather, the rules are an application of a deeper truth that goes right to the heart of who God is, what God’s plan is for the world, and who we are designed to be as human beings.

Now, you may initially wonder how what I am about to explain has anything to do with sexuality, but please ride with me, and I hope you will eventually see where I am going.

It begins with God. What was there before the universe? Some may say ‘nothing’, and suddenly there was everything, and we don’t know how or why it got here. Others – we might call them Theists or Deists – may say the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ is actually God – that before the universe there was nothing plus God, and then God made it all happen, God is the ‘first cause’. The Christian view of things is much richer than this. We say that before the Universe there was Love. The Bible claims that:

‘God is Love’ (John’s letter to Christians, 4:8)

Trinity simple…meaning, God is a relational God; in fact God within Himself is relationship: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, three persons, bound together as one God by perfect, self giving, intimate love. This is the Christian idea of ‘Trinity’ – a combination of two words: ’Tri’ meaning three, ‘Unity’ meaning one.

This means that God creating the universe was primarily an act of love, and that the universe finds its ultimate purpose in the context of loving relationships. The Bible speaks of God the Father creating the world for His Son, with the desire that everything in the world will be a witness to His goodness and love:

God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Paul’s letter to Philippian Christians, 2:9-11)

Into this world God placed a type of creature – human beings – who are made in God’s image. We are uniquely made, designed to be a reflection of the relational love that is at the heart of God’s character. The two greatest commands, affirmed a number of times by Jesus:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul mind and strength’

and,

‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’

…are a simple summary of what it looks like when a human being, living in harmony with the Triune God, is a reflection of God’s character.

Even more than this, we are designed to know our true and ultimate identity as children, relating to God as our Father in a relationship of love, trust and honour. God’s plan for this world that he made, as unfolded in the Bible’s story from beginning to end, is this: that we might know Him as Father, by being united with His Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now I acknowledge that that is a statement that may seem to be full of religious jargon; essentially it means that we are made to be part of God’s family, and the way we know that status as children of God is through being united with His Son.

This is where the connection to marriage, gender and sexuality comes in.

We know that marriage is not merely about two individuals. When a person marries, they come into a relationship with their partner’s family. In some ways, they may relate to their partner’s parents as if they were their own parents. You may have heard the cliched phrase uttered by the father of the bride at a wedding, ‘Today we have not so much lost a daughter, as we have gained a son.’

This relationship – the one that we as human beings are designed to have with the Son, and through Him to the Father – is the ultimate relationship, the ultimate marriage; in fact, it is the true marriage. Rather than marriage being a metaphor borrowed by God from human culture to depict something of what our relationship with Him should be like, God specifically designed human beings so that an essential aspect of who and what we are as human beings would serve as a parable – an illustration or image – of this ultimate relationship:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Paul’s letter to Ephesian Christians, 5:25-32)

The writer here is saying that God’s design – a man and a woman being united in love, with an intimacy so profound that it is as if they have become a single unit – this is a picture of the relationship between God’s Son (‘Christ’), and human beings who have faith in him (‘the church’).

He speaks also of Jesus ‘giving himself up for her’. This refers to two things.

Firstly it speaks of his attitude towards human beings; he prefers to do what is best for us, over and above what may be best for himself, even if that means laying down his life so that we may live.

Secondly, it refers to a specific act in which Jesus did precisely that:

See, as a human race, and as individuals who make up humanity, we have rejected this family relationship with God. We prefer to do things our way, to be the arbiters of what is true or right or good. We are essentially rebel children, rejecting our Father’s loving authority, and refusing to honour or respect Him as he deserves. This means we have estranged ourselves from Him; walked out; left the family; refused to be identified as His children. Our behaviour is a display, or outworking of this attitude towards God; we seek to distort ourselves and the world we live in to escape the fact that we are actually running away for God. If God seems far away, it is we who have moved.

Yet this estrangement and all its consequences is also what we deserve. We deserve to be banished from the home, to be removed from the will, and to no longer be associated with the family name, because we are rebels. And we deserve the ultimate banishment – death – which is exclusion from God’s good and loving presence forever. This may to us sound unloving and ungracious of God, yet, as we have just heard, God’s aim is that we as creatures should be living in a way that gives the honour to the Son that he deserves. A world filled with rebels, whose rebellion is ignored or brushed under the carpet would be anything but honouring. The kind of God that ignores and minimises rebellion, injustice and evil is not the kind of God who can be trusted to run the universe.

Yet, what is God’s response to this rebellion that has driven us away from him? He has done something about it. He has provided the means by which the relationship may be restored; the marriage may be reconciled and healed, the family brought back together again. The Son has come and united himself to our humanity by becoming one of us. By becoming a human being, Jesus of Nazareth, he essentially came to walk in our shoes, to take our place. He lived that life that we have failed to live. And then when he was brutally put to death by those who hated him he face not only rejection from human beings, but abandonment by God, His own Father – the abandonment we deserve to face. Instead of banishing us from the family, the Father instead banished His only son.

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18)

The sign that Jesus death actually did what he meant it to do was that he was raised from the dead; this was the Father’s stamp of approval on his extreme love, his self giving, sacrificial death; by raising Him he has provided a guarantee for those who are now united to him through faith – trusting in his death and resurrection as the only way for us to be reconciled to the Father and be part of His family. This guarantee is of a relationship that lasts forever, that is deeply satisfying and intensely purposeful, which gives us a knowledge of our true identity and the freedom to live authentically as human beings.

There can be no substitute for traditional marriage as a picture for this relationship God brings us into though Jesus. Any alternative expression of gender or sexual intimacy is a distortion and an obscuring of this great love and mercy shown to us by the God who not only made us, but who gives Himself for us.

However the deciding factor that will determine whether we will know the reality of this relationship is not our particular view or opinion about gender, sexuality or marriage. Rather, it is how we respond the the news of what Jesus has done for us to bring us to God. The stereotype statement, ‘That person will go to Hell because they are a homosexual.’ is false. True, our lifestyle choices are evidence of what is in our heart and where our loyalty lies. Someone who claims to trust in and follow Jesus will be seeking to live a life that reflects his teaching and affirms the same scriptures that he affirmed. However the crucial question here today is not ‘What do you think about gender and sexuality?’ rather it’s ‘What is your response to the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection?

I urge you to ask, explore and seek to come to terms with who He really is, what He has done to bring you into the Father’s family, and how he can transform you and give you a freedom to hear what God says and find fulfilment and joy in living no longer for yourself but for him.

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