by Dr. Richard C. Eyer
New neighbors just moved in down the block. As we have done in the past, my wife and I walked over to welcome them to the neighborhood and invite them to our Labor Day block party.
Before inviting them, I had not considered the possibility of their being a gay couple, but they were, and they graciously accepted the invitation, bringing their dish-to-pass as we all did. They were pleasant, enjoyable men to have among us. Moreover, they had begun to make the home improvements that the previous owners had neglected for years. They were thoughtful and considerate, and I found myself liking them.
This is not the first time we have had gay neighbors. In the three decades we have lived here, there have been two other gay couples on the block. There may be more in the future.
As a hospital chaplain in the 1980s, I visited gay men who were suffering from AIDS. Because treatment then was virtually unknown, they all died. In ministering to them, I discovered that calling into question their disordered sexual lifestyle was perceived as little more than condemnation if they were not also open to seeing Christ as their Savior. Our new neighbors were not visibly ill, as so many of my patients had been; yet, would their response be similar if I broached the subject of their lifestyle?
Gay men and lesbian women may be members of a Christian congregation, having been persuaded by those who value diversity more than truth not to see their sexual orientation and its acting-out as being in conflict with God’s ordered creation. Churches that support homosexuality claim that reading Bible texts that speak against homosexuality involves a misinterpretation of texts.
These churches claim that such biblical texts are only speaking against homosexuality when practiced in the worship of pagan gods. Leviticus 18, however, is not concerned with pagan worship practices but with the integrity and survival of the family in Israel, for it was threatened most radically by disordered sexual relationships such as incest and homosexuality. A study of Leviticus and other passages makes clear that a homosexual orientation is a part of the corruption of sinful human nature.
As natural as it may feel to those who claim a homosexual orientation, acting it out is sin. Biblical moral prohibitions such as those against disordered sexual behavior do not change with time. The Word of God says for all time, “You [as a man] shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Lev. 18:22 ESV). The New Testament repeats the prohibition in Rom. 1:26–27.
The argument is sometimes made that we are all sinners and that homosexual sins are no different from all other sins in God’s eyes, therefore lessening the severity and urgency of sins of sexual behavior. However, even God makes a distinction: “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Cor. 6:18–19).
Although it is true that in the judgment on the Last Day sin is sin, it is also true that the Day of Judgment has not yet come. In this life, some sins are more damaging than others to the community and to individuals. This is a warning from God that calls for repentance and a reordering of life.
The claim has been made that homosexuality is genetically predisposed and therefore natural to some, although no reliable studies have actually demonstrated a gene for this. Even if this were true, the response to a genetically disordered and addictive sexual behavior would be treatment, not indulgence. Some psychiatrists have suggested also that homosexuality may be a form of arrested early development leading to confusion of sexual identity. In some cases, they say, it may be a result of early sexual abuse by an older male.
It may or may not be that a homosexual orientation can be reversed, but the choice to act it out or not is still an option. The one who bears the burden of a homosexual orientation ought to be supported by us in living a life of daily repentance and chastity as we are all called to do in Christ.
Some years ago, as an observer in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, I attended a three-day weekend retreat with 30 gay men who came to find healing for their disordered homosexual orientation. A local congregation, under the auspices of Exodus International, hosted the retreat. Led by former gay men, these men had become Christians and were trying to support one another in finding a better way to live with their burden of homosexuality. Many testified to their addictive behavior, shed tears of remorse, and took the first steps toward freedom and delivery through faith in Christ.
The question for those of us who are Christians and heterosexual is this: “How should we respond to those we meet at work or in our neighborhood who are gay? What sort of witness can we give and how should we go about it?” The value of tolerance in our culture today increasingly allows us to live together in peace rather than attack one another because of our differences.
There is great virtue in that, but tolerance alone is not a good solution for those who need help, support, and healing of their disordered lives. Neither is approval of homosexual behavior appropriate among Christians since it does a disservice to homosexuals and supports sinful behavior. Hostility toward homosexuals is surely not an appropriate response from Christians. Christians are called first of all to learn how to love all sinners as God loves all of us as sinners. Our sins may not be the same as the sins of others, but the love and forgiveness of God at work in us is what all of us need.
How, then, ought we to respond? We must first work toward building a rapport with the gay or lesbian person since our calling is to speak the truth in love. It is no easy calling to live in witness to the Christian life in this world, but Christ lives in us as the world’s only hope. We will most likely be rejected for our witness. Nevertheless, without giving approval for homosexual behavior, we need to reach out to others who need Christ’s forgiveness and renewal of life. It may be that Christ will work through us to help others find healing, as we have all experienced it in Christ in other ways.