Homosexuality: No Easy Answers
by Robert Griffith, Baptist pastor
I stand before you as a sinner, saved by God's grace. I do not presume to know everything there is to know about homosexuality. Nor do I presume to have a direct line to God on this issue. However, I do believe you will hear the voice of God in what I say.
I understand that I take a huge risk in addressing one of the most controversial issues in the Church and in our society. In so doing I am confident that some of you will not like what I have to say and will need to decide how you react to a view which may be contrary to your own.
You can reject it, attack it, switch off when you hear it so you hear nothing else from that point in time . . . or you can be open to God's leading and allow time to pray through what I say and seek the Lord's wisdom before you react or respond in any way.
Some of you will think I am too soft on the issue. Some of you will think I am too harsh and judgmental. Some will think I fail to take a decisive stance and waver in my convictions.
I understand all those views and respect your right to hold them. However, you need to know that it is not my purpose to please those whom I teach. My purpose is to speak prophetically to the needs and issues of today, under the anointing of God's spirit, whether accepted and received well or rejected outright.
For too long, our Church pulpits have been largely silent on such controversial issues as divorce, abortion and homosexuality . . to mention just a few. It's time that we tackled these issues head-on as we seek the heart of God.
All I ask is that you suspend judgment on what I say in this presentation for one week. That's right, I want you to wait until this time next week before you decide how you feel about this issue. During this week I want you to get the tape of this message or the transcript and study it, with the Word of God open before you and pray at every opportunity. Ask the Lord to show you His heart and lead you to see this and all issues that face us today, through His eyes and from his heart. Will you do that for me? Will you do it for yourself? Will you do it for God and His glory? I hope so.
Twenty-five years ago, as a young man of 15, I sat in Alan's lounge room with his wife Lyn as he led me to Jesus. What a wonderful night that was! My relationship with Alan was never the same again. We shared an intimacy and a closeness from that night on. This man took me by the hand and led me into the throne room of heaven and I praise God for him.
I had been invited to a BBQ at the Orange Church of Christ by a friend at school. As it happened, they were forming a youth group that night and Alan and Lyn were going to lead the group. Within two weeks, their lifestyle and their words had been used mightily by God and I came under the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the rest is history, as they say.
It was at this time also that I started to seriously contemplate my future and being married and having a job. Alan and Lyn were a perfect couple as far as I could tell. They loved the Lord and each other and I spent lots of time in their home. The birth of their first child was a great thrill for me. Lyn was in the same hospital room as my mother, in fact. My sister Karen and Alan and Lyn's daughter, Danielle, have been friends ever since!
To my distress, Alan got a new job in Sydney and they left Orange. I kept in touch for many years. I got to see two more children enter the world through these wonderful parents. After I met and married Michelle, she got to know Alan and Lyn too and we stayed in their home and spend time with them now and then. Alan was emcee. at our wedding reception.
In so many spoken and unspoken ways, I believe we modeled our marriage and our child-rearing on Alan and Lyn. As you can tell, these two had a profound effect on me.
Well, our lives all got a little hectic and the gaps between contacts grew larger until there were only Christmas cards and the occasional call. Then it happened. The unthinkable happened.
We received a Christmas card with only Lyn's and the children's names on it. We were to soon discover that Alan had moved out. That first shock was nothing in comparison to the next one. Given our topic tonight, you've probably guessed the scenario. Alan had moved in with another man and was living in a homosexual relationship.
My whole world seemed to spin for a while, not knowing what to do or think or say. I contacted Lyn and expressed my love and concern, without wanting to get into any of the details. But it took quite a while for me to contact Alan. What would I say? I had never encountered homosexuality before.
A battle raged within me, between the accumulated prejudice and condemning tones of the Church that all of a sudden came into to my mind, and the love and respect I had for this brother in the Lord. I used to sit and watch as this man read from God's word with tears rolling down his cheeks as the passion and reality of his relationship with God overwhelmed him and those around him. And now he'd thrown it all away - his marriage, the church, everything! How was I to respond to that?
Well, I believe it was the Lord Who answered that question and gave me a picture of Alan one night. He was standing in the middle of a huge crowd of people, all people that he had known and had relationships with, mostly in the church. The tragic part of the picture was that everyone had their backs to him. No one would look at him, talk to him, love him or care for him. He was in agony. It would be better if he was totally alone than in a crowd of people who ignored him. I sensed the Lord asking me whether I was going be part of that judgmental, cold crowd of Alan's former associates, or whether I was strong enough to be the friend I used to be.
I telephoned Alan the next day and we spoke at length. I told him that I neither understood nor condoned the choices he had made, but I was still his friend and his struggles and bad choices were no different to mine, regardless the attitude of society. I stressed that I wanted to love him and help him, not judge him. He broke down and wept. I later found out that I was the only person from his past that had made any positive contact with him up until that point. He had received many letters and calls which condemned him and dealt with him harshly.
Some time later, when we were studying at Bible College, the conviction to do something more substantial resulted in us inviting Alan to dinner one night. We prayed our hearts out and decided it was Alan our friend who was coming to dinner, not Alan the homosexual! What a revelation that was. Simple, but mind-blowing.
So we didn't put the kids to bed early and batten down the hatches, we just acted normally and prayed that the Lord would give us a chance to minister to our friend.
Alan came and, after the initial tension, he could feel that we were not there to judge him or condemn him and so he relaxed, and later in the evening, he talked openly about his whole journey. Before going to bed, our children talked with him.
He nursed them and played with them and I saw the dad that I always admired and wanted to imitate. Alan cried when the children went to bed and said that we were the first people in seven years of hell, who had let him anywhere near their children.
He went on to tell us of the judgment and condemnation that had come from the church and former friends in the church. He was bitter, no doubt about it, but he was broken-hearted too. His best friend, an elder in the church in which they both served for years, cut Alan off the moment he heard of his homosexual orientation. He even had his phone number changed to a new silent number so Alan couldn't call him.
The sad fact is this: when people heard that the marriage had broken down, there were many in the church who rallied to help and encourage and pray for reconciliation. Alan had many of his friends, including his best friend, come to his side to help him. But the moment Alan decided to tell them the whole story they ran like scared children and never came back.
His best friend suffered a heart attack a year or two later and his dying words, the last thing he spoke to his wife as he drifted into eternity, was, "Don't let that bastard come to my funeral." When he died, Alan didn't try to attend the funeral but sent flowers to his friend's wife instead. Her heart was so hardened towards Alan that she actually went to the trouble of sending the flowers back to him. Such was the hate and the fear and the judgment of the church from Alan's perspective.
That was the first time I remember feeling embarrassed and ashamed for being part of the church.
I can't describe the pain and the grief I felt as I saw and heard how Christians treated a brother in need, thinking that their sin was so much less offensive than his.
If tonight's presentation helps someone like Alan to find a Christian who cares and will love them back to life and wholeness, then it will have been worth it.
I always wondered why the Lord put me through all that; why was I exposed to Alan's pain and my own in such a way. I have always believed that nothing is an accident in God's kingdom and everything has a purpose. Many years later I was to discover the reason as a young man in my church came to see me and told me of his life-long struggle with homosexuality and how he couldn't fight it anymore and was planning to leave his wife. He did leave her, but after much prayer and patience and loads of unconditional love and grace this man was delivered and healed, his marriage restored and he now serves as pastor of a church.
After the pain of processing Alan's struggles, the Lord blessed me by letting me witness a happy ending. But for Alan and thousands of others, the pain continues.
Few issues are so deeply emotional or politically polarized in the church and society as the issue of homosexuality. It is an identifying issue. Just as a self-identified homosexual person is likely to be treated as if that were his or her whole identity, so a person who takes a stand on one side of the issue or the other is open to becoming so identified with the issue that no other conviction or commitment will be heard. For this reason, many churches and many Christians refuse to take any stand, preferring silence to the labeling and condemnation which accompany this issue on both extremes.
It is a legitimate choice, because sexuality is personal and private. A church is well within its rights not to take a stand on the question but to leave such matters to the sole autonomy and individual conscience of the community members. Sadly, in a polarized context where debate is so oversimplified, you are branded as either for or against with no middle ground allowed, reasonable people are forced to join one extreme or the other or be silent.
Therefore, a question that must be answered upfront is: can meaningful discussion of this issue happen? Can we trust one another enough to question, research, listen, open our minds and hearts to be changed by God through the honest search for truth? Perhaps every individual must answer that for himself or herself. But if we enter a debate with minds so closed we are searching for ammunition rather than information, the debate will be decided by prejudice rather than truth and by power rather than persuasion.
Some would argue on either side that there is no room for debate on an issue that is already clear. They would say there is no room for discussion because all forms of homosexuality are a sin. Or on the other extreme, they would argue that all arguments against homosexuality are homophobic, judgmental, and un-Christian, and totally devoid of the unconditional love and grace of God. I would suggest that the mere presence of these two extremes in society and among Christians makes the debate both necessary and legitimate.
A recent article in The Christian Century (not addressing this issue) spoke of Christians reclaiming "the radical middle." I believe it is possible and courageous to reject the pressures from either extreme while listening to all sides and to make up your own mind on the issue as you are led by the Spirit of God.
Christians in our nation are deeply divided over the question of what is the appropriate stance the church should take toward homosexuality and homosexuals in our midst. I think it is really important that we become informed about this sensitive issue so we know how to respond to all involved.
So what is homosexuality? Homosexual persons have been treated by the church and the society the same way other minorities have been treated in the past. They have been linked to one another by a single factor, their sexual orientation, assumed to behave exactly alike, and all alike condemned. They have been the subject of stereotypes which are only occasionally true.
Much of the debate regarding homosexuality reflects the ignorance of this prejudice and stereotyping. For instance, there is no such thing as "the homosexual lifestyle," or "the homosexual agenda," because there are as many homosexual lifestyles, behaviors, and agendas as there are heterosexual lifestyles, behaviors, and agendas. A "practicing" homosexual is the same as a "practicing" heterosexual - he or she may engage in any number of sexual behaviors from chastity to promiscuity. Such language is demeaning and dehumanizing, and the first step towards persecution. Whatever the Bible may say about homosexuality, it calls such unjust false witness - sin. So what is the truth about homosexuality?
Homosexuality is, in a sense, a modern issue. The word was not coined until the 1860s when modern Western medicine developed an interest in the topic. It refers to an internal predisposition and attraction to persons of the same gender, male for male or female for female.
The much-quoted Kinsey report on human sexuality estimated that ten percent of the general human population are constitutionally homosexual. More recent, more reliable studies with larger samples have suggested the number is more like 2 or 3 percent, still a significant number of people identified as being exclusively homosexual in orientation. We do not understand what causes this orientation. The old Freudian view that homosexuality is caused by a dominant mother and weak father has been widely discredited, though it is still a popular myth.
Developmental psychologists suggest that most persons go through a homosexual stage in their psychosexual development: typically, boys prefer to be with boys and girls with girls in preadolescence. Most people discover heterosexual attraction at puberty, but some do not. We do not know why.
Increasingly, psychologists have found that people are somewhere on a continuum where it comes to sexual orientation. They are not all simply either homosexual or heterosexual. We all have aspects of both genders in our spiritual, psychological, and physical being. Physiologically, males have some female hormones within their bodies; these increase with age. Females have some level of male hormone as well. Many people have occasional feelings of sexual attraction to members of the same gender.
Some people act upon those feelings as they do upon their heterosexual feelings, often during adolescence. These experiences then create shame and fear which may feed the hostility with which they react to homosexual persons later in life. And there are those people on extreme ends of the scale who never have anything but heterosexual attraction or homosexual attraction during their entire lifetimes.
Some people clearly choose homosexual behavior. As sexual adventurers and experimenters, they engage freely in all kinds of behavior. Other people are lonely. Unable to find someone of the opposite gender to meet their need for intimacy, they become involved in same-gender relationships. Others because of a history of abuse have rejected heterosexuality. Some women cannot trust themselves with any man because of the abuse they have endured, and therefore choose a lesbian relationship to meet their intimacy needs. Most of these people are heterosexual in orientation but for whatever reasons have chosen homosexual behavior. They should be treated with compassion. They can be healed of their hurts. They can be changed back to healthy heterosexuality.
What is increasingly recognized by researchers and therapists on both sides of the issue is that homosexuality as a psychosexual orientation is not a simple choice for some people. We don't know why it is so, but a small percentage of people enter adulthood with an exclusive sexual attraction to their own gender, regardless of whether they are sexually experienced or not. It is a mistake to speak of their homosexuality as a "preference" like choosing a career or a car. Deep down I believe the majority of them would prefer not to be homosexual because of the condemnation and in some cases, persecution, with which they must live.
Not all gay men are effeminate; some are. Not all lesbian women are masculine; some are. And not all effeminate males or masculine females are homosexual in their orientation. I know some men who have been persecuted much of their lives because they are a little effeminate and people assume they are homosexual.
Homosexual behavior, like heterosexual behavior, takes a variety of forms. It includes a wide range of behavior: words of affection, acts of support, supportive glances, through to more physical expressions, and full-on sexual encounters. Homosexual persons do not engage in all forms of homosexual behavior. Some homosexual persons have no partners, some have multiple partners, some have single partners in long-term relationships. Partners may be active initiators or passive recipients or both, the same as in heterosexual behavior and relationships.
Scientific studies of homosexuality continue to reveal great differentiation in the sexual drives and behavior of homosexual persons, and some significant differences between female and male homosexual persons. More studies are needed.
Some people still argue that homosexuality is a choice, because God can change the homosexual person who is willing to repent. Groups have formed to support "recovering homosexuals." People share testimonies of deliverance and most of these are genuine. But it is too simplistic to say that all those who struggle with their sexuality will be healed in this way.
As biblical Christians, we certainly believe God can change a person. But God does not always do so. I can ask God to change my appetite and help me control my eating, and my will cooperating with God's will may change me. I can ask God to heal me of a disease I have had since birth - and He may do so, but He may not. I watched a leg grow over an inch right before my eyes as we prayed over a young girl who had been born with one leg shorter than the other. I heard bones cracking in her hip as the Lord rearranged her bodily structure, so I have no doubt that God can heal such conditions. But I also must accept that this young girl did not choose to have one leg shorter than the other and I must accept that for every person that God heals in this way there are a hundred he doesn't.
Many homosexual persons would gladly choose not to be homosexual in orientation because of the struggle and abuse they face in the church and society. There are testimonies of many Christian homosexual persons who have prayed with deep devotion over a long period of time, and found their orientation unchanged. Are we to take this as the will of God?
My friends, let us all understand here that every last one of us is born into a sinful, lost world. We have the stain of sin on us as we emerge from our mother's womb. That original sin, that sinful condition can and will manifest itself in many different ways in many different people. Our fallen, sinful nature may lead us to a life of crime, it may lead us into sexual promiscuity with a member of the opposite sex, or it may lead us into an active homosexual lifestyle. Can God fix that? Yes, He can. When we come to the Lord Jesus and accept His gift of new life, when we are born again into the kingdom of God, we are a new creation. In God's eyes, that stain of original sin has been washed away by the blood of His Son. In the eternal spiritual realm of God's kingdom, where we shall dwell forever, we are whiter than snow and all has been made well.
However, back down here in this cause-and-effect kingdom of darkness, we still carry around this sinful bag of bones and as such we will continue to battle the flesh and our fallen human condition for the rest of our days. The Lord will help us in that battle, but the battle will remain.
So before I go on, I want to stress one thing: we need to forget about the simple answers. There are none. We are fooling ourselves if we think there are. There are certainly no simple answers as to how or why someone becomes a homosexual.
The debate still rages as to whether it is caused by genetic or environmental factors. The two are not mutually exclusive. There is evidence that there is a genetic linkage with homosexuality (twins studies), but the same studies indicate that genetic factors alone are insufficient to cause a person to be homosexual.
The issue is very complex and many of us are content to rest on our simple answers, whether they are informed or not, while the rest of us stay very quiet about the issue because we just don't know what to think.
Regardless of our opinions, we need to accept right up front that we are all sinners, standing on level ground before the cross of Christ, in need of a Savior. There is no hierarchy of sins. Different sins have different social implications and consequences, but the fact remains that sin is sin, and as far as our relationship with God and each other is concerned, there is no difference between homosexuality and gossip, or coarse talk, cheating, lying, stealing - the list goes on - they are all the same. The harsh spirit of judgment that rises up within us against certain sins is not from God. It comes from the pit of hell and that's where it belongs.
We need to try and understand that God can and will heal us and deliver us from any number of sins and sicknesses in this life, but He may choose not to. It is too simplistic to label everything as simply our choice. God can heal a person born with spinabifida; this disease is not normal. It is not the way God intended for us to live. But to say that it is the person's choice that they are inflicted with this disease is the cruelest thing imaginable.
In much same way, there are sinful habits and orientations that can manifest in us over which we have very little control. God can, and often does free us from these burdens, but at times He doesn't. So we live with the ongoing tension within us to yield to this sin or this orientation. The choice we have is to yield or not to yield to something that has become part of our human condition. To be told over and over again that the condition itself is a result on our choice is torture in the extreme. Sometimes it is our choice, many times it is not.
The "conservative" response that the church has given to this issue goes something like this: The Bible clearly teaches that homosexuality is a sin. Therefore, what homosexuals need to do is repent (change) and receive the forgiveness of God. Even if they do not have the power to change their sexual orientation, God does. If gays just come to God in honest confession and faith, God has the power to grant them the gift of repentance.
There is much to commend this view. Those who hold it do so because they hold a high view of biblical authority and of God's life-transforming power. However, I believe in the end this approach falls short. It is just too simplistic. Of course, God does have the power to change a person's sexual orientation. God has the power to cure diabetes too, but He often doesn't. The only "moral" alternative left is for the homosexual person to live a completely celibate life. Some homosexuals and heterosexuals can do this, but most cannot.
The "progressive" Christian answer goes something like this: We should not just take what the Bible says about homosexuality at face value. Though the Bible always speaks about homosexual acts in a very negative way, it actually says very little about homosexuality. Certainly the biblical writers didn't know as much about constitutional homosexuality as we do. It should be noted that Jesus didn't mention the subject at all.
When Peter was given a vision of a sheet of unclean animals descending from heaven, he heard the voice of God telling him to "rise, kill and eat." Peter objected. His Bible (the Old Testament) told him this was sinful but the heavenly Voice said, "Do not consider anything unclean that God has declared clean." Peter took this vision to be divine authorization for him to take the gospel to the "unclean" Gentiles. The vision forced him to the conclusion that what his Bible said was not necessarily so.
Perhaps we should re-examine homosexuality in the light of this. Are we not all created by God? If we are gay or straight, it is because God has made us this way. We should accept and rejoice in the gifts God has given us. Our sexual orientation is ultimately of no more moral significance than skin color or left-handedness. That is the progressive view.
This view has much to commend it. It is compassionate. It rightly points out that we should not be superficial in our use of Scripture. (I would note that even the most ardent fundamentalist preacher is not a complete biblical literalist on this subject. I have heard none of them advocating that all homosexuals be stoned to death.) The "progressive" arguments about interpretation of Scripture have weight. In the end, however, I believe this view is very dangerous and it is also too simple and just doesn't work in reality either.
I believe it fails first in the area in which it most wants to succeed. It is not pastorally sensitive enough. To tell a gay person, "God made you that way," is often met with the response (inwardly, if not verbally), "What kind of cruel trickster is God?" For the truth is, many gays would prefer to be otherwise. Some even pay thousands of dollars to psychiatrists and spend years in therapy trying to change their sexual orientation, only to find they cannot.
Some "progressive" Christian therapists try hard to convince their gay clients that they should accept their homosexuality as a gift of God. This usually requires a hard sell. The gay person cannot easily escape the deep heartfelt feeling that life, or fate, or God, or someone has played a cruel trick on him or her. We are definitely working against the grain when we try to convince a gay person otherwise. I believe we are not really taking their pain or situation seriously. We are trying to make things too simple. We are crying, "'Peace, peace,'" when there is no peace."
Also, I can find no warrant or foundation whatsoever to say that being gay is a gift of God. There is certainly absolutely no biblical warrant for this. It seems to be based solely on the assumption that whatever we are is what God has made us. Are babies born blind because God intended them to be that way? Is everyone's sexual orientation a gift of God? What about pedophiles? (Please do not misunderstand me here. I am in no way suggesting a moral equivalence between homosexuals and pedophiles.) Pedophiles do not choose their sexual orientation either, nor can their orientation be easily changed. Should we say to them: "God made you a pedophile. Rejoice and be glad in it!"
The truth is, all of us, straight and gay, know fundamentally that the natural purpose of sex, though not the only one, is biological reproduction. There is no getting around that. The homosexual knows that in light of that most basic fact, his or her sexuality is distorted, and he or she grieves over that. They grieve that they will never be able to know the full complementary love of a person of the opposite sex. They grieve that they can never have children. We should grieve with them.
The "moderate" Christian answer goes something like this: We do not believe that God ever intends any of His people to be homosexual. We believe people are gay not because they choose to be so, but because all of nature is fallen and out of whack. We recognize that God does not always remove the thorn in our flesh or psyche no matter how fervently we pray for Him to do so (though sometimes He might). Though the thorn is a "messenger of Satan" we, like Paul, can ultimately be thankful for it because it teaches us to rely more on God's grace. Our practical advice for the gay Christian is change your orientation if you can. If not, be celibate if you can. If not, be as moral (i.e. monogamous) as you can.
Many will reject this "moderate" view because it is a path of tension. They will prefer either the "conservative" or "progressive" view. These positions have dealt with the tension by denying it. But there is much to commend this "moderate" view. It takes both Scripture and the situation and the pain of the gay person seriously. It recognizes the difficulty of a person's changing his or her sexual orientation. It also recognizes the difficulty of living a celibate life.
However, this view also sounds better in theory than it works in practice. It encourages a gay person to have a monogamous gay relationship if necessary; however, it does not recognize the difficulty of doing so. If you haven't noticed, heterosexuals seem to be having a tough time living in monogamous relationships too. This is the case even though we have great ecclesiastical and civil support systems for the institution of heterosexual marriage. Think how hard it must be for a gay person to live a purely monogamous life without the blessing of, or any support from the church and society.
All the church's answers are too simple. Until we all recognize this we will never be in a place to truly minister to the homosexual. Given that, what should the church do?
A passage in the book of Acts that I preached from recently has gained a new perspective for me. The passage doesn't mention homosexuality, but I cannot read this story now without thinking about this issue. It is contained in Acts 8:26-40
The story is about an Ethiopian eunuch. To be sure, a eunuch, a man who has been castrated, and a homosexual are not the same thing, but there are similarities. Neither can function fully as a heterosexual person. Neither has chosen their "orientation."
This eunuch, a high Ethiopian official, is riding down the road in his chariot, reading the prophet Isaiah. Why? Why is he even reading the Bible? A eunuch was not even allowed in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Old Testament in Deuteronomy 23:1 declared: "No man who has been castrated may be included among the Lord's people." Can you imagine what that is like? To be excluded from the people of God? To be disallowed from even entering the church?
The passage the eunuch is reading says: "He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, like a sheep before its shearers is dumb. He didn't open his mouth. Justice was denied him. He has been cut off from the land of the living. Who is going to declare his posterity?" What posterity? This man has been "cut off." He will have no posterity, no descendants. He is like the eunuch. He will have no children, no family.
The eunuch asks Philip, whom God has sent to meet his chariot, "Who is this man of whom the prophet speaks?" He wanted to know desperately. I am sure he also knew the passage in Isaiah which says: "The days will come when the foreigner will no longer say, 'The Lord will separate me from his people.' The days will come when the eunuch will no longer say, 'O I am just a dry stick.' The days will come when the eunuch who loves me and my house and my covenant shall be better than a thousand sons and daughters and will be remembered forever."
Could the man the prophet is talking about be the one to bring in this new day when even a eunuch could be a part of God's family? After hearing Philip tell the story about Jesus, the eunuch asks Philip, "Can I be baptized? Can I be a part of this new family of God?" Philip says, "Yes." (No doubt he was thinking, "Boy, am I going to get in trouble for this." He had already found himself in trouble with some in the church for previously baptizing some Samaritans.) As I noted before, this passage does not mention gays, but can we truly say that it has absolutely no application to them?
Is homosexual love distorted or perverted or abnormal? Yes, but all human love is to some degree distorted and perverted. That goes along with the fact that we are all sinners. It is just that our love is perverted and distorted in different ways. Gay love also can be fulfilling and admirable. How can one not admit this after seeing a gay man compassionately care for his companion who is dying of AIDS?
Should gays have all the civil rights and protections as other people. Yes, most definitely. I would also say that for the sake of those whose sexual orientation is still being formed (a process of which we are still largely ignorant), society needs to somehow express its clear preference for heterosexuality without denying the dignity of any human being on the basis of their actions. I do not pretend to believe this will be easy. But somehow we have to be Jesus to people and Jesus always looked past the sin and dealt with the real person inside, knowing that if He could connect at the heart level and begin His transforming work of grace there, that the sin would be dealt with in time.
Can the church handle this issue in a way that is compassionate and true to the biblical teaching that sexuality should be fully expressed only in a lifelong monogamous heterosexual relationship? I believe the answer is Yes.
The church already has demonstrated that this is possible in the way that we have learned to deal with the issue of divorce and remarriage. Not long ago the church told its members that they should never get divorced. If they did get divorced, they should not marry someone else while their divorced partner was alive. To do so was to live in a kind of legal adultery. The church believed that this was most clearly the biblical position.
The church, like Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (but not Mark and Luke) allowed an exception in the case of marital infidelity. We have loosened on this considerably. We have recognized the complexities which lead to the break up of us married heterosexual sinners. The church ultimately decided that compassion would not allow it to require divorced Christians to live a life of enforced celibacy, sexual frustration, and loneliness.
The church, or most of the church that is, decided that, though it could never see divorce as anything but a sin, it could and would welcome divorced and remarried people into the life of its community, just like it welcomes all other sinners.
Ultimately, the word the church has to give to homosexuals or anyone else is not, "I'm okay, and you're not okay." Neither is it, "I'm okay, and you're okay." Our message is ultimately, "I'm not okay, and you're not okay. But that's okay - because Jesus is going to make us OK."
Ultimately, the church has no simple answers for homosexuals or anyone else. In the final analysis, the only thing the church has to offer is the only thing it really has, Christ crucified, the Lamb that was slaughtered. The cross is no simple answer either, not even for God's Son. He is there on the cross for all, feeling their pain bearing their sin. His word to all is, "I forgive. Do the best you can in your struggle with sin, and trust My grace for the rest. Just know that the punishment for that sin has now been fully metered out; it fell upon me, once and for all."
To those struggling with homosexuality, I say this: There are no simple, easy answers for you. Of course, you already know that. You can choose to live in the closet, always in fear of discovery. You can choose to come out of the closet and risk being ostracized, totally or partially, by your family, your friends, your church, and your employer. To come out of the closet may mean your expulsion from the rest of society into a gay ghetto. You are the most ostracized people in our society. Blacks may be discriminated against in housing and employment, but at least they can count on the support of family, friends, and church. You cannot. You have no simple choices. The church has no simple answers for you either, but we do grieve with you.
Jesus invites you to come to the foot of His cross. The cross is the place you can come when you have exhausted all the simple answers. (Indeed, does anyone come to the cross any other time?) Christ is there on the cross for you. He will not turn you away. That is what Jesus will do with you. I don't know what the rest of us gathered there on Calvary are going to do with you. I really don't. But I hope we will choose to welcome you with open arms as one sinner to another.
To those of you who until now have adopted a harsh attitude towards homosexuals, or worse still, one of indifference, I plead with you in the name of Jesus to repent of that indifference or that judgmental spirit. It may be the hardest road you ever travel, but it is possible to love and accept sinners without condoning their sin. It is possible to make it clear to a practicing homosexual that their lifestyle is contrary to God's creative purpose for them and that they are inviting Satan to sow seeds of pain and destruction into their lives. It is possible to make that clear BUT at the same time give them a hug and tell them we love them in the Lord and accept them just as they are and will relate to them as one sinner to another.
Did God ask you to clean up your act and remove all traces of sin before He accepted you and brought you into the kingdom of light? NO WAY! You'd still be lost in darkness if that were a pre-requisite. So why do we expect homosexuals to change their whole psychosexual makeup before we can stand beside them in worship and laugh and cry with them in homegroup and preach the gospel with them to the lost. You may be feeling very uncomfortable at present and want to cry out NO. This is different. You can't allow practicing homosexuals into the Church.
Well, friends, if that's the line we take, then I would ask those who struggle consistently with the sin of gossip to please leave now. And those who laugh at the filthy jokes and tell a few of their own now and then - you can go too. And those who struggle with lust and pornography and wouldn't dare admit it - God knows who you are and you may as well leave too, if a clean life is to be our criteria for acceptance in the church!
Now, having said all that, let me say that there will be no place for a practicing homosexual in leadership or positions of authority in the Church. The social implications of their particular struggle are far to serious to expose them or those they lead to the attack of Satan, should they become a leader. Yet I would say exactly the same thing about a person who was a chronic gossiper. Or a person who had a major deficiency in their relational skills and just walked all over people when it suited them. Or a person who had major problems in their marriage and family. I would put them in the same category as a practicing homosexual. They are a sinner, saved by grace, and as such they are as welcome in the body of Christ as any of us are and they will be loved and cared for in the same way. However they are a sinner whose current struggles with sin preclude them from a position of significant influence in the church.
Somewhere, we have to allow the marriage of truth and love. Jesus is only one I know that can do that completely and consistently. He is the only one who can confront sin head-on and yet not destroy the sinner in the process. The woman caught in adultery had no doubt as to Jesus' view on adultery. Yet she also had no doubt about His love and acceptance of her as the unique child of God she was.
Jesus is the only hope for homosexuals and every other sinner in this world. If we desire to be Jesus to those around us, and if we really begin to manifest His grace and love and compassion then be warned: God will send us homosexuals. God will send us adulterers and fornicators and every size and shape of sinner you can imagine. God is desperately seeking churches where He can send these hurting, confused, needy people. Sadly there are very few to choose from.
There are gay churches that love the people but fail to confront the sin or offer any hope of healing and relief. Then there are the conservative, self-righteous churches who do a great job of confronting the sin, but miss the compassion boat by a hundred miles!
If we truly desire to be Jesus to the world around us then we should pray that God would see this church as a safe haven for those who struggle with their sexual orientation. I pray that this would be a place where people could come and be accepted as they are, loved unconditionally, AND a place where they can be introduced to the power of God that can support them, strengthen them and even heal them, restore them and lead them to wholeness in every area of their lives.
My friends, as I close I want to remind you of a powerful verse in the Bible which we should never forget. In 1 Cor.15:10, Paul said these simple words: But by the grace of God I am what I am.
Paul's life had been transformed from that of a murdering, Christian-bashing, church-destroying Pharisee to the greatest apostle who ever lived. Where he once spoke words of hatred and condemnation, he now spoke the gospel of grace and mercy and peace. Where he once drove Christians from their homes and meeting places, he now planted churches, attracting thousands and eventually millions into the kingdom of God.
As Paul looked at where he was now and where he had come from he said, But by the grace of God I am what I am. He was saying several things in one. He was saying: I didn't do this. No human being has the power to make these sorts of changes. My whole life and direction and purpose has been turned around. God did this. I stand in the glory of His grace. He was also saying that anything is possible for God. Our greatest challenge is no match for God. Nothing stands against God's grace. His grace is sufficient for every need, Paul says in 2 Cor.12:9.
What is your need right now? God is here and His grace will meet that need.
Do you need forgiveness for your narrow, harsh attitude towards those who struggle with their sexual orientation? God is here now and his grace will meet that need.
Do you need the strength to support that friend or that family member who may be homosexual, loving them unconditionally while not condoning their lifestyle? God is here now and his grace will meet that need.
Are you someone who struggles with this issue personally and needs the power of God to touch you at the deepest level and release you to be who God created you to be? Do you want to be free from the torment and the pain and the guilt and the alienation you feel from friends, family, the Church and the society at large? God is here now and his grace will meet that need.
Accepting What Can't Be Changed
by David G. Myers
Published in Perspectives, June/July, 1999
I see myself as a family values guy. In my psychology textbooks, I document the corrosive effects of pornography, teen sexual activity, and family decline. I am on the advisory board of The National Marriage Project, whose recent cohabitation report concludes that trial marriages undermine marriage. I am participating in the new “communitarian" initiative to help renew society's moral roots. And I have invested a couple thousand hours in writing a new book (The Paradox, Yale University Press, 2000) that documents the post-1960 social recession and its roots in radical individualism, the sexual revolution, and the decline of marriage and the two-parent family.
Hearing me speak on such things recently, one friend remarked "you've become more conservative." No, I said, I've always been pretty conservative on these family concerns, partly because the data are so persuasive. In the academic world, those of us who call attention to these data are, in fact, sometimes called "moral conservatives."
Mindful of my "ever-reforming" Reformed tradition, new data have, however, dragged me to a revised view of sexual orientation. Here are some of the observations that challenged my former assumptions. I offer them as part of the "committed dialogue" process encouraged by Reformed Church General Secretary Wesley Granberg Michaelsen.
- There is no known parental or psychological influence on sexual orientation. Factors once believed crucial actually seem not to matter. Sexual orientation appears not to be influenced by social example, overprotective mothering, distant fathering, having gay parents, or child abuse. If some new parents were to seek my advice on how to influence the sexual orientation of their newborn, I could only say, after a half century of research, that we are clueless. So far as I currently know, there is nothing you can do.
- Unlike sexual behavior and other moral tendencies, sexual orientation appears unaffected by an active faith. Compared with people who attend church only rarely, those who attend regularly are less likely to be juvenile delinquents, abuse drugs and alcohol, and divorced. In a recent National Opinion Research Center survey, they were also but one-third as likely to have cohabited before marriage and they reported having had many fewer sexual partners. Yet they are virtually as likely to be homosexual. This unpublicized finding is worth pondering: If sexual orientation is a spiritually-influenced lifestyle choice, then should it not—like those other disapproved tendencies-be less common among people of faith?
- Today's greater tolerance seems not to have amplified homosexuality. Homosexuals are a small minority—roughly 2-3% of the population—and their numbers appear not to have grown with their coming out or with the passage of gay rights laws. Contrary to the concern that gay role models would entice more people into a homosexual orientation, surveys suggest no significant increase in the homosexual minority.
- Biological factors are more and more looking important. This scientific story is still being written and the light is still dim, so we had all best be tentative. Nevertheless, we have learned, first, that siblings of gay people, especially their identical twins, are somewhat more likely than people without close gay relatives to themselves be gay.
Genetic instructions, if there are such, must be manifest in physiology. So it should not surprise us that new evidence points to both prenatal hormonal differences and to brain differences in a region known to influence sexual behavior. One scientific review concludes that "the emerging neuroanatomical picture is that, in some brain areas, homosexual men are more likely to have female-typical neuroanatomy than are heterosexual men." This may explain why homosexual men tend to have spatial abilities like those typical of heterosexual women. A newer report suggests that this female-typical pattern extends to a prenatally-influenced fingerprint difference between gay and straight men. Homosexual women may likewise have more male-typical anatomy. For example, the hearing systems of lesbian women appear to develop in a way that is "intermediate to those of heterosexual females and heterosexual males."
Although these findings suggest biological influences at work, we should be wary of an extreme biologism. As every psychology student knows, biologically disposed tendencies operate within an environmental context. Even tulips require hospitable soil and water. It may yet be shown that certain biological dispositions interact with particular environments to predispose sexual orientation.
- Efforts to change one's sexual orientation usually (some say, virtually always) fail. People who have experimented with homosexual behavior (as many heterosexual people do) can turn away from it. Homosexuals, like heterosexuals, can become celibate. Or they can marry against their desires and have children. But research on efforts to help people do a 180 degree U-turn with their sexual orientation—their feelings and fantasies—reveal, according to one review, "no evidence indicating that such treatments are effective." Many a person has tried, hoping upon hope to escape their culture's contempt. Few, it seems, have succeeded.
Christian ex-gay organizations have had a go at this, and may offer effective support to those seeking to leave the gay culture. But many-including thirteen such organizations affiliated with Exodus International-have been abandoned by their ex ex-gay founders. Two of Exodus' own co-founders, Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, fell in love and left the organization. "I counseled . . . hundreds of people . . . who tried to change their sexual orientation and none of them changed," recalls Bussee (quoted in Record, Spring, 1990). "The bottom line is, it doesn't work."
Reading the ex-gay literature, one is struck by the admitted homosexual temptations many "ex-gays" still struggle with. "God does not replace one form of lust with another," explain Bob Davies and Lori Rentzel in Coming Out of Homosexuality. Ex-gays commonly struggle with homosexual attractions and typically "do not experience sexual arousal solely by looking at their wife's body."
Sexual feelings are private (and it is, after all, the direction of one's lusts-one's feelings and fantasies-that define sexual orientation). Thus, short of physiologically measuring sexual responses to male and female sexual stimuli before and after sexual conversion programs, there can be no precise measure of the frequency of actual sexual orientation conversion. Such research has not yet been done, so it remains an open issue as to whether significant numbers of sexual conversions have occurred. (For men, whose "erotic plasticity" is relatively low, this may be an especially elusive goal.)
But this much seems certain. Many gay and lesbian Christians have felt called to heterosexuality, but after years of effort, prayer, laying on of hands, Christian counseling, and searing guilt have found only misery, and in some cases lost faith. This fact of life is recognized by my denomination, the Reformed Church in America, whose Theological Commission statements on homosexuality have discerned (in the words of the church's 1998 study document) that, "despite the uncertainty over its cause, the sexual orientation of a person, in most cases, is highly resistant to change."
That conclusion found support in the American Psychiatric Association's December, 1998 criticism of efforts to change sexual orientation. Its president, Rodrigo Munoz, summed up the association's position: "There is no scientific evidence that reparative or conversion therapy is effective in changing a person's sexual orientation. There is, however, evidence that this type of therapy can be destructive."
For all these reasons it becomes difficult to avoid the conclusion that sexual orientation appears not to be a choice. For most of us, the emerging scientific surmise rings true to our experience. Can those of us who are hetero-sexual recall a time when we chose to be so? Or is it just the way we are?
Faced with the accumulating evidence and the experiences of gay and lesbian Christians and their families, various people of faith have revisited the Scriptures and discovered that the Bible has little to say about homo-sexuality. Many of us have been surprised to learn how mute (or at least murky) the Bible is regarding a committed union between mature homosexual adults. Biblical scholars are debating the half dozen or so Scriptural passages referring to same-sex activity, passages that sometimes also involve pagan idolatry, temple prostitution, or child exploitation.
To be sure, Jesus affirmed marriage, and so should we. But he spoke no recorded words about homosexual behavior. Although he had much to say about the poor and powerless, homosexuality was not one of the social issues on his radar screen. If the question "what would Jesus say?" is on our screens, then the answer seems clear: care about children, care about the poor, care about humility, care about love, care about marriage, and be slow to judge.
There are issues that biblical scholars will continue to debate, and a case has certainly been made that, as the 1995 Report of the Reformed Church Theological Commission stated, "homosexual behavior is not God's intended expression of sexuality." The issues, however, have not to do with biblical authority. Rather they are issues of biblical interpretation, including how to understand specific texts "in light of the whole witness of Scripture."
To suggest that sexual orientation may turn out to be disposed rather than chosen leaves us free to regard homosexuality as either a normal variation (as with left-handedness) or as a tragic abnormality to be contested (as with dyslexia). As the scientific picture becomes more complete, it will not resolve the values issue. Moreover, straight or gay, we all face moral choices over options that include abstinence, promiscuity, and long-term commitment.
Two decades after the first edition of his Sex for Christians, evangelical ethicist Lewis Smedes reflects that “I still believe that the Creator intended the human family to flourish through heterosexual love. I still believe that homo-sexuality is a burden that homosexual people are called to bear, and bear as morally as possible, even though they never chose to bear it. I still believe that God prefers homosexual people to live in committed and faithful monogamous relationships with each other when they cannot change their condition and do not have the gift to be celibate.”
Everywhere our culture seems preoccupied with the "homosexual threat to family values," talk of which some-times lays a foundation for harassment, cheap humor, and hate crimes. Reflecting on the murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man in Wyoming, church historian Martin Marty (Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1998) likened today's homosexuals to the lepers of Jesus' day—people who were shunned by religious folk, but not by Jesus. "I believe that much anti-gay and anti-other activity is inspired by Christian rhetoric. But by now we must know that the attempt to love sinners while stirring hate about the sin, which, after all, has to be done by those called sinners, contributes to the atmosphere in which crime occurs."
As one who is terribly concerned with the corrosion of family values, I am reminded of C. S. Lewis' tongue-in-check advice from senior devil Screwtape to his apprentice devil. Corrupt by diverting their attention: "The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers when-ever there is a flood." If an active faith commitment does not affect sexual orientation, and if, as it is beginning to look, sexual orientation is an enduring identity rather than a lifestyle choice, than why not spend our energies where they can make a difference—on the real problems of a culture in social decline?
Are those whose anti-homosexual rhetoric diverts us from a focus on the family and from children's declining well-being unwittingly heeding Screwtape's advice? In answering the question, "What would Jesus do?" should we adjust our radar screens to refocus on the family? "If churches are going to expend energy worrying about sex-rather than poverty or hunger or homelessness or war-that energy ought to be expended on the distinctions that matter," observes Catherine Wallace in For Fidelity. In this 'if it feels good, do it' era of marital decline, orientation is not the distinction that matters. Fidelity is."
Can we, should we, relax and believe that, regardless of our sexual orientation, God loves us "just as I am"? Can we accept our own and others' sexual orientation without excusing promiscuity, exploitation, or self-destructive behavior? Can we regard bathhouses and brothels, gay bars and strip joints, as similarly degrading? Can we accept gays who, not given what Catholics call the gift of celibacy, elect the functional equivalent of marriage (which society denies them) over promiscuity? To merit our acceptance must they live alone? Can our family values include love, care, loyalty, and respect for a son or daughter who may be predisposed to homosexuality? And might we Christians benefit from praying Reinhold Niebuhr's serenity prayer?
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Lacking such wisdom and feeling uncertain in our discerning of Scripture, what, for the present, shall we do? Might we come together in honest, open dialogue? In small groups, might we engage one another in love and receptivity to God's will?
A final thought:
When torn between judgment and grace, let us err on the side of grace. When torn between self-certain conviction and uncertain humility, let us err on the side of humility. When torn between contempt and love, let us err on the side of love. In so doing we may be more faithful disciples of the one who embodied grace, humility, and love.
What Would Jesus Say To Homosexuals?
by John McLarty, Editor, Adventist Today
When we ask that question what is it we really want to know? Do we want to know what Jesus would say to marchers in the West Hollywood gay pride parade that we read about in the newspaper? Are we wondering how to vote next week when the school board decides on renewing the contract for the sixth-grade teacher? Are we looking for guidance as we vote on a denominational position statement? Or wisdom as we study the Bible with a homosexual preparing for baptism? Are we trying to interpret Jesus for our own son or daughter? Perhaps we are listening intently for Jesus’ word in our own struggle with sexual matters? What does Jesus think of us? How does he want us to live?
It’s important to know just what question we’re asking because the question we ask often determines what we hear in reply.
There are several passages of Scripture that come to my mind in response to the question: What would Jesus say to a homosexual?
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3
What does it mean to be "poor in spirit"? Poor in spirit does not refer to nice, church-going people who realize they need "more of Jesus." It describes people who are morally, spiritually, emotionally empty, people with zero spiritual assets, people who are spiritually bankrupt. Jesus announces the amazing news that these people are blessed.
What does "blessed" mean? In some contexts it means "happy," but not here. Jesus is not making light of the pain of people struggling in spiritual poverty. He is not saying to people tormented by brokenness and evil, "Cheer up! Things aren’t really all that bad." Instead, after giving careful attention to the painful reality of their lives, he reveals the astonishing fact that God regards them with tender affection. The word blessed means "favored by God." It means God likes you. It is the opposite of cursed, which means targeted by God for punishment and retribution. To be blessed means to be the target of God’s kindness and salvation.
Finally, in this first declaration of his most famous sermon, Jesus announces that those who are spiritually bankrupt are not just the targets of God’s warm feelings, God has made specific provisions for them to participate in his plans for the future of the universe: "The kingdom of heaven is theirs."
Many homosexuals who’ve shared their stories with me have carried a profound sense of unworthiness. They are profoundly dissatisfied with themselves. They feel condemned and unwanted by God. Sometimes they are isolated from their parents and siblings. Frequently they are unwanted at church. They feel desperately poor in spirit. And Jesus’ first word to them is: You are blessed; the kingdom of heaven belongs to you.
If you believe homosexuals are spiritually bankrupt, make sure the first word they hear from you is the amazing news that they have a place in the kingdom of heaven and that God regards them with warm affection. If you yourself feel condemned and broken because of your sexual identity or sexual behavior, please hear Jesus: God likes you and he has a place for you in his kingdom, and in his heart. He’s counting on spending eternity with you.
Jesus’ first word to homosexuals (and to all humans) is "Blessed are the poor in spirit for the kingdom of heaven is theirs."
"You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you, ‘Anyone who looks on a woman for the purpose of lust, in his heart has committed adultery already.’" Matthew 5:27, 28
One of the great challenges in modern life is pornography, both hard core, graphic material and the more subtle pornography of advertising and entertainment. Pornography leads us to separate physical desirability from personhood. It encourages biological avarice which always damages the person who lusts and sometimes damages the persons who are targets of that lust.
In this passage Jesus makes it clear that the cultivation of a pure heart is essential to authentic Christian living. Whatever you believe about life-long partnerships between homosexuals (or heterosexuals), the second word Jesus speaks to you about sexuality is to avoid every activity which encourages lust. And by lust, I mean desire for sexual adventure apart from commitment (i.e. enduring relationships), desire for a person’s body apart from their mind and heart, a desire to possess apart from a willingness to give, a desire to be "done to" apart from a pledge of genuinely mutual care, accountability and faithfulness. God intended sex to be the climax and seal of spiritual and emotional union. Sex as a non-personal toy is lethal to body, mind and spirit.
Whatever your sexual identity, reject every practice, no matter how culturally acceptable, that encourages lust.
If you want to reach the pinnacle of spiritual development, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me. Matthew 19:21
I believe this passage is significant for two reasons. First of all, Jesus sometimes makes preposterous demands on people. That is they would be preposterous if anyone other Jesus made them. Second, not every command of Jesus is for every believer.
Jesus told this young man to sell everything and give his money to the poor. Then he was to come and join Jesus in his itinerant ministry. Can you imagine giving away everything you own and taking up an itinerant ministry? Jesus was very clear that for this young man, this complete self-emptying was crucial for his reception of eternal life. But when he talked to a wealthy older man, he didn’t say a word about his money (John 3). And when he ate lunch with a wealthy tax collector, Jesus said nothing about changing his career (Luke 19).
Christian history is marked with fantastic stories of individuals who have been called by God to make heroic sacrifices: Francis of Assisi who gave up money, home and hope of marriage; Gladys Aylward who gave up British citizenship and became a naturalized Chinese citizen; Polycarp, who at age 84 gladly embraced martyrdom for his faith. The list is endless: Fernando and Anna Stahl, Harry Miller, Mother Teresa, Father Damien of Molokai, John Woolman, David Brainerd.
The example of these heroes inspire us, but God does not call most of us to leave home and job and family, instead he calls us to faithfulness in an ordinary life of work and family.
So what do we make of the story of the rich, young man? First, Jesus does sometimes make daunting demands. Not every call of Jesus is an invitation to greater self-fulfillment and increased comfort. He calls some to celibacy. Second, he does not call all alike. Be very hesitant to tell someone else what call God is giving them. Don’t measure others by your understanding of God’s call in your life. And be especially reluctant to urge on others heroic obedience that you yourself are not practicing. Be very attentive to the voice of God in your own life, and if he calls you to heroic sacrifice and service, understand that such a call is a great honor.
"Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." (Luke 19:9,10)
What a story! Zacchaeus was the leading tax collector in the town of Jericho. The one thing he had going for him was money. Given the way the tax system worked in that society tax collectors were not only hated as corrupt money grubbers, they were despised as traitors, quislings. They had a social standing equivalent to what drug dealers would have in a middle class neighborhood today: envied for their money, loathed for their business.
Jesus came to town, and Zacchaeus wanted to see him. He couldn’t see over the crowd because he was short. He couldn’t squeeze through the crowd because someone might knife him. So he ran ahead and climbed a tree that hung out over the street. Jesus stopped under the tree, looked up and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner.
A wave of angry whispering swept through the crowd. How could Jesus possibly share table fellowship with a tax collector (drug dealer)? But Jesus did it any way. When dinner was over Zacchaeus announced he would give half (not all) of his possessions to the poor, and he would repay four times over any inappropriate charges he had assessed.
Then Jesus announced: Surely this man too is a child of Abraham. (That is, he was a fully qualified member of the people of God.)
If you are wishing to say something to homosexuals on behalf of Jesus, make sure that you know the story of Zacchaeus. What he did for a living was universally regarded by the Jewish people as an egregious contradiction of the teachings of Moses and the prophets. But Jesus did not say a word about his quitting the tax business. If you want to challenge homosexuals to greater faithfulness in their discipleship, the first step is to develop a friendship of sufficient warmth and depth that you feel comfortable inviting yourself to their home for dinner.
If you are a homosexual and are wondering what response Jesus would have to your desire to know him more intimately, then read again the story of Zacchaeus. Jesus wants to come to your home for dinner. He wants a close connection with you. He is not embarrassed to be your friend. While you are hesitating over whether or not you should even speak to him, he is inviting himself home for dinner. Receive him warmly.
If you are lost, if you have been estranged from God, if you have felt the disapproval of "God’s people," then please hear the words of Jesus: "The Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost." The more lost you sense yourself to be, the more certain your claim on the affection and attention of Jesus.
Two final points for heterosexual religious people who would make strong assertions about how homosexuals should live: One of Jesus sternest rebukes was to strict, religious people who "load burdens on men’s shoulders and will not lift a finger to help carry them." Matthew 23. It is appropriate for the church to offer guidance to people in the area of sexuality, but let’s make sure we are not strictest on those who are furthest removed from our own experience. Divorce and remarriage and polygamy are clear departures from God’s ideals, but we are finding ways to respond to these matters that honor God’s ideal while dealing compassionately and realistically with human brokenness. According to Genesis, the intention of creation was that all humans would live in a life-long union of male and female. That is not an option for everyone for a variety of reasons. Let’s keep in mind Jesus’ words about loading burdens on others. If you are a church leader, consider how we as a church best model God’s compassion and understanding (Psalm 103:13, 14)
The very first step in Jesus’ public ministry was to be baptized. As he came up out of the river after being baptized he received one of the most dramatic honors of his ministerial career. God declared from heaven: "This is my much loved Son. With him I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:17). It was when Jesus identified with sinners, when he claimed his place among the broken people of God, that God declared, "With him I am well pleased." We, too, please God most when we come closest to those we are called to serve. You cannot serve homosexuals effectively from a distance.
A final point for homosexuals and others who wrestle with sexual identity. "You must be born again." John 3:7. What does it mean to be born again? It means to get a new "family of origin." We no longer derive our sense of self from the people who conceived us or reared us or from other personal experiences. Instead we find our identity in our status as the beloved children of God. We are no longer defined as the children of our parents or the partners of our lovers. We are not intellectuals or illiterates, professionals or laborers. We are first of all beloved children of the heavenly King. That’s what it means to be born again.
In our society, sexuality is so strongly emphasized that we are tempted to think of our sexuality as our principal identity. It is certainly a crucial element of our identity, but as children of God we are liberated from the tyranny of sexual identity. We are not male or female, homosexual or heterosexual, married or single. We are not Black or White. We are not accomplished or handicapped. We are love and treasured by the Creator. He loves us so much that he would rather die than live without us.
This new identity is ours. Now. All we have to do is receive it. "To as many as received him, he gave the right to become the children of God" (John 1:12).
Make sure you engage in spiritual practices that help you internalize this fantastic truth. Quite apart for specific questions about sexual restraint and satisfaction, God calls you to taste the joy and security that comes from a warm, open friendship with him. Spend time daily contemplating the wonderful story of Jesus as recorded in the Bible. Pray that God will illumine your mind and win your heart. Contemplation of the life and teachings of Jesus will align you with mind of God and will lead you into an understanding of God's will for your life. God will "fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding . . . that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way." Colossians 1:9, 10
What does Jesus say to homosexuals? It’s the same thing he says to all: "Fear not little flock. It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Luke 12:32.
In God's House Are Many Closets
by Peggy Campolo
reprinted by permission from Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for the Churches, Walter Wink, editor; Augsburg Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1999
Gay people are not the only people who live in closets. People live in closets because they are afraid that they will not be loved or accepted if they are honest about who they are. My own time in a closet began when I was nine years old, and it lasted for thirty-eight years.
It was this way: I was raised in a Christian home, an American Baptist home in Philadelphia - and my beloved father was the pastor of my church. I grew up with people who said they prayed to God and heard from God. Most of them seemed to me to try to live their lives as they thought God wanted them to. My big problem was that even when I tried to get in touch, God just did not exist for me. It wasn't that God was calling me and I was saying no, even though I've heard many preachers say that's the way it always is. I wanted to be accepted by the people I knew in the church, and so I used to try very hard to be like them. Only God wasn't in it for me. Not then.
It was the custom in our church for the pastor to talk to the nine-year-old Sunday school class about making a public profession of faith, being baptized, and joining the church. In theory, any child was free not to do that, but the reality was that if I were honest, I alone would have been rejecting God, and, it seemed to me, my dad, too.
It didn't take me long to decide what to do. I loved my dad, and I didn't even know God. Daddy would be happy if I declared myself a Christian; God, if God did exist, might be upset about my pretending, but I decided to do what would please not only my father but everyone else I cared about. And I told myself that perhaps everyone just pretended they knew God because the idea of God was such a good one and was supposed to make people nicer. And so I pretended that Christianity was real to me, and I acted a part. I developed a great talent for evading direct questions and for giving answers that created a false impression, even as I carefully chose truthful words.
My husband got in trouble some years ago for saying that Jesus was a presence inside of every person whether that person was a Christian or not. Furthermore, Tony said that one place to find Jesus was in loving service to other people. Some in the Christian community argued that Jesus dwelt only in those who believed in Him. There was actually a "heresy trial," held in Chicago, which ended with the "jury" saying that Tony was not a heretic but did need to be more careful about how he stated things. However, later that same year I learned firsthand that Tony was right about where to find Jesus.
Helen Rue was a dear friend of mine. She was eighty-two years old and lived alone, except for her cat. She was a bright woman with a marvelous sense of humor, and she told wonderful stories of her travels and of the long-ago days of her youth. Helen's world had grown smaller as she had gotten older, and I was the only person in it able to go to visit her regularly.
Then one night twelve years ago, Helen had a stroke and was rushed to the hospital. She did her best to keep up a brave front when I visited her, but as Helen grew more critically ill, she grew more afraid. She talked constantly about her fears for the future of her cat because she was unable to put her own terrors into words. Helen had always said she believed in God, but now she did not seem to have any assurance of heaven or peace about dying.
I spent many hours holding Helen's hand and listening. As the end drew near, I felt more inadequate than I ever have in my life. Helen needed God to die, and I needed God to help me if I was to be any comfort at all to my friend. I decided I would tell Helen all that I had ever heard about Jesus Christ and going to heaven. After all my years in church I knew the story well. Helen held my hand for dear life, and I know she heard me. And as I shared the story of God's grace and love with my dying friend, the presence of God became real to me - comforting, close, and very, very real.
I believe God did take Helen home to heaven, even as I know Jesus has remained with me. It was in my caring for Helen that God had found me. My husband's questioned theology about finding God in those who are in need or being oppressed, became a reality to me that day in the hospital. God came into my life as I sought God for Helen. Jesus is waiting to be found in those who are in need - whether of food, of love, of respect, or of justice. None of us can be a loving presence to all of God's children. None of us can even perceive, let alone try to make right every wrong. But God has chosen for each of us those particular people God wants to love through us.
I have been heterosexual all my life. I don't have a gay son or a lesbian daughter. But after I became a Christian, God let me know that I was to love and speak out for my gay brothers and lesbian sisters in Jesus' name. And to my utter amazement, it dawned on me that God had been preparing my heart to do this long before I knew God.
Forty years ago I was a student at Abraham Lincoln High School in Philadelphia, and Tom was my friend. His hall locker was near mine, so we always met at the start and again at the end of the school day. Tom was a "comfortable" friend - I didn't worry about what I wore, how I looked, or the way what I said might come out when we talked. He liked me, and I can still remember how good it was to know that, at a time when I was not always sure I liked myself. He was a listening ear, a sympathetic heart, and in many ways a kindred spirit.
I didn't like it the day that some of the boys walking past our lockers upset Tom. All they did was to call his name as they sauntered past. But there was evil in their voices. "Tom-my, Tom-my," they called out, silly grins on their faces, eyes darting around to see who was watching their game. I followed Tom's example and tried to pretend that it hadn't happened. But I felt afraid and sad, and I knew that he did too. Variations of that ugly scene were played out more times than I care to remember. The horror to me was that I knew Tom was being harassed, not because of anything he had done, but because of who he was.
And then there were the jokes and innuendos, and people told me that Tom was "queer." If the answers I got to the questions I asked my folks at home were not really enough, it was made clear to me that the right thing to do was to go on being Tom's friend, and that his tormentors were wicked and wrong. But I already knew that. I also knew that I should take a stand for Tom. Sadly, in those days I did not take stands on much of anything. I was too afraid of being an outcast myself. I told people that Tom was a really nice person, and I begged my friends not to join in the teasing, but I didn't have what it took to turn my sadness into righteous indignation on Tom's behalf. And it was not until Jesus became real to me that I found out that it was God I needed to give me courage.
Twenty years ago my husband and I went to Provincetown, Massachusetts to see the whales. We had been "warned" that the charming village on the tip of Cape Cod was a mecca for gays and lesbians. I expected to ignore that, enjoy the whales, and go home. But I fell in love with Provincetown and, as I did, I realized that it was not in spite of the gay and lesbian culture there, but partly because of it. I have gone back every summer for twenty years.
You can fly to P-town from Boston on wonderful little Cessna airplanes that take you back to a pre-jet-plane era. The planes are small and they fly so low that you can watch the ocean all the way. But it is the people I watch on our flights to P-town. Usually most of them are gay men, though there are some lesbians and a few straight folks like us. At the airport in Boston I am always aware that not many of our fellow passengers appear to be as happy as Tony and I feel. Some seem to me to be carrying heavy burdens. Once the plane is on its way, a number of the passengers visibly brighten. At times I imagine I hear a collective sigh of relief as we bid the straight and narrow good-bye, if only for a time.
Tony and I certainly share the joy of "getting away from it all," but we cannot even begin to comprehend what "it all" means to some of our fellow travelers. We like Provincetown because hardly anyone ever stops us to say, "Aren't you Tony Campolo?" I think about that and I wonder if many of the other folks here are not happy for a similar reason.
Provincetown makes me think about the original meaning of the word gay. There is much to be joyful about there; it is one of the places where I feel happiest. Yet, knowing that most of the people in Provincetown, especially the couples, would not be so well treated in many places where I come from, I sometimes feel a sense of shame as folks smile at us, visit with us, and seem glad we have come. As a straight couple, we are most definitely in the minority, but no one seems to care. On our first visit to Provincetown, I remember saying to Tony, "What I feel here is something of what I have always imagined the church should be like, but isn't."
To be real about it, we who walk the streets of P-town do not even know each other. We certainly do not all love each other. But what I feel there makes me very aware of the aching void there is in most places on this earth, where people do not accept each other, nor are they kind. If acceptance can feel so holy, is not the lack of it an unholy thing.
I do not want to create the illusion that P-town really is any sort of heaven. It seemed so to me at first, and it must seem even more so to those vacationers who come there from their own private hells. But there is an underlying sadness there, too, and sometimes a touch of the ugly. Sometimes a caravan of pickup trucks roars through the main street and ignorant individuals shout their anti-gay messages. For the most part, they are ignored. They pass through town and are gone. But they do leave a cloud - a reminder that much of the world is not as enlightened as Provincetown.
One afternoon Tony met a man who recognized him as a preacher, and the two of them visited while I shopped. They talked theology and had a grand time. When I joined them, my husband tried to find out more about his knowledgeable new friend. The man did not give his name but simply said, "I was a priest in my former life. I used to love to talk about God. But when I told people who I really was I couldn't be a priest anymore, and I don't usually think about God anymore, either. But it's been great to talk to you, friend." He was gone before more could be said, and some of his sadness remained with us.
We once spent an entire afternoon as the only customers at a small rooftop restaurant overlooking Cape Cod Bay. The young man behind the counter came out and joined us at our table. "Where's home for you?" Tony asked him. Too much time elapsed before the answer came: "Oh, my folks live in Iowa, but I can't go there anymore, so home is just wherever I happen to be, and I'm here now."
"Why can't you go home?" Tony asked, really wanting to know. The look he got in response seemed to indicate that my husband must have spent most of his life on the moon.
There is sadness in Provincetown, amid the merrymaking and beauty. I see it in some of the faces I pass in the crowd. P-town is small enough that you keep on seeing the same people. The ads in the local papers and the handbills on the street tell me that this is a place where relationships are often over before they begin. I have the feeling that people are dancing too fast, relating too quickly, trying to "have it all" in two weeks, one night, or even an hour. I wonder where people go in the evenings to have what my mother used to call "a wholesome good time."
Having grown up as a Baptist minister's daughter, I think first of the churches. I've been to three of them there. Now one is an art gallery. The second is still a church, but most of the time the places is closed up and dark. Too bad, when you think of the hundreds of people who walk right past the door every summer evening, many of them looking for something to do and people to meet. We found the third church one Sunday morning when our children were still young enough to be vacationing with us. I remember several of the church people rushing over to find out if we were new in town. "You don't get many families, many 'regular' people in this town during the summer," one woman volunteered. As the conversation unfolded it didn't take much to figure out who was not welcome in that place.
I think about the verse in the Bible that talks about fields being white and ready for harvest and the laborers being few. Provincetown is a place where I long to see an alive, welcoming Christian ministry start up - perhaps as a coffeehouse on the main street, a place where people could meet the real Jesus who identifies with and loves oppressed people, not the one so often portrayed on television as a despiser of those who are different.
Provincetown made me a wiser person. As I got to know the place, I realized how narrow my straight life had been. I really did not know any openly gay people, and now I wanted to know some. It was rather like I had visited a foreign country, had a great time, and come home anxious to make friends with people of that nationality. And slowly that began to happen, as I let it be known that the status quo that existed for gay men and lesbians was unacceptable to me.
From time to time a gay or lesbian student at Eastern College would find his or her way to my door. Most of them hurt badly. As I listened to their stories, a rage began to build in me. In all of my life, nothing had ever seemed so unfair as the lives these young men and women had to live. Nobody understood. Most of their parents were unfair, if indeed they had even found the courage to risk telling their parents. The college wanted them to be silent and their churches just never seemed to be there for them. Either these young people had heard such condemnation from the pulpit that they knew better than to approach their pastors, or their pastors had been so silent on the issue that they had no idea what might happen if they took their heartaches to him or to her. So they hurt, in silence and often all alone. I marveled at how "together" many of them were able to be in spite of the forces marshaled against them.
I wish I could tell you that my crusade for gay rights began back then, twenty years ago, but it did not. When my husband began to take a public stand on the issue, which seemed to me at the time to be liberal, I confess to having wished he did not feel the need to add yet one more controversial subject to his public life. I believed that gays and lesbians were entitled to the same rights and privileges I claimed for myself, including being able to marry, both legally and in the eyes of the church, whomever they chose as a life partner, but I still wasn't standing up to anybody or for anybody. It was not until I met Jesus that I found the courage to speak out for God's gay and lesbian children.
I have hope that someday soon there will be churches in places like Provincetown where the real Jesus is preached, where a biblical lifestyle is taught, and where loving relationships and the valuing of people are important; a place where lesbian and gay Christians can learn how God wants to bless their relationships and empower them to share their gifts with a world that needs them. I go to a church like that, so I know it's possible. And I have hope that some evening, when the little plane flies back to Boston from Provincetown, the smiles can remain on the faces and in the hearts of the gay and lesbian people going home, because they will be returning to a world that accepts them for who they are - children of God.
Peggy Campolo is a writer and editor. She is a graduate of Eastern College and taught first grade prior to spending a number of years as a full-time wife and mother. She has also worked in real estate and public relations. She is a member of Evangelicals Concerned and serves on the Council of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists. Mrs. Campolo is a member of Central Baptist Church in Wayne, Pennsylvania and on the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Baptist Association. She is committed to working for justice for lesbian and gay people, especially within the church, and has spoken at colleges, conferences, and churches throughout the United States. Mrs. Campolo and her husband Tony live in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. They are the parents of a son and a daughter and have four grandchildren.
Restoring A Damaged Faith
by Mary Tuomi Hammond
(Reprinted from The Other Side, May-June, 2000)
Thousands of Christians have left the church because it has wounded them. Others are one step from the door. How can we support those struggling to rebuild their faith?
The word "de-churched" is not a common term in mainstream Christianity. In fact, it doesn't even appear in Webster's unabridged dictionary. But for me, it describes a neglected group of Christians: those whose firsthand encounters with Christianity have been negative, painful, and alienating, and because of this significant wounding have left the church or lost their faith.
The de-churched have a variety of stories. One harbors a terrible secret about the church-going family member who quietly abused him, threatening retribution if silence was not maintained. Another is frustrated by her local congregation's lack of political engagement, and questions whether the church can ever become an agent of social change. A young person who is struggling with issues of sexual orientation receives only condemnation and eventually walks away. An overworked church leader maintains a spiritual persona around other Christians until the facade breaks and the agony beneath the surface is exposed.
Found among the dechurched are ardent atheists, silent agnostics, and committed humanists. Some embrace spiritualities far removed from the basic tenets of Christianity. Others leave their communities of faith yet remain believers. Still others struggle to reconstruct a Christian faith that is strikingly dissimilar from the one they have once known.
Many people worshipping in our congregations are one step away from walking out the door themselves. They feel that their concerns do not mirror those of their faith community: Their questions are not taken seriously; their histories are unsafe to share; their passion for ministry goes unsupported. They struggle to remain faithful to church, yet secretly, they ask themselves, "Why am I in this place? Why should I stay?"
According to a study quoted in William D. Hendricks Exit Interviews: Revealing Stories of Why People are Leaving the Church (Moody Press, 1993), annual defections from Christianity in Europe and North America run just over 1.8 million. In terms of actual church members, the number is much higher: 2.2 million -- or about six thousand a day. Though many Christian leaders and authors emphasize evangelizing the unchurched, few are struggling to stem the flow of the de-churched. Yet, the complaints of those who leave—physically or psychologically—are legitimate and touch the heart of the church's understanding of its mission and witness.
Unnoticed, the de-churched rarely get to ask the essential question, "How can I restore damaged faith?" Instead, they are left to wonder, "How can I get as far away as possible from this wounding experience?" Before that happens, the church needs to provide vehicles for safe, healing relationships that support the dechurched as they struggle to dismantle their damaged faith and rebuild it from the ground up.
This reconstruction process admits of no quick fixes or easy paths. It calls for a gradual restoration that encompasses four areas: engaging in personal healing and recovery; identifying systemic issues within one's situation; decontaminating the Bible; and reworking one's theological understandings.
The de-churched need ministries of personal healing and recovery in order to address old wounds. It is possible to deny that one's pain exists, pretend it is not there, or bury it deep within the soul. But sooner or later, it will reappear, often in ugly and unproductive forms. Through appropriate ministry, God's spirit can change denial into truth-telling, bitterness into restoration, captivity into redemption. Especially for those who are de-churched because of abuse, trauma, or dysfunction, personal healing is an integral part of the journey. This process, which can take years, begins with providing an inner space where a renewed faith can gestate and ultimately form.
The second aspect of restoring a damaged faith is to identify systemic issues of healing. So often wounded people remain in their own little worlds, convinced—though it is rarely true—that no one else knows the pain that they feel.
I will never forget, years ago in the church my husband and I co-pastor, when a young college student stood up during our Sunday sharing time and said, "I've been felling very suicidal, and I really need everyone's prayers." My husband was preaching that day, and he invited anyone who wanted to surround this student with special prayers to join her in the church's prayer room. As people slowly rose from their seats, I noticed a powerful connection between them: All those who stood with her had struggled with severe depression, yet none had shared their struggle with anyone at church except for my husband and me. Before this moment, each was convinced that he or she was alone.
Paradoxically, those who feel alone in their woundedness also sense a link that extends beyond their immediate faith community. The gay man or lesbian woman who is ostracized from the church knows the personal pain of rejection, but also knows the social reality of homophobia. The woman pastor who is ignored by her colleagues knows the frustration of personal invisibility, but also knows the social power of patriarchy in the church.
In our individualistic society, we need to integrate the personal with the systemic, to realize that our own healing is frequently bound to that of our neighbor. As we address issues of personal healing, let us also confront the social realities reflected by those personal issues. Working for systemic change can empower those whose wounds once seemed unique and isolating.
A third challenge for the de-churched person seeking a restored faith is to decontaminate the Bible. For those who have been wounded in God's name—by the church, by Christians—the Bible is often viewed as toxic: a frightening collection of judgments, demands, and damnation. A woman once told me, "My God is really like the Great Policeman in the Sky." Often the de-churched have experienced the Bible as a policing manual, not a life-giving message of hope.
For these reasons, many individuals reject the Bible totally or remain forever locked in combat with it. This need not be so. But for a person's relationship to Scripture to change, toxic uses of the Bible must be replaced by new understandings. Damaging messages must be re-examined. Christ's word of release to the captives must be reclaimed. The church's complicity with injustice must be acknowledged. Facing such issues head-on allows the de-churched person to identify prior distortions of Scripture and reclaim the text within a broader biblical context of liberating Good News.
This process of reclaiming the Scriptures is related to the fourth aspect of restoring one's faith: reworking one's theological understandings. A battered woman who justifies her abuser's behavior on the basis of "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands" (Eph 5:22, KJV), needs to develop a deeper understanding of gender and spirituality in the Bible. She also needs to re-examine her understanding of obedience, servanthood, and the nature of sin, and to hear the prophetic denunciations of injustice and violence that pulsate through the text. With these, she can reclaim her identity as a precious child of God. An abusive theology must be dismantled if it is to be replaced by a liberating theology rooted in the message of Scripture.
Restoring a damaged faith is one of the most challenging journeys any person could undertake. In many years of ministry, I have seen more people choose to avoid this journey than choose to tackle it. But I have also seen tenacious strugglers return to the church after five, ten, even twenty years, bringing with them the untold riches of a faith that is hard-won and well worth keeping. God is calling the dechurched to travel this road to renewed faith. God is also calling the church to be present, mindful and open to these companions on the journey.
Any church that takes seriously a call to minister among the de-churched will itself be transformed by that ministry. Initially, the de-churched often have a clearer sense of what they do not want the church to be like than what they actually want or need in congregational life. If they do harbor a profound sense of what the church should be, it is obscured by intense reactions to what the church has been in their experience. Thus a positive vision may be very difficult to call forth at first.
But once that vision is called forth, once the dechurched come to the point of giving the church another chance, they are nearly always determined to "do church" in a different way. For them, the church cannot reject people who are different or who stumble frequently while seeking to follow Christ; it cannot ignore the trauma of mental illness and its impact on family members.
The newly returned dechurched want a church that offers a solid theology of thoughtful answers, a commitment to personal growth over numerical increase, a self-understanding that is inclusive and humble, a sensitivity to the pains and needs of the world. For the de-churched, the church cannot be superficial or uncomfortable in dealing with the struggles of its members.
Churches ministering among such individuals must value honesty and embrace questioning as valid vehicles for spiritual growth. If people cannot speak openly in church—ask their questions, express their doubts, tell their stories—they will go elsewhere to find authentic community and support. The church that seeks to be present with the de-churched needs to cultivate a spirit of openness and unconditional welcome. Anything less will quickly be exposed as sham by those who have previously been hurt in their encounters with Christians.
The wounds felt by the de-churched frequently extend to negative reactions and powerful world associations triggered by "God-talk," the language of faith used by the church. Words such as "born-again," "saved," or "sinner" may carry painful associations with past experiences of judgment or exclusion. Other words such as "evangelism" or "stewardship" may be code words for strong-arm techniques to draw money or extra bodies into the church. The use of all-male language for God may trigger painful relationships with an estranged father. The word "obey" may have chilling associations with prior abuse.
Congregations ministering among the de-churched must work hard to become competent translators of biblical concepts into language that is as fresh and uncluttered with negative associations as possible. "Born-again" may be translated in terms of "being made new" or "coming to Christ." "Reconciled to God" can be substituted for "saved." Instead of "evangelism," one can speak of "sharing one's faith." Sensitivity to language is a crucial aspect of communicating the Gospel anew among the de-churched.
Long after the healing process has begun, the de-churched may be able to talk about the painful word associations they have experienced in the past. But it takes a significant amount of self-knowledge to do so. In the meantime, the church bears the weight of responding with compassion and sensitivity.
Finally, the church ministering among the de-churched must acknowledge its limitations. So many wounded people will never attend the church that reaches out to them. The process of healing may be years in the making, with the church simply planting seeds of hope along the way.
Support for such ministry can be found in the words of the Apostle Paul: "Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God's servants, working together; you are God's field, God's building." (1 Cor. 3: 7-9).
Some of us who continue to labor hard and long within the church identify with the alienation and pain the de-churched feel. We, too, bear the scars of commitment. We, too, react negatively at times to the "God-talk" that surrounds us. We, too, yearn for the day when personal healing and justice-making will be everyday experiences in the life of the church.
That very identification can enhance our efforts to accompany the de-churched on the road toward healing and wellness. It also provides the unique opportunity to experience, in their transformation, our own transformation as well.
by Beth Schaefer
reprinted from CyberView, Special Issue: MOVEMENT (1999)
"Do you remember how old you were when you started viewing the opposite sex as attractive? That's when I realized that I liked boys more than girls," explains Roger*, whose father is a prominent figure in a local Adventist Church. "At the time, there wasn't anything to call it. I just knew that I didn't feel the same way for girls that I did for boys, and I went all through college thinking the same way.
"Growing up, I didn't feel that there was anyone to talk to because I was afraid of being viewed as evil; I was afraid of having someone in the church take me to counseling every week. Then during college, I met someone within the church who was gay and we became best friends. I finally realized what those feelings meant and what I was going to have to deal with for the rest of my life."
Roger considers himself lucky. "I wasn't one of those people who had a hard time dealing with it either. I was much happier once I accepted what it was and who I was ... am. I was tired of caring, especially after growing up in the church and having to deal with all the gossiping."
I've just gotten back from eating dinner at a restaurant by myself as I think about Roger's situation. Consequently, I had plenty of time to observe my surroundings and people-watch. I couldn't help noticing a young couple directly across from me, gazing into each other's eyes and leaning in toward each other, getting as close as the table would allow them. They shared some serious conversation and laughter. At one point, the young man even moved from his chair to join his significant other in her seat, gently kissed her cheek and whispered something in her ear. True love. How wonderful. How natural.
But what if it didn't come so naturally? What if, from the time you can remember, you felt this similar inclination for members of the same sex, like Roger explained? Although an inconceivable thought for most, it appears to be a natural reality for many.
But, before you pull out your scientific and spiritual boxing gloves, ready to argue that last statement, listen more to this young Adventist's appeal to communicate and get some convincing answers.
Roger was very successful in getting dates with the girls that all of the guys would talk about. But before anything physical happened, he would quickly end the relationship and then move on to the next one. At the same time, he always remembers being much more interested in the guys.
When Roger decided to "come out" in college, different avenues began opening up. He sang for awhile. That didn't pan out and then he got into choreography and dance. Each thing took him a little further away from the church he grew up believing in.
At the same time, he tried to push all of what the church had taught him about homosexuality out of his mind. "I know that the church views it as wrong, but this is how I've been ever since I was born, this is what has always been going on inside."
"I believe the church's stance is, if you have to go strictly by the Bible, you can come to church, and if being gay is how you were born, then that's fine, but there is no acting on it. My question then is do we treat people by categories? You are an alcoholic, you are a drug addict, you are a sex offender, and you are gay. Now when you have those first three types of people in the church, the church leaders say you can come back to church as long as you're not doing those things anymore. But if you're going to align homosexuality with that, are you saying that you can come back to church as long as you don't date? That is nowhere near the same thing as the other three."
Or is it?
Roger now attends church every so often, by himself. Although for the most part his church knows and accepts that he is gay, he's not ready to face their reaction when he brings a friend with him.
Or should he?
Roger spoke to his parents again a few months ago about his desire to be accepted, as he is, into the church. They told him to attend, "'But keep your life to yourself. You're not there for the people, you're there for God. Just keep it to yourself.' But my question is, why go to church and be dishonest about it and not be yourself? I don't see the reason," he said. "I don't see why you should have to live your entire life as someone else and then get to the end and think, I have just wasted my entire life. I definitely do not want that."
Roger also knows a few gay male church members who decided they would try to live a normal life and got married-some even had children. But, he also noticed that they all, at one point or another, gave back in to their homosexual feelings. He believes that if church leaders open up communication on the topic, making it less of a taboo, it will help reduce the number of these cases because people won't need to hide.
But is that the answer?
It is obvious that this is not an issue that Roger takes lightly. He looks for solutions to his predicament but tries to hide the ugliness of it. Still, the harsh realities don't escape him.
"By discussing my situation and thoughts, I'm hoping to first and foremost raise communication about the subject, and eventually, to break barriers. I don't expect everyone to welcome this topic with open arms. Right now it is taboo, but so much of this is going on within the Christian community and a lot of people are seriously depressed. As my father reminded me last week, 'The church has got to get ready. Christ is coming back soon.' Then to know the Bible says that this is immoral-but homosexuals must still deal with this issue. I mean, what could be more depressing than to think that is what you are and know what God is saying about it?"
Roger explains that homosexuals aren't usually looking for acceptance, but respect; they already deal with rejection in society. "I mean, it's kind of stupid to expect that everyone will want to just open up a whole gay wing of the church. No, just acknowledgment, and then once communication is there, we won't need to wear a big ole T-shirt that says 'I'm gay.' I want to be a regular member within the church, but also for people to know this is who I am.
"For the youth that are growing up in the church now, here is a chance for them to learn what is going on and not to have to go through this unacceptance. The church needs to be a little more sensitive. To hear, 'You are evil. You are going to die,' these kids are going to grow up wondering what they're going to do. They figure they must be evil. I think it's time for the Church to try and deal with it."
The book Seventh-day Adventists Believe ... states what the Church believes the Bible teaches about homosexuality. The text, less than one page long, in part says, "God created male and female to differ from and yet to complement each other. And when He did so, He oriented their sexual feelings toward the opposite sex."
It explains that sin has affected this basic orientation in some people, bringing about an "inversion." This phenomenon, as its called, if acted upon, will produce a serious distortion of the image of God in men and women, a condemnation to Him.
It refers us to Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, and Romans 1:27, which all state what the Lord says about two people of the same gender having sex together. But, more importantly, it instructs us on how, as Christians, we ought to treat not just homosexuals, but "all persons who are trapped in behaviors or relationships that cause anxiety, shame, and guilt."
"Christians will deal redemptively with those who are afflicted by this disorder. They will reflect the attitude Christ took toward the woman taken in adultery: "'Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.' (John 8:11, KJV) No behavior is beyond the reach of God's healing grace," it adds.
Ellen G. White doesn't seem to comment specifically on homosexuality, but she did say, "We are not ignorant of the fall of Sodom because of the corruption of its inhabitants ... We see the very sins now existing in the world which were in Sodom and which brought upon her the wrath of God, even to her utter destruction" (Testimonies on Sexual Behavior, p. 120).
After reading these statements by the church and the Bible, I can't help but think more of Christ and the example He set while on the earth. In the Bible, we see Him time and time again dealing with all sorts of sinners-whores, thieves, liars, the demon-possessed, and the list goes on.
But, I wonder how many people have ever before pictured Christ being approached by a homosexual or lesbian? How would He have responded? Isn't it assumed that God would have wrapped His arms around His beloved gay child and said He loved him or her? Wouldn't He have turned to the accusers and told them to cast a stone only if they were sinless? What would He have instructed Christians to do?
Hate crimes are increasing against homosexuals in this unforgiving world. According to the Human Rights Campaign, gays and lesbians are the third highest target of hate crimes in the U.S., below race and religion.
We saw an example of one of these hate crimes by the torture and eventual death of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard from the University of Wyoming in October 1998. According to reports, the two young murderers never set out to kill the 5' 2", 105-pound student. Instead they are quoted as saying they just wanted to get back at Matthew for making passes at one of them in front of friends at a campus bar.
Many people held up their fists in anger at the lack of laws protecting people against hate crimes, but others went so far as to picket this young man's funeral.
Where should our church stand? If we turn a cold shoulder to young people struggling with sexual identity, or as the church states, this phenomenon, maybe we'll push them further away from the church and God, leaving them to the wolves, so to speak.
There are presumed to be hundreds of thousands of homosexuals in the world today, and undoubtedly, the number will continue to grow until the Lord returns. Our Church may have taken a stand on what it believes about the morality of homosexuality, but maybe it is up to us as individuals in the Church to know how to care for them. Where do we draw the line between accepting and loving them, and condoning a lifestyle that is evidently wrong in the Bible, the basis for which we form our religious beliefs? Are we supposed to transform them to a normal life first?
Assuming that a majority of homosexuals cannot change their sexual identity, a topic still hotly debated today (see Newsweek, August 17, 1998, "Gay for Life?"), what are they to do? Homosexuals claim to feel as strongly towards those of the same sex as the heterosexual feels for the opposite sex, so how do they try to ignore those feelings?
Think for a minute what it would feel like if you were forced to forget the attraction you have for your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife. Maybe for just a moment, you can possibly understand the feelings that Roger has and the frustration he must feel.
One church group, unfortunately not Adventists, formed a statement, found on their Web page, to provide homosexuals with a promise. They state, "If you are a homosexual, God wants to save you and not condemn you. He knows that you are trapped by homosexuality and cannot seem to change yourself. So, do not think that your salvation comes through being able to meet His standard of perfection, because nobody can do it. Everyone, whether homosexual or straight, is a sinner. We all need God's grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ who is the Son of God; only He can reconcile you to God."
As Roger's father stated, the Lord is coming soon. And as His coming approaches, the Bible indicates that more and more sin will be revealed in the world. I think we can all agree that as Christians, we are responsible for sharing His love with all whom we are in contact with. Everyone needs hope in a future with Christ. John 3:16 reminds us that whoever believes in Him won't perish but will have eternal life. Are homosexuals to be exempt? And if not, how are we going to make sure they, too, are saved?
*Roger is a pseudonym.
Jesus Talks to Gays - and Us
by Carrol Grady
Jesus apparently did not address the issue of homosexuality during His earthly ministry. It probably wasn’t an issue among the Jews of those days. But can we draw any parallels from His life and teachings to suggest what He might say if He were to come today, when it is an issue?
He identified with the outcasts
The Jews regarded tax collectors as outcasts of society. Is anyone today more of an outcast than the homosexual?
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?" On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Matthew 9:10-13
Matthew, Zaccheus, prostitutes, Samaritans, women . . . Jesus was constantly scandalizing the good Jews by preferring the company of "unclean" and despised people, because they recognized their need and the Jewish leaders did not. If Jesus were here today, would He be found at Kinship Kampmeeting? Would He be championing the efforts of those few courageous churches which actively welcome gays and lesbians to worship with them?
He loved the lost
Jesus was so anxious to get His point across that He told three different stories about His care and concern for those who have become lost and His joy when they are found.
In the first story He tells of a woman’s frantic search for a lost coin, perhaps the only thing standing between her and starvation. In the second story He portrays the shepherd who leaves his flock and urgently hunts for the one lost sheep, trying not to panic at thoughts of wolves and mountain lions. In the third story He shows us a Father who does not prevent his son from rejecting his counsel, but who yearns over His beloved rebel with every fiber of his being, who cannot stop gazing into the distance for the first sign that he is turning toward home. And the ending for each of these stories is the same: a joyous, pull-out-all-the-stops, raise-the-roof celebration party!
Could Jesus be telling us that this is the way He feels about those gays and lesbians who have left the church in despair? About those whose ways of coping with their orientation may not be what we think they should be? If they should dare to show their faces in our church, would Jesus want us to welcome them? Would He quote Isaiah’s prophecy that says, "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out?" What would He think if our judgmental attitudes blew out their flickering flame of hope?
He had different priorities
Meticulous Sabbath-keeping, careful tithing, observance of the "standards of behavior" - these were the basis on which the Pharisees determined a person’s righteousness. But Jesus placed His emphasis on different behaviors:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me . . . I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:35, 36, 40
It’s not so much the things we do for our friends that count, as the things we do for the "least of these" whom Jesus claims as His brethren. He reiterated this emphasis when answering the question, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus’ story took pains to point out that it was the despised Samaritan who proved to be the good neighbor. Would Jesus commend the gay men today who tenderly care for their partners who are dying of AIDS? Would He label as good neighbors those gays and lesbians working to rescue "street children" who have been disowned because of their sexual orientation?
He warned against judging
Jesus knew how much easier it is for us to see someone else’s sins than our own. In His "Sermon on the Mount" He gave a humorous illustration to remind us how foolish this is.
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged . . . Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:1-5
Jesus’ most scathing rebukes were reserved for the "hypocrites" - those who were trying to "look good," be "good examples" to the sinners around them, and tell others how they should live. Since only God can see what is in a man’s heart, He is the only one qualified to judge. Remember how Jesus responded to those who brought the woman caught in adultery and threw her at His feet? Remember the story He told at Simon’s feast when He read Simon’s thoughts about Mary? If Jesus were here today would He encourage us to stop judging homosexuality to be the "worst" sin? Would He suggest that, because we have so little understanding about homosexuality and about the struggles homosexuals face, we ought to leave judging them up to God?
He cautioned again about trying to rid the church of sinners: The servants asked him, "Do you want us to go and pull them up?" "No," he answered, "because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest." Matthew 13:28-30
Could Jesus be telling us that weeding out sinners isn’t our job?
He actively reached out to the marginalized
Instead of simply speaking, as He did for most of His miracles, when Jesus healed lepers He reached out and touched them - the untouchables. He gave them the personal attention they most needed. He demonstrated sympathy for the trials they suffered. He treated them with respect.
I believe that if Jesus were here today He would tell us He wants us to be sensitive and understanding, warm and loving, to those who are "different" from us. That He wants us to identify with gays and lesbians and their heartaches. That He wants us to love and search for those who have gotten lost. That He wants us to be good neighbors to those who have a homosexual orientation. That He wants us to stop judging others, even if we’re sure they are wrong. That He wants us to get personally involved and be available for Him to love others through us.
He wants us to extend His invitation, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 Can you hear Him talking to you?
When Your Child Doesn't Follow Your Lifestyle
by Kate McLaughlin
reprinted from Women of Spirit, Spring, 1995
My thoughts had been in a turmoil ever since the heart-chilling moment when Danny*, our youngest, called to announce that he and Angela had decided not to get married. They'd been engaged for two and a half years and were just at the point of ordering their wedding invitations when he dropped this bombshell. My husband Michael and I were very fond of Angela and had been delighted about their wedding plans.
Suddenly my heart filled with a sense of foreboding, a premonition that there was more to this than Danny was telling us. His reason for the broken engagement seemed vague and unsatisfactory. "We don't share the same philosophy of life," he'd told us, adding, "but we're still good friends."
Soon after Danny's call Michael, a busy church administrator, went on a six-week trip to South America, and I was left alone with my thoughts, trying to figure out what had gone wrong. The worry simmered in the back of my mind, and gradually memories that had been buried in my subconscious began to surface. I remembered the frequent vague feelings of uneasiness that I had tried to ignore.
As I realized the direction my intuitions were leading, I panicked. Hoping to set my fears at rest, yet terrified of what I might learn, I finally picked up the phone and called the college pastor to whom Danny and Angela had gone for premarital counseling. My voice shook and I felt as though I could hardly breathe as I told him that the terrible possibility had occurred to me that my son might be a homosexual, and asked if it was something I should talk to Danny about.
My life has been forever divided, before and after that terrible moment indelibly imprinted in my memory. After an uncomfortable silence, the pastor said stiffly, "Talk to him. But be careful not to say anything that might drive him into a lifestyle neither of us would want."
I hung up as screams of rage, pain, and disbelief exploded from deep inside. My heart violently rejected this knowledge, even as my mind acknowledged that it was true. A flood of torturing questions swept over me: Is Danny going to be lost? Will he never get married or have children? Will he die of AIDS? How could this possibly have happened? Is it our fault? Finally I was left with one last, sorrowful questions: What has this been like for Danny?
By the time I learned of Danny's orientation, he had already come to the conclusion that in spite of years of desperate prayers for God to change him, this was something he was going to have to live with.
"I always knew there was something different about me," he told us later. It was in seventh-grade Bible class that the "something different" had been defined and named.
"It was something I could never have talked to you about," he said, but he had spent hours agonizing over it with his academy Bible teacher and the father of one of his classmates.
One of the first things I realized after learning about Danny's homosexuality was that some of my preconceived ideas must be wrong. I had always thought that homosexuals were perverted and obsessed with sex. But I knew Danny had a deeply spiritual nature. While not an angel, he'd always been a good kid who tried to do what was right. He was studying to be a teacher and hoped, eventually, to be a missionary. Suddenly I felt an overwhelming need to learn more about homosexuality, so I began reading everything I could find about the topic. I had to understand how this could have happened to a lovable Christian boy raised in a Christian home. I discovered that there are many different beliefs and theories about its causes and treatment. Eventually, after filtering them through my understanding of God and the Bible, I came to the conclusion that for the true homosexual the orientation is just another one of the results of living in a sinful world. The homosexual does not choose his or her orientation, I concluded, but God asks, and can enable the person with this orientation, to shun the homosexual lifestyle.
For a long time after facing the reality of Danny's situation, I felt very much alone. Shame and embarrassment made me feel that there was no one I could talk to about it. Michael and I held leadership positions in the church. What would people think if they knew our son was a homosexual?
It was several months before I was even able to tell Michael. Sensing how much Danny needed our love and support, I was afraid Michael might react in some way that would alienate our son. Instead, he took the news quite calmly. He was sure it was just a phase Danny was going through.
I think most parents who discover their child is homosexual feel a sense of loss similar to death, and must work through the various stages of grief. For a long time Michael was stuck in the stage of denial. He was sure that if he could just make Danny understand how homosexuality would affect his life he would get over this "phase." When that didn't work, he preferred not to think or talk about it.
I, on the other hand, spent a long time in the anger stage. I was angry with God for allowing such a terrible thing to happen to the wonderful, talented boy who was our son. I was angry with myself for not recognizing the problem sooner, wondering if perhaps I could have prevented it. At the least, I could have avoided making some harsh statements about homosexuals that must have hurt Danny deeply.
And I felt angry at the church for the prejudice of many of its members, for the attitude of revulsion and rejection that they displayed. As I came to realize how many families secretly harbor this hidden pain, I was angry that church leadership continued to ignore the problem, finding it easier to talk about AIDS, or even child abuse, than homosexuality.
Both Michael and I struggled with feelings of guilt as we faced the popular view that homosexuality is caused by a distant father or a controlling mother. Michael had been away from home a lot as Danny was growing up. and I had been very close to Danny because of our shared love for music, art, and writing. But God finally helped us realize that, while we had undoubtedly made mistakes in bringing up our children, we were not responsible for Danny's orientation.
For some time in our different ways of reacting, Michael and I coped with our grief alone, but eventually were able to share our pain and sorrow, and even grew closer together. As we and Danny continued to reach out and try to understand each other, in spite of our often fumbling attempts, we were able to maintain a close and loving relationship. Most important of all, this experience drove us to our knees and brought us closer to God.
The last six years have not been easy. When Danny finally came to terms with being homosexual, he wanted to be open about it and stop pretending to be something he was not. He told several of his friends, and the news got around. Some boys in the dorm began harassing him unmercifully and even made threats against his life.
He had always been a good student, but at the end of his college career he seemed to flounder. He did not get his teaching credentials and couldn't decide what else to do with his English major. After graduation he got a job as a secretary. Feeling that God had refused to answer his prayers, he went through a long period of doubt and separation from God. He met Steve, a Catholic boy, who invited him to sing in the choir at the cathedral where he worshipped. In a few months they began living together and committed themselves to a monogamous relationship.
About a year ago Danny called and told us his faith in God had been restored. He said that he and Steve had repented of their homosexual lifestyle and had decided to become celibate. And he had decided to join the Catholic Church.
What mixed feelings this news precipitated! We rejoiced that he had come back to God and left a lifestyle that was outside of God's will. But it was difficult to accept that this had been accomplished through another church. However, his experience is so joyful and genuine that we have to believe God is leading and will continue to lead. We have seen many homosexuals find love and acceptance in non-SDA churches, and pray that soon a new day of caring concern for those who struggle with this orientation will dawn in our church.
To other parents who are dealing with this kind of situation, I would offer the following suggestions:
- Model God's unconditional love. Loving your son or daughter does not mean that you condone a sinful lifestyle. God loved us while we were yet sinners.
- Reach out for help and comfort. When I finally found the courage to talk to my pastor and close friends, I found that nearly all were supportive and sympathetic. And I found others who shared my heartache and understood what I was going through.
- No matter how distressing your child's situation may be, never stop praying. If you ask in faith, God can work miracles.
*all names have been changed
A Homosexual In My Congregation?
by Kate McLaughlin
Reprinted from Ministry - International Journal of the Seventh-day Adventist Ministerial Association, November, 1996
How should a church extend its ministry to the homosexual in its midst?
Seven years ago we learned that our youngest son is a homosexual. At that point our ignorance and prejudice met head-on with our love for our son. I'm glad to say that love won out. Since that time we have learned a great deal about homosexuality. We have also come to realize how many people's lives are touched by this hidden pain. As I have become more able to open up about our son's homosexuality, and especially since I wrote a book about our family's experience (My Son, Beloved Stranger), I have been amazed to discover that nearly everyone I talk with about it has a friend or relative who is homosexual.
And my son? What happened to him? As a child, he was always sensitive to spiritual things. He gave his heart to God when he was 9 years old and was baptized a year later. His ambition was to be a missionary teacher. He told us he prayed all through his childhood and teens that God would change him. When that didn't happen, he turned his back on God near the end of his college years. He met another boy who was gay, and before long they were living together. Although he had decided he didn't believe in God, he and his friend loved music and sang in the choir of a church in his community. After a few years he found his way back to God, decided to follow a celibate lifestyle - and joined the church in which he had been singing.
Throughout all this, in spite of our pain and disappointment, we have maintained a close and loving relationship with our son, recognizing that God continues to love us even when we make mistakes. We see his coming back to God, even though it is not through our church, and his decision to be celibate as an answer to prayer, because we have witnessed such a vibrant and joyful change in his life that we cannot doubt God's leading. The story isn't over yet.
What does the homosexual need from a pastor?
I suspect that many church members, including pastors, still view homosexuality as we did before learning about our son - simply as a sexual perversion that people choose, probably for "kicks." The truth is that people don't consciously choose sexual orientation. The homosexual's choice is whether or not to follow a homosexual lifestyle.
When you understand that, you begin to realize some of the difficulties homosexuals face, especially those who have been brought up in a religious home. Conditioned by the attitude of both society and the church toward homosexuals, yet recognizing this dread thing in themselves, they learn early to deny a part of their personality and to wear a protective mask around others. A crisis of faith often develops when their prayers for deliverance go unanswered. And when they finally come to terms with being homosexual, they often want to stop hiding and be open about it, but are prevented by their fear of rejection by church and society.
The debate still rages, both in scientific and religious circles, over the cause of homosexuality. My personal conclusion, based on extensive reading and talking to a fair number of homosexuals and their families, is that probably most are born with a homosexual orientation that, outside of a divine miracle, cannot be changed.
Others, I think, have a confused sexual identity because of childhood sexual abuse, and these may possibly be helped by therapy. Then there are those in the middle of the spectrum between homosexuality and heterosexuality, called bisexuals, who are attracted to both sexes. If strongly motivated by the desire to obey God, they can choose to limit their romantic attachments to the opposite sex. They, I believe, are the ones who can be helped by the "change" ministries of various denominations.
One common misconception that many people have is that it is a common practice for homosexuals to try to lure young boys into homosexuality. Much of the confusion in this arena results from confusing homosexuals with pedophiles, those who are sexually attracted to children.
Of course, I don't claim to be an expert. There are many different opinions, and I don't think anyone fully understands this complex problem. But if you really want to help homosexuals and their families, you owe it to them to become more knowledgeable about these complexities.*
The stigma attached to being homosexual breeds secrecy and shame. The church should provide a safe place where those with this orientation can be honest about their problem. They need a place where they can talk about their confusing emotions and their resulting spiritual problems, a place where others engaged in the battle against sin will pray with and for them.
As a pastor, once you have put aside your own ignorance and prejudice, you can help educate your church, too, and encourage them to face the fact that a significant minority of our members struggle with a homosexual orientation.
To my knowledge, the only attempt the Seventh-day Adventist Church has made to provide help for homosexuals has been to unofficially back Homosexuals Anonymous, an organization that attempts to help homosexuals change into heterosexuals. There have been moral problems in this organization in the past. And because of this and other considerations, I believe they hold out an unrealistic expectation for the person with a true homosexual orientation.
Another Adventist organization for homosexuals is Kinship. Because most of its members subscribe to an alternative interpretation of Scripture and believe that a monogamous homosexual relationship is acceptable for them, the Adventist Church does not officially recognize Kinship. Despite the draw-backs of Kinship, the organization does provide something our church does not offer - a loving, supportive atmosphere for those homosexuals who love their church, but find no escape from their orientation.
I believe there is a compelling need for our church to provide a publicly acknowledged support group for those homosexuals who desire to live a celibate lifestyle. They need to experience warm acceptance and support from other church members, who understand that, like anyone engaged in serious warfare against sin, they may not win every battle. We need to show them the same forgiveness and patience as we do someone who occasionally gives in to the temptation of pride, jealousy, or heterosexual deviation.
The deepest and most basic emotional need of the human being is for love and companionship. Single heterosexuals can fill this need, to some extent, by sharing their lives with a roommate of the same sex, but even this is problematic and probably not possible for the homosexual. Thus theirs is often the loneliest of lives.
Recognizing this, the church ought to reach out to them in love, including them as cherished members of the church family in compensation for the normal desires for home and family which they must renounce.
The church itself will be well compensated for its efforts to encourage and retain its non-practicing homosexual members. As a group, they are known to be highly blessed with gifts of an artistic nature, which they can offer in God's service.
What do parents of homosexuals need from their pastor?
As a pastor, you need to understand that when parents first learn their son or daughter is a homosexual, they usually fall into a state of shock. Even though they may have been aware that something about their child was different, they have probably never admitted to themselves the unthinkable possibility that it could have anything to do with homosexuality.
They may experience any of a whole range of emotions: anger, denial, grief, guilt, fear, or shame. Dreams of their child's future lie shattered about them. If, as frequently happens, they learn about their child's homosexuality and diagnosis of AIDS at the same time, their shock and grief are profoundly compounded. Husbands and wives often react in markedly different ways, and this is likely to put stress on their marriage.
When their child "comes out of the closet," parents literally take his or her place in it. Feeling that they must somehow be responsible, they tend to take on the stigma the church and society has attached to homosexuality. Very few parents feel able to talk to anyone about it, yet talking is what they most need.
A pastor needs to be aware of any small indication parents may give of the emotional turmoil they are going through. This might be revealed in asking veiled questions about homosexuality or in an unexplained depression or other sudden mood change.
Utmost tact is needed in reaching out to these parents. Often they are longing for someone just to notice their distress and ask them what is the matter. Their hearts may be bursting with questions and emotions they need to express, but they are unable to bring the subject up themselves. You may be able to create an opening by simply asking "How have things been going lately?" or "I've noticed that something seems to be troubling you. Is there anything you'd like to talk about?" It is also important to continue creating opportunities for them to talk; it may take some time before they feel safe enough to discuss what is really on their hearts.
Probably one of the first questions that occurs to Christian parents after discovering that their child is homosexual is Will my child be lost? Usually this is because they do not understand the difference between a homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior.
You can reassure them that God loves and wants to save everyone. He does not hold people responsible for a condition over which they have no choice - only for the way they choose to relate to it. And if they make the wrong choice, they can be led by the Holy Spirit to repent of that choice.
You can help parents understand that the two most important things they can do for their son or daughter are to show the same unconditional love that God showed us while we were yet sinners, and to pray that the Holy Spirit will work in the life of their child. Often things may get worse before they get better, but a parent's love, understanding, support, and acceptance can hasten their child's reconciliation with God. Many parents feel that unless they are continually reminding their child that what he or she is doing is wrong, they will be seen as condoning sinful behavior, but this only alienates them from their family as well as God. The Holy Spirit can accomplish what we cannot.
I believe it will be a sign of our church's spiritual maturity when we recognize that this complex problem affects our church, when we are willing to bring it out into the open and discuss it with honesty and frankness, and when we offer sympathetic support to those who struggle with one of the most confusing and painful of sin's curses on the human race.
How wonderful it would be if our church could lead the way in showing caring, Christian compassion to homosexuals, neither ostracizing them for an orientation over which they have no ultimate control, nor encouraging them to accept something less than God's best for their lives, but instead supporting them with love and understanding as they seek to follow God's will. My prayer is that you, as a pastor, will help to make this happen.
Are Homosexuals God's Children?
by Kate McLaughlin
reprinted from Adventist Review, April, 1997, NAD issue
A parent learns of her son's orientation and struggles to understand
If you had asked me nine years ago what I knew about homosexuals I would have replied emphatically that they were disgusting men, depraved and perverted, who were obsessed with sex, and furthermore, that the Bible said they would not enter heaven.
My dogmatic opinion was based on a lifetime of absorbing subtle messages from society and the church. I had never really given the subject a great deal of thought, and why should I? I didn't actually know any homosexuals, and as a minister's wife I certainly didn't think I would ever come in contact with anybody like that.
And then one dark day I discovered that my own son is a homosexual. That made all the difference in the world. Why? Because I know my son. And he is not at all like what I thought I "knew" about homosexuals.
Danny is a gentle person, thoughtful and considerate of others. He is intelligent, articulate, and talented in music, writing, and art. Most of all, he is deeply spiritual.
How could a person like Danny be a homosexual? Reeling from the shock of this discovery, I kept wondering, What has this been like for Danny? In the midst of my confusion and grief, I was driven to learn the truth about homosexuality because, obviously, my preconceived ideas were not right.
Weighed down with the shame and stigma attached to homosexuals by society and church, I felt I couldn't talk to anybody about it. Instead, I began reading everything I could find about homosexuality. I read books by Christians and non-Christians, psychiatrists and scientists, parents and homosexuals themselves. I left no stone unturned. And what have I learned, after years of reading, observing and eventually talking to people?
First Steps to Understanding
For starters, I have learned that homosexuality is a condition, not a behavior. Whatever may cause a homosexual orientation, it is not something a person chooses.
Danny told us that from his earliest memories he knew he was "different." In his eighth-grade Bible textbook he read a definition of homosexuals and recognized that this was "how" he was different. For the next eight years he prayed desperately that God would change him, and spent hours agonizing over his problem with a few trusted teachers.
Danny dated girls - always hoping to feel what other boys felt, always disappointed. And then, in college, he met a girl that he did feel something special for and thought he had at last found the answer. He asked her to marry him and waited hopefully for more of the right feelings to come. They never did. After two and a half years he faced the fact that it wasn't going to work, and broke the engagement.
I have since learned that many homosexual men, especially Christians, do get married, hoping this will help them get over their orientation. When this does not happen, the marriage usually breaks up, bringing heartache to the whole family. Although I had mourned the loss of a prospective daughter-in-law that we dearly loved, I am now able to be thankful that she and Danny did not get married.
One of the greatest fears many people, including Christians, have about homosexuals is that they cannot be trusted around children - that they will try to lure young boys or girls into this lifestyle. I learned that this fear results from confusing homosexuals with pedophiles. These individuals - usually men and usually heterosexual - are sexually attracted to children.
Praying for Change
The typical Christian answer to the dilemma of homosexuality is to pray that God will "heal" the homosexual and restore him or her to heterosexuality. A number of Christian "change" ministries testify to this widespread "solution." But as the well-known Baptist sociologist and minister Tony Campolo points out in a video interview (From This Moment, Love), the hope that these ministries offer to homosexuals sets most of them up for disillusionment and despair.
On rare occasions God may change a person's sexual orientation, just as God may occasionally heal a person of cancer. But this is not the way God usually works.
When homosexuals are told that if they just come to God they will be "delivered" from homosexual feelings, but find this doesn't happen, they feel God has rejected them. The most frequent result is that they give up on God and the church and turn to a promiscuous lifestyle. Sometimes their despair is so great that they commit suicide.
What, then, of the success these change ministries claim? Campolo suggests that most individuals who claim success are probably bisexuals who also have a strong religious motivation. As bisexuals, they are able to choose to limit their romantic attachments to persons of the opposite sex. Change ministries, however, are unable to point to a convincing long-term success rate among those who are exclusively homosexual.
The extent to which this hidden pain exists in our church is illustrated by a survey conducted by the Southeastern California Conference, in which 45% of the respondents said they have a close friend or relative who is homosexual (Adventist Review, Aug. 18, 1994).
With this realization, I felt compelled to tell our story to let other parents know they are not alone and to share what I have learned about homosexuality with those in the church whose understanding may be at the place mine was seven years ago. My book, My Son, Beloved Stranger, was published in 1995. I have been amazed at the response. It seems that almost everyone I talk with has a friend or relative who is homosexual. Parents have called and written from all across the country, grateful to finally have someone they can talk to, someone who understands.
Are homosexuals God's children? Did not Jesus befriend prostitutes, including Mary Magdalene? He cast out Mary's demons not just once, but seven times. It was to Mary that He first appeared after His resurrection.
I feel sure that if Jesus walked our earth today He would reach out in love and understanding to those struggling with a homosexual orientation.
As caring Christians, we can make special efforts to include homosexuals as warmly loved and appreciated members of our church family. Since the Seventh-day Adventist Church teaches that God asks them to give up hope of fulfilling their desire for sexual expression, we need to surround them with loving support and acceptance. If they occasionally lost a battle, we should demonstrate the same patience and tolerance for them as we do for ourselves and fellow Christians who slip in their struggles with pride, selfishness, or temper.
I long to see our church take the lead in demonstrating Christian love and compassion for homosexuals, neither condemning them for an orientation over which they have no control, nor encouraging them to accept something less than God's best for their lives, but supporting them with prayer and understanding as they seek to follow God's plan for their loves. I invite you to join me in helping to make this happen.
Unless We Know the Answers
by Barbara Couden
(director of two university counseling centers and faculty member at Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA)
As a therapist who has worked on four campuses of higher education (one of them Adventist) I see firsthand the agony of kids trying to come to terms with feelings they have no control over. I hear stories of how they've tried to explain these feelings to families - only to be told that if they just pray, God will change their evil natures. I see the emotional explosiveness of broken parent-child relationships. I hear stories of Christian parents who try to convince their children to "choose to be normal" and refuse any further discussion about homosexuality. "Choice!" one kid said angrily. "Who would willingly choose to be rejected by our families and society?"
I also end up hearing what kids desperately wish they could say to their parents. But my help and acceptance aren't what they need most. They need to hear mom and dad say that nothing will change their love for them, whether they understand this thing or not.
As I have stood by numerous young adults in their painful questionings, I've realized that I have fewer answers than I once thought I had. How does human sexual orientation develop? What should be done when humankind's tendencies are not in sync with the original divine plan? What would I do and to whom would I turn if I were gay? How do we reconcile the Bible texts on homosexuality with actual life?
What We Know
While there remain more questions than we can answer with certainty, we do know several things:
- Not having all the answers doesn't free us of Christian responsibility to minister in a loving manner. Ministry is not telling others how to manage lives that we wouldn't be able to manage ourselves. Jesus' most effective earthly ministry was showing that God really is on our side. Can we do the same?
- Jesus moved closer to struggling people, not away from them. Tax collectors, prostitutes, those who brought pain upon themselves - He loved them unconditionally. Those (like the paralytic) too weak to know what steps to take were loved, forgiven, healed, and thereby motivated to new life. The lepers, the man at the Pool of Bethesda, the madmen of Gadara, the woman who washed His feet, Zacchaeus - all received Jesus' respectful, kind attentiveness while religious leaders heaped contempt on them.
- Anyone identified by a label is seldom viewed as a real person. Our tendency is to clump people together - elderly, gay, dysfunctional, disabled. This keeps us from knowing these people as unique, lovable individuals whom we wouldn't want to hurt for the world. There's a big difference between identifying someone as "elderly" versus "My grandmother who loves me, grows flowers, and makes great berry pie."
- The tender conviction of the Holy Spirit and the magnificent power that called Jesus from the tomb are sufficient to guide all people into paths He approves of. We forget that God is both our Saviour and Judge. We fail at experiencing restorative relationships because we are so busy trying to act as a conscience for others who live or believe differently than we do. We're afraid to condone sin by our silence, yet we seem to believe that for the sake of truth we can misrepresent Christ by being downright hateful.
- We have much to learn about homosexuality. Experts agree that there is no one cause for being gay. Sexual orientation and behaviors are complex phenomena involving numerous factors, most of which are not determined by us as individuals. Before we take a stand on any aspect of this or any other topic, it is wise to read as much as possible. Open communication with gay persons about their spiritual and social concerns brings the facts into sharper focus. Too often exclusivity and dogmatism are signs of not being adequately informed.
- Numerous gays have been frozen out of meaningful church, family, and heterosexual relationships and have no recourse but to isolate themselves or move toward exclusively gay communities. Do we hang back from associating with homosexuals, only to criticize their social relationships later?
- A support network for Adventist families of gay people exists.* Sharing stories, asking questions, and reading about how others have coped have been lifesavers for many. It is not necessary to withdraw from society or end a relationship with a gay child.
- Before you reach for the mote in your brother's or sister's eye, have you looked at the beam in your own? Have you been honestly able to confront tendencies, habits and attitudes that are unhealthy or sinful? I'm grateful for those who don't come after me when I overeat, lose my temper or feel despondent. We are all subject to moral dilemmas and human weakness. Some seem worse than others, but each one qualifies us for membership in the group Jesus dies to save. Ours is a very complicated world. Paul summed it up beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13: "For now we are looking in a mirror that gives only a dim (blurred) reflection [of reality, as in a riddle or enigma], but then [when perfection comes] we shall see in reality and face-to-face! Now I know in part (imperfectly)' but then I shall know and understand fully and clearly, even in the same manner as I have been fully and clearly known and understood [by God]" (verse 12, Amplified).
Someday we will comprehend the circumstances that impact our lives and those of our loved ones. Until then, let's pray for wisdom, search our own hearts, walk graciously among all peoples, and imitate the One who has gone before us.
*"Someone to Talk to..." a newsletter for Adventist families and friends of gays and lesbians. 13008 234th Street SE, Snohomish, WA 98296
Listen and Love
How Do You Treat Gay People?
by Carrol Grady
Reprinted with permission from Ministry, International Journal for Pastors, August, 2003
Until 15 years ago, I had never walked in the shoes of a homosexual. I never even gave the topic much attention because it never concerned me. Then I learned that our youngest son is gay. That knowledge gave me a new perspective. I was asked to place my feet in my son’s shoes and walk with him.
How our family coped with the experience turned into a book. Since writing that book, I have become involved in ministering to other families going through similar things. I have come to know and love many gay sons and daughters and to appreciate their sensitive and caring nature, their artistic talents, their struggles, and the penetrating depths of their spiritual longings.
I have also learned in talking to pastors that homosexuality is an issue in many congregations—an issue they are all too often unprepared to deal with.
How Would You Respond?
Pastor Wilcox glanced at his watch. It was almost time for his appointment with Paul, the talented college-age son of the head elder. He had revitalized the Sabbath School’s junior department during the recent summer months.
"Good to see you, Paul," the pastor said, smiling, as the slim, dark-haired young man sat down. "It’s great when you students come home for the summer and add your gifts and talents. The junior kids follow you around as if you were the Pied Piper! And it’s so good to have you playing the organ for church again. We’ve missed you and your musical talents around here."
Paul was silent as he stared down at his hands, and Pastor Wilcox began to wonder just what Paul had on his mind. At last Paul drew a resolute breath and looked up. "Pastor Wilcox," he blurted out, "I’m gay, and I don’t know what to do about it."
Few pastors really know how, or feel confident enough to handle a situation such as this constructively and redemptively. How would you respond?
Some pastors might reach for their Bibles and turn to Genesis 19, Leviticus 18, or Romans 1. Would you tell Paul that he just needed to find a nice girl, get married, and his "problem" would go away? Or would you express sympathy for his "handicap" and tell him you would pray for God to give him the strength to remain celibate the rest of his life? Would you refer him to a change ministry and assure him that if he just had enough faith, God would help him overcome? What should a pastor do?
When one young man came in confidence to ask his pastor for help, the pastor announced his "problem" to the whole congregation at the next week’s worship service and asked the assembled church to pray for him.
In another case an outgoing pastor told his replacement what he alone knew—that the church’s popular and enthusiastic young music director was gay (but celibate). The new pastor decided it was his responsibility to exorcise the "demon of homosexuality" from the young man and told the church board about his plans. As a result, the church was split and the music director left the church.
If a pastor is unprepared to deal with such situations, his or her tentative ineptness can drive a wedge between young homosexuals and the church. This, along with church members’ prejudices and ignorance about the reality of homosexuality, has driven many gay young people from the church and from Christ.
Sometimes parents, distressed by the alienating way the church has treated their children, follow them out of the church. Other parents, taking their cue from the harsh, condemning remarks they have heard ministers make, feel they must reject and condemn their children too.
Some pastors are so repulsed by the thought of homosexuality that they react with visceral antipathy. Others have heard so many different theories about homosexuality that they aren’t sure what to believe, say or do. Many simply feel extremely uncomfortable with this sensitive issue. Their first instinct is to offer some platitude or a quick solution and move on to another topic as soon as possible.
The problem is that when gay people bring their concern to the pastor they are like any other parishioner who needs a listening ear and pastoral concern.
Fears of Homosexual People
The fear of "what others would think if they knew" keeps many young people in the "closet." But the burden of living a lie and pretending to be something they are not finally builds to unbearable pressure.
"I’m terrified of what coming out will mean to my life, my future, my friends," laments Jeff from Canada. "I’ve always known that I could never really be myself lest others hate me. Most of my friendships are based on a fundamental lie about myself, so I can’t accept the affirmations and encouragement of my friends. Someone tells me they think I’m wise or a good Christian or a valued friend, and a door slams shut inside of me telling me that they would never say that if they really knew me. I’m starving for affection and acceptance, but can’t seem to accept what I receive because I know it’s based on a lie."
Rogelio writes from the Philippines, "The sufferings of a homosexual person [are] immense and at times almost beyond consolation. As [a] hidden or closet homosexual, I have so many times experienced the despairs of life. It’s so painful to have no one to talk to."
"Every church member I knew was heterosexual and wouldn’t understand how I felt," remembers Dwight from England. "There was absolutely no one to befriend me or to talk to confidentially. Who could I turn to for genuine helpful support and understanding? I didn’t know of anyone at all. I was going through a kind of personal hell!"
The first thing a pastor needs to recognize is how enormously difficult it is for a young man or woman to find the courage to talk to him or her in the first place—what an emotion-laden moment this is and what far-reaching results the pastor's reaction will have. The pastor needs to respond with utmost tact, warmth, and understanding.
Hearing the Loneliness and Confusion
Loneliness, isolation, and confusion are felt by young people as they come to recognize that their feelings of emotional and sexual attraction are different and unacceptable.
"Loneliness? It’s my daily bread. Sometimes it feels like hell," writes Jonathan, an Indonesian student.
"I honestly feel that the sexual temptations are easy to bear compared to the consuming loneliness that so often threatens to devour me. Some days I ache inside for relationship," shares Peter from California.
Rogelio further expresses the confusion of many homosexuals as they try to reconcile the reality of their feelings with the expectations of church and society. "I do not know where to put myself. I am disturbed by my feelings [about a] life that is a lie. I pretend to be a man, but deep inside me is another being crying for help."
Just Be Willing to Listen
Immediately finding a way to "fix it" is an almost automatic reaction when we are confronted with a problem. This is especially true of the male in contemporary Western culture. Because of the nature and values that are a part of the image of today’s pastor, this tendency may be even more prominent in pastors. Thus it is not strange that this is just what the average pastor wants to do when a young person shares his or her devastation because of homosexuality—fix it!
But this is the very thing he cannot do. There is no good, easy answer that is simply going to fix things for this young person. Besides, this is not really what the homosexual person is actually looking for. Instead, his desperate need is for someone to listen, lovingly and non-judgmentally, as he finally pours out all his pent-up feelings.
Homosexuals need someone to come alongside them, to understand the fear and the pain. They need to feel permission to express their desires and longings, even though they may not be approved of. Perhaps this is why most female pastors intuitively know better how to handle this kind of situation.
"I feel like all I’ve ever found in the church is self-hatred, loneliness, pain and a sense of failure," says Jeff, questioning religion’s ability to meet him where he is. "I keep hearing evangelists talking about the emptiness inside that Christ can fill, but I follow Him and I’m still painfully empty inside. So if I’m going to have the pain and loneliness and emptiness, doesn’t it make sense that I might as well go for the ‘fun’ part of the equation too? I mean, if you’re going to get the stomachache, you might as well have the pie that supposedly causes it."
Dwight frankly admits his longings. "I know for sure that the total absence of any gay affection is slowly but surely destroying me as a human being, who has much to give another. I so very much need the understanding dialogue and gentle touch of a sympathetic, compatible friendship that only another homosexual Adventist in my life can satisfy."
Could not at least some of this kind of innate longing be met by a pastor who simply meets it with deep, genuine love and understanding? Surely this is how Jesus would meet such a yearning.
Don’t Add to Their Feelings of Isolation
Many homosexuals have deep spiritual longings. This is amazing when we consider how difficult so many Christians have made it for them to feel part of the church.
"At one stage," says Dwight, "I investigated the possibility of other Christian groups where homosexuals receive love and understanding fellowship. But deep down I knew that such a compromise would ultimately not satisfy."
To meet a homosexual’s tentative reaching out for help with a reminder of biblical proscriptions and church standards is the approach most likely to snuff out the flickering flame of a struggling faith. Instead, we need to draw him or her into the church’s warm, supporting embrace.
We need to change our focus from pointing out and condemning sin to sharing the unconditional love God has lavished on us. We need to provide an atmosphere where the Holy Spirit can convict in the way and at the time He knows is most appropriate.
Most homosexuals eventually leave the church in despair because they find no hope there. But we can change that if we are willing to walk in their shoes; if we can just listen—and love.
Letter to Louise
I have been asked if Louise is real. Yes, and this was a real letter to her. Shortly after I had gone to my first pastorate out of the seminary, Louise invited my wife, Anna Marie, and me to have Sunday dinner with her family. That was over 50 years ago, and she has been one of our dearest friends ever since.
The last time we visited her she told me what I have related in the first sentence of this Letter. At that time I really knew nothing about homosexuality. I did have some suppositions-- quite negative--and had never thought I needed to study it. But her words made me want to know as much as I could learn about it.
When I began reading I soon realized things about myself I now deplore: I was ignorant of the many facts about homosexuality and what the Bible says about it. Without facts I had pre-judged it; I was prejudiced. With little thought I had read into the Bible what I presumed it ought to say instead of reading out of it what it does say. My idea of not needing to study the subject was pure anti-intellectualism. I am now grateful to God that He led me to study.
I read some two score books, most by eminent sociologists, psychologists and theologians. Then I wrote this letter to Louise, reflecting what I now have come to believe is the truth about homosexuality, what the Bible says and what God wants us to think and do about it.
Now I want others to study seriously this matter of such importance to many lives and many churches and denominations. I asked for and received Louise's permission to share the Letter with others. I pray it may be helpful.
Bruce W. Lowe
To: Louise, dear friend, beloved of God
From: Bruce, by the immeasurable grace of God, a brother in Christ
Your heavy-hearted words to Anna Marie and me the last time we saw you will always burn in our hearts: "My brother hates God because God made him gay, and he knows he is going to hell, and I do, too, for that is what the Bible says." I struggled for a response, realizing suddenly that what I knew about gays and what the Bible says about them was very superficial. Anna Marie's immediate response to you was, "No one will go to hell who puts his faith in Jesus Christ." How gloriously true! Whatever else the Bible says or doesn`t say, homosexuals are not necessarily going to hell.
I decided to give serious study to homosexuality and what the Bible says about it. Thank God! There was so much to learn about gays and lesbians--and the Bible--that I am so glad to have come to know. It distresses me, though, to realize that most others of our church people do not know these facts about homosexuality and what the Bible really says, and that their thinking, like my previous concept, is based on suppositions, not facts, and on feelings, which, of course, have no place in a thoughtful consideration of facts.
I am now convinced that the presumption that you and your brother have about his condemnation is unjustified. I have written out what I believe is clearly a correct interpretation of pertinent Biblical passages; it is Appendix B to this letter. A correct interpretation is dependent on following dependable principles of interpretation, so I discuss these principles in Appendix A. In the body of the letter I have put the convictions I have come to into ten statements that I believe you and I and your brother and our church families must come to understand about homosexuality and about gays and lesbians. But I know some will never accept them, so I have something I want to say to those people; I have made it Appendix C.
Forgive the length of this treatise, but I didn't think I could address this matter adequately with fewer words. Also forgive the somewhat academic structure; I felt the nature of my study rather required it. I pray that this will give you some of the welcome insights my study has given me.
One. Homosexuality is an unchangeable nature; it is not a lifestyle choice. Louise, this is an essential basis for understanding homosexuality. There may still be a few knowledgeable people who do not believe this, but practically all behavioral scientists now accept this statement as a fact. Down through history same-gender sex was universally considered to be acts by (heterosexual) people who had chosen to engage in perverted sex. Advances in the sciences, particularly psychology, in the last 100 years have shown that not all people are heterosexual; some are homosexual, and their homosexuality is an unchangeable nature, not a choice.
The concept of a homosexual nature first appeared in print in Europe in 1869 and in the United States in 1889. Acceptance of it spread slowly over the next 100 years. Freud accepted it and discussed homosexuality rather extensively in the first half of the twentieth century. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) officially recognized it in 1973 when it declassified homosexuality as being a mental illness. The American Psychological Association followed with similar action two years later.
Helmut Thielicke, a theologian conservatives respect highly and quote often, recognized in his work, The Ethics of Sex, written some forty years ago, that at least some gays and lesbians have "constitutional homosexuality," and therefore we must "accept" the fact that it is "incurable," that "our attitude toward [it] changes" [his italics]. and that it is "a divine dispensation" and "a talent that is to be invested (Luke 19:13f.)."1-1
Evidence that homosexuality is unchangeable includes: (a) ten thousand suicides each year of young homosexuals unwilling to face life with that orientation; (b) the high percentage of homosexuals who go to psychotherapists desperately wanting to change their orientation, and then (c) the very small percentage of them reportedly being changed after hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars being spent in psychotherapy; (d) the millions of homosexuals who remain "in the closet," not acting like homosexuals and not wanting anyone to learn of their orientation; (e) the thousands who are reported as coming to pastors and counselors devastated to have to recognize their unchangeable orientation and wanting assistance in dealing with it.
A few, after psychotherapy, report successful change. It is believed that most of these are not true homosexuals, but because of some trauma in childhood they adopted homosexual traits; with these, psychotherapy can often do away with the results of the trauma and lead the person back to his or her natural heterosexuality. The results of extensive psychotherapy with homosexuals who desperately wanted to change their orientation have been studied, and several books document the disheartening lack of success of their time, money and efforts. In 1998 the APA adopted a position opposing any therapy designed to change a person's sexual orientation. The APA President stated, "There is no scientific evidence that reparative or conversion therapy is effective in changing a person's sexual orientation. There is, however, evidence that this type of therapy can be destructive."1-2
Scientists and sociologists do not know what causes homosexuality, just as they don't know what causes heterosexuality, but virtually all are convinced that whatever the cause, it is unchangeable. Homosexuals are homosexual by nature; it is never something they choose.
Two. All people are created in the image of God. The homosexuality of gays and lesbians, created by God, is good and not evil. This is the second essential basis for coming to a right understanding of homosexuals. If I can say God made me as I am, a heterosexual, then homosexuals can say God made them as they are. If God made them that way, that way is good. If I am created in the image of God, homosexuals are created in the image of God. And if God has a purpose for every life, the lives of homosexuals have a God-given purpose. Then refusing to accept and affirm them in the same way we affirm others would be trying to thwart the purposes of God. Can we draw any other conclusion? [Carrol’s Note: I am not in complete agreement with him here. I don’t believe that God intentionally created some people to be homosexual; rather I believe it is one of the results of The Fall. However I do agree that each person has been created in the image of God, that God has a purpose for every life, and that we should accept and affirm homosexuals in the same way that we do anyone else.]
Some church people who are not accepting of gays and lesbians may say that homosexuality is an aberration of nature and that God doesn't want it, just as he doesn`t want a child with Downs Syndrome because of the limitations it places on that child throughout life. But homosexuals have no physical or mental limitations, and there is nothing about the homosexual that can be defined as an aberration.
Some accept it as unchangeable but say it is like the predisposition to alcoholism--that a person with this predisposition is not to blame for having it, but since acting on it can lead to much destruction in many lives, the person is responsible for not acting on it and, if he becomes an alcoholic, needs to recover from it. New Testament professor Jeffrey Siker considers this analogy "not only useless but dangerous." First, he says, the damaging effects of active alcoholism are readily apparent, but the APA ceased characterizing homosexuality as a disease "because there was no clinical evidence that homosexual activity resulted in any more destructive behaviors than was the case for persons engaging in heterosexual activity." Further, we recognize that alcoholics need to "recover," but homosexuals find nothing in their nature that they can change or need to recover from. Finally, alcoholism is a disease triggered by the act of drinking; the focus is on the act of either drinking or abstaining from drinking. Homosexuality is not an act, it is a nature. It is unfortunate that heterosexuals often focus on same-gender sex when they think about homosexuality, but--and this is why the analogy is dangerous--"to do so is to miss the point of the larger context of the relationship. It is to dehumanize and depersonalize gays and lesbians, caricaturing them only in terms of their sexual activities rather than seeing them as whole persons with lives that include more than sex."2-1
Dr. Siker says a better analogy is in the first Jewish Christians and their acceptance of the Gentiles. Jews considered Gentiles as unclean, polluted, idolatrous, and sinful--the same revulsion many church people feel for homosexuals. Before Gentiles could be accepted as Christians, many thought, they must first repent of being Gentiles, become Jews and obey Jewish laws such as Sabbath-keeping and kosher food; then they could become Christians. Like the Gentiles, homosexuals do not need to repent of being such; they just need to be accepted.2-2 [Carrol’s Note - Obviously, his understanding of the Sabbath is different from ours.]
Another analogy would be the left-handed person, created that way, different from others, but whose difference is in no way an aberration or predisposition and whose personhood is the same as that of others. There is no reason for not admitting that the homosexual is simply made in the image of God as is every other person. The only reasonable statement is that homosexuality is God-given and, therefore, with a God-given purpose. We should embrace gays and lesbians and mutually help one another achieve the purposes God has for us all. [Carrol’s Note – The best analogy I have found is that of an infertile couple who want to have a child. God’s original plan was that all marriages be fruitful, but we do not condemn those who are unable to bear children. Nor do we tell them that they must accept this as their cross and remain childless if they decide to try fertility treatments, artificial insemination or adoption.]
Three. The homosexual is just as normal a person as a heterosexual and should not be thought of in sexual terms. Evelyn Hooker, who taught psychology at UCLA, conducted the "...very first investigation into whether or not homosexuality was an illness that examined a population of `normal' gay men--men who were not residents of mental hospitals, prisoners, or distressed patients in therapy [common subjects of study at that time], but ordinary people living ordinary, if closeted, lives....In 1956 Hooker presented her findings--that no psychological differences existed between homosexual and heterosexual men--before the annual meetings of the American Psychological Association."3-1
But do not most heterosexuals have the very narrow view that homosexuality means engaging in sex with a partner of the same gender? That is a gross distortion. The homosexual has all the interests and concerns in life that a heterosexual has. Whatever importance sex has for the heterosexual, it has the same importance for the homosexual--no more, no less. The best definition I have read of a homosexual is that he or she is a person who falls in love with someone of the same gender. What made me, a heterosexual, fall in love with a person of the opposite gender? I can't say--it is just some innate characteristic of my makeup. In the homosexual, that characteristic works differently for some yet unknown reason, and the falling-in-love process is directed at the same gender. But it is a true falling in love. It isn't a sexual thing for them any more that it is for heterosexuals.
While some homosexuals are sexually lustful and promiscuous, the percentage may actually be lower than that of heterosexuals. The pornographic industry, estimated at up to one hundred billion dollars a year, the gentlemen's clubs, the brothels, internet pornography, etc. are all supported by heterosexual lust. That industry annually lures two thousand teenage girls into prostitution in the city of Dallas alone.3-2 Homosexuals have little interest in any of that widespread industry. Every fifteen minutes in America a heterosexual rapes a woman; homosexuals don't rape women or kidnap young girls or give birth to babies infected with AIDS. If we look at a heterosexual man or woman and do not immediately think of sex, then when we look at a gay or a lesbian, we should not immediately think of sex. They are people like us with the same needs and concerns, problems and failures and successes and sorrows and joys that we have, plus lots of problems that we do not have. What is a homosexual act? Examples: a gay man walking his dog or a lesbian fixing her supper.
Four. Several passages in the Bible speak of same-gender sex. In every instance, the Bible is talking about heterosexuals who, filled with lust, have become sex perverts. The Bible says nothing about innate homosexuality as we know it today or about people who are homosexuals.
Until the late nineteenth century, as already mentioned, the concept of homosexuality was totally unknown. No Bible writer knew of homosexuality, so no Bible writer could have said anything about it. When the Bible speaks of same-gender sex, it is always talking about heterosexuals who are given over to such lust that they commit lustful acts. There cannot be anything in the Bible that says anything about (unknown) homosexuality or homosexual people or acts by homosexuals.
No one questions the Bible's condemnation of sexual lust, and today that would be whether it was homosexual or heterosexual. Some want to say that same-gender sex acts are condemned by the Bible, and it doesn't matter by whom they are committed. No, lustful same-gender sex acts are. Heterosexual sex acts are also condemned by the Bible whenever they are lustful, but that doesn't mean all heterosexual sex acts are condemned. It is the lust that is condemned, not an act. If we recognize that opposite-gender sex can be either lustful and evil as in rape or be moral and beautiful as between loving spouses, we must recognize the possibility that same-gender sex can be moral and beautiful, as well as lustful and evil. (This is discussed further in Eight below.) The Bible says nothing about homosexual people being sent to hell.
Five. The burden imposed on homosexuals by society is a great evil. We should stand in revulsion against, and do all we can to oppose, the prejudice, the hatreds, and the condemnation of a society that make the homosexual's life so difficult.
Can Professor Stein be correct about America?: "The evidence is overwhelming that the United States is a society where there is a strong fear and a deep hatred of lesbians and gay men. This hatred and fear are manifested in discrimination and oppressive laws and social practices."5-1
The lynching of Blacks has almost passed, but not the lynching of gays and lesbians. Some one hundred hate-crime murders of gays and lesbians are recorded in the U.S. each year. Most receive little press. An exception was Matt Shepard--beaten and tied to a fence to die in Wyoming because he was gay. Shortly afterwards, gays and lesbians all over America received faxes, emails and phone calls saying, "Matt Shepard is dead; you may be next." Two such murders have had books written about them. A man walking in a wilderness area in Pennsylvania observed from a distance two women camped there, and they were holding hands. He walked back to his truck for his rifle. One of the women survived his shooting and wrote the book, Eight Bullets.5-2 (For the other book, see Six below.) Gays in a major city complained to the police that it was not safe for them to walk in their neighborhood. The police didn't believe them but finally had plain-clothes officers walk there as decoys. The officers, mistaken for gays, were attacked by men with baseball bats. Twelve men were finally arrested for homophobic attacks in that one neighborhood. An article in our paper a few days ago told of a man asking where the nearest gay bar was; he said he wanted to shoot some queers. A few minutes later he did. Such things are happening everywhere in America, and gays and lesbians live in constant anxiety about these kinds of hate crimes.
Homosexuals do not have the natural protection of the law that others have. There are nationwide laws against discrimination on the basis of race and national origin, but only one-fifth of our states have laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation--there is no federal law. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld laws in two states making same-gender sex illegal. A Dallas judge gave a light sentence to a murderer explaining that the victim was only a homosexual. What encouragement is thus given to gay-bashers! The hatred gays and lesbians encounter, added to the psychological problems most face in accepting their homosexuality, make many of them live in an ever-present milieu that borders on trauma.
Psychotherapist John J. McNeill writes,
Many problems... make a positive adjustment to a [homosexual] life extremely difficult. Among these difficulties can be enumerated the agonies of remorse and self-torture over what typical homosexuals feel to be their immoral desires, whether these arise from conscious identity with the condemnations of Church and society or from neurotic conflicts within themselves; their openness to blackmail and other forms of intimidation; their status of being outside the normal protection of the law; their necessity continually to conceal what they frequently believe to be their true identity from public view, with the added threat that accidental revelation could result in loss of their job, expulsion from school, dishonorable discharge from military service, loss of future security and job opportunities, loss of friends and the respect of family and dependents. Still other problems involve their propensity to sexual promiscuity [because they are] divorced from a complete and healthy interpersonal relationship; and the resulting tendency for sexual desires indulged in, but never fully satisfied, to occupy a disproportionate place in their life. Above all else, there is the very real threat of ultimate loneliness to one to whom all the normal structures of society - marriage, children, dependents, etc. - are closed. It should be noted, however, that all these negative aspects of homosexuality are not due to homosexuality as such, but are the results of both society's and the Church's attitude to the homosexual. All these rather common aspects of homosexual life can effectively paralyze all initiative, result in a feeling of inferiority, and lead to an emotional breakdown which could make social adjustment impossible.5-3
All of this hate is a sickness in our society that comes from ignorance about homosexuality. Our society must become informed, enlightened about it. Those who are involved in discussions in denominations and churches about it must study it and not speak from ignorance of it and the result of ignorance: prejudice.
Six. Homosexuals are being sinned against by our churches. Like our society, our churches need to change.
"Kill a Queer for Christ" I added the italics, foolishly; what italics are needed for such a statement. In your small town you probably have not seen that cleverly alliterative bumper sticker. For you and me it is unbelievable, unreal. Sadly, it is very real.
The thinking shown in the bumper sticker and the position of many churches and their pastors abets the crimes against gays and lesbians. Peter Gomes, Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard, says, "The combination of ignorance and prejudice under the guise of morality makes the religious community, and its abuse of scripture in this regard, itself morally culpable."6-1 He relates this: In preparing for her novel, The Drowning of Stephen Jones, based upon the true story of a young gay man tossed from a bridge to his death by a group of young gay-bashers, author Bette Greene interviewed more than four hundred young men in jail for various forms of gay-bashing. Few of the men, she noted, showed any remorse for their crimes. Few saw anything morally wrong with their crimes, and more than a few of them told her that they were justified in their opinions and in their actions by the religious traditions from which they came. Homosexuality was wrong and against the Bible.
One of those interviewed told her that the pastor of his church had said that homosexuals represented Satan and the Devil. The implication of his logic was clear: Who could possibly do wrong in destroying Satan and all of his works? The legitimization of violence against homosexuals and Jews and women and blacks, as we have seen, comes from the view that the Bible stigmatizes these people, thereby making them fair game. If the Bible expresses such a prejudice, then it certainly cannot be wrong to act on that prejudice. This is the argument every anti-Semite and racist has used with demonstrably devastating consequences, as our social history all too vividly shows.6-2
When the funeral of Matt Shepard (above) was held, a Baptist preacher from Kansas with sympathizers from several states were there marching in front of the funeral site with placards reading, "God Hates Fags" and "Fag Matt in Hell." It is some consolation to know that the people of the town formed themselves into a wall between the marchers and the family, and when the marchers began to cry out their messages, the people sang "Amazing Grace." ("Fag," short for "faggot," originated several centuries ago in Europe when people who had engaged in same-gender sex were burned at the stake.)
In the summer of 1998 fundamentalist Christian organizations, fearful of the consideration by some states of recognizing same-gender marriage, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads in major newspapers telling the nation that gays and lesbians are "sick" and "sinful," that they can and should be "cured," and that their rights and protections should be denied.6-3
Louise, one of the first things I realized when I started to think about this subject was that the millions of gays and lesbians in this nation will never, with few exceptions, darken the doors of our churches, because they know our attitude toward them is one of hatred and condemnation. Is "hatred" too strong a word? A few years ago a Baptist church in Austin ordained a homosexual, and the leaders of the Baptist General Convention of Texas asked the church to disassociate itself from the Convention. The next day The Dallas Morning News ran this two-column headline: "Baptist General Convention Reasserts Its Hatred of Gays, Lesbians."6-4 We may piously say that we don't hate the sinner, only the sin, but the newspaper believed it just the way it was printed, and gays and lesbians do, too.
A writer says, "Those of us who have published opinion pieces in favor of gay equality can testify that most of the hate mail we get cites religious justifications for the hate."6-5
A gay and a straight man worked together and became close friends. Then the straight man became a Christian. When his friend learned about it, he was concerned and asked, "Now that you are a Christian, will you still love me?" Isn't that a tragic question? What did this man think about Christians that made him ask that? The Christian has a love that transcends anything known by the world, doesn't he/she? Yet how many Christians would desert such a friendship? Christians! Jesus' love included; our lack of love excludes. I have read that Carl Sandburg was once asked what he thought was the ugliest word in the English language. He thought for a minute and replied, "Exclusion."
Our churches need to change, for the churches ought to be havens for gays and lesbians from the insufferable burdens they bear constantly. [Italics – Carrol] But when the world believes that churches despise and condemn homosexuals, those who hate them find encouragement. Fundamentalists such as Southern Baptists and Catholics promote the problems seemingly with a vengeance, declaring homosexuality itself a sin.6-6 Even the mainstream denominations do to a great extent as we read frequently in the papers. Most denominations are discussing it openly; without exception they are divided in their thinking, and the news reports of the discussions publicize the negative rhetoric along with the positive. This subject so needs to be examined and discussed at length in our churches, without passion and with open minds. I believe what I am stating in this letter will be the truth the churches will discover. Then they must act on and proclaim that truth.
When the story of the Holocaust became more fully known, there was recognition that the sin of the Nazis was not the only sin involved--there was the silence on the part of the churches and of other nations as they learned about it during the war. When we know of the hate and the hate-crimes against lesbians and gays, we should not be silent; we have a responsibility to fight it. Our silence encourages it and makes us guilty.
Pastor Paul Duke is preaching about the sufferings of gays and lesbians:
Whose fault is this? It's the fault of us all. It's the fault of any of us who make jokes about gay people, who insult them with the use of demeaning names. It's the fault of us who are silent when others do these things or when they publish lies about what homosexuality is. And it's the fault of us who don't provide a safe place and a caring response to those of homosexual orientation. Who knows how many hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost - to violence, to suicide, to drugs, to promiscuity, to AIDS, to shattered self-esteem, to life forever outside the doors of the church - because we have participated in or by silence colluded with the demeaning and the ostracizing of homosexual people. In this respect there is blood on the hands of the church. And that's what has driven me more than anything else to talk with you as I am doing. I have had a vision of Christ at the judgment asking, "Why were you silent?" Why has the church abandoned these children of God to despair and to death? When people are lost and dying by the millions you don't pontificate about sexual morality, you reach out to them, you give them a safe place, you listen, you talk, you love with the love of Christ.6-7
You and I realize that the people in our churches are ignorant about the truths I have already stated about homosexuals and homosexuality. They must be made to realize that honesty and integrity demand they make judgments on the basis of knowledge and not on groundless feelings and prejudice. It's like the race hatreds and segregated churches of a few decades ago; most church people know better now and our churches are at least open to all. The same must happen with this issue. I think of the homespun philosopher Josh Billings' saying, "The longer I live the more I find it necessary to reexamine those things about which I was once most certain." The church can't begin its reexamination too soon.
I've given a lot of space to the church here, but that's where we both have our hearts. And our churches are so terribly wrong here, just as they were in the sixties with the race issue and 150 years ago with slavery. All the wonderful things our churches are doing and the immeasurable importance they are to our society can't cover up our woeful failures in this matter.
Seven. Gays and lesbians in general have the potential for outstanding character and accomplishment; some may have greater potential than most heterosexuals to be exceptional persons. It is well known that while certain characteristics are dominant in men and others dominant in women, all people have some of both characteristics. Psychologists have found that the gay man has an exceptional supply of feminine characteristics (enough that he falls in love with a man -?), and the lesbian has an exceptional supply of male characteristics (enough that she falls in love with a woman -?). Psychologists are recognizing that this special combination of characteristics in homosexuals often results in their having exceptional potential.
Psychologist Mark Friedman, from a series of tests administered to both gays and lesbians, found that the homosexuals he tested were superior to their heterosexual counterparts in such psychological qualities as autonomy, spontaneity, orientation toward the present, and increased sensitivity to the value of the person.7-1 Thielicke remarked that the homosexual "is frequently gifted with a remarkable heightened sense of empathy."7-2
The eminent psychologist Jung gives five very positive aspects of the homosexual male:
- This [homosexuality] gives him a great capacity for friendship, which often creates ties of astonishing tenderness between men, and may even rescue friendship between the sexes from its limbo of the impossible.
- He may have good taste and an aesthetic sense which are fostered by the presence of a feminine streak.
- Then, he may be supremely gifted as a teacher because of his almost feminine insight and tact.
- He is likely to have a feeling for history, and to be conservative in the best sense and cherish the values of the past.
- Often he is endowed with a wealth of religious feelings, which help him to bring the ecclesia spiritualis [the spiritual church] into reality, and a spiritual receptivity which makes him responsive to Revelation.7-3
A special hope for homosexual influence on society is expressed by McNeill:
There is no doubt that the homosexual man is freer to develop aesthetic values than is his male counterpart in the heterosexual world, and thus he has an important role to play in guiding humanity to a deeper appreciation of aesthetic values.... There is the hopeful possibility that the homosexual community could serve the human community as a whole by making the male free to do works of service in the human community without feeling guilty about betraying the standards of his male identity.7-4
Many writers speak of the contributions gays and lesbians have made to our world and name dozens of examples, some of the world's most famous statesmen, artists, writers, musicians, etc., present and past. While gays and lesbians make up probably 4%-6% of the population, a study of the biographies of 1004 eminent people found 11% of them to be homosexual or bisexual, with certain categories higher: 24% of poets, 21% of fiction writers, and 15% of artists and musicians.7-5
Louise, it seems as though one ought to look on a gay or a lesbian as potentially a very special person made that way by God, one we should seek out, especially for our churches.
Eight. It is not only unrealistic to expect homosexuals to live without sex, but also it is psychologically harmful to them for them to do so. Now we are face to face with the question of what is moral in sex expression. In so many people's minds, the whole meaning of homosexuality is immoral sex. And that is evil, they say, because sex must be between male and female, and it is evil because sex must be in marriage; it is as simple and black and white as that. But nothing as complex as sex, which plumbs both the heights of beauty and the depths of ugliness, can be simple, and no black and white rule can touch it. Professor Kathy Rudy says, "Christian ethicists, moral theologians, and religious leaders throughout the ages have spent an enormous amount of time and energy thinking about when sex can be considered moral and when it cannot."8-1
Theologian James B. Nelson writes,
Even on such a major issue as sexual intercourse between unmarried consenting adults there is no explicit prohibition in either Hebrew Scripture or the New Testament (which John Calvin discovered to his consternation). Indeed, the Song of Solomon celebrates one such relationship. I believe that our best biblical scholarship reaches Walter Wink's conclusion: `There is no biblical sex ethic. The Bible knows only a love ethic, which is constantly being brought to bear on whatever sexual mores are dominant in any given country, or culture, or period.'8-2
One reason theologians and Christian ethicists have difficulty finding a sex ethic in the Bible is that the Bible's condemnation of sexual acts is always associated with selfish lust, with nothing said about a loving sex life. Further, the Bible does not say that moral sex is confined to what we understand marriage to be. For example, David and Solomon, beloved and used by God, were polygamists. Solomon had hundreds of mistresses. A pastor is found to have one mistress, and he is quickly gone. (This is not to comment on whether he should or should not be, only to point out the contrast between our concepts and a Biblical example.) Some New Testament Christians, church members, obviously were not "the husband of one wife" or I Timothy 3:2 would not have been written. [Carrol’s Note – I can’t agree with all his conclusions in this section either, although I do think Walter Wink is correct in saying that ‘There is no [explicit] biblical sex ethic’]
Must sex be between male and female? One act of sex must be. Is that all of sex, or for heterosexuals does sex--let's think only of beautiful sex--involve many other acts, some of which sometimes become more important than that one act? Does marriage make sex beautiful and moral? Even those who insist that sex must be only in marriage admit that there is often immoral sex within marriage--selfishness, exploitation, even rape. So the marriage certificate is not what determines whether sex is moral or immoral. Then we must say that if legality is not the criterion for the morality of sex, lack of legality cannot be the criterion for its immorality.
McNeill speaks to this:
The average person has associated and confused the question of the morality of sexual conduct with the question of its objective legal status. The reason for this confusion is, in part, that one finds a very easily applied objective norm: sex before marriage is wrong; sex after marriage is right.... There is something more to the moral quality of sexual behavior than the purely objective legal question of marriage... Something else ought to be present; that something else is love.... The human conforms to the divine image revealed in Christ not by acting in an impersonal, rational way, but by acting from a motive of love.8-3
Nelson, Wink, and McNeill say love is the criterion. At least we can know that the definition is not in either a certificate or a specific sex act but is somewhere in the heart and mind of the participants. This does not define moral sex, but it tells us that the definition is not in an objective rule, but in the subjective psyche of the participants. Since the minds and hearts of gays and lesbians are in no way limited, are no different from the minds and hearts of heterosexuals, they can have the same criteria as heterosexuals for a moral sex act. [Carrol’s Note – I believe that along with love must go a total, lifetime commitment to one person.]
These things clearly indicate that requiring celibacy of gays and lesbians cannot be supported by the Bible, is unjustifiable from an ethical standpoint, and can be damaging psychologically. Many psychiatrists believe (a) it is wrong to consign a person to such isolation and loneliness, one who is thus cut off from close relationships with either sex, not temporarily but until death; (b) it is unrealistic to expect this for it is virtually impossible for it to be done; (c) many of those who attempt to do this do so for pathological reasons; (d) the "almost inevitable results [of attempting celibacy] will be tragic in terms of suffering, guilt, and mental disorder;" and (e) growth and maturity require deep and committed relationships in one's life.8-4 [Carrol’s Note – In the beginning God recognized that it is not good for man to be alone. It is He who implanted the desire for a close and intimate relationship with another person in each of us – homosexual as well as heterosexual. Furthermore, there are a number of studies that find physical health and longevity to be improved by marriage or lessened for those who live alone.]
I wondered about pathology in attempts at celibacy until I read McNeill's statement:
In my experience as a psychotherapist, I have found that the vast majority of people living out a life of abstinence do so for pathological reasons. Many have interiorized the homophobia of the surrounding culture and the Church and as a consequence hate and fear their sexual feelings....Others live out a life of abstinence because of serious trauma to their capacity for intimacy with another human....Those who have repressed or denied their homosexual feelings for pathological reasons are the ones in greatest danger of acting out those needs compulsively, imprudently, and unconsciously, seeking punishment for what they see as their crime....I would heartily advise all gay people to develop the most intimate and committed relationship possible for them.8-5
It would seem that a sound scriptural argument against requiring celibacy would be Paul's writing clearly in I Cor. 7:9 that he does not expect all the church people to be able to be celibate even for the brief time before the (expected) return of Christ. Some commentators suggest that I Tim. 4:1-4, in speaking of marriage being good and not to be denied because "everything created by God is good," would include homosexual marriage because God created homosexuality.
Highly respected theologians are coming to the conclusion that gays and lesbians need to develop intimate and committed relationships. Thielicke: "It is true that the homosexual relationship is... very certainly a search for the totality of the other human being. [Italics his] He who says otherwise has not yet observed the possible human depth of a homoerotic-colored friendship."8-6 McNeill: "A general consideration of scriptural data concerning sexual behavior leads to only one certain conclusion: those sexual relations can be justified morally which are a true expression of human love. The call of the Gospel is not one of conforming passively to biological givens; rather, that call is to transform and humanize the natural order through the power to love."8-7
William Barclay, whose commentaries on the books of the New Testament have sold over a million copies, has this comment on celibacy: "Sex is a part of life and the deliberate annihilation of it is not a virtue; it is a criticism of life as God made it and meant it to be."8-8 McNeill believes, "Only a sadistic God would create millions of humans as gay with no choice in the matter and no hope of changing and then deny them the right to express their gayness in a loving relationship for the rest of their lives under threat of eternal damnation."8-9
Historical theology professor Rosemary Reuther writes:
Once sex is no longer confined to procreative genital acts and masculinity and femininity are exposed as social ideologies, then it is no longer possible to argue that sex/love between two persons of the same sex cannot be a valid embrace of bodily selves expressing love. If sex/love is centered primarily on communion between two persons rather than on biological concepts of procreative complementarity, then the love of two persons of the same sex need be no less than that of two persons of the opposite sex. Nor need their experience of ecstatic bodily communion be less valuable.8-10
One of the earliest affirmations of this that I found is a statement made by Quakers back in 1963: "... the Quaker committee, after a long study of homosexuality, drew the conclusion: `Surely it is the nature and quality of a relation that matters; one must not judge it by its outer appearance but its inner worth. Homosexual affection can be as selfless as heterosexual affection, and, therefore, we cannot see that it is in some way morally worse.'"8-11
In 1975 a symposium on homosexuality at the annual meeting of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies [note Christian Association] reported that behavioral science research and the realities of their clinical practice had forced them to propose that while promiscuity, fornication, and adultery should be regarded as sinful for both homosexual and heterosexual persons, a loving, committed, permanent relationship between two persons of the same sex was in an entirely different category and was not condemned in Scripture, and that Christians burdened with an involuntary homosexual orientation could choose a committed homosexual relationship as within God's will rather than an unwanted celibacy.8-12
If I can believe as I do, that gays and lesbians can have in their hearts and minds the criteria set forth here in their relationships, then I can believe, as I have come to, that they can engage in loving sex that is moral and that provides for their psychological needs--God-created needs--as celibacy cannot. And I can believe that their sexual love is not condemned by scripture, but is within the principles God expects us to live by.
You understand this is not a blanket approval of all homosexual sex. It is speaking of loving, committed relationships. I do not know what percentage of homosexuals are included here, but probably it is, unfortunately, a small percentage (10% in one large-scale study of gays.8-13) Many believe that number would increase if society accepted homosexuality for what it is and encouraged committed relationships, as it does heterosexual relationships.
Nine. Full acceptance by society, including the blessings and legality of marriage should be extended to gays and lesbians in the same way it is extended to others. Louise, if it is moral as well as psychologically needful--a God-created need--for homosexuals to live as couples in committed relationships, as many theologians and psychologists have said it is, then homosexuals who are in loving, long-term, committed relationships should have the societal rights and privileges that marriage can give them. Following are some statements in this regard.
A graduate school history professor writes,
"Family" need not mean the traditional heterosexual family to the exclusion of all others....Gays and lesbians want the right to marry for the same reasons other Americans do: to gain the moral, legal, social and spiritual benefits conferred on the marrying couple and especially on their family unit. The material benefits of marriage are considerable, but it is the moral benefit that is especially attractive to many couples, including gay and lesbian ones. Marriage is, or can be, a moral commitment that two people make to one another. The marriage vow enshrines love, honor, respect, and mutual support and gives people access to resources and community acknowledgment that serve to strengthen their bond.9-1
And Nava and Dawidoff say:
Marriage is not conditioned on the intention or the capacity to have children. Nothing in marriage, except custom, mandates partners of different genders. For example, [Yale historian] John Boswell notes that in ancient Rome `marriages between males and between females were legal and familiar among the upper classes.' The institution of marriage in our society appears to be one that encourages monogamy as the basis for stable personal lives and as one aspect of the family. If we think about what marriage is for, it becomes clear that it is for people to find ways to live ordered, shared lives; it is intended to be the stablest possible unit of family life and a stable structure of intimacy.9-2
Noting Paul's advice that it was better to marry than to burn, Theology professor Daniel C. Maguire points out as long as homosexual couples are denied marriage, "there is no alternative to burning."9-3
Was it not God who said, "It is not good for man to be alone." (Gen. 2:18)? James Nelson, Professor of Christian Ethics, believes that "same-sex relationships are fully capable of expressing God's humanizing intentions," and views the "homosexual problem" as "more truly a heterosexual problem" (of homophobia), just as the "woman problem" is a problem of "male sexism."9-4
As I have discussed above, the Bible cannot be used to argue against this for the Bible has nothing to say about homosexual people. Here is a religious editor's word in this connection:
Nor can the Bible be confidently cited in this debate. Certainly, the concept of same-sex marriage is not found in the Bible. But the concept of government by democracy is also not found in the Bible, only that of monarchy. On strictly biblical grounds, the doctrine of the divine right of kings has a firmer base than government by the people. Human experience, however, has led us to believe that democracy is not an illegitimate, unbiblical form of government. Since the biblical models of marriage range from polygamy at one end to celibacy on the other, we shall have to find our own way and not claim that the Bible permits only one model of marriage.9-5
Lesbians and gays have some interesting thoughts about same-gender relationships:
The fact that we are in a same-sex relationship means that the predetermination of roles by gender, sometimes so destructive a force in heterosexual relationships, is not relevant to our lives. Each member of a same-sex couple is free to act from individual interests, predilections, and skills, rather than having to choose between conforming to or rebelling against the cultural norm. We are able to see the mainstream culture from a greater distance and a healthier perspective. This means that we know that many of the oppressive messages of the culture are inapplicable to us, and that others are simply false or distorted. Thus, we are able to circumvent much of what is jokingly referred to as `The Battle of the Sexes' - really, no joking matter at all. Ironically, it is the same-sex couple that can most clearly see itself as being composed of two human beings, whereas the heterosexual couple is constantly having to deal with the coercive personae of Man and Woman.9-6 [Carrol’s Note – A secular view, but food for thought.]
Another lesbian says:
In many ways, we [lesbians] have an easier time of creating a truly egalitarian, mutual and mature relationship. In fact, some researchers are now beginning to look at the same-sex couple as a model for helping heterosexuals to create more human relationships. In contrast with heterosexuals, who often feel alienated from their mates, we need only look inside ourselves to know much about our lovers. We are able to relax with each other in a much more trusting way than can most straight couples. The inequities in our relationships are individually made ones, for the most part, and not a function of historically sanctioned power imbalances that have created the fear and hatred in which many women and men coexist today. In a lesbian couple, both women can freely develop strength and competence. In addition, having been socialized as women, we have been trained to be interpersonally sensitive, nurturant, gentle and compassionate. In a heterosexual relationship, these qualities are used primarily to serve the man and to oppress the woman, who often must bear full responsibility for the emotional quality of the relationship.... These same attributes, however, can create a miraculously high-quality relationship when shared by two women who are matched in their capacities to share and to love.9-7
A gay philosophy professor at MIT observes:
Once we understand what marriage is, we can see what marriage would mean for us, and why it is worth fighting for. Same-sex marriage would not force anyone to honor or approve of gay or lesbian relationships against their will. But it would enable those of us who are involved in gay or lesbian relationships to get the rest of society to understand that we take these relationships just as seriously as heterosexual married couples take theirs. And without marriage, we remain second-class citizens - excluded, for no good reason, from participating in one of the basic institutions of society.9-8
There is an interesting note from church history.
[Noted church historian] John Boswell... has discovered that, whereas the church did not declare heterosexual marriage to be a sacrament until 1215 C.E., one of the Vatican Library's earliest Greek liturgical documents is a marriage ceremony for two persons of the same sex. The document dates to the fourth century, if not earlier. In other words, nine centuries before heterosexual marriage was declared a sacrament, the church liturgically celebrated same-sex covenants.9-9
Louise, this goes against everything I had ever thought about homosexuality--which I confess now was very little. But I pray for an open mind that puts truth first in my thinking. I see truth in all of the above. Regardless of what I have thought in the past, this is what I have to believe now. Josh Billings, thank you for your encouragement.
Ten. As in society, gays and lesbians should be accepted and affirmed in our churches and given any opportunity for service, including ordination, that others have. You know that for the past decade or so most Protestant denominations have been debating whether to affirm, and especially whether to ordain, homosexuals. Many committees/ commissions have been appointed to study the matter and make recommendations to their general denominational bodies or their churches. I have read of much of this activity and the reports. In every case that I can recall now the commissions have recommended just about what I have said in this discussion. Then when the commissions have brought their recommendations to the general assemblies/conventions or to their churches, their reports have been voted down.
I am impressed that those who have made a serious study of this matter--the members of the commissions--are in favor of affirming gays and lesbians, and that those who vote it down are the ones who have not studied it. If they vote it down because they have not studied it, then they are voting on the basis of pre-judging, that is, prejudice. Prejudging, prejudice, is evil. We need to put aside our prejudices and presuppositions, then seriously and open-mindedly study this matter.
Since there is no explicit instruction in the Bible about homosexual ordination, we must derive our belief from our understanding of the principles of the Bible. Dr. Tex S. Sample has this concept:
The question of their union - and celibacy and marriage as well, for that matter - is whether it serves the kingdom of God.... [There are three questions about ordination:] the first is whether one's union basically frustrates one's commitment to the kingdom of God.... The second issue for ordination is whether one's union, like marriage or celibacy, frees one for obedience to God and propels one to fulfill God's aims.... Finally, and perhaps most important, does the union itself bear witness to the covenantal reality of the kingdom of God?... When homosexual unions are faithful to God's rule, manifest its power, serve its aims and bespeak its hopes and joys, the basic question of readiness for ordained ministry has been met.10-1
In 1973 the United Church of Christ's Executive Council urged the full acceptance of homosexual persons symbolized by ordination: "In the instance of considering a stated homosexual's candidacy for ordination the issue should not be his/her homosexuality as such, but rather the candidate's total view of human sexuality and his/her understanding of the morality of its use."10-2 The UCC's national body has recently adopted this, the only mainline denomination to have such a policy at this time. In June 2001 the Presbyterian General Assembly voted to permit ordination of openly non-celibate gay clergy. This must be ratified by the 173 presbyteries.
Conservative theologian Stanley Grenz observes that homosexuality in itself should not be considered in selecting a candidate for ordination, because, "The texts that set down guidelines for the selection of officers focus on three basic prerequisites - giftedness for leadership, spirituality and character, and public reputation (e.g., I Tim. 3:1-13).... These criteria give central emphasis to the importance of one's present life of faith."10-3
And Richard Hays, although believing homosexuality to be sinful, notes that other sins are in the same list with homosexuality, and concludes, "It is arbitrary to single out homosexuality as a special sin that precludes ordination. (Certainly the New Testament does not do this.) The church has no analogous special rules to exclude from ordination the greedy or the self-righteous. Such matters are left to the discernment of the bodies charged with examining candidates for ordination; these bodies must determine whether the individual candidate has the gifts and graces requisite for ministry."10-4
[Carrol’s Note – Because of their spiritual and empathetic propensities, many gay men are drawn to the ministry.]
Louise, surely any gay or lesbian who comes to our churches professing that Jesus Christ is Lord should be accepted and affirmed in every way just as you and I have been.
I have to believe deeply that these ten statements are true. The convictions have come from seriously studying this subject, and, thankfully, I now can feel enlightened about it. How I wish all our church members, especially all our pastors, would make such a study.
Now I know that gays and lesbians do not choose their orientation, for they are created by God, in his image with an unchangeable orientation which is good and with a God-given purpose. I know the love between gays and between lesbians is no less than that of others. I am convinced the Bible supports their loving, committed relationships, that there is no moral evil in such and that society and our churches should affirm them fully.
And homosexuals have those characteristics that give them some extraordinary potential in very desirable areas! If we would only accept them, respect them, affirm them and bring them out of their closets, they could give beauty and strength to society and our churches. It is not only sad, isn't it somewhat irresponsible that for a matter so important to so many people, to churches and to denominations, our churches and their members have never seriously studied what the Bible says and doesn't say about this matter? I am writing out below what I am thoroughly convinced is the correct understanding of scripture that may have relevance to this subject.
APPENDIX A ON THE INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE
We Baptists believe that each person must interpret the Bible for himself or herself; we are not to let anyone else control our thinking about scripture. [Carrol’s Note – Ellen White says, "It is not enough to rely upon other men’s thoughts. We must examine for ourselves, and learn the reasons of our faith by comparing scripture with scripture." CSW, 23] Surely there are some helpful guides for interpreting scripture, some principles that we should follow. I have selected a few of these to discuss briefly that I think are very important to our rightly understanding our Bible and perhaps especially the subject of homosexuality.
- Understanding the Bible is understanding what the writer wanted his readers to understand. This seems so obvious, but millions of Bible readers and thousands of preachers violate this principle constantly because when they look at a passage, they do not give a thought either to the author or to those to whom he wrote but immediately begin to decide what the words, by themselves, mean. Practically everyone is guilty of this. This leads to almost as many different ideas as there are readers. But the only truth in a passage is the truth the writer was trying to convey to readers who were his contemporaries. The New Testament scholar H. E. Dana, in his Searching the Scriptures, says, "The ultimate object which we seek in interpretation is the thought in the mind of the New Testament writer which sought expression in the written text.... We should seek to discover the one meaning which the writer had in mind, and then apply that meaning to our moral and religious experience."A-1 This is a basic fact about the whole Bible, and it involves several things:
- The writer's meaning comes out of his background. While the Bible is an inspired revelation of God, giving us "truth without any mixture of error" about God as the Baptist Faith and Message Statement says, God did not dictate; he let the authors of the books write out of their own consciousness and experience, using their own words (for example, the Greek of some NT writers was atrocious. Isn't it wonderful how unimportant that was for God's using them!). The Biblical author can write only out of his own culture, understandings and presuppositions. (Two presuppositions every writer in the Bible had were that everyone was heterosexual and that women were inferior.) People who have gone to church and Sunday school regularly usually know something about the writer's circumstances. The problem often is not ignorance of the writer's background but careless inattention to it.
- The writer's meaning is determined by the background and situation of those to whom he wrote. Paul's letter to Philemon is an obvious illustration of this. The scriptures were written to people who lived thousands of years ago. Everything the author wrote to them had in mind their culture, circumstances and needs. Do we read and with great earnestness ask, "What is Paul saying to me?" The answer: Nothing. He wasn't writing to me. God is trying to say something to me through something he inspired Paul to write almost 2000 years ago to his (Paul's) contemporaries to meet their first century needs. Paul was applying eternal, Christian principles to their needs. It is my task to see and understand these principles so that I can apply them to my 21st century life.
- Our understanding of the writer's meaning is colored by our own culture, experiences, understandings, presuppositions, etc. It is easier for us to impose our culture on the first century writer and readers than it is to understand theirs, so I am sure our interpretations would often be unrecognizable by the writer. If you and I read the same thing, not just the Bible, our interpretations will often be different just because of our different backgrounds and experiences. Which of us will be right? So many times I have stood in the vestibule after a service to speak to people as they left the church and had someone comment on something I had said in the sermon, only to think to myself, Where in the world did they get that? I didn't say anything like that! Many church members have such a cultural revulsion to the thought of same-gender sex that anything in the Bible about it is interpreted as its being the worst of revolting evils. So their thought is, "No homosexual could ever be welcomed to our church, he or she is just too vile." Actually, same-gender sex is in lists along with greed, envy, lying and gossip and is apparently neither better nor worse than those sins. Our culture's influence is what makes them different, not the Bible. (Now, does the list mean that lust is not very bad or that greed, envy, lying and gossip are just as vile in God's sight as lust? That is a serious question: How does God judge sin? The way we do? Appendix C below attempts to say a little about this.) We must try to keep our own background and culture out of our interpretations.
- Isn't it obvious and unquestionable that the Bible writers had a purpose for writing what they did? Our understanding of that purpose may be the most important thing about our understanding the meaning. As we read and watch the author fulfill his purpose, our understanding opens up. Whatever the author's purpose, it was for his contemporaries; he didn't have us in mind. Understanding why the writer was writing and what he wanted to accomplish will lead to our finding the principles and eternal truths in the writing.
- The meaning of the author is not in his words (!); words are merely imperfect vehicles for use in transferring thought. I can still hear the great W. T. Connor raise his voice in my theology class: "The Bible does not mean what it says, it means what it means." And I also hear thoughtless, defensive cries, "My Bible means what it says!" No, nothing ever written or spoken means what it says, it always means what it means. Words are the best things we have for trying to transfer the thinking of one mind to the understanding of another mind. If we are face to face, gestures and tone of voice help, and we can ask, "What do you mean?" But if it is something written, we probably never get exactly what was in the writer's mind. Nevertheless, we must try, and remembering principles of interpretation helps.
Every principle of interpretation outlined here is violated when we lift words out of the Bible, out of their context, out of their culture, away from the writer's purpose, hold them up and declare, "This is what the Bible says!" An example of this evil is in pointing to Leviticus 18 or Romans 1 and declaring, "The Bible says homosexuals are going to hell." The words of the Bible, wonderful as they are, are still limited in transferring thought, but they are all the writer had for getting his thoughts to his readers. If we can possibly go behind the words to the mind of the writer, we can have a glorious revelation of God. If we stop with the words, we shall find and worship and proclaim only false gods. The right question never is, "What does this passage say?" It always is, "What does this passage mean?"
If all these things are not considered seriously, we shall have either no understanding of what we have read or a wrong understanding.
- As the points above indicate, what we must do is find the central truth or God's eternal principle in any passage we are studying. The words used to form the context are the media for giving us that truth. Unsupportable doctrines and practices are often formed from the setting in which the truth is couched or in peripherals of the truth, or first century practices are turned into rules for practice today. Women keeping silent in some churches and being obedient to their husbands, as Paul instructed, were not central truths of scripture, but practices that would keep the church and Christianity from being unnecessarily "discredited" in the first century's culture (Titus 2:5). So the central, eternal truth is: Do not (in any century) unnecessarily engage in practices that would alienate unbelievers. Compare slavery. It is evil, but in the first century Paul wanted slaves to obey their masters "so that in every way they [slaves] will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive" (Titus 2:10).
- Nothing should ever be taken out of its whole context. Dr. Dana says, "No single sentence or verse should ever be interpreted independent of its logical connections. Interpretation should deal with whole sections, each section being considered from two angles: its connection with... and its contribution to the general progress of thought."A-2 If we ignore the context, for example, then couples would not marry unless one of them "burned with lust," then it would be OK to marry so the lust could be satisfied in a legal way (I Cor. 7:9)! And that is as ridiculous and repulsive as many of the ways "proof-texts" have had cults built around them. Paul thought Christ would return very shortly, so he was saying that since marriage would last for such a brief period, it was just better, if you were single, to stay as you were. When the time came that it was no longer so certain that couples would have only a brief time for marriage, Paul's (scriptural) admonition was no longer considered applicable. It was not an eternal rule; it was for the conditions described in the context.
- A single passage should be interpreted in the light of the Bible as a whole. Peter said that if we believe and are baptized for the remission of our sins, we shall be saved (Acts 2:38). This says rather clearly that faith and baptism are the way to salvation. Baptists don't believe he meant literally what the words say, for we know from the whole New Testament that baptism in itself has nothing to do with salvation. So now we know what he really meant and didn't mean.
- The Bible is not a rule book. Grievous errors are made by those who believe it is. The Bible is a record that gives us a revelation of God by the writers' having recorded their experiences with God, things that happened in the first and preceding centuries. I regret it now, but I'm sure I have said it a thousand times--you've heard me--"Jesus commanded us to do" so and so. Louise, I lied--well, it was at least misleading and careless of me. Jesus didn't command my hearers or me to do anything; We weren't there. But I contributed to the mistaken idea that any statement found in the Bible is a rule for us to follow today. What we need to do is find the eternal, central truth behind the "rules" and apply that truth to our 21st century circumstances. Many rules are eternal, but that is because of the eternal truth in them, and it is that truth we follow, not the rule that contained it. For example, Jesus didn't command me to go into all the world; I wasn't in the group that heard him that day. But when I read the record of that event, I understand God's plan and that if I want to do God's will in my age, I must do all I can to go into all the world, not because that is a rule to follow as a child follows a parent's rule, but because it is my mature understanding of God's plan and my place in it. We follow the fundamental truth, not a first-century rule. If the Bible is a rule book, we should stone to death anyone who eats a cheeseburger (see below)!
Jesus and Paul made it clear that the rule of law was in the past and now we live by grace and the spirit, not the letter of the law. The Christian Jews stopped observing the Sabbath and worshipped on Sunday; one of the Ten Commandments was no longer a commandment for them! God himself told Peter that the laws regarding what food is clean and the law about not associating with Gentiles were no longer in effect (Acts 10:13-15). One reason the Jewish leaders hated Christ so much was his constant violation of the Sabbath laws. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for following the letter of the law in tithing every little thing but having "neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith" (Matt. 23:23). Paul has lengthy discussions about the laws of circumcision being useless to the Christian. This is his strong word about trying to obey law: "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." (Gal: 5:1) Instead, he says, we live by "faith working through love" (v. 6). Rom. 6:4 tells us we are "not under the law but under grace," and Rom. 1:14 that "Christ is the end of the law," and II Cor. 3:6 that "The letter kills, the spirit gives life," and Gal. 5:14 that "The whole law is fulfilled in one word, `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" [Carrol’s Note – Some truth and some misunderstanding here.]
Legalism has no place in Christian living today, but much of it is already in our churches and it should be rooted out. Actually, the "law" of the spirit is the broader law. Consider how Jesus so greatly broadened the law against adultery. Now we see it is not only a lustful act but also a matter of a man's thinking of a woman as a sex object rather than as a person (Matt. 5:28). Our wonderful Bible is a revelation of God through records of God's experience with people of some centuries ago. It is not a book of rules for our lives today to be imposed on us from the outside; it is a book of spiritual principles from which we build our lives from the inside out. It is not a rule book.
- How do we move from the first century Bible to today? We have talked about principles, but applying the principles is not always easy. The Bible has nothing to say about much that we encounter in the twenty-first century, for example, innate homosexuality.
To begin with, we remember that we have the Holy Spirit promised to us for this task; we must always ponder the text and/or the subject in the posture of prayer to the Holy Spirit for guidance.
Because the Bible does not speak of many things we encounter today and yet we believe God wants to lead us in our decisions today, we realize that revelation did not end when the Bible was completed but is "living," "dynamic," meaning that each age or circumstance has new revelation for the new challenges. All our spiritual growth through learning more about God means the Holy Spirit has given us a new revelation. [Carrol’s Note – For example, our growth in understanding racial equality and the role of women.]
Bible commentators still follow John Wesley's pattern for finding God's new revelation for the current time: consider (a) scripture, (b) tradition--how Christian churches have interpreted and applied scripture through history, (c) reason--Wesley thought religion and reason went together, that any irrational religion was false religion, and (d) experience--what produces Christlikeness in individual lives.
Then there is the final test. Christ is the perfect revelation of God, and he is the final and supreme criterion by which our concepts are to be judged and shaped. The principles he taught and exemplified as unchanging and eternal have to be met by our conclusions about the Bible's message for our lives. Commentators agree, "We must constantly hold the interpretations...up against the person of Christ, who is the final criterion for valid understanding."A-3 Our (1963) Baptist Faith and Message Statement says, "The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ."
An excellent example for seeing this "living" revelation is in our concept of slavery. The Bible supports slavery, mentioning it frequently with acceptance. Philemon was not told to free Onesimus. Slaves are repeatedly told to obey their masters (Eph. 6:5, Col. 3:22, I Tim. 6:1, Titus 2:9). Our revelation today is that in order to be Christian we must ignore the Bible's approval of slavery. We also know that we have to ignore tradition, for our churches supported slavery, at least in the South, until it was finally destroyed by a great civil war. By our reason/wisdom and our personal experience of seeing right and wrong and being a part of it, we came to recognize that the spirit and principles of Christ are found in the abolition of slavery. Most of us now recognize the same about segregation, but it took a civil war and congressional laws in this century to bring about the reason and experience to make us see the Christian truth about slavery and segregation. How sad! Why didn't our churches destroy slavery before it ever started in America? And why didn't our churches do away with segregation long ago? And where are our churches' blind spots today? (I am convinced that they include homosexuality and sexism.) [Carrol’s Note – AMEN!]
Another example of "living" revelation is in divorce, for our current beliefs go against Jesus' clear statement (Matt. 5:32, 19:9; Mark 10:11,12) that divorce and remarriage after divorce are adulterous. With this condemnation by Jesus, why do we sanction divorce and remarriage today? Conservative ethics professor Stanley Grenz summarizes the thinking of most scholars:
Situations arise in which God's ideal for marriage is being effaced and human failure and sin are causing great suffering.... At this stage, the principle of God's compassionate concern for the persons involved, God's intent to establish shalom (peace) or human wholeness, must take precedence over the concern to maintain the inviolability of marriage.... The church, as the redemptive community [has the] opportunity to model the compassion of the God of new beginnings.A-4 [Carrol’s Note – I’m not sure I agree with this, but in practice this is what the Adventist Church does, as well. We even have a number of divorced pastors.]
We believe God blesses and uses many of those remarriages as he could never use the original marriage. I think many Bible principles go into our current belief about divorce and remarriage: love, forgiveness, the ideal of freedom for every individual, the value of God-given talents and the responsibility to develop and use them, etc. Psychological principles also are involved, which, if true, are God-given.
(Some would accept divorced people in the church but never ordain them. Dr. Grenz has an applicable word about this.
The past of every believer is marred by sin and failure. There are no righteous ones in the church. The disqualification of a believer from an office solely because a divorce is found in that person's past elevates this one expression of sin and failure to a status of sinfulness beyond all others....The texts that set down guidelines for the selection of officers focus on three basic prerequisites - giftedness for leadership, spirituality and character, and public reputation (e.g., I Tim. 3:1-13)....These criteria give central emphasis to the importance of one's present life of faith.A-5)
By our thinking about slavery and divorce are we ignoring the Bible? No, we are searching for its eternal principles and the best understanding we can have of Jesus Christ. This incredible, priceless Bible is not God's final revelation. Christ with his life and principles is the authentic revelation to be applied to every new age. Just as the Old Testament and its laws were reinterpreted by the New Testament, so the New Testament's applications to the first century are reinterpreted by Christ and his principles in the centuries after the New Testament.
The relative importance of the Bible to the life of Christ is indicated when we realize that those Christians who were said to have turned the world upside down for Christ in the first century (Acts 17:6) did not have a New Testament; it had not been written. They had only (!) a life-transforming experience with Jesus Christ and were living like him to the best of their understanding of him. (Do you suppose if we didn't have a New Testament to wrangle over and had only such an experience with Jesus Christ that we would do better at turning our world upside down for him?) Surely we can see that the important thing is to weigh every understanding of revelation--scripture, tradition, reason or experience--in the scales of Jesus Christ.
Interpreting scripture is surely one of the most glorious and rewarding privileges we have. It is worth making every effort we can to learn what eternal principles God was trying to give for all ages when he inspired writers long ago to write to their contemporaries.
Louise, let me preach a moment about a related evil. Failure to observe these principles of interpretation is so sad and damaging to the Kingdom not only regarding homosexuality but also regarding the ordination of women. The kingdom of God is denied the ministry of great women who have gifts for preaching the Word in a world that needs the Word preached every way possible. I am sure Satan laughs; he doesn't have to do a thing; he just lets God's church keep half of its members [Carrol’s Note – over half, actually] from preaching and ministering as pastors.
Those who so restrict women make the great and far-reaching mistake of ignoring the first century's culture [(1)(b) above]. The eastern half of the Roman empire had been infused with Greek culture following the conquests of Alexander the Great. Here women could not be in public without their husbands and should never speak with another man; the only woman who did talk with a man in public would be the man`s paramour. Paul told the Christian women in this culture to submit to their husbands and not to talk in church, or they, presumed by unbelievers to be immoral, would make a Christian church appear to be a brothel. Every such injunction for obedience and silence was to a church in this culture. In the western half of the empire (and in Roman colonies in the eastern half), Roman culture prevailed; women had legal rights, could operate their own businesses and could converse freely with anyone in public without being considered a prostitute. Paul rejoiced that the women in the churches in this culture contributed so much to spreading the gospel. In Romans 16 he speaks of several, calling Phoebe a deacon (using the same word he uses elsewhere for men) and saying that Junia is "prominent among the apostles.". He tells of Pricilla's "expounding" the truths of Christianity to a man (Acts 18:26) and of two women in Philippi (a Roman colony) who labored alongside men in helping him in his work (Phil. 4:2-3). It is significant (and disheartening) that even in the Greek culture, since the church did understand that in Christ there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28), women could pray and prophesy (often meaning "preaching") for that was not conversing with men, and so they were not considered immoral characters when they did this (e.g., I Cor. 11:4; Acts 21:9)!
The failure to ordain women in our culture is unbiblical, and it is hindering the kingdom of God. The humble following of basic principles of interpretation would eliminate this evil.A-6
In our treatment of homosexuals and women are two great mistakes from misinterpretation of the Bible. How many minor ones are there in our churches and in our individual lives?
APPENDIX B THE BIBLE AND HOMOSEXUALITY
As stated above, until 1869 there was no written idea of homosexuality being an innate part of one's nature. Until that time it was believed that all people were heterosexual, but some were so perverted that they engaged in same-gender sex. When the Bible writers talked on this subject, within their culture and understanding, that is what they were talking about--that kind of heterosexuality.
Nevertheless, there are Bible passages used by some people today to condemn homosexuals. I want to discuss each passage in some detail to show that not only is there no statement about homosexuality, but also that there is no statement applicable to homosexual sex if that sex is not lustful. Many authors write on this subject, and I am indebted to many of them.
THE OLD TESTAMENT
Genesis 1-2, The Creation Story
Critics of homosexuality enjoy saying, "The creation story is about Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." Those who say that marriage can be only between a man and a woman argue that God's creation of Adam and Eve as heterosexuals shows that this is what he intended all persons to be; anything else is outside His will and therefore sinful. Dr. Gomes responds,
[As] Jeffrey S. Siker has pointed out in the July 1994 issue of Theology Today, to argue that the creation story privileges a heterosexual view of the relations between humankind is to make one of the weakest arguments possible, the argument from silence....It does not mention friendship, for example, and yet we do not assume that friendship is condemned or abnormal. It does not mention the single state, and yet we know that singleness is not condemned, and that in certain religious circumstances it is held in very high esteem. The creation story is not, after all, a paradigm about marriage, but rather about the establishment of human society.B-1
One can read anything one wants to into the creation story but cannot read anything about homosexuality out of it. [Carrol’s Note - my personal belief is that the creation story tells about God’s original plan for this world before its fall to sin. Neither singleness, infertility nor homosexuality was part of this plan and only occurred after man fell.]
Genesis 18:20 to 19:29--The Sodom Story
Some consider the sin of Sodom to be same-gender sex, although we are not told in Genesis what Sodom's sins were, only that they were so great that God determined to destroy the city. On the evening before its destruction he sent two angels, in disguise as men, to the city to lead Lot and his family out early the next day. Hospitable Lot invited them to spend the night at his house. During the evening the men of the city surrounded the house and demanded of Lot that he bring the two men out so that they could [19:5]
King James Version: "know them."
Revised Standard Version: "know them."
New International Version: "have sex with them."
When Lot refused to bring his guests out, the men of the city were about to break his door down when the angels struck them all blind and the mob dispersed. The next day Lot and his family were led out of Sodom, and the city was destroyed by fire and brimstone from heaven.
The Hebrew verb used here, "yadha," "to know," is used 943 times in the OT and only ten times clearly to mean "have sex," then it always means heterosexual sex. The word normally used for homosexual sex is "shakhabh." Many scholars believe that in Gen. 19:5 yadha means "know" in the sense of "get acquainted with" (the city's men may have wondered if these were enemy spies or they might have sensed the city's impending doom and been concerned with what these strangers were doing there) and have several arguments for this, including Sodom's being used as an example of great sin numerous times in the Old and New Testaments with nothing ever said about same-sex sex, and the context of Jesus' references to Sodom (Luke 10:10-13) which seems to imply lack of hospitality as the sin.
Other scholars think it was the common practice of showing dominance over and humiliating outsiders by forcing them to take the part of a (an inferior) woman in a same-gender rape.
Others think it means "have sex," and point to Lot's offering his two virgin daughters to the crowd if sex is what they want, if they will just leave his guests alone. If this is the right interpretation, it is clearly about violent, criminal, gang rape, something always condemnable.
Another thought is expressed by Religion Professor David L. Bartlett: "This story is certainly an unlikely starting point for a `biblical' understanding of sexual ethics. While the attempted homosexual rape by the men of Sodom is explicitly condemned, the offer by Lot to hand his two virgin daughters over to the violent and lecherous inhabitants of Sodom is related without a word of judgment."B-2
Conservative theologian Richard Hays says, "The notorious story of Sodom and Gomorrah--often cited in connection with homosexuality--is actually irrelevant to the topic."B-3
There is nothing in this story applicable to our consideration of homosexuality. [Carrol’s Note – two other points: the Bible says "every man, both young and old, from every part of the city" came to surround Lot’s house – are we to assume that every man in Sodom was a homosexual? Also, God had already made the decision to destroy Sodom before this incident. I am convinced that this story has nothing to do with homosexuality, but refers to intended gang rape by heterosexuals.]
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13
Revised Standard Version:
22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman, it is an abomination.
13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death...
The King James and New International versions say virtually the same thing.
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are the only direct references to same-gender sex in the Old Testament. They are both part of the Old Testament Holiness Code, a religious, not a moral code; it later became the Jewish Purity Laws. ["Abomination" is used throughout the Old Testament to designate sins that involve ethnic contamination or idolatry. The word relates to the failure to worship God or to worshiping a false god; it does not relate to morality.] Professor Soards tell us, "Old Testament experts view the regulations of Leviticus as standards of holiness, directives for the formation of community life, aimed at establishing and maintaining a people's identity in relation to God."B-4 This is because God was so determined that his people would not adopt the practices of the Baal worshipers in Canaan, and same-gender sex was part of Baal worship. (The laws say nothing about women engaging in same-gender sex; probably this had to do with man's dominance, and such acts by the subservient had nothing to do with religious impurity.)
God required purity for his worship. Anything pure was unadulterated, unmixed with anything else These Purity Laws prohibited mixing different threads in one garment, sowing a field with two kinds of seed, crossbreeding animals. A few years ago in Israel when an orthodox government came into power, McDonalds had to stop selling cheeseburgers. Hamburgers, OK. Cheese sandwiches, OK. But mixing milk and meat in one sandwich violated the Purity Laws--it had nothing to do with morality. These were laws about worshipping God, not ethics, and so have no bearing on our discussion of morality. Helmut Thielicke remarks on these passages: "It would never occur to anyone to wrench these laws of cultic purification from their concrete situation and give them the kind of normative authority that the Decalogue, for example, has."B-5
Another reason they are not pertinent to our discussion is that these laws were for the particular time and circumstances existing when they were given. If you planted a fruit tree, you could not eat its fruit until its fifth year, and all fruit the fourth year must be offered to the Lord. A worker must be paid his wage on the day of his labor. You must not harvest a field to its edge. We readily dismiss most of them as not applicable to our day and culture, and if we dismiss some of them for any reason, we have to dismiss all of them, including the sexual regulations, for that same reason.
When we add the fact that these laws were talking about heterosexuals, it makes three reasons, any one of which would be sufficient, why they have no bearing on questions about homosexuals or homosexuality or on the morality of same-gender sex by homosexuals today.
[Carrol’s Note – while I agree with all these thoughts above, I still have more difficulty with these texts than any others. For example, we understand the reasons for the laws about incest and still observe them today. Further, Adventists believe that the laws about unclean meats have an application to our health today, although we do not observe all the dietary laws in Leviticus. Another argument I have heard is that male-male sexual acts were abhorred because one man had to take the inferior role of a female. In any case, this command is only against anal sex between two men, not against a loving relationship between two men or any other kind of sex.]
THE NEW TESTAMENT
In the New Testament there are three passages to consider.
Romans 1:21, 26, 27
Revised Standard Version
21 for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him...
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men...
The King James and New International versions say virtually the same thing.
Romans 1:26 and 27 clearly speak of same-gender sex by both men and women, the only passage in the New Testament that does so. Rom. 1:18-32 speaks of Gentiles (heterosexuals) who could and should have known and served and given thanks to God but would not, so God gave them up and let them do whatever they wanted to do, and that resulted in degrading and shameful acts, including same-gender sex. It is almost a moot point, but Paul is not listing sins for which God will condemn anyone, he is listing sins that occur because people have forsaken Him. These are acts committed by those who have turned away from God and so become "consumed with passion." All of us recognize that those who forsake God and give themselves over to lustful living--homosexual or heterosexual--stand condemned by the Bible. This passage is talking about people who chose to forsake God.
Conservative theologian Richard Hays says, "No direct appeal to Romans 1 as a source of rules about sexual conduct is possible."B-6 [Carrol’s Note – the context here is heathen idolators whose worship was of the creature rather than the Creator. Same-sex rituals were a prominent part of their temple worship. They were obviously heterosexual, because the text says they turned from what was natural for them. It also describes them as lustful. So I believe this text has no reference to people with inate homosexuality who seek a loving, committed relationship with a same-sex partner.]
I Corinthians 6:9
King James Version:
9...Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate [malakoi], nor abusers of themselves with mankind [arsenokoitai], 10 Nor thieves..., shall inherit the kingdom of God.
New International Version
9...Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes [malakoi] nor homosexual offenders [arsenokoitai] 10 nor thieves...will inherit the kingdom of God.
Revised Standard Version--1952 edition:
9...Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals [malakoi and arsenokoitai], 10 nor thieves..., will inherit the kingdom of God.
Revised Standard Version--1971 edition:
9...Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts [malakoi and arsenokoitai], 10 nor thieves..., will inherit the kingdom of God.
A comparison of how the two Greek words are translated in the different versions shows that translations often, unfortunately, become the interpretations of the translators. In I Cor. 6:9 Paul lists the types of persons who will be excluded from the kingdom of God and for some he uses the Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai. KJ translates the first "effeminate," a word that has no necessary connection with homosexuals. The NIV translates the first "male prostitutes" and the second, "homosexual offenders". The RSV in its first edition of 1952 translated both words by the single term, "homosexuals". In the revised RSV of 1971, the translation "homosexuals" is discarded and the two Greek words are translated as "sexual perverts"; obviously the translators had concluded the earlier translation was not supportable.
Malakoi literally means "soft" and is translated that way by both KJ and RSV in Matt. 11:8 and Luke 7:25. When it is used in moral contexts in Greek writings it has the meaning of morally weak; a related word, malakia, when used in moral contexts, means dissolute and occasionally refers to sexual activity but never to homosexual acts. There are at least five Greek words that specifically mean people who practice same-gender sex. Unquestionably, if Paul had meant such people, he would not have used a word that is never used to mean that in Greek writings when he had other words that were clear in that meaning. He must have meant what the word commonly means in moral contexts, "morally weak." There is no justification, most scholars agree, for translating it "homosexuals."
Arsenokoitai, is not found in any extant Greek writings until the second century when it apparently means "pederast", a corrupter of boys, and the sixth century when it is used for husbands practicing anal intercourse with their wives. Again, if Paul meant people practicing same-gender sex, why didn't he use one of the common words? Some scholars think probably the second century use might come closest to Paul's intention. If so, there is no justification for translating the word as "homosexuals." Other scholars see a connection with Greek words used to refer to same-gender sex in Leviticus. If so, it is speaking of heterosexuals given to such lust they turn to such acts.
Richard Hays tells us, "I Corinthians 6:9-11 states no rule to govern the conduct of Christians."B-7
One commentator has another reason for rejecting the NIV and original RSV translations, "homosexuals." Today it could mean that a person who is homosexual in orientation even though "of irreproachable morals, is automatically branded as unrighteous and excluded from the kingdom of God, just as if he were the most depraved of sexual perverts."B-8
So I Cor. 6:9 says nothing about homosexuality with the possible exception of condemnable pederasty.
I Tim. 1:10
King James Version:
9...the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners,...10...for them that defile themselves with mankind (arsenokoitai)...
Revised Standard Version - both 1952 and 1971 editions:
9...the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for 10 immoral persons, sodomites (arsenokoitai),...
New International Version:
9...the law is not made for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful...10 for adulterers and perverts (arsenokoitai)
Here only the RSV specifically refers to same-gender sex, using the term "sodomites," which is the translation given in both the Old Testament and New Testament to Hebrew and Greek words for male temple prostitutes. The KJV probably has the same thought. The NIV does not necessarily refer to same-gender sex. Again Paul has used the Greek word arsenokoitai, the word in I Cor. 6:9.
As discussed above, this word would have no reference to homosexuality or homosexual sex in our discussion.
So like the other two New Testament passages, I Tim. 1:10 says nothing about homosexuality or homosexuals and nothing about same-gender sex unless that of temple prostitutes or possibly the molestation of young boys by heterosexuals.
In view of the facts set forth above, we realize there is no moral teaching in the Bible about homosexuality as we know it, including homosexual sex (except possibly pederasty). The Bible cannot be used to condemn as immoral all same-gender sex. It clearly condemns lust, whether homosexual or heterosexual. There is certainly nothing in the Bible about anyone going to hell because he or she is homosexual. All who go to hell will go for the same, one reason: failure to commit their lives in faith to Jesus Christ as their lord and savior.
From a slightly different approach to interpretation, Dr. Robin Scroggs states, "The basic model in today's Christian homosexual community is so different from the model attacked by the New Testament that the criterion of reasonable similarity of context is not met. The conclusion I have to draw seems inevitable: Biblical judgments against homosexuality are not relevant to today's debate."B-9 [Italics his]
Dr. Gomes concludes his discussion of homosexuality and the Bible with these words:
The Biblical writers never contemplated a form of homosexuality in which loving, monogamous, and faithful persons sought to live out the implications of the gospel with as much fidelity to it as any heterosexual believer. All they knew of homosexuality was prostitution, pederasty, lasciviousness, and exploitation. These vices, as we know, are not unknown among heterosexuals, and to define contemporary homosexuals only in these terms is a cultural slander of the highest order, reflecting not so much prejudice, which it surely does, but what the Roman Catholic Church calls "invincible ignorance," which all of the Christian piety and charity in the world can do little to conceal. The "problem," of course, is not the Bible, it is the Christians who read it.B-10
APPENDIX C The Three Sins
When we say to homosexuals, "We love the sinner but hate the sin; go clean up your act and then we will welcome you," what they hear us say is, "you" are sinners and "we" are not. Since we know that everyone is a sinner, what do we mean? "You are great sinners and we are little sinners"? Or possibly, "Well, everyone knows what your great sins are, but ours are hidden from other people"? This is all ridiculous, but isn't it easy to see why gays and lesbians hate this statement? I believe many of our church members (heterosexuals) honestly think that same-gender sex is a worse sin than any they commit, so much worse that homosexuals cannot be welcomed into our churches, or if welcomed to visit, never affirmed in their homosexuality. Can we be sure that such a judgment of same-gender sex, even that of loving, committed couples, is right?
It seems to me that Ezekiel 16:49 sums up clearly the Bible's categories of sin. It says, "The sins of Sodom were..." Sodom, destroyed for its sinfulness with fire and brimstone from heaven (Gen. 19:24), is mentioned throughout the Bible as an example of sin at its worst. So Ezekiel's statement should be most instructive to us. Ezekiel names three types of sin attributable to the people of Sodom.
First named is pride and its companion, haughtiness. We didn't expect that; this isn't one of the terrible, unspeakable things that criminals and perverts do. That's right, Ezekiel first names the sin of the spirit. Now we recall that the sins of the spirit were the sins for which Jesus so condemned the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the "back to the Bible" people of Jesus' day, organized originally for just that purpose. They went regularly to worship services, they knew their Bible thoroughly and they tithed faithfully; how can fault be found with them? But Jesus knew their pride and hypocrisy and said such was a great sin, so great they could not get into his kingdom because of it. It was their sins of the spirit that condemned these people who otherwise were so exemplary.
The problem about sins of the spirit is that for most of us we are not conscious of them. We go to church and study the Bible and give to the church; we must be pretty good people, But if, like the Pharisees, we are not conscious of our sins of the spirit, then maybe we are like the Pharisees. Religious editor Marv Knox recently wrote that "insidious enemies--such as greed, apathy, self-interest and hate--...threaten us all."C-1--all sins of the spirit. And the list could go on. We all know that we are not free of the sins of the spirit. They must be great sins for Jesus to condemn them so - our great sins.
Ezekiel then says that the people of Sodom had been blessed with abundance, but they did not help the poor and needy. This is a sin of omission. Are we guilty? Maybe we are not sure because, as with our sins of the spirit, we are not really conscious of our sins of omission. But shouldn't we think about how much we have failed to be what God made our potential to be and how much we have left undone and how indifferent we have been to the needs of others when the Lord expected us to help?
I ponder this one sin of omission that Ezekiel speaks of here and have a feeling of great guilt, for both the Old and New Testaments have so very much to say about helping the poor, but my hands have never been dirtied by working with or for the poor, Should most of our church members feel the same way? But partly it's not their fault; we preachers have not preached and taught about this responsibility God expects us to take. So the sin of us preachers is multiplied in this, our sin of omission. And this is only one sin of omission. When we add all the others...I often think that surely our sins of omission must be our greatest sins. Or do I think that because I am so unconscious of my sins of the spirit? I don't know, but I am certain that our sins of omission are very great. [Carrol’s Note – often we soothe our consciences by giving money, but I don’t think that takes away our guilt.]
Finally Ezekiel says of the people of Sodom that they committed other abominations. These are the sins of commission. These we are more conscious of, but we probably still think that we are such good people, we don't commit many of them. I read of a woman who said she had not sinned for 43 days. Incredible, almost, that someone could have that concept of what sin is. But then, is that pretty close to the concept of many church members? Why did our Lord give us a model prayer that could be prayed every day and that included "Forgive our sins."?
If homosexual sex is sin, it is the sin of commission. This was the third sin Ezekiel mentioned. The three sins may not have been given in order of their evil, but wouldn't you expect him to name the worst first? If they were in such order, then the sin of commission is not as great as the others, and the sexual sin would not be as great as our sins of the spirit and of omission. But whether our sins of commission are small or great, are we not all such great sinners in God's sight that we cannot possibly point a finger at anyone else and say "Sinner"? Is this why Jesus said, "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (Matt. 7:1)? When we have done--no, even if we could possibly do--all that Jesus commanded, can we say anything except, "We are unprofitable servants" (Luke 17:10)?
Welcoming gays and lesbians and affirming them in our church fellowship is not going soft on sin. Just the opposite. It is recognizing that we are all such great sinners in God's sight that we can never judge another's sins as worse than our sins. If we, sinners as we are, can be part of the fellowship of the church, then homosexuals, if they are considered sinners, can also be part of the fellowship. The criteria for their being welcomed is in their love for the Lord, their desire to worship and serve him and to have fellowship with us. [Carrol’s Note – this is where I stand. After many years of studying this topic and getting to know and love many gay and lesbian people, after hearing literally hundreds of "horror stories" about how the church and Christians have treated them, I often wonder why so many of them still long to be part of the church! As Brennan Manning has observed, their desire to worship God represents a flickering flame of hope that we must not quench, as our Lord would not quench a smoldering flax or break a bruised reed. I firmly believe the church will be held responsible for the thousands, nay millions, of gay and lesbian people it has driven away by its prejudice, ignorance and hatred.]
Philip Yancy in his splendid little book, What's So Amazing about Grace?, tells of the prostitute who was so sick of her life that she went to a counselor for help. In the course of their session the counselor asked her if she had thought about going to church. She was appalled at the thought. "Of course not," she said. "I feel bad enough about myself now; how would I feel among those people?" Then Yancy notes that when Jesus was on earth, prostitutes and such sinners were attracted to him. The Pharisees criticized him harshly for that very thing. And Yancy wonders why church people today, Christians who are supposed to be little Christs, repel instead of attract these people. Perhaps our churches are wont to say that we must project an image of what is right and moral in this world. Oh, so we must mean that if Jesus attracted these people, he did not project such an image. We are without defense. Until we become more Christlike, the prostitutes and homosexuals will never want to come to us. Yet, do we not realize that we cannot be less sinful than they? We are in no position to judge them.
Even Richard Hays, a conservative theologian who believes homosexuality itself is sinful, insists that gays and lesbians must be taken in and affirmed by our churches, saying, "Unless we think the church is a community of sinless perfection, we will have to acknowledge that [gays and lesbians] are welcome along with other sinners in the company of those who trust in the God who justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). If they are not welcome, I will have to walk out the door along with them, leaving in the sanctuary only those entitled to cast the first stone."C-2
Louise, how can we sinners, we great sinners, say anything to gays or lesbians or anybody who wants to worship and work with us except, "You say you love the Lord and want to serve him. We do, too. Come be a part of our fellowship of worship and study and work. We are all such sinners in God's sight we need one another and we can help and support one another. We are not here to judge one another's sins; we are here to love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ as we make our Christian pilgrimage."
1-1 Helmut Thielicke, The Ethics of Sex, 283-4
1-2 APA News Release No. 98-56, December 14, 1998
1-3 Quoted by Ellen Herman, Psychiatry, Psychology, and Homosexuality, 33
2-1 Jeffrey S. Siker, "Homosexual Christians, the Bible and Gentile Inclusion: Confessions of a Repenting Heterosexist" in Jeffrey S. Siker, Ed., Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate, 181ff
2-2 Ibid., 187f
3-1 Herman, 57
3-2 The Dallas Morning News, October 7, 2001
5-1 Stein, Edward, The Mismeasure of Desire: The Science, Theory and Ethics of Homosexuality. 283
5-2 Brenner, Claudia with Hannah Ashley, Eight Bullets: One Woman's Story of Surviving Anti-Gay Violence
5-3 John J. McNeill, The Church and the Homosexual (Boson: Beacon Press, 1993), 163
6-1 Peter J. Gomes, The Good Book, 147
6-2 Ibid., 146
6-3 Mel White, "A Soulforce Response" in Open Hands, Vol. 14, No. 2, Fall 1998
6-4 March 15, 1998.
6-5 Michael Nava and Robert Dawidoff, Created Equal: Why Gay Rights Matter to, 100
6-6 The Vatican's official position condemns homosexuality as an "objective moral disorder", and a 1992 Vatican statement called discrimination against gays "not unjust." The Baptist Faith and Message statement adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000, in Article XV, equates "homosexuality" with "sexual immorality." A 1992 SBC Executive Committee resolution stated: "God regards homosexuality as a gross perversion and unquestioned sin." In 1995 SBC amended its constitution for the first time in its 150-year history to bar from membership any church that would "affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior."
6-7 Paul Duke, "Homosexuality and the Church" in Robert M. Baird and Katherine Baird, Homosexuality: Debating the Issues, 231f
7-1 Psychology Today, Vol. 8, No. 10 (March 1973), 27-33
7-2 Thielicke, 227f
7-3 C. G. Jung, The Collected Works, vol. 9, pt. 1, 58-59
7-4 McNeill, 143
7-5 Myers, David, "Sexual Orientation and Science" in LeDayne McLeese Polanski and Millard Eiland, Eds., Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, The Alliance of Baptists and Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, 172
8-1 Kathy Rudy, Sex and the Church (Boston: Beacon Press, 1997), 108
8-2 James B. Nelson, "Sources for Body Theology: Homosexuality as a Test Case" in Jeffrey S. Siker, Ed., Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate, 81
8-3 McNeill, 204
8-4 Ibid., 103
8-5 Ibid., 165, 204
8-6 Thielicke, 271
8-7 McNeil, 102
8-8 William Barclay, A Spiritual Autobiography, 115
8-9 John J. McNeill, Taking a Chance on, 38
8-10 Quoted in Letha Scanzoni and Virginia Mollenkott, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? 130
8-11 Alastair Huron, ed., Toward a Quaker View of Sex
8-12 Michael Nava and Robert Dawidoff, Created Equal: Why Gay Rights Matter to America, 120, 147
8-13 Stanton Jones and Don E. Workman, "Homosexuality: The Behavioral Sciences and the Church" in Siker, 97
9-1 Quoted in Scanzoni and Mollenkott, 120, 121
9-2 Nava and Dawidoff, 145
9-3 Quoted in Scanzoni and Mollenkott, 129
9-4 Quoted in Scanzoni and Mollenkott, 132 from Nelson, "Homosexuality and the Church," Christianity and Crisis 37 (April 4, 1977), 63-69
9-5 Editorial, H. Darrell Lance, The Inspiriter, Winter/Spring 2000
9-6 Nancy Toder, "Lesbian Couples in Particular" in Betty Berzon, Positively Gay, 62
9-7 Berzon, 62f
9-8 Ralph Wedgwood, "Society Should Allow Same-Sex Marriage" in Mary E. Williams, Ed., Homosexuality: Opposing Viewpoints, 168
9-9 Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, "Overcoming Heterosexism - To Benefit Everyone" in Jeffrey S. Siker, 148
10-1 Tex R. Sample, "Should Gays and Lesbians Be Ordained?" in Caught in the Crossfire, by Sally B Geis and Donald E. Messer, Eds., 127-129
10-2 Quoted in Scanzoni and Mollenkott, 132 from Nelson, "Homosexuality and the Church," Christianity and Crisis 37 (April 4, 1977), 63-69
10-3 Stanley J. Grenz, Sexual Ethics: An Evangelical Perspective, 144
10-4 Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, 104
A-1 H. E. Dana, Searching the Scriptures: A Handbook of New Testament Hermeneutics, 178, 224
A-2 Ibid., 235
A-3 Hays, Richard, 381
A-4 Marion L. Soards, Scripture and Homosexuality: Biblical Authority and the Church Today, 13
A-5 Stanley J. Grenz, 128, 143f
A-6 See discussion by James R. Payton, Jr., "A Tale of Two Cultures" in Priscilla Papers, Winter 2002, 13ff
B-1 Peter J. Gomes, 149
B-2 David L. Bartlett, "A Biblical Perspective on Homosexuality" in Polaski and Eiland, 27
B-3 Hays, Richard, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, p.381
B-4 Soards, Marion L, Scripture and Homosexuality: Biblical Authority and the Church Today, 57
B-5 Helmut Thielicke, 227
B-6 The Journal of Religious Ethics, Vol 14:1(1986) 206,7
B-7 Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament (San Francisco: Harper, 1996) 394
B-8 Quoted in D. S. Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western Christian, 39
B-9 Robin Scroggs, New Testament and Homosexuality, 127, quoted by Shields, 127
B-10 Gomes, 162
C-1 Baptist Standard, November 13, 2000
C-2 Richard B. Hays, 400
Abelove, Henry, Michele Aina Barale, David M. Halperin, eds., The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader (New York: Routledge, 1993)
Baird, Robert M. and M. Katherine Baird, Homosexuality, Debating the Issues (New York: Prometheus Books, 1995)
Barclay, William. A Spiritual Autobiography (Grand Rapids: William B. Erdmans, 1975)
Berzon, Betty, Ed., Positively Gay: New Approaches to Gay and Lesbian Life (Berkley: CelestialArts, 1992)
Bieber, Irving, Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study (New York: Basic Books, 1962)
Carleton, Francis, "Contested Identity: The Law's Construction of Gay and Lesbian Subjects" in Lynn Pardie, Tracy Luchetta, Eds., The Construction of Attitudes toward Lesbians and Gay Men (New York: Hayworth, 1999)
Cory, Donald W. and John LeRoy, The Homosexual and His Society (New York: Citadel, 1963)
Cromey, Robert Warren, In God's Image: Christian Witness to the Need for Gay/Lesbian Equality in the Eyes of the Church (San Francisco: Alamo Square Press, 1991)
Dana, H. E., Searching the Scriptures: A Handbook of New Testament Hermeneutics (New Orleans: Bible Institute Memorial Press, 1936)
Duberman, Martin, A Queer World: The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader (New York: New York University Press, 1997)
Efird, James M., How to Interpret the Bible (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984)
Geis. Sally B. and Donald E. Messer, Eds. Caught in the Crossfire, . (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994)
Gomes, Peter J., The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart (New York: William Morrow, 1996)
Grenz, Stanley J., Sexual Ethics: An Evangelical Perspective, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1990)
Hays, Richard B., The Moral Vision of the New Testament (San Francisco: Harper, 1996)
Herman, Ellen, Psychiatry, Psychology, and Homosexuality (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1995)
Kimball-Jones, H., Toward a Christian Understanding of Homosexuality (New York: Association Press, 1966)
Marmor, Judd, ed., Homosexual Behavior: A Modern Reappraisal (New York: Basic Books, 1980)
McNeill, John J., The Church and the Homosexual (Boston: Beacon Press, Fourth Edition, 1993)
McNeill, John J., Taking a Chance on God (Boston: Beacon Press, 1988)
Nava, Michael and Robert Dawidoff, Created Equal: Why Gay Rights Matter to America (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994)
Pardie, Lynn and Tracy Luchetta, Eds. The Construction of Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gay Men (New York: Haworth)
Payton, James R., Jr., "A Tale of Two Cultures" in Priscilla Papers, Winter 2002
Polanski, LeDayne McLeese and Millard Eiland, Eds., Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, (The Alliance of Baptists and Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America)
Rudy, Kathy, Sex and the Church (Boston: Beacon Press, 1997)
Scanzoni, Letha and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978)
Siker, Jeffrey S., Ed., Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)
Soards, Marion L, Scripture and Homosexuality: Biblical Authority and the Church Today (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1989)
Stein, Edward, The Mismeasure of Desire: The Science, Theory, and Ethics of Sexual Orientation (New York: The Oxford University Press, 1999)
Thielicke, Helmut, The Ethics of Sex (New York: Harper, 1967)
Williams, Mary E., Ed., Homosexuality: Opposing Viewpoints (San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999)
Wink, Walter, Homosexuality and the Christian Faith (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999)
© Bruce W. Lowe, 2001
Downloaded from: http://www.GodMadeMeGay.com
Can We Talk About Homosexuality?
by Ben Kemena, M.D.
Kent* had a tough time "fitting in" with his high school chums. Although he was a good student and loved soccer, he was usually quiet and reserved. He played the piano and helped with song service at his church, but was generally a "loner."
At 16, Kent talked to his mother. Dating girls held little interest for him and he wondered if he was gay. Kent's mother was horrified. She called her husband at work. Kent and his parents stormily agreed to meet with their local Adventist pastor. After carefully listening to the story, the pastor felt that Kent's problem should be "nipped in the bud." He recommended that Kent be enrolled in a "change program" to make him heterosexual.
Kent did not have many rights as an under-age minor -- or so it felt to him. His parents accompanied him to a change program far from home, signed him in, and left him there. The Christian-based "live-in" residential change program operated from a private home with unlicensed "counselors" holding daily meetings and workshops. Within two weeks, Kent had his first sexual experience with an acquaintance of one of his counselors. . .and within a month, Kent was hospitalized for a suicide attempt.
Kent's parents rushed to the hospital. Kent begged to go home and his parents eventually agreed to take him home. Kent's parents blamed certain academy teachers for "the problem" and enrolled Kent in a different academy the following year. Kent lasted one semester at the new boarding academy and asked to be allowed back to his previous school. His parents refused his request but did consent to home study.
Kent returned home. His parents made the ground rules very clear: They would not allow any discussion of "that issue" in their home and as long as Kent lived under their roof, he must live by their rules. His parents gave him a copy of the Church Manual as the "rule book." Kent agreed to these conditions and excelled at home study. But being home was not always easy.
The church pastor seemed very disappointed in Kent (they never discussed the issue again) and would no longer allow him to participate in church song service. Kent and his parents quietly decided to attend a different Adventist church, and Kent kept a low profile. Eventually as the months slipped by, things seemed to be getting back to normal. Kent and his parents began to discuss college plans.
On a family outing, Kent visited his former academy. Everyone asked why he had not returned. He made up all kinds of excuses. He missed his old friends and teachers and enjoyed seeing them. With a desperate hope, he confided in one of his academy teachers about why he had not returned to school. The teacher listened sympathetically and offered to pray with Kent for deliverance from this "abomination," as they discussed the requirements of lifelong celibacy. Kent's teacher advised prayer, but also mentioned that he thought it best if they did not discuss the issue in the future; people might talk. Kent prayed earnestly.
In late August, Kent started his senior year in home study. Eighteen months had passed from the incident that no one in his family discussed. Kent's younger brothers and sisters were not even aware that anything had happened. One evening, Kent slipped quietly away from the kitchen table leaving a note saying simply that he "had to leave because he was going crazy with no one to talk to."
Suffering unimaginable grief and despair, Kent's parents have not seen their son in many months. They reported Kent "missing" to the police, but he was never found. In a city hundreds of miles from home, Kent was seen by a former classmate in passing (she did not know Kent had run away) who only noticed that Kent seemed thinner and needed a haircut. For a 17-year-old living on the streets without friends, family, church, or high school diploma, the future does not look particularly charitable.
As Adventists who care about our families and children, Kent's story may provoke some thoughtful questions. Did Kent, his parents, pastor, or teachers have viable resources and reference material to deal with this issue? What kind of support might all interested parties find within the Adventist church? As a faith community, does Adventism invite open dialogue on the topic of sexual orientation? There are a myriad of other thoughtful questions, and there are an increasing number of SDA-associated outreach lesbian and gay groups that facilitate discussion and communication.1
Whether church-sanctioned or not, Adventists are facing the issue of sexual orientation. While studies are few, research from Adventist academic institutions suggests that a significant number of Adventists have gay or lesbian family members and/or close friends. Adventists researchers have also identified a significant number of Adventists who are themselves gay or lesbian. The issue is not going away.
Despite the significance of the issue and the numbers of people involved, there are few forums that invite Adventists to discuss sexual orientation concerns. Some Adventist forums ban all discussion of the topic. The Seventh-day Adventist church does not formally offer any "outreach" for those grappling with the complex issues of sexual orientation -- nor has the issue been formally addressed in more than a decade. The Adventist World Commission on Human Sexuality, highly publicized at its conception in October 1997, has yet to review sexual orientation as one of its specific assignments.
Many heterosexual Adventists consider the label gay and lesbian Adventists an "oxymoron" -- and others hope the issue might simply disappear. Support organizations for gay and lesbian Adventists have existed in some cases for nearly a quarter century. Adventist laypersons have recognized a need to reach out to gays and lesbians, and they have also recognized there is relief and healing in simply having another Adventist to talk to about the subject. While many are afraid of themselves being labeled "gay" or "heretic" for even discussing the matter, human need and courage has brought Adventists together to meet this challenge. For those individuals, friends and family members grappling with issues of sexual orientation, a broad-based team approach is best advised. This would include a licensed counselor/therapist, support groups, pastoral care, health care providers, teachers, and literature references. There are a number of psychosocial, biological, and spiritual issues to consider simultaneously when learning about sexual orientation.
In considering options, it may be helpful to review policies issued by professional health care organizations. The American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, and American Psychological Association have detailed policy information specifically addressing homosexual orientation based upon more than a century of research. These policies are useful guides in assessing ethical behavior on the part of therapists, counselors and health care providers.
Sadly, some groups counseling on homosexual orientation have been guilty of grossly unethical and abusive tactics. To date, there is no credible evidence (independent professional peer-reviewed research) that sexual orientation can be altered. While causation is not clear, it is not a conscious choice. There is good evidence that attempts to change sexual orientation can result in serious harm or detriment -- and do not work.
Perhaps more realistic for some is behavioral modification -- typically a commitment to lifelong celibacy -- but research shows that lifelong celibacy is rarely sustainable for the vast majority. Furthermore, while many Adventists condemn monogamous same-gender relationships, such condemnation may actually promote promiscuity rather than nurture responsible relationships.
No matter where one personally stands on issues of sexual orientation, it is likely that you or someone close to you will be grappling with this issue. In a 1994 survey, more than 1/3 of Adventists admitted to having a homosexual as a close friend or family member. There is no "us" and "them" in this discussion -- we are all members of Adventist families.
While many may fear dialogue and discussion on this issue, Adventists must shame silence. We need to talk about homosexual orientation. We need to talk with those who have come to terms with their homosexual orientation as well as with those who see lifelong celibacy or change as their desired option.
Kent ran away from home because he had no one to talk to. Yet, it is his family, church, pastor, teachers, and friends that Kent needs most right now. Let's hope that one day soon we can be the very people Kent runs to.
Battle for a Wholesome Generation
by David Batstone
from Sojourners Magazine
What cause do you suppose could bring more than 25,000 evangelical Christians together in San Francisco this past weekend: Immigration? The Iraq war? Climate change? Nope, a celebration of "virtue."
The two-day rally branded itself as Battle Cry for a Generation and fits into a broader national campaign to provide Christian youth with alternative entertainment - Christian rock and rap - and teach clear values.
The moving force behind the campaign is Ron Luce, host of the cable television show Acquire the Fire and author of literature geared for Christian teens. Luce freely uses the language of warfare to express how youth are under attack from a culture that celebrates wanton violence and sexual promiscuity. Corporate commercial centers target youth with a "virtue terrorism," Luce charges, and are winning the battle for their souls. Luce frames his efforts as a culture war, and wants to arm Christian youth with Bible-based solutions for life. The red flags and slogans he uses for Battle Cry for a Generation are revolutionary chic and emotive. Luce is savvy enough to realize that if you are going to resist mainstream pop culture, you have to provide youth a compelling alternative.
Despite my misgivings about the onward Christian soldier motif, I share the concerns that inspire the Battle Cry movement. As a father of four children quickly moving into adolescence I am painfully aware of how advertisers and entertainment outlets hone in on their demographic. The sexualization of youth culture is a primary tool to motivate their desires for consumer behavior. At first blush, that statement appears to be an oversimplification. It's not - titillation is the engine that drives the commercial machine.
So when Luce bemoans the MTV stereotypes of attractive young women and the celluloid images of manhood packed with violence, I am ready to raise his red flag of counter-cultural resistance. I, too, do not let my kids run loose on MySpace and closely monitor the DVDs they bring into the house. So much of pop culture is a values cesspool, and I want my kids to understand how those distorted values corrupt a healthy soul.
Of late there have been some encouraging trends in pop culture. A relatively new film company, Walden Films, is making family entertainment that embeds meaningful values. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Charlotte's Web are two of their initial forays into the theaters. And at a time when marketers tell us that only promiscuous sex and violence sell, a rather wholesome "High School Musical" has become a pop phenomenon. These successes hopefully will spawn a new wave of media that I will be happy to see make its way into my home.
Thus, it saddens me to see an event such as the Battle Cry for a Generation rally detour off its original path. It throws itself into the polarized debates on same-sex marriage and abortion. Ostensibly, that is why San Francisco was chosen as the site of the high profile rally last weekend. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Battle Cry invitation stated, "[Come to] the very City Hall steps where several months ago, gay marriages were celebrated for all the world to see."
Predictably, advocates for a libertine culture came out of the woodwork to host a counter-rally. The San Francisco Chronicle ran a front page story covering the conflict - protesters were quoted as calling the event a "fascist mega-pep rally." In the scuffle, the profound range of issues that the Battle Cry raises are lost. Opposition to gay marriage drowns out all concerns about greed, materialism, and the assault on our kids' innocence.
Lamentably, the media fans the flames of the conflict. The Chronicle knows which story will sell papers in San Francisco, in other words. But I also fault the narrow vision of those who stand behind the Battle Cry. If you want to make a symbolic stand, why not go to the town where Desperate Housewives is filmed? Or host the rally in New York City where Sex and the City is set. A gathering outside the studios of MTV also would be rich with symbolism.
I simply cannot understand why so many evangelicals consider same-sex marriage as the prime threat to the virtue of heterosexual families. Honestly, which has ruined more marriages: The extramarital affairs that are so brazenly celebrated on Desperate Housewives or the decision of two men or two women who love each other to make their lifelong commitment public? I don't think there is any doubt about the answer to that question. Yet most discussion of sex and values in the church veers inevitably to the gay and lesbian issues.
I have a proposal: Let's do an honest appraisal of teenage sexuality and lifestyle. Let's evaluate how the values of youth are shaped, and what forces are at play to move them in one direction or another. And let's ignore those political blocs that want to utilize vital family issues for their own agenda.
Results of Ignoring Homosexuality
by Carrol Grady
- Many parents find it difficult to accept their gay children. Some parents reject or disown them. Other parents are so afraid their children will be lost that they continually “preach” at them about their “sinful lifestyle.” And some parents simply avoid talking about “the elephant in the room,” making it impossible for their children to honestly share their lives with them. Sometimes the parents are so traumatized by their children’s homosexuality that their marriage falls apart.
- As young people gradually discover their homosexual attractions they feel that they must be bad or evil. They try to deny and repress their feelings and pretend to be like their heterosexual friends. They pray desperately for God to change them. When their prayers are not answered, they often question God’s love and even His existence.
- Pastors are not prepared to deal lovingly and redemptively with gays and lesbians and their families. They don’t know how to handle these situations and usually end up making matters worse instead of better.
- Teachers in Adventist schools often do not intervene in incidents of gay-bashing. This is true from grade school through college. Even students who may not be gay but are perceived to be, often suffer. Teachers, deans and textbooks present uninformed opinions that lead to prejudice and support such abuse.
- The majority of church members still understand homosexuality to be a sinful choice and do not accept the concept of sexual orientation. This influences their attitude and leads to condemning and cruel remarks and actions which drive gays and lesbians, and sometimes their friends and families, away from the church.
- Gay-bashing dehumanizes those who participate in it and those who observe it, as well as the victims. It is in direct opposition to the way Jesus responded to the outcast and marginalized. It causes gays and lesbians to believe that there is no hope for them and that they will never be welcome in their church. Suicide attempts and successes are, sadly, not uncommon.
- Gay and lesbian employees of the church live in constant fear of being “out-ed” and losing their positions, even though they may have done nothing that could be considered “wrong.” Many church leaders who are concerned about the plight of gay and lesbian members or students are afraid to speak sympathetically about homosexuality in public for fear of inviting attacks from homophobic members. The Bible tells us “perfect love casts out fear.” Could the fear attached to homosexuality (homophobia) be a sign of an unhealthy situation in our church, a sign that we do not yet know perfect love?
- Gay and lesbian young people are still counseled to marry a person of the opposite sex – the worst advice that could be given. Our church leaders need to understand the tragedy this advice brings. The “Straight Spouse Network,” an online support group for ex-spouses of gays and lesbians, has this statement on their website:
“It is estimated that up to two million gay, lesbian, or bisexual individuals have married or will marry. Some come out after a long struggle of trying to make a go of the heterosexual marriage that society prefers. Others have yet to disclose. Still others may stay closeted. When they come out, attention focuses on them. Their heterosexual spouses are largely forgotten. Family members and friends minimize the straight spouses' concerns. Few therapists understand their unique issues of sexual rejection, betrayal, and identity crisis. So, spouses cope alone, their anger and pain escalating. Once they find peer support in SSN, they resolve their profound issues constructively. Professionals and the wider community need to become more aware of the impact on spouses and family members when a partner comes out. Addressing their unique needs will lessen isolation, aid healing, and increase understanding of everyone involved.”
It is my deepest hope that our church leaders will appoint well-qualified, objective people to study this issue carefully and thoroughly – not to prove an already established position, but to look with open minds at the vast range of literature that has recently been produced on this subject, from scientific, sociological, theological and ethical perspectives, in order that we can educate both church leaders and members to reach out to and support our gay and lesbian (as well as transsexual and intersex) members and their families with true, Christ-like compassion.
Informed and sympathetic understandings need to be reached on:
- the likely determinants of same-sex attraction
- the impossibility of orientation change
- the sociological and spiritual effects of internalizing homophobia and attempting to deny and repress sexual attraction
- the results of promoting heterosexual marriage as an answer, and finally
- in the spirit of our Adventist understanding of “present truth,” the possibility of different interpretations of the biblical text and the spirit of Christ.
“There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people is not a proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation.” Ellen G White, “Christ Our Hope,” Adventist Review and Sabbath Herald, December 20, 1892, p. 785.
Parable of the Wheat and the Tares
by Jeffrey S Siker,
Associate Professor of New Testament, Loyola Marymount University
Toleration is, in my view, a crucial issue in the debate over the presence of gay and lesbian Christians in the church. What are we in the church to do when we disagree over the wisdom of including openly gay and lesbian Christians? How are we to proceed?. . .I would suggest we pay careful attention to Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13:24-30 of weeds among the wheat, known traditionally as the parable of the wheat and the tares.
This parable occurs in the context of a whole series of parables Jesus tells in Matthew 13 about the kingdom of God (in Matthew, the kingdom of heaven). What is the kingdom of God like? To what may it be compared? How does God rule? In the parable of the wheat and the weeds we learn that patience and tolerance with one another in the church should be the order of the day. We are quick to identify ourselves as wheaty faithful servants and others as noxious sinful weeds sprouting in our midst. And we are also quick to want to uproot the unwelcome growth, which in our view comes not from God but from the enemy. But we need to pay attention to the wishes of the householder: Should we try to pull out what we identify as weeds? “No, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them” (Matt. 13:29).
What should we do in situations where from our vantage we see sin making inroads among the faithful? From the perspective of church tradition and traditional readings of scripture, openly homosexual Christians should not be tolerated and should be actively discouraged. From the perspective of many others, gay and lesbian Christians are not sinning by engaging in loving relationships; indeed, the sin lies in the homophobia and heterosexism of the mainstream church and its exclusive intolerance. So what should we do? We should follow the command of the householder and not seek to uproot what appears to us to be weeds, lest in the process we also uproot the wheat that God has planted. What is wheat and what is weed? Ultimately, that is for God to determine, for we are apt to mistake one for the other. What are we to do in the meantime? Be patient and tolerant—on both sides. As J. R. Donahue has noted,
The surprising element in the parable is that the householder allows the thorns to grow alongside the wheat. The central thrust of the parable is the contrast between the householder who waits until the harvest and the servants who are eager to root out the weeds at first sight. . .In the kingdom proclamation of Jesus, this parable may have served as a defense of his association with sinners and his unwillingness to establish a 'pure Messianic community.' As the Psalms of Solomon (first century B.C.) attests, the arrival of God's kingdom was to be marked by the separation of the good from the evil and the purification of the land. Jesus does not deny that such a separation will take place but disassociates it from his proclamation of the kingdom. Now is the time for the offer of mercy and forgiveness to the sinner. Those who will be 'blessed of my Father' (Matt. 25:34) will be known only at the final judgment.1
Of course, none of us wishes to be identified as the sinful week, especially when we see ourselves as exercising our faithful response to God as wheat. Gay and lesbian Christians are tired of being told they are sinners, for they see their sexual orientation as given by God, just as heterosexual people see their sexuality as given by God. Those on the other side of the debate see themselves as defending the truth of the gospel by opposing full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians, and yet to those affirming of gay and lesbian people, these others appear to be self-righteous and misguided sinners who are blind to God's inclusion of the traditionally outcast among us.
How then should we respond? Essentially, the parable instructs us to treat one another as wheat; that it is better to tolerate what we perceive as weeds among us, than it is for us to be intolerant and risk accidentally pulling out some wheat along with the weeds. When in doubt, assume wheat and not weeds. Tolerance and patience are to be our guides. We must not rush to exclude and uproot one another.
So do we ever pull weeds? Do we ever cast out? Did not Paul counsel the Corinthians to cast out the sinful man from among them in 1 Corinthians 5? Did he not warn against the dangers of tolerating a little sinful yeast, saying it would corrupt the whole loaf? Yes, he did. With Jesus, however, he also admonished the Corinthians tempted to judge him, not to 'pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.' (1 Cor. 4:5) Are we never to cast out? Never to name anything as sinful for fear of pulling out the wheat with the weeds?
Hardly. But we must be fully convinced as a community of faith that we are casting out bad fruit and not good fruit, to employ yet another agricultural metaphor. We must be very clear that there is no danger of accidentally confusing wheat with weeds. Jesus tells us we will know the tree by its fruit (Matt. 12:33; Luke 6:44). Jesus says, 'I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.' (John 15:16) As Christians we believe we will be able to discern over time what counts as good fruit and what is bad fruit. Sometimes we will disagree over what is what. In instances where we believe we have reached a broad consensus in the church, not a narrow one, we should act. For example, we believe now that it is sinful to treat women as inferior to men. We recognize the fruitful ministries of women.
In the case of homosexual Christians, the hetero sexual church majority should act first and foremost with tolerance and inclusive patience. We should presume wheat. We should look at and recognize the fruitful ministries of gay and lesbian Christians among us. As for gay and lesbian Christians, I can only hope they will continue to be patient with those who sin against them, but that is not a decision I can make on their behalf.
Editor: It has been my observation that when we exclude homosexual Christians from our churches, we often see the uprooting of parents, children, other family members and friends.
1John R Donahue, The Gospel in Parable (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), 67. See also Daniel J Harrington, The
Gospel According to Matthew (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, 1990), 200.
Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers
by John C Danforth, an Episcopal minister and former Republican senator from Missouri
NY Times, June 17, 2005
It would be an oversimplification to say that America's culture wars are now between people of faith and nonbelievers. People of faith are not of one mind, whether on specific issues like stem cell research and government intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo, or the more general issue of how religion relates to politics. In recent years, conservative Christians have presented themselves as representing the one authentic Christian perspective on politics. With due respect for our conservative friends, equally devout Christians come to very different conclusions.
It is important for those of us who are sometimes called moderates to make the case that we, too, have strongly held Christian convictions, that we speak from the depths of our beliefs, and that our approach to politics is at least as faithful as that of those who are more conservative. Our difference concerns the extent to which government should, or even can, translate religious beliefs into the laws of the state.
People of faith have the right, and perhaps the obligation, to bring their values to bear in politics. Many conservative Christians approach politics with a certainty that they know God's truth, and that they can advance the kingdom of God through governmental action. So they have developed a political agenda that they believe advances God's kingdom, one that includes efforts to "put God back" into the public square and to pass a constitutional amendment intended to protect marriage from the perceived threat of homosexuality.
Moderate Christians are less certain about when and how our beliefs can be translated into statutory form, not because of a lack of faith in God but because of a healthy acknowledgement of the limitations of human beings. Like conservative Christians, we attend church, read the Bible and say our prayers.
But for us, the only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Repeatedly in the Gospels, we find that the Love Commandment takes precedence when it conflicts with laws. We struggle to follow that commandment as we face the realities of everyday living, and we do not agree that our responsibility to live as Christians can be codified by legislators.
When, on television, we see a person in a persistent vegetative state, one who will never recover, we believe that allowing the natural and merciful end to her ordeal is more loving than imposing government power to keep her hooked up to a feeding tube.
When we see an opportunity to save our neighbors' lives through stem cell research, we believe that it is our duty to pursue that research, and to oppose legislation that would impede us from doing so.
We think that efforts to haul references of God into the public square, into schools and courthouses, are far more apt to divide Americans than to advance faith.
Following a Lord who reached out in compassion to all human beings, we oppose amending the Constitution in a way that would humiliate homosexuals.
For us, living the Love Commandment may be at odds with efforts to encapsulate Christianity in a political agenda. We strongly support the separation of church and state, both because that principle is essential to holding together a diverse country, and because the policies of the state always fall short of the demands of faith. Aware that even our most passionate ventures into politics are efforts to carry the treasure of religion in the earthen vessel of government, we proceed in a spirit of humility lacking in our conservative colleagues.
In the decade since I left the Senate, American politics has been characterized by two phenomena: the increased activism of the Christian right, especially in the Republican Party, and the collapse of bipartisan collegiality. I do not think it is a stretch to suggest a relationship between the two. To assert that I am on God's side and you are not, that I know God's will and you do not, and that I will use the power of government to advance my understanding of God's kingdom is certain to produce hostility.
By contrast, moderate Christians see ourselves, literally, as moderators. Far from claiming to possess God's truth, we claim only to be imperfect seekers of the truth. We reject the notion that religion should present a series of wedge issues useful at election time for energizing a political base. We believe it is God's work to practice humility, to wear tolerance on our sleeves, to reach out to those with whom we disagree, and to overcome the meanness we see in today's politics.
For us, religion should be inclusive, and it should seek to bridge the differences that separate people. We do not exclude from worship those whose opinions differ from ours. Following a Lord who sat at the table with tax collectors and sinners, we welcome to the Lord's table all who would come. Following a Lord who cited love of God and love of neighbor as encompassing all the commandments, we reject a political agenda that displaces that love. Christians who hold these convictions ought to add their clear voice of moderation to the debate on religion in politics.
by David R. Larson, Loma Linda University
Professor of Christian Ethics, Theological and Philosophical Ethics, Biomedical Ethics
The Adventist Review recently published an article by Roy Adams, one of the journal’s editors, about homosexual men and women that is likely to spark lively discussions. In what follows, I hope to participate in these discussions by making seven suggestions.
1. Let’s try to be calm. Homosexual persons have been members of our congregations and communities for many years. This is not a new issue. Neither is it a crisis. If we were talking about a patient, we would say that this set of challenges is chronic, not acute. I have been reading, thinking, and praying about this matter for about three decades. This is enough time for me to know that I have much to learn. We all do. Let’s take the time and effort that is required to do our homework as peacefully and as thoroughly as possible.
2. Let’s try to get our facts correct. We cannot make Christian ethical judgments that stand up under scrutiny unless we know what we are talking about. One fact that deserves to be underlined is that there is no "homosexual lifestyle," just as there is no "heterosexual lifestyle." One homosexual person once told me that the gay and lesbian people of the world have as much in common as the coffee drinkers of the world. How right he was! Homosexual men and women arrange their private and public lives in many different ways, just as the rest of us do. What we say and do should reflect this fact.
3. Let’s try to recognize important differences. It is time for us to take seriously the different ways homosexual people arrange their lives. To place all homosexual relationships in one category, and to say that they are all equally immoral from a Christian point of view, is not adequate. Even if it once was, it is no longer convincing to say that two men or two women who live together in loving and supporting ways are in relationships that are no better and no worse than are the encounters of promiscuous heterosexual and homosexual persons. From a medical point of view, mutual faithfulness is preferable to promiscuity. It is also better from a Christian ethical point of view.
4. Let’s try to agree wherever possible. Roy Adams writes that "Any person who would insult, belittle, or otherwise harm someone because they are gay or lesbian is not Christian." We can all agree. We can also all agree that careless, promiscuous, abusive, and exploitative sexual encounters are ethically unacceptable for all Christians, heterosexual and homosexual. We can all agree, too, that there are important differences between a homosexual orientation and a homosexual deed and that we should be as clear as possible about which one we are addressing. If we try, we will find other things about which we can also agree.
5. Let’s try to be fair. The laws of our societies should prohibit discrimination based upon a person’s sexual orientation just as they should forbid discrimination based upon an individual’s gender, race, religion, or political persuasion. Our laws should not allow such factors to influence the ways we treat each other. It is not unfair to hold that sightless people may not fly airplanes or perform surgeries; however, it is difficult to imagine a circumstance in which it would be fair to deny qualified persons the opportunities to do such things just because their orientations are homosexual. Fairness matters to God. It should matter to us, too!
6. Let’s try to be honest. Most people who commit the crime of rape are heterosexuals, not homosexuals. The same can be said of most people who sexually abuse children, cheat on their partners, and attack those who are different. Rarely do we have a case in which a homosexual person taunts, mistreats, or even kills a heterosexual one. Almost always it is heterosexuals who do this to homosexuals. Heterosexuals, particularly heterosexual men, are greater threats to society than are homosexual men or women. We need to be honest about this.
7. Let’s try to be kind. No one possesses complete knowledge as to why some people have homosexual orientations, just as no one completely understands why many others possess heterosexual ones. The best conclusion so far is that both orientations result from a complex mix of physical, environmental, and volitional factors, but that the relative importance of each factor varies from case to case.
Some homosexual people, particularly some lesbians, report that they chose their orientations. Most do not. Many have spent hundreds of hours in prayer and thousands of dollars in counseling in order to change the way they are. For some this proves possible. Probably because of a different mix of causative factors, for many others it does not. For all it is a very painful experience.
Rarely have I conversed with homosexual men or women without being struck by how much sorrow and abuse they endure. For those of us who are heterosexuals to think of ourselves as the actual or potential victims in such situations is untrue. It is also unkind.
We Christians have chosen to follow One who went out of his way to encourage, comfort, and assist those whom others despised. Those who did the despising in the time of Jesus often felt ethically compelled to do so. They were mistaken. Ellen White was right: there are degrees of sin in God’s eyes, just as there are in ours; however, the most offensive sins in God’s sight are pride, arrogance, and a spirit of condemnation. Let’s walk in the footsteps of Jesus!
Are We Missing the Point?
I’ve just finished reading a new book by Tony Campolo and Brian D McLaren: Adventures in Missing the Point, published this year by Zondervan. The authors say, “We pastors and preachers listen to our own sermons, see the frantic pace of programs and meetings we’ve created, and shivers run up our spines; are we somehow missing the point?. . .We’d like to invite all of us to consider ways that we’re missing the point—to share a journey of (re)discovering what we’re supposed to be about. . .We’re just two bald guys learning to love the Lord and the church and the world, and we’re trying to figure out the point of being Christians. In the process we’re becoming more and more aware of how often we miss the point ourselves. . . What this adventure is about is facing our own blindnesses, our own insanities, our own foggy thinking and clouded judgment. It’s about admitting that we haven’t seen things clearly, and about wanting to think more clearly than we do.”
Brian and Tony cover 18 different topics where they suggest Christians may be missing the point. Of course, I was most interested in the chapter on homosexuality. I’d like to share some excerpts from that chapter, but want to acknowledge that in order to clearly understand the authors’ intent you should read the entire chapter. So I urge you to check the book out at your library.
I should also add that Tony Campolo has been a popular speaker at a number of Adventist venues, particularly college campuses. And while he believes that sexual expression between homosexuals is not condoned by the Bible, his wife Peggy is active in Evangelicals Concerned, a support group for Evangelical gay and lesbian people. The following comments were written by Tony:
“What critics of my beliefs about homosexuality do not understand is that I’m trying to make up for a horrendous failure during high school.
Roger was gay, we all knew it, and we all made his life miserable. When we passed him in the hall, we called out his name effeminately, we made the crude gestures, we made him the brunt of cheap jokes. He never took showers in PE, because he knew we’d whip him with our wet towels.
I wasn’t there, though, the day they dragged Roger into the shower room and shoved him into the corner. Curled up there, he cried and begged for mercy as five guys urinated on him.
The reports said that Roger went to bed that night as usual, and that sometime around two in the morning he got up, went down to the basement of his house, and hanged himself.
On that day I realized that I wasn’t a Christian. I was a theologically sound evangelical, believed all points of the Apostle’s Creed, declared Jesus to be my Savior. But if the Holy Spirit had actually been in me, I would have stood up for Roger. When the guys came to make fun of him, I would have put one arm around Roger’s shoulders, waved the guys off with the other and told them to leave him alone, to not mess with him, because he was my friend.
But I was afraid to be Roger’s friend. I knew that if you stood up for a homosexual, people say cruel things about you, too. So I kept my distance. If I hadn’t, who knows if Roger might be alive today.
I am not asking that Christians gloss over biblical teachings, nor that we justify same-gender eroticism. I am simply reminding Christians that we are supposed to love people—even those we have been socially conditioned to despise. I am calling Christians to reach out and show kindness and affection toward their homosexual neighbors—who number at least fifteen million in the United States. If we Christians cannot love these neighbors as we love ourselves, then we are violating the command of Jesus (Matthew 19:19) and ought not call ourselves his followers.
I believe that if Jesus were in our shoes, he would reach out in love to his homosexual brothers and sisters and demand that they be treated justly, that we end the discrimination that has too often made homosexuals into second-class citizens and denied them their constitutional rights. If Jesus were in our shoes, he would work to create an atmosphere in society wherein homosexuals could be open about who they are without fear of oppression and persecution. If Jesus were in our shoes, those with a homosexual orientation would be treated with dignity and respect. . .
Tony goes on to discuss the issue of orientation change and new scientific research about homosexuality.
“I know homosexuals who have prayed desperately, even to exhaustion, to be delivered from their homosexual orientation—but in vain. Yes, I believe that all prayers are eventually answered, some of them in heaven. But at the moment we live in the ugly here-and-now rather than the sweet by-and-by, and a lot of evangelical homosexuals are suffering frustration in spite of their earnest prayers. I do not understand why this is so, but I cannot deny that it is so. . .
“Counseling bisexuals into heterosexuality, however, is an entirely different matter than counseling true homosexuals into heterosexuality. I believe strongly that homosexuals did not and cannot choose their orientation.
“Those who despise homosexuals are ignorant not only of science, but of the Bible’s teachings on the subject. Here, for example, are Bible passages often cited as evidence that homosexuality is a sinful choice, along with interpretations of these passages that are not accepted by many evangelicals, but at least deserve serious consideration.
“In Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 23:17-18 are harsh prohibitions against, apparently, homo-sexuality. Yet some scholars contend that these passages do not apply to the modern homosexual argument because these prohibitions are part of the purity code of ancient Israel, rather than the moral code. The moral code—that is, the Ten Commandments—is binding for all people at all times, whereas the purity code is what we commonly call Kosher rules for Orthodox Jews. The purity code condemns such practices as eating shellfish, wearing fabric that is made out of more than one kind of thread, having sexual intercourse with a woman while she is menstruating, eating pork and even touching the skin of a dead pig. Most Christians (but by no means all) agree that purity codes, or Kosher rules, do not apply to Christians, who are now obligated only to obey the moral laws of Scripture. What had been declared unclean is no longer viewed as such (Acts 10:9-16, Romans 14:14).
(One rabbi informed me, however, that the measure of how seriously a purity rule should be taken is related to the punishment cited for its violation—in the case of homosexual behavior, death. By this gauge, then, one cannot easily discard this rule.)
“Jesus undoubtedly knew about homosexuality, and we can assume that he held to the teachings of the Torah on the subject. But nowhere does he condemn gays and lesbians. In fact, Jesus never mentions homosexuality even once. Homo-sexuality just isn't on his Top Ten list of sins. What is number one on that list, however, is judgmental religious people who look for sin in the lives of others without dealing with the sin in their own lives (Matthew 23). Furthermore, it is uncomfortable to note that, although Jesus is silent about homosexuality, he specifically condemns the remarriage of divorced people—a practice accepted by most modern Christians.
Pauline Letters: 1 Timothy 1:10-11
“[The law is not made for a righteous man, but]. . .for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.” [KJV]
There is considerable opinion among biblical scholars that here in this letter to his protégé Timothy, Paul was condemning not homosexuality per se, but pederasty—which was much more accepted in ancient Greece than it is today. Then a male teacher would take on one young boy and personally tutor him. In such a close relationship, it was not uncommon for the teacher to exploit his position of authority by either seducing the boy or coercing him into sexual relations.
And because in Greek culture the youthful boy was its most erotic sexual object, the farther into puberty the boy progressed, the less attractive he became. When the student was no longer desirable to the teacher, he usually was cast aside for newer and younger sexual partners. So some male students tried to prolong their boyish attractiveness by concealing their oncoming maturity—and assuming effeminate mannerisms was one technique these psychologically and physically abused young men used.
Abandoned sooner or later, these boys were usually left psychologically devastated and often suicidal.
Pederasty was abhorrent to the apostle Paul. He took great offense at all forms of sexual exploitation, and this hideous form of it—so common in ancient Greece—was a particular target of his ire. Yet it is a mistake, say some biblical ethicists, to equate pederasty to a committed, monogamous homosexual relationship chosen in love.
Pauline Letters: 1 Corinthians 6:9
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders…”
Yet even here, with the clear mention of the word homosexual, the case is nonetheless foggy. The Greek word arsenokoitai, translated as homosexual in the New International Version, has an ambiguous meaning: the word was seldom used in ancient literature, and so scholars cannot pin down the meaning with any certainty. We know that it refers to some form of condemned sexual behavior, but we don’t know specifically that what is being condemned is homosexual behavior as we understand it.
Pauline Letters: Romans 1:26-27
“. . .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.”
One interpretation of this passage is that St. Paul does not condemn those born with homosexual orientations, but rather heterosexuals who, by giving unrestrained vent to their lusts, become debased and decadent. Such scholars contend that the apostle is condemning those who choose homosexual behavior as a new, kinky sexual thrill—who adopt homosexuality as perversion.
This interpretation is premised on Paul writing his letter to the Romans while in Corinth, a Greek city whose dominant religion was the worship of Aphrodite. Aphrodite was a hermaphroditic deity whose worshipers—heterosexual men and women—acted as members of the opposite sex to experience the sexual side of their deity that differed from their own. According to this interpretation, in Romans 1 Paul is railing against idolatry and the obscene sexual practices that he was familiar with in Corinth; he was not condemning homosexuality per se.
The only problem with these otherwise convincing arguments from biblical interpretation is that Christian tradition has consistently held that St. Paul specifically condemned all homosexual eroticism. Biblical interpretations notwithstanding, to contradict two millennia of church tradition seems a little bit arrogant to me. The church fathers, who were closest to Paul, exemplify this (see Cyprian of Carthage, Letters 1:8, and John Chrysostom’s Homily on Romans 2:36-27).
Yet, point out others, if we yielded to church tradition on all points, women would not be allowed to teach Sunday school or serve as missionaries. Furthermore, most of the references in the church fathers to homosexual behavior condemn the exploitation of boys rather than homosexual orientation, or even committed, loving homosexual marriages. Finally, some point out, what we hear from the early centuries of the church is from only the church fathers, because the church mothers had to keep their mouths shut.
Evangelical homosexuals are torn not only between their sexual orientations and traditional biblical interpretations, but also between the homosexual community—which offers acceptance and companionship—and the straight church, which usually means estrangement and loneliness. Their anguish is seldom appreciated by heterosexuals.”
Tony goes on to suggest such possible solutions as partners who form a non-sexual covenant, and small groups who live in community and support and pray for each other. He talks about the many God-given gifts homosexual members have to offer the church.
“There must be good news for homosexuals. In the likelihood that their sexual orientations will not change, we must do more than simply bid them to be celibate; we must find ways for them to have fulfilling, loving experiences so that their humanity is affirmed and their participation in the body of Christ is ensured. Homosexuals are our brothers and sisters—and they must be treated that way. To do less is sin.
Parable of the Eyeglasses
by Bonnie Petroschuk
Once upon a time, very long ago and far, far away, there was a tiny village where the villagers, for reasons one can only speculate upon, had come to the conclusion that it was a very evil thing for a person to wear (and some felt, even to need to wear) eyeglasses.
Many of the more religious among the villagers pointed out that it was contrary to nature to wear those ugly things. Obviously, God had originally intended for people to see with their eyes alone.
And furthermore, they reasoned, Scripture contained a few scathing passages referring to those who would not see. It was perfectly clear to them that these people were openly practicing sin by putting on their eyeglasses, and sin was sin and could not be condoned in any way.
Others agreed, to a point, but felt it was important to make a distinction between the inability to see clearly and the actual wearing of eyeglasses. They firmly believed that if a vision-impaired person bore his burden patiently and without glasses, there was no sin. The sin was in the putting on of eyeglasses.
Then there were others who did not care to discuss why, when, where or how; they just knew in their heart of hearts that it was wrong. Their biggest fear, particularly as parents, was that their vulnerable children, being exposed to such behavior at such a tender age, would think it acceptable and might wish to wear eyeglasses themselves.
At any rate, it was an extremely emotional issue, and especially threatening for some who suspected they were not able to see as well as they should. So, as man is prone to do, they persecuted even harder what they were afraid of in themselves.
Names like "Old Four Eyes" abounded. Naturally, among those poor unfortunates who found themselves with failing eyesight, there was much anguish. At the ex- treme there were some for whom the prospect of being totally ostracized by their community was too painful to face and, in utter despair, they took their own lives.
Others, perhaps blessed with a stronger will to survive, but still fearful, became more resourceful. Sneaking under cover of darkness to the sleazy little optical center across the tracks, they associated with others of their kind and purchased glasses, which they used only in utmost secrecy.
And, if truth were known, several of the village’s most respected leaders and pillars of the community wore contact lenses, which could only be detected at extremely close range by those trained to discover them.
The psychological and emotional damage done to those in the community with dimmed eyesight was phenomenal. Ironically, when some psychologists and religious leaders closely studied the personalities of those with glasses, they believed that the very damage their own society had caused was merely another symptom of the original "problem."
As the condition was studied, there arose an interest among some in helping to rehabilitate those stricken with it. Consequently, some people with vision problems were rushed off by their families to Vision Psychologists where they spent hours discussing the fact that their parents had not provided enough light for them to ready by when they were children. Needless to say, the parents of those who were so counseled experienced tremendous guilt, which often led to more business for the counselors.
One organization which sprang up was called Eyeglasses Anonymous. Its basic premise was, if a person would just admit that he could not see without glasses, then with the help of God and others like himself, he could go through the fourteen basic steps and at the end of the process he would be able to see clearly. It was simply a matter of choice.
EA boasted a success rate of about 30%, but it was hard to know who was still secretly using glasses in private. The very existence of EA’s successes made many of those who wore glasses feel even more hopeless. Obviously, if it was simply a matter of choice, then it was their own fault that they weren’t cured. This caused them untold guilt and grief.
There was a small group, however, made up of both sighted and vision-impaired people who began to proclaim that needing and wearing eyeglasses was not sinful. They claimed that they, too, believed God had not originally intended for people to have to wear glasses, but that when people did need them it was as a result of sin, and not a sin itself.
They believed that the villagers had erroneously interpreted the scriptures in using them to condemn those whose eyesight was impaired. Many of those who actually wore glasses told of their own experiences, of either having been born with impaired vision, or having developed it so young that there had been no conscious choice involved at all. They wanted others like themselves to know they were not perverted simply because they could not see well, and that they had as much right to see, with the aid of glasses, as those who could see without them.
And, most of all, they wanted it to be known that God accepted vision-impaired people just the way they were, and didn’t mind at all if they wore glasses to help them see better. Needless to say, many sighted people laughed derisively at all of this. Some even got angry and made snide remarks about the vision of the sighted people who were supporting those who wore glasses.
All in all, it makes one wonder just who among the village was having the real difficulty seeing clearly.
Homosexuality and the Bible
by David Larson, Ph.D.
Dr. David Larson, a professor in the Faculty of Religion at Loma Linda University, made a presentation on the topic of homosexuality at a meeting in San Diego last October. His co-presenter was Dr. Morris Taylor, who has spent forty years as a professor of music in various Adventist colleges. Following are some excerpts from Dr. Larson’s remarks:
What causes homosexuality? According to the AMA, the etiology of homosexuality is "complex and individually variable."
Scripture knows of homosexuality in three contexts:
- sodomy imposed on people in times of war as one way victors vanquished their victims,
- ritual prostitution in the fertility cults, or
There are no references in Scripture to permanent, exclusive and loving homosexual relationships.
We should be extremely cautious in applying the term sin. Intentional exploitive, promiscuous, abusive, harmful sexual relationships, whether straight or gay, are sinful, but not necessarily those acts of sexual intimacy that take place in permanent, exclusive, committed loving relationships.
- Christians should strive to integrate what they have learned in all fields of study so as to synthesize as fully as possible everything they hold to be true, beautiful, and good.
- Much like the founding documents that constitute a nation, Scripture constitutes the Christian Church by calling it into being at the outset and by serving as its supreme source of guidance throughout its subsequent life.
- If we experience conflict between what we learn from Scripture and what we learn from other sources, we should review our interpretations of both to determine, if possible, where we have erred. The problem in these cases is not with the evidence, whether Scriptural or otherwise, but with our own interpretation of it.
- God’s first desire for every human being is that he or she will enjoy one permanent, exclusive, loving and heterosexual union for the whole of life that is blessed with many happy, healthy and loving children.
- God knows that in our present world, estranged from its true essence as it often is, it is not always possible or even desirable for every person to achieve this goal. A homosexual orientation is only one of many factors that can make this so.
- God works for good in all circumstances, no matter how difficult or discouraging they may be, ever encouraging and enabling people, who often struggle with heavy burdens and intense sorrows, to achieve as much health and happiness for themselves and others as possible.
- Celibacy is a feasible alternative to heterosexual marriage for a number of heterosexual and homosexual men and women. When this is not the case (please read 1 Corinthians 7), the same ethical standards that disapprove of adultery, fornication, and a host of other practices that separate the spiritual and physical aspects of human sexual intimacy, apply to Christian heterosexual and homosexual persons with equal force.
- In the Seventh-day Adventist Christian Church, decisions about relating the denomination’s teachings and standards to the specific needs and obligations of a particular person have usually been left up to those who are closest to the situation. This is how it should be.
- Public bodies, such as nations, states, counties and cities should provide the same kinds of civil liberties and responsibilities to both heterosexual and homosexual citizens.
Conscience and the Church
The following excerpts are selected from an essay by one of Methodism’s prominent theologians, J Philip Wogaman, in The Loyal Opposition, a collection of essays by members of the United Methodist Church, edited by Tex Sample and Amy DeLong, Abingdon Press, 2000.
"Elected to the General Conference for the first time in 1988, I was struck by the inflamed rhetoric of letters and resolutions I received before the Conference convened. I was among those who worked for the establishment of what came to be called the Committee to Study Homosexuality. . .
"What has had the largest impact on my own thinking has been more contact with gay and lesbian persons and their loved ones. We interviewed many in the course of the committee’s study, and in my ministry at Foundry Church since 1992 I have gotten to know many more. These are real people, not abstractions. Many are people of Christian commitment, moral integrity, and authentic spirituality. In the broader gay community and among heterosexuals there are doubtless those who fit the description of moral decadence to be found in the first chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. But it now seems very clear to me that there are also many gay and lesbian Christians who are not like that at all. I still do not know why they are gay or lesbian and not heterosexual like me, but I cannot any longer consider them to be less normal or Christian than I am or than their critics are.
"Sweeping condemnations of all gay and lesbian persons hurt really good people, both by reinforcing a social stigma with which they must contend and by attacking their own sense of self-worth. The standard formula "love the sinner and hate the sin" conveys an ominous message to people whose sexual orientation is defined as a greater disposition toward sin. Burdens of guilt and social disapproval are inflicted needlessly upon many gay and lesbian people. It is a terrible wrong. . .
"Real people are being hurt by this part of the Church’s message. It is, of course, argued that the practice of homosexuality itself is what hurts people, and that the Church does well to issue serious warnings. But the Church does not know that homosexuality hurts people. In light of the disagreements and the admitted lack of sufficient knowledge about the nature and causes of homosexuality, the Church would be more faithful if it would be more humble. Why not acknowledge that some of us believe this, and others believe that, and that we do not yet have the basis, as a church, for a real consensus? We could, with grace, treat homosexuality like other issues upon which the Church does not have a common view and leave the question open as a humble acknowledgment of our differences. . .
"Most of those [who disagree with the church’s] rules affecting gay and lesbian people are not so much concerned about being right as they are about protecting and supporting fellow human beings who are being stigmatized. Gay and lesbian persons of demonstrated competence and high moral character have been excluded from pastoral ministry. Gay and lesbian persons are tortured by the message that they must change in order to become acceptable, despite abundant evidence that they will not be able to change in that way. Perhaps most ironic, gay and lesbian persons are told that promiscuity is sinful, but at the same time also told that the church will not support their committed unions—and that it will punish those who seek to offer such support. Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s comments on this are worth repeating here:
We reject them, treat them as pariahs, and push them outside the confines of our church communities. . .We make them doubt that they are the children of God, and this must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy. We blame them for something that it is becoming increasingly clear they can do little about. . .Why should we want all homosexual persons not to give expression to their sexuality in loving acts? Why don’t we use the same criteria to judge same-sex relationships that we use to judge whether heterosexual relationships are wholesome or not? . . .The Lord of the church would not be where his church is in this matter.
"People like Archbishop Tutu are not as concerned about being "right" as they are about responding with Christlike love to people who are being hurt by church teaching and law. It is one thing to defer to a majority whom we consider to be mistaken on an issue of principle, confident that we will be able to continue the dialogue and perhaps one day to prevail. It is another thing to abandon vulnerable people."
Commenting on the new truths that Jesus and His disciples taught, Mrs. White says, "We see that the God of heaven sometimes commissions men to teach that which is regarded as contrary to the established doctrines. . .They do not consider the possibility that they themselves have not rightly understood the Word. . .God impressed His servants to speak the truth irrespective of what men had taken for granted as truth. Even Seventh-day Adventists are in danger of closing their eyes to truth. . .because it contradicts something which they have taken for granted as truth." Testimonies to Ministers, E G White, pp 69-70. This issue is too important to us and our family members not too study carefully to be sure we know what is God’s truth.
I now support the LGBT community — and the church should, too.
I’m an evangelical minister. I now support the
LGBT community — and the church should, too.
By David Gushee
For Christians, the LGBT debate has always been framed as a question of sexual ethics. Our argument has centered on six or seven biblical passages that appear to mention homosexuality negatively or appear to establish a heterosexual norm: the sin of Sodom, the laws of Leviticus, and the list of “the unrighteous” in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. For most of my career, these ideas formed the foundation of my views and teachings as an evangelical minister and professor of Christian ethics. I co-authored a popular textbook that stated this position flatly: “Homosexual conduct is one form of sexual expression that falls outside the will of God.” I wasn’t mean about it. But I said it.
In recent years, my moral position has shifted. It has dawned on me with shocking force that homosexuality is not primarily an issue of Christian sexual ethics. It’s primarily an issue of human suffering. With that realization, I have now made the radical decision to stand in solidarity with the LGBT community.
Working through this issue has taken me back to the very roots of my faith.
In 1978, when I was a hopelessly confused 16-year-old ex-Catholic kid, I stumbled into a Southern Baptist church near my Virginia home. I was looking for something — anything — to make sense of life. Four days later, I was a newly minted born-again convert. I was attracted by the vibrant faith, moral certainty, and loving spirit of the people I met in that church. My life was transformed. By 1993, I had been ordained in a Southern Baptist church and received a doctorate in Christian ethics from Union Theological Seminary in New York.
Union Theological Seminary is a school in the liberal Protestant tradition, though at the time I remained firmly anchored as a Southern Baptist. But I was initiated into an ethical tradition that revered those very special human beings who stood against majority opinion in their era to follow God and conscience, as they understood was required of them — come what may. Teachers like Glen Stassen of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (later Fuller Seminary) and Larry Rasmussen of Union taught me about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, the silence of most “good” Christians amid the slaughter of the innocents, and the few, great resisters such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a hero to these mentors and to me.
Studying race and black theology in a context blessed by the presence of James Cone and Cornel West, and hearing about the largely silent white church during the harrowing days of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, I came to believe that silence in the face of majority contempt for a minority is just as immoral as direct perpetration of evil. Too often, people are silent when minorities are being victimized, because majority opinion is powerful. It is hard to cut against the grain of your entire culture, and courage is costly.
Since the 1960s, when the gay rights movement began in America, Christians and their leaders have struggled to figure out how to respond to the growing tolerance of same-sex relationships. Most in Christianity have responded by offering endless debates over how to interpret that handful of biblical passages. Books erupted. Congregations fought. Denominations split.
For me, the answer to this debate has become simple: There is a sexual-minority population of about 5 percent of the human family that has received contempt and discrimination for centuries. In Christendom, the sexual ethics based in those biblical passages metastasized into a hardened attitude against sexual- and gender-identity minorities, bristling with bullying and violence. This contempt is in the name of God, the most powerful kind there is in the world. I now believe that the traditional interpretation of the most cited passages is questionable and that all that parsing of Greek verbs has distracted attention from the primary moral obligation taught by Jesus — to love our neighbors as ourselves, especially our most vulnerable neighbors. I also now believe that while any progress toward more humane treatment of LGBT people is good progress, we need to reconsider the entire body of biblical interpretation and tradition related to this issue.
Put simply, it finally became clear to me that I must side with those who were being treated with contempt, just as I hope I would have sided with Jews in the Nazi era and with African Americans during the civil rights years. With that realization, I began working on my new book, “Changing Our Mind.”
It is hard to describe exactly why my moral vision shifted in this way. But undoubtedly, it had much to do with my move to Atlanta in 2007 and my growing contact with LGBT people, especially fellow Christians. I hardly knew anyone who was gay before that move, but afterward, they seemed to be everywhere, and a few became very dear friends. It became clear to me — in a deeply spiritual place that I will allow no one to challenge — that God was sending LGBT people to me. The fact that one of these LGBT Christians is my dear youngest sister, Katey, has made this issue even more deeply personal for me than it would have been. The fact that one place where she developed a deep struggle with her sexuality was in evangelical churches has contributed to my new moral commitment to make evangelical families and churches safe places for LGBT people.
Evangelical Christians, such as Denny Burk and Robert Gagnon, are criticizing me because I’m now “pro-LGBT.” They want to shift the discussion immediately to the debate on same-sex relationships and the proper interpretation of those six or seven most cited Bible passages. I want to move right back to what really matters the most to me — loving this particular 5 percent of the population in exactly the same way that Christians are called to love everyone. That means attending to what most harms them and doing something about it. And that means offering full acceptance of LGBT people, ending religion-based harm and contempt, helping families accept the sexual orientation of their own children, and helping churches be a safe and welcoming place for every one of God’s children. For this reason, I have accepted invitations to contribute to the work of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Family Acceptance Project.
I am pro-LGBT in just the same way I hope I would have been pro-Jew in 1943 and pro-African American in 1963. I stand in solidarity with those treated with contempt and discrimination. And I do so because I promised in 1978 to follow Jesus wherever he leads. Even here.
Dr. Gushee is the Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Executive Director of the Center for Faith and Public Life at Mercer University and formerly the Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy and the Senior Fellow of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Christian Leadership at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He is an internationally recognized Holocaust scholar and ethicist.