LOUISVILLE, Ky. – One of the most common ideas on offer in the cultural discussion of homosexuality is this: “humanity.” As in something like, “Senator Rob Portman now affirms same-sex marriage because he has seen the humanity of his son.”
The implication of this statement, at least by some, is that considering homosexuality a sin per Romans 1 and Leviticus 19 (among other biblical texts) is inhumane. If you hold that position – some say – you are seeing a homosexual person as an abstraction, not a fellow human. What you and I need to do, they say, is to give up on the ideology that dehumanizes people and embrace them in all their humanity, their interests, their predilections, their desires.
Of course, it is true that people who recognize the moral will of God – and more broadly, the existence of absolute truth grounded in the Lord – can view others as abstractions. In fact, everyone on all sides of the culture is guilty on this charge. We find it easy because of our sin to stereotype others and to pre-judge them, by which I essentially mean that we find it easy to dislike people not like us.
Jesus provides a better example for us than we sometimes imagine. He is kind in surprising ways and treats his interlocutors with dignity. Yet we note that this never involves Him excusing or overlooking sin. Think of the woman by the well, who is living in sexual sin (John 4). He speaks with her, which shows remarkable kindness (and contravention of societal codes). He cares for her soul. But He also calls out her sin. He shows her ultimate kindness, in fact, by doing so. To leave her in her pattern of disobedience would be the unkindest act of all.
So when we see Jesus and other biblical figures calling fellow human beings to repentance, we should not view them unkindly. We should see their gospel witness as the height of love.
We become more, not less, human when we are converted to Christ. We are not functioning as we were made when we live in unbelief. It’s only when we are transformed by the gospel of grace that we are able to live as we were meant to live. Holiness, not sin, is true life.
This is directly antithetical to our culture’s doctrine of humanity, which teaches that to be human, to be happy, is to be as we are, and to “discover” our true humanity over the course of our life. What does this mean? Well, according to our culture, if you find out you’d actually be most happy as a single person despite multiple kids who depend on you, get divorced. If you want to gratify your sexual lusts, do so. That’s “honest.” “Authentic.” And to be honest and authentic is to be “saved” or whole in a naturalistic sense.
The Bible offers us the opposite perspective. Many of our desires must be reordered to know the Lord and to flourish, and even those that function rightly must be rewired to the circuit board of God’s glory. It is in this process of renewal that begins with conversion and continues over a lifetime of sanctification that we become what we were made to be: God-worshipping beings, those being changed into the image of Christ. This is what true life looks like, not hedonism and selfish gratification and losing ourselves in whatever sinful pursuit we like.
So Christians, in opposing same-sex marriage and tirelessly advocating for marriage (especially when connected with the gospel), are not treating others inhumanely. We are showing kindness to fellow sinners. We should feel immense compassion for all who are trapped in unrighteousness. But in experiencing this emotion, we do not norm the Bible by their example. Instead, we point them to God’s design, which is always wise, always for our best, and motivated by divine love. To affirm sin is to diminish humanity. To affirm righteousness and advocate for it in a spirit of winsome courage is to restore humanity.
Believers cannot support homosexuality as a God-glorifying way to live. We recognize humanity most in other people when we see how sin has trapped them, feel empathy for them, and call them to the obedience of faith. This, and no other, is love; this, and nothing else, is compassionate.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Owen Strachan is Assistant Professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College. This column first appeared at Patheos.com.)