Homosexual orientation and practice: what did Jesus say?

January 21st, 2014 Posted in Bible, Homosexuality |

This paper is the basis of the talk given by Andrew Symes at the “Setting Love in Order” Conference on January 16th. It re-states the traditional, orthodox Christian understanding of Jesus’ teaching on sex.

The liberal Jesus, the unimportance of sex, the irrelevance of the church

Here are three accusations commonly levelled at Christian teaching:

One, people like to drive a wedge between Jesus and rest of the Bible and Christian tradition. So we often hear it said: “the God of the Old Testament is harsh and judgemental; the New Testament God is kind and loving” or “Paul was a typical conservative man of his time; Jesus an enlightened liberal”. “Much of the Bible is anti-gay, but Jesus must have been fully accepting of homosexual practice because we know he showed unconditional love and inclusion towards all people”. We need to see this is untenable from the clear evidence of Scripture. Jesus certainly welcomes sinners, ie all of us, and eats with them, but he also confirms and reinforces the Bible’s consistent standards with regard to sexual morality. We may not agree with him, but what we can’t do is claim for him a certain viewpoint when the evidence points the other way.

Two, the importance of sexual morality is often downplayed compared with other aspects of human life. “Why is the church obsessed with sex?” people complain. In response, society is obsessed with sex and the church should legitimately respond by teaching what it believes to be the truth in this area. But also, the Bible is ‘obsessed’ with righteousness and holiness of our character because that is God’s character. This includes social justice: how the poor, children, the elderly, refugees are treated, how we handle money etc. It also includes personal morality: being able to control our emotions and how we relate to people, our thoughts, our sexuality. What we do sexually is important: it is an indicator of our character, and has consequences.

Three, the dominant narrative about religion in the media is this: “The church must change, or it will be irrelevant”. In response, its true that the church can’t exist in a bubble: it needs to relate to the world in terms of its mission and in terms of the ordinary lives of its members. But the church isn’t primarily accountable to the world and its agenda, it’s accountable to Jesus and his commands, and that’s why as part of today’s debate we are listening to an account of Jesus which motivates the majority of Christians throughout the world to live a certain type of life. But also, I’d like to ask this question: if what the church thinks is irrelevant, why is it being told to change its beliefs and practices? What we are saying might be counter-cultural, even offensive to some, but not irrelevant. In fact its precisely because what the Christian faith has to say about sex is so radically relevant that it is being told to change!

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