Marcus and Michele Bachmann own Bachmann & Associates, a Christian counseling center. As you know, the Minnesota congresswoman is running for president. The couple has made national headlines recently after ABC’s Nightline aired a video dealing with their clinic’s efforts to help gay people leave homosexuality.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper is among the media figures who have lambasted the clinic. Cooper criticized specifically their “‘reparative therapy,’ which claims to be able to ‘cure’ gay people of their homosexuality.” He attacked “this notion that this is somehow a choice, which there’s no evidence of.”
I had never heard of “reparative therapy” before this story made the national news, and have neither the expertise nor the time to investigate it as a counseling technique. Nor am I willing to comment on the qualifications of any individual to be president. In writing a daily cultural commentary, my interest relates to the biblical and spiritual implications of this controversy.
The subject of homosexuality often comes up when I speak to churches and college groups on cultural issues. I always respond by trying to explain what God’s word says on this divisive topic. I’ve written a 12-page paper on the issue which you are welcome to download from our website. I’ll attempt to summarize that essay as briefly as I can, as we seek wisdom from the God who is love (1 John 4:8).
The Old Testament Let’s begin with the Old Testament. The first biblical reference to homosexuality occurs with regard to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Since the text clearly describes non-consensual homosexuality (Genesis 19:5), most scholars do not relate it to the issue of consensual same-sex relationships.
Leviticus 18:22 is much more direct: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” Leviticus 20:13 further states, “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.” Critics claim that these texts related only to priests and that the prescribed death penalty invalidates their relevance today.
However, there is no biblical basis for limiting their scope to priests (cf. Lev. 18:1-4). And the penalty prescribed at this early period in Jewish history does not make the behavior less unbiblical. Child sacrifice (Lev. 20:2), adultery (v. 10) and bestiality (v. 15) were also to be punished with death. Of course, the Bible does not link homosexuals with these practices. But does the prescribed punishment make these behaviors more legitimate?
The New Testament
What does the New Testament say on this difficult subject? It addresses the subject in three passages. The first is found in Romans 1, where Paul describes homosexual acts as “shameful lusts” (v. 26), “indecent acts” and “perversion” (v. 27).
The Apostle discusses homosexuality again in 1 Corinthians 6:9, where he speaks of “male prostitutes” and “homosexual offenders.” The good news follows: “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).
The last biblical reference to our subject is found in 1 Timothy 1, where Paul addresses “adulterers and perverts” (v. 10). “Adulterers” translates the Greek word pornos, from which we get “pornography.” When accented on the second syllable, it frequently refers to a person who operates a brothel. When accented on the first syllable, as in our text, it often refers to homosexual activity. “Perverts” translates arsenokoites, the same Greek word translated in 1 Corinthians 6:9 as “homosexual offenders”; it means “one who has sexual relations with men.”
Taken together, the Scriptures seem clearly to teach that homosexual activity is unbiblical. The Old Testament references to our subject cannot be dismissed as culturally conditioned since the same prohibitions are found in the New Testament.
What about the argument that sexual orientation is inherited? “God made me this way” is a common response to our discussion. I would reply briefly that the connection between genetics and homosexuality is tenuous at best—some research indicates a physical propensity toward homosexual orientation, but others in the field have refuted such a conclusion.
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?
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 since we have rejected the only means by which his forgiveness can be received.
As a result, homosexuals do 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 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?
A way forward
Whatever your position on this difficult issue, surely we can agree that 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.
At the same time, 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. What does this mean?
The Scriptures consistently describe homosexual behavior as wrong. This fact does not classify homosexuality as the unpardonable sin. We must therefore attempt the difficult task of loving homosexuals without condoning homosexual acts. How do we do this?
By making a distinction between orientation and its expression. According to the Bible, all sex outside of marriage is wrong, whether heterosexual or homosexual. In three of my four pastorates our church had to deal with staff members who were engaged in heterosexual sin. I witnessed firsthand the fact that any sexual expression outside of marriage is damaging to those who participate and usually to many others as well.
As a result, the Bible requires me to be celibate with all people except my wife. While all other sexual activity in which I might engage would express my heterosexual orientation, that fact does not justify such actions.
It is the same for homosexuals. Intolerant and naïve as my next statement may seem to many, it is honestly motivated by a sincere desire to speak the truth in love: those who are homosexual by 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. Again, my desire is not to condemn, but to offer biblical truth as I understand it.
Before leaving this divisive subject, let me make one other statement which will be challenged by many: We can and should pray for those in the homosexual lifestyle to come to genuine 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 know that some will read Paul’s statement 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.
This is a hard topic for many. I hope my thoughts have shed more light than heat and welcome your comments as well. Know that I am grateful for the privilege of sharing this essay with you.