Should We Equate Homosexual and Heterosexual Sin?

Rick Phillips
I am grateful to Sean Lucas for pointing out via facebook an excellent article by David Prince, answering the question, "Will I Be Fully Accepted at Your Church as a Gay Man?"  He answered by saying that a gay man would of course by welcome to join in their worship.  He would be welcomed into their church membership through a profession of faith in Christ that includes a desire to repent of sin.  He would of course need to understand that his church considers homosexuality a version of sex outside of marriage, and thus a sin to be forgiven and a temptation to be resisted.  Then Prince gave his most choice statement, a reply that points out the nature of church membership for any sinner.  Will a gay man be welcomed fully by his church?  He answered, "if you mean that you want a church where any behavior you participate in will be affirmed and accepted in the membership of the church then the answer would be 'no.'"  Christian churches welcome gay men and women just as they do other kinds of men and women: through a profession of faith in Jesus as both Savior and Lord, including a willingness to repent of sin and live according to God's Word.

While I very much want to praise this wise approach and helpful article, there was a statement made that I think deserves to be highlighted due to its significance and its increasing frequency.  At one point, Dr. Prince stated that a homosexual man is "really no different than a man who struggles with heterosexual sexually immoral desires."  In responding to this provocative statement, there are some important ways in which it is true:

  • homosexual and heterosexual desires equally violate Scripture (i.e. the 7th Commandment)
  • homosexual and heterosexual desires equally need to be opposed, following Scriptural advice (flee, make a covenant with your eyes, etc.)
  • homosexual and heterosexual sins equally condemn us as sinners and place us under the need of Christ's redeeming work; both are sins that are atoned for by the blood of Christ for those who believe.
  • homosexual and heterosexual sinners are equally valued and loved in the church as their pursuit of sanctification is embraced and assisted.

There are, however, some ways in which homosexual and heterosexual sin (including both the acts and the desires) are not the same.  In short, the Bible categorizes homosexual sin differently than it does heterosexual sin.  While both are contrary to God's law, only homosexuality is contrary to nature in such a way that it is inherently perverse and shameful.  

Consider, for instance, Leviticus chapter 18, which condemns a number of behaviors that are beyond the pale.  The chapter starts out with a variety of kinds of incest: sexual "uncovering" within close family relationships.  This leads to this series: sexual intimacy during a woman's "menstrual uncleanness" (Lev. 18:19), lying sexually with a neighbor's wife (Lev. 18:20), and offering your children to Molech (Lev. 18:21).  Next comes the prohibition against homosexuality (Lev. 18:22), followed by a prohibition against having sex with animals (Lev. 18:23).  In other words, homosexuality it is biblically categorized as an outrageous sin that is abominable.  Leviticus 18:22 says, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination."  

We might note that the Leviticus 18 list involves a number of heterosexual acts.  But they are considered abominable not by virtue of their heterosexual sin but because of the sacred categories they transgress (i.e. family, neighbor, animals, etc.)  However, when it comes to homosexual sin, it is the very thing itself that is an abomination: it is not an abomination because of who it is with, but it is itself abominable.  Unlike heterosexual sin, gay sex is categorically wrong.  You find the same attitude taken in Romans 1 by the apostle Paul.  Homosexual acts are called "contrary to nature" (Rom. 1:26) and "shameless acts" (Rom. 1:27).  Paul speaks similarly of homosexual desires, saying they are "dishonorable passions" (Rom. 1:26) that reflect "a debased mind" (Rom. 1:28).  Clearly, in both Leviticus 18 and Romans 1, homosexual sin is not just like heterosexual sin.

I very much appreciate an approach to homosexuality that affirms the person as a person and encourages the sinner with the grace of repentance and with forgiveness in Christ.  None of us want to provoke a needless offense or erect avoidable barriers when it comes to our gospel outreach to gays.  At the same time, our duty to God requires us to be biblically accurate and to avoid giving false encouragement.  To this end, I would urge that we should avoid stating that "homosexual sin is fundamentally no different from heterosexual sin," since it is fundamentally different in at least some important respects.  It is then that we can point out the most important feature that homosexuality shares with other sins: it can be washed away in the blood of Christ.  It is having been fully candid about the Bible's teaching on this subject that we can offer the gospel picture of salvation to the gay inquirer.  Speaking of such sin, Paul adds, "such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:11).