Saturday, April 14, 2012

B36. Sexual Orientation: It's Not a Sin

Europe, 16th century: When Copernicus discovered that the sun, not the earth, was the center of what we now know as our solar system, Scripture was used to condemn him. Luther quoted Joshua 10:13 and called Copernicus a "fool." Calvin quoted the 93rd Psalm and said, "Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?" Melanchthon, the first systematic theologian of the Protestant Reformation, quoted Eccles. 1:4-5 and suggested that "severe measures be taken to silence" all those who agreed with Copernicus, in order to "preserve the truth as revealed by God." (Stranger at the Gate, Plume 1995, pp.239-240)

Baptist Church in Rochester, NY 1870’s: A deacon confronts the pastor for placing a piano in the church, describing it as a “sign of the beast.” This incident, recorded in Helen Barrett Montgomery's memoirs, was a sign of the times. Although we can only speculate, it has been suggested that this attitude stemmed from the fact that pianos were used in dance halls and saloons. Today there are still churches that claim all instruments EXCEPT the piano and organ are of Satan, but most churches today enjoy instrumental music as an integral part of worshiping God.
Eastern Europe, late 1930’s-1945: Even theologians participated fully in Hitler’s call to exterminate some 11 million human beings, including Jews, Mentally Handicapped Persons, Disabled Persons, Homosexual Men, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholic Poles, Soviet POW’s, Political Prisoners, and Romani People. Why? Presumably because Hitler convinced them that these were all sub-humans and were a threat to their well-being?? Today those of us who read the memoirs of Holocaust survivors, or visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC are muted in disbelief at the horror of such inhumane treatment. One man, who was then well respected and trusted, managed to convince an entire culture that all these groups of people were sub-human and were outside of God’s plan for the human race.
Before reading on, please pause here for a moment, and really think about this atrocity. How could so many supposedly well meaning people, including those who call themselves God’s people, buy into this ideology? Are we immune to such persuasion, especially if we repeatedly hear it from our trusted religious leaders?
Southern Baptist Convention, June 20, 1995: The SBC adopted a resolution in 1995 renouncing its racist roots and apologizing for its defense of slavery. 1995 is not a typo.  A 1968 survey conducted by the SBC’s Home Mission Board showed that only 11% of Southern Baptist churches would admit African-Americans. A century after the abolition of slavery. Think about that.
North Carolina Baptist State Convention, Nov. 14, 2006: Voted to throw out any church that advocated homosexuality in any way, even knowingly having a gay person in membership. Other denominations have made similar rulings. “Go away homosexuals! You are not welcome in our churches. You are an abomination. Oh, and we love you . . .”

I am a lifelong Christian, but have painfully come to realize that our religious structures have been throughout history and are still the greatest of all oppressors.  This is not reflective of Jesus' life and teachings, and we, you and I, can start to change what has gone wrong.  First, though we must identify the problem.
There are certain words that set certain Christians off. Words like abortion, evolution, women in ministry, President Obama, and the winner for this decade, "same-sex." We hear these words, and our brains and tongues go into automatic pilot. We don’t even hear the questions or the issues, just the word. We have rehearsed our responses and are proud to hone our speaking skills every chance we get. This will be a blog that will “ruffle the feathers” of most of you who read it, because its purpose is to challenge us to think deeper and to step beyond the comfortable boxes we have built around ourselves.

HOW CHRISTIANS REACT TO GAY PEOPLE
First of all, why is this issue so important to us as the Church? It is important because it is the daily struggle of so many people all around us every day. Hurting people, searching people, people created by the God who created us all, most of whom have turned their backs on the Church and God, because the Church has turned its back on them, and they don’t make the distinction between the perfect God and the very fallible Church. You think you don’t know any gay people? You are blind to them probably because they perceive that you do not understand and would feel the need to share with them how abominable their lifestyle is to God (they have heard it already!), and whatever respect you have for them now would disappear. True, isn’t it? What if you found out your supervisor was gay? Your nephew? Your child’s teacher? Your music minister? Your brother? The guy in the next cubicle? Your daughter? Your husband?
Chances are you would want to protect those you love from them, and/or you would want to help the gay person change. This natural response is riddled with fallacy. First, gay people are no more likely to be predatory or child molesters than are heterosexual people. And second, gay people cannot choose to be straight, and we’ll return to this a little later. Gay people are all around us everyday living all kinds of lives, just like heterosexuals are.
Now, that said, I do think there is a tendency to more promiscuity within the gay male community, due I think to two reasons: 1) the church has shunned them, so they are not welcome to be a part of a fellowship that’s growing in Christian principles, and 2) men in general are more sexually driven, and without the constraints put on by God (and wife!), many men fall naturally into promiscuous lifestyles. Even so, there are many healthy and monogamous homosexual male relationships.

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
The one obstacle to many Christians accepting what science knows to be true is their personal interpretation of the Bible. There are those who have been taught that the Bible is God’s exact words given directly to us for the purpose of telling us how to live, and that every word in our KJV or NIV is without discrepancy and meant to be directly applied to our everyday lives. A large number of today’s churches teach such an interpretation.
Others, however, view each individual scriptural writing with regard to such questions as who wrote it, who was its intended audience, when was it written and why, etc. This is an extremely important point in understanding the issue of this blog, so if you truly desire to understand the viewpoint I am about to present, please pause for a moment and read this blog first, pertaining to Scriptural interpretation.
There is much written on the Biblical interpretation of the homosexual passages of the Bible. The literalists cling to such passages as Lev. 18:22 to say “case closed,” and they close it. Much has been written by Christians on both sides of this issue, and I would do it a disservice to attempt to cover the Biblical arguments in a couple of paragraphs.  I will say, however, that the word "homosexual" did not even exist in the languages from which the Bible was translated, so to even have the word in our English translations is fodder for hours of discussion.  For those on the “case closed” side, would you explain away the following Scripture passages? The words are in the Bible. Shall we apply them directly to our lives?
Gen. 6:2-4 Uncircumcised males have broken God’s covenant and should be cut off from God's people. (bad pun?)
Ex. 21:22 When a man hurts a pregnant woman and causes a miscarriage, “yet no harm follows,” (huh??), he shall be fined.
Ex. 31:14-15 Whoever does any work on the Sabbath shall be put to death. (!) (Num. 15:32-36 tells about a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath who is stoned to death at God’s command!)
Matt. 23:9 Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father who is in heaven.
Lev. 3:17, 11:6-7, 14:11ff Eat neither fat nor blood, hare nor swine, ostrich (I hope my favorite roast pork dish at Mambo Grill is exempted!)
Lev. 11:10 Eating water creatures that don’t have fins and scales is an abomination! (Shrimp, anyone?)
Lev. 15, 20:18 A menstruating woman is unclean, and also the man who has relations with her (cut off from people)
Lev. 19:19 Don’t let cattle mix-breed, don’t sow two different kinds of seed in one field (corn and beans?), don’t wear clothes made of two different materials (cotton and polyester?)
Lev. 19:27-28 Don’t round off your hair at the temples or mar the edges of your beard; no tattoos (uh-oh!)
Lev. 20:18; Deut. 21:18-20 A child who curses his parent shall be put to death (!); If you have a stubborn and rebellious son, turn him over to the elders to be stoned to death. (!)
Lev. 20:10 Adulterers shall both be put to death.  (This would thin out the population, wouldn't it!)
Lev. 24:17-20 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, fracture for fracture (opposite of Jesus’ teachings to turn the other cheek)
Lev. 25:39-46 Rules for owning slaves
Num. 5:2 All with a discharge and all who have been in contact with a dead body shall be put out of the camp.
Mark 10:2-12 Remarriage is adultery. (Who would be left if our churches rejected all remarried people?)
Mark 16:17-18 Jesus said the signs of those who believe will be: casting out demons, speaking in tongues, picking up serpents, drinking poison without being harmed, and healing the sick (Can we call ourselves “believers”?!)
1 Tim. 2:9-15 women, do not wear braids, gold, pearls, or costly apparel; don’t teach or have authority over men; you will be saved in child-bearing (huh?? Now that's a salvation plan we don't hear from the pulpit!)
Deut. 22:13-21 A woman found to be not virgin (by her husband’s testimony that her garment was not soiled), shall be stoned.
Deut. 23:1 A man with crushed testicles or a cut off penis cannot enter the assembly of the Lord. (I’m not making this stuff up!)
Deut. 23:2 Nor a bastard, even to the 10th generation of his descendants (10th generation?! This is plain ridiculous, and mean!  To my younger readers for whom bastard has changed meanings: A bastard is a child born to unmarried parents)
Mark 12:25 No marriage in heaven (not many sermons on that one!)
2 Kings 2:23-25 Elisha curses young boys for calling him “baldhead”, and wild bears tear 42 of them. (Again, not good sermon material!)
1 Cor. 7:14; 15:29 Paul says an unbelieving spouse is consecrated through the believing one (He also admits these are his own words.); then he defends baptism on behalf of the dead. (Two more plans of salvation we Protestants don't hear from the pulpit!)
1 Cor. 11:14 Long hair on a man is degrading.  (Did Jesus have long hair?)
OK, I’ll stop there. My point here is that literalism, applied directly to our 21st century lives, causes many problems. God is not confined to any time or culture, and God (not the law) continues to be just as relevant in our culture as in the OT times.  If we can evolve our understanding of the Bible, we can strengthen our relationship with God, Jesus Christ, and our neighbor.

Oh, and we have no record of Jesus ever saying one word about homosexuality. Not one word.

CULTURAL ATTITUDES
Attitudes about homosexuality vary greatly from culture to culture and from century to century. There has likely never been a culture without homosexuals, even in the animal world, but in many cultures, it has been a non-issue, somewhat like left-handed people or people with red hair. Notably different from most, but an insignificant distinction. Many of the Native American cultures honor their homosexual members, referring to them as two-spirited people and honoring their special qualities and gifts. Other cultures, like some in the Middle East, have made homosexuality illegal and punishable by death. Others, like ours, have singled homosexuals out as morally reprehensible and socially deviant persons.
The culture of our age, including the Christian subculture, has an inflated fixation on sexuality in general and especially on homosexuality.  I wholehearted agree that the free sex mentality, whether homosexual or heterosexual, is a sad phenomenon, and it grieves me to see the emotional and spiritual confusion of my high school and college students for whom casual hook-ups and friends with benefits are the cultural norm. Sexual orientation, however, is not about cultural sexual behavior.  And lest I seem disappointed with the younger generations, definitely not so. I applaud that they are changing the diversity landscape of our culture, blurring the divisions generations before them have etched with race, language, religion, and sexual orientation. I have great appreciation and respect for the millennials.

WHO ARE GAY PEOPLE?
Homosexuality has no boundaries. Gay people are born into families of every race, every culture, and every religion.  Gay people have apparently existed in every culture of every time period and are in every local church family, at least as children.  We lose them as adults though because they hear our condemnation and in confusion leave to escape it.  Gay people are businessmen, public servants, waitresses, parents, siblings, sons, and daughters. Gay people are as varied as their heterosexual counterparts.

Without attempting to stereotype, there are some typical qualities and gifts that gay people often bring to their worlds that are worthy of mention here. Gay men are often especially caring and sensitive to others’ needs, thus often choosing ministerial careers. It is the gay man who will often take in his aging parents to care for them. He is often gifted in creative arts, musically talented, and attracted to careers in entertainment. They are often our actors, our musicians, our church music directors and pianists, our fashion designers, our hair stylists, and our sharpest dressers. Gay women are often the trailblazers in breaking through gender roles, being the first woman to enter all kinds of life arenas. They typically enjoy sports, many rising into the college and professional levels, or coaching, and are often driven in their careers, many making great contributions to their professions.

Sexual orientation is a misnomer. A person’s sexual orientation is not about sex. It is about identity. This unfortunate label is, in my opinion, a lot of the problem with our society’s inability to see gay persons as it sees everyone else. We cannot say “homosexual” without conjuring mental images of “what they do.” I call this the “ick” factor. It has to be wrong, because it’s “icky.” Why do we want to think about what ANYONE does sexually? Do you think about what your supervisor does with his wife? Do you think about what your parents do? (Now, THAT’S icky!) If the ick factor is a litmus test for right and wrong, it is definitely a sin for our parents to have sex, is it not? Not to mention our married daughters. Let’s not think about these things! Not about heterosexuals, not about homosexuals. I hope I live to see the day when our culture will stop calling gay people by “sexual” names and embrace the gifts our gay population brings to our lives.
The estimates of what percentage of the population is gay vary greatly, depending mainly on the “agenda” of the organization conducting the study. Studies conducted by those who see homosexuality as an atrocity, for example, tend to find far smaller percentages (1-2%) than studies conducted by organizations whose focus is mainly on homosexual advocacy (about 10%). The more trustworthy sources are those with no reason for bias. The American Psychological Association in 1989 estimated that 10% of men and 5% of women are gay. That's approximately 1 in every 15 people. This seems close to accurate.  If only 1% of Americans were gay, however, that would still be over 3 million people. And if 10% were gay, that would mean over 30 million.
Who are gay people? Gay people touch every segment of our population. They as varied and unique as are heterosexuals. Their one distinction is that they are attracted to same-sex partners.
In my college days when I was trying to teach myself to play the guitar (a goal that’s not yet accomplished), the first song I taught myself to play was Come to the Water. Remember that one? “And Jesus said, Come to the Water, Stand by my side, I know you are thirsty, You won’t be denied. I felt every teardrop when in darkness you cried, and I strove to remind you that for those tears I died . . .” One of those campfire songs that spread quickly across the young Christian scene, much like “It only takes a spark to get a fire going . . .” Well, years later, churches were tearing this song out of their hymnals, and its popularity was squelched. Why? Because it was discovered that the writer, Marsha Stevens, was a gay woman. Never mind that she wrote music that inspired a generation of Christians, leading us to seek closer communion with God. She was quickly shunned by the Christian music industry.
Then there was gospel singer Kirk Talley who never even had a homosexual relationship, but still "fell from grace" after it was exposed that he confided in a friend his same-sex attractions. On Dec. 22, 2003, Kirk Talley, beloved Christian singer/songwriter ("Step Into the Water," "He Is Here," et.al.), Dove Award winner, Grammy nominee, the boyish-faced man dubbed "Mr. Gospel Music" found himself pleading to his friend to kill him, and to God to let him die. (GQ Magazine, August 2005)
In 2007 Evangelist Ted Haggard was exposed for a 3-year homosexual relationship. After three weeks of therapy, he claimed he was cured of years of homosexual struggle. He may have even believed it. (I believe in miracles, but have my doubts that this was one of them.) Then there was Rev. Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Church, New Jersey governor James McGreevey, and Christian recording artists Ray Boltz and Jennifer Knapp. The Christian community hears these stories and condemns. I hear these stories and see a culture that forces gay people to deny who they are, and the problems this inevitably brings.

WHAT IS THE GAY AGENDA?
To be treated like every other human being. Nothing more. The term "gay agenda" is one of many political watch words, meant to set off our emotions. Every person and every group has some kind of agenda. Evangelicals want to Christianize the world. Merchants want to make money. Gay people want to be respected and treated as the human beings they are.

WHY IS THE GAY POPULATION GROWING SO RAPIDLY?
It isn’t. The gay population, by all reputable evidence has remained fairly steady, percentage-wise, throughout history. The recent difference is not that there are more gay people, but that, with the internet, cable TV, and especially social networking, more gay people are becoming comfortable enough to disclose their sexuality, and more are deciding to seek equal rights and recognition.

STUFF CHURCH PEOPLE LIKE TO SAY:
      1. Love the sinner, Hate the sin. This is probably the Church’s favorite response to the issue of homosexuality. It does have a nice ring to it, but it’s flawed on at least two levels. First, it assumes that homosexuality is a sin. And second, I have yet to see what that love for the sinner looks like. It is overshadowed by the hate for the sin. If we believe someone is living in abominable and repulsive sin, does he sense God’s love radiating from us? Imagine being told by someone that he loves you, but he hates your Christianity. Therefore you can be acceptable only if you don’t act upon it. Don’t attend church. Don’t tithe. Don’t share your faith. Ridiculous, isn’t it. How can a person separate himself from the person he is? Henri Nouwen said it this way: "Compassion can never coexist with judgment because judgment creates the distance, the distinction, which prevents us from being with the other." I challenge us to refrain from SAYING this overused platitude, and to pray instead that we will be filled with God’s love.

2. God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. This one is so trivial on so many levels, but some find it catchy. Without giving it more attention that it merits, here’s my quick response: If God created trees, does that mean God didn’t create broccoli? If Adam had green eyes, would that mean that God didn’t create people with brown eyes? Were we to take the time to examine the Hebrew words from which Adam and Eve were translated, there would be more fodder for discussion, but I’ll move on . . .

3. The Bible says be fruitful and multiply. Again, I could write an entire blog responding to this one argument, but I won’t. We have amply populated the earth, too amply, many would argue. Allowing homosexuals their God-given human rights would not cause everyone else to stop populating. 
I just heard a minister argue this week that if gay people were allowed to marry, this would be the final generation of humanity, because there would be no procreation.  Really!?  If gay people were given the right to marry, would every heterosexual then decide to be gay?  Do we even think about these things we say?  Homosexuality is not a choice. A certain percentage of people are homosexual, despite what laws we may have for or against, and a much larger percentage of the population will continue to multiply, no matter how much we try to stop it. (Look at our teen pregnancy rates, etc.) The earth is already filled with unwanted and exploited children, in need of love and attention. And Jesus, by the way, was not a physical “multiplier,” just as Paul and many others in the NT were not.

4. If we don’t stop homosexuals, it will open the door for polygamy and bestiality. Polygamy and bestiality have no relation whatsoever to homosexuality. This has become one of the many political alarmist slogans, meant to appeal to uninformed peoples’ gullibility. Polygamy and bestiality are behaviors, and behaviors are choices. This political agenda will continue to do all it can to convince everyone that sexual orientation is also a behavior and a choice. Studies have shown the more times we hear something, the more solidly we start to believe it, and the slogan repeaters are well aware of this. Studies have noted that bestiality practices are not uncommon among boys who grow up on a farm, but if true, (and "icky" if so) I have never heard of anyone desiring to marry his chicken, ever. And as for polygamy, based on Scripture alone, without consideration for our current cultural norms, it would be a stretch to condemn it, as polygamy was an acceptable part of Old Testament culture.

5. Gay people cannot be a part of God's family unless they repent and change. According to our Christian doctrines, we are all in need of repentance, but orientation is not a factor in that. Gay people do not need to repent of their orientation any more than heterosexual people need to repent of theirs. What we choose to do with our orientations, perhaps, but not for the orientation itself. Sexual orientation has no direct correlation with whether a person is or is not Christian. (Indirect, yes, because so many traditional churches have shunned the homosexual population.)

Nationally recognized organizations like Soulforce, Evangelicals Concerned, Gay Christian Network, and segments of many major denominations, are set up specifically to nurture and encourage Christian gay people. Every major denomination has begun struggling with this issue or will most probably have to do so soon. All the answers for the church are not easy, but may we at least reach the point of understanding that gay and Christian are not by nature antithetical. The most quoted verse of the Bible says WHOSOEVER believes will have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Homosexuals cannot be changed into heterosexuals. Despite what some Christians want so strongly to believe, an intelligent view of science and psychology is more and more conclusive that sexual orientation is not a choice. That causes serious problems for some of our Christian thinking, so we will argue the opposite position until we are red in the face, but ultimately, it doesn’t change the reality. It didn't change the reality about the earth rotating around the sun. There have been many entire books written on the question of why people are gay, and not being any kind of expert on that, I will completely skip over that chapter here, except to say that it is apparent that, whatever the reason, it has its roots early in life, far before the person begins to consciously think in terms of sexuality.  What toys do they prefer?  What clothes?  What playmates?

6. Protect the American family. Another political cliche. What does this really mean? Is the American family healthy without gay people? Would your marriage fall apart if gay people were given their rights? If we are truly concerned about the American family, why are we not wanting to put regulations on how easy it is to marry? Or to divorce? A quick glance into any public school classroom will give witness that the Leave It to Beaver family is not alive and well. Do you know what homosexuals are doing to fit into society? They are marrying your daughters, by the thousands. They love them and try their best to be good husbands, but they will inevitably hurt their “American family,” even if they never stray, because she will always know that something is not right, or wonder what’s wrong with her that she doesn’t please him.

The existence of gay people does not hurt "the American family." The Church's stand on homosexuality, however is causing tremendous damage! Not only to the homosexuals themselves who are repeatedly told by the Church that something is wrong with them and that need to repent of their "sinful lifestyle," (no, not directly, because most ministers and church people think there could never be a gay person there, not in their church), but also to the entire families and church families of these people. During the civil rights era of the 1960s, when African-Americans were being treated horrifically by the white majority, the only support a black child had was his/her black family and black church. The family and the Church nurtured the black child, protecting him/her as much as possible from the misguided culture that surrounded him/her. For the gay child, however, there is no support. It is the Church, and thus the family, that is most oppressive of all to his/her life. Not only does the Church oppress the gay person, but it teaches his family to oppress him. Parents are taught to be ashamed of their gay children, believing them to have "chosen a life of sin." With no support of church or family, gay young people seek acceptance, understanding and guidance from wherever they can find it, and are often unwelcome in their own families and churches "unless they change." If the "American family" is to be "protected," it may be the Church that needs repentance.

7. People are not born gay. Without getting too deep into the age old argument of nature vs. environment, it is technically true that humans do not fully develop a sense of sexuality prior to puberty. However, it seems more and more apparent, that there is indeed a genetic factor involved, that some people are biologically predisposed to same sex attractions, and to deny this is to close our eyes to all evidence.  (See number 5 above.) Ignorance and closed minds are among Christianity’s worst enemies.
Herein is the crux of what divides us as Christians on this issue: Do homosexuals choose to be homosexual? Traditionalist Christians adamantly say yes, and if this were true, I would agree. Homosexuality would be a sin. If it is true, however, that homosexuality is genetically determined, much like eye color, tongue rolling, left-handedness, etc. (which is becoming more and more scientifically evident), then we are essentially saying that it is a sin for these people to be born. A homosexual person can no more deny his same-sex attractions than can a heterosexual deny his.  When did you choose to be attracted to the opposite sex?  And why would anyone CHOOSE a life of oppression, isolation, and rejection?

A century ago we were shouting that pianos in the church were of the devil. Then we shouted that abolition was of the devil. Some are still preaching that women in ministry is an outrage. And we quote Scripture to back up all our claims. Now, if the question is about homosexuality, our automated answer is “abomination.” Even Southern Baptist Seminary President Al Mohler blogged a couple of years ago of the likelihood that homosexuality is biological, quickly finding himself in the line of attack. One thing is for sure, either people are born gay or they are not, and that truth is not dependent on what we think about it.

8. Well, if they can’t change, they should just remain celibate. Some choose this path, just as do some heterosexuals, but history (and Scripture) has shown us that celibacy is not the overall answer. We are created as sexual beings, and that sexuality will likely come out perversely if not naturally, especially, I believe, in men, even if entered into with the sincerest of intentions. Consider, for example, the Catholic priesthood. And consider personally being told to live celibately. Not them. You.

9. If they repent and have enough faith, God will heal them. Again, the fallacy here is the assumption that orientation is a sin. The response of such evangelical leaders as Dr. James Dobson and Jerry Falwell has been to cure homosexuals. Dr. Dobson has advocated the use of so-called ex-gay ministries such as Exodus International. Prior to 2000 Dr. Dobson's Focus on the Family featured their own John Paulk, "the story of how one man overcame homosexuality." In 2000, however, when Paulk was spotted in a gay bar, he quickly disappeared from the organization family.

Interestingly, even the president of Exodus International agrees there is no "cure" for homosexuality, and in 2013 its president shut it down with apologies for all the harm it has done over the years.  Thousands of testimonies attest to the harm done by these well-meaning "reparative" programs, and while there are also testimonies of "success," I have never heard any "success" testimony by someone who has been "cured" for as long as ten years.  All of us can change a behavior for a short time, especially if led emotionally to believe that God demands it.

What do you think, by the way, of the cultures that “cure” female sexuality by mutilating the genitals of the young girls? 

SO I’M SAYING THAT HOMOSEXUALITY IS NOT A SIN?

Let’s look at a hypothetical scenario. We probably all choose to think of nuns as asexual beings, but that is not reasonable, as sexuality is a part of the human experience. Nuns, however, have chosen a life of celibacy, choosing not to act on their sexuality. But does that make them less heterosexual or homosexual? No, it doesn’t. If she is heterosexual but celibate, the church reveres her. If she is homosexual and celibate, do we call her a sinner? If so, we are wrong. If not, we must then realize a distinction between orientation and behavior. And if we cannot even fathom the concept of a homosexual celibate nun, we are disillusioned and are choosing to live in our own box, isolated from much of God’s Truth.
So, yes, I am saying that sexual orientation, whether homosexual or heterosexual, is not a sin. What is done with that orientation is indeed a choice and can certainly lead to sin, for both homosexual and heterosexual people. Promiscuity. Adultery. But not mere orientation.

SO IF HOMOSEXUALITY IS NOT A SIN, HOW SHOULD A GAY CHRISTIAN LIVE HIS LIFE?
How should a heterosexual Christian live his life? First and foremost devoted wholly to God, and second, actively loving and caring for others. Jesus said this is the greatest commandment. For all of us. Further, like a heterosexual person, a gay person should seek a committed monogamous relationship with a compatible partner (unless he chooses celibacy), and should flee from all promiscuous or adulterous behavior.
And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." (Matt. 22:37)

WHY AM I WRITING THIS BLOG?
Homosexuality is the social justice issue of this generation, and I cannot keep from speaking out. The Church is wrong about this, clinging to traditional judgments that are increasingly incompatible with science and with Jesus’ life and ministry.
I blog because it breaks my heart to think of another generation of gay young people struggling alone without family or church support. Another generation of young people believing something is wrong with them and wasting years trying to change in order to fit in. Another generation of church outcasts, confused at why God must not love them and why He doesn’t answer their prayers to change them. I write because you might be his aunt. Or his teacher. Or his pastor. Or his parent. You might be her office mate. Or her neighbor. Or her child’s little league coach. For this reason I write, and I am not alone.
More and more individual Christians like Tony and Peggy Campolo, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Lutheran scholar Martin Marty, and Methodist minister Jimmy Creech, as well as mainline denominations like the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopalians, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are beginning to step out and welcome everyone into their families.
A most interesting Focus on the Family story you may have missed was in 1997, when Focus on the Family co-founder Gil Alexander-Moegerle, having left the organization, wrote a letter of apology for the organization's stands on homosexuality and women's issues. (This story of course was not broadcast, and Dr. Dobson certainly did not endorse it.) He could no longer keep silent. In his words: "I apologize to lesbian and gay Americans who are demeaned and dehumanized on a regular basis by the false, irresponsible, and inflammatory rhetoric of James Dobson's anti-gay radio and print materials."
Christian organizations like Evangelicals Concerned, the Gay Christian Network, and Soulforce are offering love and support. Even some individual churches of the most closed denominations are stepping out to welcome all who want to join them. More and more Christians are hearing the cry of the marginalized and oppressed. More and more are choosing to practice God's love.


BUT THE BIBLE SAYS . . .
Leviticus clearly states if a man lies with a male as with a woman, they have committed an abomination. Likewise a few other passages make similar statements. How then, if I am a Christian, can I write such a blog as this?
Prayerfully and fully believing it is God who propels me.

Scripture alone will not lead the Church to a full understanding on this issue. If we are looking for a verse that says literally, "homosexuality is not a sin," we will not find it. On the contrary we will find the handful of verses that seem to say otherwise, at least on the surface. Nor would Scripture alone, let’s note, ever have led to the concept of monogamy or to the abolition of slavery. Slavery was an unquestioned part of the first century culture, as polygamy was in the Old Testament, and both would be much easier to justify through Scripture than to rebuke. A heart understanding, however, of Jesus' life and teachings, shows us the sin of oppression, the hurting people who have been personally wounded and oppressed. As true "Christians," we look into the eyes, we hear the voices, we feel the pain, we understand the heart cries of the wounded families and the isolated individuals, and we know in the depths of the soul that quoting Scripture is not enough. Nor was it for Jesus.
For those who strongly hold to a literalist understanding of the Bible (I don’t like the term inerrantist), this blog will be blasphemy. Your mind is set. May God bless you, and may we not be divided as brothers and sisters.
For the rest of you, if you are seeking God’s truth, not mine, not the Church’s, but God’s, I challenge you in three areas:
1. Pray. Pray for God’s wisdom and discernment. Pray that God alone will lead your mind and heart to whatever is true.

2. Read. Seek writings of Christians who think differently from you, and try to really understand their position, even if you will later choose to reject it. We never get a full picture of any issue when what we know about the other side is what those on our side tell us.

3. Listen. Seek out people who are gay, and invite them to tell you their stories. When they first knew they were gay, what kind of struggles they have experienced, if they chose to be gay, how it has shaped their view of God, etc. Do not talk to them about their sin. Just listen. This may be a difficult one, because they may not be willing to share their stories. If not, it is probably because they perceive us as judgmental and closed-minded. Maybe we are . . .

The apostle Paul clearly states that women should be quiet in church. How do we know this is not God’s mandate for our society? We pray for God’s wisdom and discernment. We read what women in ministry advocates have to say. And we seek out God-called women and invite them to tell us their stories. We witness the Spirit of God moving in and through their lives. How do we know slavery is not acceptable for our society? Likewise. Get to know people. People of all races, male and female, Republican and Democrat, Episcopalian and Southern Baptist. Heterosexual and Homosexual. Listen to them. Understand them. Embrace them as fellow human beings, created uniquely by God.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS


There is not a truth existing which I fear or would wish unknown to the whole world. (Thomas Jefferson)
Truth is absolute. No one human being has all of it, but truth is not based on what we believe or on a democracy of belief. Truth is not even based on the Bible. On the contrary, it is the Bible that is based on Truth. Truth is. There is no incompatibility between Science and God. God is the Creator of all of nature and its laws. Thus nothing in nature is in itself incompatible with Him. Human scientists sometimes get things wrong. Human Christians sometimes get things wrong. But true science and its Creator are always perfect Truth.  I write, not to divide, but to challenge, because there are millions of people in all our paths daily that Jesus has called us to love, not in word, but in heart. Sexual orientation alone is not a sin in the eyes of God. Of this I am most certain.
Neither a behavior nor a lifestyle, sexual orientation is a basic human instinct which can be denied for a time, but cannot and need not be “cured”. I blog to challenge our thinking, realizing at the same time that with issues such as this, most of us are so set in our opinions that no blog will penetrate our hearts. Forget this blog. Forget my words. But please open your heart on this subject, just enough to hear the occasional voices of the other side. Pray for your gay coworker daily (better yet, your gay son or brother), until you find yourself truly loving him, not flippantly, but compassionately. Then go for coffee, and invite him to tell you his story. Don’t tell him you don’t want him to go to hell. Don’t tell him you love him but hate his sin. Just be quiet and listen.
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Cor. 13:2)
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (John 13:34)
He who believes in him is not condemned (John 3:18)
that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:15)





I am available to speak with churches and organizations that are genuinely and prayerfully considering this issue. You can contact me at ncprof579@hotmail.com.



27 comments:

RuthAnn said...

This is one of the very best articles on this topic I have ever read. Thank you.

Maggie952 said...

Thank you for your writing. God's words through you have given me much to think and pray about. Again, thank you, thank you.

Kathy said...

Thank you RuthAnn and Maggie, for reading such a longggg post and for taking the additional time to leave your encouraging words! And welcome, new member Kelly! Glad you're here!

Courteous New Yorker said...

Very well written, and while I, as a gay man who has been previously married (and as a gay man in New York state, I plan to marry again), do not agree with everything you wrote, I'm sure that you and I could sit down over a cup of coffee (or a nice dinner) and have a wonderful, lively, respectful debate about our differences of opinion. So thank you for an amazing though-provoking piece. It's one of the most Christian articles I've read.

Kathy said...

Courteous, I'd love to buy you that cup of coffee if ever you're passing through NC. Thank you for your kind comments, and I'd love for you to send me a private message (ncprof579@hotmail) and share with me the points where we disagree. Hearing your perspective will stretch my own. Starbucks? :)

LeAnna said...

Thank you for putting this out into the world. I pray that your words touch many, and encourage them to let their eyes and hearts be opened enough to get to know the beauty and love that is present in every person that they meet.

Kathy said...

Thank you, Leanna, for reading and letting us know you were here!

Jonathan Boegl said...

Curious logic re: assertion the Biblical stance on homosexuality. From beginning to end it treats it as unequivocal sin. How do you get around the unanimity of the Biblical ref's to homosexuality being ref'd as "sin"? - An aside: How do you feel about the "B" part of nearly every local GLBT chapter?

Kathy said...

Thank you, Jonathan, for reading and sharing your thoughts. This might answer your first question: http://kathyon.blogspot.com/2011/03/god-did-not-write-bible.html I'm not sure I understand your B question, but I'm quite sure G, L, B, T, or anyone else, God is quite capable of being the judge and has called us as followers above all else to love. A much more difficult task than judging, isn't it!

Jeffrey said...

Why did you write so much about church culture and scriptural minutiae before addressing individual behavior?
It could have been handled by stating in a brief paragraph that what others have interpreted for centuries is incorrect. Your interpretation is that the behavior focussed upon in a monogomous relationship is acceptable to God. That is the crux and point if the argument.

Stan said...

Thanks for sharing a well articulated argument for the inclusion of LGBT persons in the life of the Church. I believe that Christ's love compels us to offer ALL persons opportunity for grace IN the church, but unlike you, I would not go so far in tearing down Scripture in order to open that door. I recognize that you come from a denomination (Southern Baptist) that has been much harsher on LGBT persons than my own faith tradition and it is easy to see that flavor your thoughts. First, you joust against fundamentalism (and I applaud it), but I am not so quick to throw out the majority of Scripture on homosexuality because it is culturally irrelevant. In fact, the entire "look at all these texts that we do not practice and find no universal appeal/truth" argument is disingenuous. It fails to address whether there are consistent universal truths across all the cultures/milieus in which our Bible was written. It's the standard chop down all the trees and then declare "look - no forest" argument. I would suggest that there is a pretty clear witness on same sex ACTIONS (not orientation) across all of Scripture and Genesis 1-2 lays the foundation for this witness which promotes monogamous heterosexual relationships (which Jesus endorsed). Why didn't you also make a list of all the Scriptures that we do find universally appealing - not culture bound - including many of the social justice statements found in Deuteronomy? Second, likewise, you fail to acknowledge Genesis 3 as part of a foundational worldview that could explain much of the condition we find ourselves in and thus jump right to the statement "God created." A fallen creation worldview juxtaposes any argument from biology or cultural endorsement. (By the way, how can contemporary cultural endorsement be used to support your argument while being so easily dismissed as irrelevant in the case of Scripture's cultural context?)

There is a mystery and sacredness to this book the Bible. We either dismiss parts of it as local truth and irrelevant, or use it as rulebook to beat people over the head with. Neither sits well with me. I want to tread lightly and seek to honor the Bible as God's very Word somehow speaking through the culture in which it was written and also rising transcendent over the culture it was written in and being heard by. (And I applaud you on not letting folk get away with literalism.) It is both/and - human and divine product. We truly need the grace of the Holy Spirit here to guide us into Truth, But seeing in a mirror dimly, this Book is essential for training our ears to hear. Many of us, yours included, are seeking to honor the Truth we see in Scripture while loving our neighbors, including those whose orientation is different than our own. I grieve any Christian who would judge or hate another and lament that we (I count myself in those who fall short of God's ideal) have driven any person away from the grace of God he offers through his ecclesia. And still - there is a tension. God is not fair. All of us are in need of grace. Some of us carry heavier burdens - stronger pulls away from God's will. All of us carry "orientations." My life has been a journey seeking to reorient myself (repent) to the good and perfect will of God. Love covers over a multitude of sins and hopefully, we would both agree that this is a universal truth for all of us who are fallen and fallible even as we seek after God's perfection.

Jonathan Boegl said...

Kathy, I will be the first to admit that my own heart is far too filled with bitterness and "Judgment for the sake of condemnation". I need the Father's abounding grace in this and in many other areas of my life. Having said this: "Judging for the sake of righteousness" does not have to exclude love. On rare, grace-empowered occasions, millions of believers, and even I, myself, have been enabled to stand as the Father stands; in an uncompromising spirit of righteousness AND with a heart filled with 1 Corinthians 13 love. Quite often, agape love MUST judge/deduce/advocate what is holy and good in order for true righteousness to be manifest.

As to the "B" issue: I am curious as to how a believer argues "for" Bi-sexuality from a Biblical standpoint.

Kathy said...

Stan, I respect and appreciate your response. I have no doubt both our perspectives are colored by our own religious backgrounds. I disagree, however, that I have torn down Scripture in arriving at my position here. On the contrary, I have poured over Scripture line by line, not just the talked about passages, but every line of all 66 writings. I chose not to make this blog about that, as there are hundreds of publications out there on both sides of the Scriptural arguments, and I have found, as I'm sure you have, that Scriptural arguments are useless between two people who view Scripture differently. More here: http://kathyon.blogspot.com/2011/03/god-did-not-write-bible.html Thank you, Stan, for your intelligent and respectful thoughts here. You and I would probably make good coffee friends!

Jonathan,yes, surely we are all in need of grace. Are you a pastor? If so, you might indeed have more of a confrontational position in others' lives than I normally would. I love though that you see this as a rare responsibility that must necessarily be bathed in love and prayer. It is ministers though who most need to hear the message of this blog, as they are the front line of God's army, the voice that's heard loudest by those who are hurting, and when ministers call sexual orientation a sin, they have crushed the spirit of one of God's children, and grace or no grace, the minister has lost a precious soul and grieved the God who commissioned him/her to minister.

I am still a little confounded by your question concerning bisexuality, except to guess that you might think bisexual would mean two partners? While gay, straight, or bisexual people can conceivably have multiple partners, I don't see that any of these groups is less inclined to monogamy than any other. While I am the first to say I am no expert on bisexuality, I believe it is basically defined in terms of a person who might fall in love with either gender. Either doesn't mean both. I don't know if this helps. Sending prayers for you, Jonathan, that God will guide you in whatever ministries come to you.

Jonathan Boegl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Boegl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Boegl said...

Certainly, you're not asking us to parse the term "BI"-sexual so far as to separate it from the word "MULTIPLE"...???
I'm not confused about the nature of bi-sexuality. Nor am I unfamiliar with lower critical methods of interpreting scripture. Bi-sexuality/multiple-sexuality is simply indefensible from a Biblical standpoint!
The questions I'd pose to you as a teacher of the scriptures are:
a.) how can you be certain that you have not superimposed your 21st C western world-view over the scriptures? Where does one go for the last word as to the true administration of God's love?
b.) how do you justify celebrating another person's pride (The title "Gay-Pride" implying pride in one's bi-sexuality) in not the brokenness of humanity, but in ones embrace of sin itself?

Kathy said...

Jonathan, I wish you and were communicating somewhere else. I reiterate that I am not the expert on bisexuality, but I can see that you and I working under different definitions of that word. If we are looking at a scenario in which a married adult is having a relationship outside the marriage with a same-sex partner and justifying it as bisexuality, I certainly agree with you that that is a broken commitment, just as it is if the partner is opposite-sex. My basic understanding of bisexuality though is not that the person is in a relationship with 2 people, but that when s/he falls in love, it could be with either gender. Feasibly the relationship is committed and monogamous, just as feasibly it is with heterosexual or homosexual relationships. Your question on where to turn for the last word states well the concern of any of us who have been nurtured in fundamentalist circles. We want/need somewhere to go to find the final word of God. For people of our background, this has been the Bible. But the problem is that the Bible was never meant to be used that way, nor does it claim to be such. It is a great starting point, but it is not the begin all and end all of following God, although the 4 Gospels give us the best and clearest picture of how Christ lived, which is the greatest possible pattern for us as Christ followers. There are no words I can say here that in themselves will convince you that sexual orientation (which has nothing to do with behavior) is not a sin. If this is important to you, I hope you will carefully reread this blog post, which, though written by an imperfect human being, is well studied and bathed in lots of prayer, and to also carefully read my "God didn't write the Bible" post. These, along with my personal walk with Christ, which unfortunately I can't give you in black in white, are the best I have to offer. On the pride word, you had some good responses to that at http://www.redletterchristians.org/i-went-to-gay-pride/. The pride word in this sense seems to me a reaction to being oppressed by a society and especially a religious culture that labels them as sinners, outsiders. the pride word means they are not giving in to the shame that has been misguidedly pressed upon them, but they will stand up and say this is who they are. You have been in my prayers for a couple of days, and I would welcome private communication from you if God should so lead. ncprof579 at hotmail.

Kathy said...

Jeffrey, I didn't mean to ignore your comment. For some reason it went to my spam box, and I just retrieved it. Thank you for taking the time to read this post. Indeed it is long and meant for contemplation, not for on-the-run reading. To have left out all the "minutiae" would have made it quite an incomplete piece, as would diminishing it to a "crux." I do, however, support that whatever kind of heterosexual relationship is acceptable to God is also acceptable in homosexual relationships. Or otherwise said, as in the title, sexual orientation is not a sin. Thanks for wading through it all!

Joyce said...

Kathy, this is a very powerful blog.
Thank You!

melanie seier said...

Thank you for your wonderful blog, and for clearly stating that sexual orientation is NOT A SIN! I believe the issue is our relationship with God and each other, and being in right relationship with God and each other. It is time for the Church and all Christians to recognize that!

frank armstrong said...

Kathy, I share your desire to responsibly seek the truth in all things, and your desire for respectful dialogue. I want to explain why I don’t find your argument compelling. You state the following:

“Herein is the crux of what divides us as Christians on this issue: Do homosexuals choose to be homosexual? Traditionalist Christians adamantly say yes, and if this were true, I would agree. Homosexuality would be a sin. If it is true, however, that homosexuality is genetically determined, much like eye color, tongue rolling, left-handedness, etc. (which is becoming more and more scientifically evident), then we are essentially saying that it is a sin for these people to be born. A homosexual person can no more deny his same-sex attractions than can a heterosexual deny his.”

Is homosexuality genetically determined and therefore an innate characteristic of a person’s nature? From what I’ve read on this issue I’m less inclined than you are to conclude that this is the case; however, even if it is the case, it seems your argument contains a fatal flaw: You unjustifiably equate the natural with the good.

Consider the fact that all humans are born with a sinful nature (Romans 5:12-19 and 7-8, Galatians 5, and Ephesians 2 should suffice). “We were by nature children of wrath, just like everyone else” (Eph. 2:3), and “by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners” (Rom. 5:19). Scripturally and experientially speaking we can say that the shared sinful nature of humanity is genetically determined—it is innate. According to your argument, however, there is no moral imperative to deny our sinful nature because it is, well, natural. It seems that we would be justified living according to our sinful natures because, after all, it is who and what we are.

But God does require us to “put to death the old man,” that is, to deny some aspects of our human nature. If you can provide it, Kathy, I am interested to hear your justification of the use of the criterion of innateness to deem an instinct good or acceptable. The thrust of your argument appears to be that it would be unfair for God to create us with certain innate characteristics and then require that we deny them. This brings to mind Paul’s words to the Roman Christians:

“You will say to me then, ‘Why does [God] still find fault? For who resists His will?’ On the contrary, who are you, O man, to answer back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?”

If we applied the criterion of innateness to other human characteristics, we would legitimize a lot of nasty behavior. You contend that because homosexual orientation is a basic human instinct we should consider it acceptable, but there are many other basic human instincts, innate characteristics and desires, that have brought immense suffering into the world, and God calls us to deny those instincts and desires.

It turns out that the crucial issue is not whether homosexuality is innate, but whether God approves or disapproves of innate aspects of our post-Edenic nature. I think scripture is clear on this point. All scriptural texts referencing the issue of homosexuality are unequivocally prohibitive (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:24-27, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

Much of your essay is spent arguing that the context needs to be considered when interpreting those prohibitive texts, and I agree. The words of Professor Robert Gagnon are particularly salient on this point: “Every narrative, law, proverb, exhortation, poetry, and metaphor in the pages of Scripture that has anything to do with sexual relations presupposes a male-female prerequisite for sexual relations and marriage.” Professor Gagnon has written what is considered by many to be the definitive treatment of this subject, and I highly recommend his following books: The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, and Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, co-authored with Dan O. Via.

Thank you for your gracious consideration,

Frank Armstrong

Kathy said...

Thank you, Joyce and Melanie, for reading and for taking the time to share a kind comment! Frank, thank you for your post as well. Having been Southern Baptist for 49 years, I have been where you are and understand your position well. I know you are sincere, as is obvious in the fact that you took the time to write this long response. You are in good company in many churches. It is my prayer that neither you nor I will ever be so stuck in our positions that God can no longer mold and change us to best minister to those around us.

frank armstrong said...

Thank you for your gracious words, Kathy, and I fully understand if you don't want to engage my argument. I certainly won't belabor the point. You've been good enough to give audience to an opposing view and I commend you for that.

I join you in your prayer that we don't get too stuck in our positions that God won't be able to change us; it's a good thing to have an open mind in our pursuit of the truth. I would only offer a word from G.K. Chesterton as a qualifier:

"Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid."

Thanks again, and may God's blessings rest on you.

Jays-Heaven said...

THX!!!! Very good and powerful blog!!!!

Dr. Laura said...

I lean to support Frank's feedback, but I also agree with you, Kathy, that sexual orientation is not the sin itself--the homosexual behavior (and mental fantasizing as well re: adultery--according to Jesus). Adultery is all sexual behavior between people outside of holy marriage. Romans 1:17-32 clearly lays out what happened to man since the Fall. We are all sinners; we are all born defective in some ways--think of alcoholics--their brain scans even while young show a predisposition towards alcoholism and drug use. Do we just say, "Hey, you were born this way--so just drink up/use whatever drugs suit your fancy because you can't help it--it's out of your control." What is impossible for man, is always possible for God. And God knows every person's heart. God is less concerned about changing our circumstances (or our genetics) than He is in changing our character. It is never our pleasurable life experiences that forge our characters--our characters are forged in the fire of God's truth and love. I think you are wise to advise the churches to open up their arms to sinners of all kinds, including active homosexuals (and lesbians)--no one can wait to be perfect before they come to Jesus--it never has worked--we are made perfect in Christ. However, holy marriage is only between men and women, and if gays and lesbians don't want that, they would need to choose celibacy. Tough, I know, but the alcoholic needs to choose sobriety; the drug addict needs to choose to stay clean; the porn addict has to chuck the porn--the sugar or food addict needs to lay down the carb overloading to kill their flesh (literally). there is no human being that isn't called to take up their cross, deny themselves (sacrifice their fleshly desires)--that's what it means to follow Jesus--we are talking about the journey of sanctification. Gays and lesbians do not get a pass from God on this--sorry. When it comes to allowing God to change their hearts, that's what God is calling all of us to do--for us to surrender our lives to him--not this part, or that part--all of our lives--body and soul. The Christian walk is hard because our flesh wants what it wants when it wants it. It always will. But the more we stay in the Word (Bible); the more we pray and the more we admit to God that we are weak, the more God's strength is poured into us--we are overcomers in Christ. That's His promise, and we can take that to the bank!

Sheena said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kathy Vestal said...

Sheena, I deleted your very long comment because it was an independent essay not in dialogue with this blog post. I hope you will read the blog, and then comment again. Merry Christmas to you and your partner.