What a sad week it has been for our South African friends! Their largest church, the Dutch Reformed Church (NGK) officially approved same-sex marriages (SSM). At the same time their synod also opened the way for their ministers and other office-bearers to live as practicing homosexuals and to even marry their same-sex partners. Previously homosexual office-bearers in that church were permitted to serve on the condition that they lived celibate lives. The moderator of their synod, Nelis Janse van Rensburg applauded the decision by saying, “…with this decision we actually are at a point where there can be no doubt that the Dutch Reformed Church is serious about human dignity.”
Predictably, a storm erupted this week on the Internet, especially in social media. The issue has become an extremely emotive one in which much name-calling takes place. Those who expressed strong views, against this decision of the church, risked being labelled as bigots and homophobic. Those who supported the move risked having their Christian commitment called into question. I read some painful exchanges that were very short on graciousness – from both sides.
I find this a sad decision for a number of reasons. Primarily, because in my book it dishonours the Lord. I’m not even convinced that this decision honours human dignity but it certainly undermines the authority of the Word of God.
Some time ago I made a comment on Facebook about SSM. A contact on Facebook responded by defending SSM, claiming that what the Old Testament says about homosexuality activity being sinful is only in the context of the Canaanite’s pagan cult-prostitution. The claim was that when the book of Leviticus condemns same-sex activity it is not talking about loving and committed relationships but about casual and promiscuous sex. I am aghast that Christians can make such claims. Consider the words from Leviticus 20, “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.” Does that sound as if it is speaking only to the context of cult-prostitutes? This is an attempt to use something from the culture of the day to undermine the teaching of the Bible that challenges that very culture.
Someone else responded by claiming that Jesus never anywhere condemned homosexual activity. Of course not! He didn’t need to. Jesus came into a culture in which homosexual activity was seen as “an abomination”.
The New Testament elsewhere puts the lie to the idea that condemning homosexual activity is just an Old Testament thing. In Romans 1 Paul argues that one of the consequences of a failure to honour God as the Creator is that God gave people over so that “Men committed indecent acts with other men.” In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul, speaking about various kinds of sinners (including homosexual sinners), states, “And that is what some of you were.” But when they were converted they were changed. They didn’t stop to rationalise their behaviour by claiming that they were born that way. Paul has made clear that homosexual sin (one among many sins) makes us unable to inherit the kingdom of God. Sadly, last week the NGK voted to dismiss all that Biblical evidence in favour of getting “serious about human dignity”.
I find this sad for the NGK because the vote was not unanimous. I believe the vote was 64% in favour. But that leaves a sizeable minority who are going to have to live with this decision of their church. Their synod reportedly tried to solve this problem by saying that no one will be forced into accepting this decision. To me that sounded a little like an elderly gentleman in a previous congregation who was asked what he thought about homosexuality. He replied, “As long as they don’t make it compulsory”. Okay, so pastors who object to SSM won’t be forced to officiate at such a wedding (at least, not for the present!) and a congregation doesn’t have to call as their Pastor a clergyman who is a practicing homosexual – but when there is a pulpit swap may they exclude such a man from their Classis swap roster? And when they visit one of their own denominational churches while on holidays elsewhere will they be sitting under the ministry of a practicing homosexual? This decision will only further the disunity of the church.
I am a firm believer in the wonderful reality that in Christ Jesus there is forgiveness for every kind of sin – also sexual sin, whether heterosexual or homosexual. I have ministered to homosexual people who I am sure I will meet in heaven because they found forgiveness in Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t allow me to condone what the Bible warns against.