Among those who would identify as “affirming” of homosexuality, there seems to be a great amount of confusion regarding the usage of certain terms relevant to the debate, both those used within Scripture and those used by Christians every day. To try to clear up some confusion, I humbly offer this short treatise.
I believe firmly that language is important, and that God has chosen to use human languages to reveal his truth to his creatures. The Bible itself was written in Hebrew in the Old Testament (with a few sections in Aramaic) and koine (common) Greek in the New Testament. These ancient documents have been carefully translated into our modern languages by learned scholars throughout the generations. For example, the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into koine Greek by seventy (or seventy-two, depending on the tradition) scholars about 200 years before Christ’s birth; this version was called the “Septuagint,” from the Latin word septuaginta, meaning “seventy.” When the New Testament was completed, and even while it was still being written, it too was translated into the common tongues of the people to whom it was sent. And now today, we have the Scriptures in our language, English, which did not exist when the Bible was initially written. It is indeed a great blessing that we have the Scriptures in our language, and that there are a plethora of Bible translations in the English language to choose from and to compare. That being said, there is quite a bit of confusion and controversy that has been introduced by the translation of certain key terms and passages regarding homosexuality. I think that it is important to define terms when we approach this subject. Otherwise, both sides end up talking past each other, and no progress is made in the discussion.
Christians have this problem with Mormons. For example, both Christians and Mormons claim to believe that we are saved “by grace.” But these groups differ as to the definition of the word “grace.” On the one hand, Mormons would say, along with the Book of Mormon, “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). This, essentially, puts a limit on grace; we may only receive it after we’ve done all we possibly can to earn it. The Christian position, on the other hand, is one of free grace, unmerited favor given to whomever God wills, irrespective of anything human beings have ever done or will do. God says, “By grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not a result of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
This kind of contrast is exactly what we see in conversations between “gay Christians” and biblical Christians. I wish to briefly examine three words that are central to this debate: homosexual, gay, and discrimination. I will demonstrate the difference between the historical (and present) Christian usage of these terms, and the new definitions tacked onto them by the “gay Christian” movement and the progressives.
When an informed non-affirming Christian uses the term “homosexual,” he or she is often taking his or her cue from 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. In that context, a “homosexual” is one who commits the sin of homosexuality, that is, someone who lies with another person of the same sex as that person would with someone of the opposite sex (cf. Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13). Just as a fornicator is one who fornicates, an idolater one who commits the sin of idolatry, and an adulterer one who commits the sin of adultery, so too is a homosexual one who commits the sin of homosexuality.
This is often not made clear and can lead to confusion. I believe that 1 Corinthians 6:9 is specifically referring to the act itself (although the case could definitely be made that in order to commit the act, one would have to have the desire to do so, and then those desires would also be sinful, and certainly this is what Romans 1 implies). Perhaps a better term to use would be “sodomy,” but I think “homosexual,” when used in this sense, is perfectly appropriate. Sodomy is also controversial because many “affirming” Christians do not think that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah has anything to do with homosexuality, at least not in the modern sense.
According to Merriam-Webster, however, the primary definition of homosexual goes like this: “of, relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire toward another of the same sex.” This is certainly the sense in which most people use the term; a homosexual is simply someone whose “sexual orientation” (an unbiblical construct, by the way) is toward people of the same sex rather than those of the opposite sex. In this sense, the emphasis is not so much on the act of sex itself than it is on the desires. It becomes synonymous with “same-sex attraction,” which many conservative Christians will readily admit does indeed exist. Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction do exist, but they ought to recognize that their desires are not normal, and to refuse to identify themselves by their disordered desires. They ought to seek instead the sanctification and grace that comes with knowledge of and belief in Jesus Christ, and hope to overcome those desires through the Holy Spirit’s work within them.
Rosaria Butterfield is the example par excellence of the grace of God in a woman’s life. She was an atheistic lesbian English professor when God turned her life inside out and converted her. She has since renounced homosexuality, after having been freed from those desires by God’s grace. I recommend her book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, wherein she shares her story.
As many of you know, the term “gay” has radically changed meaning within a very short period of time. In the 1940s and 50s, it was perfectly appropriate to call a smiling, jolly man a “gay fellow” or to go out and have “a gay old time,” because the term simply meant “happy” or “joyful.” Nowadays, those phrases take on a completely different meaning. Gay, today, is synonymous with “male homosexual,” in the sense that Merriam-Webster defines it. Only rarely is it used in modern conversation to refer to something bright and lively and it is often only encountered when reading older books or while watching an old film (I am reminded of Jiminy Cricket in Fun and Fancy Free, where he says, “Life is a song, happy, gay; so let’s have some music!” just before putting on Dinah Shore).
This word has been hijacked, almost beyond redemption. When people hear it used in its original sense, it is almost never perceived in a positive light. Some have avoided its use altogether because of the stigma that has been attached to it through its use as a reference to male homosexuals. Such is the way language changes and evolves; words have meanings, and those meanings are determined entirely by their contexts. The context and associations of the word “gay” have been irreparably altered.
“Discrimination” is perhaps the worst of the words that have been misused by the culture at large to the point of being almost meaningless. In its original sense (drawing from its Latin roots), to “discriminate” was to make a choice between to options, to elevate one choice to the exclusion of the other. It was a word indicating a preference, synonymous with “decide” or “choose.” When I choose to go to Restaurant A instead of Restaurant B, I have discriminated against Restaurant B in favor of Restaurant A. This is not something evil, but rather indicates my preference for one option over another.
The modern use of the word “discriminate” is equivalent to “hatred.” To discriminate against someone is to hate them with utmost hatred; discrimination is the ultimate evil. I have discriminated against you if I call your life choices harmful; I have discriminated against you if I do not celebrate your choice to marry whomever you desire; I have discriminated against you if I call your actions sinful or inappropriate. In this sense of the word, anything and everything spoken about some social agenda that is not positive and celebratory are considered “discrimination.”
This is a rather egregious misuse of an otherwise harmless word. While all of the above statements are half true (I have discriminated against your viewpoint and actions in favor of another viewpoint and course of action), it does not constitute hatred, only disagreement. Disagreement is not the end of the world, my dear friend.
The Bible clearly calls the sin of homosexuality what it is: a sin. Since I believe the Bible to be the God-breathed, inerrant Word, then I can do no other than obey what it says, and point it out to those who sin in that way. (I have defended this claim here.) You have no right to redefine its terms because of your feelings, nor to prostitute perfectly good words like “discriminate” to feel justified in doing so.
What are we to conclude from all of this? Words have meanings. They cannot be redefined willy nilly to suit society’s needs. While this happens (often), it ought not. I realize that language is dynamic and ever changing, but this kind of rapid deterioration is uncalled for. To think, that in a single generation, the word “gay” has gone from meaning something completely pure and innocent, to something entirely opposite. My friends, such ought not be the case.
Recognizing differences in how we define terms can go a long way in moving this conversation forward. The differences outlined in this short article are only a few examples that immediately popped into my mind when pondering the issue; I’m sure there are many, many more. Always be careful to make sure that you understand those with whom you are speaking, and make sure that they understand you by defining terms. This will ensure clear communication on both sides.