Preached today at Provo Community Church:
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. 29 They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips,30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.
Let’s take a moment to recover from that before we go on.
As open and affirming Christians, we tend to shy away from a passage like this.
And when I say “shy away from,” I mean, “avoid like the plague.”
Here I am preaching it on pride week!
What’s wrong with me?
We have good reason to avoid this passage:
This passage is horrible!
The writer, Paul, rants about how horrible some people are,
and those some people turn out to be
men who sleep with men and women who sleep with women.
Then he goes on to associate gays and lesbians
with every conceivable synonym for sin:
craftiness? (good at scrapbooking?)
faithless, heartless, ruthless
On paper, it’s bad enough.
Add to that the history behind this passage and passages like it.
They get called “clobber passages,” because that’s what they’re used for.
For saying, You can’t be a Christian,
you can’t be a good person,
you can’t be human, because look at this!
There are people in our congregation who, I’m sure,
have been clobbered by this passage.
How can we be welcoming to all sexualities when we have this in our bible?
So we try to pretend it’s not there.
Here’s the problem with that:
It gives the clobberers the moral high ground.
They are able to claim that they follow the bible, all of it,
while we liberal/progressive/”affirming” Christians
pick and choose which parts we like.
The official biblical position gets to be “being gay is a sin.”
And we can argue all we want about how
same sex relationships don’t hurt anyone
and how sexual orientation isn’t a choice,
and about equal rights and justice…
And the clobberers can just say, I’m just following the bible.
When the truth is, it’s not as simple as that.
The bible is thousands of years old.
It was written in three languages (none of them English).
The people who wrote it lived on the other side of the globe,
in dozens of cultures, all different than ours.
There are a gazillion cultural differences that
keep us from understanding the bible as easily as its intended audiences.
If someone says, “The bible clearly says…”
they’re about to tell you something the bible isn’t at all clear on.
And this passage is no exception.
Paul’s subject here is not sexual orientation,
but criticism of certain religious practices of his time and place
that included sex as part of their rites and rituals.
In fact, the bible never comments about sexual orientation,
because it was written in the ancient world.
In the ancient world, they had no concept of “homosexuality.”
Across the board, not just in the bible.
Everyone was pretty much considered straight.
Gay sex happened, but it was considered something that straight people did
when straight sex wasn’t thrilling enough.
At least, that was their understanding.
Paul is writing as if he was writing only to straight people.
So that kind of makes more sense.
If the understanding is that straight women are having sex with women
and straight men with men,
then it does makes sense that something depraved is happening here.
Paul uses the words natural and unnatural, and yes,
a straight person having gay sex is going against their nature.
Why are they doing this?
It’s because of this religion they’re following.
Paul objects to this religion because it worships idols he says are fakes,
instead of the God that is real.
Paul says there’s no excuse for this:
20 Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things [God] has made.
So he’s saying there’s a created world we live in that’s constantly saying,
God is real! God is real!
so there’s no need to make up new gods to worship.
Paul says by doing this, they’re making themselves willfully stupid,
futile in their thinking, as he puts it.
And eventually, that will lead to something worse,
like the unnatural sex he talks about.
And it was true!
There were pagan cults that included sexual practices in their rites.
One in particular, the cult of Cybele,
had men have sex with eunuchs as an offering to Cybele.
And this was a popular religion.
Imagine being part of a religion that made you have sex with the priests,
even if you weren’t attracted to them.
Paul’s also saying that it doesn’t stop there.
Remember the list of awful qualities.
And you can imagine how this kind of sexual abuse could lead to
So, put more briefly, Paul is saying this:
Ignoring the obvious fact that God is control of nature will lead to
stupidity, depravity, and all sorts of evil.
That’s what this meant to the Roman audience reading this.
So what does it mean to us?
There has been a movement within Christianity
(thankfully starting to go away)
that claims a gay person can have their orientation changed
through faith in God.
Sometimes called “pray away the gay”
but the practitioners of it are really serious about it.
They claim that by going through their programs,
a gay person can change their orientation,
even get married to someone of the opposite sex.
It’s been proven to be extremely harmful to the gay people exposed to it.
That’s easy to understand.
Imagine someone told you your blue eyes were sinful,
but with enough faith, you could change them to green.
It strikes me that this is
a religious culture urging its members to pursue sexual relationships
that they are not naturally attracted to….
just like the pagan cults that Paul condemned.
And if you follow Paul’s argument through this section,
every bit could be leveled at the “pray away the gay” crowd.
Paul begins with observing nature.
Nature shows us that 10-20% of the population is not straight,
and are that way naturally.
They cannot trust that God is in control of nature,
making sons and daughters exactly as intended.
God’s eternal power and divine nature is made clear
through the gays and lesbian God has created,
and saying they should be straight denies that power.
Because they don’t accept this, they make themselves willfully stupid -
futile in their thinking,
Claiming to be wise, they became fools
And like those ancient cults,
their prescription of finding happiness in an opposite sex marriage
ends up in all kinds of evil.
Self doubt and self hatred
prejudice and hatred
Because really, just like an idol worshipper,
they’re worshipping something created by man:
their own religious culture and interpretation of the bible.
They’re not open to the God that’s really there,
the one that changes hearts and renews minds.
For them it is all about the culture that they’ve created.
And so God’s given them over to degrading passions,
and now they do evil deeds and even applaud others who practice them.
At this point in my sermon notes, I wrote, am i getting too rough?
Jesus taught to love our enemies,
and I don’t want this to be an us vs them sermon.
But this sort of scripture abuse needs to be called out.
God’s word should not be used for clobbering.
How many of us have been hurt by this scripture?
But Romans is widely considered Paul’s greatest work.
And now this masterpiece is ruined a half a chapter in.
But it doesn’t have to be.
The Bible is an amazing library.
Full of inspiration,
and impossible love.
It is the story of God trying to reach us,
all of us.
Paul opens this section saying, 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith,
And it is powerful.
It still holds cultural cache.
Think about this battle over gay rights.
On our side:
On the other side, what do they have?
The bible. And that’s it.
What other weapon do they need?
Well, let’s prove that they don’t even have that.
Let’s give up this fear we have of a book that has continuously pushed history forward.
Let’s read the bible for ourselves.
Let’s study the world it was written in,
so we’re not deceived by a problematic verse here and there.
Let’s quote the bible in the myriad ways it says to love your neighbor,
or care for the stranger,
until it drowns out the 7 passages the other side quotes.
That is literally all they have.
But we have it too.
As long as we use it.
May we not be ashamed of the gospel
It is God’s saving power for everyone