I’ve been a little distracted lately with the Annual Council of SDAs, so I have had to set aside this series on LGBTIQ and the church for a while. It’s time to get back to it, an issue that is not going away and one where most Christians have shallow or distorted knowledge. God always wants to operate on the basis of truth, but on issues like this, truth is sometimes hard to come by. I know I still have a lot to learn, but what I have learned so far seems to be very helpful to people whose opinion I respect and trust. So let me continue looking at some key biblical texts.
The most explicit and seemingly harshest condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible is found in Romans 1. Here’s the crucial portion: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 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 themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Rom 1:24-28). Homosexual actions are here condemned as a “dishonoring of their bodies,” as “dishonorable passions,” as “contrary to nature,” and as “what ought not to be done.” Many take this passage as license to condemn those who are “different” in the harshest terms possible. If God pours out His wrath against homosexuals (Rom 1:18), we ought to do the same. But before we blindly follow that kind of reading, let’s take a closer look at this passage in its context.
First of all, in Romans 1 the wrath of God is not poured out because of homosexuality. Homosexuality is not the cause of God’s wrath, it is the outcome of God’s wrath. Notice Romans 1:18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” The core reason that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven is that human being suppress the truth about God. Even if they don’t have Bibles, nature itself is evidence enough that God exists and that He is powerful (Rom 1:19-20). And if that is true, then human beings should honor Him and be loyal to Him. But “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21). Instead of honoring God they became fools and made images of the created world to worship instead (Rom 1:22-23). So the core reason that God’s wrath is poured out is human rebellion. Deep in their hearts human beings knew God, but they turned away from Him and lost their reason.
But what is the wrath of God? For Paul, it is not God’s violent response to human rebellion, it is His turning away from sinners and allowing them to reap the consequences of their own choices. Three times in the following paragraph Paul says, “Therefore God gave up. . . to impurity. . . .” “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. . . .” “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Rom 1:24, 26, 28). Why does God give them up? “Because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25). Homosexuality is not the cause of God’s wrath, it is the outcome of God’s wrath. It is clear that Paul holds a very negative view of homosexual activity. It is contrary to the order of creation and an evidence of human brokenness. But the core reason for the wrath of God is not homosexual activity, it is suppressing the truth about God and refusing to be thankful for what we have all received from God. So homosexual activity is condemned in Scripture as a result of God’s wrath, not the cause of it. When it comes to dealing with people who struggle with their sexual and gender identity, such distinctions are very important.