Can Christians embrace a same-sex lifestyle and still be members in good standing in a Christian church?
I've been asked to comment on the controversy provoked by a recent interview in the Atlantic with Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International—an evangelical ministry founded to help Christians and non-Christians find freedom from the guilt and power of a same-sex lifestyle.
Christians may debate public policy, but in this interview, Chambers raises issues that are very clearly addressed in Scripture. Especially when we are dealing with human lives, daring to draw our counsel from God, we need to affirm the simplicity of biblical teaching on the subject while rejecting an over-simplifying of the issues involved.
The problem (sin and death) as well as the solution (redemption in Christ through the gospel) are simple, but hardly simplistic. In terms of sin, Scripture is quite clear about the condition (original sin—guilt, bondage, corruption leading to death) and the acts that arise from it. There are versions of the pro-gay and anti-gay agenda that assume a simplistic rather than simple understanding of the issue—at least from a biblical perspective. Reject it or embrace it: that's the easy choice that makes for great sound-bites but ruins lives.
So let's apply this "simple but not simplistic" formula to homosexuality.
First, the Bible's teaching on the subject is simple in the sense of being straightforward and unambiguous. Does Scripture forbid homosexual behavior? Of course it does. Jesus and his apostles taught that God's intention in marriage is for a man to leave his parents and join himself to one woman (Matt. 5:27-32; 19:3-6). Furthermore, the New Testament clearly teaches that homosexuality is immoral (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:10) and that those who embrace a sexually immoral lifestyle will not inherit Christ's kingdom (Gal. 5:19-21; 6:7-9; Eph 5:5; 1 Thes. 4:2-8). Isn't it more complicated than that? After all, doesn't Paul have in mind relationships based on temple prostitution or perhaps slavery, rather than committed relationships? No, the noun arsenokoitēs means "those who practice homosexuality." It is an unusual compound, but it makes Paul's point. And it's not like prohibitions against eating shellfish or pork chops: part of the old covenant law that distinguished Israel visibly from the nations as a theocratic nation, which foreshadowed Christ and is now obsolete since the reality (Christ himself) has arrived.
As with the law, Scripture is also marvelously simple in proclaiming the gospel: Christ has won for us that victory over sin's guilt, dominion—and ultimately, presence—that we were helpless to defeat.
… Without Being Simplistic
However, just at this point the complexity of both sin and redemption come into the picture. If sin were just a behavior, we could stop it. If we had done it a lot, we might need some help in stopping it, but eventually—if we tried hard enough—we could. However, sin is not just a behavior. Long before they made any choice about what to do with it, people were predisposed toward same-sex attractions. Affirming original sin, Christians don't have trouble accepting this. We reject the Pelagian reduction of sin to an action that one can overcome with enough will-power. We are depraved (warped) in every respect: spiritually, morally, intellectually, volitionally, and physically. Long before genetics became a flourishing field, Christians have spoken about sin as an inherited condition. Furthermore, we can inherit specific sins—or at least tendencies—of our fathers and mothers. Then add to that the ways in which people are sinned against by the attitudes and behaviors of others, especially in childhood. So even before we actually decide to take that first drink, place that first bet, unleash our first punch, or fool around with our best friend, we are already caught up in the tangled web of solidarity in sin. At the same time, we are responsible for our choices, which reinforce or counter the specific sins toward which we are especially disposed.