I recently heard a Christian remark, “I agree that the Bible teaches homosexuality is wrong, but why should we make non-Christians conform to our moral standards, especially when our own Christian life is largely unaffected?” While the statement reflects several contemporary ideological and ethical assumptions that give it an appearance of wisdom, it actually conceals several significant moral perils and falsehoods.
To begin, the statement assumes that a Christian view of morality is relevant only to Christians and has no bearing upon the rest of humanity. This is both true and false, depending upon the nature of the ethical behavior under consideration. For example, Christians are often called to higher ethical standards than non-believers with respect to things like love. Christians must not only love God and one another, we must also love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). When forced to go one mile, we ought to go two (Matthew 5:41).
We should not compel non-Christians to live up to such demanding standards of moral excellence. They are specifically Christian responsibilities that God not only expects, but through His Holy Spirit also empowers and enables believers to fulfill. But when it comes to more general ethical standards, these are designed by God to benefit every human being, regardless of religious affiliation. This is true because all humans are made in God’s image.
This assumes and affirms, however, that there is a divine creation order, something directly challenged by contemporary ideologies that claim we are not subject to any transcendent design plan. Many today suggest that we can (really, we must) create our own meaning and define our own identity. But if we are created by God in His image, then we are designed according to His purposes and plans. Our identity and meaning are grounded in our unique status as creatures stamped with this divine image.
Attempting to step away from or outside of that transcendent creation order is a recipe for difficulty and adversity. As C. S. Lewis puts it, “Moral rules are directions for running the human machine. Every moral rule is there to prevent a breakdown, or a strain, or a friction, in the running of that machine.” Thus, some actions are more destructive than others when it comes to human beings in general, not just for Christians in particular.
Throughout history, the nature and extent of these more universal prohibitions has been debated, but until very recently, most societies considered things like submitting to and honoring parents, preserving innocent and vulnerable life (especially human life), truth-telling, sharing with those in need, as well as sexual modesty and propriety to be good for the overall flourishing of everyone in society, religious or otherwise. The crucial question, then, is this: Is the condemnation and avoidance of homosexual behavior a uniquely Christian sexual standard, or is this standard good for humanity in general, regardless of religious beliefs and commitments?
First and foremost, it’s important to remember that human sexuality is inherent to God’s image since He created us, “in His own image . . . male and female,” (Genesis 1:27). In this light, Scripture also affirms that marriage is the union of one male and one female (Genesis 2:24, cf. Matthew 19:4-6). Furthermore, this God-determined creation order is universal, predating our fall into sin. Together, male and female sexuality is divinely designed to reflect and depict God’s nature in the world. By submitting to this gendered and sexual creation order, we actually reveal some of God’s character and nature to each other.
Consequently, homosexual behavior is not merely problematic for Christians in particular, it is destructive and harmful for the long-term well-being and flourishing of every divine image-bearer. It not only distorts a fuller reflection of God’s character as seen through both sexes, it downplays the God-designed unitive and complementary nature of the two sexes, diminishing the procreative sexual mandate to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
Historically, this debate is neither new, nor has it been especially controversial. Even when homosexuality was tolerated, it was seldom considered normal or good for society as a whole. Thus, the West’s current obsession with and widespread promotion and celebration of an ever-growing list of unbridled sexual expressions is uniquely unprecedented and perilously untested.
Returning to the original statement, it further assumes that homosexual behavior is acceptable because it is largely a private activity, having little impact on society in general or the Christian in particular. Of course, most who actively support homosexuality and same-sex marriage don’t believe this. They adamantly argue that everyone should publicly accept and actively promote the fulfillment of homosexual desires as both normal and normative. For these pro-LGBT+ advocates, anyone who disagrees with and opposes their ethical viewpoint is a villain and immoral actor in this cultural conflict. They understand perfectly well that this issue is not a private moral affair. It impacts the basic ethical and societal notions of marriage, family, and human sexuality. Since the family and our understanding of human identity are foundational to society, any fundamental change in our conceptions of them will profoundly alter the society itself. By its nature, human sexuality is decidedly not just a “private affair.” It strikes at the very heart of what it means to be genuinely human.
In a related vein, the statement also ignores the role that legislation plays in the public vision of the common good and overall human flourishing. While making or keeping something illegal will not prevent the breaking of that law, it does, on some significant level, say something very important about the nature of the activity. It helps discourage its pursuit, giving it a decidedly negative moral connotation in the general society. This is precisely why the LGBT+ lobby has worked so hard to legalize homosexuality and same-sex marriage. They clearly understand that this helps not only makes them appear socially permissible but also morally and socially acceptable.
Yet another problem with the statement is that it subtly places human freedom, the power of the will, and the (especially sexual) desires of individuals above tradition, Scripture, and history—not to mention God Himself. There is a failure to comprehend the nature of human choices and how social cohesion and general human flourishing are often contained within a moral vision that sets carefully considered and long-established boundaries around certain arenas of human desires. In short, it has long been understood that not everything we want to do—even urgently and powerfully—is good for ourselves and society.
Of course, same-sex marriage and homosexual behavior are not the only relevant threats to societal flourishing, but they are symptomatic of a bevy of moral and ideological commitments that in the name of “moral progress” and “social justice” are tearing apart the social fabric of strong and healthy communities. God is certainly patient and gracious, but radically departing from the biblical norms of such foundationally formative social aspects like human sexuality, identity, marriage, and the family will inevitably be destructive, both communally and individually.
Just how destructive and how rapidly such harms will manifest themselves is hard to say but departing from the biblical vision of these foundations always, sooner or later, results in widespread social degradation and disintegration. Therefore, Christians must display greater courage and wisdom to graciously but actively discourage the legalization and public celebration of same-sex marriage and homosexual behavior, not because we are “unloving,” “hate gays,” or are “homophobic.” To the contrary, we oppose these precisely because we deeply care about the flourishing of everyone made in God’s image—same-sex attracted people included.
I admit not all Christians agree with this conclusion. Some believe we are better off being political and social separatists. Others claim that God’s love condones or even supports homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I have argued elsewhere against this latter view and for reasons stated here consider the former view unwise and unsustainable.
I am also keenly aware that in today’s moral climate, such claims may seem not only ridiculous, but deeply offensive and even dangerous. I have no illusions about the likelihood that this (until recently widely supported) prohibitory perspective will be reembraced by western society anytime soon. This is not because it’s wrong, but because the (fallacious) contemporary western conceptions of the family, human sexuality, and identity make it seem implausible, unpopular, and perhaps even cruel and psychologically harmful.
Nevertheless, we must not ignore the dangers or even promote the lie that flouting God’s creational purposes and plans will lead to greater human flourishing. It will only do the opposite. Satan made the same false and deceptive promise to Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 3:1-6), and He continues to make it to us today. As Proverbs 14:12 warns, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
God, in contrast, offers everyone a life of genuine flourishing through the arduous but infinitely rewarding path of humble submission and joyful obedience to Him, our loving and wise Creator and King. As Deuteronomy 30:19-20 puts it: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore choose life, so that you and your descendants may live, and that you may love the LORD your God, obey Him, and hold fast to Him. For He is your life.”
Quite balanced and well-written, Lewis. Exactly where we should all stand on this issue. Thanks for leading many of us in explicitly defining the intellectual contours of biblical thought.
Thanks, Jim. It took me a long time to think through and articulate this in a way that makes sense (to me, anyway), so glad it was helpful for you as well!