Why I am Welcoming But Not Affirming

Both society’s and the church’s attitude toward homosexuality has changed dramatically in the last fifteen or so years.  In Canada, same-sex marriage is both legal and an accepted part of society.  Even within the church, attitudes have changed.  Certain denominations not only perform same-sex marriages but also have openly gay pastors and other leaders.  This is not just within liberal churches, but even within some evangelical churches.  You can read about one recent example in England here.  I have a number of friends and colleagues within my Baptist denomination that would describe themselves as welcoming and affirming, that is they welcome homosexuals into their church and they affirm the homosexual lifestyle.

To be honest, there is much about my personality that would lean toward a welcoming and affirming position.  I tend to push the boundaries, standing up for groups that are attacked by some of my more conservative friends.  I am known to speak up for Muslims and to challenge people’s attitudes toward homosexuals.  In a former church, I knew a bisexual young man and I was always happy to have him sit with my family in church or to have him over to visit our family.  I am always pleased to see homosexuals attending churches I have pastored or have belonged to.  I am firmly within the welcoming camp.

There is a part of me that would like to be affirming but honestly I just cannot take that step.  My problem is the Bible.  I have looked carefully at what the Bible (Old and New Testaments) says about homosexuality and I just cannot see any biblical support for it.  I have listen to the arguments such as the sin of Sodom being inhospitality or Paul only condemning pederasty and I am not convinced.  That God’s intention for humanity is a committed, monogamous heterosexual relationship seems to be the message of the Bible.  To become affirming, I would have to set aside the teaching of Scripture for other interests.

As I have listened to my affirming colleagues, I have noticed that this position is based not on a serious study of Scripture but on interactions with gays and lesbians.  Once you get to know a person, it is harder to demonize a person based on their label.  Homosexuals are just as likely to be nice and friendly as a heterosexual.  When a person is so nice, how can you say their lifestyle is wrong?  Then there is the problem of what the church should expect of Christian homosexuals.  How can we tell people to remain celibate?  That just seems so unfair.

I am sympathetic to all of those feelings.  That is why I respect my affirming friends.  However, I still cannot set aside the witness of Scripture just because it is critical of the actions of some really nice people.  I will continue to be welcoming.  I will pray to see more homosexuals in church.  I will hope to become friends with homosexuals.  I will not show hate toward homosexuals or attempt to demonize them.  However, I cannot affirm homosexuality as a lifestyle as long as the Bible is the guide for my faith.

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17 thoughts on “Why I am Welcoming But Not Affirming”

  1. The Bible uses strong language against homosexuality and seems to go out of its way to make the point it completely disapproves with it. (Romans 1:26-28)

    Sympathy can only take you so far because as you state ‘one cannot set aside the witness of Scripture’. It is in fact the scripture that gave us this hope in Christ and has molded our worldview about almost everything. So to set it aside is almost like setting aside the foundation for our faith in Jehovah and his Son Jesus, which we cannot just hand over to anyone or anything. (Matthew 7:6; 10:34-36; Romans 8:36-39)

    Since the scripture doesn’t reveal we should be going out of our way ostracizing homosexuals or any other sin for that matter it is clear that affirming homosexual sin isn’t seen or spoken of at all.

    With all honesty I do not believe you have a problem at all but only that your Bible-trained conscience is working and with that you shouldn’t have to hold your head down or anything. Resistance to Christ message is inevitable (2 Timothy 3:12) and as such we must muster up courage to resist our own desires as well as others to trample our Love for God’s holy words. (2 Timothy 3:16,17)

    Regards,
    Ytany

  2. “God’s intention for humanity is a committed, monogamous heterosexual relationship” – OK, but is deviating from that intention a sin? Several of the OT patriarchs practised polygamy (e.g. Abraham); the Bible often presents that as not being the best idea, but did Abraham sin by being a polygamist? So one might say, that monogamous heterosexuality is the perfect scenario as intended by God, but other scenarios aren’t necessarily sinful. Abraham was effectively a “church leader”, and he was a practising polygamist – why then couldn’t a practising homosexual be a church leader? Of course, then one might argue that 1 Tim 3:2 changed the rules, and banned polygamy for bishops/overseers – so then maybe practising homosexuality is banned for bishops/overseers too – but that would still open the door for practising homosexuals to be deacons or presbyters/elders.

    1. I’m not sure that Abraham was a polygamist. He slept with Hagar, but there is no reason to suspect that they were married. David would be a better example. Was polygamy a sin or just not ideal? I have no idea but I do know that the Bible is clear on the case of homosexuality.

  3. Hi Zachary,

    Homosexuality is explicitly condemned in scripture by contrast polygamy wasn’t condemned but only tolerated for a period of time for the sake of a ancient nation being able to have enough citizens to protect themselves from neighboring enemies until the time came and it purpose was fulfilled, that is, producing a Seed which was messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

    As Stephen highlighted the problem is the Bible. We know homosexuality is a serious sin and cannot be accepted.

    Regards,
    Ytany

  4. I’m in the same camp — I can welcome my homosexual friends, but I cannot affirm their behavior, much like I won’t affirm the friend who cheats on his wife.

    Sexual purity and spiritual purity go hand in hand; you cannot miss this injunction in scripture, the letters are filled with references to sexual immirality, for instance.

  5. Ytany, you believe that homosexuality is “explicitly condemned in scripture”, but I don’t believe there are any explicit condemnations.

    OT: The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was attempted homosexual rape – the story has nothing to do with loving, faithful, consensual homosexual relations. Judges 19 is the same situation – a story about attempted rape is not relevant to loving, faithful, consensual relations between adults. I do not believe that Lev 18:22 and Lev 20:13 are explicit condemnations of homosexuality – they only refer to sexual acts between men, they have nothing to say at all about female homosexuality; and as far as male homosexuality goes, I do not believe these two verses are prohibiting all forms of male homosexuality, merely one particular male-male sexual act. 1 Kings 14:24,15:12; 2 Kings 23:7 condemn homosexual prostitution for pagan religious purposes – not relevant to committed loving relationships.

    NT: I read Romans 1:26 as not referring to female homosexuality at all, but rather women agreeing to a particular sexual with men; Romans 1:27 then, is not a condemnation of male homosexuality in general, but rather a condemnation of the same act this time practised between men. 1 Cor 6:9 condemns two Greek words of unclear meaning (μαλακοὶ and ἀρσενοκοῖται) – these words likely refer to practices such as men using male prostitutes, or molesting male children or adolescents, and as such don’t have any relevance to loving committed consensual relationships between grown men; being explicitly male terms, they cannot apply to female homosexuality. 1 Tim 1:10 uses the same Greek word (ἀρσενοκοίταις), so the same comments apply to it. Finally, Jude 7 talks about the sexual immortality (ἐκπορνεύσασαι) of Sodom and Gomorrah, but doesn’t specify exactly what kind of sexual immortality it was – since the story is about attempted rape, it seems likely that attempted rape was the form of sexual immorality of which Jude was speaking. I believe that in “going after strange flesh” (ἀπελθοῦσαι ὀπίσω σαρκὸς ἑτέρας), the “strange flesh” is the flesh of the angels they sought to rape.

    Are there any other passages I’ve missed?

    1. Hey Zachary,

      See this is where advocates fail in their understanding of scripture.

      Cite me one example of a ‘loving, faithful, consensual homosexual relations’ in scripture?

      All loving, faithful consensual relationships were only Husband and Wife(s) in scripture.

      You desperately attempt to paint a story that is non-existent in scripture, that is, Judeo-Christianity was a refuge for homosexuality. It is crystal clear that both Mosaic Judaism and Judeo-Christianity reflect the same attitude towards homosexuality, namely, it is a sin.

      Romans 1:26-28 couldn’t be more clear on the matter of Men and Women ‘changing the natural use of themselves’ and doing something contrary to their intended purpose which is what verse 27 goes into – “they’ve left the natural use of the females and started burning in their lust toward each other – males with males – doing what is indecent and receiving the type of reward they deserve for such wrongdoing” – so its clear this is speaking about homosexual behavior.

      The Greek words found in Corinthians and Timothy is self-explanatory it basically transliterates to ‘man-koitus’ or ‘Man Sex’. The words do not point to anything relating to children and again not scripture can be cited to prove ‘loving committed consensual relationships between grown men’ anywhere.

      Rather than side-step or turn words into something they are not we need to just accept what the text says since that the accepted ways of God.

      Regards,
      Ytany

  6. Zachary,

    But what is your contextual basis for reading Lev. 18:22 and Lev. 20:13 in these ways. Merely saying, “Well, I believe that they were only speaking to a certain kind of homosexual intercourse” doesn’t negate the fact that the commandment is categorical and absolute in nature. In fact, this is how Jews have understood these commandments throughout history (including the vast majority of contemporary practicing Jews). I mean, you could just as easily say that numerous biblical prohibitions against heterosexual fornication and adultery are only speaking to said actions in the context of ritual idolatry. One could say the same for bestiality (which is also mentioned in Lev. 18).

    With respect to Rom. 1:26-27, what particular kind of sexual relationship are you referring to? If you are going to make the argument about unjust power dynamics and pederasty, this doesn’t work out scholastically. Lesbian scholar Barbara Brooten (who I believe heads up Jewish Studies at Brandeis) is a world-class expert on lesbianism in antiquity. She concludes that Paul’s condemnation of homosexual sexual unions in Rom. 1:26-27 is absolute, not relative to particular manifestations of said unions (i.e., relative to power dynamics, etc.). Brooten’s basis for this assertion? Because pederasty is virtually non-existent in lesbianism in antiquity. So if Paul was only prohibiting homosexual unions that involved unfair power dynamics and pederasty, then why would he rope in lesbians being that lesbians in the ancient world didn’t engage in pederasty? Brooten’s assessment can be found in “Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism”.

    As for Paul’s use of ἀρσενοκοῖται in 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10, this word is a combination of the Greek ἀρσεν (“man” or “male”) and κοῖται (“to bed, have sex with” from which we derive the English “coitus”, which refers to sexual relations). The compound form (ἀρσενοκοῖται) is like “man-bedder”. Paul takes the word from the Septuagint rendering of Lev. 18:22, which refers (in Greek) to a man (ἀρσεν) bedding (κοῖται) another man. All Paul did here is make a single word out of two individual ones. This is an inter-textual echo referring back to Lev. 18:22. Paul’s Corinthian readers (especially his Jewish ones) would have understood it as such. Timothy (who was half Jewish and raised with Judaism) would have understood this as well. There is nothing about this word or its usage (or μαλακοὶ, for that matter) that demonstrate that it automatically refers to pederasty or unjust power relationships in sexual unions. There is not warrant to reading pederasty into either Paul’s usage of these terms or the biblical prohibitions against homosexual sexual unions.

  7. Sorry for the late follow-up, but I thought the following tidbits to be relevant to this discussion.

    First, if there is any doubt about the fact that Paul’s use of ἀρσενοκοῖται in 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10 is not an echo of Lev. 18:22 and Lev. 20:13, we should keep in mind that one way that Jews have colloquially referred to the Torah’s prohibition on homosexual sexual unions is “mishkav zachar”. The woodenly literal translation here would be “man lying/bedding”. The meaning here corresponds quite with Paul’s usage of ἀρσενοκοῖται. To demonstrate that Paul didn’t have the Levitical prohibitions in mind when he penned 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10, we would have to believe that he is appropriating the Greek equivalent of a known Hebrew term in a different way. The contexts of 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10 give us no reason to believe that Paul was using this term in a way that diverges from its usage by his Jewish predecessors and contemporaries–that usage being a categorical and absolute prohibition against homosexual sexual unions.

    Second, being that ancient Judaism before and after Jesus was so unilaterally consistent in its denunciation of any and all homosexual sex-acts, the slightest deviation from Judaism’s prohibition against said sex-acts would have raised the hackles of any Jewish person–especially those Jewish persons/groups who were hostile to Christianity from the get-go. I know of no Jewish polemic against Jesus or His followers that claims that Christians deviated from the Torah’s sexual ethos in any way. Had Jesus or followers been ambivalent towards or affirming of homosexual sex-acts, then Christianity’s earliest Jewish opponents would have surely leveraged the movement’s laxity with regard to Torah to highlight Christianity’s moral deficiencies. While I admit to the limitations of this argument, the fact that no ancient Jews accused Jesus or Christians of deviation from the Torah’s sexual prohibitions does speak to the consistent thread between Judaism and Christianity on this issue.

    1. Lev 18:22 – “‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” – I take the “as one does with a woman” clause to mean that it is referring, not to all male homosexual acts, but to that particular male homosexual act which might be seen as most imitative of generative intercourse. So I don’t see this verse as applicable to female homosexuality, or to other forms of male-male sexuality. (I’m not going to go into details, because I’m not sure if Stephen wants that level of discussion on his blog, but if you think about it, surely you can work out what I am talking about.)

      I then see Romans 1:26 as referring to women allowing men to perform the same act on themselves; so then Romans 1:26 is not referring to female homosexuality, but to a particular heterosexual practice. Romans 1:27 then refers to essentially the same practice, this time in a male homosexual context, echoing the condemnation of the same act in the male homosexual context in Lev 18:22.

      If ἀρσενοκοῖται is simply a reference to Lev 18:22, then if Lev 18:22 is interpreted narrowly, then 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10 should be taken equally narrowly. So if Lev 18:22 is referring to only one particular male homosexual act, and not to other possible male homosexual acts, or to any female homosexual act, then 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10 must have the same narrow reference.

  8. Zachary,

    If it is the case that Lev. 18:22 allows for female-female sexual unions simply because they aren’t mentioned, then wouldn’t logic dictate that one can rightly covet a neighbor’s husband simply because Ex. 20:17 only explicitly prohibits coveting a neighbor’s wife?

    Also, in Lev. 18:22 the Hebrew word “shachar” (the “lie” in “You shall not lie…”) speaks to sexual intercourse in general, irrespective of genital intercourse or intercourse with an eye towards reproduction.

    Lastly, you claim that Rom. 1:26 is only speaking to women having sex with men (not at all clear on how you arrive at this). If this is true, then why does Rom. 1:27, which speaks to male-male intercourse, start with “…And in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another”? With the phrase “in the same way,” Paul is making a comparison. The men abandoned what was “natural” (an allusion to Gen. 1-2) to copulate with one another (1:27) just as the women did (1:26). Contextually, this comparison only makes sense if lesbianism is in view in Rom. 1:26.

    1. As to the comparison of Lev 18:22 to Ex 20:17 – you are right that, we cannot presume that texts worded in a gender-specific way can never be extended to apply to the other gender also; but nor should we assume that they ought always be so extended. Either position results in absurdity. We have to consider each gender-specific text on its own terms, and ask whether its extension to the other gender is sensible or not. Our answer will often depend on which specific interpretation of the text we adopt.

      The Hebrew “shachar” in Lev 18:22 indeed refers to sexual intercourse in general – but then my position is that the phrase “as one does with a woman” narrows it down to a particular type of sexual intercourse. If that phrase was missing from the verse, you would have a better argument. Depending on which specific sexual act we think it is referring to, it may well be impossible to extend the text to women – there are some sexual acts which are anatomically impossible for a woman to perform on another.

      As to Romans 1:26-27, you take the “in the same way” as referring to a common element of homosexuality; I take “in the same way” to a different common element – a particular sexual act which men can perform on women, and which men can perform one each other, but which it is anatomically impossible for women to perform on each other.

      1. Actually, “as one does with a woman” does not limit “shachar” to penile-vaginal sexual intercourse. Why would it? I’m not trying to be vulgar when I say that there are a number of ways in which a man can “shachar”/”lie” with a woman. You would need for the Levitical author to prohibit a specific sex-act that qualifies both “shachar” and “as with a woman” for your view to work. Because no such sex-act is mentioned in Leviticus, both the word “shachar” and the phrase “as with a woman” are to be taken as umbrella prohibitions against any kind of sexual intercourse between same-sex partners. This would mean that the prohibition is rooted in there being too much ontological sameness between sex-partners, making it entirely sensible to apply this prohibition to female-female sexual partnerships.

        With respect to Rom. 1:26-27, you are neglecting the Gen. 1-2 echoes intrinsic to Rom. 1. What is “natural” is the male-female sexual complementarity in Gen. 1-2, not a certain kind of divinely-sanctioned sex-act. In light of this, the deviation that Paul refers to in Rom. 1:26-27 is same-sex erotic intimacy, not a specific divinely-prohibited sex-act.

  9. All thought it is educational to read they way Zachary tries to justify homosexuality with scripture it is just obvious that it is not condoned by the God of the Bible. If it were, there would be specific advice as to how a husband should treat his husband or a wife to treat her wife. As we do not get this instruction it is plain that it is not condoned.

    The actions of the humans in the Bible do not make that action condoned by God, only God’s instruction tells what is approved of in His sight. Homosexual acts are not condoned and neither is a union of two people of the same sex. This does not mean that someone that has performed this specific sin can not be saved, all can be saved. But you can not continue in your sin and expect to be saved, as continuing to sin against God is evidence that you do not have a Godly desire and have not given yourself to God.

    I will pray for you Zachary. Sin is not easy to over come, thankfully we have a just and merciful God that get over any sin.

  10. I was naturally heterosexual, but fortunately I was able to choose celibacy, and never regretted this choice. Since I never married, I never had to take a vow to obey a husband, and since I’m not a Catholic or a Buddhist, I didn’t have to take a vow to obey priests. For women, celibacy means that you can choose spiritual truth and God instead of the carnal world. That is true freedom and joy. Why would anyone think this in an onerous choice?

  11. One of the great difficulties with this conundrum is that the Church has lost its teaching on sin. The responses here have to do with what is and what is not a sin, suggesting that there is a possibility of living sinless lives. To my knowledge, only One has done so. There is a world of difference between “a sin” and “a sinner saved by grace”. Evangelicals have degraded their theology to a sin being a “mistake” rather than symptomatic of a systemic condition for which we are called to live in an attitude of repentance.

    I am an ABCUSA pastor. As a former state legislator, I fought hard and publicly for equal rights for LGTB. For that I was condemned in more than one church and in more than one newspaper. When it comes to affirming anyone’s lifestyle, that is contrary to the Scriptures, even if that lifestyle is heterosexual and squeaky clean. There is enough sin in my heterosexual lifestyle that I am undeserving of affirmation merely because of the notion that somehow a heterosexual relationship is sinless. Mine isn’t and never was.

    The problem I have with the counter-argument is that the attitude that “…God made me this way, and I’m going to celebrate it!” does not belong in the confessing Church. Neither does the attitude that “…some of my best friends are this, that or the other thing, which make me more tolerant and humble than are you!”

    I have crusaded against the smug, self-righteous, suburban white Christian Right. On the other hand, I have stood against affirming anyone on the grounds that to declare someone moral is to declare them righteous. The problem is this matter of church membership with its hierarchy of boards and committees. Boards and committees create a presumption of superior access to the will of God, which tends toward excluding the general body from the governing process because of inadequate access.

    The fact is that in most churches there are members who are addicts, pedophiles and those with other proclivities who are affirmed because they are heterosexual, as well as pastors who are affirmed because they are male.

    Too many churches are eager to announce that they are affirming of this, that and the other thing so as to defuse the condemnation by the general public of hypocrisy. When I was examined by the congregation for my current position, I challenged them to reject me because I had once been divorced. Divorce was not my “sin”. Divorce was the by-product of my inherent sin over which I continue to struggle for deliverance. .

    It comes down to this: If I, as a heterosexual male in a loving marriage declare myself from the pulpit to be a sinner saved by grace with the residual effects of my sin still at work (Rom 7), any who sit under that teaching with the need to be declared moral and sinless simply will not last more than 2 weeks.

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