Why Do Believers Continue to Persecute and Shut out Gay and Lesbian People Based on Passages of Scripture that Are Open to a Different Interpretation?
Note: Names and distinguishing details have been changed to protect the writer’s identity. However, 98% of the words are hers.
Question from a reader:
I am a big fan of your writing—both your books and your articles. I recommend you to Christians and non-Christians alike and visit your website frequently. I have been resisting the urge to write you for months. I am not one for disagreement or debate, so I usually avoid inviting people into my life. I just feel very strongly about a particular issue and have been troubled by your viewpoints. I feel burdened with the need to reach out to you, with no animosity or disrespect, in regards to it.
I agree almost 100% with you on most issues on which you have written. I am vehemently against abortion and euthanasia. I consider adultery abhorrent and generally concur with your views on modern secular psychology. I am a “straddler” on the capital punishment issue, but I feel God will reveal that to me in time.
I am a Christian. I was raised in a fairly “functional” Christian home. My father is a social worker, my mother a nurse, and they both love me very much and gave me a solid upbringing. By the grace of God, I have endured no “major” traumas in my life. I have a very close relationship with Jesus Christ, I am an active member of a spirit-filled, charismatic church, I have close Christian friends, I spend significant time reading Scripture, I am striving to be a true prayer warrior intercessing for family, friends, church, children and our nation and have seen many of my prayers answered, I have a great relationship with my parents, etc., etc. I say all of this not to boast or turn attention to myself, but to give you an idea of who I am, because I also happen to be gay.
My partner of five years is a devout Christian as well. We pray together, worship together, have devotional time together, and focus on Jesus Christ as the center and cornerstone of our relationship. We are completely monogamous and have dedicated our relationship and ourselves as individuals to God. We would absolutely be married if it were legal. We have prayed about our “lifestyle” (as some would call it), have opened our hearts to God’s leading, and neither of us feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit that our relationship is a sin. We have made other extremely difficult decisions based on the leading of the Holy Spirit. For example, both of us quit very lucrative jobs because we were making the pursuit of money and the approval of the secular world our gods. We do not make anywhere near the amount of money we were making before and have had to change our lifestyle dramatically, but we are now where God wants us to be (or at least closer to it!).
I just don’t understand why people in the church-good, knowledgeable, intelligent, kind Christians like yourself-continue to persecute and shut out gay and lesbian people based on passages of Scripture that are very much open to an interpretation very different from the traditional stance the church has always taken. I would expound on this myself, but, despite the research I have done on this topic, I do not consider myself in any way to be a Bible scholar. Therefore, I am going to rely on someone who is more educated than me to elaborate on this subject. Walter Wink, Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City, has written an article that concisely and accurately states what I have always believed to be true. I beg of you to read this article, if only to see what the “other side” is saying (even though I am sure you are well-versed on that already!). Think of it as an educational, journalistic endeavor. See http://forusa.org/content/homosexuality-bible-walter-wink] Also see Mel White’s website at http://melwhite.org/
I respect and admire you so much. It deeply troubles me that someone with such knowledge, conviction, and clear thinking adheres to the idea that no practicing gay or lesbian person can be a Christian in a close, right relationship with God. Whether you believe me or not, I am proof that there is such a thing.
I truly appreciate and value your time. If you made it this far, and have read this entire e-mail, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for valuing a stranger enough to read her “two cents worth.” I pray for you and those involved in your ministry and for the important work you are doing. Thank you again for your time.
Your sister in Christ, Shannon
Answer from Randy Alcorn:
Shannon, I wish we could talk face to face so you could hear my heart for you. In your letter you said, “I just don’t understand why people in the church—good, knowledgeable, intelligent, kind Christians like yourself—continue to persecute and shut out gay and lesbian people based on passages of Scripture that are very much open to an interpretation.”
First, if someone is persecuting you, they are not being kind. This does not mean they are wrong in what they believe about homosexual behavior, but it does mean that they are wrong in not bearing the fruit of the Spirit. Some people are just hateful. Someone may be accurate in telling a woman “abortion will kill your baby,” but they may do it in either a loving or a hateful way.
It’s important that you understand that just because someone disagrees with you, even if they may think you are making sinful choices, it does not mean they are persecuting you. Sometimes I believe things not because I want to, but because I feel compelled to. It would be much easier for me if I believed, for instance, that abortion doesn’t kill children. It would be much easier if I kept silent about it. (Since you’re prolife, you probably understand that.) I may say to a woman “abortion will kill your baby” in the most loving way I know how, but from her point of view she may think I’m being hateful because of the horrible implications of what I’m saying, and of what that means about what she is doing.
It would be much easier, and it would make me feel much better to just say “No problem, Shannon, I love you and that means I’ll say however you want to live is just fine with God.” Frankly, Shannon, you seem extremely likeable, and I felt a kinship with you as you wrote. You seem like the kind of person I’d have loved to have as a sister. (I grew up with one brother and always wished I’d had a sister, so I’ve sort of adopted some since then.) The last thing I want to do is hurt or offend you. But our job is not just to help each other feel better, but to help each other be better. If I truly love you, and I do, I will come to you as Jesus did, in grace and truth. Not truth without grace, not grace without truth, but with both.
Let me clarify I’m not homophobic, meaning I do not fear homosexuals. (Homophobic is now construed by many to mean disagreeing with homosexuals, an interesting twist on the real meaning.) I attended a meeting where dozens were present, and I was the only one who hadn’t lived as a homosexual. I didn’t feel a need to sit near an exit! Yes, I disagreed with the homosexual lifestyle (most of them did too), but I felt no hatred or revulsion toward anyone there, including those still involved in it.
I invited a lesbian abortion activist to lunch a few years ago and we sat for four hours in honest dialogue. She did not repulse me. I found her very likeable. I recently talked with her on the phone, and I consider her a friend even today. (She has walked away from her lesbian relationship and her pro-abortion activism, but at the time she was immersed in both.)
I am very familiar with Mel White, whose website you referred me to. In fact he was involved in youth ministry here in Portland many years ago. I don’t know him personally, but I received a letter from him years ago (a letter to Oregon pastors) that I believe was very twisted and misrepresented both the Scriptures and a number of things that were happening at the time. While I have appreciated some things I’ve heard Mel White say, I have to be honest and say I don’t trust his ability to separate his claims about the Bible or the Christian life from his own personal experiences. He has built his new “ministry” around a series of rationalizations and justifications of choices he has made, some of which dishonor the Lord he claims to serve. I feel no hate for him as I say this, none whatsoever. I also do not hate the people who perform abortions. But I still believe they are dishonoring God.
I read the whole Walter Wink article carefully, making notes in the margins. I have often read similar things, many when I was researching my first book in the early ‘80s (Christians in the Wake of the Sexual Revolution—later updated and republished as Restoring Sexual Sanity; both editions now out of print). Wink takes the same approach to biblical interpretation many people do. He starts with his modern beliefs—including the currently popular notion that homosexuality is a matter of genes and destiny as opposed to choosing to succumb to a temptation—and works backwards, trying to read some of them into Scripture. He refers to texts such as 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10 saying they are “ambiguous.” But I know of no one prior to our place and time who would have thought these were “unclear,” as if the real issue might just be sex for hire, not homosexuality. I believe the texts themselves are much clearer than he admits.
When Dr. Wink moves on to the unequivocal condemnations, he dismisses these, stating as if it were fact why he thinks the Hebrews considered homosexuality an abomination. He cites population issues, which Scripture never does. God has a created order in which He has decreed that the only proper sexual intimacies occur within a heterosexual legally binding marriage. Now, we may not like that, but that’s the truth, regardless of any interpretive gymnastics we might attempt to get away from it.
Dr. Wink clearly believes that the source of the law was chauvinistic Hebrew men, not God Himself. Well, in that case, why bother explaining anything away? Why not just say “they were a bunch of pigs and God had nothing to do with this, so let’s just disregard it”? He says “Paul knew nothing of the modern psychosexual understanding....” Yes. But instead of considering that perhaps that modern understanding is wrong and Paul was under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (and therefore right), Dr. Wink is patronizing and demeaning in discrediting the validity of Paul’s objections to homosexuality.
Well, Paul either spoke the truth or he didn’t. If he didn’t, then why not just turn our backs on it and admit that’s what we’re doing? But if he did, then we need to come to terms with what God’s Word is really saying.
Dr. Wink also makes various false claims and gross generalizations such as “adultery, which creates far more social havoc, is considered less sinful than homosexual activity. Yet no one is calling for [adulterers’] stoning. And we ordain adulterers.”
This is false on many levels. First, who is he talking about? I do not think heterosexual adultery is less sinful than homosexual activity. And I pastored and taught ethics for years at the very kind of churches and colleges he would assume believe and teach such things. He also implies people are calling for the stoning of homosexuals, yet I’ve never once heard anyone do that. And his comment “we ordain adulterers” is entirely irrelevant. (If his point is, many churches operate with hypocrisy, well of course they do, but that hardly functions as an argument for his case.) Known child molesters have been ordained too, but that has nothing to do with whether homosexual acts are wrong in the sight of God. I am convinced, Shannon, that any honest examination of Scriptural teaching shows clearly that they are.
Your letter seems to take refuge in the fact that Dr. Wink is a scholar. But many scholars are wrong. I can give you the names of countless scholars who believe and teach that the Bible condemns all sex outside of marriage. Calling on scholars is much like lawyers calling on expert doctors and psychologists as witnesses. You can always find someone to back up the point you want to believe, or want to make the jury believe. But it doesn’t matter that the doctor has degrees—his testimony could still be wrong. Dr. Wink makes some valid points, of course, but I take issue with many claims he makes.
For instance, his comments about Song of Solomon being a celebration of fornication are off base. He says “the Bible has no sexual ethic.” I disagree. His pleas to “live by the love ethic of Jesus” sounds wonderful, but if the actual teachings of Scripture aren’t our guide, we will simply decree anything to be “Christlike” if we want to do it and “unchristlike” if it makes us uncomfortable. (Hence we, not Christ, are our own authorities.) He seems to utterly fail to understand what Scripture calls the wickedness of the heart, our tendency toward self-deception and demonic deception. He has adopted the spirit of the age and placed himself above Scripture as its judge.
Where is Dr. Wink going to take this? Maybe he still believes adultery is wrong, I’m not sure. But if his wife doesn’t meet his needs, I could see him developing an ethical framework justifying adultery, then writing another paper giving a scholarly defense of adultery from the Bible, showing how twisted traditionalists have made us think the Bible actually condemned adultery, when in fact it really doesn’t. (Or arguing that even where the Bible condemns adultery, it is wrong because it didn’t have the benefit of our modern psychological understanding of why adultery can actually be a good thing.)
One thought on the issue of unfairness. I know people who are handicapped, who will never walk again in this life or never see. Is that unfair? In one sense, yes. Most other people can walk and see, why not them? Is it unfair to have a sexual attraction which God says you cannot righteously act out? Well, it is extremely difficult. But it is certainly not impossible. (In fact, I know people with very strong heterosexual desires and others with very strong homosexual desires who live in lifelong sexual abstinence.)
Those who think that having a genetic root therefore makes a thing legitimate should consider the research suggesting there may be “a rapist’s gene,” that men who commit rape tend to have certain chromosomal patterns. This may or may not prove true, but suppose for a moment it did. Would you consider it a legitimate thing for a man to commit rape just because he has a genetic condition that gives him a much stronger temptation toward rape than someone else has?
You may feel that’s a poor analogy because rape hurts someone and consenting homosexual acts don’t. Yet God condemns not only adultery, but fornication, premarital sex between consenting people. Consent and lack of betraying someone else don’t automatically make a behavior right. We should see the larger picture of a God whose holiness is violated by our sin. And certainly His heart is grieved when His children choose to violate His standards of holiness. We should ask not only if our choices hurt ourselves and others, but if they hurt our Lord.
As I feel sorry for someone who will never walk again, I feel very sorry for those who want to be married, but have no desire to be married to the only ones God (not just society) permits them to marry, those of the opposite gender. But my sorrow and empathy do not negate the objective teaching of Scripture. It is never loving people to mislead them into thinking that God permits what He in fact condemns.
There are many things Scripture teaches that disturb me, Shannon, that I would rather not believe. One of them is the doctrine of hell. I find it very troubling and difficult to think of eternal suffering. I have a friend, a writer, who has come to the conclusion that because God is more loving than he is, and he would never send someone to hell, therefore God never would, and there cannot be such a thing as an eternal hell.
Well, the problem is, God is God and we’re not. My job isn’t to try to pretend the Bible says what I wish it said, but to believe what it does in fact say. If there’s a conflict between my way of thinking and what the Bible says, instead of trying to reinterpret the Bible to fit with my beliefs, I need to change my beliefs to make them conform to what God says. That’s why I believe in an eternal hell, election, and other doctrines that once troubled me and in some cases still do.
In this sense, I think an atheist homosexual is being much more honest about the Bible than Mel White. He will tell you that the Bible clearly and consistently condemns all sex outside of marriage, including homosexual relations. He simply chooses to reject that teaching. But Mel White and others are often unwilling to outright reject Scripture. They twist it to fit their inclinations and thinking and preferences. (I have done that in the past myself with various doctrines, and probably still do without realizing it.)
Dr. Wink finally gets very honest near the end of the article when he says, “Where the Bible mentions homosexual behavior at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether that Biblical judgment is correct.” There—at last he hits the nail on the head. I believe the Bible is correct. He believes it is not, and that is the basis for his own moral conclusions.
So, Shannon, it comes down to this—do you agree with Dr. Wink (and with me) that the Bible clearly condemns homosexual behavior? Secondly, do you agree with Dr. Wink that the Bible is dead wrong? Or do you agree with me that it is right? You can’t have it both ways. If you’re appealing to Dr. Wink’s arguments, you’re ultimately appealing to his disbelief in the Scriptures.
This I know, Shannon, and it grieves me to say it, but I must because I am commanded to speak the truth in love: Christ has something much higher for you than disobedience to His decrees and principles. He wants something great for you, something that brings him glory and brings you joy. And whether or not you recognize it, if you are in fact engaged in sex outside of the only kind of marriage God recognizes, you are living in sin. If I am living in sin, whether in greed or pride or lust, my sin may very well be as bad in God’s sight as yours. But that doesn’t mean that yours isn’t real. (I search my own heart, asking God to make me aware of hidden sins, and to give me the courage to repent of them.)
I wish I could meet you face to face and put my arms around you. I wish I could make you believe that I love you, and far more importantly, that Jesus loves you just as you are, but loves you too much to let you stay that way. He has not put his decrees there as baseball bats to bludgeon you with, but as guardrails to keep you from plunging off the cliff and destroying yourself. If I were a doctor and you came to me saying you were bothered that someone had given you a diagnosis of cancer, I would hope that I could give you what you wanted to hear: “clean bill of health—no cancer.” But if the test results showed cancer, a good doctor wouldn’t do that. He would try to save your life by telling you the truth and suggesting the necessary treatment. I have wept for you, asking God to show this to you. I know that’s not what you want to hear. But I believe it’s what you need to hear.
You strike me as sincere, Shannon. But I also believe you are deceived. Satan is a liar, and he is whispering lies in your ear. He is convincing you that because you believe most of the right things and engage in many Christian practices and are sincere, therefore you are justified in doing what God says you should not.
I ask you to take a fresh look at God’s Word, not trying to back up what an ungodly culture has taught you to believe, but asking God to show you what is really true. He never commands us to do anything—or to abstain from anything—that He does not give us the power to carry out. There is the cancer of sin in your life—but there is corrective surgery to deal with it. Confession, repentance, and transformation of living obediently, and getting help from supportive, loving Christians who believe the Word of God and seek to follow Jesus even when it’s costly, even when it breaks your heart. Sometimes the joy doesn’t come until after we’ve walked the path of heartbreak. (Speaking of heartbreak, would you ask Jesus if some of your choices are breaking His heart? I must ask the same, and I do.)
I am not saying you should change your behavior to earn God’s grace. You can’t earn God’s grace—it’s a free gift. You don’t deserve God’s grace any more than I do. If we deserved God’s grace, we wouldn’t need it. But if we embrace the grace of God, it will break our hearts to engage in the sins of the heart and the outward behavior that sent Him to the cross for us. We want to live like what we are—”If anyone be in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
What you need is exactly what I need, every day and every hour—an infusion of God’s sovereign grace. His grace alone empowers us to live holy lives. I pray you will give yourself over to His grace. I encourage you to read carefully Romans 3-8. God’s Word has an authority that mine, Dr. Wink’s and Mel White’s certainly do not. Don’t ask what others think—read and ask God what He thinks. Because that alone is true.
There are many people—I know a number personally—who have broken out of homosexual relationships. I know this isn’t what you want, but it is what God wants. (I base this on the teaching of Scripture, not speculation.) And if I can be of help to you, please let me know.
From your notes, I feel I know you, Shannon. And I want you to know that I love you. You are worth anything that I could do for you, and much more. Jesus has done for you what I can’t, and wants to do for you more besides. Please ask Him to show you what’s true and right and what He really wants for you—not what you want and what others want for you, but what He wants. Listen to His Word for the answers, and call upon Him to show you the truth and empower you to live it.
I am praying for you right now, and will continue to in the coming days.
Investing in Eternity, Randy Alcorn