By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
What would you say to someone who states that they can't “help” their homosexuality? I’m thinking of someone who believes that they were born that way and that they can't help the way they feel. I'm always at a loss for words when this comes up, and I don't know exactly where to point them in Scripture.
Your question about homosexuality is by far the most common “Ask Roger” question I receive! I’m glad to share some of what I’ve learned and studied on the subject.
First, please understand that I don’t intend to engage in the Christian fight regarding the rightness or wrongness of the homosexual issue. I’ll make a few comments on the homosexual lifestyle; but, I mostly want to write about how we Christians might best follow Jesus’ model in responding to those of a homosexual, gay, lesbian, or transgender (LGBTQIA+) persuasion.
Jesus’ Model Was Very Simple: Treat Everyone with Love, Care, and Compassion
I imagine that He may have agreed with the old adage, “We catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Notice how loving and accepting He was of sinners and tax collectors!
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. (Matthew 9:10)
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. (Mark 2:15)
Now, let’s compare that with how the religious leaders treated the people!
So, you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:3-4)
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. (Matthew 23:13, paraphrase)
If we’re not very careful, we are more likely to play the role of religious leader than we are Jesus!
Also, no one likes to be yelled at. It’s the quickest way I can think of to sabotage a conversation or relationship.
I remember listening as one dedicated Christian woman declared that homosexuality is without a doubt one of the most heinous sins on earth. She exhibited no tolerance for the behavior and no tolerance for those involved in the lifestyle. From her perspective, homosexuality was absolutely a choice and those involved made a choice they could unmake if they wanted to get right with God.
Many of those in the meeting nodded their heads in approval.
When she finished, her husband said, “My college roommate was gay.”
A hush fell over the room!
I thought about the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus said, a “certain” man was walking down the road to Jericho when he was beaten and robbed and left for dead by the side of the road.
As long as the injured person is just a “certain man,” it is easy to pass on by. But when we pull back the covers and see a human being, cut and bleeding to death, it is hard to pass on by.
In the same way, as long as we can put homosexuals in categories, it is easy for us to pass by. But when we get down off our donkeys and see what’s really happening, it is hard to pass on by.
So, as I answer your letter, I will do my best to be neither pro-homosexual or anti-homosexual. I’m trying to deal with this subject like Jesus did. He was “filled with compassion” (Luke 15:20).
Here’s What the Bible Says about Homosexuality
In Romans chapter 1, the Apostle Paul describes man forsaking God. Then, he describes God forsaking man—leaving him to the consequences of his own devices.
Let’s begin with Romans 1:24-27, which describes God’s judgment on a world which has rejected His personal revelation through nature and conscience:
Therefore, God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator, who is forever praised. Amen.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
We see here God’s judgment on a society which abandons Him. He lets it run wild, leading to all sorts of sexual liberties and perversions. The ultimate perversion is the rampant overrunning of society by the gay and lesbian community.
Notice that we are not waiting for God’s judgment on our American society. Judgment has arrived. We are reaping what we have sown.
In Romans 1:24-25, the Greek word, epithumia, translated as “sinful desires,” really means a “reaching out after pleasure that defies all reason.” It’s like saying, “What in the world are they doing?” It is the way of a society which is so completely immersed in the pursuit of sex that they have ceased to be aware of God at all.
Then, Romans 1:26-27 describes rampant homosexuality as one of the marks of a godless, wicked, and abandoned society. Even the words Paul uses for “females” (θηλυς) and “males” (αρσην) are not the normal Greek words for men and women. Paul used the animal terms for “male” and “female.”
Paul also describes homosexuality as using one’s body in an unnatural way—"against nature.” A simple look at one’s sexual apparatus should convince anyone that practices of this kind are not normal. They were not meant to be.
Hopefully, I have given a simple but fairly accurate rendition of the major biblical passages involved in discussing homosexuality. There are others; but you get the idea!
Current Scientific Research Regarding Homosexuality
Scientific research indicates that homosexuality is certainly more than just a choice. It very well may be hardwired into both the anatomical and chemical makeup of the brain.
The anatomy of the homosexual brain is slightly different from heterosexuals. For example, the average hypothalamus of a homosexual person—a part of the brain involved with emotions, sex drive, and hormonal activity—is about 2/3 the size of the heterosexual person’s hypothalamus.
Much scientific research points to the tendency to be homo- or heterosexual as influenced by the amount of testosterone produced in mother’s womb during pregnancy. The more testosterone we have, the more likely we are to be heterosexual. The less, the more likely we are to be homosexual.
With each succeeding male child, mom produces less and less testosterone during pregnancy—this probably has to do with mom’s genetic immune system reacting to each new male child. Given exactly the same genes, every male child born to mom has less testosterone available than the brother before.
We can get an approximate value on the amount of testosterone present in mother’s womb during our prenatal days by measuring the proportionate size between our ring and index fingers. The longer our ring finger is in proportion to our “pointer” finger, the more testosterone we received in the womb.
But this is key: science has also clearly determined that genes do not fatalistically determine our personally, brain chemistry, or physical appearance. Our environment and personal interactions in the womb, especially during our first six years, and then literally throughout the rest of our lives are turning genes on and off.
Certain environments also turn on certain genes to express themselves. The same genetic makeup, but in a different environment would cause different genes to turn on. This is true of genes with a propensity toward homosexuality.
Is Homosexuality a Choice?
I was having lunch with a Christian doctor friend of mine who is well versed in both Christianity and the genetic, hormonal, and environmental issues regarding homosexuals. We were discussing the complexities of Romans 1 and homosexual genetics when my doctor friend said,
“This all means that it is time for us to get ‘off our high horses’ and let God be the Judge. We need to enter this arena with love and compassion! We know we are called to do that.”
Don’t get me wrong. Homosexual behavior is a sin at any level (so is heterosexual activity outside of marriage).
If you have homosexual leanings, God says, “Control yourself. You will never close the spiritual gap from where you are to an intimate relationship with Me while you are involved in homosexual behavior.” Our behavior is always a choice.
Heterosexual behavior outside of marriage is also a sin at any level. God says, “Control yourself. You will never close the spiritual gap from where you are to an intimate relationship with Me while you are involved in heterosexual behavior outside of marriage.” Again, our behavior is always a choice.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Prostock-Studio
How Should I Respond to My Homosexual Family Members, Friends, or Acquaintances?
Here are a few “takeaways” about how we Christians might choose to deal with ourselves as well as those who engage in homosexual behavior.
1. Protect the children. Any contact with homosexual behavior during childhood can cause genes to express themselves, and thus develop a homosexual bent.
In dealing with your adult children, in all but a few situations, it is more important to maintain relationships with your children than argue over their sexual orientation. In the long run, as you build a relationship, you will be better able to speak into their lives in the future.
2. Pray for repentance throughout our nation. The chance of our nation repenting is slight. Nevertheless, it has happened before!
Nineveh fell to its knees in sackcloth and ashes after Jonah preached of God’s coming Judgment. The entire nation turned around, and His judgment was stayed. I would like to think that if it happened for Nineveh, it can happen for America.
3. Let’s stop yelling, “Stop it” at the “sinners” in our society. Few “sinners” have ever given their lives to Christ because someone yelled, “Stop it!”
As far as we know, Jesus never yelled “Stop it” to the sinners, He yelled, “Stop it” to the religious leaders who should have known and behaved better. He lived with compassion for the folks who knew no better.
We will turn this society around only when we show them a better way. We are called to love and to demonstrate a better set of values to a decaying culture.
4. Parents of homosexuals, be at peace. You did not cause your child’s homosexuality, nor are you responsible for “fixing” it.
By the way, there was once a widespread belief that homosexuality was the result of overbearing mothers and quiet, submissive, and uninvolved fathers. This is not true.
Studies reveal that dads tend to shy away from their heterosexual sons when they are not strongly masculine. Mom then becomes overprotective of her “rejected” son. Rejecting dads and overprotecting moms are often the result of a child’s homosexual bent, not the cause of it.
5. The proper Christian response to homosexual individuals is to have compassion for them just as we do for others. They have the same needs for love and affection, comfort, acceptance, affirmation, security, encouragement, and respect as everyone else. How we respond to their human needs is incredibly important for their sakes and for ours … never forget that Jesus ate with tax collectors. He loved all people.
6. Do scientific research of your own. I have chosen to share a number of scientific facts from a variety of sources. Let me share with you some other sources that you will find most helpful in your research:
Genome by Matt Ridley
Nature via Nurture by Matt Ridley
Mapping the Mind by Rita Carter
7. Beware of succumbing to either the “Naturalistic Fallacy” or the “Moral Fallacy.” The Naturalistic Fallacy declares: “This is the way things naturally are; therefore, this is the way things (behaviors, morals, ethics, etc.) ought to be. For example, “I was born homosexual; therefore, my sexual orientation is OK. This like saying, “I was born with multiple sclerosis, or bipolar disorder, or something else—this is the way it ought to be.” No, it is not OK to be this way.
The Moralistic Fallacy declares, “This is the way things (behaviors, morals, ethics, etc.) ought to be; therefore, this is the way they are. For example, “The homosexual lifestyle ought to be a matter of choice and not a matter of built-in genetic determinism; therefore, it is a choice despite any scientific evidence to the contrary.”
8. The scientific evidence points strongly to all sorts of genetic (nature) and environmental (nurture) factors which cause certain genes to turn on or off to produce our unique humanity. I hope that Christians today will carefully examine all factors (both biblically and scientifically) as we move wisely, intellectually, and compassionately into winning over a secular society for the sake of Jesus Christ.
9. Be careful not to focus so much attention on homosexuality that you neglect to see other sins—especially your own. Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry . . . Anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language. Do not lie to each other, that you take off your old self with its practices put on the new self (Colossians 3:5, 9).
10. Stop saying “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Notice that while this phrase sounds good in the Christian community, it only produces great anger in the LGBTQIA+ community. We are all sinners.
11. Remember that there is no reason to allow the confusion surrounding homosexuality to shake your faith. Our faith rests in the death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15) of Jesus Christ on Easter morning, not on our ability or inability to understand God and homosexuality.
To close, in his book “Tell Me A Story,” Anthony Campolo shared a story that I think gives a compassionate understanding from a Jesus’ perspective on the subject of homosexuality. I hope it touches your heart like it touches mine. Remember the parable of the good Samaritan:
The local undertaker in Brooklyn called a pastor friend and said that he had a funeral that no one else wanted to do because the guy had died of AIDS. So, this pastor took the funeral.
What was it like? Let's listen to the pastor describe it in his own words.
"It was weird. When I got there, about 25 to 30 homosexual friends of the deceased sat there frozen with their hands on their laps. Their eyes were riveted straight ahead. I read some Scriptures and prayed some prayers.
The funeral was over; we got in some automobiles; we drove out to the cemetery. We watched as the casket was lowered into the hole. Once again, I read scriptures and prayed.
I said the benediction and turned to leave, but, none of the homosexual men budged. I asked, ‘Is there anything else I can do?'
One man spoke up; ‘Yeah, there's something else you can do. I haven't been to church for years. Actually, I was looking forward to the funeral because I always loved to hear them read the 23rd Psalm. Pastor, you didn't read the 23rd Psalm. Would you read the 23rd Psalm?'
I read the 23rd Psalm.
When I finished another man said, 'There is a passage in the book of Romans and it says that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Do you know that passage?'
I read to this to these homosexual men, 'Nothing can separate you from the love of God...neither height, nor depth, nor things present, nor things past, nor principalities, nor powers, nothing...nothing can separate you from the love of God...nothing can separate you from the love of God.'
I stood by the grave reading these homosexual men passages upon request for over an hour."
“That story makes us want to cry because there are people who are hungry for the Word of God who would never set foot inside the church because they believe that the church despises them—and they are right.
You say, "Are you approving of a homosexual lifestyle?" Certainly not!
Neither do I approve of a heterosexual lifestyle of sex outside of marriage.
All I am saying is that it is about time we started loving the people that we don’t tend to love.”
Well, “L”, I hope my answer is helpful as you sort out the issues and make your own conclusions.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/MangoStar_Studio
Dr. Roger Barrier recently retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian.
Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].