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Part 6: Listening to God's Word — Jesus Christ
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Jan 27, 2016)
The following is the sixth in a series on Homosexuality and God's Merciful Love. You can follow the entire series here.
One of the new things about the current debate over homosexuality is that for the first time in history, some biblical scholars are claiming that Holy Scripture does not give clear guidance on the issue.
For example, as I mentioned earlier in this series of articles, I have a friend named Peter Fitch who is a Protestant pastor in the denomination called "The Vineyard." Peter has self-published a book entitled Learning to Interpret Toward Love in which he argues at length that the Bible nowhere condemns "loving and faithful" same-sex partnerships. So, over the course of the next few installments of this series, I will share parts of my response to his book, especially about what Scripture really says, and what "love" in its fullness really means.
Peter argues that homosexuality is a "minor" theme in the Bible, since there are only seven passages about it in the one thousand pages or so of Holy Scripture, and "none" from Jesus himself. Meanwhile, there are "hundreds if not thousands" of verses that condemn greed and the oppression of the poor. The implication: Same-sex relationships are no big deal to God, and we should focus our concern on justice for the poor instead.
This emphasis in the Bible, however, only stands to reason. Homosexual behavior is something that consistently tempts only about 2-4 percent of the human population, whereas the oppression and exploitation of the poor is often a feature of entire socio-economic systems, which involve almost everyone in one way or another. Moreover, it may be that Scripture does not discuss the subject more often because most people at the time — at least among Jews and Christians — were fully convinced of the immorality of homosexual behavior, so it did not need to be emphasized or reiterated. In any case, it does not appear from the Bible that it is a "minor" issue to God. In fact, it is presented in Scripture as a salvation-issue for those involved in it, for it is among those things that can prevent the unrepentant from "inheriting the kingdom of God" (I Cor 6:9; cf. I Tim 1:10 and Rom 1:18-32).
Did Jesus Christ, the true Word of God made flesh (Jn 1:14), really say nothing at all about homosexuality? In Mark 7:21 He speaks of the "evil" that comes from the "hearts" of men and women, and He lists several examples, including a Greek word (porneia) that is usually translated as "unchastity" or "fornication" (see also the parallel passage in Mt 15:19). It was actually a blanket term that can refer to all forms of extra-marital sex and sexual immorality — and usually does, when there is no indication in the context that a more limited meaning of the word was intended. Although Jesus was speaking Aramaic and not Greek, St. Mark translated what he said with the word porneia, and there is nothing about the way Jesus spoke here that would imply that He was referring to a limited idea. In short, Jesus was almost certainly referring to all that His Jewish listeners understood to be sexually immoral, including all those extra-marital forms of sexual behavior condemned in the Law of Moses — including homosexual acts (see Lev 18:22, 20:13). This is one of the forms of "evil" that comes from within the human heart.
Evangelical Bible commentator Kevin DeYoung sums up the matter like this:
To insist that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality is not really accurate. Not only did he explicitly reaffirm the creation account of marriage as the one flesh union of a man and a woman (Mt 19:4-6; Mk 10:6-9); he condemned the sin of porneia (Mk 7:21), a broad word encompassing every kind of sexual sin. The leading New Testament lexicon defines porneia as "unlawful sexual intercourse, prostitution, unchastity, fornication." Likewise, New Testament scholar James Edwards states that porneia "can be found in Greek literature with reference to a variety of illicit sexual practices, including adultery, fornication, prostitution, and homosexuality. In the Old Testament [Greek Septuagint version] it occurs for any sexual practice outside of marriage between a man and a woman that is prohibited by the Torah." Jesus didn't have to give a special sermon on homosexuality because all of his listeners understood that same-sex behavior was prohibited in the Pentateuch [the first five books of the Bible] and reckoned as one of the many expressions of sexual sin (porneia) off limits for the Jews (Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality. Wheaton: Crossway, 2015, pp. 74-75).
In fact, even if DeYoung and I are wrong about Mark 7:21, the seeming silence of Jesus about homosexuality would still not be very significant. After all, Jesus said nothing explicit about slavery either — but that hardly implies that He thought slavery an unimportant issue, much less that He morally approved of it. Our Lord's general method of ethical instruction was to provide His disciples with the first principles of a Kingdom way-of-life, and then to live out those principles right before their eyes. It was then up to his disciples, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to unfold the implications of those first principles, and that lived example, and apply it to the moral and social questions that the Christian community would face in every generation. Hence, Jesus did not say anything explicit about slavery, but He taught his disciples to love their neighbor without exception, and treated slaves as persons with full human dignity and worth (e.g., by healing them). All of this clearly implied that He loved them, and saw them as fully human beings and not just as "property" — and this already undermines the basis of slavery.
Again, even if Jesus did not say anything explicit about homosexuality, still, He did speak in very strong terms in Matthew, chapter 19 about God's creation "blueprint" for marriage and human sexual bonding: God created human beings as male and female from the beginning, so that they could form one-flesh unions that no one should try to tear apart (Mt 19: 4-5). Jesus did not say that two persons in general were meant to form such one-flesh unions: they were to be male and female. The implications of Christ's teaching here for alternative sexual relationships (e.g., homosexual unions, polygamous relationships) are pretty clear, just as the implications of His words and deeds for slavery are pretty clear.
So Jesus Christ rejected all forms of sexual immorality (including, implicitly, homosexual acts). But let's remember that while He hates every sin, He also loves every sinner. Indeed, it is precisely because He loves us so much that He hates the sins that we commit that degrade and wound our souls and bodies.
Moreover, we have to ask, in all honesty, why Catholics historically have tended to feel that the Lord hates the sins involved in same-sex relationships more than the sins that many heterosexual people commit, such as sins of greed, racism, and adultery. Homosexual relationships were once referred to as something that "dares not speak its name." It was held to be an especially unspeakable moral crime, one of the sins that "cries to heaven for vengeance." But Jesus knows that homosexuals are just sinners not-yet-fully-cured, like all the rest of us. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: "We had all gone astray like sheep, all following our own way; But the Lord laid on him the guilt of us all" (53:6). This means that every gay man and woman that you ever meet is someone whom Jesus loved so much that He gave his life for them on the Cross, just as He did for you and for me. Moreover, He taught us that whatever we do even to "the least of these brothers of mine," — including those who are struggling with the inner "disorder," wound and brokenness of same-sex attraction, a condition for which they are largely not responsible — He takes as done to Himself (Mt 25: 25-40).
If we cannot understand our Lord's attitude to homosexuality by placing it in the context of the unfathomable, merciful love of His Heart for each and every one of us, then sadly, that may say a lot more about us — about our own guilt complexes and sexual insecurities — than it does about our gay brothers and sisters. In fact, apart from His mercy, we cannot really understand our Lord's attitude about anything at all. From beginning to end, as he said to St. Faustina, "I am Love and Mercy itself" (Diary, 1074).
Next week: Listening to God's Word — The Old Testament
You can follow the entire series here.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.