The New York Times claims that Romans 1 calls for the execution of gays. A Republican congressman read the passage at a committee hearing. I don’t know the congressman’s purpose, but it couldn’t be to call for the execution of gays because the passage doesn’t say that. And 2,000 years of Christian teaching has never taught that it does.
It tells us we’re all sinners deserving punishment, but the only execution referred to in Romans is that of Jesus, who took the punishment Romans 1 is speaking of on behalf of sinners so that sinners can be reconciled to Him.
The relevant passage, Romans 1:18-32, begins: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” All ungodliness. Romans isn’t singling out gays, though homosexuality is mentioned. So are many other sins:
They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
No one can read that passage and walk away scot-free because we’ve all committed at least some of those sins, and maybe all. Some of these sins are universally common – disobedient to parents – because Paul means to count every single one of us as sinners so that we will look to the Savior who won a pardon for us.
Matthew Henry’s commentary, a very mainstream study of Romans, explains that the wrath spoken of here is God’s focused on all sin. Christians identify themselves as the subjects of this passage because we are sinners. Paul’s point in writing this is to point to Jesus. Romans 3:21-25:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
There is no distinction. All of us have fallen short. And whose actual death has offered redemption to make the spiritual death spoken of in Romans 1 unnecessary? Jesus.
Christians make no claims about sinners that we aren’t making of ourselves – and we aren’t calling for our own execution. Rather, we make the same appeal Paul makes here – to accept Jesus’ sacrifice and be reconciled with God and receive spiritual life.
Sure, it’s understandable to get angry about an article like this. But that’s not constructive. It’s also grievous that the Gospel can be so misunderstood. A constructive response to this is to recommit ourselves to communicating the Gospel as clearly as we can and living in a way that commends the message and glorifies the Savior.
I was praying about it this morning, asking God that instead of turning ugly, this could actually be a new opening to the Gospel, as it comes under attack, that people will see what Christians have to say and we would be faithful and clear to tell them.