Just another sin, or capstone of rebellion?

As the homosexual lifestyle and same-sex marriage become normal and accepted in society, the Adventist Church will face greater pressure to accept them as well. The church will be expected to welcome homosexual members, deacons, and elders; this is already happening in some local Adventist churches. One of the arguments employed by those who seek to gradually normalize practicing homosexual church members is that it is “just another sin, and we are all sinners.” 

This argument's tacit premise is that other sinners are accepted into church fellowship, so why not homosexuals? But if the congregation follows the New Testament model, that premise is false. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul rebukes the believers at Corinth for allowing a man to retain his fellowship after he had taken up with his father's wife. “Don't even eat with such a person,” wrote Paul (1 Cor. 5:11). A congregation following the biblical model will not accept into membership heterosexuals or homosexuals who are openly “living in sin.”   

But beyond the false premise that the church should accept open sinners, we should examine whether homosexual conduct is “just another sin.” Before we do, we should clarify our concepts. First, the Bible says nothing about what today we call “sexual orientation.” Scripture condemns specific acts—to be sure, not just sexual contact, but also cross-dressing (Deut. 22:5), men acting feminine or effeminate (1 Cor. 6:9), and same-sex sexual lust (Gen. 19:4-5; Judges 19:22-25; Mat. 5:27-28; Rom. 1:26-27)—but Scripture does not mention or condemn “orientation,” which seems to be a modern concept. Second, homosexual conduct is not the unpardonable sin. Paul writes that some of the believers at Corinth had been homosexual offenders before they were “washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Homosexual offenders, along with all other sinners, can be pardoned by the blood of Christ and cleansed by His power. With those provisos in mind, let us take a tour through Scripture.

The first clear mention of homosexual conduct is in Genesis 19, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is why such conduct is known as sodomy, and those who pursue it, sodomites. But according to the Babylonian Talmud, a compilation of Rabbinic traditions, just prior to the Genesis Flood the antediluvians were contracting same-sex marriages, which was the principal reason God chose to destroy the world with a Flood. Christ compares both the days of Noah and the days of Lot to the last days (Mat. 24:37; Luke 17:26-32), and at the end of all three periods God executes an extraordinary judgment (Gen. 6:5-7; 7:20-23; 19:23-29; Rev. 19:17-21). Peter also compares the antediluvians to Sodom and Gomorrah, and states that the judgments executed on them are examples of the judgment God will execute at the end of time (2 Pet. 2:4-10). These passages lend biblical weight to the Rabbinical teaching that acceptance of homosexual conduct will be common to all three periods: the days before the Flood, the days of Sodom, and the last days.

Homosexual conduct also seems to be an implicit element of this early post-Flood story: 

And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him. Then he said: “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brethren.” And he said, “Blessed be the Lord the God of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem; and may Canaan be his servant” (Gen. 9:20-27, NKJV).

Aspects of this story have led commentators to conclude that something was left out of the written narrative, likely because it was unspeakable.  These aspects include:

(1) of three Hebrew words that mean “nakedness,” the one used here, erwa, is used elsewhere in the phrase "uncover nakedness" essentially as a euphemism to describe forbidden consanguineous sex ( See and compare Lev. 18:6-19 KJV to the same text in NIV),

(2) Noah's knowledge of what his younger son “had done to him,” implying more than the passive conduct of seeing him naked,

(3) the severity of the curse Noah laid upon Canaan's posterity.

Several commentators believe that what was left out was that either Ham or Canaan took sexual advantage of Noah in his intoxicated condition. Ellen White's commentary supports this view:

The unnatural crime of Ham declared that filial reverence had long before been cast from his soul, and it revealed the impiety and vileness of his character. These evil characteristics were perpetuated in Canaan and his posterity, whose continued guilt called upon them the judgments of God (Patriarchs & Prophets, p. 117). 

Whatever Moses could not bring himself to write was even more unspeakable in White's day, but the language she used—unnatural crime, vileness, evil characteristics, guilt—seems too harsh for Ham's reported actions, and hints at a more serious undisclosed transgression. Given White's use of the term “unnatural crime,” a Victorian-era euphemism for sodomy, that transgression was likely homosexual in character. 

Ellen White's mention of the continuing guilt of Canaan's descendants, who settled the land of Canaan after the Flood (Gen. 10:15-19), brings us to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. “Now, the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord” (Gen. 13:13). Pro-homosexual commentators argue that the sin of Sodom was not sodomy but lack of concern for the poor, and that surely was one of their sins: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49). But if we continue reading, we find that, “they were haughty, and committed abomination before me” (Ezek. 16:50, KJV), and “abomination” is a word used elsewhere in Scripture to describe same-sex sexual intercourse. (See, e.g., Lev. 18:22; 20:13; 1 Kings 14:24) Moreover, the Genesis narrative makes clear that the culmination of Sodom's iniquity was public, aggressive, uncontrolled homosexual lust: 

Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them” (Gen. 19:4-5 NIV).

God had to deal with this level of iniquity in an extraordinary manner (Gen. 19:23-29).

The rest of the Canaanites were left to fill their cup of iniquity for some 400 more years, while Israel was in Egypt (Gen. 15:12-15). But eventually their cup of iniquity was also full, and God commanded Israel to leave no one alive (Deut. 20:16-18). The Canaanites' sexual sins, including homosexuality (Lev. 18:22), and their sin of child sacrifice (Lev. 18:21), defiled the people and the land, and caused the land to “vomit out” its inhabitants (Lev. 18:24-28). 

Bible history relates that the Israelites did not completely destroy the Canaanites, and at times adopted their idolatrous worship and sexual practices. Judges 19 tells a story that eerily parallels that of Sodom and Gomorrah. A Levite and his concubine were traveling from Bethlehem to the hill country of Ephraim. Because they had tarried late at her father's house, they could not complete the trip in one day, but stopped for the night in Gibeah, a city in the territory of Benjamin, where a kindly older man hosted them:

While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.” The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this outrageous thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing.” But the men would not listen to him (Judges 19:22-25 NIV).

Sadly, there were no angels corporeally present on this occasion, but the mob, rather than breaking into the house, made do with the Levite's concubine, whom they raped to death.

When the men of Israel learned of this crime, some 400,000 mobilized for war and assembled at Mizpah. They agreed that the guilty must be punished and demanded that Gibeah hand them over, but Gibeah refused. The larger tribe of Benjamin, instead of punishing Gibeah, mobilized its 26,700 fighting men to oppose the other tribes. The combined forces of the eleven tribes outnumbered Benjamin 15 to 1, so they assumed that they weren't all needed, and asked God who should fight Benjamin. “Judah shall go first,” God responded. The fighting men of Judah obeyed, but they were defeated with the loss of 22,000. Given this reverse, the Israelites doubted if this civil war was divinely ordained, so they asked God if they should continue the fight. God said, “Go up against them.” Again they obeyed, but again they were beaten, losing 18,000 men. After fasting and offering sacrifices, they asked God a third time if they should pursue this war, and God said, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands.” The next day, Israel executed a classic envelopment and killed 25,100, all but about 1,500 of Benjamin's fighting men (Judges 20).

So while God eventually allowed Benjamin to be punished, He first arranged for Judah, and then the other ten tribes, to be punished. Why? Because guilt was attached to those who allowed iniquity of this magnitude to grow and fester. Judah, as Benjamin's much larger neighbor, bore the greater guilt for allowing Gibeah's evil to grow unchecked, but the other ten tribes, most of whom lived farther away, also shared in the blame, and were also punished. “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come,” (1 Cor. 10:11, NIV), meaning that Israel's history is intended to admonish the Christian Church. Christians can be certain that if we allow the evil of open homosexuality to enter the church and wax strong, we will be punished.  

The New Testament is consistent with the Old, stating that those who engage in homosexual conduct cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Sodomites are grouped with those who murder their parents, with “men-stealers” who sell people into slavery, and with “whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:9-10). In the first chapter of Romans, Paul names homosexuality as something to which God “gives over” those who have rejected His revelation of Himself through the creation, opting instead for idolatry (1:19-27). God gives such people over to a “reprobate mind” or "depraved mind," to do things that are unseemly (1:28). According to Paul in Romans, the widespread embracing of homosexual conduct is the result of rejecting the Creator God and instead choosing idolatry, the worship of created things. 

The Sabbath and marriage are the twin institutions of Eden, ordained of God before the Fall, before sin entered the world. At the creation, God created two different sexes, designing that the two should join in holy matrimony and become “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24; Mark 10:8; Eph. 5:31). The joining of male and female in marriage is according to God's created order, and is symbolic of that order, just as the Sabbath functions as a sign or symbol of God as the Creator (Gen. 2:2-3; Ex. 20:11; 31:17; Ezek 20:12, 20). Choosing to join with a person of the same sex is a sign of rebellion against the Creator God, just as is choosing to keep the first day of the week rather than the Sabbath day that God set aside and hallowed at the creation.

So is homosexuality “just another sin”? The picture that emerges from Scripture is that when privately engaged in, with no effort to justify it or normalize it, homosexuality is just another sin, much like the furtive adultery or fornication that is common among heterosexuals, even, secretly, among church members. But when practiced openly, proudly, and with social approval—such as in Sodom or in Gibeah—homosexuality is not just another sin. When so embraced, it becomes a sign of the collective rejection of God's created order, a capstone of rebellion against God. 

We may not be able to control the society around us, but clearly the normalization of homosexuality within the church is not something that Christians can afford to tolerate, flirt with, or turn a blind eye to. If we do, we as a church risk the collective punishment meted out to Israel in the days of the Judges. 

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