By / Mar 11

What happened?

On Feb. 19, Brigham Young University (BYU) announced a wide array of changes to its Honor Code, which included removing a section on “Homosexual Behavior.” BYU is the flagship university of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, more commonly known as Mormons.

The previous honor code had a section on “Homosexual Behavior” which stated the following:

“One’s stated same-gender attraction is not an honor code issue. However, the honor code requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity. Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the honor code. Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.”

The new honor code has removed this section in favor of using more generic language. The summary of the Church Educational System Honor Code explains that students must:

“Live a chaste and virtuous life, including abstaining from any sexual relations outside a marriage between a man and a woman.”

The Church Educational System Honor Code Related Policies, which gives more details, says

“Students must abstain from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal substances and from the intentional misuse or abuse of any substance. Sexual misconduct; obscene or indecent conduct or expressions; disorderly or disruptive conduct; participation in gambling activities; involvement with pornographic, erotic, indecent, or offensive material; and any other conduct or action inconsistent with the principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Honor Code is not permitted.”

However, this notably left many students, faculty, and alumni on both sides of the issue confused as to what now constitutes acceptable behavior or expression for students who identify as LGBTQ. Though the Honor code still includes “abstaining from any sexual relations outside a marriage between a man and a woman” in accordance with the church’s teachings on marriage, it remains unclear whether students can now engage in public displays of same-sex expression such as dating, kissing, and hand holding, or whether such acts constitute “obscene or indecent conduct or expressions.”

This lack of clarity has led to various interpretations of the changes. Some students, upon hearing of the changes, rushed to take a picture of themselves kissing in front of a statue of Brigham Young on BYU’s campus. Others have contacted the Honor Code Office, which supposedly told them that gay dating, kissing, and hand holding is okay. 

On the other hand, the school remains firm that nothing significant has really changed. Through their Twitter account, BYU initially acknowledged that there may have been some “miscommunication as to what the Honor Code changes mean,” but maintains that “even though we have removed the more prescriptive language, the principles of the Honor Code remain the same. The Honor Code Office will handle questions that arise on a case-by-case basis. For example, since dating means different things to different people, the Honor Code Office will work with students individually.” However, this still left the issue unclear. 

Christians need to strive toward the biblical ethic of love, which can simultaneously uphold the truths of Scripture about human sexuality, call all sinners to repentance, and maintain a caring and compassionate response toward those who have these particular temptations.

On March 4, BYU tweeted a letter from Elder Paul V. Johnson, the Commissioner of the Church Educational System, which finally appeared to offer clarity. In the letter, he reaffirmed the church’s stance on marriage: “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” He added that “same-sex romantic behavior cannot lead to eternal marriage and is therefore not compatible with the principles included in the Honor Code.” 

What does this mean for Christians?

The struggle that we see here at BYU is not new. Though BYU is not a theologically orthodox Christian school and the Mormon faith is considered by faithful Christians to be heterodox (Here is a helpful explainer on the differences between Mormons and Christians), the Mormon church has largely upheld moral standards concerning marriage and the family that are in line with orthodox Christianity. As such, the parallels here between BYU and what has been witnessed at other Christian institutions are uncanny.

Take, for instance, Azusa Pacific University (APU) in southern California, a Christian school founded on the Wesleyan Holiness Tradition. From August 2018 through March 2019, APU went through a series of flip-flops on the very same issue of whether students could openly engage in LGBTQ relationships and public displays of affection. While APU maintains that sex should be between one man and one woman in the covenant of marriage, it now, unfortunately, maintains a neutral or open stance on the romantic (or explicitly non-sexual) aspects of LGBTQ relationships.

The cultural pressure to change stances on the vast array of LGBTQ issues is being brought to bear on every Christian institution, and it won’t stop. Because of this, Christians need to know how to think through these issues well.

How should Christians think about this?

Christian schools and institutions are struggling with the pressure from our culture to embrace the entire LGBTQ agenda while still trying to maintain biblical standards about sexuality and gender and being pastoral toward those with unwanted same-sex attractions or gender dysphoria. Unfortunately, this has led some Christian institutions like APU to compromise on this aspect of LGBTQ romantic relationships and public displays of affection. Yet, as Albert Mohler explains, this is not consistent with a biblical understanding of human sexuality.

“The biblical worldview does not allow for same-sex or LGBTQ romantic relationships. APU has adopted an explicit contradiction of the scriptural understanding of marriage, sexuality, gender, and romantic relationships between men and women. You cannot compartmentalize romance. Romantic relationships are themselves deeply moral and they imply the fulfillment of the sexual. Any construct contrary to the Bible’s clear teachings about sex, gender, and romance is by definition unbiblical. No Christian can live in logical consistency with the biblical teachings regarding marriage and simultaneously celebrate same-sex couples and homosexual displays of affection.”

Christians need to strive toward the biblical ethic of love, which can simultaneously uphold the truths of Scripture about human sexuality, call all sinners to repentance, and maintain a caring and compassionate response toward those who have these particular temptations. The gospel demands it of us.

By / Aug 18

NOTE: Sam Allberry will be one of the speakers at the ERLC National Conference: “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” The conference is designed to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches. This event will be held at the iconic Opryland Hotel on October 27-29, 2014. To learn more go here.

We were having lunch together, and I was praying like mad. My friend had been in a committed same-sex relationship for about 15 years. He was interested in Jesus; attracted to his teaching and message. But he wanted to know how becoming a Christian would affect his gay lifestyle.

I had explained, as carefully and graciously as I could, that Jesus upheld and expanded the wider biblical stance on sexuality, that the only context for sexual activity is heterosexual marriage. Following Jesus would mean seeking to live under his word, in this area as in any other. He had been quiet for a moment, and then looked me in the eye and asked the billion-dollar question: 'What could possibly be worth giving up my partner for?' I held his gaze for a moment while my brain raced for the answer. There was eternity, of course. There was heaven and hell. But I was conscious that these realities would seem other-worldly and intangible to him. In any case, surely following Jesus is worth it even for this life. He was asking about life here-and-now, so I prayed for God to lead me to a here-and-now Bible verse. I wanted my friend to know that following Jesus really is worth it—worth it in the life to come, but also worth it in this life now, no less so for those who have homosexual feelings. Yes, there would be a host of hardships and difficulties: unfulfilled longings, the distress of unwanted temptation, and the struggles of long-term singleness. But I wanted him to know that following Jesus is more than worth it, even with all it entails for gay people. And I also wanted to tell him that I had come to know this not just from studying the Bible and listening to others, but from my own experience.

More grace, not less

Homosexuality is an issue I have grappled with my entire Christian life. It took a long time to admit to myself, longer to admit to others, and even longer to see something of God's good purposes through it all. There have been all sorts of ups and downs. But this battle is not devoid of blessings, as Paul discovered with his own unyielding thorn in the flesh. Struggling with sexuality has been an opportunity to experience more of God's grace, rather than less. Only in recent months have I felt compelled to be more open on this issue. For many years I had no intention of being public about it. I am conscious that raising it here may lead to any number of responses—some welcome, some perhaps less so. But over the last couple of years I have felt increasingly concerned that, when it comes to our gay friends and family members, many of us Bible-believing Christians are losing confidence in the gospel. We are not always convinced it really is good news for gay people. We are not always sure we can really expect them to live by what the Bible says. As my mind raced that lunchtime God gave me a verse to share with my friend. It demonstrates precisely why following Jesus is worth it, in this lifetime, and even when we have to give up things we could never imagine living without:

Peter said to Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no-one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much as in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:28-30)

Following Jesus involves leaving things behind and giving things up. For gay people, it involves leaving behind a gay lifestyle.

God's clear Word

The Bible is consistent in prohibiting homosexual practice. Jesus himself condemns “sexual immorality” (Mark 7:21, for example). Though Jesus does not directly mention homosexual activity, he does include it. The Greek word we translate as “sexual immorality” (porneia, from which we get the word pornography) is a catch-all term for any sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage. Paul is more specific, directly referring to homosexual practice in three passages. InRomans 1:24-27 both homosexual and also lesbian activity are given as examples of the “unnatural” behavior that results from turning away from God. In 1 Cor. 6:9-10 “homosexual offenders” are listed among those whose behavior will result in their exclusion from God's kingdom. The word Paul uses literally translates as “men who lie with men” and comes again in 1 Timothy 1:10 (where the NIV 1984 unhelpfully translates it “perverts”). It is simply not possible to argue for gay relationships from the Bible. Attempts by some church leaders to do so inevitably involve twisting some texts and ignoring others. God's Word is, in fact, clear. The Bible consistently prohibits any sexual activity outside of marriage. As someone who experiences homosexual feelings this is not always an easy word to hear. It has sometimes been very painful to come to terms with what the Bible says. There have been times of acute temptation and longing—times when I have been “in love.” And yet Scripture shows that these longings distort what God has created me for.

Extraordinary returns

However much we have to leave behind we are never left out of pocket. Whatever we give up Jesus replaces, in godly kind and greater measure. No one who leaves will fail to receive, and the returns are extraordinary—a hundredfold. What we give up for Jesus does not compare to what he gives back. If the costs are great, the rewards are even greater, even in this life. For me these include a wonderful depth of friendship God has given me with many brothers and sisters; the opportunities of singleness; the privilege of a wide-ranging ministry; and the community of a wonderful church family. But greater than any of these things is the opportunity that any complex and difficult situation presents us with: to learn the all-sufficiency of Christ—learning that fullness of life and joy is in him and his service, and nowhere else. There is a huge amount to say on this issue, but the main point is this: the moment you think following Jesus will be a poor deal for someone, you call Jesus a liar. Discipleship is not always easy. Leaving anything cherished behind is profoundly hard. But Jesus is always worth it.

This article was orginially published at The Gospel Coalition.