Category: Morality Written by Jim Denison
Homosexuality is one of the most divisive issues in American culture. Should same-sex marriages be legalized? Should practicing homosexuals be ordained into Christian ministry? What does the Bible say on this controversial and emotional issue?
On such a controversial and emotional issue, we need to know whose word we are going to trust. We can find scholars who support any of the variety of positions which are advocated on the subject. It is not my intention to treat fully the multitude of interpretive comments which deal with the biblical texts on the subject. My goal is simply to review what the Bible says about homosexuality, as clearly, succinctly, and practically as possible.
Interpreting the Bible
And so I must begin with an interpretive word. When I taught principles of biblical interpretation at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I often told my students, "The Bible can never mean what it never meant." We must seek the intended meaning of the text as understood in its original context. I also said often, "The only word God is obligated to bless is his word." What matters to us today is not my opinions or yours, but God's.
Such a position is not held universally on this subject. For instance, Dr. Walter Wink states in his thoughtful booklet, Homosexuality and the Bible, "Where the Bible mentions homosexual behavior at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether that Biblical judgment is correct" (p. 12). Dr. Wink then compares homosexuality to the issue of slavery: he argues that the Bible condones slavery, states that the Bible was wrong on that subject, and concludes that it is equally wrong on the issue before us (pp. 12-13).
I respect greatly Dr. Wink's enormous contributions to New Testament studies, especially on the subjects of spiritual warfare and nonviolence. But I could not disagree more strongly with his assertion, "The issue is precisely whether that Biblical judgment is correct." Without digressing into an extended defense of biblical authority, I wish to state clearly that I believe every word of the Bible to be the word of God. I believe the Scriptures to possess the same authority for our lives today as they possessed for their first hearers and readers. For my purposes, the only question we'll seek to answer is, What does the Bible intend to teach on this subject?
The sin of Sodom
The Supreme Court made history on June 27, 2003 when it struck down the "sodomy laws" of the state of Texas. In a 6-3 decision, the justices reversed course from a ruling 17 years ago that states could punish homosexuals for private consensual sex. Such activity is typically called "sodomy" because of the text we'll study today.
In a survey of passages typically cited on the divisive issue of homosexuality, Genesis 19 and the sin of Sodom is usually listed first. Lot entertained two angels who came to the city to investigate its sins. These angels appeared as men; before they went to bed "all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, 'Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them'" (vs. 4-5, NIV). For such sin, "the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah" (v. 24), destroying them.
Is this text a condemnation of homosexuality? Dr. Walter Wink believes not: "That was a case of ostensibly heterosexual males intent on humiliating strangers by treating them 'like women,' thus demasculinizing them" (p. 1). However, Dr. Wink offers no textual evidence that the men were "ostensibly heterosexual"; his view is only conjectural, and stands against the vast majority of interpretation across the centuries.
Dr. Peter Gomes, the minister at Harvard's Memorial Church and Plummer Professor of Christian Morals in Harvard College, offers a different approach. He has written an extremely erudite introduction to the Bible and its message, The Good Book. Dr. Gomes, himself a homosexual (p. 164), treats this passage as an attempted homosexual rape, and argues that it does not condemn homosexuality per se (pp. 150-52).
A third approach is suggested by D. Sherwin Bailey, in his influential Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition. Dr. Bailey argues that the Hebrew word for "know," translated "have sex" by the New International Version, relates not to sexual activity but hospitality. The word appears more than 943 times in the Old Testament, only 12 times in the context of sexual activity.
However, 10 of these 12 times are in the book of Genesis, the context for our text. Lot's response to the crowd, offering his daughters so they can "do what you like with them," makes clear that he interpreted their desires as sexual (v. 8). Everett Fox's excellent translation of Genesis includes the note, "the meaning is unmistakably sexual" (p. 80). And Jude 7 settles the question as to whether sexual activity is meant by our text: "Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion."
It is also the case that Jewish and later Christian interpretation of the passage has historically and commonly seen the sin in Sodom as homosexuality itself, not just attempted rape. While this fact does not settle the interpretative question, it is worth noting as we proceed.
The Leviticus prohibition
The next text typically cited on our subject is Leviticus 18:22, and it is far less ambiguous: "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable." The Hebrew is as clear as the English translation
The obvious sense of the command seems to be: homosexual sexual relations are forbidden by Scripture. This is the way the text has typically been understood by Jewish and Christian interpreters across the centuries. It is the way most read the text still today.
But those who advocate homosexuality as an acceptable biblical lifestyle have found ways to dissent. Dr. Walter Wink admits that this text "unequivocally condemn[s] same-sex sexual behavior." But he theorizes that the ancient Hebrews saw any sexual activity which could not lead to the creation of life as a form of abortion or murder. He adds that the Jews would have seen homosexuality as "alien behavior, representing yet one more incursion of pagan civilization into Jewish life."
He then cites the penalty for homosexual behavior: "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads" (Lev 20:13). In his reasoning, if we see this punishment for homosexuality as obsolete today, we should see its prohibition of this behavior as equally outdated. He concludes his argument against making Lev 18:22 normative for sexual ethics today by citing a list of other biblical ethics he considers to be obsolete, or in need of reinterpretation: intercourse during menstruation, polygamy, concubinage, and slavery among them.
And that's not all. Other critics see the Levitical laws as expressive of worship codes, not universal moral standards. And they argue that all such laws were intended only for their day and time, such as kosher dietary laws and harvest regulations.
Is there an objective way to respond to these assertions?
First, let's consider the claim that this Old Testament law has no relevance for New Testament believers, but should be classified with kosher laws and such. A basic rule of biblical interpretation is that any Old Testament teaching which is repeated in the New Testament carries the weight of command to the Christian church and faith. And the prohibition against homosexual activity is most certainly present there (see Romans 1:26-27, a passage we will consider in due time). Even those Old Testament statements which are not repeated in the New Testament carry the force of principle; for instance, kosher laws tell us at the least that God cares about our bodies and health.
Second, it is claimed that the Leviticus passage expresses worship code, not moral standard. The logic is that Leviticus is written with regard to the levitical priests and their duties of worship preparation and leadership, and does not apply as such to the larger family of faith. However, the chapter in question begins, "The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the Israelites and say to them . . .'" (18:1). Nothing in the chapter limits its application or significance to the Levites. Rather, the chapter exhorts all Israel to "Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them" (v. 4). It proceeds to forbid incestuous relationships, child sacrifice, and bestiality—standards I presume critics of Lev. 18:22 would consider universal.
Third, it has been argued that the Leviticus prohibition of homosexuality is to be classed with other biblical statements which can be considered obsolete, such as the apparent biblical endorsement of slavery. This claim is cited frequently, so much so that we need to consider it next.
Slavery and the Scriptures
My move to Atlanta in 1994 gave me my first exposure to the remarkable colonial history of the East Coast. We Texans think something is historical if it happened while Tom Landry was coach of the Cowboys. When people living in South Carolina speak of "the War," they could mean the Civil War (though they'll say "there was nothing civil about it") or the Revolutionary War. It is a fascinating region.
With one exception. While traveling in Charleston one day, Janet and I came upon the "slave trading warehouse." This was the place where slaves were brought to America on ships and sold at market. I can still remember the building, and my revulsion upon seeing it. I believe that racism is the greatest sin in America, the failure which keeps us from addressing our other failures. Racism makes crime in south Dallas a "black" problem and drug abuse in north Dallas a "white" problem, when they're all our problems.
Given our tragic history with racism, treating the subject of slavery in the Bible is a bit repugnant for us. However, a very common assertion regarding the topic of homosexuality and the word of God is that the biblical injunctions against this lifestyle are outdated, as is its acceptance of slavery. If we can prove that the Bible was wrong on the latter, we can believe that it is wrong on the former. The issue of slavery in the Bible is a large and comprehensive subject, far more wide-ranging than we will consider in these brief essays. I'll try to limit our study to the barest of essentials, so we can relate it to the larger question which brings it to our attention.
Slavery was an accepted part of life in Old Testament times. We know of no culture or ancient literature which questioned its existence or necessity. Persons became slaves in a variety of ways: they were born to enslaved parents (Genesis 17:23), purchased (Gen 37:28), or sold themselves to pay a debt (Leviticus 25:39-55). Breaking into a home was punished by enslavement (Exodus 22:3); prisoners of war were commonly enslaved (Joel 3:6). The children of Israel enslaved the Canaanites they conquered in the Promised Land (Judges 1:28).
Slaves in Israel were considered to be property, and could be bought and sold (Ex 21:32). They were granted protection against murder, permanent injury, or undue physical labor (cf. Ex 21:20, 26; 23:12). Hebrew household slaves were circumcised (Gen 17:12), and included at religious meals (Ex 12:44). But why did the Old Testament not decry this practice in general, and move to free all those enslaved?
In many ways, it did. There were several ways a Hebrew slave could be freed (a process called "manumission"). An individual could be purchased and set free (Exodus 21:8). A slave permanently injured by his master was to be set free (Exodus 21:26). Hebrews were to be held as slaves for no longer than six years (Deuteronomy 15:12). And the Jubilee Year, which occurred every 49 years, was to free all Israelite slaves (Leviticus 25:50).
But still we ask, why did the Old Testament sanction this practice at all? In fact, it simply recognized a fact of all ancient civilization. And its rules minimized this evil, protected its victims more fully than did any other society, and provided means for their eventual freedom. But the New Testament would bring God's word on the subject to much fuller expression.
In the Old Testament era, the primary way persons were enslaved was through capture in war. But in the first century AD, the breeding of slaves swelled their numbers enormously. And large numbers of people sold themselves into slavery as a means of improving their quality of life. Owning and using people as slaves was so commonplace in the Roman Empire that not a single ancient writer is known to have condemned the practice. But all that would begin to change with the advent of the Christian movement.
What was the New Testament attitude toward this institution? And how does this stance affect our study of the issue of homosexuality?
Slavery in the Roman era was dramatically different from the despicable practice as we know it in American history. If you had been walking through any first-century Roman city, you would not have been able to distinguish between slaves and free. Patterns of work, relationships, or faith were no different between the two. Slaves served not only to do manual labor, but also as doctors, nurses, household managers, and intellectuals. They administered funds and cities. They were typically given an excellent education at the expense of their owners, so that philosophers and tutors were typically slaves.
Even more amazing to us, it was common for people to sell themselves into slavery to secure such privileges. A person who desired citizenship in the Empire could achieve it by enslaving himself to a citizen, then purchasing his freedom. Slavery was more a process than a condition. While there is no doubt that many slaves were abused physically, sexually, and socially, it is also true that at least as many were part of the more privileged strata of society. And the total dependence of the Roman economy upon the labor of slaves made it impossible for the Empire to conceive of abolishing this institution. If an economist were to propose that we refuse all goods and services imported from outside America, we'd be equally surprised.
Does the New Testament then argue for slavery? Absolutely not.
In summary, what is the New Testament's view of slavery? No writer attempted to lead his readers to end the institution per se, as this was not possible in the Roman Empire. Those initiating such an uprising would have been quickly annihilated as rebels and threats to Caesar. But several other facts should be noted as well.
First, Paul abolished even the possibility of racial or social discrimination for followers of Jesus: "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26-28). Every believer is our sister or brother. The ground is level at the foot of the cross.
Second, wherever the apostolic church spoke to this issue, it did so with a view to freedom and equality. Paul appealed to Philemon to see his slave, Onesimus, "no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother" (v. 16). Clement, a friend of Paul, wrote in his letter to the Corinthians (ca. AD 90), "We know many among ourselves who have given themselves up to bonds, in order that they might ransom others. Many, too, have surrendered themselves to slavery, that with the price which they received for themselves, they might provide food for others" (ch. 55). And Ignatius (died AD 107) wrote to Polycarp: "Do not despise either male or female slaves, yet neither let them be puffed up with conceit, but rather let them submit themselves the more, for the glory of God, that they may obtain from God a better liberty."
Third, the New Testament church gave those who were enslaved a family and a home. This was one reason why so many of the earliest believers were slaves. Pastors and congregational leaders were drawn from the ranks both of slaves and free. Christians made no distinction between the two, for their Father welcomed all as his children.
Last, not a single New Testament leader owned slaves or condoned such, even though many had the means to purchase them (cf. Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Barnabas). Their example inspired William Wilberforce and countless other Christians to do all they could to abolish slavery, and we thank God that they were successful.
It is therefore an extremely unfair accusation to claim that the Bible was "wrong" or "outdated" on the issue of slavery, and thus on the subject of homosexuality.
The Bible and the punishment of homosexuals
One objection to the Leviticus statement remains. Dr. Walter Wink and others point out its punishment for homosexuality: "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads" (20.13). If we no longer execute those who practice homosexuality, are we justified in ignoring the prohibition against such activity entirely?
Those who argue that homosexuality is a biblical lifestyle point to this "outdated" penalty as reason to consider the prohibition to be equally irrelevant to society today.
No one I know would argue that homosexual practice should result in the death penalty today. But let's consider two facts. First, the levitical code was given to Israel at a crucial time in her early formation. The nation had no functional law process or court system. Her moral character was not yet formed. And so the Lord gave the nation clear and enforceable standards which would help solidify and preserve her spiritual future. The spirit of the levitical prohibition is clear: homosexuality is not to be practiced or accepted by the nation.
Second, a reinterpretation of the penalty prescribed by a law does not justify the decision to ignore the law itself. Leviticus also prescribes the death penalty for child sacrifice (20.2), adultery (v. 10), and bestiality (vs. 15-16). I presume we would not accept these practices as moral and lawful today on the basis that their prescribed punishments are not prosecuted by our society.
And so we have surveyed arguments for ignoring the levitical prohibitions against homosexual practice, and concluded that these laws are indeed timeless in import, expressive of moral standard, relevant to our culture, and a valid basis for moral standards today. An objective reading of the levitical prohibitions leads to the clear conclusion that this part of God's word considers homosexual practice to be wrong.
A survey of the biblical materials relating to this issue would also include Deuteronomy 23.17-18, which outlaws prostitution, whether male or female. But interpreters are divided as to whether the passage relates to homosexuality in general.
New Testament teachings
Turning to the New Testament, three passages are typically cited. The first is Romans 1.26-27: "Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion."
At first reading, Paul seems clearly to consider homosexual activity to be unbiblical. But there is another way to interpret the passage, suggested by those who support homosexuality as a biblical lifestyle. In their reading, Paul is addressing the issue of heterosexual men and women who choose homosexual activity which is "unnatural" for them. If this is true, Paul's statement bears no relevance to those who consider themselves homosexual by innate or "natural" orientation.
Is such an interpretation the most objective way to read the text? No, for two reasons. First, Paul describes homosexual acts themselves as "shameful lusts" (v. 26), "indecent acts" and "perversion" (v. 27). To suggest that his descriptions relate only to the (supposed) decision to engage in such activity by heterosexuals is to strain the Greek syntax beyond its meaning.
Second, Paul states that men who engage in homosexual activity "abandoned natural relations with women," making clear the fact that he considers heterosexuality to be "natural." Likewise, he describes lesbian activity as "unnatural."
One can conclude that Paul was wrong, that homosexual orientation can be "natural" and its sexual expression therefore "natural relations." But one cannot argue on the basis of this text that homosexuality is biblical, for Paul's Scriptural words clearly state the opposite.
The next New Testament text typically included in our topic is 1 Corinthians 6.9-10, "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."
"Male prostitutes" could refer to men who sold themselves sexually, either in heterosexual or homosexual activity. As translated by the New International Version, the word would not necessarily speak to our subject, as prostitution of any kind is almost universally understood to be immoral.
But the Greek word so translated is more likely a technical term for the passive partner in homosexual activity (Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, 2:56). And so it may well refer to one who engages in homosexuality, without a necessary connection to prostitution. The activity it describes makes it harder to assert that Paul had no concept of homosexual orientation, but meant his words only for heterosexuals who practice (for unexplained reasons) homosexual behavior.
The other term germane to our discussion is translated by the NIV as "homosexual offenders." The Greek word is defined by Fritz Rienecker as "a male who has sexual relations with a male, homosexual." Here the word has no connection with prostitution. Again, one can claim that Paul was wrong in his understanding of human sexuality. But it seems to me that we cannot read his words in their intended meaning as accepting of homosexual activity.
The last passage for our study is part of Paul's first letter to Timothy. Here is the paragraph in which our verse is found: "We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me" (1 Timothy 1:8-11).
The phrase in question is found in verse 10, translated by the NIV as "adulterers and perverts." "Adulterers" renders the root Greek word pornos, from which we get "pornography," and means one who practices sexual immorality. When accented on the second syllable, it frequently refers to one who operates a brothel. When accented on the first syllable, as in our text, it can refer to homosexual activity.
"Perverts" renders the Greek word arsenokoites, typically translated as "homosexual." We met it at 1 Corinthians 6:9, where it is translated by the NIV as "homosexual offenders." The word means literally "one who has sexual relations with men." While some attempt to interpret the word as it is found in 1 Cor. 6 with reference to prostitution, such a connection is even more difficult to maintain in the present text.
And so once more we find Paul addressing the subject at hand, with what appears to be the clear position that homosexuality is an unbiblical practice or lifestyle. Such is the consistent teaching of the New Testament on the subject.
Summarizing the data
I am not gay, have no family members who are, and have no experience with this lifestyle. So who am I to judge? Why don't we just let consenting adults do what they wish, so long as no one else is hurt? Many in our society take this approach to the subject, whatever their own sexual preferences might be. To do otherwise seems to be intolerant and judgmental, two words our postmodern, relativistic society condemns.
On the other hand, believers and those interested in the Christian faith do well to ask what God's word says to every subject present in our culture. An objective reading of history and Scripture will inform our faith and make it more relevant to our problems and issues. For several pages we've considered such a survey. Now let's summarize what we've found, and ask how it all applies to our lives and relationships.
We have surveyed the seven passages typically cited with regard to this issue. In Genesis 19 we find the attempt by men in Sodom to "have sex" with Lot's angelic visitors (v. 5), and God's consequent punishment against the city. While homosexual practice is clearly part of the text, the passage is less clear as to whether God's judgment is against homosexuality itself, or the crowd's abusive attempt to commit homosexual rape.
Next we found Leviticus 18:22, with its clear prohibition against homosexual activity, and Leviticus 20:13, with its prescription of the death penalty for such activity. Since some consider these passages as "outdated" as the Bible's (supposed) endorsement of slavery, we next took a brief side journey through the latter issue. After noting the biblical abolition of social and racial discrimination (Galatians 3:26-28), and the fact that followers of Jesus were the leaders in abolishing the institution of slavery, we concluded that the Bible is being unfairly interpreted by its critics on this issue.
We considered briefly Deuteronomy 23:17-18, which outlaws all prostitution, whether male or female. And we focused at some length on Romans 1:26-27, with its description of homosexual acts as "unnatural" and "indecent." We closed our survey with brief studies of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11, passages which are considered by some to refer to homosexual prostitution but which seem more objectively to forbid homosexual practice in any context.
As we have seen, proponents of homosexuality as a biblical lifestyle have arguments by which they attempt to reinterpret these passages. It may be of interest, however, to note that no biblical passage can be cited with confidence as an endorsement of this activity. No biblical leader or ethical model taught by the Scriptures can be construed effectively as practicing this lifestyle.
And the Old Testament prohibitions we have discussed in our survey are too unambiguous to ignore, and are renewed in the New Testament. A basic principle of biblical interpretation is that an Old Testament teaching which is renewed or endorsed in the New Testament retains the force of precept and principle for Christians today (see Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth, 2d ed. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993] 153). So, in completing our brief biblical survey of this issue, it seems clear to me that Scripture intends us to see homosexual practice as unbiblical.
Several questions come immediately to mind. First, what about the argument that homosexuality is inherited? If this is true, at least for some, how can such activity be wrong?
"God made me this way" is a typical testimony. A very brief response would be that the connection between genetics and homosexuality is tenuous at best. Where research has seemed to indicate some physical propensity toward homosexual orientation, others in the field have refuted such a conclusion. It is widely believed that alcoholism can be an inherited genetic propensity, but no one would therefore endorse its practice. While this is a very unfortunate analogy regarding homosexuals, it perhaps illustrates the fact that not every genetic tendency should be endorsed (if homosexuality is in fact such).
Second, what about environmental conditions? Studies have been conducted of identical twins who were separated at birth, where one developed a homosexual lifestyle but the other did not. Particular family or circumstantial patterns are sometimes seen in these cases to contribute to sexual orientation. But again, other interpreters disagree with such conclusions.
So, what does all this mean for those who deal with homosexuality on a personal basis?
Those who practice homosexuality seem to fall into two categories. Some can remember decisions, choices, and circumstances by which they moved into this lifestyle. Others believe this lifestyle to be a sexual orientation which, for them, existed from birth or prior to conscious choice and intention. It is obviously both impossible and wrong for me (or any other person) to say which category is appropriate to a specific individual.
At the same time, it seems clear to me that homosexuality is an unbiblical lifestyle. So, what practical conclusions can guide those who interpret Scripture as I do, as we seek to relate biblically and positively to those who are homosexual?
First, I need to state clearly that homosexuality is not the "unpardonable sin" (cf. Mark 3.29). The only sin God cannot forgive is that sin which rejects his forgiveness. To be more specific, the Holy Spirit works to convict us of our need for salvation through Christ. If we refuse this offer of saving grace, God cannot forgive us, as we have rejected the only means by which his forgiveness can be given.
As a result, whether homosexuality is a person's choice or orientation, he or she does not stand outside of the grace and love of God. Such sexual activity is no more unbiblical than many other sins listed in Scripture, including hatred, slander, gossip, and gluttony. We are wrong to reject the person because he or she is practicing a lifestyle which we consider unbiblical. In other ways, so are we.
Second, and in contrast to my first statement, we do others no good if we endorse that which is unbiblical or hurtful to them. There are twin temptations here. One is to refuse any statement which might appear judgmental with regard to homosexuality, lest we appear to be rejecting the individual. The other is to condemn the person rather than the behavior. Our Father never falls into either mistake. He always exposes that which hurts his children, all the while loving them as his children.
And so we are to maintain that difficult balance which loves the person while opposing that which is unbiblical in his or her life. We want others to do the same for us, don't we?
I'm writing today with several personal friends especially in mind: a mother of a gay son, a brother of a gay sister, a son whose father is divorcing his wife and announcing his homosexuality, and a close college friend who several years ago declared his homosexuality and is no longer in vocational Christian ministry. What would I say to these four people, if they were reading this essay? Two comments are easy to make, the other two not as much so.
First, God loves each of us. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and faith in his Son (2 Peter 3.9). He so loved the world that he gave his Son for us all (John 3.16). Nothing we do, no matter how unbiblical, can separate us from his love for us. Your son, sister, father, or friend is loved by our Father in heaven.
Second, a homosexual person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. He or she is acting out a lifestyle which many of us understand to be unbiblical; but so are any of us who practice slander, gossip, heterosexual lust, or egotistical pride. So-called "gay bashing" is always wrong. Any action or attitude which demeans a person or makes them less valuable is the opposite of the grace and unconditional love of Christ.
Third, while we wish to offer the dignity and respect of Christian grace to all persons, we cannot truly love them while endorsing that which is unbiblical in their lives. As intolerant as the next sentence may seem, it is honestly motivated by a sincere desire to speak the truth in love: we can and should pray for those in the homosexual lifestyle to come to repentance and transformation.
After including homosexuality in his list of sins (1 Corinthians 6.9), Paul next told the Corinthians: "And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (v. 11). I recognize that some will read this paragraph as bigoted prejudice. However, any of us would want to help those we care about to practice a biblical lifestyle which leads to the fullest abundance of Christ's joy (John 10.10). This is the honest motivation behind my suggestion that such intercession is appropriate for the gay people we know and love.
I must offer one last suggestion, a statement which will engender further resistance from many in the gay community: those who consider themselves to be homosexual by sexual orientation should practice sexual celibacy. Many will counter that I have no idea how difficult such a lifestyle decision would be. They're right. But given that I understand the Bible clearly to teach that homosexuality is an unbiblical lifestyle, the only conclusion I can draw is that the practice of this lifestyle will lead the person out of the will of God and into harmful behavior. Abstinence is, by this logic, the option which is in that person's best personal interest. I can only hope that my heart is clear in offering this suggestion. My desire is not to condemn, but to offer biblical truth as I understand it.
This survey is offered with the prayer that the Lord of Scripture will use his word to bring healing, hope, and help to hearts and homes troubled by the issue of homosexuality. To the degree that these thoughts have shed more light than heat, my prayer will be answered.