In a recent sermon I differentiated between divorce being allowed by God and homosexuality not being allowed because God “regulated” divorce with specific stipulations. A friend asked: “Can someone take that same line of reasoning and say that God “regulated” slavery (when he tells masters and slaves to treat each other with respect) and therefore slavery is acceptable?”

I don’t know the history of the debate well enough to point to specific examples, but I can imagine pro-slavery folks in the south arguing that way leading up to the Civil War: “God regulates slavery, so it’s obviously OK with him!”

However, the biblical rules for slaves and masters, both Old Testament and New Testament, were extremely counter-cultural in both the horizontal and the vertical dimensions. Horizontally, they required believers who owned slaves to treat them humanely – even as brothers in the New Testament – instead of like property, which is how the pagan world saw them. Vertically, the rules also held masters accountable to God for the way they treated their slaves, again, very counter cultural. So you could say, and I feel certain the abolitionists argued this way, that though the institution was regulated by scripture, the heart of the regulations was that the slave is our brother, a fellow creature made in the image of God. Thus, the question became not, “what are the rules?” but, “what is the order of creation? What is the original design?” And “are we honoring it in this institution or not?” Obviously, like yeast in the dough over a very long period of time, that attitude won the day in Western Civilization, albeit at the point of a bayonet in America’s case.

A similar thing happened with divorce. In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus took what had become a clever manipulation of the rules Moses laid down – the legalists, mimicking Roman culture, treated women as property and allowed just about any reason for a divorce – and reasserted the order of creation as the standard. This new standard set practicing Christians apart from the pagan world in many significant ways. Sexual intercourse was only acceptable and pleasing to God within marriage. Adultery was never allowed, nor was any sex outside of marriage. Married sex was sanctified and honored as the “one flesh” experience. Women had equal dignity with men and were allowed to divorce their husbands for adultery, something Roman women did not have the right to do. (A Roman husband could divorce his wife, but not vice versa). The upshot of it was that divorce, while never eradicated, became very rare in the Church.

The homosexual man is our brother. The homosexual woman is our sister. We are to love them and extend the dignity to them that we would extend to any other image bearer of God. But in the case of homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and associated issues, there are no such regulations that accommodate a sinful cultural trend while drawing us back to the original design. There is only the call to repent and to live in purity, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God … For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Cor. 6:11 & 20 NASB.

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