Twice this week I have heard this argument: Homosexuality is only one sin. We cannot treat it any different than other sins. If we are not willing to exclude people from membership or from being pastors for gluttony then we should not do so for homosexuality.
The first time I heard this (this week) it was in the context of pastors not signing an ethics statement which specifically forbid homosexuality. The context of the second was a church considering leaving their current denomination because it permitted homosexual pastors.
There are levels of sins, many levels. I am not fully equipped to create categories for them. We can see them though. The many different punishments varying in severity in Exodus. Some are death, others banishment, others monetary restitution. In Luke 12:47-48 Jesus draws a distinction between a severe and light punishment. The more severe is for the one who sins with knowledge of the master but the less severe is for the one without knowledge. Romans 2:5 explains how people can store up wrath that God will inflict on the day of judgment. There would be no point in it being stored up if the punishment was the same for all. Matthew 11:22,24 again give Jesus’ words that there will be a more tolerable punishment for some cities than for others. Punishing sins that are equal with unequal consequences would be unjust. We know that God is not unjust and therefore has greater and lesser consequences for different levels of sin. Finally, in John 19:11, Jesus tells Pilot, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” Jesus clearly points out at least two different levels of sin.
Homosexuality is a sin of sexual immorality (Romans 1:26-27), an especially grievous group of sins as explained in 1 Corinthians 6. Paul emphasizes this in verse 15 of that same chapter, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!” Paul explains how sexual immorality is a unique sin, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). If it is only a unique sin, would it be more heinous than other sins? First, it does cause a person to sin against his/her own body as well as the consequences of sin from and for other(s) involved in the sin. Second, for Christians, Paul continues, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Paul here explains how sexual immorality is worse for the Christian because our bodies are members of Christ and the Holy Spirit abides within them.
What sins is homosexuality grouped with in the Bible? Are these sins we want promoted or tolerated in our churches? There are several lists of sin in the New Testament. Though the word homosexuality is not present in the Greek, it points to the same idea that is found in Romans 1:26-27 – a woman having passion for a woman in the same way that God meant her to have passion for a man and a man having passion for a man in the same way God meant him to have passion for a woman. One list of sins that includes homosexual behavior is in 1 Corinthians 6: sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who practice homosexuality, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers. Another list is in 1 Timothy 1:10: immoral men, homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching. Should a church allow anyone who consistently worships idols? How about allowing thieves who consistently steal? Should it be preached that greed is permissible, even healthy? How about drunkenness? Would you vote to have a pastor in your church who not only lied but encouraged others to lie, even from the pulpit? What about a church that taught people how to kidnap children or helped hide those kidnapped children? I would hope the answers are obvious but hoping in human goodness is a miserable plight.
We must recognize the severity not only of homosexual sin but of any sexual immorality. It is more severe than most others. It is being promoted in churches, not just tolerated as a difficult sin that many are struggling with.