Tag Archives: LGBT and the Church

Paul and Homosexuality (LGBT 11)

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.

A Lot of Things are an Abomination (LGBT 10)

The Hebrew translated “abomination” is tôêvah. Tôêvah is used in the Hebrew Bible for idolatry and practices related to it (Deut 7:25-26; 13:14; 27:15; Isa 44:19). It is also used for temple prostitution (1 Kings 14:24), child sacrifice (Jer 32:35; Ezek 16:20-22), adultery (Ezek 33:26), incest (Ezek 22:11) and illegal marriage (Deut 24:1-4). The word is also used for stealing and murder in Jeremiah 7:9-10 and a reaction violence and robbery, which are deserving of the death penalty, in Ezekiel 18:10-13. So the English word “abomination” does not fall far from the sense of the Hebrew. It refers to things and activities that are reprehensible, detestable, loathsome, and worthy of disgust. Upon first reading, it is hard to imagine allowing any LGBT person into the church. But texts read in isolation or out of context can be damaging and hurtful. This is also the case with the use of these texts in Leviticus.

The Hebrew tôêvah is used widely in the Bible for things that are not seen so reprehensibly in the modern context, and this needs to be taken into account as well. A crucial text is Proverbs 6:16-19: “There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination [tôavath—same Hebrew word with a different grammatical ending] to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19 a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” Here you find typical “abominations” like murder and evil, but also many “vegetarian” sins, widely practiced in church; looks of pride and superiority, planning actions that are wrong in God’s eyes, gossip, and falsehood. Committing “abomination” is not reserved for sins that are considered especially reprehensible, the word is used fairly broadly for things we often tolerate in the church and can easily recognize in ourselves; taking advantage of someone in shopping or business deals (Deut 25:13-16; Prov 11:1), falsehood of any kind (Prov 12:22), eating anything that isn’t “kosher” (Deut 14:3ff.—even clean meats today are not usually processed in the biblical fashion).

The takeaway is that using the “clobber texts” of Leviticus to single out homosexuals for disgust or hatred is to not tell the truth about God and His view of human failings. God does not arbitrarily pick out select practices for special disgust or hatred, He is stirred up by every violation of the created order, including the ones that we consider “white lies” or “vegetarian” sins. We must avoid the idea that God is deeply offended by sin because He is not getting His way. God is offended by sin because violations of the created order introduce a poison into human society and relationships that harms everyone and everything. Sin is sin because it is self-destructive, harming all the creatures God has made. Things that are not ideal are reprehensible because of the collective impact they have had on God’s creation. But the full picture of God is not summed up in these “clobber texts,” they need to be read in the context of the One who said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). That same One also washed the feet of Judas the traitor, and not only Judas, but Peter, the lovable screw-up we can all identify with, even the saintly ones among us. Whatever we have to say to LGBTIQ people, we need to say from a standpoint of common brokenness. I believe that to speak as if we are superior because of our orientation is to speak a lie and that is an abomination unto the Lord.

As we go through some difficult texts, we need to remember the biblical tension between the ideal and the real. The Bible is not shy about stating the ideal and the consequences of violating God’s ideal. But it also shows the compassion of Jesus Christ for those mired in the real (John 8:3-11). The Bible balances the ideal with deep grace and compassion for those violate the ideal, whether by inheritance or by cultivation. In all our dealing with LGBT people we need to remember that we all are souls for whom Christ died (Rom 14:15; 1 Cor 8:11).

It Is an Abomination (LGBT 9)

I turn now to what some have called the “clobber texts” of the Bible (Gen 19:1-15; Lev 18:22; 20:13; Rom 1:18-32; 1 Cor 6:9-11). These are the one’s people use to clobber anyone they perceived as different, particularly in terms of gender or sexuality. Two of these texts are in the book of Leviticus.

“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (tôêvah– Lev 18:22). Clearly this text is speaking to men, calling male to male sex and “abomination.” That is a very loaded and negative word in today’s English. A similar text is Leviticus 20:13: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination (tôêvah); they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” Here the word “abomination” is combined with a death sentence. The immediate impression is that there is something uniquely reprehensible about same sex activity, at least male to male activity. I note, first of all, that the text does not address same sex orientation, it addresses a specific activity, a sexual act similar to that of a man with a woman. And it clearly calls such an act an “abomination” (Hebrew: tôêvah).

In English the word “abomination” originated in the Latin and means a thing or an activity that causes disgust or hatred, detestable things or actions, something exceptionally sinful, vile or loathsome. There is no sugar-coating the English term. The activity described in these texts is considered reprehensible. There is no getting around it. Read without context or nuance, it would seem to justify the kinds of hateful reactions toward gays that have arisen from certain extremist churches in the news. But is abomination an appropriate translation of the Hebrew in these texts? Or does the English term color the situation in ways that might surprise us?

The Ideal and the Real (LGBT 8)

Whenever the Bible speaks about divorce, the ideal and the real both come into play. Jesus states the ideal when He says that “in the beginning it was not so.” But when the real happens, when divorces occur, regulations are given that protect weaker parties in a destructive situation. So Jesus is very strict in interpreting the ideal, but very compassionate in dealing with the real. In John 8:1-11, a women is caught in the act of adultery. The ideal would seem to call for harsh condemnation and punishment. Instead Jesus tells the woman, “I don’t condemn you, go and sin no more.” Jesus states the ideal in the most straightforward way (Matthew 19), but when confronted with the real, he is most gracious, compassionate, and surprisingly lenient. The same is true of Moses. He states the ideal in Genesis 2:24. Man and women are joined together, not to be separated. But in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 he states the real. Since divorces happen, here’s how to minimize the damage. We find the same pattern in Paul. In 1 Corinthians Paul six times states the ideal, then introduces the real with “but if.” In some cases celibacy is the ideal (Matt 19:11-12), even in marriage (1 Cor 7:1), but because of immorality (7:2) Paul encourages married sexuality. The ideal is for the unmarried to remain so (7:8), but in the real world marriage is generally to be preferred. The ideal for marriage is lifelong (7:10), but if someone leaves a marriage, there is a new ideal (7:11). Paul states the ideal as an absolute, but offers a backup plan for dealing with the real.

For Seventh-day Adventists it is interesting that you will find the same pattern in Ellen White. She is very strict and uncompromising when stating the ideal (for example, no divorce, marry someone close to you in age). But when faced with real situations, she was very accommodating and even lenient. In one case, church members were dealing with a situation in which a couple divorced and each married someone else in the church. The church leaders were demanding that the new couples divorce so the original pair could get back together again. When Ellen White was consulted about this situation she said, “Leave them alone, they have suffered enough.” Since Ellen White strongly advised that people marry close to their own age, some were stunned when she allowed her 41-year-old son to marry a 22-year-old girl. When confronted about the situation she retorted, “Best decision Willie ever made.” Individuals recognized as particularly close to God, therefore, consistently exhibited this pattern: state the ideal without compromise, but face the real with compassion and grace. The ideal is what the church teaches and what it should teach. But the real requires much understanding and compassion.

It seems to me that this pattern is relevant to the challenges people face when it comes to LGBTIQ, both those experiencing themselves as “different” and those dealing with them. LGBTIQ conditions are among the many ways in which the creation ideal is not worked out in this life. They are part of the real. While the church must always uphold the ideal, it must also deal with the real. And in the real world there is great need for understanding, compassion and grace, and not just for LGBT people. We have all failed to live out the ideal, so we are all in need of understanding, compassion and grace. The church must be to others what every member of the church needs as well.

Jesus and Sexual Controversy (LGBT 7)

According to the gospels, Jesus is the clearest revelation of God the world has ever seen (John 1:14-18; 14:9). If we want a picture of how God views homosexuality in general and LGBT people in particular, it would be extremely helpful Jesus offered a clear position on the matter. But a careful reading of the gospels shows that Jesus never said anything about any aspect of LGBTIQ. No question on this issue was ever raised in His presence and no pronouncement from Him on the topic is recorded in the gospel records.

But that does not mean that Jesus has nothing to say about sexuality. There is a very significant dialogue He has with the Pharisees regarding divorce (Matthew 19 and parallels), and Jesus says a number of things in this passage that are pertinent to our topic. I will quote the passage with some highlighting of my own and then offer some comments.

3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’? (Gen 2:24) 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” (Deut 24:1-4) 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
Matthew 19:3-9

Gerald Winslow notes that in this passage and several others the Bible lays out an ideal and a real. The ideal is grounded in creation. Male and female are physically and emotionally designed to bond to each other in lifelong unity. Forsaking all others, they will find undistracted joy in each other’s company and in mutual sexual experience. They were designed over time to achieve ever-increasing intimacy and delight in each other. That is the ideal. But after the Fall (Genesis 3) there is also a “real.” Hearts get hard. Children are abused. Husbands and wives cheat on each other. Some people get sexually greedy and exploit many. Divorces happen. Hearts get broken. Also part of the real is that some people are attracted to the same sex. Others suffer from dysphoria between body and brain. Some have incomplete sexual organs or organs from both sexes. Back in the beginning, God laid out the ideal. And the ideal remains in place. But in reality, things often go awry. Jesus states the ideal, but He also recognizes the real. Because hearts are hard, the creation ideal is rarely if ever achieved fully on this earth.

More Emerging Conclusions (LGBT 6)

The best scientific research I have seen, at least from sources not biased against Scripture or religion, have concluded that a gay or lesbian identity is changeable. A person embraces a gay or lesbian identity by choice, it is not inherent. This means that a person can have a homosexual orientation but still embrace the gospel call to accept Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and the master of one’s life. Accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord is core to what it means to be a follower of Jesus, so this finding is very significant. There is no immutable barrier to LGBT people accepting the gospel and participating in the life of the church.

At the same time, research indicates that, in most instances, homosexual orientation is not a choice, but is ingrained into the person’s being. So-called “change therapies” have had very limited success over a period of five or six years (there may seem to be a “change” over the short term, but it usually does not last). It is likely that where a change can be scientifically verified, the person was actually bisexual rather than homosexual, but these categories can be hard to separate clinically. If one’s orientation is ingrained, and not subject to change, that is extremely significant for how Christians should treat LGBT people. To demand a change in inner thought processes and urges when such a change is unlikely or impossible is more abusive than godly.

How do we explain the presence of immutable characteristics that incline a person contrary to God’s original creation design? From a biblical perspective, these are a consequence of human rebellion and sin, but not necessarily the individual’s own rebellion and sin. Sin is not just a legal breaking of the law. Sin is a poison or an infection that is ingrained inside all human beings from birth and distorts everything we do and everything we are. In this we are all on the same ground. We are all broken people whose brokenness may manifest itself in different ways, but from the standpoint of the gospel, we all start in a similar place. We are “out of compliance” by nature. That means “temptation” is not the same thing as sin. In a broken world, sexuality of all types can incline a person toward sin. In this the homosexual and the heterosexual are on the same ground. Both are broken, in the biblical sense, and both need the redemption that comes in Christ and the support of the Holy Spirit. Sin and its consequences cannot be eradicated by effort, they require divine intervention, which will only be experienced in its fullness at the Second Coming (Rom 8:22-23; 1 Cor 15:51-54). Until then, we are all in need of compassion, understanding and forgiveness.

This tells me that any Christian outreach to LGBT people must occur in full awareness of a common brokenness. If heterosexual Christians act as if they are morally superior to homosexual people, they are not only abusive, they are wrong from a biblical perspective (don’t worry, we will be looking at the biblical texts themselves soon). They are like those Jesus describes as seeing the speck in another person’s eye while missing the plank in their own (Matt 7:1-5, NIV). The biblical perspective on sexuality is not biased against gays, its analysis penetrates deep into all human self-deception and delusion. LGBT people are not exempt from the biblical analysis, neither are they to be singled out as uniquely lost or depraved in some way.

Another emerging conclusion is that bisexual and homosexual are not the same thing. If one thinks of orientation as a continuum with full heterosexuality at one end and full homosexuality at the other, bisexuality is a condition in which the person is somewhere between, attracted at times to the same sex and at times to the opposite sex. Most people are at one end of the spectrum or the other, but some are at various places in between. For church communities that like everything simple or “black and white,” sexuality and its manifestations are more complicated than they would like. Add in intersex and transgender, and things are far more complicated yet. Bisexuals may have more choice in how they express their sexuality, but bisexuality is also more a symptom of human brokenness than the result of a person’s decision and action.

In this generation, people and human sexuality have proven to be more complex than we realized before. I would like to turn in the next blog to some of the biblical data to see what “word from the Lord” we can get to help manage the complexities as church communities.

Emerging Conclusions (LGBT 5)

As I examine the Seventh-day Adventist literature on LGBTIQ, I do see an emerging consensus on a number of challenging issues. My report is not the final word, by any means. But it is better to have an educated position on difficult topics than a knee-jerk or naïve position. I am open to further research and deepening understanding, but there has developed a strong political element in relation to this topic. There are many issues researchers will not touch because of their fear that the results may work against the political consensus, or that they may be ostracized by their research community. So the research needs to be attended to, but with a certain amount of healthy skepticism in a politically-charged research and educational environment. Give appropriate deference to those who have spent their lives researching on issues of sexuality, but think for yourself and don’t buy conclusions where the evidence seems suspect. And be very suspicious of any result that is clearly contradictory to Scripture.

Having said that, many ideas that claim to be based on the Bible are actually based on either selective reading or a distorted reading lens. One of my teachers loved to say, “It isn’t hard to have strong convictions on any topic, as long as you are willing to ignore some of the evidence.” On top of that, all readers of the Bible, including conservative ones, tend to read the Bible through a hermeneutical lens that can distort the outcome of their study. I have spoken to this latter point at some length in chapters three and four of my book The Deep Things of God. I refer you there for more detail. Below I share some things that Seventh-day Adventists (and other conservative Christians) who are knowledgeable on both the Bible and science are coming to agree on. I believe these kinds of agreements need to be the foundation of further study and practice.

One emerging consensus among educated Adventists (including both conservative and liberal) is that one’s sexual orientation in most cases is not a choice. The behavioral sciences have always debated the issue of nature versus nurture. Is a condition inherited or does it exist because of experience and training (intentional and otherwise)? Is a homosexual orientation genetic or otherwise inherited? Or is it something that happens because of parental relationships, abuse, or certain family dynamics? Is it a choice or is it determined in some way? From my experience and understanding, these debates often swing back and forth between the two options, but most often the evidence leads researchers to “both/and.” Most conditions can be traced to a combination of both inheritance (genes, etc.) and upbringing. And inheritance does seem to play a role in same-sex attraction and orientation. Be that as it may, even if homosexuality was solely a result of nurture rather than nature, Adventist understanding is that the character of a child is largely formed something between the ages of three and seven. And how many seven-year old children got to choose their parents?

So while the adoption of a gay or lesbian identity involves a choice, homosexual orientation is rarely, if ever, a choice. There are some exceptions and we will address those in the following blog. This conclusion is very significant for the church. Regardless of how it happened, if orientation is not a choice in most instances, the church must be careful not to demand of people something that they are not capable of, even with prayer and fasting. If the science is correct, that would be like demanding that someone born without a leg produce a natural one before they can be accepted into the church. To require such would be abusive and cruel. At the same time, orientation should not be confused with identity. To accept a person with physical, mental or emotional challenges is not the same thing as “condoning sin.” To accept a person who is “different” through no choice of their own is not “condoning sin.”

When I shared this consensus with an Adventist friend, he became upset with me. “To live with a homosexual orientation and not try to change it is to live in sin,” he proclaimed, “I believe that it is a choice that people make, and wrong choices are sin.” While I have not met a homosexual person who felt that they had a choice (many have prayed for years that God would change them) that story would not be convincing to him. So I simply asked my friend, “When did you choose to be heterosexual?” He had no answer. Where we stand on this issue determines to a great degree how we treat all kinds of people whose life and struggles are different from our own.

Three Levels of Homosexuality (LGBT 4)

I use the traditional term “homosexuality” instead of “same-sex attraction” here because the latter is not broad enough for the points I am making in this particular blog. What people call homosexuality actually comes in three different forms, each describing a larger group than the previous. Since people, particularly church people, often confuse these forms, and that leads to serious misunderstanding, it is important to be as clear as possible.

Gay or Lesbian Identity. As noted earlier, in the narrowest sense homosexuality can be a matter of identity, not just a matter of orientation or attraction. To have a gay or a lesbian identity mean that a person who feels attracted to the same sex embraces that attraction as core to their identity. Gays and lesbians, in the technical sense, do not see themselves as primarily black or white, male or female, German or Hispanic; their core identity is wrapped up in their attraction to those of the same gender. It is “who they are.” They are not ashamed of their orientation, they can even be militant in promoting it. Homosexual people who embrace a gay or lesbian identity offer the biggest challenging to churches who embrace the New Testament understanding of the gospel. According to the New Testament, no one can serve two masters. Either Jesus Christ and the gospel are central to one’s identity or something else is. All are equal at the foot of the cross and all are likewise challenged to embrace Christ’s call for total and unlimited commitment. Promoting Christ commitment is not prejudice or “gay-bashing,” it is the same commitment all are asked to do, whether straight or otherwise. Your former core commitment may have been to a country, or an ethnic group, or your relatives, or you racial peers; all are called to make their one and only central commitment to the person and mission of Jesus Christ. Gays and lesbians are to be treated as equals at the foot of the cross, and they too are called to make Jesus Christ their one and only central commitment. On this matter there is no inequality and there can be no compromise.

Homosexual Orientation. But gay and lesbian identity is only one aspect of the church’s dealings with homosexuality. Gays and lesbians truly sold out to their sexual identity are a relatively small group. There is a much larger group of people who are strongly and consistently attracted to others of the same sex. This is what we would call homosexual orientation or same-sex orientation. For them, the orientation to the same sex seems as natural as the typical heterosexual person’s orientation to the opposite sex. But orientation and identity are not the same thing. Full disclosure, when it comes to orientation, I am about as heterosexual as they come, but I don’t make that the center of my life or my theology. I love straight porn as much as the next person from websites such as https://www.nu-bay.com/categories/857/amateurs but It is an aspect of who I am but it is not core to my identity. While I once strongly identified as a German-American and as an awesome athletic specimen (in my dreams at least), my core identity is now centered in Jesus Christ and the unique picture of God I learned as a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And I know people with a homosexual orientation who are just as committed to Christ and the church as I am. They do not embrace their orientation in place of Christ or alongside Christ. It is something they feel that they did not choose and cannot change, so they seek to keep it submitted to Jesus Christ as much as I commit my heterosexuality to Him.

Same-Sex Attractions. There is an even larger group of people who do not have a homosexual orientation but may have on occasion felt a homosexual attraction. It is not uncommon for a heterosexual person at one point or another in their life to see someone else of the same sex and feel something stirring that they did not expect. As mentioned earlier, I am about as heterosexual as they come. But I can remember as a young person talking with one of my teachers. It was a friendly conversation, we were face to face about a foot apart, and he had this interesting moustache that moved when he talked. Suddenly, in the back of my mind I heard the words, “Kiss him.” I didn’t, but I wondered for a long time where that had come from and what it meant (more on that later). More recently, I spoke with a colleague in the medical school who specializes in psychology and asked him what percentage of heterosexual people have an experience like mine. “I don’t know any research on it,” he said, “but based on my counseling experience I’d say somewhere between 50 and 100%. What do these kinds of experiences mean and how does the whole homosexual spectrum fit into the biblical world view? Where does this come from? Is it a choice? How should the church relate to people who disclose a homosexual orientation? Stay tuned.

LGBTIQ: Defining Terms (LGBT 3)

A few years back the American Academy of Religion had a “Gay and Lesbian Studies Group.” Then more recently it became the “LGBT Studies Group.” Then a couple of years ago it became the “LGBTIQ Studies Group.” What was going on? Scholars of gay and lesbian studies became increasingly aware that human sexuality is a lot more complicated than just “gay and straight.” So I thought we’d better define our terms before we get any further.

Lesbian: A lesbian is a female who is not only attracted to other females sexually (rather than males) but sees that attraction as a core personal identity. Lesbians do not apologize for their attractions and/or sexual preferences, they embrace them. A person could embrace the term “lesbian” even though she is not in a sexual relationship. She feels her sexual identity is a part of “who she is.”

Gay: The term “gay” is applied to males who are not only attracted to other males sexually (rather than females) but see that attraction as a core personal identity. A “gay person” refers to someone who identifies with his sexual identity, whether or not he is in a sexual relationship. When people speak of gays and lesbians as a group, the term “same-sex relationships” is increasingly preferred to the term “homosexuality,” which can have pejorative overtones in some contexts.

Bisexual: Here’s where things can get a bit confusing. They are individuals who are more or less equally attracted to both sexes or either sex. They can “play it both ways.” Some prefer to call this condition “pansexual” or “fluid” sexuality. Bisexuality is not the same thing as homosexuality, where a person is primarily attracted to the same sex, although it can easily be confused with it. Some prefer to think of sexuality as a continuum, with opposite-sex attraction at one end, same-sex attraction at the other, and bisexual in the middle. But bisexuals may not be “50/50,” the attractions may be fluid, yet more inclined toward one gender than the other.

Transgender: Things get even more complicated here. A transgendered person is “none of the above” although they may appear at various times to be “all of the above.” Transgender means that the gender (and often sexuality) of brain and body are in conflict. In 99% or more of cases, the gender of the brain is the same as that of the body. But in less than one per cent of cases, a person is gender conflicted. The gender they identify with is not the one that manifests itself physically. External gender is determined in the first three months after conception. Brain gender (whether a person considers themselves male or female) is determined 4-6 months after conception. I once assumed that people who cross-dress or pursue sex-reassignment surgery were “making it up.” But I now understand that male and female brains are not the same and can usually be distinguished by brain scans. So if someone is physically male but identifies as a female, it is not usually some imaginary condition, it is because that person’s brain was assembled differently than that of the typical physically male person. Another term for this experience is “gender dysphoria.”
If a person’s brain is female and is attracted to males, but the body is male, it will appear as same-sex attraction, but is actually not at the level of the brain. So this category complicates things for a church community that wants simple, “biblical,” categories for dealing with relational situations. Later on, we will address the question of the degree to which the Bible anticipated these and other complications in the gender reality we are exposed to today.

Intersex: The term intersex is used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with an anatomy that doesn’t neatly fit the definitions of either male or female. In other words, in about one per cent of live births, the physical gender is ambiguous. One cannot tell by looking at the genitals if the person is male or female, or the person may have external genitalia for both or neither male and/or female. Or a person may have male genitalia on the outside, but female organs on the inside. To confine conversations about sexuality to heterosexuality or homosexuality is to ignore the tremendous complexity of possible conditions a person may find themselves in.

Queer: When I was small “queer” was a derogatory term for people who were “different,” usually homosexual. Today the term is applied to all of the above, to sexualities and genders that don’t fit the typical mold. It is a “catch-all” category for anyone who doesn’t fit the standard experience of gender and sexuality. So scholars involved in studying any of the above realities sometimes speak of “queer studies.” As such, this is no longer considered a derogatory term but a category grouping together people who don’t fit the typical gender mold.

If all of the above is way more complicated than you wanted to know, please be aware that I have only scratched the surface. I believe the above definitions are helpful, but they are over-simplifications for the sake of communicating a basic understanding. There are many types of transgender people and many types of intersex conditions. Scientists are currently aware of some 36 genes that affect the gender outcome, both of body and brain. If any one of these genes develops or combines with others out of the “norm,” it can create noticeable differences from the typical male and female presentation. In some cases several genes may develop or relate to each other in unusual ways. So the varieties of sexual and gender manifestation are far more numerous than we thought and much of that is not a “choice” that a person made along the way.

When it comes to faith and to church community, this issue requires the compassion and understanding of Christ toward those who seem “queer” to us. The natural reaction to “differentness” is rejection, but the gospel calls us to treat people in a way that is counter to our natural, sinful reaction. Fleshing out the previous two sentences is a major reason for this blog series.

Three Important Books on “LGBT” Issues (LGBT 2)

Three books, in particular, have been extremely helpful to me, two from the Seventh-day Adventist perspective and one from a dear colleague in the Methodist tradition. The latter book is The Moral Vision of the New Testament, by Richard Hays (San Francisco: Harper, 1996). It was named by Christianity Today as one of the hundred most important religious books of the 20th Century. In it is a chapter where Hays wrestles with the Scriptures on this topic in full and fair dialogue with a gay friend. Hays’ commitment to God and the Scriptures is unassailable. I remember him responding to a question at a seminar in Loma Linda about whether he has changed his position since he wrote that book twenty years ago. He responded, “I wish I could.” His compassion for people caught between their personal experience and what the Bible teaches was clear. But he testified that the he couldn’t get around what the Bible teaches. He said something to the effect that: “However one might exegete specific texts, the overall trend of the Bible is clear. Whenever the Bible speaks about sexuality within a traditional marriage, it is always positive, whenever it speaks about sexual alternatives, it is always negative.” Any person of faith approaching the issue honestly will find it complex and sometimes heart-wrenching.

The second book I found helpful was the volume edited by my esteemed colleague, David Larson, and others; Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives (Adventist Forum, 2008). The book is generally considered to promote a more left-wing perspective than that of Hays or the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. But Larson explained to me the intention of the editors that the multi-author volume would provide a balance of perspectives that would include right, left and middle. But some of the more right-wing authors pulled out rather than be associated with other authors in the book, so the more conservative perspective in the book was there but relatively limited, giving the book a distinct, more radical flavor than the editors intended. While I found some of the perspectives extreme, I learned a lot from the book and recommended it to the members of the University Board as a good way to get up to speed on the issues.

In reaction to the above book, the Seminary at Andrews University set up a conference including many of the more conservative scholars who bowed out of the earlier project and added significant names from scholarship outside the Adventist Church. This resulted in another book, Homosexuality, Marriage, and the Church, edited by Roy Gane, Nicholas Miller and Peter Swanson (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 2012). It was expected that this conference and book would be very different from Larson’s. To my great surprise, the two books seemed to agree on more than they disagree. There are certainly points of difference. But the points of agreement were considerable and, in my view, point the way forward for the church. Any conversation on this issue should begin with what all reasonable believers can agree on. One purpose of this blog series is to spell out some of those points of a agreement and explore the best way for the church to move forward. I don’t claim to offer a final word, but those who have heard me talk about these things have urged me to share them for the benefit of the church. I will begin in the next blog by defining some key terms that are sometimes misunderstood.