I recently received an email from a youth pastor (in New Zealand!) who asked, “Do you think homosexuality is a sin?”
“Is homosexuality a sin?” is the question that today is splitting Christendom like nothing has since Luther the Reformer asked (in so many words), “Indulgences? Really?”
What “Is homosexuality a sin?” really means—what anyone asking that question is really asking — is, “Are acts of homosexual sex sinful?” That’s the question to which the whole Christian debate about homosexuality invariably and necessarily boils down.
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To discuss the relative merits of homosexuality is to discuss acts of homosexual sex. There is no reason or purpose for separating the two; nobody is trying to morally evaluate an abstract condition that never manifests in real life.
No Christian argues that the homosexual who never engages in homosexual sex is sinful; in fact, those Christians who proclaim homosexuality a sin praise to the highest degree the chaste and celibate homosexual. They rejoice in his resistance of the “sin” of homosexuality. No Christian would assert that a homosexual at home alone reading a book is guilty of the sin of homosexuality.
And so the thoughtful Christian naturally and logically arrives from the question “Is homosexuality a sin?” to the question, “Are acts of homosexual sex sinful?”
And there he has a question he may feel obliged to answer.
Arriving at a clear and comprehensive answer to any question wholly depends upon two things: definition and context. Before a question can be properly answered the terms used in the phrasing of that question must be defined, and the larger context in which the question exists must be established. That’s just … Logic 101.
So before the question “Are acts of homosexual sex sinful?” can be answered, “acts of homosexual sex” must be defined.
If two celibate men who each know that the other is gay are eating lunch together, and one of them reaches over and grabs a french-fry off the plate of the other, is that an act of homosexual sex? If he licks the salt off the french fry before eating it, is that an act of homosexual sex? If while holding his friend’s gaze he slowly slides the french fry in and out of his mouth a few times before finally pushing it all the way into his purse lips with his fingertip, is that an act of homosexual sex?
If their arms accidentally rub together on the way out the restaurant door? If while shaking hands goodbye they hold hands just a little longer than straight guys typically do? If they go shopping for tee shirts together? Do any of those qualify as acts of homosexual sex?
And by virtue of that simple exercise are we forced to conclude that “Are acts of homosexual sex sinful?” is a question virtually impossible to answer, since it’s impossible to define the terms of the question.
But we’ll let that (huge) concern go. Instead of taking a single step onto that most slippery of slopes, we will plant our feet firmly upon the grounds of the famous threshold test for pornography, and say that while we may not be able to define an act of homosexual sex, we know one when we see one.
And, by way determining whether or not acts of homosexual sex are sinful, that leaves the question of context.
And here we can easily see what needs doing. Discerning whether acts of homosexual sex, in and of themselves, are sinful, necessitates first isolating those acts from any context which in an of itself could be considered sordid or illicit—or, in a word, sinful. Otherwise the formula for the calculation we’re trying to make will become too complicated to be useful. Trying to determine whether it’s sinful for my wife and me to have sex in the privacy of our bedroom is one thing. Trying to determine whether it’s sinful for us to have coke-fueled sex on the counter of a men’s restroom in a strip club is quite another.
All Christians agree that there is nothing sinful about loving expressions of sexuality between a married straight couple in the privacy of their home. It’s the fact that such expressions are happening within the context of a loving marriage that makes the sex acts sinless.
Loving straight marriage + consensual, loving sex = sinless sex.
The question before the logical Christian is whether or not that formula would remain true if within it he substituted the word “gay” for “straight.”
And there the Christian has the single and true $64 million question on the gay issue: If done within the context of a loving, committed, monogamous relationship—if done, in other words, within the context of marriage—are acts of homosexual sex sinful? If they are—that is, if even the holy state of matrimony doesn’t render loving consensual sex between homosexuals sinless—then the Christian has solid moral grounds for discouraging gay and lesbian people from getting married.
But if they’re not—if expressions of sexual love between two married gay people is not sinful—then the traditional Christian view of gays has long been wrong, and it’s no more sinful for a married gay couple to have sex than it is for a married straight couple to do the same.
So, to recap our little journey:
1. What “Is homosexuality a sin?” actually means is: “Are acts of homosexual sex sinful?”
2. That question is unanswerable, because “acts of homosexual sex” cannot be defined.
3. But whatever.
4. Context is necessary for answering, “Are acts of homosexuality sinful?”
5. Sex within marriage is not sinful. Which brings us to our final question:
6. If gay people were married—under God, within a church, by a pastor, the same as any Christian straight couple might get married—would their acts of homosexual sex still be sinful?
And with that question in mind, the Christian is ready to open his Bible to see what Paul, writing in the Middle East two thousand years ago, had to say on the matter.