Sexuality and Gender

Should We Divide over Homosexuality?

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Author Alan Shlemon Published on 03/01/2020

The culture has been pressuring Christians to pick a side: celebrate homosexuality and same-sex unions or continue to consider them sinful. Is this question something Christians should divide over, or can we agree to disagree?

Fortunately, we can turn to Jesus for an answer. In Matthew 7:15–20 Jesus warns us against false prophets—wolves in sheep’s clothing. How will we recognize them? “You will know them by their fruits,” Jesus explains. “Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.” Reading His point in context (Matt. 7:13–29), Jesus clarifies what He means by good and bad fruit. He says that good fruit is exhibited by “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” (Matt. 7:24). What does bad fruit look like? Jesus says it’s “everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice” (Matt. 7:26). In other words, good fruit is obeying Jesus and bad fruit is disobedience. This is straightforward and consistent with the teaching of Jesus found elsewhere (Jn. 14:15).

Given the discussion about the Bible and homosexuality, who are the ones disobeying Jesus? Who are the wolves in sheep’s clothing encouraging bad fruit? We only need to look at Jesus’ teaching on sex, gender, and marriage to understand who is leading others to violate it.

In Matthew 19:4–6, Jesus cites and upholds the Genesis account of creation (Gen. 1:27, 2:24), where man and woman are created, joined together in marriage, and become one flesh. By doing so, Jesus affirms the duality of the sexes and the complementarity of male-female marriage. Jesus’ view can be summed up this way: Marriage (which includes sexual activity) is about one man with one woman becoming one flesh for one lifetime. Jesus’ teaching on marriage alone, therefore, disqualifies same-sex unions.

That’s why it’s also not surprising that in Mark 7:20–23, Jesus cites sexual immorality as a behavior that defiles a person. The Greek word for “sexual immorality” is porneiai, which first-century Jews would have considered to include the sexual sins listed in the Levitical law (including homosexuality from Lev. 18:22 and 20:13). So, despite some people’s claims that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, it’s clear that He did.

This is to say nothing of the prohibitions of homosexual sex in Romans 1:26–27, 1 Corinthians 6:9–11, and 1 Timothy 1:10. Given these passages, the Genesis creation account of humanity, and Jesus’ sexual ethics, it’s no surprise that the Church has taught for 2,000 years (and Judaism for thousands of years before) that homosexual sex is sin and that marriage is only between a man and woman.

Therefore, teaching that homosexual sex or same-sex marriage is morally permissible is a significant and serious departure from biblical orthodoxy and Jesus’ message. Scripture says that those who pursue ongoing, unrepentant homosexual sex (or any sin for that matter) will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9). That’s serious. The consequences are eternal.

Churches, Pastors, and Leaders

Should we divide over a church, pastor, or leader who teaches that homosexual behavior is permissible and celebrates same-sex unions? Due to the egregious theological error and the grim penalty associated with it, a believer is justified in parting ways from such a pastor or church. Why? They are giving practicing homosexuals confidence that they can enter the kingdom of God despite Scripture’s caution that they can’t (1 Cor. 6:9).

Jesus warned us precisely of such people—wolves in sheep’s clothing. They look like us, but their teaching stands in contrast to biblical orthodoxy. Jesus’ stern rebuke is haunting: “I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matt. 7:23). Disciples of Jesus must follow His cue. We can’t tolerate sitting under the teaching or authority of a church, pastor, or leader who practices or promotes lawlessness.

I’ll admit I’m reluctant to divide over any matter because I know Christ longs to see His church be unified. That’s my desire, as well. In fact, I’m not one to make a fuss over common denominational differences. I routinely am invited by and grateful to speak at Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Catholic, Coptic, Orthodox, and other theologically unique congregations. But I draw the line when a church rejects the authority of Scripture.

Friends and Family

Does that mean we should divide ourselves from people, friends, and family who adopt errant thinking? It’s likely they’ve been misled by a church or leader. Wolves have led them astray. But though their theological error might be the same, the impact is different. Christ confronted many people who were mistaken about spiritual matters, but He still pursued them. He built relationships for the purpose of building a bridge to communicate compassion and share the truth.

Again, it’s wise to follow Jesus’ approach. We can continue in our relationships with people who are theologically mistaken, but we must be vigilant to not succumb to their same error. Scripture presents this tension by giving us freedom to associate with non-Christians (1 Cor. 5:9–11) while being careful to “not be yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14). Keeping our relationships provides an opportunity to communicate the truth or share the gospel.

Though some may see this as a contradictory approach (leave an errant church, but not an errant person), I think it’s consistent with Christ’s view. Jesus wants to protect His church and keep her free from blemish (Eph. 5:27) but also desires to ransom individuals who are lost (Mk. 10:45). I have the same desire: I’m fiercely protective of the church but focused on reaching the lost. That’s why I’ll divide over false teaching but reach out to those who hold false views.

It’s worth noting that many advocates of pro-gay theology attempt to employ Jesus’ teaching on good and bad fruit to support their position. They twist Jesus’ words to suggest bad fruit is psychological harm or suffering that LGBT people experience because of the Church’s traditional sexual ethic. But the “fruit” that Jesus is referring to is not about the consequence of the teaching, but the conduct promoted by the teacher. The irony of their citing this passage is that Jesus’ teaching doesn’t vindicate advocates of pro-gay theology—it condemns them.