Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued two decisions on homosexual marriage that will likely shape the social structure of America moving forward. Even apart from the decisions of the Supreme Court, the acceptance of homosexuality appears to be a foregone conclusion. It is no secret that conservative Christians (among others) have opposed same-sex marriage, while the culture at large seems increasingly inclined to accept homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle. In fact, some who profess Christianity are beginning to forsake the traditional view of marriage and sexuality to embrace the view now being promoted across society.
Many are urging Christians to reconsider their understanding of homosexuality. Often, the tactic is to warn Bible-believing Christians that they will find themselves on the wrong side of history—much like those who supported the American institution of slavery. What should we make of this argument? Are Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin in the same position as those who believed the American practice of slavery was biblical? Will we end up on the wrong side of history?
This argument is flawed in two significant ways. The issue of slavery in America and the issue of homosexuality are not parallel. There are key differences between the slavery of biblical times and the slavery of America. Unlike most ancient slave practices, American slavery was race-based and involved man-stealing, both practices strongly condemned by biblical teaching (e.g., Ex 21:16; Acts 17:26). Murray Harris summarizes several differences in his book Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ.
“In the first century, slaves were not distinguishable from free persons by race, by speech or by clothing; they were sometimes more highly educated than their owners and held responsible professional positions; some persons sold themselves into slavery for economic or social advantage; they could reasonably hope to be emancipated after ten to twenty years of service or by their thirties at the latest; they were not denied the right of public assembly and were not socially segregated (at least in the cities); they could accumulate savings to buy their freedom; their natural inferiority was not assumed.” [Murray Harris, Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ, NSBT (IVP, 2001), 44.]
Further, the teaching of the Bible is what ultimately brought down the American (and British) practice of slavery. Bible-believers often led the efforts to abolish modern slavery, and continue to lead efforts to fight against modern day human-trafficking. The slavery practiced in America was evil, and Christians were wrong to defend it and right to seek to stop it.
Homosexuality, on the other hand, is essentially the same today as it was in biblical times, and the consistent teaching of Scripture is that homosexuality is sinful—an expression of man’s rebellion against God—just like adultery, lying, greed, stealing, gossip, drunkenness, and other sins (Lev 18:22; Rom 1:18-32; 1 Cor 6:9-10; 1 Tim 1:9-10). The practice of slavery in America and the practice of homosexuality are both condemned by Scripture. Thus, those who tried to support slavery in America were wrong because they were acting contrary to Scripture, and those who try to support homosexuality are wrong because they are acting contrary to Scripture.
The issue of Scripture leads to the second flaw. How can we be certain we are not on the wrong side of history? Much of the pressure to drop the historically held Christian position on homosexuality is based on the culture’s growing acceptance of the practice. Bible-believing Christians will soon find themselves in the minority—society will have left them behind. Thus, we are told that if Christians want to maintain social acceptability, they will need to go along with the cultural shift.
This argument has some appeal. Human nature makes us crave acceptance. Rarely do we find people who want to be outcasts in society. No one wants to be remembered like the Christians who supported modern slavery. The problem, though, is that adapting our beliefs to the culture is the best way to guarantee we end up on the wrong side of history.
The Christians who supported slavery were heavily influenced by their culture. They allowed the thinking of their day to influence their reading of Scripture—leading them to look for ways to support their culture’s belief in the Bible. The problem was that society was wrong. By allowing their thinking to be shaped so heavily by their culture they ended up on the wrong side of history.
Cultural beliefs are continually changing. We wonder how people could have believed what they did 100 years ago, and 100 years from now people will wonder how our society could have believed what it does today. The only way to free ourselves from this danger is to stand firm on the unchanging truth of the Bible—not the shifting waves of cultural values.
Finally, we need to consider the full scope of history. Christians may well find themselves on the “wrong side of history” in 10, 50, or even 500 years. But history is moving towards a culmination, and that culmination is the return of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom—where for the first time in history God’s law will be fully upheld. At that time, those who, because of their relationship with Christ, embraced the teaching of God’s Word—including its teaching on sexuality—will find themselves on the right side of history. And that’s the only time in history that being on the right or wrong side will truly matter.