Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Homosexuality and Freedom
The issue of homosexuality is one of the most contentious issues in American culture today. The biblical position is clearly that homosexuality is wrong. The point of this post is not to prove this, but rather to talk about how we respond to this teaching. If you want to look into the biblical framework, you can read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:9-11, or Romans 1:24-27. Also, you can listen to a message that I just preached at Life Bible Fellowship Church this past Sunday if you want to hear my framework on these passages and this issue.
Of all the biblical positions that Christian embrace, this may be the one that is least tenable in our culture. There are many reasons for this. One of the key reasons is that this teaching seems to take away the freedom for people to define themselves.
I confess that, when dealing with the values of our culture, it is a hard sell when trying to convince people that homosexuality is wrong. It is an uphill climb. I don't believe that this post will necessarily convince anyone to change their position. I do, however, hope to present some thoughts that may be able to help us with our framework as we talk about the issue.
The main issue at stake in this post is this: Does the Bible's teaching on homosexuality rob people of their freedom?
In a sense, it seems like the answer is a very obvious, 'Yes.' When anything is forbidden, this robs people of freedom. In this sense, all prohibitions in the Bible rob human beings of freedom. Prohibitions against adultery, murder, robbery, slander, and pride all rob people of freedom. The prohibitions force us to change our actions, to limit ourselves. In order to follow them we must say 'No' to our impulses when we feel like slandering others, retaliating in violence, acting on sexual impulses, and thinking too highly of ourselves. All commands, in a certain sense, rob us of freedom.
To follow this up, it is reasonable to conclude that most people agree that it is good for us to limit our freedom. Most of us believe that in every situation we should not exercise our freedom to murder or rob one another. And most of us believe that, at least most of the time, we should not commit adultery or speak disparagingly of others.
But why do we limit our freedoms? Is it just so that others are not victims of our slander or violence or pride? If this is the case, then we might say, "Our lives would be better if we could freely enact our violent and sexual and verbal and territorial impulses, but for the good of others, we must deny ourselves." We might lament our loss of freedom, but begrudging accept the situation.
But would our lives really be better if we lived completely by our impulses? The answer is certainly 'No.' In fact, true freedom is not about the ability to say 'Yes,' but the ability to say 'No.' Before the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves were not free because they had to say Yes to their masters. Their freedom was defined by their ability now to say 'No' to them. When we are free, we are able to say 'No' to those who would make oppressive demands from us. Denial is core to the idea of freedom.
But now comes the point of divergence between those who embrace the gospel of Jesus and those who reject it. Those who embrace Jesus end up concluding that Jesus sets us free from a number of oppressive masters. In fact, we conclude that, for the most part, our impulses are oppressive masters. Our impulse toward pride will end up placing us in the prison of self-love. Our impulse toward anger will place us in the prison of bitterness and resentment. Our impulse toward rampant sexual exploration will place us in the prison of hollow sexual addition or the quest to fulfill ourselves through sex. Our impulse toward speaking cruel words to others will place us in the prison of loneliness and self-importance. When we let our impulses lead us, we are not free. We are their slaves. We have to do what they tell us to do. What we think will bring freedom only brings slavery.
But the point of all this is not that there is no proper expression of the freedom for which we long. The point is not that we can't get freedom. The point is just that we often look for it in the wrong places. We look for it in the free expression of our appetites for food and drink and sex and revenge, while all of these lead to slavery instead of freedom. But behind all of these misguided actions is the proper desire for freedom. We want it, and God knows we want it.
Jesus said that he came to set us free, and that freedom comes with becoming his disciples and obeying his words. Freedom comes not through obeying our misguided impulses, but neither does freedom come through throwing off any possible master. We as human beings are not free, and we need a liberator to lead us to freedom. Jesus is the master and liberator who leads us to freedom.
Can a master lead you to freedom? Can you get freedom through obeying everything that a person tells you to do? It sounds like a paradox, but it isn't. If you are tangled up in chains, you would gladly obey the instructions of someone who was able, step by step to tell you how to become untangled. If you were trapped in a dark cave, you would gladly obey every instruction of a person who came to lead you to freedom. Jesus is the master, the Son of God, who died in order to lead us to freedom. He claims that he can do it. The only question is whether or not we trust him enough to follow his lead.
Now, when it comes to homosexuality, there is clarity that God's Word identifies it as a sinful activity. This means it is an activity that will not lead us to freedom, but instead to slavery. Like other sins, it offers us freedom because it offers us the opportunity to freely follow our impulses. Whether or not there is a genetic condition that leads to same-sex attractions, it is clear that some people will live a homosexual lifestyle if they freely follow their impulses.
Many of us want to ask why it leads to slavery instead of freedom. I think that we do have some answers to this question. We could conclude from the Bible that we are compromising our masculinity or femininity when we trade in heterosexuality for homosexuality (Romans 1). We could conclude that we overlook how God has made us (emotionally and also biologically), and thus miss out on the lives God has ordained for us. But we also must, to some extent, exercise faith in cases like these. There are many times, when following someone to freedom, that you must trust him without knowing why a certain path is necessary. Sometimes we must deny our appetites even though we are saying to God, "This other way seems better to me." In order for finite human beings to experience freedom, we must at some level be willing to trust the infinite God who sent his Son to purchase our freedom.
So, in the end, the biggest question does not concern the wrongness of homosexuality (or any sin). The biggest question concerns whether or not we trust Jesus to lead us to freedom. He claims that he can do it. Do we believe him?
If we do, then we all must be willing to say 'No' to a number of impulses in order to say 'Yes' to him and his leading.