There is a picture that has been doing the rounds recently that portrays seven skeletons, captioned in turn with the following ascriptions: black, white, gay, straight, religious, atheist and you. The point of the picture is that, underneath it all, we’re really the same, and so no one has a right to pass judgement on another. Ultimately, or so the theory goes, there is no difference between black and white, gay or straight, religious or atheist.
I don’t know the history of the picture. I’ve only noticed it shared across social media platforms in recent days. Given the contemporary social and political climate in the United States, Europe and South Africa (and, indeed, far wider than that), it is not difficult to conclude that the real targets of the picture are all us so-called homophobes.
Those of us who take the Bible (and church history) seriously stand together in opposing homosexuality. Many rather creative exegetical attempts have been made recently to justify the sin of homosexuality biblically, but the exegesis is weak. It is clear that, taken seriously, the Bible cannot be said to condone homosexuality. Honest interpreters admit this.
But to return to the point, a major culture war is currently being waged between advocates and opponents of same sex marriage. The picture above is one of the weapons employed by supporters of homosexuality to display the reported folly of those who oppose the legalisation and celebration of gay rights. And for those who take the image at face value and are unwilling to carry the premise through to its logical conclusion, the argument may appear quite clever. But let’s just do the mental arithmetic for a moment.
Suppose we were to edit the picture a little. We’ll leave in the seven skeletons, and not change the caption for the last: you. But let’s replace the other captions with different behaviours.
I wonder if our attitude toward the edited image above has changed. The underlying assumption is the same: Regardless of behavioural choices, we’re all the same under the skin. In the original image, gays and atheists are people too. But if that’s true—and it is—let’s be consistent and admit that paedophiles and rapists are people too. Underneath it all, the skeletal structure is the same.
I’d like to think that the point being made here is obvious. Just because we’re all human doesn’t mean that all behavioural choices have equal validity.
There is something of a fallacy presented in the original image, which equates skin colour with behaviour. But the colour of your skin is the way God made you. Being black is not an ethical matter and is not therefore the same as choosing same sex activity of atheism. The Bible is quite clear on matters of ethnicity. Paul said quite clearly that “God shows not partiality” (Romans 2:11) and James added, “If you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:9). Peter agreed: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34–35). The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates the inherent sinfulness of ethnic discrimination. And Paul made it quite clear that humanity shares a common bloodline: “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26).
In times past, racism was practised in the name of Christianity. South Africans are well aware of this. But no matter what was done in the name of Christianity, racism finds no support whatsoever in the pages of Scripture. Humans—regardless of skin tone—are made in the image of God.
Of course, if we believe that humans are made in the image of God, and that homosexuals and atheists are human, we affirm that homosexuals and atheists are made in the image of God. But the same holds true for rapists, murderers, paedophiles and hijackers. Humans, regardless of their sinful choices, are made in God’s image, which gives inherent dignity. Humans have dignity by virtue of their creation in God’s image, not by virtue of the ethical choices they make.
This is really the crux of the matter. Few who affirm the implications of the first image would as readily affirm those of the edited image. Even those who argue that we have no right to pass judgement on homosexuality as a lifestyle choice would heartily agree that we have every right to pass judgement on paedophilia or rape. Murderers are not given the same benefit of the doubt as atheists. The behaviours captioned in the edited image are wrong, but we have no right to make the same call about some of the behaviours in the original image.
But that is precisely the point: Christians who affirm the authority of Scripture in all matters of faith and practice object to the act (behaviour) of homosexuality, not to the personhood of homosexuals. Homosexuals ought to be treated with the same dignity deserved by any human being, but inherent dignity does not automatically excuse behaviour.
Humans are unique in God’s creation. No animal or living organism shares the dignity that God bestowed upon humans. All humans, regardless size, level of development, environment or degree of dependency, share equal dignity by virtue of their creation on God’s image. But all humans also share the fallen nature of Adam, which produces in us varying degrees of sinful expression, and human dignity does not excuse sinful expression.
So, underneath it all—at base human level—is a homosexual atheist the same as a heterosexual Christian? Absolutely. Does that in some way excuse the sinful expressions of homosexuality and unbelief? Hardly.
Christian objections are not levelled against humans, but against their sin. Each of us has unique temptations against which we must war. Our temptations do not condemn us, but when we fail to war against those temptations and give ourselves over to sinful expression of those temptations, we stand condemned before God.
The text of Scripture teaches the equal dignity of all human beings; but it also teaches that certain human behaviours are unacceptable. Homosexuality is a sinful behaviour upon which God frowns. If Jesus was seen to be a friend of tax collectors and sinners, then surely Christians ought to be seen as friends of homosexuals. But Jesus never excused the sinful practices of tax collectors and sinners; he instead called them to repentance. The most friendly thing we can do for people enslaved to the sin of homosexuality, and unbelievers in general, is to point them to Christ, in whom forgiveness and power to change is readily available.