“Times are changing, with morals in decay. Human rights have made the wrongs okay.”
–Lyrics from “Socially Acceptable,” DC Talk, 1992
If you’re anything like me, lately you’ve been accused of being a bigot, prejudiced and a person who uses hate speech. Why? Because, since I’m a follower of Jesus and someone who believes in the Bible, I sometimes express that sexual activity is meant to remain within the confines of traditional marriage. Anything outside of that is sin, and needs to be repented of and struggled against.
While that seems like a pretty basic understanding of what the Bible teaches and what most Christians believe about sex, increasingly Western culture continues to vilify us when we express ourselves in this way. And this vilification has worked really well. Many days it seems like the dissenting voices to our culture’s mad dash toward sociocide have been effectively silenced, because they don’t want to be branded with the above titles.
The problem is, none of those accusations are true. None of them. And here’s why…Let’s take a little trip down memory lane. It’s the mid-1960s. The Civil Rights movement is in full swing, and making great strides. Martin Luther King, Jr. is still alive and preaching. This truly was the war that America should have been fighting--and it was! When the dust settled, color and race were established as Civil Rights along with gender, age, disability and national origin. The good war had been won! There truly was a lot to celebrate, because now ethnic minorities in America would have their civil rights protected legally, and could not be discriminated against because of the color of their skin, or the family they had been born into. This was an incredible statement of equality, which had strong Biblical basis, and was often led by Christian leaders. It seemed like what had happened at Pentecost in Jerusalem long ago was happening here in the West: People from all different ethnicities were coming together to be affirmed and embraced.
And it should have stopped there. That was the Civil Rights war that needed to be fought. And it was. And we won. End of story, right? Wrong. As we know all too well, it didn’t stop there. Instead, our culture decided there was another war to fight. The summer of 1967 has been dubbed the “Summer of Love”. More correctly, it should have been called the “Summer of Lust”, because very little of what was celebrated that summer was sex within marriage. And what that summer spawned was a “love child”, so to speak. It was a desire to move on to what some perceived as the next civil right that needed to be fought for. That’s right: Sexual orientation.
Fast forward a few decades to where we are now. The various flavors of sexual orientation have been—or are being—added to civil rights legislations throughout the Western World. Anyone who stands in the way of this movement is vilified and threatened into silence. And we are consistently being told that sexual orientation is in the same category as the other aspects of humanity that need to have civil rights protection. Many in the Western world accept this rhetoric. Others struggle against it, but silently, afraid of the “thought police”. A very few struggle against it publicly. But for the most part, it seems like this battle too has been won—and not by my “team” this time.
The problem is, sexual orientation is NOT in the same category of human characteristics as the other traditional categories, and to say so is being both simple and dishonest. There are extremely important reasons why Western culture has never (until now) chosen to judge a characteristic like sexual orientation at the same level as the traditional categories of protected civil rights. These are also reasons why no follower of Jesus and Biblical morality should ever be bullied into silence because he or she doesn’t jump wholeheartedly into embracing the various flavors of sexual orientation and gender identity our culture is flirting with today.
So let’s examine, one by one, these reasons, and the civil rights that have traditionally been protected. When you look at human characteristics such as gender, color, age, race, national origin and disability, you see something very similar about all of them, don’t you? The color of a person’s skin is not something they can change. Humans are not chameleons! Not only is someone born with the genetic makeup that determines their skin color, but no amount of internal struggle against the color of one’s skin will change it. Equally true is this: The Bible does not in any way say that one’s color of skin is more righteous than another, or that one color of skin is sinful in any way. The color of one’s skin is not a moral issue. It is a simple, unchangeable characteristic of each person that we are obliged to accept and live with our entire lives. As such, it should be morally wrong and even illegal to discriminate against someone because of their skin color, because it truly is nothing that we have any control over.
Race is similar to color, but not entirely the same. The more common way to refer to race today is with the term ethnicity. Some studies state that there are literally thousands of ethnic groups in our world today. Race is often determined by one’s geographical ancestry (where one came from) and one’s “heritable phenotype”. That’s a fancy phrase that basically means the genetic makeup you inherited from your mom and dad! It’s the unique combination of genetic material that the Lord wove together to form you in your mother’s womb. It’s what makes you uniquely you. Within large groups of people who are racially the same or similar, there may be a lot of variation in the color of their skin. That’s why a distinction is made between discrimination on the basis of color and of race. In other words, people of the same race may have a different color skin. But you can already see the similarities between these two categories, can’t you? A person’s race is something they cannot change; it is written indelibly into their DNA. It is no more possible for a person to change their race than it is to change their skin color. No amount of will power or desire on their part can do that. Additionally, the New Testament paints a beautiful picture of races coming together in the Book of Revelation, where the Apostle John says that in Heaven there will be people from every “tongue, tribe, people and nation.” This is a stunning portrait of racial equality and harmony, painted by the Master Artist Himself! Race is not a moral category; it is neither right nor wrong, because it is not related to desire, inclination or behavior—it simply “is.”
National origin, while similar to color and race, can be defined slightly differently, but still shares important characteristics with them. It’s pretty easy to define: National origin is the country in which you were born. As a protected civil rights category, this means that no one can be discriminated against because they were born in a certain country. Well, that makes sense, right? Obviously, we were not able to in any way control which country we were born in—that decision was absolutely out of our hands. Moreover, this is also obviously something that we cannot ever change! There’s no way we can change this fact about ourselves. It’s a one-time event, that was out of our control, and that cannot be changed, no matter how much we may want to. This is not a genetic issue, like race or color, but it is a non-moral issue. The Bible shows how fantastic it is when people from many and various national origins come together, like they did at Pentecost in Acts 2. Jesus and His Holy Spirit bond together people from every nation under Heaven into the Body of Christ today—and have been doing so for almost 2000 years. National origin is not a desire. It is not a feeling. It is not a behavior. It is outside the realm of morality. It is a simply human characteristic that we have no control over and cannot ever be changed. As such, it is truly wrong to discriminate against someone because of their national origin.
Over the years, it has become necessary to include age as a protected civil rights category. Specifically, people over 40 years of age are now often being protected from discrimination, as it has been determined that older people are sometimes being passed over for younger people in areas of employment and the like, simply because they are older. So let’s examine age in this regard. Is a person’s age something they have control over? No. Is a person’s age something they can change? No. Is a person’s age a moral consideration? Is it a desire, inclination or behavior that can be judged morally right or wrong biblically? Once again, no. No matter how hard a person may struggle against the reality of their age (and yes, many do really struggle!) there’s one battle they will never be able to win—the battle of the birth certificate. Age may in some ways only be a state of mind, but your birth certificate will never lie: You truly are as old as the years you have lived. And that’s fine. Why is that fine? Because age is not a moral category. The Bible does not say that one age group is sinful and another is not. It gives instruction generally to all ages of people, and specific, unique instructions to people in different age categories.
How about disability? This is a human characteristic protected against discrimination as well. Obviously it should be. Why? Well, think about it: Let’s say someone was born with part of their body missing, or because of an accident needed to have a limb amputated. Let me ask you this: Is this something that a person can change about himself? No. It is simply something that is. Is their disability a desire, inclination or behavior? No. Hence, it’s not a moral issue. Having a disability of some sort is neither right nor wrong; it is simply a characteristic a person has that is outside the realm of morality.
Gender, likewise, falls into the same category as all of the above. Apart from radical surgery and hormone treatment, a person cannot even change the external appearance of their body from one gender to another. And even if this happens, the genetic makeup of their individual cells remains the same; they are still genetically male or female. Did the individual have a choice before they were born as to what gender they would be? No. Can a person genetically change themselves to be the opposite gender? No. Can a person change their gender by thinking differently? No. You would still physically and genetically remain the same gender no matter how hard you thought differently. Is there something inherently sinful or morally wrong about being either male or female? Of course not! The Bible is very clear that God created Adam and Eve male and female, and as He reviewed what He had created, He declared what He had made to be very good. Gender too is outside the realm of morality: It is a simple, genetically unchangeable human characteristic. Gender is not something you do that can be judged right or wrong; it is simply something that you are.
What about sexual orientation? As you can already see, it is in an altogether different category than the above protected characteristics. Until recently, our political and judicial systems have recognized the fundamental differences between sexual orientation and all the other categories, and have never considered it worthy of inclusion as a category of non-discrimination. Why? Why is it different? Well, let’s review…
Sexual orientation—who or what you are attracted to sexually—is a desire and inclination that typically manifests itself in a behavior. It is thus in the realm of morality. Our society has rightly determined that all behaviors, at some level, are choices: We can choose to act on our desires or not. Let’s put it this way: Let’s say that from our earliest childhood memories, we felt attraction toward the opposite sex. As we grew older, our parents taught us that these desires were good, God-given desires that would serve us well within the confines of marriage when we got older. So what would we do, when we had these desires? We would remind ourselves what Jesus taught in the Bible, in Matthew 5:28: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” And instead of acting on those desires, we would struggle against them, and with the help of the Lord, we would hopefully achieve some victory over them. In other words, when we had sexual desires or inclinations we had a choice in the matter as to what we would do with them! We weren’t forced to entertain them; we could struggle against them. At some point later in life, once we were married, then those desires would serve us well, as we would allow those desires to lead us into sexual activity with our wife or husband. That is the way God designed sexual desire and behavior to function. But I repeat: A desire or inclination in our minds is never something we have to act upon. We may feel like it is for a time, but ultimately it becomes a matter of our choice: We can choose to entertain that thought or not; we can choose to act on that desire or not. The more we entertain those thoughts, the tougher it is to say no to them in the future. But it is still a matter of our choice what we want to do with them.
Can we choose where we were born? Can we choose our race? Can we choose the color of our skin? Our age? Our genetic gender? Whether we have a disability or not? No—to all of them. Can we choose to entertain our sexual desires and attractions or not? Yes. Can we choose to act on them or not? Yes. And a characteristic that becomes a matter of choice—no matter how hardwired it may be—is still just that: A matter of choice, which puts it in a different category altogether.
And since a person has the ability to choose what to do with the desires and behaviors associated with sexual orientation, this also means that those desires and behaviors can be changed. This cannot be said of the other protected characteristics in the same way! You cannot think yourself to a different color. You can struggle all you want against where you were born, but you can’t change that. Most people have struggled with lust at certain times in their lives, both in thought and action. But many of these same people have overcome this sin by actively taking steps to overcome it. It is certainly possible to both control your desires, inclinations and behaviors and even change them over time.
I want to interject at this point that some people—including the Apostle Paul, who arguably is the most influential human to have ever lived apart from Jesus Christ Himself—have even willfully chosen celibacy as a way of life. Jesus said this would be the case in Matthew 19:12…
“there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
In the context of temptation to lust and other sins, Paul writes this in 2 Corinthians 11:29: “Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?”
Even those who choose, for the sake of being set apart more completely for the Lord’s work, to remain celibate still have sexual desires, inclinations, thoughts and feelings that cause them to “inwardly burn”. But they recognize them, struggle against them, and refuse to give in to them. In other words, they say “no” to them. They make a choice to say no to them, because as humans we are not slaves to our thoughts and corresponding behaviors—we always have a choice, as difficult as it may be sometimes. Sexual thoughts and their corresponding behaviors are things we can choose to entertain or not—to act on or not. This is proved every time anyone chooses not to entertain nor act on them. And for some people, they have proven that this can be a successful lifetime choice. This reality related to sexual orientation is completely different than any of the other protected civil rights categories.
And sexual orientation is certainly, squarely in the realm of morality. Why? Because it gives birth to desires and inclinations that may be determined to be right or wrong by an external source; and it typically results in behaviors that can be morally discerned in the same way. As mentioned before, the Bible—and for that matter, most other external sources of morality—teaches that sex is great, within the confines of traditional marriage. Outside of those confines, it is such a powerful force that it invariably becomes wholly destructive—to both individuals and societies. And that is what we are seeing in the West today. In a little over a hundred years, the sexual pendulum has swung to the opposite direction: Away from Victorian ideals to what we have now—a sexually-obsessed culture, where many people are increasingly defining themselves based on the current smorgasbord of gender identities.
When I was a boy, from my earliest memories, I liked girls. I thought girls were cute and good-looking. In fact, if the truth be known, as I grew up, became a teenager and eventually a young adult, I—like pretty much every guy—experienced lustful thoughts. Did I give in to them? Sometimes. Did I struggle against them? Yes. Did I experience victory? Often! Has it gotten better since I’ve been married? Most definitely! Have they completely gone away? No. But do I continue to entertain them and act on them, outside of marriage to my wife? A huge, resounding “No!” Just because from our earliest memories we may have had thoughts, desires, inclinations and attractions, this doesn’t necessarily make them good or right. That’s part of what the Bible means when it says that we are born into sin—we are all born with a natural inclination to gravitate toward sin of all kinds. To say that because from our earliest memories we had a desire and, for that reason, it somehow makes that desire morally right or valid is a faulty argument. It simply underscores what the Bible has taught all along: that even from a young age, we are sinners desperately in need of forgiveness and deliverance by Jesus Christ.
If sexual orientation is a human characteristic deserving of being protected from discrimination in the same way as the other aforementioned characteristics, then every human characteristic that is defined by a desire and corresponding action also has a right to be so protected. From your earliest memories, have you enjoyed seeing people or animals suffer? Well then, according to this logic, that needs to be a protected human characteristic, free from discrimination. From your earliest memories, have you enjoyed fire and seeing things burn? Have you enjoyed taking things home that didn’t belong to you? Have you had a desire to…well, you fill in the blank with any anti-social and destructive behavior that you want to, and you’ll get the picture: If sexual orientation is deemed worthy of becoming a protected civil rights category, then every type of long-term desire, inclination, thought and feeling that results in corresponding behavior also has the right to be protected as well. I’ll leave it up to you to consider the implications of that for our culture.
The Christian band DC Talk nailed it way back in 1992 when they penned those prophetic lyrics “Human rights have made the wrongs okay.” What Martin Luther King, Jr. was fighting for is radically different than what the former Bruce Jenner received the ESPY award for last summer. Instead of teaching people to embrace harmful, hurtful and destructive thinking and behaviors, we’re called to show people a way out of them. Those of us who have had our minds renewed by Jesus and His Word are privileged to have the responsibility to show the precious people in our culture this way out. We’re not bigots. We’re not prejudiced. We don’t use hate speech. We simply love. We love enough to show them there is a way out—to true freedom—so that they can be exactly what the title of DC Talk’s album was that contained those prophetic lyrics: “Free at Last!”