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What Would Jesus Say to Homosexuals?

by  John McLarty *

When we ask that question what is it we really want to know? Do we want to know what Jesus would say to marchers in the West Hollywood gay pride parade that we read about in the newspaper? Are we wondering how to vote next week when the school board decides on renewing the contract for the sixth-grade teacher? Are we looking for guidance as we vote on a denominational position statement? Or wisdom as we study the Bible with a homosexual preparing for baptism? Are we trying to interpret Jesus for our own son or daughter? Perhaps we are listening intently for Jesus’ word in our own struggle with sexual matters? What does Jesus think of us? How does he want us to live?

It’s important to know just what question we’re asking because the question we ask often determines what we hear in reply. There are several passages of Scripture that come to my mind in response to the question: What would Jesus say to a homosexual?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Matthew 5:3 

What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”? Poor in spirit does not refer to nice, church-going people who realize they need “more of Jesus.” It describes people who are morally, spiritually, emotionally empty, people with zero spiritual assets, people who are spiritually bankrupt. Jesus announces the amazing news that these people are blessed.

What does “blessed” mean? In some contexts it means “happy,” but not here. Jesus is not making light of the pain of people struggling in spiritual poverty. He is not saying to people tormented by brokenness and evil, “Cheer up! Things aren’t really all that bad.” Instead, after giving careful attention to the painful reality of their lives, he reveals the astonishing fact that God regards them with tender affection. The word blessed means “favored by God.” It means God likes you. It is the opposite of cursed, which means targeted by God for punishment and retribution. To be blessed means to be the target of God’s kindness and salvation.

Finally, in this first declaration of his most famous sermon, Jesus announces that those who are spiritually bankrupt are not just the targets of God’s warm feelings, God has made specific provisions for them to participate in his plans for the future of the universe: “The kingdom of heaven is theirs.” 

Many homosexuals who’ve shared their stories with me have carried a profound sense of unworthiness. They are profoundly dissatisfied with themselves. They feel condemned and unwanted by God. Sometimes they are isolated from their parents and siblings. Frequently they are unwanted at church. They feel desperately poor in spirit. And Jesus’ first word to them is: You are blessed; the kingdom of heaven belongs to you.

If you believe homosexuals are spiritually bankrupt, make sure the first word they hear from you is the amazing news that they have a place in the kingdom of heaven and that God regards them with warm affection. If you yourself feel condemned and broken because of your sexual identity or sexual behavior, please hear Jesus: God likes you and he has a place for you in his kingdom, and in his heart. He’s counting on spending eternity with you. Jesus’ first word to homosexuals (and to all humans) is “Blessed are the poor in spirit for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” 

"You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you, ‘Anyone who looks on a woman for the purpose of lust, in his heart has committed adultery already.’” Matthew 5:27, 28 

One of the great challenges in modern life is pornography, both hard core, graphic material and the more subtle pornography of advertising and entertainment. Pornography leads us to separate physical desirability from personhood. It encourages biological avarice which always damages the person who lusts and sometimes damages the persons who are targets of that lust.

In this passage Jesus makes it clear that the cultivation of a pure heart is essential to authentic Christian living. Whatever you believe about life-long partnerships between homosexuals (or heterosexuals), the second word Jesus speaks to you about sexuality is to avoid every activity which encourages lust. And by lust, I mean desire for sexual adventure apart from commitment (i.e. enduring relationships), desire for a person’s body apart from their mind and heart, a desire to possess apart from a willingness to give, a desire to be “done to” apart from a pledge of genuinely mutual care, accountability and faithfulness. God intended sex to be the climax and seal of spiritual and emotional union. Sex as a non-personal toy is lethal to body, mind and spirit.

Whatever your sexual identity, reject every practice, no matter how culturally acceptable, that encourages lust.

"If you want to reach the pinnacle of spiritual development, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me." Matthew 19:21 

I believe this passage is significant for two reasons. First of all, Jesus sometimes makes preposterous demands on people. That is they would be preposterous if anyone other Jesus made them. Second, not every command of Jesus is for every believer.

Jesus told this young man to sell everything and give his money to the poor. Then he was to come and join Jesus in his itinerant ministry. Can you imagine giving away everything you own and taking up an itinerant ministry? Jesus was very clear that for this young man, this complete self-emptying was crucial for his reception of eternal life. But when he talked to a wealthy older man, he didn’t say a word about his money (John 3). And when he ate lunch with a wealthy tax collector, Jesus said nothing about changing his career (Luke 19).

Christian history is marked with fantastic stories of individuals who have been called by God to make heroic sacrifices: Francis of Assisi who gave up money, home and hope of marriage; Gladys Aylward who gave up British citizenship and became a naturalized Chinese citizen; Polycarp, who at age 84 gladly embraced martyrdom for his faith. The list is endless: Fernando and Anna Stahl, Harry Miller, Mother Teresa, Father Damien of Molokai, John Woolman, David Brainerd.

The example of these heroes inspire us, but God does not call most of us to leave home and job and family, instead he calls us to faithfulness in an ordinary life of work and family.

So what do we make of the story of the rich, young man? First, Jesus does sometimes make daunting demands. Not every call of Jesus is an invitation to greater self-fulfillment and increased comfort. He calls some to celibacy. Second, he does not call all alike. Be very hesitant to tell someone else what call God is giving them. Don’t measure others by your understanding of God’s call in your life. And be especially reluctant to urge on others heroic obedience that you yourself are not practicing. Be very attentive to the voice of God in your own life, and if he calls you to heroic sacrifice and service, understand that such a call is a great honor.

“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:9,10) 

What a story! Zacchaeus was the leading tax collector in the town of Jericho. The one thing he had going for him was money. Given the way the tax system worked in that society tax collectors were not only hated as corrupt money grubbers, they were despised as traitors, quislings. They had a social standing equivalent to what drug dealers would have in a middle class neighborhood today: envied for their money, loathed for their business.

Jesus came to town, and Zacchaeus wanted to see him. He couldn’t see over the crowd because he was short. He couldn’t squeeze through the crowd because someone might knife him. So he ran ahead and climbed a tree that hung out over the street. Jesus stopped under the tree, looked up and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner.

A wave of angry whispering swept through the crowd. How could Jesus possibly share table fellowship with a tax collector (drug dealer)? But Jesus did it any way. When dinner was over Zacchaeus announced he would give half (not all) of his possessions to the poor, and he would repay four times over any inappropriate charges he had assessed.

Then Jesus announced: Surely this man too is a child of Abraham. (That is, he was a fully qualified member of the people of God.) 

If you are wishing to say something to homosexuals on behalf of Jesus, make sure that you know the story of Zacchaeus. What he did for a living was universally regarded by the Jewish people as an egregious contradiction of the teachings of Moses and the prophets. But Jesus did not say a word about his quitting the tax business. If you want to challenge homosexuals to greater faithfulness in their discipleship, the first step is to develop a friendship of sufficient warmth and depth that you feel comfortable inviting yourself to their home for dinner.

The more lost you sense yourself to be, the more certain your claim on the affection and attention of Jesus

If you are a homosexual and are wondering what response Jesus would have to your desire to know him more intimately, then read again the story of Zacchaeus. Jesus wants to come to your home for dinner. He wants a close connection with you. He is not embarrassed to be your friend. While you are hesitating over whether or not you should even speak to him, he is inviting himself home for dinner. Receive him warmly.

If you are lost, if you have been estranged from God, if you have felt the disapproval of “God’s people,” then please hear the words of Jesus: “The Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.” The more lost you sense yourself to be, the more certain your claim on the affection and attention of Jesus.

Loading Burdens On Others

Two final points for heterosexual religious people who would make strong assertions about how homosexuals should live: One of Jesus sternest rebukes was to strict, religious people who “load burdens on men’s shoulders and will not lift a finger to help carry them.” Matthew 23. It is appropriate for the church to offer guidance to people in the area of sexuality, but let’s make sure we are not strictest on those who are furthest removed from our own experience. Divorce and remarriage and polygamy are clear departures from God’s ideals, but we are finding ways to respond to these matters that honor God’s ideal while dealing compassionately and realistically with human brokenness. According to Genesis, the intention of creation was that all humans would live in a life-long union of male and female. That is not an option for everyone for a variety of reasons. Let’s keep in mind Jesus’ words about loading burdens on others. If you are a church leader, consider how we as a church best model God’s compassion and understanding (Psalm 103:13, 14) 

The very first step in Jesus’ public ministry was to be baptized. As he came up out of the river after being baptized he received one of the most dramatic honors of his ministerial career. God declared from heaven: “This is my much loved Son. With him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17). It was when Jesus identified with sinners, when he claimed his place among the broken people of God, that God declared, “With him I am well pleased.” We, too, please God most when we come closest to those we are called to serve. You cannot serve homosexuals effectively from a distance.

A New Identity

A final point for homosexuals and others who wrestle with sexual identity. “You must be born again.” John 3:7. What does it mean to be born again? It means to get a new “family of origin.” We no longer derive our sense of self from the people who conceived us or reared us or from other personal experiences. Instead we find our identity in our status as the beloved children of God. We are no longer defined as the children of our parents or the partners of our lovers. We are not intellectuals or illiterates, professionals or laborers. We are first of all beloved children of the heavenly King. That’s what it means to be born again.

In our society, sexuality is so strongly emphasized that we are tempted to think of our sexuality as our principal identity. It is certainly a crucial element of our identity, but as children of God we are liberated from the tyranny of sexual identity. We are not male or female, homosexual or heterosexual, married or single. We are not Black or White. We are not accomplished or handicapped. We are love and treasured by the Creator. He loves us so much that he would rather die than live without us.

This new identity is ours. Now. All we have to do is receive it. “To as many as received him, he gave the right to become the children of God” (John 1:12).

Make sure you engage in spiritual practices that help you internalize this fantastic truth. Quite apart from specific questions about sexual restraint and satisfaction, God calls you to taste the joy and security that comes from a warm, open friendship with him. Spend time daily contemplating the wonderful story of Jesus as recorded in the Bible. Pray that God will illumine your mind and win your heart. Contemplation of the life and teachings of Jesus will align you with mind of God and will lead you into an understanding of God's will for your life. God will "fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding . . . that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way.” Colossians 1:9, 10 

What does Jesus say to homosexuals? It’s the same thing he says to all: “Fear not little flock. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32 .

* John McLarty is a Seventh-day Adventist minister in the state of Washington. He is also editor of  the independent Adventist Today magazine.

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15 Feb 2010 10:01 PM