In a manner that appeals to a scholarly and lay-audience alike, Preston takes on difficult questions such as how should the church treat people struggling with same-sex attraction? Is same-sex attraction a product of biological or societal factors or both? How should the church think about larger cultural issues, such as gay marriage, gay pride, and whether intolerance over LGBT amounts to racism? How (or if) Christians should do business with LGBT persons and supportive companies?
Simply saying that the Bible condemns homosexuality is not accurate, nor is it enough to end the debate. Those holding a traditional view still struggle to reconcile the Bible’s prohibition of same-sex attraction with the message of radical, unconditional grace. This book meets that need.
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People to Be Loved
Why Homosexuality is not Just an Issue
By Preston M. Sprinkle
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2015 Preston M. Sprinkle
All rights reserved.
"MY NAME WAS FAGGOT"
Eric Borges was raised in a conservative Christian home. At a young age, Eric realized he was different, and other kids at school let him know it. He endured relentless and ongoing bullying throughout kindergarten, and the rest of his elementary school years were tarnished with horror. "I was physically, mentally, verbally, and emotionally assaulted on a daily basis," recalls Eric. This led to chronic migraines, debilitating depression, suicidal thoughts, and a whole host of other mental and physical problems. "My name was not Eric, but Faggot. I was stalked, spit on, and ostracized." On one occasion, he was assaulted in a full classroom, and nobody intervened, not even the teacher who was present. Throughout school, Eric was treated like a monster, a sub-species of the human race. "I was told that the very essence of my being was unacceptable. I had nowhere safe to go" — not even church.
In his sophomore year of college, Eric came out to his parents; he told them he was gay. After performing an exorcism on their son, they told him, among other things, that he was "disgusting, perverted, unnatural, and damned to hell." Later that year, they kicked him out of the house. Eric shared his story on YouTube in 2011. In the video, he encouraged other youth who have had similar experiences that "it gets better." Having suffered in a hissing cauldron of ridicule and torment, Eric wanted to help others to find comfort and hope to pull them through the pain.
One month later, Eric killed himself.
I wish Eric's story was an anomaly, but it's not. Having listened to countless testimonies and looking at startling statistics, I am disheartened to say that the Christian church has often played an unintended yet active role in pushing gay people away from Christ. Sometimes away from Christ and into the grave.
The ones who don't kill themselves often end up leaving the church. But here's the thing: most people who are attracted to the same sex don't end up leaving the church because they were told that same-sex behavior is wrong. They leave because they were dehumanized, ridiculed, and treated like an "other."
An old Baptist pastor recently told me, "People will always gravitate to where they are loved. And if they don't find love in the church, they'll go elsewhere." He is right. Most of my gay and lesbian friends have diverse stories, but they are all held together by a common thread that looks a lot like Eric's:
I was raised in the church, but everyone knew I was different. I was made fun of, mocked, and made to feel like a monster. When I came out, I was rejected, so I found another community where I was accepted.
A gay friend of mine leads a Bible study for gay and lesbian people at his college campus. He recently told me that all the participants of his study are hungry to know God's Word but they are too scared to go to church. My friend didn't say "uninterested" or "turned off" or "too busy." He said "scared," as in frightened. They feared they would be harassed or harmed, beat up or bullied — verbally or physically — if they stepped across the holy threshold on Sunday. Another thing they all had in common is that they had all tried to kill themselves at one point. The last place they think they would find good news worthy of life is inside the church. So they remain outside — hungry to know God's Word yet terrified of people inside the church.
Learning about Eric's story and many others like it has caused me to revisit the question of homosexuality. Like many of you, I grew up inheriting a Christian tradition that told me homosexuality is a sin. And for many years, I never questioned this assumption. But after hearing innumerable stories that reflect Eric's, I began to ask myself, Am I sure we've got this one right? If the gospel is good news, and the church is to be the light that warms the world with this good news, then why are gay people leaving the church in search of better news? If the gospel is not good news for gay people, then it's not good news.
As I read the Gospels, I see people drawing near to Jesus (Luke 15:1). All kinds of people. Broken people, sinful people, marginalized people, people who are clean and unclean, pure and impure. Some are befriended. Others are confronted. All of them are loved. And none walk away wanting to kill themselves. The people who are most repelled by Jesus are the religious hypocrites. As I think about the question of homosexuality, I see many gay and lesbian people repelled by the church. And so I am asking myself, Why?
Has the church handled the question of homosexuality with Christlike love? Are we sure we've understood what the Bible really says about same-sex relations? As you read on, you'll see that the answer is both yes and no.
"THE BIBLE IS VERY CLEAR"
I was sitting next to a couple on a plane and quickly found out that they were Christians. When I told them I was a writer, they asked me what I was currently working on. "Well ..." — I'm always nervous about dropping the homosexuality bomb with people I don't know —" I am actually writing a book about homosexuality."
The husband immediately looked down and shook his head back and forth slowly while confidently asserting, "The Bible is very clear. It's very clear. There's no debate. Homosexuality is wrong." I didn't know what to say, so I cowardly nodded with apathetic agreement, "Hmmm ... uh ... ya ..." I didn't want to get into the whole debate, but he kept on preaching, "It's very clear ... there is no debate."
I found the statement odd since there actually is a debate, a massive debate, regardless of how clear he thinks the Bible is. In any case, I couldn't help myself. The opportunity was ripe to gather some evidence. I've often wondered whether Christians who "know for a fact" that homosexuality is wrong could name the passages where the Bible says so. In most cases, they can't. But I wanted to see if this person was different. For him, the Bible's condemnation of homosexuality seemed about as clear as the deity of Christ or the existence of God. "It's very clear."
So I asked, "Umm ... which passages are you talking about?"
"Huh?" He was taken aback.
"Which passages are you talking about?" I repeated. "You know, the ones that you say are very clear about condemning homosexuality?" Silence. Frustration.
"It's very clear!" he proclaimed.
"Yes, I know," I cordially agreed. "But which passages are very clear?"
"Well ... umm ... uh ... I don't know. But I've studied them. I have. They are there. And they are very clear."
And maybe they are. Maybe he had a memory lapse. Maybe he had studied those passages in great detail but through the rest of life's worries, those passages were pressed down in the far reaches of his memory. I get it. I've been there. I still find it odd, however, that most Christians know "for a fact" that homosexuality is wrong — there's no debate, no discussion, the Bible is very clear. But those same Christians oftentimes can't name the passages where the Bible refers to homosexual relations.
You may think, "Well, that's because there are too many passages to remember! The Bible says it's wrong in so many places that there's no way anyone could possibly keep track of them all."
Actually, there are only six.
Six passages in the Bible that seem to say that homosexual behavior is wrong.
And even with those six, there is a massive debate about whether those passages can apply to monogamous, consensual, loving gay relations.
Because that's the real question Christians are asking. The question is not about whether gay sex outside marriage is wrong. It's not about whether soliciting a same-sex prostitute or sleeping around with several partners is wrong. All genuine Christians believe these are sin. The question is whether two men or two women can date, fall in love, remain sexually pure before their wedding day, and commit to a life-long, consensual, Christ-centered, self-giving, monogamous union.
So the question is: Does the Bible really address — and prohibit — these types of relations?
For much of my life, I was that guy on the plane. I believed that homosexuality was wrong; I just didn't know why it was wrong and where it said so. My beliefs stood firmly in midair with no reasoning, no rationale, no biblical foundation. So I began to study.
At the beginning of my journey, I set out to study what the Bible says about homosexuality. And to be honest, I thought this part of my study would take a few weeks. After all, my tradition had already concluded that same-sex relations are wrong, and so I only needed to find the verses that supported this tradition. But as I started to study those verses, I quickly found that the discussion is not so simple. You may find it shocking, but most scholars who have written books about homosexuality in the last forty years have concluded that the Bible does not condemn consensual, monogamous, same-sex relations. The debate is not about what the Bible says. That much is clear. The debate is over what the Bible means.
I've always been eager to test my traditional beliefs by Scripture. After all, I'm a product of the Protestant Reformation, which upholds Scripture — not tradition — as our ultimate authority. Sometimes the church's tradition needs to be corrected and reformed by Scripture. For many years, the church stood on the wrong side of the question of slavery. Many Christians held the Bible in one hand while they whipped their slaves with the other. Christians have also stood on the wrong side of science. The famous Christian astronomer Galileo was excommunicated and imprisoned for trying to overturn the church's traditional belief that the sun revolves around the earth. Yet we are all thankful that Galileo had the nerve to question tradition — even one that was written in stone.
I underwent a similar shift in my own thinking a few years ago when I set out to study what the Bible says about warfare and violence. As a reformed evangelical and son of a Marine, I always assumed that it's perfectly okay for Christians to kill if it was during a war or to save an innocent person. It seemed like a no-brainer, and my tradition had all but unanimously affirmed it. But when I studied what the Bible actually says about violence and warfare, I ended up advocating — to my own surprise — absolute nonviolence, even though this goes against the tradition I grew up with.
All that to say, I am quite eager to let the Bible challenge tradition. It's not that tradition is bad or doesn't carry any authority. I think it does. But all evangelical Christians agree that the Bible stands over tradition as our ultimate authority.
So when I began my study a few years ago, I came before God and said, "If my tradition has been wrong about homosexuality, then please show me through your Word and give me the courage to proclaim the truth." I have prayed that prayer several times throughout this study, and I encourage you to do the same. If the Bible is our ultimate authority, and if tradition is subject to error, then we all should eagerly drag our traditions to the foot of Scripture and mandate a re-evaluation. That's what "reformation" means. It means that we submit our traditions to the authoritative Word, even if it compels us to reconfigure long-held beliefs.
I'm not trying to create a spiritual force field around my interpretation, as if to say, "Since I prayed about it, I must be right." I only share this with you to say that I have genuinely tried to approach this discussion as fairly and honestly as I know how. Yes, of course, we all have biases and presuppositions that we bring to the text. I'm well aware of that, and you should be too! But I also believe we have the ability to identify our assumptions, invite people to challenge those assumptions, consider the strengths and weaknesses of alternative interpretations, and prayerfully and communally interpret the text of Scripture in a responsible and humble manner — always being open to the possibility that we could be wrong. Before God and before you, I can say that I've tried to do that with the question of homosexuality.
Over the last few years, I have devoted countless hours to studying the Scriptures with an open mind. I have read piles of books and articles on the topic from both sides of the debate. I have researched the ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman context in which the Bible was written. I have looked at the ever-evolving conclusions of psychologists, counselors, and medical researchers. But studying the issue of homosexuality is not enough. Like flying an airplane with only one wing, reading about homosexuality is necessary — but dangerously insufficient.
We need to listen to gay and lesbian people.
I have enjoyed countless hours of conversations with gay and lesbian people, some who share my Christian faith and others who don't. I have invited their input and pushback through blogs, emails, Facebook conversations, and over many meals, which usually involve spicy food and good beer. Throughout my study, I have made many gay friends who have solidified my belief that homosexuality is not about an issue. It is about people.
With some topics, it's easy to keep the Bible at arm's length from real people. Plenty of writers have done this with homosexuality. But I can't, and I won't. When I read Leviticus 18, Romans 1, and other passages that talk about same-sex relations, I no longer see words on a page but people with a story — people whom I know and love.
I see Jeremy, Matt, David, and Andrew. I see Laura, Julie, and my friend Caleb, whose parents both came out as gay when he was two years old. I love the Bible and I cherish its life-giving words.
But like a gladiator's sword, some of its passages are dripping with blood. They have been wielded with reckless ignorance to slash open old wounds and carve out new ones. Razor-sharp verses are thrust between the ribs of people like Maddie, whose dad chained her to a toilet in the basement for three months when she was nine. He gave her scraps of food to keep her alive and then raped her repeatedly for the next four years. Now Maddie chooses to have relationships only with other women. "I'm not attracted to girls, but no man will ever touch me again," she says. When I read what Paul says about female same-sex behavior in Romans 1, my heart breaks for Maddie, and it's tough to read that passage without tears.
If the church is ever going to solve this issue, it needs to stop seeing it as an "issue." Homosexuality is not an issue to be solved; it's about people who need to love and be loved.
People like Tim Otto.
SEX IN SEARCH OF LOVE
Tim realized at a young age that he was attracted to other boys. But as a missionary kid and devout follower of Jesus, he believed he shouldn't act on his attractions. Tim suppressed his sexual desires for years until one day his passions overcame him. He entered an adult bookstore in downtown San Francisco and was scanning the magazines when another guy propositioned him. They went to a back room and had sex. Tim got dressed, left the store, sprawled out on the urine-stained sidewalk in the middle of the night, and contemplated suicide. "[A]s I lay on the sidewalk in front of an adult bookstore, the fact that the Mission Street pawn shops sold guns began to seem like a solution."
By God's grace, Tim didn't kill himself that night. But his reflections on what happened are remarkable: "I wish that somehow, rather than ending up in the arms of that anonymous man, I could have found myself in the arms of the church ... I wish in the church I had found myself loved."
That last phrase should be branded on our hearts with glowing iron: "I wish in the church I had found myself loved." Tim is a person, not an issue. A person who had sex with an anonymous man because he didn't experience the rich, satisfying, intimate love of Christ mediated through Christ-followers in the church.
What would happen if Christians were known more by their radical, otherworldly love for gay people than their stance against gay sex? Just maybe there would be fewer people seeking anonymous sex to satisfy a craving to be loved.
In the pages that follow, you will be looking over my shoulder as I pore over the text of Scripture to see what it says about homosexuality. But I never want us to forget about Tim, Jeremy, Julie, Wes, or my beautiful friend Lesli who was born into a Christian home and grew up transgender. She too was mocked, spat upon, and pushed down the stairs at school more times than she can remember. Homosexuality is about people. At the same time, I want to be ruthlessly biblical in how we formulate our thoughts about homosexuality. It's not an either the Bible or people question; it's both the Bible and people. Homosexuality is not about either truth or love; it's about both truth and love, since truth is loving and love is truthful. Our God is both. There's no room for false dichotomies here. We need to be thoroughly biblical because we desire to thoroughly love people.
Excerpted from People to Be Loved by Preston M. Sprinkle. Copyright © 2015 Preston M. Sprinkle. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsChapter 1: God and Gays
Chapter 2: The Breath of God
Chapter 3: Sodom and Gomorrah
Chapter 4: Holiness Code
Chapter 5: Jesus’s Silence about Homosexuality
Chapter 6: Contrary to Nature
Chapter 7: Gay Sex, Greed, and Other Sins Condemned by God
Chapter 8: What Now?
Chapter 9: Early Church
Chapter 10: Unconditional Delight
Chapter 11: Nature versus Nurture
Chapter 12: Exgay Ministries
Chapter 13: Celibacy
Chapter 14: Unwanted Same Sex Attraction and the Cross
Epilogue: Frequently Asked Questions
What People are Saying About This
This is a remarkable book. The tone overflows with love, compassion, and grace. Preston is an exceptional biblical scholar, and as such, his exegesis of Scripture is excellent. As I read, I kept thinking, “Preston really loves the LGBTYQ
Community.” This book will be a resource at Transformation Church. Derwin L. Gray, Lead Pastor Transformation Church, author of The High Definition Leader
With the poignant accuracy of a scholar and the passionate heart of a pastor, Preston challenges Christians to look at the LGBT community from a deeper level. Specifically, he drives home the point that LGBT people in our lives aren’t nameless faces, but real individuals that God loves. Each person has a voice, deserves to be listened to, and needs to be valued. I’m thankful Preston has pushed us further into the tension of grace and truth. Caleb Kaltenbach, lead pastor, Discovery Church; author, Messy Grace
In his new book, People to Be Loved, Preston Sprinkle serves as a trustworthy guide through the debated passages of Scripture that relate to homosexuality. His thoughtful, balanced reflection on the arguments on both sides, as well as his willingness to share with the reader what he has concluded, reflect the kind of “convicted civility” that is often lacking in any discussion of the topic. Sprinkle’s approach also models for the Christian a commitment to respectful engagement with others with whom you may disagree. Mark A. Yarhouse, Psy D, Professor of Psychology and Rosemarie S. Hughes Endowed Chair, Regent University
In a conversation polarized by hate, fear, and misunderstanding, Preston Sprinkle steps into the fray with a thoughtful, articulate, nuanced, humble, and courageous take on the current debate over sexuality and the Bible. His particular cocktail of professor, pastor, and down-to- earth regular Joe is an intoxicating blend that makes for good reading and even better learning. I’m thankful for Preston and this book. John Mark Comer, pastor for teaching and vision, Bridgetown: A Jesus Church in Portland
Preston Sprinkle has a deep reverence for Scripture and a great love for people, meaning this book is not just accessible and lively, but rewarding and compassionate. It deserves to be widely read. Sam Allberry, associate pastor, St. Mary’s Church, Maidenhead, UK
Preston Sprinkle does conservative Christians a needed service by guiding them into the complexity of biblical interpretation, sexual ethics, and compassionate listening. His meticulous research is applied with an even hand as he affirms and critiques arguments coming from both affirming and nonaffirming Christians, all the while offering wise pastoral counsel to straight and gay alike. Affirming scholars will disagree with various points in his interpretation but there is no question that Sprinkle is going as far as he can go within a nonaffirming viewpoint to move this debate away from the rhetoric of the culture war toward a more productive, respectful, loving conversation. Megan K. De Franza, author, Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female and Intersex in the Image of God
Powerful and accessible, People to Be Loved engages top scholarship from all sides of this conversation in a way that’s easy to read and down-to- earth, respectfully avoiding straw men while exploring Scripture with conviction and grace. Moreover, Preston models a posture for straight Christians to allow the abuse and mistreatment gay people have experienced to break and reshape us, to let their beauty and dignity draw our eyes to Jesus, and to “front love” as we seek to embody the sacrificial love of our King for his world. Joshua Ryan Butler, pastor, Imago Dei Community (Portland)
Amidst the arguing at fever-pitchcomes Preston Sprinkle and People to Be Loved. I am grateful for his thoughtful perspective and great desire to love at the risk of being both criticized and marginalized. I pray more people will opt into relationship and conversation with one another in the way Preston has and find deeper friendship and understanding. Alan Chambers, author, My Exodus: From FEAR to Grace; www.Alan Chambers.org
With honesty, empathy and all-too- uncommon grace, Preston Sprinkle contributes brilliantly to the ongoing conversation our culture is having regarding Christianity and sexuality. Preston has done a rare thing: addressing controversial issues and dealing with perplexing questions in a way that is fair and gracious to all participants. This is a refreshing and immensely helpful book in navigating the deep waters of sexual ethics. I highly recommend it! Mike Erre, pastor, First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton