Listening to sermons is a valuable research tool for anybody who wants to stay current on what various evangelical churches are teaching. I listen to sermons on homosexuality at almost every opportunity, and recently I’ve noticed a shift in many of the arguments. While the traditional approach has been to use Leviticus, Romans, and a few other scattered references to say everything from “it’s an abomination” to “we’re all sinners,” more and more preachers are opting to use Matthew 19. It makes sense for a Christian to look at what Christ said on any given topic, they are after all ‘Christ-ians.’ In the case of marriage, though, the idea that Jesus had anything at all to say about homosexuality is quite frankly offensive. Not to political sensitivities, but offensive to our human proclivity for honesty. To read into the text what isn’t there, and to use that to manipulate a congregation of believers, is dishonest at best.
Matthew 19:3-6 (NIV) ~ Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator made them ‘male and female,’ and said, ‘for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Let’s unpack this. The Pharisees asked Jesus a very specific question. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife …?” The question was specific to heterosexual marriage. Jesus’ answer was specific to the question. This was a moment in which Jesus was being tested by his detractors to see if he knew the law regarding man, wife, and divorce. To hijack the passage and hold it up as an example of Christ’s condemnation of homosexuality is absurd.
It is argued that by referencing Genesis, Jesus was re-enforcing man-woman relations as the God ordained purpose for human sexuality. What this argument fails to realize is that the whole man-woman thing is strictly for procreation, the perpetuation of our species. Physically, the male and female sexes together are capable of reproduction, and for the majority of humans, sexual orientation facilitates that. Genesis is not insistent, however, that everyone be heterosexual. The existence of a natural way to reproduce has nothing to do with natural ways of showing affection or natural ways of enjoying intimate pleasure. These are often interconnected, but quite different things. Genesis is silent on this, it speaks only to relationships allowing for procreation and says nothing about relationships in which procreation isn’t possible. Otherwise we would have to consider relationships in which the couple is beyond their child-bearing years, not to mention young couples who cannot bear children. Going with the logic of the “God created them man and woman to multiply” argument, these too would be abominations.
Now, whenever it’s said that Genesis does not speak of homosexuality, somebody will inevitably bring up Genesis 19 (the story of Sodom and Gomorrah). That’s a topic for a different post, but there’s a discussion about it on our “Think” page. Regardless of what people think the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is about, a careful examination of ancient Middle East culture and scripture debunks the idea that the cities were destroyed because of homosexuality. There were a multitude of legal violations going on, to use the story as a scapegoat to justify anti-gay bias is too simplistic a reading.
Sermonizing on Matthew 19 is a desperate attempt to justify exclusionary bias. One by one, the evangelical and apologetic arguments have failed, and now we have preachers twisting and spinning the supposed words of Jesus of Nazareth into something that isn’t even there. To a faithful congregation, the idea that Jesus had a deeper meaning to his response is easy to believe, but such meaning would have been unnecessary and lost on the Israelites of 2,000 years ago. It must be said that Jesus was silent on the topic of same-sex relationships, and those who say otherwise must be corrected. There is simply no Christ-based argument to be made.
To our evangelical friends – use your best arguments against us, but avoid Matthew 19. When all of your arguments fail, which they have and will continue to do, join us in accepting and welcoming people for who they are; and not who you perceive them to be. I promise you will find a much happier life in embracing one another.