In Acts 20: 26-27 it says “I am clean and innocent and not responsible for the blood of any of you. For I never shrank or kept back or fell short from declaring to you the whole purpose and plan and counsel of God” [from the Amplified Bible]. This is Paul speaking directly to his church leaders. John Bevere’s book Good or God? is his effort to teach and preach the whole counsel of God to today’s church. Like Paul, he desires to be clean and innocent because he has declared the counsel of God.
In Chapter 12, he writes about the issues of sexual immorality; tough words for today’s Christians to hear: don’t have sex outside of marriage [premarital sex, adultery and “living together”]. As our culture becomes more accepting of these ways, he states that we ignore God and convince ourselves it is ok. When we hear the message of acceptance on television, the internet, books, magazines, movies etc. it becomes something akin to the “bandwagon fallacy,” everyone is doing it, jump on the bandwagon for it must be ok.
Bevere says no, it is not.
Under the topic of sexual immorality, he takes on the idea that homosexuality is “ok”. I venture to say that no cultural issue has been more difficult to work with in the church than this one. In my church denomination we had a woman elevated to the job of Bishop [in the United Methodist Church, women can pastor at all levels]. However, in 2016 Pastor Karen Oliveto lost her bishopric because the highest ruling body in the church [the Judicial Council] removed her from her post, citing “she was in violation of church law, because she is married to another woman”.
This is just one example of how Christians, churches and whole denominations struggle with this issue. It is indeed a complex one.
Years ago, I began to try to understand how I felt about this. I knew that some Christians openly despised homosexuals, citing Leviticus 20:13 “If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense” [New Living Translation]. That is all I knew because I was not a serious reader of Scripture. At the same time I saw homosexuality becoming more open, discussed in all forms of media. As a “Christian” who did not know the Bible, I was bothered by this because I knew the New Testament was filled with Scripture that touted that we should love one another.
Then I read Peter Gomes’ book entitled The Good Book.
Gomes was a professor of Christian morals at Harvard Divinity School and the pastor at Harvard’s Memorial Church. When I read his book, I was not a reader of the Bible but I found time to read Gomes’ book, which attacked the notion that God condemns homosexuals. Gomes passed away in 2011 but in 1991 while he was in his position at Harvard, he declared to the world that he was gay. His defense of his sexual orientation is complex but to put it simply, he felt God was referring to excessive human behaviors in Leviticus, behaviors that were so destructive they threatened the fiber of the community. The gay person who engages in a loving, monogamous relationship is not the person who is condemned in Leviticus.* In his mind, homosexuality is not a threat to the moral order. In fact, homophobia is a horrible form of hatred that is often practiced by Christians who should be professing love for their fellow man.
The book had a profound effect on me because I thought he made a good argument and I did not want to hate others due to their sexual orientation.
Then I started reading the Bible for the first time. Twenty years ago, I had a terrific need for answers so I read the New Testament from beginning to end in about two weeks. It was wonderful. I got some solid answers but as a novice reader of Scripture, I knew I did not understand God’s word in just one quick reading. I felt the need to read it again and again and again.
The more I read the Bible, the more I began to understand the difference between God’s standards and the world’s standards, the push and pull between the Bible and culture. This is something that all Christians have to deal with as they decide how to live out their lives. I began to read passages in the New Testament like Matthew 19:4 “Haven’t you read in your Bible that the Creator originally made man and woman for each other, male and female? Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate His art” [The Message]. Romans 1 states “This is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway” [verses 26-27].
This is very clear.
Personally, my mind began to change because I could not deny the words from God. I began to realize that Pastor Gomes may be wrong. People may choose to be homosexual** but that choice is going against the Bible.
At the same time I could not do what so many of my Christian friends were doing, openly despising gay people. The same Bible that informed me about God’s thoughts on homosexuality also told me to love my fellow man, and the verses did not say “fellow heterosexual man or heterosexual woman.”
If this is a choice or a predisposition** that people have, I don’t have to choose to hate them and as a Christian, I don’t.
I don’t believe John Bevere hates homosexuals either; he just thinks he must draw a distinction between the acceptance of their sexual orientation in the world and their acceptance of their sexual orientation in the church.
“If we don’t proclaim truth…from our pulpits, people will be unaware of what is godly behavior and will be fooled by the evil one. They will accept what the world identifies as good, thinking God approves” [Bevere, 177].
Reading his book may be of great benefit to Christians who struggle with this issue but one can receive the greatest benefit from reading The Bible…God’s word to all of us.
*My apologies to the memory of Dr. Gomes; his argument is much more than what I can reflect in a blog post.
**due to the constraint of length, this post will not address the debate about genetic predisposition to homosexuality vs. social conditioning of homosexuality.