Lifelong Celibacy: Part One of The Great Debate on Gay Christianity

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.
-Henri Nouwen

Last week I met with Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network (GCN). We talked for three and a half hours. He is a thoughtful, vulnerable, transparent, kind and well-spoken man who deeply understands the predominate view of homosexuality and the church. He did not try to convince me otherwise and, instead, met me where I was.

I entered the meeting with fear and trembling, was promptly set at ease, and I left profoundly challenged. I learned about what I did not know and discovered that I had made some assumptions that were surprisingly incorrect. In fact, as I look back over that conversation, I find I am irritated at myself. You see, in this area, I have shown blatant disregard for the feelings of others, and I should have known better. I did not seek first to understand. Instead, I was cocksure that I understood all there was to know. Some of you may find yourself in my shoes while others will smile, or be angry, at my naivete. 

I will explain all of this later in the week.  Instead, today and Wednesday I will present, with kind permission, what GCN calls " The Great Debate." Tomorrow we will feature an anonymous post by one of our readers discussing this issue from a personal perspective.

Here is the direction that I want to take with the discussion this week. Leave behind your images of the drag queens of San Francisco and, for now, forget about the gay bars and the multiple-hook up culture. I am not saying that they do not exist, but there are gays who do not fit into such a paradigm. Instead, I want to move into the evangelical church in America and introduce you to a Christian, who, as a teen, with shock and dismay, discovered that he was gay. As we go through this, remember that Justin is a man who loves the faith, so much so, that he was nicknamed "Godboy" by his peers in high school.

Here is my first challenge to our readers: Assume that you are a devout Christian and single. A married person who goes to your church finds out that you are unmarried. How would you take the following question? "I have heard all about those singles parties during spring break. The STDs are rampant amongst promiscuous people. You do know that you are supposed to be celibate, don't you? It says so in the Bible."

If you are like me, I would be most irritated and insulted and say, "Why do you think I am participating in those parties and why do you think you need to tell me that I am supposed to be celibate? Why would you not assume that I am?"

That is the experience of many gay people in the church.  Think about it for now. 

Today, I present what is called Side B of this argument. Here is a description of debate at GCN:

At GCN, we have members on both sides of this "great debate," and some who just aren't sure.  And though this issue is hotly debated among Christians worldwide, we've decided not to debate it here.  However, in the interest of discussion and dialogue about this very important subject, two of our members have written opposing essays expressing their very different points of view.When it comes to gay Christians, there's one question that causes more debate than any other:  Does God bless gay relationships?  Or are gay Christians called to lifelong celibacy?

My goal in presenting both sides of this argument is to familiarize all of us with the issue, including the Scriptural references that are used. Both sides of this debate are lengthy, but are worth the read.

Once again, I thank Justin for his willingness to help me understand. I only hope that I do our discussion justice.

Love that Does Not Count the Cost link
Copyright © 2003 by Ron B.

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

I have much to be thankful for over the last two years that I have participated in GCN. From this community I have gained new friends, and our discussions have helped me to understand my own faith much more clearly. It is therefore a very great privilege to be asked by Justin to share with all of you my reasons for embracing celibacy.

I also want to express my gratitude—to my mother and to my friends Matt, Johanna, Omar, and Andrew—for the time they took reading over the drafts of this essay, and offering their suggestions, criticisms, and insights. Their input made this a more thoughtful and (I hope) more helpful exploration of a difficult subject.

The following reflections grow out of my search for God’s answers about homosexuality. Because there is a lot of food for thought to digest here, I have divided my reflections up into sections, to make it easier to work through bit by bit, and have time to take it all in. For those who don’t have time to read the whole essay, it might make sense to skip ahead to the Conclusion section, and read that, then come back to read the bits that seem interesting as time is available.

Friendship Across the Divide

I have known Justin for almost six years now, and those years have been an education, I believe, for both of us—an education whose early stages is described in an essay I wrote over 5 years ago. “Friendship Across the Divide” is one of the most popular essays I’ve ever written. I still get occasional e-mails from appreciative readers. And an organization called Öt Kenyér even made an unauthorized (though not unwelcome) translation of the essay into Hungarian. So the story of our friendship has not only reached across the cultural divide in our own country: it has even reached behind the old Iron Curtain.

When he graduated from Wake Forest University in the spring of 2000, Justin was selected to deliver a “senior oration” during graduation weekend. In his speech, he observed: “You can ask almost anyone in this nation about controversial topics and they’ll be happy to give you an opinion – frequently with arguments and facts to support their view. Anyone can take a stand, and almost anyone can argue for their viewpoint. I believe that we are obligated to strive for something more – to carefully examine all sides of an issue, to listen attentively to the arguments being made, and to come to a true understanding of how different people see the issue and what it means to them. Then, and only then, can we form an educated position and lead boldly in that direction, all the while demonstrating compassion for those with opposing views.”

“Learning,” he continued, “necessarily involves being challenged. When we question our long-held assumptions, we test their foundations. Whether they come from a professor, a life experience, or simple internal reflection, challenges will help strengthen well-founded ideas and rid us of weak ones. As our previously unexamined opinions begin to crumble, we have to reexamine everything in a new light, hopefully with the aid of people from different perspectives.”

The process of examining and challenging our beliefs about homosexuality has not always been easy. We all understand how emotional discussions about sexuality and the Bible can become—we know because we have had many of those discussions on the GCN forums. But I want to extend my thanks to Justin for the challenge that his ideas have offered to mine over the years. His thoughtful, honest questions have forced me to reflect more deeply on Scripture and my own experience, and his temperate, non-confrontational style has done much to keep a dialogue alive that could otherwise have degenerated into an unproductive, angry debate.

So I thank Justin for years of friendship, and for this opportunity to share my beliefs with the GCN community.

Witnesses, not Judges

I do not bring these reflections as a theologian, for I have no formal theological training. Nor do I write as a judge, laying down the law, for Christ commands us to judge not, lest we be judged. And the Apostle James adds that mercy triumphs over judgment.

Christ called us to be His witnesses, and I come as a witness, to share what I have learned in prayer, in Bible study, in reading Christian writers, in conversations with friends, and in my own reflections.

Yet as I thought of this image of humans placing themselves in judgment, it brought to mind an observation C. S. Lewis made in his essay “God in the Dock.” Lewis wrote:

The greatest barrier I have met [in presenting the Gospel] is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin… The early Christian preachers could assume in their hearers, whether Jews, Metuentes, or Pagans, a sense of guilt. (That this was common among Pagans is shown by the fact that both Epicureanism and the mystery religions both claimed, though in different ways, to assuage it.) Thus the Christian message was in those days unmistakably the Evangelium, the Good News. It promised healing to those who knew they were sick. We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy.

The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man, the roles are quite reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge; if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that man is on the bench and God is in the dock.

Humility is important in the Christian life, and I have tried to write with the humility of one who will be judged by Christ. Yet in my own life, I have had to learn (and it is one of life’s most difficult lessons) to be humble enough not to make myself judge of God’s revelation. It is all too easy for me to demand that the Bible “justify the ways of God to men,” and refuse to obey until it has satisfied all my objections.

This pride is woven into the most basic assumptions of the modern world view. Yet as the Apostle Paul exhorts the Christians in Rome, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him” (Romans 12:2-3).

Sober judgment reminds me that I’m not a great theologian, nor am I in a position to judge others. I can only listen to the Gospel as it comes to us in the Scriptures, allow it to challenge my beliefs, my desires, and my preconceptions, and strive to let it transform my thoughts and my actions. And yet in submitting humbly to the Gospel, I hope that I have learned a few things worth sharing with the GCN community.

When the Pharisees brought the woman taken in adultery to Jesus, He said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:3-11). He does not ask us to take God’s place and pronounce final judgment and sentence. Yet it sometimes seems that some Christians think that He said, “Let him who is without sin quote the first Bible verse.” Some believe that even to call adultery a sin is a form of judgment that is forbidden by Christ.

If that were the case, no human being could bear witness to the truth, because we have all fallen short of the truth. But helping each other to understand God’s will, so that we will be better able to stand before Him at the final judgment, is an act of charity, not cruelty.

Thus we must never pass judgment on anyone, because we do not know their heart or all of the hidden reasons behind their actions. But we must always bear witness to the Truth revealed by Christ, because it is that Truth which will set all of us free from judgment (cf. John 8:32).

“I Believe”

The Nicene Creed begins with the words I believe: “I believe in God the Father Almighty… and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord… I believe in the Holy Spirit…”

Christians live by faith and “hope for what we do not see” (Romans 8:25). God has not chosen to reveal either His existence or His purposes in an incontrovertible way. He desires to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (cf. Ephesians 1:9); but He does so through His witnesses, and not through raw displays of His power.

Throughout history, His witnesses have brought His words to the world, and the world has often refused to listen to the message, reviling and persecuting the messenger. Yet all who receive His message and believe have become His sons and daughters (cf. John 1:12).

As all of us who have received Christ know, faith cannot always be explained. Nevertheless, the following is an attempt to sketch what I believe that the Scriptures, Church history, and personal experience reveal about God’s design for human sexuality, and how He wills that His sons and daughters live their sexuality in His image. And I believe that, like the woman at the well, we will find in His teaching a spring of living water within us, welling up to eternal life (cf. John 4:14).

The Unity of the Scriptures

God reveals Himself in many ways. He gives to all human beings an enduring witness to His divine nature in His creation (cf. Romans 1:19-20). He also revealed Himself by words and deeds to the Patriarchs and the Prophets. Then, in the fullness of time, His “Word became flesh” (cf. John 1:1-18), and God spoke to us through His Son (cf. Heb. 1:1-2). The Apostles, anointed by Jesus Christ as His witnesses (cf. Matthew 28:19-20), and guided by the Holy Spirit who would guide them into all Truth (cf. John 16:13) recorded His words and deeds. These stories, written down by the Patriarchs, Prophets, and Apostles, are found today in the Bible.

St. Augustine once observed that, “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.” The various books of the Bible are addressed to a variety of cultural situations, ranging from nomadic tribesmen to the citizens of the stable and prosperous kingdoms of David and Solomon; from slaves oppressed in a strange land to exiles taken captive by invading armies; and from Jews living in Judea under Roman rule to Gentile converts spread throughout the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, I believe that all the books of the Bible, though they were addressed to diverse cultural situations, still speak with a unified voice, the voice of the Holy Spirit.

In the Old Testament, God prepares His chosen people to receive Christ; in the New Testament, the Word of God Himself speaks, and the Apostles become His witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth (cf. Acts 1:8). Thus, the two Testaments are two parts of the same story, shedding light upon each other. As the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy, “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The diversity of cultural contexts found in the Scriptures can raise interesting questions when it comes to discerning the unchanging principles behind changing situations. It is worth remembering that the same Apostle Paul who insists that all Scripture (including, of course, that Scripture which reveals the Old Testament law) is useful “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” also insists very firmly that “no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law,” because “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:20-22). Yet the law is not useless, for “through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).

The Bible and Human Sexuality

In his booklet, “What the Bible Says—and Doesn’t Say—about Homosexuality,” Mel White makes the following astonishing assertion: The Bible is a book about God. The Bible is NOT a book about human sexuality.

White explains: “The Bible is a book about God, about God’s love for the world and the people of the world. It is the history of God’s love at work rescuing, renewing, empowering humankind. It was never intended to be a book about human sexuality. Certainly, you will agree.”

Unfortunately (and I do not know whether to blame this on my genes or my home environment growing up), I cannot agree with Mel’s assertion. Let me give a slightly different example: suppose someone said, The Bible is a book about God. It is NOT a book about human love. Would such a dichotomy make sense?

The Bible is a book about God, of course, as it is a book about human love; but it is also, from the very beginning, a book about human sexuality. The Bible says (Genesis 1:27) that human beings are created “in the image of God” (the Bible is a book about God) and created “male and female” (it is also a book about human sexuality). This should not surprise us, because God’s plan for human sexuality tells us a great deal about God and about human love.

In marriage, a man and a woman “become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Jesus explains this further, saying that it is God, not man, who “joins together” a couple in marriage (cf. Matthew 19:6). In the prophets (particularly Hosea), Israel’s infidelity to God is described in terms of sexual infidelity, and in Romans 1, the Apostle Paul argues that there is an intimate connection between rejecting the truth about God and rejecting the truth about human sexuality.

The Bible is certainly a book about God’s love, and the story of how that love is revealed in Jesus Christ. However, the Apostle Paul says that the union of a man and woman in marriage is a “profound mystery” that refers to the union of Christ and the Church (cf. Ephesians 5:32). And the book of Revelation describes the Heavenly banquet as “the marriage feast of the Lamb” (cf. Revelation 19:1-9). Marriage, then, is an important image, symbol, or icon of God’s love revealed in Christ, and when we distort our understanding of marriage, we distort our understanding of God’s love.

The Bible is also the story of God’s love poured out through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was present in Creation, “moving over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2); and He came down at Pentecost (cf. Acts 2), fills the Church with His gifts (cf. I Corinthians 12; Galatians 5:22-24), and guides Her into all truth (John 16:13; cf. Acts 15). Jesus is very clear that we must be “born of the Spirit” (cf. John 3:1-18) and Paul is equally clear that we must “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). Yet when David commits adultery with Bathsheba, he cries out in deep contrition that God will not take the Holy Spirit from him (Psalm 51:11). And the Apostle Paul’s teaching illuminates this, because he says that the sexually immoral man sins against his own body, which is the Temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:18-19). Sexual immorality defiles the Holy Spirit’s dwelling place within us, leading Jesus to say of lust that it is better for one of our members to perish than for our whole body to be cast into Hell (cf. Matthew 5:27-30).

It is true that too much attention to the niggling details of sexual rules can distract us from what Bible passages about sexuality have to say about God. But it is also true that failure to take seriously the truths the Bible reveals about human sexuality will progressively blind us to the truths the Bible reveals about God, leading us to embrace another Gospel, alien to the one revealed in Scripture (cf. Galatians 1:6-9).

Ceremonial Law and Natural Law

One of the thorny problems for Christian theologians concerns explaining the similarities and differences between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Adultery is forbidden by Moses; Jesus forbids not only adultery but even lustful desire (cf. Matthew 5:27-30). Divorce and remarriage are allowed by Moses; Jesus forbids divorce and remarriage under all but the most limited circumstances (cf. Matthew 19:3-10). Circumcision is required by Moses (cf. Genesis 17:10-14), but “avails nothing” for Christians (Galatians 5:6). The Jews have to follow complicated dietary laws, but Christians do not (cf. Acts 10:10-16).

Why? If Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), why would some things be permitted under the Old Covenant but forbidden in the New; other things be either permitted under both or forbidden under both; and still other things be forbidden under the Old but permitted in the New? Obviously, it would be possible to draw up lists of things that are permitted and forbidden under each covenant, and compare/contrast. But if we’re trying to understand the principles behind the New Covenant, we need to dig deeper than this.

Clearly, this is a complicated problem, and different theologians have come up with different solutions. But as we seek a framework for distinguishing which Old Covenant commandments still have force in the New Covenant, we should aim for a framework which uses principles found within Scripture to distinguish between different kinds of laws.

On such a complicated question, some background can be helpful, and so I have prepared one document showing some of the similarities between the Old and New Covenants, and another document exploring some of their differences.

While I do not think I have a complete solution for distinguishing which laws are still binding and which are not, I offer the following suggestions that should help to give shape to the discussion.

The entrance of Gentiles into the Church played a pivotal role in Christians’ release from the ceremonial laws, and so I believe that we will learn something about the principles distinguishing the New Covenant from a key New Testament text about the Gentiles.

Writing to the Church in Rome, the Apostle Paul says, “When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:14-16). Certain Gentiles, Paul argues, “do by nature what the law requires” because it is “written on their hearts.” Not only so, but “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:19-20).

We arrive, then, at the notion that there are certain elements of the law which are written on the human heart, built into human nature, and a part of the very order of creation itself. These laws bind Gentile and Jew alike. On the other hand, I believe that most readers will agree that when he said that the Gentiles “do by nature what the law requires,” the Apostle Paul did not mean that they abstained from pork, circumcised their male children on the eighth day, refused to wear mixed fabrics, or observed the Passover on 14 Nisan.

To the extent that the Gentiles “do by nature what the law requires,” Paul seems to be referring to the things the prophets referred to: doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly with God (cf. Micah 6:8). Today, when the Jews speak of a “righteous Gentile,” they do not mean a Gentile who is circumcised or who doesn’t eat pork. They mean a man like Oscar Schindler, who though he was not a Jew, and though he did not follow the Jewish purity laws, nevertheless dedicated himself radically to justice and mercy.

We may therefore, I believe, speak with some confidence of a Scriptural category we might call “Natural Law”: the law which God inscribed on the human heart at creation, and which is still operative in the hearts of those who obey their conscience. However, the Apostle Paul is clear that this “Natural Law” does not hold sway in every heart. “For although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles” (Romans 1:21-23). Thus sin, at work in every human heart, at least partially obscures this natural revelation. But even for the Gentiles, who do not have the written commandment, sin’s power is not absolute: it is still possible to discover this “Natural Law” and strive to obey it.

It is important to stress that “Natural Law” in the Scriptural sense is not at all similar to what scientists call “the laws of nature.” St. Thomas Aquinas (following the Apostle Paul), said that “The natural law is nothing other than the light of understanding placed in us by God; through it we know what we must do and what we must avoid. God has given this light or law at creation.” It is this law that Paul says (in Romans 2) that some Gentiles listen to, and (in Romans 1) that other Gentiles have suppressed. But because this law is a true moral law (concerned with what we ought to do, rather than what we actually do), it is not at all the same things as the findings of the social sciences (which studies what is, rather than what ought to be).

I would suggest, therefore, that the operative principle behind the Old and New Covenants can be expressed this way. At the creation of the world, God inscribed His will onto the human heart. If human beings had not sinned, that knowledge of His will could still be discerned without confusion or struggle. But because of sin, God is hidden from us, and we are strongly tempted to obscure even what we can see of Him. As the Apostle John says, “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God” (John 1:19-21).

After Adam and Eve fell, God desired to restore the human family to Himself. The Old Covenant was an imperfect covenant, which sought to point human beings back to God, but which did not address the central problem: the hardness of the human heart (cf. Psalm 51:10-12; Ezekiel 11:17-21; Matthew 19:8). Therefore, it addressed adultery, but not lust in the heart; it allowed divorce as a concession to “hardness of heart” (Matthew 19:8); it required circumcision in the flesh, while the New Covenant demands “circumcision of the heart” (Romans 2:29). The Old Testament dietary laws helped to mark the Jews as separate; but all animals were created by God, and so “What God has cleansed, you must not call common” (Acts 10:15).

As I said, I do not claim that this scheme will answer every question, but it offers an approach which is rooted in Scripture and enables us to provide a reasonable framework for looking at differences between the Old and New Testaments. With this framework in mind, then, let us look at how the New Testament defines the New Covenant, particularly with respect to sexuality.

Jesus and Sexual Morality: Life in the Holy Spirit

The Sermon on the Mount is the Magna Charta of the New Covenant. It is the most comprehensive of Christ’s sermons. Addressing sexual morality, Jesus says:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30).

In this passage, Jesus is primarily concerned with the heart, as He is throughout His ministry. He not only maintains the Old Covenant’s prohibition on fornication, adultery, and other sexual sin: He deepens it to demand not only purity in external actions, but also purity of heart. Here, as in other parts of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sets a seemingly impossible standard of perfection. However, He is able to demand a deeper obedience because His own sacrifice on the cross will free us from sin, and He will send the Holy Spirit to strengthen us.

After condemning several forms of sexual sin, the Apostle Paul writes, “Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two shall become one flesh.’ But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun sexual immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the sexually immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (I Corinthians 6:16-20).

Those who sin sexually defile the temple of the Holy Spirit within them. Sexual sin thus has unique power to cut us off from life in the Spirit, and enslave us to life in the flesh. Because “the sexually immoral man sins against his own body,” cutting himself off from the life of the Holy Spirit, in which alone salvation is possible, Jesus exhorts His audience that “it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

Jesus and Sexual Morality: Forgiveness and Redemption

Another important element of Jesus’ approach to sexual sin is found in His response to the adulterous woman (John 8:3-11). The Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery before Jesus, and said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?”

John says that they said this to test Jesus, so that they might bring some charge against Him. Jesus responds very simply: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” When the Pharisees heard this, they went away, and Jesus and the woman were left alone. “Has no one condemned you?” He asked her.

“No one, Lord,” she replied.

“Neither do I condemn you” Jesus said to her; “go, and sin no more.”

This incident illustrates John’s teaching, earlier in the Gospel, that “God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). Christ’s concern is not to punish this woman for her sin, but to release her from it, to release her from the guilt that brings death, but also to call her out of the sin, so that she can “go, and sin no more.”

The Apostle Paul emphasizes the same point in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. That is what some of you were; but now you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:9-11).

Paul makes the same point in different language in his letter to the Romans: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4).

The second lesson to be drawn from Christ’s treatment of sexual sin, then, is that He is concerned with redemption, not punishment. His commandments are not meant to condemn us, but to teach us how to avoid sin, so that “the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” This second lesson is very closely connected to the first, because this freedom from sin comes from the Holy Spirit.

Jesus and Sexual Morality: God’s Plan in Creation

Jesus’ dialogue with the Pharisees concerning divorce (Matthew 19:3-12) illuminates a third key element of His sexual ethic. A group of Pharisees approached Him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”

Jesus answered: “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female (cf. Genesis 1:27), and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ (cf. Genesis 2:24)? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

Some have argued that the creation stories in Genesis are just stories, that they describe the origins of the human race in a sort of mythical way, but they don’t have any prescriptive force—that is, they don’t tell us the way things are supposed to be, they just tell us the way things were. It seems to me, however, difficult to avoid the conclusion that Jesus appeals to Genesis precisely because they did have prescriptive force, telling us what God intended sexuality to be “from the beginning.”

It seems that Jesus is arguing that marriage, like the new birth itself, comes “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). It is God who joins husband and wife together in marriage, and “what God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

Once again, we see Jesus strengthening, rather than weakening, the commands of the Old Covenant. The Pharisees would allow divorce and remarriage, but Jesus says, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.”

Why would Jesus be so strict about marriage? I believe the Apostle Paul this when he refers to the two becoming one flesh, and then observes: “This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32). Christ is deeply concerned with marriage because it is intended to be an image of His love for the world.

This should remind us of a point that comes up over and over again in both the Old and New Testaments: the close link between sexual immorality and idolatry. If the one flesh union of husband and wife is an image of Christ’s love for the church, then a distortion of that union also distorts our image of Christ and the church. False sexual union, then, has an organic connection to false worship.

Jesus and Sexual Morality: Male and Female

It also seems to me quite significant that when Jesus speaks of marriage, He begins by reminding the Pharisees that God made us male and female and says that a man shall be joined to his wife.

Again, some have argued that this part of the creation account is descriptive: it merely tells us that God did, in fact, create human beings with two sexes, but that the passage is not prescriptive: it does not tell us anything about God’s intent in creating two sexes. Once again, this argument does not seem convincing to me. Jesus seems to invoke this passage not merely as an observation, but to teach a lesson about the nature of marriage.

And as I’ve thought about this more carefully, I believe that human beings’ sexual design is not simply a biological accident, but a theologically significant issue. From a purely biological perspective, God could have adopted a different reproductive strategy. Most flowers are androgynous, with each organism containing both male and female reproductive systems. This provides the genetic diversity benefits of sexual reproduction without requiring sexual differentiation among organisms. Again, bees solve the reproductive problem in a way very different from humans: the vast, vast majority of bees are infertile female worker bees. Each bee hive has a single queen bee who is the mother of all bees in the hive. And male bees, or drones, live just long enough to fertilize the queen.

The division of the human race into two distinct genders who both participate in child rearing is not a biological necessity. An atheist can regard it as an accident; but a Christian who believes that God intimately guided the creation must accept that the details of creation have significance, especially when Christ explicitly points to them as significant.

Paul’s warning about women and head coverings is one of the least popular passages in the New Testament. And yet I think it is important to study this passage, because to do otherwise risks conforming our thought to the world, rather than allowing our thought to be reshaped by the Scriptures.

“Judge for yourselves,” Paul asks. “Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her pride? For her hair is given to her for a covering” (I Corinthians 11:13-15). Most contemporary Christians are inclined to dismiss this as culturally conditioned patriarchal prejudice. However, Paul does not ground his argument in cultural but in theological arguments. We must therefore not dismiss his conclusion too easily.

Now, it is important to recognize that there is a cultural element here: elsewhere, Paul says, “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety” (I Timothy 2:9). But standards of modesty in dress vary from culture to culture. As C. S. Lewis observes in Mere Christianity, what would be considered modest in one culture would not be considered modest in another, and vice-versa. John Paul II makes the same point in Love and Responsibility. Therefore, I think that Christians can reasonably consider arguments that suggest that the basic principles that Paul articulates may have different application in modern culture than they had in the ancient Near East.

Nevertheless, we cannot ignore those basic principles. Paul tells the Church in Corinth that “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (I Corinthians 11:5). He then talks about head coverings, saying that men should not wear them in Church, and women should, for a man “is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man” (11:7).

Complementarity is not a one-way street placing men above women. Paul continues, “in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God” (11:11-12). Elsewhere, he says, “there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). And he tells the Church at Ephesus, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:22-27).

One can, I think, argue that the cultural manifestations of male-female complementarity can vary from one culture to another. Samuel Johnson once observed, “Greek, Sir, is like lace; every man gets as much of it as he can.” If one thinks of the colorful male costumes of the Eighteenth Century, obviously what was considered appropriate male costume then varied a great deal from what is considered appropriate now. Lace is not as manly as it was in Johnson’s days.

This is a large topic, and I do not have space to get into detailed arguments about what kind of cultural variation is consistent with the Gospel, and when cultural variation occurs because one culture is really less modest than another. But while I think it is appropriate to argue that the cultural manifestations of male-female complementarity can vary to some degree from culture to culture, the basic theological principle of male-female complementarity, established in Genesis and confirmed by both Jesus and Paul, cannot be set aside without fundamentally altering the Gospel, because the mystery of sexuality is not just about men and women: “it refers to Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32).

It is especially important to defend the principle of male-female complementarity in our culture, where it is not merely the cultural manifestations of complementarity that have come under attack, but the very notion of complementarity itself. With those who argue that the theological principles articulated by Paul can be applied differently in a different cultural situation, I think very productive dialogue about cultural norms is possible. But with those who deny Paul’s theological principles, I think dialogue about cultural application is impossible, because there is no common ground of jointly accepted theological principles. To those who reject complementarity in principle, I think we can only say (as politely and as humbly as possible), “you reject the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of your own culture” (cf. Mark 7:8).

Some readers may believe that the interpretation of “male and female” I am putting forward here cannot be squared with scientific discoveries about intersexed individuals. I strongly believe that the Church needs to be sensitive and understanding toward those born with gender ambiguities; but I do not think that the reality of gender ambiguity changes the Biblical principles I have outlined above. (For those interested in hearing more of what I think about the relationship between gender ambiguity and homosexuality, click here.)

The “Clobber Passages”

Up to this point, I’ve been focusing on underlying principles which I believe should guide our understanding of the Bible as it applies to human sexuality, with particular focus on the teachings of Jesus. (For those interested in the argument that “Jesus does not mention homosexuality,” click here.)

Now I am going to turn to the so-called “clobber passages”: Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:18-32, I Corinthians 6:9-11, and I Timothy 1:10.

Naturally, over the years, I’ve spent a lot of effort trying to discover a “spin” on these passages which would enable me to embrace a gay relationship. But each time I’ve tried to do so, I’ve found that my conscience clobbers my pro-gay arguments. In the following paragraphs, I’ll try to sketch out why I was not able to find a convincing way to interpret these passages to allow a gay relationship.

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination (Leviticus 18:22).

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them (Leviticus 20:13).

First of all, I would like to make a couple of observations about context. Leviticus is not organized in a systematic way like Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion or the Catechism of the Catholic Church. For example, 18:22 and 22:13 say almost the same thing, but are separated by a whole bunch of unrelated commandments.

It also happens that one of the most quoted verses of the Old Testament—“you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18)—falls between these two injunctions. But the verse immediately following the command to love your neighbor is one of the most reviled examples of Old Testament arbitrariness: “You shall not let your livestock breed with another kind. You shall not sow your field with mixed seed. Nor shall a garment of mixed linen and wool come upon you” (Leviticus 19:19).

Therefore, we cannot judge the significance of a commandment in Leviticus by its neighbors, because Leviticus consists of a hodge-podge of short commandments put together. Sometimes there is some sense of connection between them, but even when there are some connections, one cannot make the assumption that adjacent commandments are closely related, in the sense that they would be in a more systematically structured work. It therefore makes more sense to take each command in Leviticus 18-20 separately.

Taken alone, Leviticus 18:22 would prohibit all same-sex activity without distinction.

For this reason, those who wish to justify same-sex relationships must argue either that the prohibition on homosexual acts is part of the ceremonial law, or else that the prohibition in Leviticus only applied to sexual acts involving minors, or coercion, or pagan ritual.

In the first place, I believe that those making these arguments don’t know Jewish culture very well. Jews do not overgeneralize; if anything, their weakness is in finding distinctions where no distinction exists. For example, Christ says to the Pharisees, “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If any one swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred?” (Matthew 23:16-17). A text with no exceptions in Jewish literature probably really is a text with no exceptions.

And in the second place, those who try to find exceptions generally do so by appeals to the surrounding context. Such appeals make relatively little sense in a document as unsystematic as Leviticus; nevertheless, for those who are interested, I have considered the arguments at greater length here.

This passage is, of course, part of the Law of Moses, and Christians are not under the Law of Moses. Yet, as the Apostle Paul argues, the law is not useless, for “through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). The law teaches us what sin is, but it is only by faith that we can be set free from slavery to sin, and enter the “glorious liberty of the children of God.

I Corinthians 6:9-11

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor active homosexuals [arsenokoitai], nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers 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 in the Spirit of our God (I Corinthians 6:9-11).

The key debate over this passage concerns the meaning of the term arsenokoitai. There is a lot of debate over this word, but having studied Greek, it seems to me fairly self-evident that arsenokoitai is a compound word referring to those offenders condemned in Leviticus 18:22. In the Septuagint, we find “You shall not lie [koiten] with a male [arsenos] as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22).

The linguistic problem seems to me to be exactly analogous to this: suppose I have an Old Testament text which says, “it is unlawful to lay bricks,” and I have a New Testament text that says “bricklayers are lawbreakers.” It would seem inconceivable to me to say that “Greek scholars don’t know exactly what bricklayer means.” Yet Mel White claims (with an apparently straight face) that “Greek scholars don’t know exactly what arsenokoitai means.”

While I can appreciate Mel’s desire that this should be true (since I shared that desire for years), it simply is not true. My New Testament Greek Lexicon (put together by Greek scholars!) defines arsenokoites (the singular of arsenokoitai) as “one who lies with a male as with a female, sodomite, homosexual.” It is true enough that there are some Greek scholars who reject this interpretation, just as there are some Biblical Scholars who argue that God is not the Creator, or that Christ was not born of a virgin, or that He wasn’t the Son of God, or that He did not rise from the dead. But if Christians had to give up their beliefs every time a scholar professed disbelief, Christianity would not have survived a week.

Linguistically, the transformation from “it is unlawful to lay bricks” to “bricklayers are lawbreakers” is identical to the transformation from “you shall not koit?n with an arsenos” to “arsenokoitai shall not enter the kingdom of God.” In both cases, the verb has been conjugated to function as a noun, and the object has been joined to the verb to form a new compound word.

Words have to mean something, and the obvious grammatical meaning of arsenokoitai is “men who lie with men,” a reference back to Leviticus 18:22. This does not automatically prove that this is what Paul meant. As some have pointed out, “ladykiller” does not mean either a lady who kills or a person who kills ladies. But most compound words have obvious meanings. A homosexual, for example, is a person sexually attracted to their own sex.

There is a tiny amount of room for skepticism about the meaning of arsenokoitai, but in order to make a compelling case against the obvious meaning, one would need to propose an alternative meaning, find documentation of that alternative meaning, and show that the alternative meaning would make at least as much sense out of Paul’s argument as does the grammatically obvious meaning.

I welcome serious, faithful scholars who challenge and question our beliefs about the Scriptures. Many of the great heroes of the faith have done this, challenging Christians to take more seriously the Word of God. Such men and women have started great reform movements. But after two years of studying Greek in college so that I could understand the translation arguments in the passages treating homosexuality, my reaction was something like, “this is the best challenge we can make on the translation of arsenokoitai?” I, at least, did not find the argument convincing.

And moving beyond the specific question of whether or not arsenokoitai refers to active homosexuals, the statement that fornicators, adulterers, active homosexuals, and other sinners will not enter the kingdom of heaven is logically connected with the statement a few verses later that sexual sin defiles the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s argument in the latter half of I Corinthians 6 is that sexual sin separates us from the spirit (and thus from the kingdom of God). But he also argues that sinners can be washed, sanctified, and justified “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (See Jesus and Sexual Morality: Life in the Holy Spirit, above).

None of this is to single out homosexual sin for special condemnation; adultery and fornication are just as serious in God’s eyes and much more commonly practiced. But for those of us tempted to homosexual activity, it is important to recognize that the Scriptures say that such activity can cut us off from God by defiling the temple where He dwells through the Holy Spirit within us.

It is also important not to be discouraged. Romans 7 is very clear that the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit is not over in a moment. It is a part of every Christian’s daily walk with Christ. As long as we keep returning to the cross in repentance, we will receive forgiveness and Christ will help strengthen us and progressively free us from sin. That is why Paul is clear in I Corinthians 6:11 that we can be set free from our sins. The way is not free from struggle, but the battles do lead to victories, and freedom from the power of sin.

I Timothy 1:8-11

Now we know that the law is good, if any one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, immoral persons, active homosexuals [arsenokoitai], kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted (I Timothy 1:8-11).

Again, I find the argument that arsenokoitai means “men who lie with men” compelling. But this passage is also important for what it says about the law.

Christ said that “all the law and the prophets” was summed up in two commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself. The Apostle Paul teaches that those who live by the Spirit are not under the law—as he argues in this passage, “the law is not laid down for the just.” Those who live by the Spirit will show in their lives the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (cf. Galatians 5:22-23). But, Paul is equally clear that “through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). The New Testament vice lists remind us of what sin is. If we are using our “freedom” to engage in sin, then we are not free; we have become slaves of sin (cf. John 8:34; Romans 6:16-18). There are numerous New Testament vice lists; I Corinthians 6:9-10 and I Timothy 1:10 mention homosexual acts among several other vices which separate us from God.

Again, this is not to single homosexual acts out from all the other acts which bring condemnation. But in these passages, Paul argues that homosexual acts can 1) keep us from the kingdom of Heaven; 2) defile the temple of the Holy Spirit within us; and 3) place us back under the judgment of the law.

Given the stakes involved, it is not a risk I am willing to take. Even more so, I would never risk inflicting consequences that serious on another man whom I loved.

Romans 1:18-32

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error (Romans 1:24-27).

Romans 1 is probably the most important passage about homosexuality in the whole Scripture. While I Corinthians 6:9-11 and I Timothy 1:10 make clear that homosexual acts are forbidden under the New Covenant, Romans 1 helps to explain how this prohibition fits into the distinction between natural and ceremonial law outlined above. It also enables us to connect the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality with some of the broader themes of sexuality and the New Covenant, also outlined above.

Paul begins this section by saying that God’s wrath is revealed against those “who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). For, he continues, “Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible nature, namely, His eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (1:20). Turning back to Genesis, we read, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). In a very special way, then, the complementarity of male and female reveals God’s “invisible nature” through “the things that have been made” (see Jesus and Sexual Morality: Male and Female above).

Therefore, when Paul links “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie” with “women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another,” one element of the “truth about God” which is being set aside is the truth of male/female compilmentarity, because the writer of Genesis links this complementarity with the “image of God” in us.

Both in Romans 1 and I Corinthians 11, Paul ties gender roles to nature and to the Creation order. Because the one flesh union of husband and wife is a “profound mystery” which “refers to Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32), tampering with our understanding of marriage necessarily tampers with our understanding of Christ.

Although Romans 1 deals extensively with idolatry, Paul’s argument is not that homosexual acts within the context of Pagan idol worship is wrong. Rather, Paul argues that there is a link between “exchanging the truth of God for a lie” and believing that homosexual acts can be as good as God’s design for sexuality in marriage between a man and a woman.

As the logic of Romans 1:18-32 develops, Paul condemns a wide range of sins. All of these sins result in one way or another from “exchanging the truth about God” and His will for human relationships for a lie. The temptations to these sins, too, result from the Fall, in which Adam and Eve believed the very first lie, the lie that they would “become like God” if they ate the fruit.

However, merely to be tempted is not to exchange the truth for the lie. In Eden, Satan offered the lie, but Adam and Eve did not sin until they exchanged the truth that they were not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for the lie that the tree would make them like God. In the same way, to be tempted to homosexual acts is simply one of the many forms of temptation faced by human beings in this fallen world. I believe that I would sin if I exchanged the truth that God has forbidden homosexual acts for the lie that sexual intimacy with my own gender is in accordance with God’s will and would be good for me. But I do not think that the temptation itself means that we have turned away from God: Christ Himself was “tempted in every way, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).


In his senior oration, Justin called the realization that he was attracted to other guys the biggest challenge his Christian worldview has had to deal with. It has been the same for me, and I think that it was the shared experience of growing up Southern Baptist and grappling with our sexual attractions which gave us the foundation for the dialogue we have had over the years.

For me, trying to deal with my faith and my sexuality has been a long, turbulent process of being pulled in many different directions, and listening to many voices. For both of us, the process has involved challenging a lot of deeply-held beliefs. And in that process, our conclusions have diverged in several important ways. However, despite these differences, we are both dissatisfied with some of the important arguments put forward by both sides, and we share the conviction that different ways of framing the questions would lead to more fruitful examination of the issues involved.

For myself, I finally came back to the view that the Bible forbids gay relationships, in part because though I could see the reasons to doubt the traditional position, I couldn’t see any solid evidence to support the idea that God blesses gay marriages. And the more I sought to find in the Scriptures principles which could be used to support gay marriage, the more I realized that the basic principles in the Scripture for guiding sexual expression would rule out gay relationships.

I recognized more and more clearly that sexuality is not just an intense way of expressing affection for another person. Marriage clearly involves the very human choice to join oneself to another; but behind the human will is God’s will, for it is ultimately God who joins the two into one. Having this meaning behind it “from the beginning,” marriage becomes an icon of God’s love for His Church—a meaning which the Old Testament foreshadowed and the New Testament brought into focus. I came to understand how this line of thought ran without interruption through Scripture and left no room for homosexual activity—from Genesis and the Mosaic Law to the Apostle Paul’s condemnation of homosexual activity in the prologue to his most important treatise on the New Covenant (Romans 1:18-32). In this context, I saw that our sexual choices have profound theological significance.

Thus, in more concrete terms, I began to see that the connection between sexual sin and idolatry goes deeper than just the fact that pagan worship sometimes involved sexual activity of one kind or another. As I searched, I began to see that the fundamental question about human sexuality did not concern its human dimensions but God’s own foundations for it.

As I pondered the connection between the Great Commandments to love God and neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40) and the rules about homosexuality, I was struck again and again by the sharp warning Jesus offered His disciples at the Last Supper: “if you love me, you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15). I was further struck by both Jesus’ and the Apostle Paul’s summing up of the law in the command to love your neighbor as yourself (Romans 13:9; cf. Matthew 19:18-19).

It seemed obvious to me that if I murdered my neighbor, or stole from him, I was violating the law to love God and my neighbor. I realized that if the command against homosexuality was really a command from God, my violating it would entail the violation of the two greatest commandments.

In college, I took Greek not only because I was a committed Christian who wanted to have more tools to understand the Scriptures, but also because I wanted to look at the arguments about homosexuality as closely as possible. Explaining this aspect of my studies in great depth here would not be of much help to a largely non-specialist audience, but suffice it to say these studies convinced me that the pro-gay arguments about the meaning of Greek words were weak, at best.

At the end of the book of Eccelsiastes, Solomon concluded that, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:12-14). And here I, too, could end, for “much study is a weariness of the flesh” and I have already put much study into this paper. “Keep the commandments” would not be a bad ending, but it would not do full justice to the Good News of the Gospel.

The negative side of things which I have been describing here was really not what moved my heart most strongly to embrace celibacy. It was a powerful force, and without this negative belief that the gay marriage route was closed off, I would have put a great deal more energy into pursuing that kind of relationship with another guy. But the Scripture whose rich depths offer far more than the negative prescriptions of the commandments, and the fear of God that they engender, had another driving force waiting in the wings.

That negative conviction alone would have felt like a trap. But as early as 17, I had realized that while the Scriptures seemed to take a dim view of sexual activity between two men or two women, the stories in the Bible took a much higher view of friendship than the surrounding culture does.

After the death of Jonathan, David lamented, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women” (II Samuel 1:26). At their first meeting, we are told that “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (I Samuel 18:1). Other translations say that they became “one in spirit.”

The imagery of this relationship is powerful in its own right, but it is also clearly in contrast to the “one flesh” imagery of man and woman in Genesis 2. It is a different kind of relationship from the marital bond, a relationship which, at least in David’s eyes, can be more wonderful than the marital bond. But it is fundamentally different, focused on spiritual union, rather than physical, sexual union.

This recognition fundamentally altered how I saw God’s law.

As long as I focused on the prohibition of homosexual acts, I saw a conflict between my will and God’s will. I wanted a gay relationship and God didn’t want me to have it. I therefore saw being “freed from the law” in terms of being free to follow my own will.

But this freedom is plainly at odds with the Gospel’s concept of freedom: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:12-14).

As I began to embrace the ideal of spiritual friendship exemplified by David and Jonathan, however, I saw that my own sinful nature was holding me back from being able to embrace that vision. But while I desired the spiritual vision, I found my flesh getting in the way. After I had begun to glimpse the vision of friendship rooted in the Scriptures, however, I saw that the law was good, because the law warned me against the sins that would turn a good spiritual friendship into a sinful parody of marriage.

This brought alive for me the Gospel’s logic: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good” (Romans 7:14-16).

It also brought alive an important theme from the Psalms, the great prayerbook of the People of God: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalms 1:1-3). For those who follow the Law with all their heart, it becomes a source of life, strength, and peace of spirit.

I cannot read those words without being reminded of Jesus’ words to the woman at the well: “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). After some more conversation, Jesus boldly announces, “the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).

The Old Testament’s prohibition on homosexual activity was not the cruel imposition of a dictator, but the wise provision of a loving God who desired to see His chosen people grow in love. Perhaps (though there is no explicit evidence for this in the text) at some point the intensity of David and Jonathan’s affection for each other might have spilled over into sexual temptations. If so, the “delight in the law of the Lord” which moved David to song protected them from sin and kept their souls knit together in a pure and spiritual love.

In the same way, by declaring the “truth of God” that homosexual acts are sinful, the New Testament helps those of us who struggle with same-sex attractions to discover what it means to “worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”

This is why, after dealing at great length with the problems (sexual and otherwise) in the Corinthian Church, the Apostle Paul suddenly changes gears: “And I will show you a still more excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31):

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things

“Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13).

It is love that inspires me to be celibate: the love of God which gives me the desire to obey His commandments, and the love for my friends in which I strive to express the spirit and truth of God’s intent for human love.

But because love is the heart of the Gospel, Satan always tries to fool us with counterfeits of true love. Against these counterfeits, the Apostles and Prophets warn us again and again. God is love, and so nothing that is against His will can be love. He only approves of certain kinds of love, but punishes His people for loving idols, foreign women in the case of Israel, foreign deities, multiple wives, money, sexual love between close relations (incest), etc.

We do not always understand these prohibitions; God’s reasons for forbidding gay relationships may seem like dim shadow in a mirror to us when we first confront them. But it is love, not understanding, which God most desires from us. To place our hopes in Him even when we do not understand His ways is a mark of great faith, and even greater love.

Just as the “obedience of faith” made it possible for Abraham to become the father of many nations, though he was past childbearing years, and made it possible for Mary to give birth to the Messiah while keeping her virginity intact, so the “obedience of faith” makes it possible for us, little by little, to embrace the plan for human love and human sexuality described in the Scriptures.

It is not an easy path, and just as the Apostle Paul expressed the struggle between flesh and spirit, all of us will face struggles. But when we struggle, or when we fail, we should not lose hope. Rather, we should remember that Jesus said even of the soldiers who killed Him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And even when we fall again and again to the same familiar sins, we should remember that Christ told Peter to forgive others not seven times, but seventy times seven times (cf. Matthew 18:22). If God commands such mercy from us, how much more will He, who is Mercy Himself, show mercy to us in our weakness?

It is the Spirit who, by setting us free and renewing our hearts, enables us to love God just as He loves us and allows us in turn to love our neighbors, be they brothers or sisters in Christ or anyone else, in a manner that is consistent with the Apostle Paul’s great description of the excellent way of love.

Lydia's Corner: Genesis 32:13-34:31 Matthew 11:7-30 Psalm 14:1-7 Proverbs 3:19-20


Lifelong Celibacy: Part One of The Great Debate on Gay Christianity — 80 Comments

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    This should be an interesting discussion here. Dee, thanks for this topic. I have one question upfront: What is a Christian, according to the Bible? Many people call themselves "Christian", but what is the real meaning of this word? Since I am a nobody in the church, I want to enlist Pastor Wade Burleson, preacher of the wonderful EChurch on this blog, to help with this definition. My time is very limited, and I have to go now and meet my client.

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    Very impressive, thoughtful, Scriptural post.

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    I agree with Beloved. It will be a very interesting discussion. I applaud you for being willing to use your blog as a forum.

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    Good post!

    And good points re ALL sexual sin, not just homosexual sin!

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    I believe a Christian is one whose sins have been forgiven by Christ's sacrifice, who is then marked by the Holy Spirit and who, therefore, seeks to follow in His Way.

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    I have always admired your courage of conviction Dee, you will need it when the opposing essay comes over from GCN.

    You wrote: “… I find I am irritated at myself. You see, in this area, I have shown blatant disregard for the feelings of others, and I should have known better…”

    Christianity in its codified form has never been concerned with the feelings of others. If anything, it has militated against human feeling as hopelessly corrupt & depraved from Augustine to the Reformers.

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    Dee – I really like the quote from henri Nouwen… in its own right, 1st; also because he was gay. As a roman Catholic priest, he had to take a vow of celibacy when he was ordained. Regardless of what I think (or don't think) regarding committed LGBT couples, I do think that Nouwen's sexual orientation and how he learned to live with himself has a *lot* to do with his sensitivity to other human beings who were suffering. He was an extremely compassionate man. Looking forward to the next few posts!

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    Say a prayer for ol Dee. I need it!

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    I have a real compassion for those who have special needs. Henri Nouwen lead in this area. My husband was required to study him during a men’s gathering at Pete Briscoe’s church. he encouraged me to start reading him and I have been hooked ever since. His book The Prodigal is a masterpiece!

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    Another thought: John Chrysostom (A.D. 347-407) – one of the early church fathers – did NOT view the whole “natural” vs. “unnatural” bit in Romans in the way that modern people do.

    He believed that the women who were supposed to changed from “natural” sexual relations to “unnatural” meant that these women were willing to have anal sex with men.

    That is *miles* off from the current understanding of that passage in the American evangelical church. (Take that, Mark Driscoll!)

    While I am not generally a fan of Chrysostom (for his views on women and Jewish people), I think he might just have a point here. 😉

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    Dee – I 1st encountered Nouwen's work back in the early 70s, via the charismatic renewal in the Roman Catholic church. Nouwen was actively writing and publishing at that time and I think his work struck a chord then – and for all time, maybe.

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    You always amaze me. You are so well read.

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    You got it Dee. May the Great Spirit guard you from all harm in this or any other world. Maybe you should have the Lakota name ~ Stands With a Fist ~ for your consistent defense of those who are taken advantage of by tyrants & bullies. ===> (smiley face goes here)

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    I was given a name by the Navajo Tribe during the two years I worked as a nurse on the reservation, focusing on the needs of the elderly. I do not know how to spell it but it phonetically is: Ah sone chee which means “White woman who always laughs.”

    Now a good Navajo friend told me to be very careful how I pronounce it because one wrong emphasis on one of the syllables and it means basically “butt head.” I wonder which one they really meant. 🙂

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    Thanks for tackling this topic. I have a sibling who is gay, so I am very excited to read the debate, and finding the dialog helpful.

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    Dee – hey, I know about Nouwen mainly because there were lots of his books on the book tables wherever I went. 🙂

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    The post “Love that Does Not Count the Cost” is way too long for me; so, I read only the conclusion and want to commend the author for his diligent search for truth in the Scriptures. I may read the entire essay this weekend when I have more time.

    I want to read the opposing essay as well and will give equal thought and weight to that author. The least I can do for anyone is to listen to what they have to say and listen with respect and compassion and give equal time.

    I very much dislike the comment quoted by Dee in her post “I have heard all about those singles parties during spring break. The STDs are rampant amongst promiscuous people. You do know that you are supposed to be celibate, don’t you? It says so in the Bible.” This is an insult and a stupid comment coming from an idiot to a single person. Unfortunately, there are some folks in the church who do not know any better.

    The command from Jesus is “love even your enemies”, how about love and understanding for all folks, including gay, lesbian, straight, minorities… Love gives dignity and value to another person and it’s love that transforms people, from my experience. I never had any problem dealing with gay folks and they do not bother me at all while I maintain the same Scriptural position as articulated by Ron B., the author of the first essay.

    Dee, thanks for your courage dealing with this sensitive topic.

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    Baloney. You are just plumb well-read and I demand that you admit it!

  19. Pingback: Lifelong Celibacy: Part One of The Great Debate on Gay Christianity … | Christian Dailys

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    @ Beloved on who is a Christian and who is not:

    According to the Bible is a broad and seldom agreed upon proposition. The religious wars of the Reformation and Cromwell’s barbarity in England are sober testimony to this fact. Bloody sieges and unspeakable cruelties were unleashed on both sides by both sides for that very question. Resolution still eludes us to this day, but I think Jesus said it best when he admonished us all to treat others the way we would want to be treated.

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    Dee – well, OK, I’ll plead as charged!

    I did a lot of bookstore work back in the 80s and 90s as well.. but it’s been decades since I read anything by Nouwen and I think I was too young when I did read him for his message to sink in.

    Now might be a better time to approach his books…

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    Dee, I knew you would find your meeting with Justin moving – I felt that way when I read his ‘Ask a Gay Christian’ post over at Rachel Held Evans, just the most gracious thing I had ever read in this whole debate & really put so many in this debate to shame. So many. Including me.

    Also – Nouwen, Yancy, Johnny Cash etc…we are on the same wavelength exactly, & are at a very similar stage in thinking through the questions that come out of the christianity/gay discussion. It’s GREAT to be able to look at all this with you.

    Big smiles from England 🙂

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    ^what Beakerj said. I’m digesting this post slowly and surely ! Going to do it in stages. Thanks Dee.

  24. Pingback: The worldview of the Dark Side | Civil Commotion

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    Johnny Cash! Along with Yancey an Nouwen? One more question-do you like Lewis? if so, you are now my compadre! There are not many of us around.  In glory, i think God will give me a voice that can sing on key and Johnny and i will sing praises to God together. His voice, however, will remain essentially the same because it is so cool!

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    It is a long post . But I wanted to be sure that such a well thought out defense not be cut short. The same will go for Wednesday’s post. Thank you for taking the time to read it. 

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    That was an impressive article. Thorough, well argued, and gracious.

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    I am not gay, have no gay friends, and pretty much on the outside looking in. A couple years ago my wife and I were attending a church in Seattle where I found a group on this church’s website advertising themselves as lesbian Christians seeking fellowship with the same. After some correspondence I learn that the leader of the group believes that is not morally wrong to have sex with another women as long as you care about them. On one hand the pastor said that homosexuality are sin, but wouldn’t take the their advertised group announcement down, because as he put it, “that wouldn’t be loving”. I came away with the sense that this pastor (as I have found it elsewhere)is to not deal with it, but just be “loving and sensitive to each other” and move on to more important things in the church. I took this conflict to another man who is a friend of my wife (who attends another church in the area) and who also was on staff there. He tells me that he struggled with homosexual attraction for years, but he was firm believer and knew it was wrong to give in to those desires. He never did, even from his teen years. He also shared that he was a 7 year director of an organization called Exodus International. Has anyone heard of this group? Bob is also married (to a woman) and has several children.

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    Thank you for your comments. I hope you read the full essay in this post.

    I will be discussing groups such as Exodus International and their track record in terms of making people “heterosexual.” Man of their leaders have had some notable struggles. I would encourage you to Google this group in the meantime to see some of the current developments, including a retreat from reparative therapy.

    Be very cautious in drawing an conclusions that a man who is married to a woman and has children is no longer struggling with being “gay.” Those feeling never really go away and it is a difficult path to be married with those feelings. Justin attended a Homosexuals Anonymous group at a church. Most of the men were married with children yet they had serious struggles.

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    Dee- you mean the lovely Clive Staples Lewis? But of course! along with Chesterton & Dorothy L. Sayers & the like 🙂

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    Plus Dee – last year I bought my best friend who attends Metal Church (the Grateful Undead I think) in London a copy of Johnny Cash reading the New Testament for her birthday…oh yes, such a thing exists…

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    I look forward the eternity with you. Finally, one person who gets me !

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    Dee, there are more of us…but not many 🙂

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    I have personal experience with Exodus International. I went through their ministry for 3 years as they opened it up to Christians struggling with any type of brokeness in their past, not just homosexuality. After that, because I had believed in what they were doing, because it worked for me, I volunteered as a group counselor for 3 years, and also assisted with teaching some of the lessons, was on the team as well as the worship team. Looking back, I can see so many things that was wrong with the ministry.

    In my case, it worked because I didn’t have homosexual desires, and the things that I was struggling with were healed by many truths that I discovered while in the ministry. So I could only have assumed that the homosexual strugglers at the time were also being “rid” of those feelings, although I can remember many testimonies of struggles after ministry efforts, or stories of people leaving after having participated for several years and having fallen back into the “lifestyle”, as they’d say.

    …now I know why… Poor precious souls.

    BTW, Dee, I threw out my old Living Waters manuals this weekend (from Exodus). Maybe I should have kept it so that you could have looked through them. Argh!

    A few books though, if you want to read, that they promote are “Pursuing Sexual Wholeness” by Andy Comiskey, and another I can’t think of right now. Andy was like the lead in Living Waters’ ministries. Living Waters’ is an organization under Desert Stream, which is under Exodus. I think that Exodus is like the umbrella and these others fall underneath it. They also reference a lot of LeAnne Payne’s work. I think she teaches healing prayer and healing memories.

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    Oh, the other book was titled “Strength in Weakness” by Andy Comiskey. Andy’s story is also a very interesting one. He does speak openly in his books about his continual struggle with SSA even though he is married with children.

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    Like RonB, I am a celibate Christian. I am unmarried for other reasons than he is, but we still have something in common. It is interesting that he judges Christians who think unlike him:

    To those who reject complementarity in principle, I think we can only say (as politely and as humbly as possible), “you reject the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of your own culture” (cf. Mark 7:8).

    It looks like, with rejecting complementarity, he mean “understand complementarity differently from him.” It is sad that a man that would probably know what it is like to be judged for other people’s perceptions, would say something like that about Christians who disagree with him.

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    Dee, my brother in law has just about every 45′ hit single that Cash did on the old “Sun” label. Johnny Cash is an American icon who will endure as long as there is America I think.

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    Retha –

    I was a bit confused by that as well, but I would need a better understanding of what he means by “complementary.” I believe the word has been hijacked and now has bad connotations for many of us. My husband and I “complement” each other in how we function as a team. I would not say that I believe in the doctrine of “complementarianism.” (hmm . . . making up words again)

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    about the man who struggled with gay feelings all his life, but is now married with children: I asked him if gay attraction was still there and he admitted that those feelings were still there, but not as much as it had been in his past as a single man He went on to say that being married didn’t influence those physical feelings as much as it was in seeking God’s will more in his life, to know scripture, to walk in humility and thankfulness to God who was at work in his life. The more he focused in wanting to honor God, the less focused he was on his homosexual struggles. He said at times those feelings were stronger, but as he shares those feelings with his understanding wife and keeps focused on his commitment to serving and loving his Savior he is able to overcome the temptations to not give in (either in practice or fantasizing). What impressed me the most was his preoccupation with wanting to know Jesus and serve him more. For him its not about trying to overcome sexual feelings, but to cleave to the Lord because he loves him.

    As far as Exodus goes he didn’t elaborate on its methods. I actually looked his name up and indeed he was a past director. He said he eventually got burned out because of the continual interviews he gave on a national level and the backlash he received from those who disapproved of Exodus. He did say there are some really good things about the organization but that everyone responds differently. He never said the word, “cured”. Unfortunately its the negative that most zero in on.

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    I agree with Retha.

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    Dee, do you know St. Johnny’s wonderful video Hurt? I love his interpretaion — it’s a pretty profound christian statement.

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    Could it be that he is speaking of complementarity strictly in a gender sense regarding marriage?

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    I object! Johnny will be a major somg leader in heaven! 🙂

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    Exodus now rejects reparative therapy and has been in the news alot recently. There are some people who have been able to marry but it is a difficult road, one in which the spouse needs to fully understand the issues involved. Just imagine it for yourself in the opposite sense, even if you loved the Lord.

    You might want to read He, too, has been able to do this. Another lady on this blog also said she is in a smilar situation. All say it is a struggle.  There are many stories of those who tried it and failed over the long run, leaving people deeply hurt. Sexuality is complicated and one success story does not mean that all can get to that point. The evidence now points to the fact that those feelings are never overcome meaning that people will need to deal in the reality of being married to someone who has conflicting feelings in a very personal area.

    Also, some churches have been known to encourage gays men to marry women in the church. One such incident occurred in which the church pastor did not tell the woman that she was marrying a gay man. The man went along with the deception, hoping to “get rid of the gay. ” The marriage ended within a year.

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    That was his last hit. Didn’t he write it after the death of his beloved June? I watched him interviewed on TV and my heart broke for him.

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    Dee, I believe she appears in the video — perhaps edited in? I know it was shortly before their deaths. Yes, heartbreaking.

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    Trinia – now that Alan Chambers has openly allied himself with the Gay Christian Network and said that “reparative therapy” does not work, there’s been a big shift in who’s aligned with whom.

    Andy Comiskey and others have formed their own “umbrella” organization – see this article from Ex-Gay Watch on the differences between Exodus’ and Comiskey’s Restored Hope Network re. “reparative therapy.” (btw, there’s tons more good stuff on the Ex-Gay Watch site, which is – for my money – one of the most level-headed and compassionate blogs out there re. news coverage and ongoing discussion.)

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    Ron B. says in his essay, “It is especially important to defend the principle of male-female complementarity in our culture, where it is not merely the cultural manifestations of complementarity that have come under attack, but the very notion of complementarity itself. With those who argue that the theological principles articulated by Paul can be applied differently in a different cultural situation, I think very productive dialogue about cultural norms is possible. But with those who deny Paul’s theological principles, I think dialogue about cultural application is impossible, because there is no common ground of jointly accepted theological principles. To those who reject complementarity in principle, I think we can only say (as politely and as humbly as possible), “you reject the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of your own culture” (cf. Mark 7:8).”


    I didn’t have time to read this entire essay (will make time to read the rest later), but what I did read gave me the impression that this man would be very much in the complementarian camp, and that this view has influenced his decision to remain celibate. Am I reading him wrong? What I am trying to figure out is, how is his definition of complementarity different from that of the complementarians often discussed here at TWW? How is it the same? Does anyone have any thoughts?

    Also, I found his thoughts on Romans 1 really interesting, as again he states: “In a very special way, then, the complementarity of male and female reveals God’s ‘invisible nature’ through ‘the things that have been made,'” and also: “tampering with our understanding of marriage necessarily tampers with our understanding of Christ.” So apparently he is saying that marriage and male-female relationships are one of the “things that have been made” which demonstrate God’s invisible qualities to us, and will give us a wrong view of God if we mess with them. Is this the same as John Piper saying that egalitarians are going to get the Gospel wrong? If not, how is it different?

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    I hope my questions didn’t sound critical because that is not at all my intent – his thoughts sparked my curiosity and these are the questions that came to mind as I read.

    Dee and Deb, yet again you have posted something that has my brain in a whirlwind. Wish I could grab ahold of a few of my thoughts and get them into sentences!

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    In response to Dee’s 1st challenge concerning the Church busy body who confronts me about Spring break, this would probably be my reply to said person:

    …When you stop e-trading with the big agri-giants who cause untold misery and suffering to farmers in the third world, I just might consider entertaining your concern for my sex life…

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    Perhaps the reality for all of Christians (gay or not)is that there is a cross that we all have to carry. God never promised that life would be free from sexual or other struggles. Some have a heavier burden than others, but there is more than just our own feelings. I do have my own sexual struggles in my head, but it is not more than scripture tells me that I can bear. I am continually reminded of that and it is encouraging to ponder. I find no scripture that says that God will make me comfortable and happy and free from problems, but that he would be with me regardless of what I’m going through. I don’t mean to callous towards those who struggle with sexual feelings, but I tend to side on what God wants for me and not just on what I want ( with his stamp of approval)

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    @ Jan,

    Always ask questions and by all means be critical. If questions had never been asked and critique never proffered, we’d still be burning women herbalists as witches. Especially those who use potions to ease the pain of women in childbirth. They are after all in violation of God’s Holy design laid down in Genesis 3:16 right?

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    Jan –

    That is the conclusion I came to when simply reading the essay. If I was face to face I would ask additional questions to clarify.

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    @ Hippimama & Dee: I love that song so much it…awesome awesome cover. Gets me every time.

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    Dee – I am really looking forward to some posts that deal with the “Side A” perspective, a la Justin…

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    Dee- for your edjumacation: Nine Inch Nails wrote Hurt…Johnny just nailed it 🙂

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    Thank you for my edjumacation! I totally forgot about that. I just remembered how bad Johnny looked.

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    Er…interesting article. In light of the distinct probability that Ron holds to reformed theology (i.e. Calvinist interpretative principles) I find it sort of funny that he writes this essay without a hint of irony. The very philosophical premise of Calvinism is that ALL man contributes to his salvation and sanctification is sin. Any good is ALL God. Thus, YOU are never relevant to the equation. Your election is DESPITE you, and so is your sanctification. From this, by definition, if one is elect, then it cannot matter one way or another if they are gay or not. Well, then, you could suppose that all Calvinists could just simply proclaim that all Gay Christians are in fact, NOT elect, in spite of their profession of faith. Of course, if this is true, then by none of us can know if ANY professing believer is a Christian since an obvious fact is that all Christians sin. So, since the reformed doctrine states that the only way to heaven is for God to do it all because YOU can only offer your depravity and sin, then, again by definition we can’t know who is saved and who is not, despite professions of faith, because ALL Christians sin, not just gay ones. Therefore, if ANYONE should not care, and not judge homosexuality as sin, it’s the Calvinist.

    You don’t think Ron is a Calvinist? You doubt my intuition? Well…what about this little gem:

    “As long as we keep returning to the cross in repentance, we will receive forgiveness and Christ will help strengthen us and progressively free us from sin.”

    I have a question for Ron: If we must return to the cross (i.e. preach the gospel to ourselves everyday…THANKS CEEJ!!) for what you really mean is absolution, because, isn’t that by definition what the cross IS, why should any of us care, gay Christians included, about whether or not we are progressively free from sin? Sin is utterly MOOT to the “elect”. Unless…I mean, is there a point in time where we will no longer have to keep returning to the cross? Is there a day where we can just skip preaching the gospel to ourselves and actually, you know, try our hand at actually DOING a good work? And, if so, could you let’s us know how many times, exactly, so that we can be sure not to crucify Christ more often than is necessary?

    The Calvinist doctrine is extremely insidious, people, and it behooves us to be on our guard. I don’t mind arguing that homosexuality is wrong from a Christian perspective, but coming from a Calvinist, it is at its root contradictory and hypocritical.

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    What I want to add to that last post is this: If you are elect, it isn’t that sin doesn’t matter, it CAN’T matter, because if it matters, then you are commanded to stop doing it, and if this is true then Calvinist doctrine is bull. Because you can’t be commanded to stop, and you cannot stop doing what you inherently CAN’T stop doing.

    If practicing homosexual Christians want to stop practicing, then that’s fine. But they should never doing it at the behest of a Calvinist. Before any gay Christian budges on the issue, they need to demand that the Calvinist renounce his or her own heretical inconsistencies, which preach something faaaaaaar more troubling and insidious to the Christian community and society than homosexuality.

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        Calvinist do not normally touch upon homosexuality as a general conversational topic, not unlike the traditional Baptist. Homosexuality to the Calvinist is sin, therefore no discussion is seen required; only dissuasion is found necessary, when the topic is broached at all.

    As I recall, didn’t the Wicked Witch have her flying monkeys pull the stuffing out of the Scarecrow in the forest? We all saw what that got her.

    Care to try again?


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    Iron Clad,
    Hmm…don’t have a functional knowledge of the movie. I watched it when I was like six, but it doesn’t comprise my world view at all.

    What I’m saying is that for the Calvinist to preach that to dissuade anyone from any sin is hypocritical given their theology. They have no right to preach repentance in any form because, by definition, humans can do no good in and of themselves, and that includes repenting and being dissuading. Prior to the cross, the Holy Spirit elects you, of no doing of your own. After salvation, any good you do is “perseverance”, which is all of God, none of you. For if it was you, that would presuppose that after salvation by the power of the Holy Spirit you can now freely choose to do good; which would then mean that you can freely choose to do sin (because if you can freely choose one you must also be able to freely choose the other)…so that would suppose that now, the Holy Spirit is the means by which people can freely choose to sin. Er…that can’t be right, says the Calvinist, so the sin must still be all you, and the good, mere perseverance by the Spirit alone. So it breaks down to sin=all you, and good=all the Spirit, which really means that sin doesn’t ultimately matter (Calvinism = antinomianism). So,for people, whatever they do, if it’s a sin and they are elect, God will cause them to stop in the name of perseverance; if they don’t, they aren’t elect. So, telling people to stop sinning, any sin, is a pointless exercise; explaining what people should or shouldn’t do, is nothing, because, by Calvinist’s very doctrine, people can’t do anything. In claiming that anyone should try to DO anything is hypocritical at its root. Their theology effectively removes man from the equation entirely. Which is why the theology always ends up with bodies in the ditch and cold love.

    Would you care to explain how anyone can stop sinning when ALL they can do is sin? You could say, “Pray that God helps you stop sinning”. But, if you do, and you stop, then, again, it isn’t you that stopped sinning. It’s the Spirit who stopped, as your proxy. You are still just sin. Any outward sign of your stopping sin is merely the Spirit, not you. The only way people see YOU is when you sin next time.

    I’m still waiting to here how people have anything to do with it…

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    Meant “hear” how people…of course, you knew that.

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    You have pointed out some issues in Calvinism that continue to confuse me. For me, the most difficult one is the salvation versus condemnation problem. Most NeoCals will say that God does not actively create those who will go to hell. Instead, they claim He actively chooses to save some and that we should praise Him for choosing to save some.  I get that. But, in the process of choosing some, He does condemn the others to hell by not choosing them.  They say that their behavior condmens them. Well, so did the behavior of those who He eventually chooses. I cannot get around this no matter how hard i try.

    And for the neoCals out there- I have read them all-Sproul, Piper, Calvin, White so don’t tell me all I have to do is study it. i have studied it more than most people in my life and I still don’t get it.

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    Thanks for your request at the beginning of this comment stream. I believe Bishop Dee has answered your question beautifully. 🙂

    Dee, I think this is one of the finest articles I have ever read on this subject. I do not know Ron B., but I would love to have him come to Emmanuel Enid and speak. He is insightful, biblical, and above all, loving. His quote from C.S. Lewis’ “God in the Dock” is spot on. Forgive me, but it is so crucial to an understanding of what Ron B. is saying, that I am reposting it.

    “The greatest barrier I have met [in presenting the Gospel] is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin… The early Christian preachers could assume in their hearers, whether Jews, Metuentes, or Pagans, a sense of guilt. (That this was common among Pagans is shown by the fact that both Epicureanism and the mystery religions both claimed, though in different ways, to assuage it.) Thus the Christian message was in those days unmistakably the Evangelium, the Good News. It promised healing to those who knew they were sick. We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy.

    The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man, the roles are quite reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge; if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that man is on the bench and God is in the dock.”

    The area in which I admit still some residing confusion is the use of the word “gay” or “homosexual” in describing someone like Ron. I recognize that Ron is saying his inner desires are same-sex desires, and I also understand clearly that he believes having sex with another man is “sin”–so he remains celibate. What is confusing to me is why Ron calls himself “homosexual” or “gay.” I call him a Christian, my brother in Christ, (were I to know him) a true friend, and part of the family of God. He is a child of the King, a wonderful and beautiful creation of the Creator, and someone who I would want to know and love. My confusion is one of nomenclature. Let me illustraste from my own life.

    I find within me sometimes a desire (or attraction) to females who are not my wife. These desires, if acted on, would lead to adultery. In fact, I have no problem calling my desires “adulterous desires.” What I don’t do is call myself “an adulterer.” That’s not who I am. My identity is not tied up in what I feel–it is all about who He has made me. For me to act on an adulterous desire would be sin — and I have no problem at all calling my adulterous desires “sin.” But they don’t define me. I can still be friends to other women, but I know that when sexual desires arise, I have begun to cross a line.

    So… I REALLY enjoyed the article. I understand precisely what Ron is saying. I remain just a little confused on the need to identify oneself as “gay” or “homosexual” when what we are speaking of are inner desires. Those desires will one day be gone–as will my adulterous desires–and I think it unwise to identify oneself by sinful “desires” and not the truth of who we are in Christ.

    I don’t know if I am making any sense or not, but once again, I am grateful for the dialogue and opportunity to discuss these important issues.

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    Wade, I 100% agree with your nomenclature question. I would say the same. One can be “tempted by homosexual acts” even to extreme, but that does not make one a homosexual. I respect any person’s right to identify that way, as Ron has done, but I do think it gives the temptation a power when you make that part of your identity.

    I’ve read Ron’s stuff before. He’s a great guy and very loving and respectful to those on all sides of the debate. I’m so glad to see it as part of this discussion!

    Thanks Deb & Dee. Looking forward to hearing from Justin, too.

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    Yes, you are very right. The very reason you cannot understand it is because it is not designed to be understood. Simply accepted. There is nothing to understand when the theological premises are self-contradictory and therefore, meaningless. That is why pastors simply “tell” others what the interpretation IS, and don’t actually encourage them to think for themselves. Once they do, they will eventually run into the same conclusions that you have: namely, there is really no YOU in the equation. All good is performed by God…and is only in YOU insofar as it is imputed; which, by definition meas it’s NOT you at all, but God. Thus, there is no reason to worry about not sinning (or not being a homosexual) because even the very idea of not WANTING to sin is not from you, but of God. The very idea of worrying about sin…the worry itself is not of you, by definition, because it’s “good”, and therefore MUST be ALL of God. All YOU can do is sin, is the point. Any change for the good, is God. So, since it is ALL of God, it can by definition be NONE of you. Therefore, insofar as anything means anything to God, you are irrelevant to the equation. This makes you redundant and pointless. If ALL the good is God, and only the good contributes to salvation, then you are nowhere. Ultimately Calvinism is God saving Himself, by His own sacrifice, in service to His own sanctification, for the purposes of sending Himself to heaven. This is, of course, redundant, and means that God, according to Calvinist theology, cannot exist either. The Power to do GOOD is God, the power to do evil is YOU; and only the good matters, everything God does is in SPITE of the evil, which is you…so, again, you can never matter to God. This is WHY Calvinism is soooo bad.

    Again, this is the trouble you are having. What people start to realize is that they don’t matter, and they can’t reconcile this with not only their actual existence, but the Bible itself, and so, they either pull away and develop new doctrine (the right way) or, they forsake their religion (the wrong way). But either way, it is because they finally realize that the conclusion of Calvinism is a terrible leavening mixture of antinomianism and gnosticism, the inexorable result of which is cold love towards humans.

    But, Christians, obviously struggle with this. They try and hope against hope that they can flee the abuse while at the SAME time adhere to the same fundamental doctrinal premises. This is what I keep trying to tell my brothers and sisters over at SGMSurvivors and Refuge. They want to flee the horror of the logical conclusions but still keep the orthodoxy. It simply cannot be because the orthodoxy IS the horror. But, again, people struggle. They LOVE the idea of humility because at their core they are sweet, kind people who don’t want conflict and don’t want to hurt anyone…thus, they recoil when you tell them that they actually CAN do good APART from God (not saying that they do it apart from God’s grace and power in the Spirit, but it is actually THEM doing it, utilizing freely their minds and reason and consciousness…as the trainee applies the individual teachings of the trainer, as it were (for a limited example)for the glory of God…which is exactly what HE wants. They have been so taught to believe that to claim that they deserve ANY credit for doing any good is nothing but a wicked lie of their satanic natures. When in reality, it is opposite….it is putting the power of the Spirit to practical use for God’s glory, which in turn grants them the reward for the race…the smile from God and and the “Well done, good and faithful servant”. The scary thing is that we will all have to give an account. God has given us the skills (Spirit) and the tools (Christ). So, Calvinistic complacency (Christian hedonism) can only lead to God being displeased. If we have the tools and the skills, WE have no excuse before God not to build.

    And I mean this with all respect to Pastor Wade: I understand how one can easily be drawn to Ron B’s essay. But the fact that the very root assumptions are ironical at best and hypocritical at worst, and thus, Ron’s very argument cannot possibly be helpful when all the humble-sounding and proof-texted accoutrements are stripped away from what he’s saying…which is in service to his untenable reformed position that he likely doesn’t even realize. Thus, instead of inviting him to speak, I would, if it were me (and it’s not, of course…which is probably good:-)) be thinking about how I could discourage my congregation from Ron’s destructive premises (such as, “keep returning to the cross”) than worry about how good he makes an argument regarding homosexuality. If I may be so bold…I have a big mouth. I am sorry…I mean no disrespect to Pastor Wade. Please, please understand this. I guess what I’m saying is that we must stop assuming that Calvinism is just another way of looking at things. Like, toe-MAY-toe, toe-MAH-toe. But it isn’t. It is a theology that lacks love, and therefore, it is a theology that should not be entertained in service to anything. We must insist that they walk in accordance with God’s Word before we invite them in to speak to our lives.

    Just my opinion.

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    Calvinism: the theology always ends up with bodies in the ditch and cold love?

    Argo:  “Would you care to explain how anyone can stop sinning when ALL they can do is sin? ”

    Argo:  “You could say, ‘Pray that God helps you stop sinning’. But, if you do, and you stop, then, again, it isn’t you that stopped sinning. ”

    Argo: “It’s the Spirit who stopped, as your proxy.”

    Argo: “You are still just sin.”

    Argo: “Any outward sign of your stopping sin is merely the Spirit, not you.” 

    Argo: “The only way people see YOU is when you sin next time.”

    Argo: I’m still waiting to here how people have anything to do with it…”



        Please tell me what church brutalized you, bringing you to such conclusions, and I would gladly stay away from it!

    I can not defend John Calvin in his conclusions, nor Theodore Baza the systematizer of Calvin’s reformed theology, not do I care to here.

    Excuse me. The subject (at hand) is the need for a discussion leading to understanding, and compassion : “for the church, an understanding of the issues surrounding those who are gay is essential so that we deal with it with love and compassion instead of disdain.”

    Argo: “bodies in the ditch and cold love?”

    Permit me this brief comment:  The Calvinist issue/system has never only been about “missing the mark” (sin) and the Christian’s relationship to it. Yes, the wages of sin is death, yada, yada, however the free gift of God, is eternal life! Has that been forgotten? If I may speak gently, there is not a true Christian on this planet IMHO that would not want anyone to reach out right now and take it!

    “All those who come to me I will in no wise cast out.” – Jesus Christ, 29 AD.

    Shall  we allow our fellow-man to drown?

    John Calvin is dead.

    My neighbor, whom Christ Jesus referred to, however, is not.

    Something to consider?


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    I understand, too, it’s very easy to be offended at me. I would be, too! It’s taken me months and months of thought and study to arrive at what I think is an understanding of the core problem of Calvinism, and the roots of their theology that lead to its destructive consequences. I did not do this lightly, or easily…I was kicking and struggling, too. Remember, I was a rabid YRR in SGM for fifteen years. I gave easily over 100,000 dollars to that organization.

    I don’t like to do this often…preach boogey-man theology. But remember, God is sending a powerful delusion in the end times. Certainly a type of antinomianism and gnosticism that has had 400 years to perfect its doctrines of “humility” and “sovereignty” and “grace” into THE most comprehensive philosophical theological system ever devised and which is capable of silencing even the most learned critics would be a VERY powerful delusion indeed…capable, indeed of passing the “smell” test of the most enthusiastic of believers. We need to be very, very vigilant.

    At its root are premises so wicked, though, that I think that one must at least entertain the idea that it could be THE delusion. 1.) God is ultimately responsible for all evil; He controls ALL things…which is their definition of sovereignty, and man has no rational mind, and therefore is not culpable, by definition, for the sin he does…he was created that way, so the evil comes…from where then? 2.) Man is utterly redundant and irrelevant to the existence equation, which literally makes his life worth nothing. Certainly, with Calvinism popping up in churches that openly deny being Calvinist, such as the church I’m going to (for now…sigh), we can’t argue that it is a very powerful theology. In fact, it is the paragon of theological delusion in my opinion.

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    Iron Clad,

    Did you just proof-text ME??! Wow…I feel, strangely…honored. 🙂

    (Just teasing)

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        Bro, I am so sorry that Rev. Charles Mahaney did a W.C. Fields number on your head. Give a sucker a break?  Whew! Who knew? Let’s see mis-appropriate a ministry, do a one-eighty, strap-on neo-calvinism, sprinkle a bit of humility for effect, teach your unsuspecting members to sniff their brothers & sister’s sin-hole, and volla, you have the makings of the finest place on earth?

    (how come no one is laughing?)

    Run, don’t walk to the nearest exit, the spiritual life you save might very well be your own?

    Something to consider?


    P.S. I’ve asked our Lord to give your money back with interest. Hope that helps. He owns the cattle on a thousand hill, remember? 

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    Does identifying oneself as a heterosexual cause one to be more tempted to sexual sin? Or is the descriptor merely a way of identifying oneself ? Also, this is something I learned from Justin. Why does one assume that being gay means you are anymore tempted than a heterosexual? Justin was frustrated when people found out he was gay due to their assumptions about his lifetyle. he was celibate but he got lectures that he should be celibate. 

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    The need to identify oneself as something is inherrent in all of us. But it does not mean that it is our primary identity. I am heterosexual, a wife, and a mother. What would happen if the culture at large decided that being heterosexual was a sin. Most likely I would protest and tell people that i am a heterosexual in orde to address the situation although my identity is found in Christ.

    The sad part for many gay people such as Ron is that there are Christians who believe that his mere orientation (not just his actions) is a sin. In order to discuss this subject, he identifies as gay just as I would identify as heterosexual. 

    Tomorrow, I am going to begin to discuss my dialog with Justin. One thing he said really jumped out at me. He decided to talk to his pastor. He was struggling hoping to overcome (or as the gay Christian crowd says “pray away the gay”) his attractions. The church and his identity as a Christian had been his life. The pastor’s first response was “Well, as long as you are celibate, you can stay a member of the church.” Justin was crushed. He was opening up about his secret pain to a pastor and the pastor immediately raises the possibility of church membership. The church and the faith was Justin’s identity and the pastor, not meaning to do so, threatened him with the possibility of no longer being able to come to church. Justin needed help, not threats or lectures. he was also celibate when he spoke with the pastor.

    You are rare, Wade. It is someone like you who could bring understanding to this situation.

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    Iron Clad,
    Ha ha … Yeah. That’s kinda SGM in a nutshell. I only disagree in that they are actually quite doctrinally sound if one is a Calvinist. They at least have the guts to actually say these are the consequences, take it or leave it, and not care. At this point they cannot deny the consequences so they essentially acknowledge them and say, well what are we going to do?…it’s the doctrine and it is sound.

    Thanks but I don’t care so much about the money I just care about the people.

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    RE: Argo on Wed Aug 22, 2012 at 11:49 AM,

    I am convinced that the “end-times” have always been here [Ecclesiastes 3:15]. They were here when the Romans pulled down the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and razed the city. And they will be here if and when the next dress rehearsal occurs before the real McCoy when Jesus literally does return bodily.

    I disagree that Calvinism is the bogeyman you say it is, people are free of their own volition to subscribe or unsubscribe to it. I’m sure you’d find my theology pernicious too, since it probably rejects large swaths of what you consider to be sacrosanct in your brand of evangelicalism.

    We are the bogeyman Argo. Every time we demand that our belief system is the only right one and run roughshod over the feelings of others by bad-mouthing theirs.

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    Argo: I’m massively applauding you! I hate calvinist doctrine. HATE it. I suspect anyone who isn’t shocked by the implications of the tulip end of the spectrum isn’t understanding what’s being said. No offence meant to anyone, but this is the biggest challenge to my faith. I’ve tried to love that God & failed.

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    Pastor Wade, Bishop Dee and Ron B.,

    I have read the entire essay by Ron B. and I am very impressed. The author has shown spiritual depths not commonly seen among committed Christians. The essay is Scriptural and a helpful tool for anyone who may want to read about this topic. In the conclusion, Ron B. says:

    “For myself, I finally came back to the view that the Bible forbids gay relationships, in part because though I could see the reasons to doubt the traditional position, I couldn’t see any solid evidence to support the idea that God blesses gay marriages. And the more I sought to find in the Scriptures principles which could be used to support gay marriage, the more I realized that the basic principles in the Scripture for guiding sexual expression would rule out gay relationships.” and

    “In the same way, by declaring the “truth of God” that homosexual acts are sinful, the New Testament helps those of us who struggle with same-sex attractions to discover what it means to “worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”

    I agree 100% with the author of the essay. I believe if a Christian seeks God with his/her whole heart, she/he will find Him because God rewards those who diligently seeks Him. Ron B. apparently has done so and the reward is that the truth has been revealed to him in the pages of the whole counsel of God (the Word) through the faithful Spirit of God; and Ron B. shares these truths with all of us to benefit the Body of Christ. I am thankful for the opportunity to read the article.

    1 Cor 7:25-35 tells me celibacy is a gift from God and many believe it’s a higher gift than marriage because a single person can have “undistracted devotion to the Lord.” It’s a special calling, I think.

    From his writings, I do not consider Ron B. a gay or homosexual at all. He’s a dear brother in Christ to me.

    Marriage is only for this life (Matt 22:30) “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”

    Single people are sad (perhaps because of loneliness?) and married people are mad (because of marital conflicts). Who is sufficient for these thing?

    Again I appreciate the opportunity to read such an excellent essay on this blog and want to thank Dee, Deb for their excellent work on this blog.

    Of course I will read Justin’s essay this weekend…

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    I happen to agree with the comments regarding Calvinism who “don’t get it,” I don’t either. I used to say that our problem isn’t primarily a sin problem, our problem is access to God who has all of the solutions for our sin problem. Unfortunately however, the sin problem causes the access problem.

    So all of this stuff about theological systems seems to miss the point because the real problem isn’t our well ordered theology, the problem is our desires which is at the root of our hardness of heart.

    Jesus said, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (Joh 3:8)

    As well as, “And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.” (Mar 4:26-27)

    Since Calvinism and other theological systems seem convoluted and unsatisfactory, raising more questions than they answer, the truth might be simply that we just do not know the details of how the Spirit works.