‘Did God used to hate gay people?’ That’s what I would love to ask some Christians who think that same-sex relationships are acceptable to God (‘affirming Christians’) because it seems to me that a positive answer to that question is a logical conclusion to some of their arguments. And for me, that’s an issue.
There are various ways that affirming Christians approach the Bible, but many do admit that whenever the Bible mentions same-sex relationships they are explicitly condemned. They then offer various reasons why, in spite of this, same-sex relationships are acceptable to God today. Usually, however, they see this as a later development, accepting that all same-sex relationships would have been condemned in Old Testament Israel. This raises the question, did God used to hate gay people?
We can look at a couple of examples of affirming authors to see how this works out.
Vines and Patriarchy
Matthew Vines argues that sex between two men is condemned in Leviticus because such relationships undermined patriarchy. 1 The rest of the Bible will show that this patriarchy is wrong, and so in these laws God is ‘working within flawed institutions’, in the same way he did with divorce, slavery, and polygamy. 2 Perhaps Vines would argue that it isn’t that God used to hate gay people, but his hands were tied by the culture of the time.
The problem here, however, is that the parallel with divorce, slavery, and polygamy is inexact. Knowing that, because of the sinfulness of human hearts, these three practices would exist in Israelite society, God legislated to put safeguards in place.
For example, Old Testament law never commends divorce, but it does make provisions for when divorces take place (e.g. Deuteronomy 24:1-4). These provisions are a pragmatic response to the reality of sinful human hearts (as Jesus clarifies in Matthew 19:8) and are designed to safeguard the woman, who could be put in a vulnerable position through divorce, 3 and to avoid the practice of divorce being abused. 4
But the laws on same-sex sexual activity, even on Vines’ reading, do not work this way. In outlawing same-sex relationships, the law given by God does not provide safeguards in response to existing sinful practices; rather, the law affirms what Vines sees as a wrong patriarchal position and legislates it into the very structure of society. These laws can’t be God ‘working within flawed institutions’; 5 they are God establishing the very institutions that Vines thinks are the problem. Laws about same-sex relationships that function in a parallel way to those about divorce, slavery and polygamy would have protected gay people in the face of a sinful expression of patriarchy, but that’s not what the laws in Leviticus do. Perhaps patriarchy wasn’t the problem.
God’s hands were not tied when he gave the laws about same-sex sexual activity.
God’s hands were not tied when he gave the laws about same-sex sexual activity. He did not have to give the laws in the way he did because of the patriarchal situation in Israel. This being so, if God later allows same-sex relationships, his prohibition of them in ancient Israel seems rather unfair. Perhaps God used to hate gay people.
Song and Procreation
A similar problem can be found in Robert Song’s Covenant and Calling. 6 Song proposes a new type of relationship – covenant partnerships – which are like marriages but are not procreative. The possibility for this type of relationship has been opened up, he argues, by Jesus’ death and resurrection. In humanity’s original mission procreation was important (Genesis 1:28), but in the new age that has broken in through the ministry of Jesus, procreation is no longer a vital part of the human mission, and so non-procreative sexual relationships can be acceptable before God, whether they are opposite-sex or same-sex.
Song is very clear that such relationships wouldn’t have been possible before Jesus because the procreative element was still key. 7 So, this seems to be good news for gay people after Jesus, but does it mean that God used to hate gay people?
The implication of these affirming arguments seems to be that God decided same-sex relationships were not acceptable for those in ancient Israel but that they now are acceptable. If this is so, . That, in turn, raises some rather big questions about God and his trustworthiness.
I find it far more likely that God is consistent, and God is trustworthy. It seems to me that for both Old Covenant and New Covenant believers, God has said that same-sex sexual relationships are not an acceptable way to live before him. And from what we know of God as the good Creator and as the one who loved us enough to give up his own son for us, I’m willing to bet that his consistent message is the revelation of a plan that is good for us.
God loves us enough to call us to listen to him over the desires we might find in our own hearts.
God didn’t used to hate gay people. And God doesn’t hate gay people today. He loves us, and he loves us enough to call us to listen to him over the desires we might find in our own hearts. His invitation to us, is ultimately his invitation to everyone: ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel’s sake will save it’ (Mark 10:34-35).
- Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian (Convergent Books, 2015), pp.88-93.
- Vines, God and the Gay Christian, p.93.
- See Edward J. Woods, Deuteronomy: An Introduction and Commentary (IVP, 2011), pp.248-251. ‘There is need for protection in divorce proceedings for women who could be robbed of security’ (p.251).
- See P.C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (Eerdmans, 1976), pp.304-306. ‘If divorce became too easy, then it could be abused and it would become a “legal” form of committing adultery’ (p.305).
- Vines, God and the Gay Christian, p.93.
- Robert Song, Covenant and Calling (SCM, 2014).
- Song, Covenant and Calling, p.23.