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Sean Penn, Jesus, and homosexuality

Sean Penn won the best actor Oscar last night for his portrayal of Harvey Milk, a homosexual politician in San Francisco in the late seventies who was an early advocate of homosexual rights.  Afterwards, Mr. Penn used the occasion to take to task those who recently voted against homosexual marriage, speaking of their “great shame and shame in their grandchildren’s eyes.”  (For the record, the best actress award went to someone who portrayed a woman who seduced a fifteen year old boy, while the Oscar for supporting actress was given to an actress who played an ex-wife who became part of a threesome with her former husband and his lover.  This is Hollywood communicating its values in regard to marriage and sexuality).*

The same day, the state governing body for a particular denomination voted in favor of the ordination of “non-celibate homosexuals” to serve as ministers, elders, or deacons.  This replaced their previous policy that required their leaders to “live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.” 

By now, we’re all quite familiar with the approach of those advocating homosexuality.  Anyone differing with them is labeled “intolerant,” (which seems to me to be the rhetorical equivalent of spitting in the wind and does nothing to address the rightness or wrongness of the issue).  There’s also the hate approach.  Mr. Penn spoke of people needing to “turn in their hate card.”  (This too is mere labeling and also fails to address the issue).  Finally there is the plea for rights --- “homosexuals should have the same rights as everyone else,” we're told.  Yet as many have pointed out, they already have the same rights as everyone else relative to marriage (the right to marry someone of legal age and consent who is of the opposite gender).  What they really want are special rights.  They want to redefine marriage in a way that no civilization ever has.   

When the discussion veers into the realm of Scripture, advocates are quick to point out that Jesus had nothing to say in regard to homosexuality.  That’s the issue I’d like to address.

While it’s true that Jesus didn’t use the word “homosexuality,” I don’t think it’s accurate assessment to say He didn’t touch on the matter in His teaching on the marriage relationship (Matthew 19:3-12).    The Pharisees approached Him on the matter of a just cause for divorce (v. 3).  In reply, Jesus didn’t quote a popular rabbi or even the Mosaic legislation.  Instead, He went to the creation account in Genesis 2.  What He had to say was remarkable in its conciseness and clarity.  And for our purposes, it's worth noting that He spoke primarily about what He was for rather than what He was against.  Instead of addressing the many and varied abuses of marriage, He affirmed God's design of and His intent for man and woman in marriage.  

                 1.  He reminded them that God made man (humans), as male and  female (v. 4).

                 2.  He did this so they would one day leave their parents and become one with their spouse (v. 5).

                 3.  Therefore, only death (the intervention of God), should separate what God joins together as one 

                                                                                                                                              (v. 6).


Concerning the first two points, Jesus connected God’s special creation of Eve from the rib of Adam with the marriage relationship --- He took one person and made them two so He could join them back together as one in marriage.  Far more than being a mere social construct or a societal convenience, marriage is embedded in the design and creation of mankind!  Man and woman were created for marriage.  God designed them and made them with marriage in mind!  Man was intended for woman and woman for man --- that is God’s design!


Since that is what marriage is, anything else: adultery, divorce, polygamy, and homosexuality are eliminated by exclusion.  Those who don’t wish to marry can choose singleness and celibacy (v. 10-12).  While homosexuality isn’t specifically mentioned, it’s clear that it’s nowhere in the intent or creative purposes of God for mankind and no amount of political activism, cultural upheaval, or Hollywood strong-arming can change that. 


It seems to me that Jesus chose the Genesis text because it spoke even more powerfully against those things that seek to destroy marriage than the prohibitive passages you can find scattered throughout the Bible.  A prohibition is often necessary when something isn’t well enough understood or practiced widely (say, having a law that requires that people wear seat belts).  For anyone who has studied the physics of velocity and mass, the prohibition is a no-brainer because a seat belt is a logical conclusion for anyone traveling at high rate of speed.  Similarly, when someone understands the roots of marriage are in the creation of mankind as male and female, then all things counter to it are logically excluded. 


I want to end this piece by appealing to anyone who reads this and is struggling with homosexuality.  This has been a blunt, straightforward piece because there’s too much at stake here to equivocate or be unclear.  Still, this is not the last word.  The final word is that in Jesus you can find forgiveness and healing just as others have found in regard to whatever sins they struggled with (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 is really helpful here).  Christ tells all of us what he told the women caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin,” (John 8:11).   
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Although I'm sure my reach exceeds my grasp, I try to be fair and complimentary when Hollywood gets it right --- see Who is my neighbor? and Better days are coming.