With the recent legalization of same-sex marriage across the United States, Bible-believing Christians must face the reality that a practice condemned by Scripture is increasingly accepted by society. We can no longer distance ourselves from the issue, assuming that we will never need to interact with openly gay individuals. Instead, we must find ways to engage redemptively with these individuals, who form an increasingly visible segment of our communities.
To address these realities and the need for a Christlike response, over the past few weeks both the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary and the North American Division (NAD) have issued official statements regarding homosexuality. The Seminary statement offers an extensive analysis of the Bible’s teaching on homosexual behavior and outlines a proposed “pastoral approach” toward dealing with people who experience same-sex attraction. The NAD statement focuses on practical questions related to homosexual practice and same-sex marriage, such as codes of conduct for students on Adventist campuses, employment at church-run institutions, and use of church facilities for events.
Not surprisingly, the statements, especially the Seminary paper, have sparked considerable discussion among Adventists. A frequently contested aspect is the assertion in both documents that there is a moral difference between homosexual orientation (an innate attraction to the same gender) and homosexual behavior, and that although Scripture prohibits homosexual behavior, the Bible is silent on the issue of homosexual orientation and/or does not condemn it.
While both statements are unequivocal in stating that sexual expression should occur only within the context of heterosexual marriage, some Adventists argue that viewing homosexual orientation as a “lifelong reality” that may not change, even in the converted Christian, makes allowances for people to hold onto their sinful tendencies and even affirm a sinful identity. On the other hand, some Adventists view the statements as a “disappointment” since they want the church to accept same-sex relationships.
Thinking More Deeply About the Issues
The Compass Magazine affirms, as does the Theological Seminary, that homosexual behavior and lust are contrary to God’s will and are sinful. We believe that the issues raised regarding sexual orientation are worthy of further exploration and understanding, as there is currently much difference of opinion on these issues, even among Christians who agree on the sinfulness of homosexual acts.
With that in mind, we intend to publish thoughtful, Bible-based articles that address aspects of this topic and can help us refine our understanding and delineate possible approaches. These articles may present differing views on some issues while affirming a biblical stance on sexual behavior. Ultimately, we hope that these articles and the discussions they create will help us minister more wisely and effectively to individuals who experience same-sex attraction.
The questions below present several areas for further thought and exploration from a biblical perspective.
- Are some homosexuals “born that way”? If certain homosexual tendencies are inborn rather than acquired, how, if at all, would that affect the way Christians address the issue?
- Does the Bible address and condemn homosexual orientation, or only homosexual behavior? Can we differentiate between terms such as orientation, attraction, desire, and lust? If so, what are these differences?
- To what extent can homosexuals lose their attraction to the same sex and/or change to heterosexual attraction? If we acknowledge that some may continue to experience homosexual attraction throughout their lives, does such an admission negate God’s power and open the door for compromise and acceptance of homosexual behavior?
- To what extent must a person overcome homosexual desires/tendencies in order to be baptized? In order to hold leadership positions? Should such people be barred from certain leadership positions due to their past or present inclinations, despite evidence of a pure life?
- How is homosexuality similar to/different from other “inherited and cultivated tendencies to evil” (The Desire of Ages, p. 296), such as tendencies toward worry, pride, or greed? How do we avoid creating a double standard in how we treat homosexuality versus how we treat other sexual or nonsexual sins?
- What is the relationship between temptation, inner tendencies to sin, sinful thoughts, and sinful action? At what point does a thought, impulse, or desire become sin?
- Will we completely overcome sinful desires/tendencies (including homosexual desires) in this life?
- Most importantly, how should Christians reach out to homosexuals and present true hope in Jesus? How should we deal with people within the church who admit to struggling with homosexual tendencies? If we “empathize with” and “listen carefully to” the stories of these people (to quote the Seminary statement), do we somehow condone their experiences? Recognizing that many homosexuals feel shunned and despised by Christians, how can we counteract such experiences by showing true love and compassion, yet without excusing sin?
We welcome thoughtful responses to these questions.
[Photo from Adventist News Network via Flickr]