As some of my friends know, I embarked a while ago on a quest to get to the bottom of all the conflicting viewpoints on the topic of homosexuality within the church. Having talked about it with a lot of friends, Christian and non-Christian, I have been met with a lot of different views. A good number of the Christians I spoke to were supportive of loving, monogamous, lifelong gay relationships but many hold the view that as it is “not God’s intention for us” so it is sinful. I respect that people take this traditional view and when portraying this in a loving way and without condemning someone who takes the opposing view then I think this is a division in the church that can remain healthy and simply reflective of the fact that Christians are not homogeneous.
In terms of churches, I’ve also had mixed experiences and I’ve found some would rather lose a member of their ‘family’ than accept them as gay. Others have been gay affirming, fruitful, friendly churches which I think demonstrate the ability for homosexuals to be integrated in church rather than sidelined.
I admit that I have generalized, and made assumptions throughout what I’ve written but I have mostly just collated the things I have found, read, the things I have thought, and the psychology that I have studied. There are obviously counter arguments to mine, and my aim is not to attempt to change anyone’s view but rather to present a different side of the argument as food for thought.
Christian approach to gay Christians
I never really worried about homosexuality being wrong; it was something that I blindly believed was sinful on the simple premise that I was told it was bad. Which I suppose is my first reason for feeling disillusioned with this ‘homosexuality is wrong’ viewpoint. I feel that some Christians are holding a negative view towards homosexuality because that’s ‘just what Christians believe’ and if there has never been a need in that person’s life to contend this view and to develop their own thoughts then it is rather easy to indiscriminately follow.
Straight people can have all sorts of views towards homosexuality, from simply not understanding it to thinking it is downright “gross”. These underlying feelings towards it all too easily perpetuate a feeling of sinfulness around it as often people base their values on their feelings. So I think a lot of the beliefs of people in churches is based on arbitrary values that they have adopted from other people without a lot of thought.
I think the bulk of the disdain comes from general societal views that have been shaped by history and the fact that homosexuality is a deviance from the norm. I believe then that some Christians, probably inadvertently, use religion as an excuse for their own homophobia. I’m not saying they are actively choosing to take issue with gay people, but rather that the feelings they have towards it are propagated by societal attitude and rather than assume a liberal approach as many secular people do because in our diverse society people feel they should, they assume a negative view because they feel they should as ‘religious’ people.
In society the idea that being gay is wrong or bad or ‘different’ is shutting down. Those views are being shunned in light of new knowledge- that it is probably genetic, that it isn’t a mental disorder etc. The church embraces people from different cultures, we see that through missions work, it is supportive of disabled people, they are beginning to learn to be more supportive of women, we see that with rules beginning to change over women in leadership, they are supportive of the poor and needy. You see, the church takes a positive view and actively supports so many of the groups that were once oppressed by society (even though for some they have had to amend their views on biblical passages) yet homosexuals are barred from this revolution. Why? Well I think because of my original point- some people do a good job of using religion to veil their prejudices. They don’t like it and being Christian gives them an excuse to stay away. I personally feel the church will catch up pretty soon, there is a definite movement starting to stir in order to embrace people’s life choices regarding their sexuality. Gay affirming churches, liberal theologies, organisations set up to combat this prejudice, civil partnership blessings etc. I believe that in a hundred years time, if not before, we will have dropped this hot topic and I just think it’s sad that we’re more losing souls everyday that we let this oppression continue.
I believe homosexuality has been massively blown out of proportion within modern ethics. Jesus himself never felt the need to mention it, which I think, is a stark fact that many people gloss over, choosing rather to rely on verses that are (in all honesty) debatable rather than focusing on Jesus’ main message and mission: love. I can imagine the last thing Jesus wanted for us was division in the church, and people choosing not to follow him because of the dichotomy between their religion and their sexuality. It seems ridiculous to me that the church condemns people due to their sexuality when Jesus is makes it clear we should not condemn each other but love each other.
I think this love needs to be practically expressed as in reality homosexuals are marginalized in churches, it is seen as a problem that needs resolved and the resolutions are all too oppressive: telling a gay couple in love to split up and be celibate for the rest of their lives is frankly unreasonable and not a solution but rather a route to misery and resentment. If as Christian brothers and sisters we want to see our fellow believers live lives of fullness and spiritual maturity then oppressing them until they conform to a life that is unnatural to them is going to be a barrier to this.
I read in an article the interesting pointer that in Matthew 15:18-20 when Jesus lists the things that defile a person, homosexuality was not one of them. It seems it wasn’t a big enough thing for Jesus to comment upon yet the church has distorted it to be something so awful. Clearly, slander, lying, theft etc are sins that Jesus lists alongside murder and adultery yet we create this hierarchy where we shine a floodlight on homosexuals but are less harsh on liars and slanderers.
Treatment of gay people in churches
How is it right to marginalize someone for something they are born as? It is saying that there is something wrong with the way someone was made yet, we know that God loves us all, planned for who we would be, delights in us and has a plan for us. Yet as Christians we are placing restrictions and conditions on that rather than letting people freely express the way they intrinsically are. God isn’t going to love anyone any less because they choose to be a practicing homosexual rather than a celibate one yet we seem to think it is our right to treat them in a less loving way. I truly believe treating gay people differently within the church is a massive contradiction of everything we are going to church for (worshipping God, building community, learning to follow Jesus’ teachings etc).
Another point at which I take issue is the hypocrisy surrounding the judgment of sin. It seems that in the hierarchy of sin which Christians construct based on their own personal morals, homosexuality is right up there on the pedestal of evil. By this I mean that churches ignore when a Christian marries a non- Christian- they aren’t kicked out of the church or told they would be better off celibate, in fact a sad double standard is that churches marry, baptize, and bury non Christians all the time. Yet, it is believed that a homosexual couple are worse somehow. Somehow even if they live a Christian life, have a relationship with Jesus, and believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord, they don’t qualify for a Christian wedding yet a couple with no interest in God do, solely thanks to tradition.
We feel we can’t judge a person’s heart in order to know if they are ‘truly’ Christian or not, yet we feel like we can judge them as soon as their sexuality comes to light. Other sins get pushed to the bottom of the ‘hierarchy’. It seems sins like swearing, drunkenness, lying etc are belittled but homosexuality is shoved up there as a sackable offence, along with all the other unmentionables like adultery or porn addiction. So, even if homosexuality was a sin (although that’s obviously not what I’m arguing anyway) then it is derided as one of the worst and this should not be the case, it lends itself to marginalization of gay people in our churches and creates stigma and attitude that should not be there if we are to truly love as Christians.
I guess at the end of the day my main feeling is that we just all need to get over it. If you are a Christian and you believe homosexuality is a sin then fine, but really consider the way you treat your homosexual friends, the advice you choose to give them, the opinions you express. While I was having a look around the net, I found some despicable articles and opinions expressed by Christians about homosexuals, full of total ignorance and a lack of compassion (I’m looking directly at you, Christian Apologetics and Research Ministries!!) and I wouldn’t believe this was the real life view if I hadn’t encountered it myself over the past couple of years as I’ve discussed this topic with so many people. We need to focus on the bigger issues in our Christian lives, the ones that Jesus bothered to directly instruct us on. We need to stop putting our own values onto others and accept that Christians are diverse. And the leadership teams in churches particularly need to stop making homosexuals feel as though they don’t belong.
Is homosexuality a sin?
Although I believe that for some Christians, a view of homosexuality as sinful is either a blind belief or a concealed prejudice, I also accept that for others it is a genuine belief based on what the bible says. Say the church has blown it all out of proportion, that isn’t to say that fundamentally it is still sinful.
The texts we basically have to go on are a couple in Leviticus saying that a man sleeping with a man is against God’s law for the Israelites (Lev 18:22). Two verses before it says the same about having sex with a woman while she’s on her period. Without even bothering to go into the theology about Jesus fulfilling the law, it is pretty easy to see that using that verse is picking and choosing verses that suit which isn’t the way to read the bible.
Then we’ve got 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals,10nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” No-one can be sure that Paul is talking about a loving, lifelong gay relationship (which does have parallels with marriage) as opposed to homosexuality outside of a committed relationship, which may be perverse expressions of homosexuality. We don’t know the context of the time, and there is debate over the Greek words used. I feel that it is listed among some evidently wrong things which would suggest it is talking about homosexual acts that are carried out when they shouldn’t be and personally I am not convinced that this extends to a committed homosexual relationship and I don’t think I would be unless it was explicitly said. I do however see how this verse can be convincing on its own and my only real justification for ignoring it is that I read it along with all the other things the bible says and I don’t see how it entirely fits but that is what I will discuss throughout this essay.
The other main ammunition against homosexuality is Romans 1:26-28. "For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 28And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper." I’ll begin with what obviously sticks out to me and then I’ll consider some more theological arguments put forward by others. I think firstly, it is important to remember that for a homosexual, it isn’t ‘unnatural’ to be with a person of the same sex. By definition, that is the natural orientation for them. I can see that it is using ‘natural’ more objectively than this though but it just seems obvious to me that it is far more degrading for a lesbian to be with a man because she feels she should, or to remain celibate because she is flawed as a human being than it is to be in a homosexual relationship. I’ll bet the last thing any homosexual couple who are in a loving, committed, happy relationship feels is degradation. No-one could ever dream of calling sex between a married couple ‘indecent’ or ‘depraved’ yet it suddenly becomes so for a homosexual couple. The motivation remains the same- a couple have sex because they love each other and they want to express that whether they are homosexual or not. Therefore I think these verses are littered with context that just doesn’t fit with reality.
I don’t know whether Paul was expressing his own personal disgust at homosexuality because he found it unnatural and degrading or whether he is simply talking homosexuality that falls outside of a committed relationship. I don’t know what he is referring to but I do know this description just does a pretty rubbish job at actually describing a number of homosexual relationships that are real and for love. It’s unfortunate, however, that it even comes down to the semantics of it. I would have thought with the overarching themes of love in the bible, the characteristics we know about God, the fact that Jesus was far more concerned with helping the needy, the pure fact that in reality we are all as bad as each other, it seems so insignificant to pick one verse in the bible and make that the be all and end all
The Greek word debate
Ok, so just another note but not one of mine this time. There is debate over the Greek word used for homosexuality in the bible. Some people dismiss this argument, even some homosexuals who have made the painful decision to remain celibate (so I’m not saying it’s ignorant to ignore the potential for mistranslation), but I think (although obviously I am hardly an expert in Greek) that there is this potential. I will sum up what many different websites explain about the words used, so I won’t reference because it doesn’t take two minutes to find a host of websites explaining the wording.
So Paul made up this word “arsenokoitai”, way before homosexual orientation was even defined as a concept. He took the root words from the writings in Leviticus. “Arsen” means man so generalizing this to all homosexual relationships, gay and lesbian, is already a mistranslation. The bible itself translates this word differently- some say “practicing homosexual”, one says “those who defile themselves with mankind”, and one says “those who are immoral with…. boys” and there are others- it is even translated as “perverts” in some bibles. Which one is right? The point is that we don’t know! The Greek word “paiderasste” was the standard Greek word for sex between men so using another word could mean he was referring to something else than sex between men.
Arsenkoitai has been translated into homosexual offenders by the NIV. Taking a point from an essay I read about this, imagine if a word had been translated into heterosexual offenders instead. We would assume it was referring to heterosexuals that sexually offend rather than all heterosexuals so translating is as such implies it is referring to people who use homosexuality in a destructive way. There are complex arguments to suggest arsenkoitai could be interpreted as male prostitutes in Pagan temples, pimps, masturbation, abusive pedophiles, male prostitutes and a boy sex slave. For a more complex explanation of the Greek words, I got most of the information here: http://www.religioustolerance.org/homarsen.htm
Fitting homosexuality into wider Christian principles
God made us to be ourselves
It may be that God actively advocates gay relationships, he may have special people in mind for all his homosexual children in the same way he has special people in mind for all his heterosexual children. He may be totally unbothered by the fact some people are together with people of the same gender and he may just appreciate it as part of his heterogeneous world. He made us all different, all unique, with different life stories and complexities. We are who we are. I don’t think God made people who had overwhelming homosexual desires and then just unleashed them into a world where they would inevitably struggle and is now sitting back tutting and smiting at the fact that some people have disgracefully followed what their heart tells them.
God is just
I’d also like to remind people that there are real life homosexual people, who are in genuine relationships. They love their partners as much as any heterosexual couple, they love God and serve him, they serve community, they would never dream of cheating on their partners, treating them badly, or hurting them, they help the poor and needy, they bring up children, they are committed to one another for life the same way a married couple are. These people exist and when we put a blanket ban on homosexuality and we condemn these people to a life of celibacy, of a life where they have to break up and live forever having lost their one true love, we forget that God is actually just. He has the power to judge homosexuality in the correct way, he knows when it becomes sinful and when it can be a good thing, just like in heterosexuality.
God promises us a future of hope, rest for our souls, strength for the powerless, no separation from his love, peace, faith-based salvation, and so much more. By ostracizing gay people we are robbing them of their enjoyment of God’s promises. How can a homosexual enjoy peace, rest, strength, etc when they are being rejected and cast out by their ‘family’? Being cornered into a celibate life takes away their freedom.
What it comes down to
Maybe they are wrong, maybe I am wrong, maybe everyone who practices homosexuality is a disgrace, but if they are, then that’s not your problem, it’s between them and God and as they walk with God, the Holy Spirit can convict them and lead them to righteousness. I believe that if we truly do not believe that what we are doing is sinning, and we feel able to stand before God with no convictions and feel fullness in our relationship with God while being in a homosexual relationship, then I don’t believe it is going to be a catapult into hell. And that is something that only we can know for ourselves.