Increasing numbers of Christians are arguing that same-sex relationships are acceptable to God. What are the arguments made for this position and how convincing are they? Here’s a quick look at some of the most common arguments.
‘Love is love’
Love is love whether it’s gay or straight. If God is love, surely he approves of relationships that are built on genuine love?
Love is indeed a good thing, but we all agree that love is not able to justify all forms of relationship. If a married person started a sexual relationship with someone other than their spouse because they felt they deeply loved them, most people would not accept ‘love is love’ as a justification for this. We also all agree that love does not, in itself, mean that all relationships should be allowed to be sexual. Indeed, in some cases we recognise that the best way to express love is to make sure the relationship remains non-sexual (for example, in a family context). In reality, we need further guidance to know what forms of romantic and sexual relationship are acceptable. This guidance has been given to us by God in the Bible.
Jesus confirms this. He taught that the two most important commands are to love God and to love our neighbour, and he also said that the rest of the law is an explanation of how to live out these commands (Matthew 22:37-40). For Jesus, the command to love isn’t enough on its own; it has to be explained. When God gives this explanation, it is his guide for how human life best works. Therefore, the most loving thing we can do is to follow this guidance and to encourage others to do the same.
‘What’s the harm?’
If two people love each other, enter into a relationship, and have consensual and loving sex, what’s the problem? Who’s getting hurt?
For Christians, harm is not the only consideration in making moral decisions 1 To be a Christian is to submit to Jesus as Lord, as King of all, and to seek to follow him in all of life. Jesus tells us that the most important command is to love God with all our heart, soul and mind (Matthew 20:37) and that to truly love him is to keep his commandments (John 14:15). The most important question, therefore, is not whether something is harmful, but what God says about it?
Harm is not the only consideration in making moral decisions.
We should also note, however, that God’s commands to us are not arbitrary. They are a call to live in line with his intent for us, in line with how we’ve been created to live. Therefore, we should expect that living God’s way will always be the most life-giving thing for us. To live God’s way is the way of least harm and greatest fulfilment.
‘Celibate singleness isn’t plausible’
To deny gay people the opportunity for a relationship is to condemn them to a life of singleness and celibacy. This sort of life isn’t possible for people who haven’t been given the gift of singleness.
This argument makes two mistakes. First, it views the gift of singleness as a superpower that enables a select number of people to endure an otherwise impossible situation. However, this is not how the New Testament views the gift. For Jesus and Paul, the gift of singleness is not a superpower to enable celibacy, the gift of singleness is the state of being single, just as the gift of marriage is the state of being married. This is why Paul can state that ‘each [person] has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another’ (1 Corinthians 7:7). The two gifts are the state of singleness or the state of marriage. There is no third situation of being single but without having the gift of singleness.
Love is a genuine human need, but love can be experienced in contexts other than a sexual relationship.
The second mistake is in claiming that celibate singleness is, for many people, an impossible way of living. This assumption is often based on claims that celibate singleness leaves us without things that are necessary for human flourishing. However, this won’t be the case if we live out the fullness of God’s teaching. Sex, for example, is not permissible for those who are single, but it is perfectly possible to live a fulfilled life without having sex. Jesus is the prime example here. Love is a genuine human need, but love can be experienced in contexts other than a sexual relationship. Likewise, family need not be limited to biological nuclear families. As those adopted by God, Christians are family and all Christians should be able to experience family life in the context of local church. If we live out the vision of the New Testament for love, relationships, and family, singleness becomes plausible. Many of us who follow Jesus and who experience same-sex attraction have found this to be the case.
‘Born this way’
People are born gay; God creates them gay, so how can he say it’s wrong for them to be in a gay relationship?
There are both scientific and theological problems with this argument. On the scientific side, it is not certain that people are born gay. Most scientists now agree that sexual orientation is a product of both nature and nurture. 2 It may not be accurate to say that people are born gay.
More importantly, however, there is a theological problem here. This argument assumes that if we are born with a certain desire it must be good and God-given and, therefore, God would want us to embrace and express it. But this view overlooks a key aspect of the Christian worldview: God’s good creation has been damaged by human sin (it is, as theologians say, fallen) and so all of us are born with sinful desires which God does not want us to embrace nor express. Not all desires are good or God-given. In other areas of life, we all recognise this. We therefore need God’s help to know which of our desires are good and which are not. The Bible offers us this help.
‘Who I am’
Being gay is part of who someone is. God wants people to accept who they are. He wouldn’t ask people to deny that by not being able to be authentic to themselves.
There’s some truth here. The truth is that God wants us to embrace our true identity as that is part of the route to fullness of life. However, is it true that we are our sexuality?
The idea we are our sexuality, that it is the most important thing about us, is an example of internal identity, an identity built on our feeling and desires. But internal identity is full of problems. It’s unstable because our desires can change. It’s ambiguous because our desires can conflict – when they do, how can we know who we really are? And it’s inconsistent; no one really believes we are what we desire. We all agree that there are some desires we might experience which are not good and which we should not embrace. Building an identity on sexuality is a bad idea.
We have an authority and wonderfully, he has, in his Word, revealed to us the best way to live.
The Bible confirms this. While we are created as sexual beings, our identity isn’t tied up in our sexuality. Our identity is given to us by God. For every human being it is as one created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and for Christians it is as one who is God’s child (John 1:12; Romans 8:14-17). These are the core identities, the things that are most important about us, that we need to embrace as part of the route to fullness of life, and we do that by following God’s guidance on how to live given to us in the Bible. Anything else that is true of us – such as our experience of sexual desire – must therefore be submitted to the Bible’s teaching on how we live as children of God in order to allow us to truly experience fullness of life.
There seems to be a common thread in all of these arguments. Each one ultimately suggests that there is an authority other than the Bible (for example, our desires or love) which can justify same-sex relationships. In each case, however, a little examination shows that these supposed claims to authority fail. We have an authority and wonderfully, he has, in his Word, revealed to us the best way to live.
- Interestingly, secular scholars agree that basing all our ethical decisions purely on the principle of harm is not a good idea. Jonathan Haidt, a social and cultural psychologist, offers an interesting exploration of different foundations for morality in his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion (Penguin, 2012). He believes that, ‘moral monism – the attempt to ground all of morality on a single principle [such as harm] – leads to societies that are unsatisfying to most people and at risk of becoming inhumane because they ignore so many other moral principles’ (p.132).
- The most significant peer-reviewed study to date is Andrea Ganna et al, ‘Large-scale GWAS Reveals Insights Into the Genetic Architecture of Same-Sex Sexual Behaviour’, Science. Accessed 20 August 2019. The findings were summarised by many news outlets, for example here.