A: Another great question, and definitely a difficult one. The difficulty comes, not from difficult interpretive issues, but because the nature of the "debate" is so inflammatory. The name-calling that the Questioner refers to above as the "quieting" remarks made in the middle of conversation/argument are not uncommon.
Part of the issue (only part), is that this particular debate touches on issues of "identity" -- which is deeper than simply discussing conduct. Despite the common cliche that is touted by so many Christians -- "God loves the sinner, but hates the sin" -- often discussions of homosexuality blur this line because the individual identifies themselves with their particular sin. Never mind that this bumper sticker theology doesn't really fit with what the Bible teaches (see Psalm 5:4-5, especially the last half of verse 5, for example).
As a result, even if (and that's a big if!) the Christian is conducting themselves in perfect love and kindness, the person to whom you are discussing these matters, especially if they are themselves a homosexual, likely hear you calling them a name when you say that homosexuality is wrong/sinful! Therefore, name calling on their end is simply a response to what they hear from you ... even if you're not intentionally calling them names or being inflammatory.
If my identity is wrapped up in, at least in part, my sexual orientation and you say that this orientation is wrong, then you are saying I'm wrong ... and no one likes to be told they're wrong! Especially about something that is deeply ingrained in who they are. A possible analogy would be someone telling you that having blue eyes is sinful.
What's interesting (to me, anyway) is that this particular understanding of this particular sinful disposition creates responses of biblical proportion when the truth is spoken.
What I mean is this: when Jesus and the Apostles preached the gospel and told the world about sin, the world wanted to kill them for it. Now, often when the church (in America) preaches about sin ... no one cares. Why?
I think that the reason for this, at least in some part, is that we have separated Jesus' understanding -- which He taught to the disciples -- of the nature of human beings. We are evil. Every one of us. To our very core and the deepest part of our being.
This was Jesus' message... the perfect example of One who always spoke the truth in love.
In Jesus' sermon recorded in Matthew 5-7, He is speaking to a crowd and explaining the character of God and He contrasts this against the character of the people listening:
"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:11, NASB)
God is good. Humans are evil.
Jesus addressed the Pharisees, who by their conduct and religious zeal were considered to be the holiest people on Earth at the time -- the name ("Pharisee") implies that they are set apart in holiness -- and Jesus told them they were evil.
"You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. (Matthew 12:34, NASB)
This would be like Jesus walking up to a Mother Theresa, Gandhi, and the Pope and telling them they are evil.
We must always remember that the world didn't love Jesus, they hated Him. A riotous mob called for the release of a known murderer so that they could brutally execute Jesus on a Roman cross! And Jesus explained why the world hated Him so much then (and by extension, when the world really understands His message still hates Him and His followers today):
This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. (John 3:19, NASB)
The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil. (John 7:7, NASB)
Here's an interesting thing that Jesus said to His disciples -- notice how He tells them to love each other and prepares them to be hated:
This I command you, that you love one another. If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. (John 15:17-18, NASB)
Many people who claim to follow Jesus and the teaching of the Scripture, and even more people in the world today, try and tell you that if people hate your message, then you must be doing something wrong. Jesus, however, said if you love one another and speak the truth -- God's truth -- the world will respond to your love for them by hating you. That's what they did to Jesus.
They crucified the Lord of life. They crucified the Prince of peace. They crucified love incarnate. Why would they like you?
Here's the thing: The whole world is evil ... not just homosexuals, but certainly including them. In writing about Jews and Greeks, Paul said something that would be just as true if we replaced these terms with "homosexual" and "heterosexual":
What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both [Heterosexuals] and [Homosexuals] are all under sin; as it is written, "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE." "THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE, WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING," "THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS"; "WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS"; "THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD, DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, AND THE PATH OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN." "THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES." (Romans 3:9-18, NASB)
If the price of rebellion and sin is death and hell, then the only loving thing to do is to speak the truth. It is more loving to shout the truth than to keep silent under the guise of "tolerance" and "love them" directly into hell.
The truth is, homosexuality is a sin.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, NASB)
Of course, homosexuality is not the only sexual sin on that list. Fornication and adultery are both listed as well. God is serious about sexual morality all throughout the Scriptures. Some people make a big deal about homosexuality being particularly heinous in the sight of God, and I believe this case is scripturally sound. My opinion of why God is so serious about this particular sin is as follows:
In fornication, humans are rejecting part of God's plan for sexual morality in that they are being irresponsible and merely gratifying the lusts of their flesh. In adultery, humans are rejecting part of God's plan for sexual morality in that they are being unfaithful and impure. In homosexuality, however, humans are rejecting God's plan for sexual morality entirely (see Romans 1:24-27) -- as they are making reproduction an impossibility and are denying the essence of why "God made them male and female."
This is a good lead-in to the second question listed above: which is how do I think the civil recognition of gay marriage affects our spiritual definition and our culture. I am not all that interested in making an economic or political argument against changing the definition of marriage, especially since that is not my area of expertise. Instead, I encourage anyone who is interested to simply read through Romans 1:18-32 to see why I, as a Christian, believe this is so dangerous. I don't want to live as an individual or as a nation under the wrath of God. Therefore, I don't want to suppress the truth (Romans 1:18) or approve of those who practice godlessness (Romans 1:32).
The Questioner is absolutely right about the sad state of marriage in America. Re-defining marriage, of course, is not the answer.
The reality is that homosexuals are not the only ones who struggle with "the lusts of their flesh." Heterosexuals also struggle, which is why God's word declares that He hates divorce, that He hates adultery, and that He hates fornication, too. Both homosexuals and heterosexuals struggle with physical attractions to people they should not engage in relationships with -- physically and emotionally.
We all struggle against the lusts of the flesh. We all need a Savior every moment, because only Jesus can set us free!
A brief article claiming to be from a sister in Christ who struggles with homosexuality can be found here and is worth reading in its entirety. The author of that particular note hits the nail on the head when she says (underline added for emphasis):
To those of you who would change the church to accept the gay community and its lifestyle: you give us no hope at all. To those of us who know God’s word and will not dilute it to fit our desires, we ask you to read John’s letter to the church in Pergamum. “I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore!” You are willing to compromise the word of God to be politically correct. We are not deceived. If we accept your willingness to compromise, then we must also compromise. We must therefore accept your lying, your adultery, your lust, your idolatry, your addictions, YOUR sins. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
We do not ask for your acceptance of our sins any more than we accept yours.
This sister in Christ understands that her particular lusts and inclinations are wicked and evil ... but she also understands that everyone else's are too.
Yours are. Mine are.
We can't start re-defining "sin" to make ourselves comfortable. That's idolatry.
What we need to do, is repent. All of us.
And we need to keep speaking the truth in love, even though the world will continue to hate us for it, because our love motivates us to tell them that without repentance and faith in Christ, no one will enter the kingdom of heaven.
If you saw someone eating poison, would you tell them?
What if it looked like they were really enjoying it? Would that make a difference to you?
Would it matter to you if they got mad at you? If they said, "This is who I am!"?
I'm hoping that you wouldn't be dissuaded. The love of Christ compels us to testify to the truth, and the truth is that homosexuality is sin and that you cannot be a practicing homosexual and a follower of Jesus Christ (e.g. Romans 6:1-2; 1 Peter 2:24-25; Hebrews 10:26-27, 12:16-17, 25-29; and 1 John 1:6, 3:7-10).
We need Jesus to set us free from the various lusts and impulses of our flesh. All of us.
For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:22-25, NASB)
To be as clear as possible, my best advice is to continue speaking the truth, but do so as one who recognizes that you, too, are exceedingly wicked and in need of the transformative grace of God. We who know Jesus do not proclaim a message of superiority, but of gratitude that we have found mercy and redemption at the expense of another: Jesus.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21, NASB)
We want them to be saved in the same way we have been saved ... not by the righteous things we have done, but by the righteous act of the living God who wants none to perish, but all to come to repentance (John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9).
The Apostle Paul's advice to Titus is directly applicable to us in this situation:
Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. (Titus 3:1-8, NASB)