I was recently invited to participate in a panel discussion on “The Bible and Homosexuality” at our local high school. The panel is being hosted by the Gay/Straight Alliance student group. Given the time constraints, I probably will not get to say everything you see here, but this is what I have prepared. Please be in prayer for me and these students as I share with them today.
Here are my prepared answers to their questions:
- Please introduce yourself and your background on this issue
My name is Todd Benkert. I am a pastor of Eastlake Baptist Church here in Merrillville. You may some of my kids who have attended MHS.
I hold an MDiv and PhD From Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
I have been been thinking about this issue since I was nine years old.
My Dad left my mom 1979 for another man. He came out as a gay man in 1986 when I was 16 years old. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the gay community and knew many gay men and women as my dad’s friends and partners.
My dad was a public school teacher in an era much less open to homosexuality that it is today. As a result, I was bullied in school for being a “faggot” though I myself am not gay and have never had same sex attraction.
During the AIDS crisis in the 80’s, I saw several of my Dad’s friends and lovers die within a 2 year period. I also saw how the society, including some Christians responded to that.
I have always believed the Bible and what it says about sex and sexuality – and I also have believed what the Bible says about salvation, about loving neighbor and about human dignity. My heart goes out to LGBT people and those who struggle with same sex attraction. I am also a strong advocate for foster kids, victims of sexual abuse, and racial reconciliation.
I am a blogger, if you google my name, I have blogged about these issues and about homosexuality and ministering the gospel to gay people.
- Please provide some background information regarding your denomination’s beliefs about homosexuality and the faith that you represent.
Southern Baptists, historically, are a people of the Bible. We would affirm what the Bible says both on the issues surrounding sexuality, and on how we are to treat one another.
One thing that Southern Baptists would have in common with most of you, and I assume those on the panel, is our belief in the human dignity and value of every person.
The Baptist Faith and Message states that “every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.”
The basis for that belief comes from the first chapters of Genesis where it states that
“God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.”
The Bible speaks clearly about sex and sexuality as well as love for others, and being created in the image of God is the root of everything we believe about human dignity and human sexuality.
While our verbiage has changed as we’ve grown in understanding about same sex attraction (SSA) and gender dysphoria, Southern Baptists in both our doctrinal statement and in numerous resolutions spanning the past 40 years have consistently maintained two things:
- That we affirm the Bible’s view of human sexuality and gender, namely that God created us male and female and that God designed sex (and only approves of sex) between a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage. Any sexual activity outside that marriage covenant is sin.
- That we love all people, regardless of sexual orientation or sexual activity, and offer them as to every person the hope of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for their sins.
As an example, in two recent resolutions we stated
2010 – That we commend Southern Baptist efforts to engage in loving, redemptive ministry to homosexuals and encourage all Southern Baptists to consider how they might assist those struggling against same-sex attractions to find spiritual, sexual, and emotional wholeness in Christ.
2013 – That we declare our love in Christ for all young people regardless of their perceived sexual orientation, praying that God will bring all youth into a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2014 – That we extend love and compassion to those whose sexual self-understanding is shaped by a distressing conflict between their biological sex and their gender identity; That we love our transgender neighbors, seek their good always, welcome them to our churches and, as they repent and believe in Christ, receive them into church membership; and … That we regard our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn acts of abuse or bullying committed against them.
Resolution on Gay Marriage (2015):
RESOLVED, That Southern Baptists love our neighbors and extend respect in Christ’s name to all people, including those who may disagree with us about the definition of marriage and the public good.
My Christian Faith leads me to love others and to speak the truth to them about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- What does the bible say about being in a same sex relationship?
There are many same sex relationships in the Bible that are commended and for which we are given examples and instruction: The relationship of a father and son, of brothers, of male friendship and intimacy, of fellow believers in the church. All of these same sex relationships are affirmed and commended.
I realize, however, that the question is asking about sexual relationships.
The Bible speaks POSITIVELY about sex ONLY in the context of heterosexual marriage. The Bible contains numerous positive explicit references to sex and enjoying the sexual relationship in marriage, some of them explicit. Jesus himself commended marriage – quoting God’s purpose in creating marriage in Genesis 2.
In the Bible, any sexual activity outside the marriage covenant between a man and a woman is sin.
Described generally in the word translated “fornication” with specific condemnations for particular sexual acts including adultery, incest of various kinds, and gay sex (i.e., sex between persons of the same biological gender).
The specific texts referring to homosexuality include Rom 1, 1 Cor 6, Lev 18 & 20, 1 Tim 1 and Jude.
The Bible is clear that gay sex – any sexual activity between persons of the same gender – is only and always sin.
One quick statement about the Bible:
You kids are smart – if you read and study the Bible, you can figure out what it says and that it means what it says.
(This may be the most offensive thing I say today) 2 Tim 4 says that there will come a day when people reject the Words of God and instead gather teachers who tell them what they want to hear. If you’re SERIOUS about seeking God – ask God to reveal to you which message you are hearing is His truth and which messengers are just speaking what “itching ears” want to hear.
So if you want to reject the Bible, reject the Bible – but reject it on its own terms. Don’t dismiss passages with straw-man arguments without trying to understand really what it is saying.
If you want to accept the Bible, accept the Bible – but again, accept it for what it says not for what you want it to say or what you can twist it to say if you have a complex nuanced argument that rejects the actual words of Scripture.
- Does your church allow same-sex marriage? What biblical passages, if any, do you base this decision on?
No, we do not. Again, you go back to Genesis 2 where God established marriage and his creative purpose in marriage. Marriage is only ever described in the Bible as the union of a man and a woman. (A recognition, I might add, that has been seen by every human society, regardless of religious belief, throughout history until this present generation.)
Marriage is a foundational element in the flourishing of the human race through procreation – which can ONLY and always happens between 1 man and 1 woman
— Every person in this room (and in the world) is here because of one man and one woman.
— One of the purposes of marriage is to unite that man and that woman as the foundation of the human family.
Finally, we see in Ephesians 6, that marriage is a picture of the Gospel and the covenant relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. A picture seen in the marriage between a man and a woman.
- Do you or your denomination believe that homosexuality is a sin? And if you do believe it is a sin, what would your advice be to a youth who is dealing with attraction to the same sex?
I think it’s generally unhelpful, in our culture, to speak generically of “homosexuality” being a sin because often Christians and people who identify as LGBT mean different things by the term “homosexuality.”
Part of the problem is that the world equates sexual activity with same sex attraction (SSA) whereas the Bible does not. The word “homosexuality,” in our culture, includes TOGETHER sexual identity, same sex attraction, and the sex act itself. Thus, let me answer by being clear in my language.
I believe that gay sex is always sin (as is all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman).
I believe that SSA may or may not be sin in and of itself depending on where it comes from and what you do with it (e.g., SSA may be a temptation you deal with or, if you harbor it, may become LUST which is a sin).
To a youth dealing with SSA (which would equally apply to heterosexual youth) I would say a lot of things, usually in a personal conversation and not a panel discussion, but our conversation would focus on three things:
- Do not buy into the culture’s insistence that you base your identity on your sexual desires. Your identity is not equal to your desires or what you do with your genitals. Your identity is who you are in Jesus Christ and the person he has created and shaped you to be
- Do not buy into the culture’s claim that every sexual desire must be acted upon. There are all kinds of desires that we have that should not be acted on and sexual desires should not be a special case.
- I believe that a person who experiences SSA attraction should pursue Christ and pursue holiness. I believe that God is able to change our desires and feelings. Like in every counseling situation, I communicate that feelings often come last, after changes in beliefs and actions. (Feelings are the caboose to the train if you will).
Even if God does NOT change our desires, being a Christian means, for EVERY Christian, that we “Deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.” For the person who experiences SSA, denying self means, among other things, abstaining from gay sex.
- Does the bible specify anything about people who identify as transgender or do not conform to traditional gender roles?
The Bible only ever equates gender with biological gender. Going back to Genesis 2, God created us male and female. There are no other genders and there is no distinction between gender and biology.
The Bible does speak to preserving the distinguishing characteristics of Male/Female including gender roles, biblical masculinity and femininity, and sexual activity. God made men and women different and complementary beings.
My heart goes out to those suffering from gender confusion.
From a scientific perspective, I agree with Dr. Paul R. McHugh, the former psychiatrist-in-chief for Johns Hopkins Hospital and its current Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry, who rejects the new DSM V classification and puts gender dysphoria in the same category with the body dysmorphia of an anorexic. I personally would affirm the DSM V recommended treatments of psychotherapy and counseling, but REJECT cross-sex hormones, gender reassignment surgery, and social and legal transition to the desired gender as BAD SCIENCE and psychologically and spiritually harmful to persons suffering from gender dysphoria.
I would add that changing gender biologically is impossible – you might introduce a chemical imbalance through hormone therapy, mutilate your body to appear to be the opposite gender – but your DNA is settled and your gender identity (in God’s eyes) is biologically determined.
I would work with a youth or adult in a similar way as I did those with SSA, though I would recommend also seeing a Christian therapist or psychologist. My spiritual counsel would remind a person that our feelings are not necessarily sinful in and of themselves, however, a willful Rejection of one’s biological gender is a rejection of God and his creative purpose. God created you male or female and His design and desire for you is to be a who He created you (biologically) to be.
- In July 2015, Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act took effect. Where does religious freedom end and discrimination begin? Is there a difference between these too? If a belief is religion-based, can it ever be discrimination?
These are complex issues and ones that few have really thought through thoroughly on either side of the divide (including myself). In short, I would say that we need to balance the issue carefully.
Religious freedom in law is a legal protection of our religious conscience.
I believe that the government should protect all people from the kind of discrimination that says I will not provide a service to you because of who you are AND that the government should protect people’s religious conscience, particularly when being asked to participate in an activity that would violate that conscience.
Some issues are quite clear. Others, like the case of bakers and wedding photographers are more muddy. The question, in my opinion, centers on whether baking a wedding cake constitutes providing a service that should be available to all people or in actively participating in an event that would violate one’s conscience.
While I would tend to err on the side of religious liberty (for all religions, not just my own), I would also add that no government can force someone to violate one’s consequence. You make your own choices. Governments can and often do (and often do appropriately) apply legal consequences to one’s refusal to violate your conscience.
- What is some advice you would give to a youth who identifies as Christian who is coming out?
It depends on what you mean by “coming out.” Again, this goes back to the difference between sexual activity and SSA and our culture’s equating of the two.
For the person who wants to follow Christ, live within the biblical parameters of sexual expression, who wants to “come out” and share with others his struggles with SSA:
I would say that I love you and want to support you. That the church loves you and we will come along side you to help you grow in your walk with Christ, etc.
For the person who wants to “come out” by stating their intent to identify as a Christian while at the same time engaging in homosexual activity, homosexual relationships, or pursuing a gender identity other than their biological gender, I would say, as lovingly as possible:
You have to choose. Following Christ is incompatible with with that choice to come out. That I love you and God loves you, he offers you salvation in Christ, but following Christ means that you must repent of sin and pursue holiness, including in the area of sexuality.
There’s a difference between struggling with sin and embracing sin.
- What is some advice you commonly give to parents who have a child who identifies as LBGTQ?
Simply, I would say to love them.
Sexual sins are no different than other sins of your children. Don’t give in to feelings of guilt or shame related to your child’s choices. And don’t reject your kids. Rather, embrace them as a person and as your beloved child without affirming their sinful choices.
Keep living your Christian life in your home in a way where the gospel is evident in your speech and your conduct. As you have opportunity, speak the truth in love. Pray for and look for those opportunities that God gives you to lovingly share Christ with them.
Trust that God’s Holy Spirit continues to be at work and pray that He will convict them of sin and draw them to Christ. In the meantime, love ’em, love ’em, love ’em, love ’em!
I am thankful for this opportunity to share the love of Christ and the truth of the Bible to public high school students. If you read this before 3:00pm central on Feb 3, please lift up a prayer for me. Pray especially for these students – that they would open to God’s truth and that the Holy Spirit would open their eyes and draw them to Christ.