- If homosexuality is just a sin like any other, should we be welcoming openly homosexual people into our church?
- What do I say to gay friends and how can I help them be saved?
- If I’ve been invited to a relative’s civil partnership celebration, what are the issues in deciding whether to go?
- Where did the terminology of marriage come from? Isn’t it all just culturally relative?
- Is it OK to call it “civil union” or a “registered relationship”, rather than marriage?
- People argue that the sanctity of marriage is already broken by divorce – so why maintain it?
- What are some ‘common-ground’ issues that we can talk about (i.e. not just quoting Bible verses at people)?
- Is it the responsibility of Christians to ‘push’ our values on society?
- How do we as Christians show love and support to those struggling with same-sex attraction?
- How do some Christians justify a viewpoint that says homosexuality is fine?
- If all sin causes us to be separated from God why does the church block gay bishops or ministers even if they are not practising?
If homosexuality is just a sin like any other, should we be welcoming openly homosexual people into our church?
If we started excluding sinners, the church would be empty! But the key word there is ‘openly’. If someone comes to church as a genuine inquirer, then we want to welcome them warmly and set about introducing them to Jesus, regardless of their particular background and how obvious that might be in their appearance and manner. However, if ‘openly’ means ‘unrepentant’ in the sense that they are or become professing Christians, but are unwilling to deal with the biblical teaching on homosexual practice, then we set in action the normal processes of church discipline (Matt 18:15-20). There is still plenty of room of course for them to raise the issue themselves, or for us to raise it where there are immediate concerns.
What do I say to gay friends and how can I help them be saved?
As above, the issue is firstly salvation. So, like any friend, you look for opportunities to talk about Jesus as you continue to care for them as a friend. But if the issue arises of the biblical teaching on homosexuality, it’s important to be honest about our ‘position’. It’s also helpful to clarify that a good friendship doesn’t require agreement on every issue – respectful disagreement is a healthy sign of a robust friendship. And if possible, you want to explain the biblical worldview behind the position, and open up the Bible with them if they’re willing.
If I’ve been invited to a relative’s civil partnership celebration, what are the issues in deciding whether to go?
Three issues. 1) Where does your conscience stand on the issue? Romans 14:23 suggests caution if you think it might be the wrong thing to do. So work hard at making a biblical decision, then act on it boldly, not out of doubt. 2) How can you best maintain a loving relationship with the people involved? If you can’t go because of conscience, then you’ll want to communicate that clearly and early, and work out a sacrificial way of showing support for the individuals despite disagreeing with the relationship. However, it’s difficult to see how they won’t be offended – that may be the cost of discipleship in this case. 3) What will your attendance/participation communicate to others? If you’re known by people at the celebration as a Christian, it may be they think you’re a hypocrite. Or they may interpret your presence as tacit approval of the relationship. You can’t second-guess everyone’s motives, but you are accountable to be wise in the circumstances (Romans 14:20-22).
Where did the terminology of marriage come from? Isn’t it all just culturally relative?
While the terminology may vary, there is a biblical concept referring to the ceremony and state of marriage (e.g. Matt 22:23-29). This is easily recognisable as the same universal institution found in all cultures: that of a man and a woman coming together for a life-long relationship. To argue that there is no fixed, trans-cultural idea of marriage is to ignore all but the last 30 years of social history. There have been variations in the accepted minimum age for marriage, and in the demarcation of roles within marriage. But the concept of a life-long, sexually-exclusive, child-oriented, gender-complementary union, by whatever label we choose to give it, has a weighty historical and cultural continuity that begs us pause before attempting to redefine it.
Is it OK to call it “civil union” or a “registered relationship”, rather than marriage?
It depends what society is acknowledging or honouring by those labels. It is true that by leaving the institution of marriage alone, many of the Christian arguments and fears about same-sex marriage would be addressed. Nonetheless, the Christian worldview says that homosexual practice is not what God has created our sexuality and our relationships for. So there will be some negatives for the individuals engaged in such a relationship, and some flow-on effect to the society around them in turn. On that basis it would not seem loving for Christians to support the honouring of that particular form of relationship – although four states of Australia already have already legalised them.
However, if such a label is used to honour caring relationships in general (i.e. if it is also open to dependents and their carers, unmarried siblings sharing a house etc), then it may be possible to affirm such legislation (e.g. regarding superannuation benefits etc) as supporting the caring aspect of those relationships (and the positive flow-on effects for society) without necessarily affirming the sexual practices of all couples in that category.
People argue that the sanctity of marriage is already broken by divorce – so why maintain it?
It is important to agree and say that in a fallen world, God’s good gift of marriage is not always everything it could be. So adultery and divorce and death and childlessness all happen, sadly. But does that mean we should not keep the ideal in view? The opposite could be argued – that by maintaining a high view of marriage, we hold society back from losing all hope in the face of such tragedies.
What are some ‘common-ground’ issues that we can talk about (i.e. not just quoting Bible verses at people)?
Our biblical worldview suggests that some of our arguments, although originating from a Christian perspective, will nonetheless connect with the experience of our fellow creatures who share our same nature. Statistics and studies are one example of that common ground which might demonstrate the positives of traditional marriage – see Part III of Marriage and the Public Good.
Opinion polls can also demonstrate what is accepted human experience. For example, a British study of 2000 adults asked people to rank the most important things in their lives, and number one was relationships, whereas equality or choice or freedom or rights did not appear in the top-ranked priorities. This supports the (Christian) idea that redefining marriage to honour freedom instead of family is to shift society’s priorities away from what we all know is really important.
Is it the responsibility of Christians to ‘push’ our values on society?
In a democratic society this is not supposed to be possible. Christians merely lobby like all other groups, vote for their representatives like other groups, have some parliamentarians from their own ranks like most other groups. Thus if ‘Christian’ values become codified in law, then they have satisfied the democratic process and have hardly been ‘pushed’.
However, the question implies that Christians should not talk about or lobby for their values, and Christian parliamentarians should ignore their values, because they have a worldview that is unduly influencing their social policy. However, that is to assume that the non-religious (or secular humanists in particular, who often argue this point), do not have their own worldview – i.e. that they are arguing from ‘neutral ground’, unlike everyone else. Or it is to assume that the Christian worldview bears no relation to reality and has nothing to say about what is good for society.
This is illogical at best and elitist at its worst. Although Christians are focussed on the next world, they are charged with being loving and productive citizens of this world, which they are to steward responsibly as God’s good creation. Therefore it would seem that, like all other responsible members of society, they should promote whatever they believe would be best for society, and use whatever democratic means they have at their disposal to do so.
How do we as Christians show love and support to those struggling with same-sex attraction?
Assuming they are already within the Christian community, we show love and support just as we do to all our other struggling brothers and sisters in Christ. We make contact proactively, we listen, we spend time, we pray, we keep encouraging them to trust Jesus. In fact, we’ll probably love them best by just treating them normally, as a friend.
We can also work in advance to make our community more open to all outsiders – streamlining the welcoming and integration process, minimizing the Christian lingo, rooting out any homophobic language or humour, being open and vulnerable about our own failures, ‘lowering the bar’ with some entry-level Bible-study groups.
How do some Christians justify a viewpoint that says homosexuality is fine?
There are two groups to distinguish between here. There will be those who have a limited understanding of the Bible, or we believe they’ve misunderstood the Bible. For example, they may think that the rules against homosexual practice are like Jewish food laws – they cease at the end of the O.T. (but see Rom 1 and 1 Cor 6). So we can still accept them as a brother or sister who is trusting in Christ, and try to open the Bible with them and explain more fully the biblical worldview concerning marriage.
Alternatively, there are some who do not see the Bible as having a timeless authority, and so they regard the issue as open to cultural progress, or perhaps even regard the biblical authors as morally primitive. In this case homosexuality is not the root issue, and you might ask such a person on what basis they trust the Scriptural teaching on salvation, if it is unreliable on the lesser issue of the right way to live.
If all sin causes us to be separated from God why does the church block gay bishops or ministers even if they are not practising?
Actually, most churches make a distinction on exactly that point, and object only to practising homosexual clergy – just as they object to any unrepentantly sinning church member. The biblical principle is chaste singleness or faithful marriage – so any Christian involved in sexual misconduct (or any other sin for that matter), and who plans to continue being so, is subject to the discipline of the church. The reason why such clergy are singled out is because they are responsible for representing and caring for God’s flock, and so God insists they be ‘above reproach’ (1 Tim 3:2).