Since researching and writing my book Same-sex Marriage (with John Stonestreet), I have been reading almost everything I can get my hands on that address homosexuality and same-sex relationships. If I could recommend just one book for people to read to a) understand the biblical issues involved and b) learn how to love people better, it would be the newly released book People to be Loved by Preston Sprinkle. It is a fantastic book on so many levels. Preston and I met recently at the ETS conference in Atlanta (Evangelical Theological Society). And he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Enjoy!
Sean McDowell: There are tons of books addressing a Christian view of homosexuality. What makes yours unique? Why do we need another book?
Preston Sprinkle: Ya, there are a lot of books talking about homosexuality. And, for what it’s worth, I never write a book unless I feel that such a book needs to be written. So your question is a good one!
While there are a lot of books written on homosexuality, there are only a few books on the topic that blend scholarly research with down-to-earth language.
Quick backstory: I was an athlete most of my life and until I was 21 years old, I hated school. But when I got saved (at 21), I fell in love with learning. I decided to pursue grad school and then post-grad school, all because I couldn’t stop learning. I was addicted. I had unanswered questions. I just wanted to keep reading, and learning, and learning, and reading. Yet I’ve never left my “ball field” way of thinking.
All that to say, my books on homosexuality blend this type of “normal people” conversational tone with the depth of research that’s required for a Ph.D. The average person will probably not recognize the 30 pages of footnotes at the end of the book, and the scholar will hopefully appreciate the footnotes and not care too much about the bloggy sort of language that the book is written in.
Aside from the academic/lay-person approach, I also think my audience is rather unique. Although I articulate a traditional sexual ethic in the book (i.e. I don’t affirm the sanctity of same-sex relations), I frequently challenge the evangelical church to change its tone toward LGBT people and cultivate a more compassionate and empathetic posture toward same-sex attracted people.
I believe that the traditional sexual ethic is correct. Yet I also believe that we’ve pretty much dropped the ball in how we’ve loved (or failed to love) gay people. And I’m not sure if there are any books on the market that try to do both.
MCDOWELL: You've spent hundreds of hours researching this topic, but also talking with people--both Christian and non-Christian--who are gay. How has this projected affected you personally?
SPRINKLE: Oh man, it’s affected me in ways that I can hardly describe! I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know many LGBT people over the years and it’s completely changed my view on the topic. Some people get scared when I say this, but I really don’t care. Some people are so freaked out that if we get too chummy with gay people, we might actually change our view on homosexuality.
That’s absurd. Jesus was so chummy with people who were considered “sinners” by the religious elite that they thought he was one of them. So I couldn’t care less whether my love for LGBT people causes concern from conservative Christians.
But ya, as I’ve befriended many LGBT people, it’s caused me to treat this “issue” as much more than some issue. It’s about people. (Hence the title of my book.) And although I maintain a traditional view of same-sex behavior, I think that the church must do a much better job at loving people who are gay.
MCDOWELL: The basis of the affirming position seems to be that biblical writers did not understand sexual orientation or have knowledge of the kinds of consensual, committed, loving same-sex relationships we see today. How do you address this claim?
SPRINKLE: It’s a great point to raise, and evangelicals need to understand and consider the argument. My response it twofold:
First, we do see examples of adult consensual same sex relations in and around the first century. So those who say that “they didn’t exist” are simply wrong. I show why in my book.
Second, the biblical prohibition of same-sex relations are so generalized (Rom 1; Lev 18, 20) that they can’t be limited to a specific form of same-sex behavior. Some people say that the Bible is only prohibiting pederasty (a man having sex with teenage boys) or master-slave same-sex sexual relations. But there’s nothing in the Bible that can be limited to a specific type of same-sex relation.
In other words, the Bible rules out same-sex sexual relations categorically. Our Creator has designed humans to have sexual relations with each other only within the confines of marriage and only with a person of the opposite gender. We don’t have time to get into it, but in my book People to Be Loved I talk about the necessity of sex-difference within marriage (i.e. male and female) in passages like Genesis 2 and Matthew 19.
MCDOWELL: Current debates often focus on the creation account in Genesis. Do you believe gender difference is an inherent part of Genesis 2:18-24? Why or why not?
SPRINKLE: Yes, I do believe that gender difference is an inherent part of our creative design. We see this in various passages such as Matthew 19, 1 Corinthians 11, Ephesians 5, and others. But Genesis 2 is particularly clear.
In Genesis 2:18 (and verse 20), the author uses a Hebrew word to describe Eve. It’s the word kenegdo, which is often translated “suitable” or “like unto him,” to describe Eve’s relationship to Adam. Basically kenegdo describes Eve’s similarity to Adam—she was a human and not an animal—and also her dissimilarity; she was a female and not a male. Eve is the perfect complement to Adam. She’s like him (human) yet not like him (female). And this blend of similarity and dissimilarity is what qualifies her to be the perfect partner for Adam.
At the end of Genesis 2, we see that God has enlisted Adam and Eve to be the blueprint for all future marriages among his people (Gen 2:24-25). This is why Jesus (Mark 10; Matt 19) and Paul (1 Cor 6; Eph 5) refer back to Genesis 2 when they discuss marriage.
The gender difference between Adam and Eve were not just between Adam and Eve. They were the prototype for all future marriages sanctioned by God.
MCDOWELL: Jesus certainly didn't address homosexuality explicitly. But did he say anything that has importance for current discussions about same-sex marriage and homosexuality?
SPRINKLE: It’s true. Jesus never explicitly mentioned homosexuality. He also never mentioned rape, incest, or cheating on your tax return. Jesus only talked about issues that were contested within Judaism, so it’s no surprise that he never mentioned homosexuality. After all, there’s not a single Jew in or around the time of Jesus that endorse homosexuality. It was unanimously condemned by ancient Jews.
Even though Jesus doesn’t explicitly mention homosexuality, he does condemn “sexual immorality” with the Greek word porneia (e.g. Matt 5). For a first-century Jew, the word porneia would include all the sexual sins listed in Leviticus 18, and yes, this would include same-sex sexual behavior (Lev 18:22; cf. 20:13).
Also, Jesus makes it clear that marriage is to be between a man and a woman in Matthew 19:3-6, and he even cites Genesis 1-2 to make his point.
So I don’t think that Jesus’s silence on the issue means that he was indifferent to the question of homosexuality.
MCDOWELL: What is the most important thing the church can do in its posture towards the LGBT community?
SPRINKLE: Oh man! This is a real can of worms! My book People to be Lovedis laced with challenges to the evangelical church to cultivate a better posture toward the LGBT community. So it’ll be tough to summarize my concerns in a brief statement.
In any case, I do believe that the church needs to be much, much more loving and compassionate toward LGBT people. The fact is, more than 80% of LGBT people were raised in the church. Many of them have left. But here’s the thing: few LGBT people have left for theological reasons (i.e. the church condemned LGBT people and therefore they left). Most of them have left because they were shunned, dehumanized, and treated like some “other.”
We are all just beggars trying to show other beggars where to find bread. There is simply no reason why we should not welcome and love those who are attracted to the same sex.
And I’m not talking about “loving the sinner while hating their sin.” I’m talking about “loving the sinner and hating our own sin.”
Why don’t we let down our spiritual guard and love others unconditionally? Only then will we replicate and imitate the scandalous love of Christ.
Follow Preston Sprinkle on Twitter: @PrestonSprinkle
Purchase the book People to be Loved (on Amazon)
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog at seanmcdowell.org.