As the case for gay marriage continues to ramp up, we may wonder how those who are claiming to be Christians, but who also are advocating gay marriage, can actually believe that the Bible supports their views. We often hear that Jesus never said anything to condemn it. They seem to miss the fact that Jesus argued for marriage “from the beginning,” and that this was rooted in the creation of male and female (Matt. 19:4-6). He didn’t have to specifically condemn what the Law had clearly condemned in no uncertain terms.
However, the argument we are hearing even more is that the those passages that unequivocally condemn gay practice are in a pagan context and associated with the ancient idolatrous culture. These weren’t God-fearing gays who were in a loving and committed relationship, you see. These were pagans involved in ritualistic prostitution, and that, they would agree, is wrong.
We seem to argue, “that was just their culture,” for just about everything these days. The problem with this argument, though, connected to the passages that condemn the behavior, is that, as the saying goes, it proves too much. If it’s all based on a pagan context, then what about the other items condemned in the very same context?
In Romans 1, for example, Paul not only condemns “men with men” and “women with women,” he also condemns unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, envy, slander, haters of God, the insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, being disobedient to parents, without understanding, the untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful.
Why isn’t anyone arguing that these are also in a pagan context, so as long as we take it out of that context, it is perfectly fine to be greedy, envious, and slanderous? As long as it’s not in a pagan cultural context, we can be insolent, boastful, arrogant, and disobedient to parents? In a different culture, it’s okay to be untrustworthy and unmerciful.
It’s the same context, and honesty demands consistency.
Further, the way Paul makes his argument is not just grounded in a pagan context, but it is grounded in creation. Paganism is a sign that people have forgotten the Creator, so they worship the creature. The reason they are doing what is indecent is because they have lost sight of God as the Creator, who alone has the right to determine proper relationships. Marriage doesn’t change the condemnation of “men with men” or “women with women” doing what is unnatural.
Let’s take 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. While pagan practices were certainly a part of the culture, bear in mind that in the very same context that gay practice is condemned, so is the practice of fornication, idolatry, adultery, thievery, covetousness, drunkenness, reviling, and swindling. Would anyone care to argue that as long as it is removed from the pagan context, it would be okay to practice adultery, thievery, and drunkenness? Why do they only pick out what has to do with gay practice to say these are just based in culture, while ignoring the rest?
One could just as well argue that Paul’s argument against fornication in the same chapter (1 Cor. 6:14-20) is based on ritualistic prostitution, so once we get away from that kind of context, it would be okay to practice fornication.
The same can be said for 1 Timothy 1:8-11. Those who practice homosexuality are right there in the middle of the unholy, profane, those who kill their fathers and mothers, kidnappers, liars, and perjurers. Who looks at that context and says, “Well, that’s just pagan culture, so in a different culture being a kidnapper would be okay”?
Taking any of these things out of a pagan cultural context doesn’t change the nature of the sin, nor does it change the consequences.
Let’s also recall that pagan practices are rooted in forgetting God as the Creator to worship the creature, as Romans 1 makes clear. When we understand that marriage is founded upon God as the Creator, and we see how God established marriage from the beginning, then we cannot argue that God ever intended anything other than male and female cleaving to each other, suitable to each other, becoming one flesh with each other.
When we ignore what is rooted in creation, with God as Creator, and begin to change the fundamental nature of God’s expressed intentions, then we have indeed become worshipers of the creature rather than the Creator.
Perhaps we are still in that pagan culture after all.
Note: I know that just as sure I post this, we will hear, “but we have to hate the sin and love the sinner.” Indeed, and loving the sinner includes a call to repentance for all of us. Notice, also, that I’m talking about the practice, not an identity. We cannot ignore what practicing any of these things in these contexts, pagan or otherwise, will do to our souls.