Christianity and homosexuality

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Theologians and authors
Letha Dawson Scanzoni · Anne Eggebroten · Virginia Ramey Mollenkott
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Doug Phillips · R. C. Sproul, Jr. · Douglas Wilson

Christian denominations hold a variety of views on the issues of sexual orientation and homosexuality, ranging from total condemnation to complete acceptance. Abrahamic religions, such as Christianity, traditionally condemn male homosexual behavior,[1] although many denominations have instead developed accepting views. Not all members of a denomination necessarily support their church's views on homosexuality.

Denominations that oppose homosexuality include the Roman Catholic Church[2] the Eastern Orthodox churches[3] and some mainline Protestant denominations, such as the Methodist churches,[4][5][6][7] Reformed Church in America[8] the American Baptist Church,[9] as well as Conservative Evangelical organizations and churches, such as the Evangelical Alliance,[10] the Presbyterian Church in America[11] and the Southern Baptist Convention.[12][13][14] Many Pentecostal churches such as the Assemblies of God,[15] as well as Restorationist churches, like Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, also take the position that homosexual activity is immoral.[16][17] Other Christian denominations do not view monogamous same-sex relationships as sinful or immoral, and may bless such unions and consider them marriages. These include the United Church of Canada, and the United Church of Christ.,[18] all German Lutheran, reformed and united churches in EKD,[19] all Swiss reformed churches, the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, the Church of Denmark, the Church of Sweden, the Church of Iceland and the Church of Norway. The Church of Finland also allows prayer for same-sex couples.[20] In particular, the Metropolitan Community Church was founded specifically to serve the Christian LGBT community. The Global Alliance of Affirming Apostolic Pentecostals (GAAAP), traces its roots back to 1980, making it the oldest LGBT-affirming Apostolic Pentecostal denomination in existence.[21] Another such organization is the Affirming Pentecostal Church International, currently the largest affirming Pentecostal organization, with churches in the US, UK, Central and South America, Europe and Africa.

Some denominations state opposing positions. Various parts of the Lutheran Church hold stances on the issue ranging from declaring homosexual acts as sin to acceptance of homosexual relationships. For example, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, the Lutheran Church of Australia, and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod recognize homosexual behavior as intrinsically sinful and seek to minister to those who are struggling with homosexual inclinations.[22][23] However, the Church of Sweden conducts same-sex marriages, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America opens the ministry of the Church to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in committed relationships.[24] The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) is also much like Lutheranism in regards to homosexuality. For example, the Friends United Meeting and the Evangelical Friends International believe that sexual relations are condoned only in marriage, which they define to be between a man and a woman.[25] However, the Friends General Conference and the Friends in Great Britain approve of same-sex marriage.[26][27] Most of the Anglican Communion does not approve of homosexual activity, with the exception of the Episcopal Church, which is facing a possible exclusion from international Anglican bodies over the issue.[28]

In addition, some Christian denominations such as the Moravian Church, believe that the Holy Bible speaks negatively of homosexual acts, although it is still working on establishing policy for the issue of ordination and homosexuality as research on the matter continues.[29]


The Bible and homosexuality

The Bible refers to homosexuality several times, and has historically been interpreted as condemning the practice. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, however, the extent to which the Bible mentions the subject and whether or not it is condemned, has become the subject of debate.

Passages in the Old Testament book Leviticus prohibit "lying with mankind as with womankind" and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah have historically been interpreted as condemning homosexuality, as have several Pauline passages. Other interpreters, however, maintain that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality, arguing any of several points: (i) that the passages yield different meanings if placed in historical context, for instance the historical interpretation of Sodom's sins as being other than homosexuality; (ii) there may be questions surrounding the translation of rare or unusual words in the passages that some interpret as referring to homosexuals; (iii) both the Old Testament and New Testament contain passages that describe same-sex relationships; and/or (iv) that loving and committed relationships are not condemned in the passages.[30] All of these assertions are disputed by more conservative scholars, however.

Christian denominational positions

The many Christian denominations vary in their position on homosexuality, from seeing it as sinful, through being divided on the issue, to seeing it as morally acceptable. Even within a denomination, individuals and groups may hold different views.

The Eastern Orthodox Church,[31] the Roman Catholic Church[32] Seventh-day Adventist Church,[33] do not condemn same-sex sexual attraction in itself. All Orthodox jurisdictions, such as the Orthodox Church in America, have taken the approach of welcoming people with "homosexual feelings and emotions," while encouraging them to work towards "overcoming its harmful effects in their lives," while not allowing the sacraments to people who seek to justify homosexual activity.[34] The Roman Catholic Church views as sinful any sexual act not related to procreation by couple joined under the Sacrament of Matrimony.[35][36] The Seventh-day Adventist Church is opposed to same-gender sexual practices and relationships on the grounds that "sexual intimacy belongs only within the marital relationship of a man and a woman."[37]

The Christian Reformed Church of North America has taken a negative stance, referring to homosexuality as "a condition of distorted sexuality that reflects the brokenness of our sinful world." [38] While the CRC does not advocate banishing same sex oriented people, it does take the position that homosexual people should not live a homosexual lifestyle. This position is grounded in a conceptual distinction which argues that homosexual orientation is not sinful, but homosexualism, or acting on same sex desires, is sinful and should be avoided.[39]

LGBT-affirming denominations regard homosexuality as a natural occurrence. Many Mainline Protestant[citation needed] churches are open and affirming to gay and lesbian couples. The United Church of Christ celebrates gay marriage,[40] and some parts of the Anglican[41] and Lutheran[citation needed] churches allow for the blessing of gay unions. The United Church of Canada also allows same-sex marriage, and views sexual orientation as a gift from God. Within the Anglican communion there are openly gay clergy, for example, Gene Robinson is an openly gay Bishop in the US Episcopal Church. Within the Lutheran communion there are openly gay clergy, for example, bishop Eva Brunne is an openly lesbian Bishop in the Church of Sweden. Such religious groups and denominations interpretation of scripture and doctrine leads them to accept that homosexuality is morally acceptable, and a natural occurrence. For example, in 1988 the United Church of Canada, that country's largest Protestant denomination, affirmed that "a) All persons, regardless of their sexual orientation, who profess Jesus Christ and obedience to Him, are welcome to be or become full member of the Church; and b) All members of the Church are eligible to be considered for the Ordered Ministry."[42] In 2000, the Church's General Assembly further affirmed that "human sexual orientations, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are a gift from God and part of the marvelous diversity of creation."[43]

Historical views

In 1994, Yale University Church historian John Boswell argued that adelphopoiesis, a rite bonding two men, was akin to a religiously sanctioned same-sex union. Having partaken in such a rite, a person was prohibited from entering into marriage or taking monastic vows, and the choreography of the service itself closely parallelled that of the marriage rite.[44][45][46] His views have not found wide acceptance, and opponents have argued that this rite sanctified a Platonic brotherly bond, not a homosexual union.[45] He also argued that condemnation of homosexuality began only in the 12th century.[47] Critics[who?] of Boswell have pointed out that many earlier doctrinal sources condemn homosexuality in ethical terms without prescribing a punishment, and that Boswell's citations reflected a general trend towards harsher penalties from the 12th century onwards.

Contemporary views

Episcopal religious supporter of same-sex marriage

Many of the debates among Christians have roots in questions about the sources of authority different Christians believe represent God's purest or most definitive message. More generally: which kinds of arguments should be persuasive to Christians, and which do not possess the weight necessary to determine opinions and policies. Such is also the case with the issues related to the morality and inclusion of LGBT persons in Christian life.

In conservative strains of Protestant Christianity, Scripture is understood to be the only truly definitive authority (a position called Sola Scriptura). Exegesis, or the reasoned study of the text to discover its own meaning, is the central concern for believers in Sola Scriptura. The classic formulation of Sola Scriptura regards "good and necessary consequence or deduction" from Scripture as authoritative and morally binding; what these deductions might be is a frequent subject of controversy.[48][49][50]

Liberal Christians tend to regard the Bible as the record of human doings, composed of humans encountering the Divine within their specific historical context. They often interpret passages of the Bible as being less a record of actual events, but rather stories illustrating how to live ethically and authentically in relation to God. Some might, for instance, see Christ's death and resurrection in terms not of actual physical reanimation, but in terms of the good news of Jesus' teaching: that God's children are no longer slaves to the power of death.[51]

Critical views

Christian protesters at a 2006 gay pride event in San Francisco.

Many Christians[citation needed] believe that marriage is defined by the union of one man and one woman[citation needed], and that any sexual act outside of the marriage relationship is inherently sinful.[52] Most American members of the Christian Right consider homosexual acts as sinful[53] and think it should not be accepted by society.[54] They tend to interpret biblical verses on homosexual acts to mean that the heterosexual family was created by God[55] and that same-sex relationships contradict God’s design for marriage and violate his will.[56][57][58][59][60] Christians who oppose homosexual relationships sometimes contend that same-gender sexual activity is unnatural.[61]

Christian objections to homosexual behavior are often based upon their interpretations of the Bible. Some Christians believe that the book of Leviticus contains prohibitions against male-male sexuality.[62][63][64][65] Some Biblical scholars interpret Genesis 19:5 as indicating that homosexual activity led to the destruction of the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.[62][66] Other Biblical passages that some interpret as addressing the issue of homosexual behavior include Romans 1, I Corinthians 6:8–10, and Jude 1:7;[62] the relevant portion of Romans 1 reads as follows:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men ... For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (Romans 1:18a, 21–27)[67]

Christian author and counselor Joe Dallas says that the Biblical passages relating to homosexual acts uniformly prohibit that behavior.[68] Exodus International and others take the view that I Corinthians 6:9–11 offers Christian believers "freedom from homosexuality."[69][dead link][70]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states "men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies ... must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity."[71] Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." They oppose criminal penalties against homosexuality.[72] The Catholic Church requires those who are attracted to people of the same (or opposite) sex to practice chastity, because it teaches that sexuality should only be practiced within marriage, which includes chaste sex as permanent, procreative, heterosexual, and monogamous. The Vatican distinguishes between "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" and the "expression of a transitory problem", in relation to ordination to the priesthood; saying in a 2005 document that homosexual tendencies "must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate."[73] A 2011 report based on telephone surveys of American Catholics conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 56% believe that sexual relations between two people of the same sex are not sinful.[74][75]

In opposing interpretations of the Bible that are supportive of homosexual relationships, conservative Christians have argued for the reliability of the Bible,[76][77] and the meaning of texts related to homosexual acts,[58][78] while often seeing what they call the diminishing of the authority of the Bible by many homosexual authors as being ideologically driven.[79]

As an alternative to a school-sponsored Day of Silence opposing bullying of LGBT students, conservative Christians organized a Golden Rule Initiative, where they passed out cards saying "As a follower of Christ, I believe that all people are created in the image of God and therefore deserve love and respect."[80] Others created a Day of Dialogue to oppose what they believe is the "silencing" of Christian students who make public their opposition to homosexuality.

Favorable views

"Jonathan Lovingly Taketh His Leave of David" by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld

Some Christians believe that marriage is the union of two people[81] and that homosexual behavior is not inherently sinful.[82]

In the 20th century, theologians like Jürgen Moltmann, Hans Küng, John Robinson, Bishop David Jenkins, Don Cupitt and Bishop Jack Spong challenged traditional theological positions and understandings of the Bible; following these developments some have suggested that passages have been mistranslated or that they do not refer to what we understand as "homosexuality."[83] Clay Witt, a minister in the Metropolitan Community Church, explains how theologians and commentators like John Shelby Spong, George Edwards and Michael England interpret injunctions against certain sexual acts as being originally intended as a means of distinguishing religious worship between Abrahamic and the surrounding pagan faiths, within which homosexual acts featured as part of idolatrous religious practices: "England argues that these prohibitions should be seen as being directed against sexual practices of fertility cult worship. As with the earlier reference from Strong’s, he notes that the word 'abomination' used here is directly related to idolatry and idolatrous practices throughout the Hebrew Testament. Edwards makes a similar suggestion, observing that 'the context of the two prohibition in Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 suggest that what is opposed is not same-sex activity outside the cult, as in the modern secular sense, but within the cult identified as Canaanite'".[84]

Some Christians believe that Biblical passages have been mistranslated or that these passages do not refer to LGBT orientation as currently understood.[85] Liberal Christian scholars, like conservative Christian scholars, accept earlier versions of the texts that make up the Bible in Hebrew or Greek. However, within these early texts there are many terms that modern scholars have interpreted differently from previous generations of scholars.[86][87][88] There are concerns with copying errors, forgery, and biases among the translators of later Bibles.[86][87][88] They consider some verses such as those they say support slavery[86] or the inferior treatment of women[87] as not being valid today, and against the will of God present in the context of the Bible. They cite these issues when arguing for a change in theological views on sexual relationships to what they say is an earlier view. They differentiate among various sexual practices, treating rape, prostitution, or temple sex rituals as immoral and those within committed relationships as positive regardless of sexual orientation. They view certain verses, which they believe refer only to homosexual rape, as not relevant to consensual homosexual relationships.[88]

Following the lead of Yale scholar John Boswell, it has been argued[who?] that a number of Early Christians entered into homosexual relationships,[46] and that certain Biblical figures had homosexual relationships, despite Biblical injunctions against sexual relationships between members of the same sex. Examples cited are Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi, Daniel and the court official Ashpenaz, and, most famously, David and King Saul's son Jonathan.[89] There has also been discussion[who?] about the significance of the selection of the Ethiopian eunuch as being the first gentile conversion: inclusion of a eunuch, representing sexual minority in the context of the time.[90]

Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has described homophobia as a "crime against humanity" and "every bit as unjust" as apartheid:[91] "We struggled against apartheid in South Africa, supported by people the world over, because black people were being blamed and made to suffer for something we could do nothing about; our very skins. It is the same with sexual orientation. It is a given. ... We treat them [gays and lesbians] as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God – and this must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy. We blame them for what they are."[92]

Others[who?] consider that Christ made the commandments to "love God and one's neighbour," and to "love one's neighbour as oneself" touchstones of the moral law; that these imply a radical equality, and that, by this principle of equality, the Law of Moses is to be adjusted or even abrogated.[citation needed] Jesus exemplified this principle in his teaching on divorce. Furthermore, it is said that Jesus Christ instituted a virtue ethic, whereby the worth of one's action is to be adjudged by one's interior disposition. For these reasons, it is said that to condemn homosexuality is to fall into a pre-Christian "Pharasaical" legalism.[citation needed]

Modern gay Christian leader Justin R. Cannon promotes what he calls "Inclusive Orthodoxy" (not to be confused with the Eastern Orthodox Church). He explains on his ministry website: "Inclusive Orthodoxy is the belief that the Church can and must be inclusive of LGBT individuals without sacrificing the Gospel and the Apostolic teachings of the Christian faith."[93] Cannon's ministry takes a unique approach quite distinct from modern liberal Christians, yet which still supports homosexual relations. His ministry affirms the divine inspiration of the Bible, the authority of Tradition, and says "...that there is a place within the full life and ministry of the Christian Church for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christians, both those who are called to lifelong celibacy and those who are partnered."[94]

Al Sharpton, former Pentecostal minister, now a Baptist minister and Civil rights leader,[95][96][97] during his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 said that asking whether gays or lesbians should be able to get married was insulting: "That's like saying you give blacks, or whites, or Latinos the right to shack up – but not get married [...] It's like asking 'do I support black marriage or white marriage'... The inference of the question is that gays are not like other human beings".[98] The support of Sharpton and other Black religious/political leaders (e.g. Harvard's Peter Gomes, Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King) is especially helpful for Black gays and lesbians who are negotiating the challenges of being gay in black communities.[99]

Others state that for those who accept that Christians can be homosexual, the sexual ethic aspired to corresponds to the model indicated in scripture and the tradition of the church for heterosexuals; this entails commitment and fidelity expressed through monogamy and lifelong partnership or union.[100]

Homosexual Christians and organizations

Rev. Troy Perry preaching in 2006 at a Metropolitan Community Church.

George Barna, a conservative Christian author and researcher, conducted a survey in the United States in 2009 that found gay and lesbian people having a Christian affiliation were more numerous than had been presumed. "People who portray gay adults as godless, hedonistic, Christian bashers are not working with the facts," he said. "A substantial majority of gays cite their faith as a central facet of their life, consider themselves to be Christian, and claim to have some type of meaningful personal commitment to Jesus Christ active in their life today."[101] The study of 20 faith-oriented attributes revealed significant differences between the United States heterosexual and homosexual populations sampled, homosexual respondents being less likely to be born again Christians than heterosexual respondents (27% compared to 47%), and the degree of commitment to their faith and families also differed. Other significant contrasts were seen in regards to "liberal" versus "conservative" social positions, as well as in one’s understanding of God, with 43% of homosexual participants sharing the "orthodox, biblical" understanding of God which 71% of heterosexual participants indicate they do. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as "born again", but as is standard in Barna studies, this classification was defined according to basic standard criteria.[102] Barna concluded, “The data indicates that millions of gay people are interested in faith but not in the local church and do not appear to be focused on the traditional tools and traditions that represent the comfort zone of most churched Christians." And that "Gay adults clearly have a different way of interpreting the Bible on a number of central theological matters, such as perspectives about God."[102]

Candace Chellew-Hodge, liberal Christian lesbian founder of online magazine Whoseoever, responded to the findings:

All in all, I'm grateful for Barna even wandering into the subject of gay and lesbian religious belief. I think his study is important and can go a long way to dispelling the old "gays vs. God" dichotomy that too often gets played out in the media. However, his overall message is still harmful: Gays and lesbians are Christians – they're just not as good as straight ones.[103]

She argued that Barna had formulated his report with undue irony and skepticism, and that he had failed to take into account the reasons for the data which enkindled his "arrière pensée." The reason why far fewer homosexuals attend church, she argued, is that there are far fewer churches who will accept them. Equally, gays and lesbians do not see the Bible as unequivocally true because they are forced by its use against them to read it more closely and with less credulity, leading them to note its myriad contradictions.[103]

Organizations for homosexual Christians exist across a wide range of beliefs and traditions. The interdenominational Gay Christian Network has some members who affirm same-sex relationships and others who commit themselves to celibacy, groups it refers to as "Side A" and "Side B", respectively.[104][105] According to founder Justin Lee,

"We're just trying to get people together who experience attraction to the same sex, however they have handled that, and who love Jesus and say, OK, you are welcome here, and then let's pray together and figure out where God wants us to take it."[106]

Advertisement promoting religious tolerance of homosexuality in the United States paid for by the Metropolitan Community Church.

Some organizations cater exclusively to homosexual Christians who do not want to have gay sex, or attraction; the goals of these organizations vary. Some Christian groups focus on simply refraining from gay sex, such as Courage International and North Star.[107] Other groups additionally encourage gay members to reduce or eliminate same-sex attractions. Exodus International and the associated Love Won Out are examples of such ministries. These groups are sometimes referred to as ex-gay organizations, though many no longer use the term. Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus, says the term incorrectly implies a complete change in sexual orientation,[108] though the group Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays continues to use the term.

Gay Christian writer and actor Peterson Toscano argues that organizations promoting orientation change are a "ruse."[109] An organization he co-founded, Beyond Ex-Gay, supports people who feel they have been wounded by such organizations.[110]

Other groups support or advocate for gay Christians and their relationships. For example, in the United States, IntegrityUSA represents the interests of lesbian and gay Christians in the Episcopal Church,[111] while United Methodists have the Reconciling Ministries Network and evangelical Christians have Evangelicals Concerned.[112]

In Europe, lesbian and gay evangelical Christians have a European forum.[113] Working within the worldwide Anglican Communion on a range of discrimination issues, including those of LGBT clergy and people in the church, is Inclusive Church.[114] The longest standing group for lesbian and gay Christians in the UK, founded in 1976, is the non-denominational Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement;[115] specifically aimed to meet the needs of lesbian and gay evangelicals, there is the Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians;[116] specifically working within the Church of England is Changing Attitude,[117] which also takes an international focus in working for gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender affirmation within the Anglican Communion.[118] such as gay Anglicans in Nigeria.

Sociologist Richard N. Pitt argues that these organizations are only available to LGBT members of liberal denominations, as opposed to those in conservative denominations. His review of the literature on gay Christians suggests that these organizations not only represent the interests of Christians who attend their churches, but (like gay-friendly and gay-affirming churches) also give these members useful responses to homophobic and heterosexist rhetoric. His research shows that those GLBT Christians who stay at homophobic churches "kill the messenger"[119] by attacking the minister's knowledge about homosexuality, personal morality, focus on sin instead of forgiveness, and motivations for preaching against homosexuality.

See also


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