HSR Summaries: Sections XI, XII, & XIII Homosexuality
By Aaron Vriesman
The Human Sexuality Report that came to Synod 2022 has been widely debated but seldom read. Its intimidating length and broad areas of discussion mean many have heard about it but few have dug into it for themselves. The debate at Synod centered almost exclusively on the issue of same-sex marriage, but the report is far broader than any single issue. In this series we want to give you an overview of the Human Sexuality Report in bite-sized pieces and offer pastoral implications for us to live into going into the future.
The Christian Reformed Church’s 1973 synodical report on homosexuality made a distinction “between the person who is homosexual in [their] sexual orientation and the person who engages in explicit sexual acts with persons of the same sex.” It also noted that “homosexuality is not the result of any conscious choice or decision on the part of the person” (Acts of Synod 1973, pp. 612-13). In other words, it is not sinful to be attracted to the same sex. Acting on those attractions is sinful.
Our current cultural context often equates intimacy with sexual relations. The Bible, however, describes a deep intimacy among the body of Christ in chaste Christian love between brothers and sisters in Christ. Unfortunately, the church frequently fails to live up to the biblical description. Many with same-sex attraction have failed to find biblical intimacy within the church and the church can take this cultural moment as an opportunity to enfold and support those with same-sex attraction who seek to follow Scripture’s standard for sexuality.
Scripture’s teaching on sexuality is frequently questioned, but the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality is clear, consistent, and compelling.
Jesus himself is not silent on homosexuality. His Jewish context was uniformly opposed to gay and lesbian sex. When giving a list of things that defile a person in Mark 7:21-23, top of the list was “sexual immoralities.” This was the regular term for the catalog of sexual sins from Leviticus 18 and 20, including homosexual relations (18:22; 20:13). Also, when Jesus was asked about divorce, he cites not only Genesis 2:24, which would have been enough to answer their question, but also Genesis 1:27: “‘at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’” (Matt. 19:4-5). His teaching on marriage required a definition that marriage was a monogamous heterosexual union.
The Pauline epistles also directly address the topic of homosexuality.
1 Corinthians 6:9 uses two key Greek words to describe homosexual sex. Revisionist arguments would make these words uncertain or confine their definitions to abusive forms of homosexual sex, such as man-boy relationships. This view does not hold water. If Paul wanted to specifically condemn man-boy relationships, he had several specific Greek words for this common practice at the time. The two words Paul does use refer to the active and the passive partners in a same-sex relationship. By pairing these two words describing each partner of the act itself, Paul is referring not narrowly to pederasty or prostitution but comprehensively to both the passive and active partner in any same-sex relationship. One of the terms Paul uses in both 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 is coined from Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. This makes clear Paul’s claim that the application of the Levitical prohibitions against same-sex sex remain in effect.
Romans 1:24-27 is the clearest text of all. Homosexual activity is wrong because it violates God’s created order for male-female relationships. The word “unnatural” (Rom. 1:26) refers not to heterosexuals acting against their natural desire for the opposite sex but to homosexual conduct that violates one’s created nature as established in Genesis. That Paul does, in fact, have the Genesis creation account in mind is obvious from his multiple allusions to it in Rom. 1:24-27.
Scripture teaches in a clear, consistent, and compelling way that homosexual acts of any kind are sinful and not in agreement with God’s will. This is not a situation in which there are two equally valid interpretations of the biblical evidence. Scripture’s clear prohibition of homosexual acts is accompanied by its equally clear exhortation to empathize with, love, and bear the burdens of all who struggle with sexual sin.
The church must repent of ostracizing Jesus-followers who have same-sex attraction. These attractions are not sinful any more than temptations to pride or selfishness. Churches must cultivate a genuine community of brothers and sisters in Christ for single and married people of all ages. Pastors, elders and deacons should lead the way in confessing their sins, acknowledging their struggles and offering forgiveness and encouragement to others. Leaders should regularly talk about sex and the Christian life, highlighting the Bible’s positive view of sexuality as well as the temptations.
If a gay couple begins attending worship, welcome them as any other visitors. Invite them to return or participate in church events. If they wish to become members, make sure they are committed to following Christ in all areas of life, including sexuality. If they are not yet willing to accept the cost of discipleship, continue treating them with grace and love since God might continue to work in their lives.
Christians ought to befriend those outside the church with same-sex attractions. Be ready to summarize the gospel as it applies to same-sex relationships. Be honest with personal struggles to follow Jesus but also the ways God has given power and joy to obey.
Members of the church with same-sex attraction need to know that God releases us from undeserved shame. Being attracted to the same sex is akin to inclinations to gluttony or slander. Acting on these impulses is what is sinful. Being made in the image of God by itself carries great worth in God’s sight. Loving and following Jesus makes someone a child of God, part of a family of forgiven sinners. This is a believer’s true identity. Christ followers with same-sex attraction need a local church where they are valued and can use their spiritual gifts as well as find a loving Christian community with mature believers to support and pray for them. They need to know they have power in Christ over temptations and that all Christians must fight temptations.