A church member recently sent me an article by Reece Roper, who among many projects and jobs is probably most known as a singer in the Christian band Five Iron Frenzy. You can read this article here. It is an intense personal look at his struggle with the biblical view and majority Christian treatment of homosexuality. He shares how he has struggled and wrestled with this issue, and how he came to hold the position he now holds. I want to begin by thanking him for his personal story. I believe conversation is a powerful tool for communal growth. We do too much yelling and not enough talking, and I want to thank him for sharing his deeply personal story.
Let me begin with what he got right. The Christian treatment of homosexuals and the homosexual discussion has be downright appalling at times. Christians have attacked homosexuals and homosexuality with venom and anger and hate that Jesus never would. In the article Roper, share his personal disgust over hateful lyrics he wrote about Freddie Mercury. We need more Christians repenting of our hateful behavior toward not just homosexuals, but many other lifestyles.
Roper is right. Christians have misused the phrase, “love the sinner, and hate the sin.” That has been a rallying cry leading toward much bigotry in churches across our land. We need to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and he truly loved sinners.
Jesus did love sinners, but love does not equal acceptance of life choices by sinners. Jesus did tell the woman at the well (John 4) that she was not living right, but did so in great love. Jesus had dinner with Zacchaeus (Luke 19) and Zacchaeus immediately gave back money he stole. Do you think that came up at dinner? Jesus showed great compassion and truly loved sinners, but He didn’t support every lifestyle and choice of those with which He dined. We Christians seem to focus on the latter while ignoring the compassion and love. Roper is absolutely correct on that.
Roper gets much right in this article about the Christian mistreatment of homosexuals, but he does end his article with a position unsupported by God’s word. Roper in the end of his personal struggle decides that the bible itself is not against homosexuality, and I want to begin to address his arguments. Because of time, I will begin by addressing only one of his arguments, and I will come back to tackle the others later.
Let me quote one of Roper’s arguments in support of homosexuality.
“It all began slowly falling into place. Levitical warnings against a man “lying” with another man (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13), could not be cherry picked from an entire canon of laws, which also cautioned against eating pork (Leviticus 11:7-8), eating fat (Leviticus 3:17), trimming one’s sideburns, and not coming into contact with a menstruating woman. Both arguments held little water against Saint Paul’s convictions in the book of Romans that called us all out as sinners, and that the entirety of God’s wrath had been fulfilled in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, as well as any Biblical cleanliness or moral laws.” Reece Roper
Basically Christians have cherry picked what we like in the Old Testament, and we ignore what we do not like in the Old Testament. We decided that bacon taste good, so we will ignore Leviticus 11:7-8. We hate homosexuals, so we will keep Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. This is not an accurate portrait of what happened.
One of the New Testament church’s first crisis was to figure out what to do since the Jews and Judaism by in large rejected Jesus Christ as the messiah. Paul discusses this rejection in Romans 9-11, but this was a difficult development. Christians were left with many questions: are we a part of Judaism or something new? where do we worship with the Temple and synagogues being apart of Judaism rejecting Jesus? what does our worship and practice look like if we are not Judaism? what do we do with non-jewish and non-Israelites believing in Jesus? how Jewish should following Jesus be if Jewish at all? These were all major questions of the early church, and we see these issues discussed all over the New Testament.
Acts 15 epitomizes this debate and struggle in the early church. In Acts 15, the leaders of the early church met to discuss and answer these questions. They discuss the Judaic practice of circumcision, dietary guidelines, idolatry, and other ritual worship practices.
Hebrews 10 discusses the Judaic practice of sacrifices.
Romans 14, Acts 10-11, Colossians 2 discusses Judaic dietary guidelines.
Romans 2-4, 1 Corinthians 7, Acts 16, Colossians 2, Galatians 6, Ephesians 2 discuss the Judaic ritual of circumcision.
Galatians 4, Colossians 2, Hebrews 4 discuss Judaic Sabbaths, holidays, special days, and rituals.
Galatians 2 the Judaic practice of keeping separate from Gentiles.
This list is not exhaustive, but just to give you an idea of the ongoing conversation in the New Testament about how should Christianity be practiced. What should it mirror or not mirror in Judaism that rejected Jesus? Just how Jewish should Gentiles become?
The answer came in Jesus’ life. In the Old Testament, you have a whole set of law regarding what is “clean and unclean.” Do NOT associate unclean with sinner. That is a common mistake. Unclean does not mean sinner! Clean and unclean rules had to do with Jewish worship. They are often called the “Ritual Law” or “Ceremonial Law” by various theologians. They are the guidelines for Judaic worship. If you were clean, you were prepared and able to participate in ritual worship in the Temple. If you were unclean, you could not participate in ritual worship until you were clean again. Sin deals with morality and our standing with God, not only our ability to properly perform a worship ritual.
In Jesus’ life, He clearly repealed “clean and unclean” worship laws because He flatly did not follow it. In Reece’s argument, he discusses menstruating women being unclean. Jesus repealed that law when He was touched and did not condemn the bleeding woman (Luke 8). Jesus also touched unclean lepers (Matthew 8) and dead bodies (Luke 8). Jesus declared there are more important issues that ritual cleanness, when He declared in Mark 7:18 “And He said to them, “Are you also as lacking in understanding? Don’t you realize that nothing going into a man from the outside can defile him? 19 For it doesn’t go into his heart but into the stomach and is eliminated.” (As a result, He made all foods clean).” (HCSB).
Some argue that there is not a distinction between clean and unclean ritual law and moral law. They argue that there are not categories of Old Testament Law, but Jesus made this distinction beginning Luke 11:37ff. The Jews were upset that Jesus did not follow the clean and unclean law of ritual washing. Jesus then blast them for being overly focused on clean and unclean ritual law and ignoring day to day moral living emphasizing that moral living is the more important thing. Jesus list examples. Straining a gnat, wiping a cup, are clean and unclean ritual law. Greed, selfishness, neglect of others are moral law. Again, homosexuality is clearly placed in the moral category as it is never applied to outward clean and unclean worship rituals in Leviticus or elsewhere in God’s word. Most theologians see a third category called “civil law,” but that’s another article.
You might be wondering why Jesus can change the implication and application of the law? It is because He is the Messiah, Son of God, and as God’s word declares He is, “the Lord of the Sabbath.” Jesus has the authority to do so, and He did when it came to Judaic clean and unclean worship law.
In the discussion above in all those New Testament passages that I listed, they were all about “clean and unclean” Judaic worship rules. The dietary guidelines, ritual days, circumcision, all involved Judaic worship practices. Circumcision for example was an act of ritual Judaic worship. Following the dietary guidelines kept you clean and prepared for ritual Judaic worship. Following Jesus’ example, the early church in God’s New Testament, repealed the clean and unclean ritual rules for followers, especially Gentile followers, of Jesus Christ.
Circumcision, ritual days, dietary guidelines, sacrifices, among other Judaic ritual worship rules, were not applied or binding to the worship practices of the Christian church. Colossians 2, Hebrews 10, Galatians 2, Acts 10-11, and on and on, all are in agreement that the “clean and unclean” rules are not binding of Christianity, following the example of the life and teachings of Jesus Himself.
This is why Christians eat pork, worship as or next to menstruating women, shave our sideburns, wear mixed fabric, plant mixed fields, among numerous others…it is because the New Testament, following Jesus’ life and teachings, declare in unanimous harmony that the clean and unclean rules of Judaic worship are not binding on the Christian church. Christians did not decide that yesterday because bacon is yummy. It was declared in God’s word.
So why is homosexuality still forbidden? Because it is never directly repealed in the New Testament. All the Old Testament laws that Roper mentions have to do with clean and unclean worship rules. They are directly repealed. The law forbidding homosexuality is not a part of clean and unclean worship rules. It is about moral daily life, not worship. Neither Jesus, nor the New Testament ever repeals an Old Testament law regarding moral living. In fact, if Jesus did anything, He made the moral law even more strict. Go read what Jesus says about murder and adultery, both moral laws, in Matthew 5:21-30.
To be clear, Christians are not cherry picking what we like in the Old Testament. If it deals with clean and unclean Judaic worship law, the New Testament declares that it is not binding on the Christian church. If the Old Testament law has to do with moral daily living, it is binding today. Homosexuality being forbidden in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are not clean and unclean Judaic worship law. They are moral commands still binding today.
The last sentence of the Roper paragraph I am addressing here is about the wrath of God being satisfied in Christ. That sentence is true, but it does not mean what Roper wants it to mean. He uses that truth to argue that homosexuality is a biblically acceptable lifestyle because of Jesus’ atoning work, but again, that is not what it means. It means that any sin can be forgiven through the atoning death of Jesus, not that any or all lifestyles are acceptable. If you can apply this truth the way that Roper does, then what is stoping it from being applied to bestiality and incest, both of which are mentioned in Leviticus 18 and 20 next to homosexuality? They would fit Roper’s argument nicely. Then, it could be taken one step farther and be applied to murder, pedaphilia, among other acts that I am sure Roper would call sinful and unacceptable. It is a beautiful truth about the atoning death of Christ, but Christ death did not make all lifestyles acceptable; it made all sin forgivable.
Christians have not cherry picked what they want to follow from the Old Testament. The early church faced the decision of how Judaic should Christianity be since Judaism largely rejected Jesus, and they followed the life and teaching of Jesus, in their decision that was revealed in God’s word the New Testament. The New Testament repealed the ritual law, and the New Testament maintained that homosexuality is outside of God’s moral law.
Again, I hope nothing is this piece comes across as hateful toward anyone. You can disagree with a lifestyle and not hate them. I think there are plenty of people that disagree with my Christian lifestyle that do not hate me. In fact they disagree with me and love me anyway. I agree with Roper that the treatment of of homosexuals by many, many Christians is and has been abhorrent and evil. I also agree that Christians need to love homosexuals and all people as Jesus did, but that does not make homosexuality acceptable by God’s word.