June marks Pride Month in Ontario. Pride Month is when people celebrate sexual sin. That actually happens every month, but in June they seem to celebrate with a higher decibel level. The local police department raised the rainbow flag this week. All the local public schools promise to fly the pride flag in June. The City of Kitchener painted the pride flag on a road outside Victoria Park. And in a few weeks, politicians will march with almost-naked men who perform lewd acts on busy streets in Toronto during the pride parade. Pride is in the air.
We live in a world that is gayproud. And in that world we must be Christian. But how? Some so-called churches have joined the lemming-run by appointing gay leaders and marrying gay parishioners. Others have remained silent, crossing their fingers to wishfully dream away this high point of moral decadence. Neither one of those are acceptable responses. The first is a sin of commission: committing evil by participating in it. The second is a sin of omission: omitting good by keeping silent when one should speak. I’ve seen others become corrosively bitter. That too is only fighting sin by becoming sinful, so really it’s just joining the parade.
All this talk about being gay being sinful is likely making some of you uncomfortable. If talking this way is more offensive than school boards openly promoting sodomy to little children you have a problem. If saying the word “sodomy” is a greater offense than celebrating it in our streets you have issues.
Christians have dealt with this before. In fact, the Christian Church was born in a world that celebrated homosexuality. Ancient Greeks taught that Zeus, a mythological god who boasted of bedding many women, once sodomized a boy and enjoyed it more than his female conquests. Many Greek men actually regarded sodomy as a coming of age experience. At the time of Christ, Tiberius Caesar recreationally watched men copulate. Emperor Nero, who reigned during Paul’s ministry, had two gay wedding ceremonies: in AD 64 Nero donned a bridal robe to marry his gay lover Pythagores, and in AD 67 he had a young boy named Sporus draped in bridal garments for Nero to marry. Roman men vigilantly protected their sons from sodomites who wanted to groom the young men into the “alternative lifestyle.” So Westerners have celebrated sodomy before. Into a sodomite world did the early church burst, and over that sodomite world did it triumph.
To learn how to speak about this behaviour, we should turn to the example of the early Christians. The New Testament uses a few different words. None of them soften God’s disposition towards this sin, and all of them serve as an example of how we must speak. Of interest are the Greek terms in 1 Corinthians 6:9. What the ESV translates as one concept, that is “men who practice homosexuality,” are actually two distinct Greek words that represent a range of behaviours.
First is the word malakoi. The NASB and KJV translate it as “effeminate,” and the NKJV as “homosexuals.” The term can refer to the sodomized in the sodomite relationship, that is the receiving male. But it also means “soft.” That’s likely why Calvin applied the term to men who “discover…their unchastity by blandishments of speech, by lightness of gesture and apparel, and other allurements.”1 Philo, a first century Jewish philosopher, associated the term with the “softer way of life found in the women’s quarters.” Philo also used the term to describe the “passive partners who habituate themselves to endure the disease of effemination.” He said they “leave no ember of their male sex-nature to smolder.”2 To be a malakoi is to be sinfully unmasculine.
The second word is arsenokoitai. If the malakoi is the one sodomized, the arsenokoitai is the sodomizer. In 1 Corinthians 6:9, the NASB translates arsenokoitai as “homosexual.” The KJV translates it “abusers of themselves with mankind,” and the NKJV “sodomites.” The word itself is the combination of two Greek words, arsen meaning male and koite which means lying. Etymologically it means, “men who lie with each other.” It’s an attempt to capture what Leviticus 18:22 calls an abomination: a man who lies with a man as with a woman.3 It refers to the active partner in a sodomite relationship.
So, we have two words in 1 Corinthians 6:9 that describe a range of immoral behaviours. The first word can mean effeminate men, and it also refers to men who are sodomized. The second word refers to men who penetrate men. According to Paul, all those men go to hell (1 Corinthians 6:10). He said so to a church surrounded by one of the most sexually permissive cities in the Empire, that is the City of Corinth.
Turning to Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we find the terms “impurity,” “dishonourable,” “contrary to nature,” and “shameless acts” to describe homosexual activity (Romans 1:24-27). He also indicated that the pervasiveness of sodomy within Rome was a sure sign that God had given the city “up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” in an act of divine judgment (Romans 1:28). Paul wrote to a church in the hometown of a sodomite Emperor, and he told the church that the prevalence of sodomy is a sign of God’s judgment upon the Empire. Church history tells us Paul was martyred in Rome. Are you surprised?
How now is a Christian to address homosexuality in a culture that celebrates it? How are we to engage a world that flies pride flags over public schools and police stations? A world that paints pride flags on crosswalks, and a world where politicians dance with naked sodomites on the streets of our nation’s largest city? How should we respond? We respond like the Bible does.
We lovingly point out the filthiness of the sin by using biblical words. As a good doctor helpfully and honestly diagnoses illness, we must plainly and lovingly point out sin. Telling the truth in love means telling the whole truth in love, not half the truth in love.
We explain that the celebration of unnatural sexuality is a sure sign that God has handed over our ruling elites to judgment. If they don’t repent, God is going to destroy them. If your neighbour’s house were fire, you’d surely plead with them to get out.
And we offer the Gospel of free grace to the sodomites, along with all other sinners, to be cleansed of their filth by the blood of the Lamb. “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins. And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”
Formerly effeminate men and former sodomites were among Paul’s converts in Corinth. In saying that such people “will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:10), he also said, “And such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:11). What happened? They “were washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). In His grace, God took what was dead and filthy to make it alive and clean. God took sexual deviants and turned them into saints. The good news for the sodomite is that he doesn’t have to be a sodomite. Jesus Christ offers free grace and dying love to the sinner, and He will set the captive free.