Before we specifically examine same-sex relationships, we must examine another issue from the not-so-distant past. American slave owners justified slavery biblically. Let that sink in. Christians biblically justified the ownership of human beings for commercial use and labeled them as second-class citizens. How? Michael Emerson shares their reasoning in his book, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America:
Are you cringing? I sure hope so. Reading this reasoning from a contemporary lens, we can’t help but be appalled by these words. But, a significant amount of the US population believed this. Has the Bible changed in the last 200 years? No. Has God changed? No. What changed? Our interpretation of the Bible and our understanding of God. Christ calls us to continuous sanctification, not just as individuals, but as a community. This means that our faith is dynamic, it is continually evolving and refining.
Quick side note: The atrocity of slavery in America is a uniquely perverse event in our history, and I do not believe in making direct comparisons to the suffering of black Americans — nothing can compare to their experience. That being said, the general Christian culture’s use of scripture to defend this atrocity is directly comparable to the plight of LGBTQ+ people.
This isn’t good, but I don’t want to make it a big deal…
I imagine that this thought process happened in many people 200 years ago, “I don’t think it’s fair that these people are treated differently, but I don’t want to make a big deal about it.” Fast forward to now and we observe something similar, “I feel bad for gay people, but I don’t want to make a big deal about it.” There is a common theme of “Accept the person but not their lifestyle.” Funny thing is, the same people claim that they would have taken a stand against slavery 200 years ago.
Now is the time to take your stand for human rights. Now is your shot to not be the people who failed to take a stand 200 years ago — and were complacent with slavery through their silence. It took until June 26, 2015 for the land of the free to allow same-sex marriage…2015...WHAT?!? Thank goodness that Christianity pushed for this decision, and then welcomed these people with open arms…wait...we didn’t do that?!?
Before we pull out our Bibles, hermeneutics, and doctrines, we must meet people where they are and hear their story. It is really easy to have an opinion about something that does not affect your day-to-day experience, but it is much harder when something affects you or someone you love. Until you have a relationship with a gay person, your opinion of them — and political actions you take with regard same-sex rights — must be unequivocally supportive and affirming.
Woah woah woah, that’s a bold statement…doesn’t the Bible specifically talk about sexuality? Of course, it does! But, what does Jesus do — every single time — before he talks theology, rules, or practices? He loves the person! More often than not he breaks bread with them and forms a relationship with them. Sharing life with people, and forming a bond of trust, is what opens the door to discussion and discipleship, not well-crafted social media posts. That being said, let’s take a look at scripture and see what we can find.
How did Romans have sex, date, and marry?
We cannot ignore the context of scripture. What did Jesus and Paul have in mind when they discussed issues of sexuality? Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, explains how the Roman culture viewed sexuality in her video with Big Think:
Did the Romans think like we do? Did they go on dates, become Facebook official, get engaged, and then get married? No! And that’s what we need to keep in mind when we engage with the words of Jesus or Paul in the New Testament. Jesus routinely subverted culture and societal norms, He radically opposed oppression — valuing all of humanity with the utmost dignity.
As you see in Beard’s video, Roman sexuality did not emphasize consent, monogamy, or human dignity — it valued power — specifically male power. Homosexuality was not men falling in love and pursuing a monogamous relationship (at least in general), it was an imposition of male, penetrative power over a lesser social class or age. Christianity, and Jesus in particular come down harshly on power structures, hierarchy, and oppression. If the regular expression of homosexuality was that of oppression, of course Jesus would condemn it! On the other hand, I would argue that Jesus would have a much different view of homosexuality in the context of a consenting, monogamous, selfless love between same-sex males or females.
If we take a step back, all teaching on Biblical sexuality boils down to motivations, unity, and respect. What is sex supposed to be? It should be a physical expression of the unity, love, and affection between two consenting individuals. In the Biblical context of a consenting, loving, mutual connection, sex is reflective of God’s relationship with humanity — a joyful, overwhelming, mutual connection between the human and the divine. Yes, in a heterosexual context, sex also represents the creation of a new human being, but procreation is not the sole point of the connection. If heterosexual couples have sex for the sake of pleasure and connection, a same-sex connection is no different and no less indicative of God’s glory.
Matthew Vines’, The Reformation Project, makes a fantastic, scriptural case for LGBTQ inclusion in “A Brief Biblical Case for LGBTQ Inclusion.”
The Evolution and Psychology of Same-Sex Attraction
Homosexuality is not a perversion, fetish, or choice. People are born with an attraction to males or females. Heterosexual attraction may be more common, but that does not mean that homosexuality is a disorder. If we consider our evolutionary heritage, more about a Christian perspective on evolution in this article, homosexuality is common in many different species in the animal kingdom — 450+ in fact. Check out these articles for more info:
Wikipedia (surprisingly well-sourced and comprehensive): Homosexual Behavior in Animals
National Geographic: Same-sex Behavior Common Across Animal Species, Review Finds
Yale Scientific: Do Animals Exhibit Homosexuality?
LiveScience: Being Gay Is Natural: Just Ask Bonobos (Op-Ed)
While we obviously do not base our behavior on that of animals, the fact that homosexual behavior is present in the rest of the animal kingdom is indicative that we have an ancestral obligation to look at homosexuality from a scientific perspective.
As for humans, the science tells us that homosexuality has a “strong biological component to sexual orientation, and that it can be influenced by the interaction of genetic, hormonal and environmental factors,” and that “there is no scientific evidence that sexual orientation, be it heterosexual, homosexual or otherwise, is a freewill choice. (American Psychiatric Association)” The APA also addresses conversion therapy, “efforts to change an individual’s orientation through so-called “conversion therapy” can and often do cause real harm. In fact, the risks associated with “conversion therapy” include depression, suicidality, anxiety, social isolation and decreased capacity for intimacy.”
Depression, suicidality, anxiety, social isolation, decreased capacity for intimacy. What ties all of these symptoms together? Lack of basic acceptance of identity. As a heterosexual male, let’s make a thought experiment. I meet a girl in college, I build a relationship with her — share my innermost thoughts, desires, traumas, blessings — and I fall in love with her. I come home to my parents, butterflies in my stomach, excited to share with them that I found this incredible woman. When I finally tell them, I am met with tears, anger, and rage. My love is a perversion. They tell me that they will always love me, but they will never accept my relationship. My significant lover will never be accepted. My faith will always be questioned.
I often hear the argument that a gay person’s identity should not be wrapped up in their sexuality — they should find their identity in Christ. This is drastically missing the point. Of course, Christians should find their identity in Christ, but this is true for everyone. The only reason that homosexual people identify so strongly as such is that they have been so ostracized, condemned, and isolated. If it was easy to be gay, then no one would have to march, protest, or advocate. If the situation was flipped, I am sure people would “find their identity” in heterosexuality. Bottom line, we all find our identity in hundreds of places — church, school, marriage, children, sports, gender, name, creed, political party — and the argument to “find their identity in Christ” does not benefit the LGBTQ+ community. Gay Christians can find their identity in Christ too.
What Should Christians Do?
As I said earlier, until you have a relationship with a gay person, your opinion of them — and political actions you take with regard same-sex rights — must be unequivocally supportive and affirming. If you have done your research, biblical study, and have a relationship with the gay community — and still don’t agree with their lifestyle — it’s not your life or your decision, you still must be unequivocally supportive and affirming of their identity, freedom, and worth. Our spiritual lives are intimate, personal, and dynamic. Gay or straight, some people decide to be celibate, some decide to be sexually active, and in the end, it’s up to an individual’s personal relationship with God to decide how, when, and with whom they will have an intimate relationship. We are all equally susceptible to having sex for the wrong reasons or the right reasons, but our guiding principle is the pursuit of a relationship that is mutual, consenting, loving, and selfless.
What if you are convinced that monogamous, heterosexual relationships are God’s only intended, perfect design for sexual relationships? What if you think that intervening and standing for God’s perfect design while inevitably benefit homosexual people? What we have to realize is that no matter how biblically, theologically, or ethically-sound our opinions are — there is always another viewpoint that is equally sound and defensible. There are Christians who drink — and don’t drink. Christians who are democrat — and who are republican. Who believe that God predestines for salvation — or that salvation is a personal choice. The bottom line — the actions that we take and the opinions we have — are a personal decision we make after years of pursuing God and an understanding what God wants for us. “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12)” It is up to our personal relationship with God to determine what is beneficial, wise, and fruitful. Don’t be the person that looks back and wishes you did more to stick up for the oppressed.
Impactful LGBTQ+ Biblical Resources
If you want to learn more about LGBTQ+ issues, here are the resources that have been most impactful to me:
The Liturgist Podcast: Episode 20 - LGBTQ
The Reformation Project: A Bible-Based, Gospel-Centered Approach to LGBTQ Inclusion
Ask Science Mike: Episode 26 - The Supreme Court, Same-Sex Marriage, and What Happens Next
The Bible for Normal People: Episode 14 – The Bible and the Gay Christian
The story of how the world got here is the central point of fierce collision between science and Christianity. Genesis is all we need, right? Any other musings about our origins are entertaining, but not to be taken seriously…I mean who could actually think we came from apes after billions of years? I understand how ridiculous that sounds, especially to someone (myself included) who grew up with Answers in Genesis and literal biblical interpretation.
But, after taking the time to face the issue in physical anthropology and biology courses - as well as a university - level Darwinism and Christianity course - I discovered the tools to begin to unify these seemingly opposite worlds. I'm not perfect, infallible, or a credentialed theologian - but I am someone who is passionate about science and faith. I invite you into an honest look into how I have begun to unify these worlds in my own life. Here is my proposal:
The world is the divine product of natural forces over billions of years that were divinely conceived and are continuously maintained by God. Humanity is the culmination of God’s creative action, and the ultimate expression of God’s image.
Why This Feels Uncomfortable
I know some of you are probably cringing right now, I would have too, but here is why I think we worry. All our lives, we have faced powerful, evangelical atheists who propose that natural processes negate the need for a God. Rather than take the risk of sounding like them, we cling to tradition and separate ourselves from science. We keep those worlds separate. I get it, in the end, the bottom line is to love God and love others, and we don't need evolution to do that. But, in my experience, this puts those who are passionate about science in a precarious position.
My proposal here is to help those people (myself included) integrate their faith with a contemporary scientific worldview. God is not a relic of the past, He (or She - to be revisited in another essay) is an ever-present unveiler of infinite mystery. Although God is consistent, our depth of understanding of Him is not, and our understanding must evolve with a contemporary scientific worldview. Religion and science are intimately intertwined.
Must science conform to religion? Religion conform to science? As with everything in life and our universe, the real answer lies in a balance of the two, not a binary choice. Pope John Paul II wisely states, “science frees religion from error and superstition, religion frees science from idolatry and false absolutism.” Science illuminates the underpinnings of our wondrous universe. Religion gives us a reason to wake up and to live selflessly. Absolutism in science creates boundaries, hinders progress, and negates the scientific method. Superstition in religion creates a complacent, close-minded misrepresentation of the divine complexity of God. Both must work in tandem and continually refine one another.
God - a divine, powerful, infinite being - beyond our understanding, decided to create a beautiful, perfect, glorious world in which He actively participates and brings into a salvific relationship with Himself. Doing this entails suffering - for both creation and Himself. The gift of freewill to creation which enables relational participation requires that God willingly limit Himself. God, for reasons forever mysterious, chose to give this gift and create a literal explosion of infinite complexity, divine transcendence, and rapidly expanding power - the universe.
Through the divinely-inspired interaction of law and chance over billions of years - stars, planets, and galaxies formed. God’s continuous creativity unfolds in a majestic, unquenchable flow of divine action that manifests in four potentialities: increasing complexity, increasing Information-processing and storage ability, increased sensitivity toward pain and suffering, and development of self-consciousness and language (this idea courtesy of Aurthur Peacocke). These potentialities, over long periods of time, inevitably direct the universe into the development of life - from simple cells, to animals, and then to self-conscious humanity - each intimately connected with one another.
Just as a parent raising a child, creation is gradually nurtured into a self-aware organism that is conscious of the world around them and the God they serve. In Elizabeth Johnson’s words, “consciousness emerges gradually, in and through the increasing complexity of the brain…humanity is the universe becoming conscious of itself.” This creation, due to its evolutionary history of selfish competition, must gradually learn how to put others before itself. This culminates in the arrival of God on earth, Christ, the ultimate expression of a servant-king who invites creation into participation in God’s continuously-unfolding, all-encompassing plan of salvation that began at the start of creation and continues into eternity.
God used the processes of evolution to serve as the ultimate metaphor of the collision between the spiritual and the physical. Just as the natural world gradually emerges and progresses into conscious image bearers of God; God’s character, and our understanding of Him, gradually emerges across human history. God is not king who reigns with omnipotent tyranny, He is a parent who gives creation the tools to emerge and discover the world and their relationship to Him - on their own.
Where do these ideas come under scrutiny within Christian tradition? God’s intervention, impassibility, and role in suffering (theodicy). Within this model, God does not directly intervene in the processes of the universe (I see your cringe now - but let me explain). God is not toddler with a tool belt, His creation is perfect and has no need for quick fixes or duct tape. Rather than intervening and directly bending creation to His will, He empowers creation to pursue the ultimate good - salvation. As opposed to God swooping in to fill in the gaps when we need Him, he empowers us to participate in His will on our own.
So, what about miracles? The depth and mystery of God is never ending, with the ongoing unveiling of the complexity of natural processes, we will continue to catch glimpses of what we once considered “miracles” as part of God’s complex natural order. Take prayer, for instance, one way to view it would be a “wish list” of requests, and another view is that prayer is a facilitation of a relationship where God communicates divine intent to His creation. God is not fulfilling requests, He is giving us eyes to see. Does God have the power to intervene? Yes. Is God’s direct intervention necessary? No - because He empowers us through His perfect creation.
Impassibility is the idea that God is unaffected by the actions of His creation. This doctrine is important in some theological circles because some consider a God who is directly affected by His creation a weak God. I would argue that this is instead a stronger representation of God and His character as shown in scripture. The idea of Kenosis, a God who self-limits His divine power and authority to make room for a free-willing, dynamic creation, is found in Philippians 2:7, “but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” The cross is a perfect representation of divine vulnerability. Jesus is the incarnate manifestation of the suffering God that has always suffered with His creation throughout all time - since the day He limited Himself to make room for a free-willing, relational creation. It makes perfect sense for God to arrive incarnate as a suffering servant, because He is a suffering servant outside the context of our anthropocentric world. He is not a lonely, distant clockmaker, He is intimately involved.
What about all this suffering in an evolutionary worldview? How does a radically transcendent and loving God create a world ripe with extinction, pain, and evil? Even in traditional theological models, theodicy creates intense dissonance for any Christian. Consequently, when we move away from the doctrine of impassibility and come to know God as a suffering servant - and not a distant monarch - we discover a God who suffers in, with, and under his creation in order to endow it with free will, potentiality, and salvation. This model dramatically lessens the cognitive dissonance associated with the problem of evil. God does not spectate suffering from afar, He willingly suffers in order to empower His creation. Death is a necessary precursor to life, suffering is the precursor to freewill - and God willingly suffers alongside us to direct creation back into perfect relationship with Him - culminating in Christ - the ultimate expression of a God who has suffered alongside creation since its beginning.
Genesis 1 & 2 tells Israel’s story - a story of redemption and relationship with God - a purpose that it fulfills with resounding depth and beauty. Genesis tells us that in our pursuit of knowledge, power, and self-fulfillment - we inevitable wind up distant from God and in need of a savior. God invites Israel back to the Garden - to participate in a salvific plan that brings all of creation back into perfect union with Christ.
In other words, Genesis is not a science book, and we are not throwing away its value when we say that. In the same way that God is literally a "rock" in Psalm 18:2, the creation story of Genesis is not a literal scientific description of the universe. God gave Israel a timeless metaphor to explore their divine relationship - a metaphor that is still relevant today. God begins the story not with a science textbook, but with something greater, a divine metaphor of mythic proportions that will inspire generations across all time, culture, and society.
Important Note: There is SO much more to discuss from a scriptural basis and it could not all be included here.
One of my biggest hang-ups with evolution was that God set humanity apart from creation as His image bearers. Doesn’t that mean we can’t come from animals? That’s what I thought until I realized that the only reason I accepted it was because it was easy. We have HUGE egos as humans, we much prefer to view ourselves as little gods and not intelligent apes. But, I would argue that rather than a theological issue, this is a culture issue.
What is more profound and impactful? God creating humans out of nowhere and making them image bearers and rulers of the earth? OR God creating a universe so powerful and transcendent that it inevitably progresses toward becoming aware of itself, its role, and its relationship to Him - a creation that is intimately intertwined and interdependent. Emerging from the rest of creation does not make us lesser, and when we feel like it does, that’s our ego talking. We emerged from creation and are given the responsibility to care for it - the opportunity to participate in a cosmic event of infinite proportion - salvation.
When did we become conscious? When are we endowed with the image of God? One thing we must remember is that God is mysterious. When we get hung-up on small details and feel the need to have a definite answer, we are satisfying ourselves not God. Are we smart enough to know the exact point that apes transcend the line into humanity and become God’s image bearers? No! Is that okay? Yes! All we know definitively is that we are here, we have a responsibility to care for creation, and we have the ability to participate in God’s plan.
Law and Chance
God is a God of certainty, right? How could He operate through the crude mechanisms of chance over time? I thought this at one time, but what I have come to find is that our universe, that I once thought was mathematical and certain is, in fact, chaotic and uncertain. The spins of electrons are inherently unpredictable in quantum theory. Particles can be entangled and affect each other instantly across entire countries. Time moves at different rates (we have to reset the clocks in satellites because time moves faster at their speeds). The universe is inherently mysterious.
God did not create perfect laws and step away, nor did he let chance and probability loose to create the universe. The divine interaction of law and chance delivers the world we see today. With law alone, there would be no consistent idea in the universe. If God only used chance, there would be no variety. The divine interplay of the two, in perfect balance with one another, delivers the mysterious, diverse universe which we inhabit.
Here are some of the best resources I have found on this topic!
The Bible for Normal People - Episode 17: Denis Lamoureux - The Bible, Evolution, & Christian Faith:
The Liturgists Podcast - Episode 2 - Genesis & Evolution:
Ask Science Mike - Episode 34 - Mutation, Natural Selection, and Evolution:
God and Evolution: A Reader - Mary Kathleen Cunningham
If you have made it all the way to the end of this, thank you, I know there is a lot of information. Consequently, I know that it is still only the tip of the iceberg. You probably have questions, and I am here to learn along with you! The ideas put forth are not set in stone, they are up for debate and evolution. Sorry, I know that was corny, but I think it is important to say that these are hard questions with no certain answers. Let me know your thoughts in a comment below! I respond to all comments and would love to hear perspective.