Romans 1:26-27

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27)

I have to believe that, when you saw today’s sermon topic, your initial reaction was, “Why does Huffman have to preach on homosexuality?” The last time I preached on this topic was 14 years ago in a series of sermons addressing themes you, as a congregation, requested.

In a way, I would just as soon never have to speak publicly on this matter that is so intimate, so private in nature. However, like it or not, we just can’t avoid addressing the topic of homosexuality. There are five reasons why I must.

Reason one: This topic dominates the media.

More and more persons in show business, the arts, sports and even religion are publicly flaunting their avowed homosexual and lesbian practices. Young people are encouraged to experiment for kicks. One magazine noted how a large number of coeds at a particular eastern girls’ school campus are involved in lesbian relationships. Their rationalization is that young men are in such a minority on their campus that this is their only option, and a good one at that.

Back in the late 1960s, the American Psychiatric Association altered the position it held for almost a century, deciding that “homosexuality is not a mental illness.” For many, that decision increased its acceptability as a viable lifestyle.

Reason two: Some here at St. Andrew’s struggle with their own homosexual orientation or that of a family member.

On one occasion, a father came into my study and handed me a letter from his son, whom I know well. The son, a committed Christian, has been part of our ministry at St. Andrew’s. In his letter he officially declared his homosexual orientation and practice. That family, who sits here in the sanctuary each Sunday, had to process that new-found reality, and that young man had to decide how he would live in relationship to the church that had been so important to him.

On another occasion, when I made a passing sermonic reference to homosexuality, a friend of mine in the congregation approached me, somewhat nervously but honestly. He acknowledged his own homosexual orientation. One psychiatrist had, over a period of years, encouraged him in therapy toward normal heterosexual interest. More recently, another psychiatrist had urged him to accept his orientation and practice it without guilt. He is one of the many who has come seeking counsel as to what the Bible has to say and how that relates to contemporary attitudes. Some are committed Christians, going through intense personal anguish as they struggle with this problem and are uncertain as to how it should be faced.I could give numerous anonymous illustrations of persons I know within the life of our congregation for whom homosexuality is a constant issue.

Reason three: Here in Southern California, we have a homosexual community that has been devastated by HIV/AIDS.

Although this terrible disease wreaks its worldwide havoc also among the heterosexual community, it has taken a particular early toll here in the United States on homosexuals. How heartbreaking it is to walk through this odyssey of living death with friends who have this disease. How helpless are their family members.

Reason four: Our own Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination continues to wrestle with this issue.

Several times in the last 30 years we have come close to schism over it.

Reason five, the major reason I am addressing this issue today: It has recently dawned on me that we in the church have become silent, intimidated by the radical gay activist lobby in American society.

They label those of us who speak Biblical truth on this topic as “homophobic,” picturing us as hung up on sexual issues. Wanting to be pastoral, broadminded, caring, it is easier to simply shut up while the advocates of this lifestyle shape public opinion in every way possible.

Within the last several weeks, a highly respected United States Senator was made an object of ridicule and abuse for some very honest, straightforward comments he made, expressing his viewpoints as they have been shaped by his Roman Catholic faith.

But the straw that broke the camel’s back was a friend who shared with me an essay his grandson was forced to write for a required college course taught by his lesbian academic advisor. Let me read to you some of the questions this young man was required to address. The same questions in the reverse forced upon a gay or lesbian student would be grounds for a sexual harassment suit.

Here are some of the questions:

What do you think caused your heterosexuality?
When and how did you decide you were a heterosexual?
Is it possible that your heterosexuality is just a phase you may grow out of?
Is it possible that your heterosexuality stems from a neurotic fear of others of the same sex?
If you have never slept with a person of the same sex, is it possible that all you need is a good Gay lover?
Just what do men and women do in bed together?
How can they truly know how to please each other, being so anatomically different?

And the list went on.

I personally believe that it is unconscionable that our young people have to be raised in an environment that makes them defensive of their own heterosexuality and to see themselves as sexually inhibited if they are unwilling to experiment and/or refuse to accept all sexual lifestyles as equally valid.

It is important that we look at the Bible to see what it has to say about this important topic. However, independent of what the Bible has to say about homosexuality, and in spite of all the problematic and conflicting data that is available, there are some things we do know for certain.

We do know that homosexuality is a difficult problem. There are no easy answers to it. We don’t fully understand its causes, and there are no easy formulas for its solution.

We also know that it can be rooted in early life, emerging from a culturally-conditioned set of interpersonal relationships. There are some persons more vulnerable to this than others, whether that vulnerability be of an environmental or hereditary nature. However, for some, there is a moment in which this orientation shifts into practice. A decision is made. An act of the will is involved in practicing that which, up to a given point, is a matter or orientation.

We also know that this practice is somewhat triggered by a sensate existence. A person without this particular orientation can involve himself or herself in a quest for thrills stemming from boredom. Not all persons who have a homosexual orientation go on to flesh it out. Some who have a lesser orientation in this direction than others, out of curiosity or sexual stimulation, determine to experiment.

From my own experience with persons involved in homosexual practice, I am convinced that this is not a happy existence. There is very little “gay” about it. I have seen marriages broken as one of the partners practices this on the side and finally leaves the marriage for partners of the same sex. I have seen children confused, unable to understand what is breaking up their family. I have talked at length with serious professionals who live in constant fear of being blackmailed for their homosexual practice. They question their job security. They want a permanent interpersonal relationship, which few of them are able to find.

These are persons. They must be dealt with fairly. Discrimination is wrong wherein a person is seriously grappling with the problem in a way that is not seductive of others.

And, in the midst of all this debate, the Bible does have something to say.

Fortunately, it does speak clearly. One would have to force unnatural exegesis on the Scriptures to come up with a biblical rationalization for homosexual practice.

None other than Dr. Thomas Gillespie, the highly esteemed president of Princeton Theological Seminary, addresses the efforts of some scholars to reinterpret the biblical texts differently from their historical interpretation in very strong language. He refers to these efforts as “intellectually bogus.” They endeavor to make the Bible say what they want it to say, not what it does actually say.

If you and I are truly believers in Jesus Christ and take the Scriptures seriously, all scientific research, all medical and psychological data, must be subject to the ultimate standard provided by biblical authority.

The Bible articulates at least three specific principles. Let’s look at these.

Principle one: The practice of homosexual activity is a sin which stands judged by God as an abomination.

The Bible contains a wide variety of references to such behavior. All are negative. Not one single passage endorses homosexual conduct as acceptable to God’s will.

The Bible describes candidly many forms of sexual behavior. It indicates that those in a covenant relationship with God sometimes engage in actions that are repugnant, such as incest and the use of prostitutes. God, under some circumstances, permits sexual patterns among His people that are less than ideal, such as divorce and polygamy. But the clear implication of Genesis 2:20-24 and the New Testament witness is that sexual activity is to be channeled within the marriage bond and that fornication, adultery and homosexual activity are against God’s will, however frequently they may be practiced.

The Old Testament highlights the perverted practice that caused the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Hebrew word “to know” is used throughout the Scriptures as a euphemism for sexual intercourse. The men of Sodom wanted to have such activity with Lot’s guests (Genesis 19:5). A number of the Old Testament passages in the Leviticus code, such as Leviticus 18, condemn homosexual behavior along with bestiality and incest and prescribe severe penalties against it. It is called “an abomination.”

Some say that the New Testament church declares its independence from the Old Testament law code. It is significant that the Apostles did not let down the barriers to accommodate themselves to pagan sexual mores, which were as casual as our eating habits and which tolerated fornication, adultery and homosexual activity with little public stigma. Instead, Paul indicates that one of the major evidences of paganism’s religious bankruptcy is the helpless tendency of its intellectuals towards sexual inversion.

Homosexuality and lesbianism are listed first after adultery when Paul lists the evidences of human wickedness and rebellion against God. Paul writes: “For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:26-27). These are mentioned not because they are the most serious of sins but because they are warning signs that a violation of reason and nature has occurred.

Dr. Richard Lovelace of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary compares this to a blinking red light on an automobile dashboard to show that something is functioning improperly. Those who would plead that the Bible condemns only lustful and unloving homosexual behavior have to face the reality of this passage. Paul says that such activities cry out against nature itself. Such widespread practice is a signal that a culture is in deep spiritual trouble!

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 notes that unrepentant acts of homosexuality are simply not compatible with Christianity. 1 Timothy 1:9-10, along with Jude 1:4-7 and 1 Peter 2:6-10, continue to underline this biblical principle. The Bible could not be clearer.

Principle two: The Bible clearly says that homosexual orientation is not sin.

Every single one of us here today has orientations which can lead to sin. You have the potential to steal. Perhaps you have been tempted. You have the orientation to lie. Perhaps you have been tempted. You have the orientation to be unloving in your attitude toward another person. Perhaps you are tempted. You wouldn’t for a moment say that the orientation is sin. You know it is the practice. You know that God has given you the Holy Spirit to empower you to live victoriously over sin. You need His power.

For some, homosexuality isn’t the least bit appealing. Perhaps you cannot relate to that orientation. Yet you are fully appreciative of what it is to experience heterosexual temptation. The orientation is not the sin. I cannot underline that too strongly. It is the practice that is the sin.

The Apostle Paul touches on this in a profound way when he says, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Romans 1:24-25).

Paul’s warning is clear to you and me that whenever we shift our attention from God and our worship of the Creator to ourselves and our worship of the creature, we are distorting how we were created to function in a way that brings devastating results. It is out of this shifting from God to ourselves that we become caught up in improper conduct. Paul mentions homosexual practices on an equal with the other sins as he refers to the ways in which we act out this creature worship.

I remember being asked to address the public rally of some 10,000 persons gathered to oppose a county ordinance that would make it against the law to discriminate against homosexuals. I was invited because those who sponsored the rally knew my faithfulness to the Bible. They simply assumed that I would agree to their legal position because we agreed theologically on this matter. I can still remember as one after another of those religious leaders got up and read Romans 1, quoting what we have already quoted about homosexual practice. I was astounded to observe that not one of those leaders, in their zeal to attack homosexual practice, read aloud the preceding and the following verses. The most prominent of these leaders were those who went on to found the Moral Majority. These were persons quick to identify sin in the lives of others without realizing that the root cause of sin is pride, creature worship and that the list of sinful actions outlined in Romans 1 that specifically mentions homosexual practice continues on to list other sins much more common to the 10,000 persons at that rally and those of us gathered here this morning, myself included. Romans 1:28-32 reads:

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die – yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.

What we see here is that we all have an orientation to disobedience. Most of us cannot relate to the one of homosexual orientation. Yet there are a few of us in this room who have emerged from childhood with this homosexual orientation and tendency. Some are forced into it. Others willfully have given themselves to it. At the same time, there are those of this orientation who have, in repentance and anguish before God, struggled through it. They have found His victory. They are empowered by His Holy Spirit. They have carried this cross in a spirit of self-denial that has enabled them to have powerful ministries for Jesus Christ as a result.

I have never known anyone who has this orientation to come out of it without a tremendous struggle.

I think back to my own associations of years past. I discovered years later that one of the men most instrumental in guiding me into full-time Gospel ministry struggled all of his life with his homosexual orientation, and not too successfully. His bisexuality took a tremendous toll on his relationship with his wife and family. Yet I will forever be indebted to him for the wise counsel and help that God enabled him to give me at a critical point in my life.

I think of another friend who has gone through extensive counseling, spiritual direction, with occasional stumbling along the way, who has claimed God’s help and forgiveness.

I think of another who has been of enormous help to many of us through his writing and his lectures who, with God’s help and deep inner struggle, has maintained a celibate lifestyle. His entire orientation was homosexual. It was only with God’s help that he was able to rechannel those desires into creative ministry.

I even have a friend who, with God’s help, went through extensive counseling and with the help of Lord he became reoriented toward a biblical, heterosexual lifestyle.

The Bible says the practice is sin. The orientation is not sin.

Principle three: The Bible clearly says we are to love the sinner while we hate the sin.

I almost hesitate to make this statement because it sounds like an all-too-frequently stated cliche. However, I mean it from the depths of my heart. It is possible to differentiate between the two.

Too many of us tend to view this as the unforgivable sin. I have known parents who have written off their children who have shown these tendencies. They want nothing to do with them. After all, the Bible calls it an abomination. They forget that the Bible doesn’t call the person an abomination. The Bible calls the sinful act an abomination.

Some of us, in our fear, in our anxiety, in our uncertainty about the unknown, and perhaps in a subtle fear about our own latent homosexual tendencies, lash out in hostility against persons who are created in the image of God. We have never mastered the principle that we are to “love the sinner while we hate the sin.”

Homosexual practice is not the unforgivable sin!

All sinners stand loved by God. Practicing, avowed, unrepentant sinners of any kind are loved by God, so much that He went to the cross. That is why the Swiss psychiatrist, Paul Tournier, is able to say that Christianity is the only religion in the world which states that God loves the unrighteous more than the righteous. God showed His love for you and me. Even while you and I were yet sinners, Christ died for our sins. You and I need to find new ways to communicate God’s love and grace. We need to understand better the problems of those who struggle with this orientation. We need to share with them love and compassion, never compromising what the Bible has to say about sin, but always extending the word of God’s grace – His love to every human being no matter what their practice is.

This has implications for our 30-year struggle within the Presbyterian Church (USA). I believe the facts are that there is no place in the ordained ministry for any “avowed, practicing, unrepentant sinner.” In fact, wouldn’t the same be true for the church of Jesus Christ? What is the difference between a believer and a non-believer? Isn’t the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian that the Christian is the one who has acknowledged that he trusts in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, having repented of sin, noting that he cannot save himself? The key word here is repentance. How sad it is that the issue has been put to apply primarily to homosexuals.

The problem is not exclusively that of homosexual practice. The problem is that our denomination, continually pressed by the gay lobby, considered declaring homosexual practice part of God’s design. The Bible clearly speaks against that. The Bible calls all sinners to repentance and trust in Jesus Christ. Basic not only to ordination but even to church membership is that a person should be repentant for his/her sins.

What if someone acknowledges that his homosexual acts are sins and is truly repentant but finds himself slipping back into the practice from time to time? What success is needed in overcoming one’s besetting sin before one is considered worthy for ordination?

Those are big questions, aren’t they? They become even bigger when we address them to those of us who have never had a struggle with that particular sin. What degree of success do I have in my own repentance, my own overcoming of my unbridled tongue, my temper, my love of money, my lack of sensitivity to my wife and children? Am I truly worthy to be ordained a minister of the Gospel or am I a contaminating influence in the church of Jesus Christ?

Not all persons who qualify to be Christians are necessarily qualified to be ordained, ruling and teaching elders. There are two specific conditions which traditionally have been part of Presbyterian ordination. One is that a person have a sense of call to full-time Gospel ministry. We are quite aware of that one. There is a second specific condition. That call must be confirmed by others. A person cannot be ordained until he or she receives a call from a group of persons who are convinced that the person is qualified to serve them. Do you get the implication of this? That everyone who wants to be ordained can be ordained? That everyone who feels called is, necessarily, called?

There is a place in the ministry for anyone confessing sin, acknowledging Jesus Christ as Savior, sensing a call, and who, in the discerning judgment of others, also receives a call. Billy Graham has been quoted as saying that he believes there is a place for a non-practicing, repentant homosexual to serve the church of Jesus Christ. I am forced, by my understanding of God’s grace, to agree with him. We are to be persons enabled and ennobled by the Holy Spirit. There are no limits to God’s healing, reconstituting power.

Let me conclude with a word of what the Bible doesn’t say about homosexuality.

The Bible does not tell us how homosexuality develops in persons. That balance between the genetic and environmental is a delicate balance. However, the Bible does say that there are moments of choice in which a person decides to flesh out that orientation.

The Bible is opposed to homophobia, the fear and the hatred of homosexual persons. It leaves absolutely no room for gay-bashing. It closes the door on our snide, clever, gay-bashing jokes. In fact, if there are gradations of sin in Scripture, and I question whether there are, I would have to believe that homophobia brings at least as much pain to the heart of God as does homosexual practice. Homophobia dehumanizes that one whom God loves every bit as much as He loves you and me.

The Bible does not see a homosexually oriented person as distinct from a heterosexually oriented person.

The Bible describes each of us as sinners in need of God’s love and forgiveness through what Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross. At one memorial service I did for a homosexual friend who died of AIDS, my opening words were, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross. Someday I look forward to embracing David, my brother, in the presence of Jesus Christ. Both of us are sinners saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It was at that moment that I saw the tears begin to gather in the eyes and trickle down the faces of those persons, both gay and straight, gathered for his memorial service. The Bible does not say I am one bit better than you because I am straight and you are gay. David’s repentance came late, and the earthly consequences of his lifestyle were horrendous. I, too, in this life, live with the consequences of my sin. But God’s grace is available to all who repent and trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

My bottom-line thesis statement is that you and I dare not let the world write our agenda for us. We live in an issue-oriented society. New causes come along every few years. These issues can dominate our attention. They can take over our conversation. It is important that we not let them distort what is our true calling. We are all to proclaim the Good News of God’s redemption in Jesus Christ. We are to call men, women and children to repentance and trust in the Savior. We are called to help them grow in their life and service for others as we take a stand on each serious issue. Let’s do it with conviction combined with compassion. Let us give our most substantial energies to the primary task of declaring the Good News of the positive Gospel of Jesus Christ!


John A. Huffman, Jr. is the Senior Minister at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA. He is a Senior Contributing Editor to Preaching.

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