Christianity and homosexuality
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Within Christianity there is a variety of views on the issues of sexual orientation and homosexuality. The many Christian denominations vary in their position, from condemning homosexual acts as sinful, through being divided on the issue, to seeing it as morally acceptable. Even within a denomination, individuals and groups may hold different views. Further, not all members of a denomination necessarily support their church's views on homosexuality.
Historically, from the earliest days, Christians have taught that same-sex acts are contrary to Biblical teaching: Tertullian (155 – c. 240), Cyprian (c. 200 – 258 ), Ambrosiaster (300s), John Chrysostom (c. 349 – 407), Severian 1:27 (before 380 – before 425). The teachings of various church groups through the past centuries is surveyed in an article on the history of Christianity and homosexuality.
This article focuses on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, covering how the extent to which the Bible mentions the subject, whether or not it is condemned, and whether the various passages apply today, have become contentious topics. Debate has arisen over the proper interpretation of the Levitical code; the story of Sodom and Gomorrah; and various Pauline passages, and whether these verses condemn same-sex sexual activities.
Christian denominational positions
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Denominations that oppose homosexual practice include the Eastern Orthodox Church, the churches of Oriental Orthodoxy and some mainline Protestant denominations, such as the Methodist churches, Reformed Church in America the American Baptist Church, as well as Conservative Evangelical organizations and churches, such as the Evangelical Alliance, the Presbyterian Church in America and the Southern Baptist Convention. Many Pentecostal churches such as the Assemblies of God,Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Church of God in Christ, and the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, as well as Restorationist churches, like Jehovah's Witnesses and LDS Church, also take the position that homosexual activity is immoral.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church "recognizes that every human being is valuable in the sight of God, and seeks to minister to all men and women [including homosexuals] in the spirit of Jesus," while maintaining that homosexual sex itself is "forbidden" in the Bible. "Jesus affirmed the dignity of all human beings and reached out compassionately to persons and families suffering the consequences of sin. He offered caring ministry and words of solace to struggling people, while differentiating His love for sinners from His clear teaching about sinful practices."
The Catholic Church views as sinful any sexual act not related to procreation by couple joined under the Sacrament of Matrimony. The Church states that "homosexual tendencies" are "objectively disordered", but does not consider the tendency itself to be sinful but rather a temptation toward sin. The Church, however, considers "homosexual acts" to be "grave sins", "intrinsically disordered", and "contrary to the natural law", and "under no circumstances can they be approved". The Eastern Orthodox churches, like the Catholic Church, condemns only homosexual acts. All Orthodox jurisdictions, such as the Orthodox Church in America, have taken the approach of welcoming people with "homosexual feelings and emotions," while encouraging them to work towards "overcoming its harmful effects in their lives," and not allowing the sacraments to people who seek to justify homosexual activity.
Certain other Christian denominations do not view monogamous same-sex relationships as sinful or immoral, and may bless such unions and consider them marriages. These include the United Church of Canada, and the United Church of Christ., all German Lutheran, reformed and united churches in EKD, all Swiss reformed churches, the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, the United Protestant Church in Belgium, the United Protestant Church of France, the Church of Denmark, the Church of Sweden, the Church of Iceland and the Church of Norway. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland also allows prayer for same-sex couples. The Metropolitan Community Church was founded specifically to serve the Christian LGBT community. The Global Alliance of Affirming Apostolic Pentecostals (GAAAP), traces its roots back to 1980, making it the oldest LGBT-affirming Apostolic Pentecostal denomination in existence. Another such organization is the Affirming Pentecostal Church International, currently the largest affirming Pentecostal organization, with churches in the US, UK, Central and South America, Europe and Africa.
Some denominations state opposing positions. Various churches within the Lutheran World Federation hold stances on the issue ranging from labeling homosexual acts as sinful, to acceptance of homosexual relationships. For example, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, the Lutheran Church of Australia, and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod recognize homosexual behavior as intrinsically sinful and seek to minister to those who are struggling with homosexual inclinations. However, the Church of Sweden conducts same-sex marriages, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America opens the ministry of the church to gay pastors and other professional workers living in committed relationships. The Ethiopian Mekane Yesus Lutheran Church, however, has taken a stand that marriage is inherently between a man and a woman, and has formally broken fellowship with the ELCA, a doctrinal stand that has cost the Ethiopian church ELCA financial support.
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) is also much like Lutheranism in regards to homosexuality. For example, the Friends United Meeting and the Evangelical Friends International believe that sexual relations are condoned only in marriage, which they define to be between a man and a woman. However, the Friends General Conference and the Friends in Great Britain approve of same-sex marriage. Most of the Anglican Communion does not approve of homosexual activity, with the exception of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, which is facing a possible exclusion from international Anglican bodies over the issue.
LGBT-affirming denominations regard homosexuality as a natural occurrence. The United Church of Christ celebrates gay marriage, and some parts of the Anglican and Lutheran churches allow for the blessing of gay unions. The United Church of Canada also allows same-sex marriage, and views sexual orientation as a gift from God. Within the Anglican communion there are openly gay clergy, for example, Gene Robinson is an openly gay Bishop in the US Episcopal Church. Within the Lutheran communion there are openly gay clergy, for example, bishop Eva Brunne is an openly lesbian Bishop in the Church of Sweden. Such religious groups and denominations interpretation of scripture and doctrine leads them to accept that homosexuality is morally acceptable, and a natural occurrence. For example, in 1988 the United Church of Canada, that country's largest Protestant denomination, affirmed that "a) All persons, regardless of their sexual orientation, who profess Jesus Christ and obedience to Him, are welcome to be or become full member of the Church; and b) All members of the Church are eligible to be considered for the Ordered Ministry." In 2000, the Church's General Assembly further affirmed that "human sexual orientations, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are a gift from God and part of the marvelous diversity of creation."
In addition, some Christian denominations such as the Moravian Church, believe that the Bible speaks negatively of homosexual acts but, as research on the matter continues, the Moravian Church seeks to establish a policy on homosexuality and the ordination of homosexuals. In 2014, Moravian Church in Europe allowed blessings of same-sex unions.
Views critical of homosexuality
Today, many American Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians regard homosexual acts as sinful and think they should not be accepted by society. They tend to interpret biblical verses on homosexual acts to mean that the heterosexual family was created by God to be the bedrock of Western civilization and that same-sex relationships contradict God’s design for marriage and violate his will. Christians who oppose homosexual relationships sometimes contend that same-gender sexual activity is unnatural.
Christian objections to homosexual behavior are based upon their interpretations of the Bible. Some Christians interpret the book of Leviticus as prohibiting homosexual sex. Some Biblical scholars interpret Genesis 19:5 as indicating that homosexual activity led to the destruction of the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Other Biblical passages that some interpret as addressing the issue of homosexual behavior include Romans 1:26–27, 1 Corinthians 6:9–10, 1 Timothy 1:10, and Jude 1:7. Christian author and counselor Joe Dallas says that the Biblical passages relating to homosexual acts uniformly prohibit that behavior. Christian organisations such as the former 'ex-gay' group Exodus International take the view that 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 offers Christian believers "freedom from homosexuality," although Exodus ceased activities in June 2013, issuing a statement which repudiated some of its aims and apologized for the harm their pursuit has caused to LGBT people.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states "men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies ... must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity." Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." They oppose criminal penalties against homosexuality. The Catholic Church requires those who are attracted to people of the same (or opposite) sex to practice chastity, because it teaches that sexuality should only be practiced within marriage, which includes chaste sex as permanent, procreative, heterosexual, and monogamous. The Vatican distinguishes between "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" and the "expression of a transitory problem", in relation to ordination to the priesthood; saying in a 2005 document that homosexual tendencies "must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate." A 2011 report based on telephone surveys of American Catholics conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 56% believe that sexual relations between two people of the same sex are not sinful.
Confessional Lutheran churches teach that it is sinful to have homosexual desires, even if they do not lead to homosexual activity. The Doctrinal statement issued by the Wisconsin Synod states that making a distinction between homosexual orientation and the act of homosexuality is confusing:
"We cannot limit the sin of homosexuality to deeds but not desires, any more than we can limit heterosexual sin to deeds but not desires. Scripture clearly includes desires and inclinations toward sinful actions in the category of sin (Mt 5:27-28). This is true of both homosexual and heterosexual sin."
In opposing interpretations of the Bible that are supportive of homosexual relationships, conservative Christians have argued for the reliability of the Bible, and the meaning of texts related to homosexual acts, while often seeing what they call the diminishing of the authority of the Bible by many homosexual authors as being ideologically driven.
As an alternative to a school-sponsored Day of Silence opposing bullying of LGBT students, conservative Christians organized a Golden Rule Initiative, where they passed out cards saying "As a follower of Christ, I believe that all people are created in the image of God and therefore deserve love and respect." Others created a Day of Dialogue to oppose what they believe is the "silencing" of Christian students who make public their opposition to homosexuality.
Views supportive of homosexuality
In the 20th century, theologians like Jürgen Moltmann, Hans Küng, John Robinson, Bishop David Jenkins, Don Cupitt, and Bishop Jack Spong challenged traditional theological positions and understandings of the Bible; following these developments some have suggested that passages have been mistranslated or that they do not refer to what we understand as "homosexuality." Clay Witt, a minister in the Metropolitan Community Church, explains how theologians and commentators like John Shelby Spong, George Edwards and Michael England interpret injunctions against certain sexual acts as being originally intended as a means of distinguishing religious worship between Abrahamic and the surrounding pagan faiths, within which homosexual acts featured as part of idolatrous religious practices: "England argues that these prohibitions should be seen as being directed against sexual practices of fertility cult worship. As with the earlier reference from Strong’s, he notes that the word 'abomination' used here is directly related to idolatry and idolatrous practices throughout the Hebrew Testament. Edwards makes a similar suggestion, observing that 'the context of the two prohibitions in Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 suggest that what is opposed is not same-sex activity outside the cult, as in the modern secular sense, but within the cult identified as Canaanite'".
In 1986 the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus (EEWC), then known as the Evangelical Women's Caucus International, passed a resolution stating: "Whereas homosexual people are children of God, and because of the biblical mandate of Jesus Christ that we are all created equal in God's sight, and in recognition of the presence of the lesbian minority in EWCI, EWCI takes a firm stand in favor of civil rights protection for homosexual persons."
Some Christians believe that Biblical passages have been mistranslated or that these passages do not refer to LGBT orientation as currently understood. Liberal Christian scholars, like conservative Christian scholars, accept earlier versions of the texts that make up the Bible in Hebrew or Greek. However, within these early texts there are many terms that modern scholars have interpreted differently from previous generations of scholars. There are concerns with copying errors, forgery, and biases among the translators of later Bibles. They consider some verses such as those they say support slavery or the inferior treatment of women as not being valid today, and against the will of God present in the context of the Bible. They cite these issues when arguing for a change in theological views on sexual relationships to what they say is an earlier view. They differentiate among various sexual practices, treating rape, prostitution, or temple sex rituals as immoral and those within committed relationships as positive regardless of sexual orientation. They view certain verses, which they believe refer only to homosexual rape, as not relevant to consensual homosexual relationships.
Yale professor John Boswell has argued that a number of Early Christians entered into homosexual relationships, and that certain Biblical figures had homosexual relationships, such as Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi, Daniel and the court official Ashpenaz, and David and King Saul's son Jonathan. Boswell has also argued that adelphopoiesis, a rite bonding two men, was akin to a religiously sanctioned same-sex union. Having partaken in such a rite, a person was prohibited from entering into marriage or taking monastic vows, and the choreography of the service itself closely parallelled that of the marriage rite. His views have not found wide acceptance, and opponents have argued that this rite sanctified a Platonic brotherly bond, not a homosexual union. He also argued that condemnation of homosexuality began only in the 12th century. Boswell's critics point out that many earlier doctrinal sources condemn homosexuality as a sin even if they don't prescribe a specific punishment, and that Boswell's arguments are based on sources which reflected a general trend towards harsher penalties, rather than a change in doctrine, from the 12th century onwards.
Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has described homophobia as a "crime against humanity" and "every bit as unjust" as apartheid: "We struggled against apartheid in South Africa, supported by people the world over, because black people were being blamed and made to suffer for something we could do nothing about; our very skins. It is the same with sexual orientation. It is a given. ... We treat them [gays and lesbians] as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God – and this must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy. We blame them for what they are."
Modern gay Christian leader Justin R. Cannon promotes what he calls "Inclusive Orthodoxy" (not to be confused with the Eastern Orthodox Church). He explains on his ministry website: "Inclusive Orthodoxy is the belief that the Church can and must be inclusive of LGBT individuals without sacrificing the Gospel and the Apostolic teachings of the Christian faith." Cannon's ministry takes a unique approach quite distinct from modern liberal Christians, yet which still supports homosexual relations. His ministry affirms the divine inspiration of the Bible, the authority of Tradition, and says "...that there is a place within the full life and ministry of the Christian Church for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christians, both those who are called to lifelong celibacy and those who are partnered."
Today, many religious people are becoming more affirming of same-sex relationships, even in denominations with official stances against homosexuality. In the United States, people in denominations who are against same-sex relationships are liberalizing quickly, though not as quickly as those in more affirming groups. This social change is creating tension within many denominations, and even schisms and mass walk-outs among Mormons and other conservative groups.
Homosexual Christians and organizations
George Barna, a conservative Christian author and researcher, conducted a survey in the United States in 2009 that found gay and lesbian people having a Christian affiliation were more numerous than had been presumed. He characterized some of his leading conclusions from the data as follows:
"People who portray gay adults as godless, hedonistic, Christian bashers are not working with the facts. A substantial majority of gays cite their faith as a central facet of their life, consider themselves to be Christian, and claim to have some type of meaningful personal commitment to Jesus Christ active in their life today. The data indicate that millions of gay people are interested in faith but not in the local church and do not appear to be focused on the traditional tools and traditions that represent the comfort zone of most churched Christians. Gay adults clearly have a different way of interpreting the Bible on a number of central theological matters, such as perspectives about God. Homosexuals appreciate their faith but they do not prioritize it, and they tend to consider faith to be individual and private rather than communal."
The study of 20 faith-oriented attributes revealed significant differences between the United States heterosexual and homosexual populations sampled, homosexual respondents being less likely to be born again Christians than heterosexual respondents (27% compared to 47%), and the degree of commitment to their faith and families also differed. Other significant contrasts were seen in regards to "liberal" versus "conservative" social positions, as well as in one’s understanding of God, with 43% of homosexual participants sharing the "orthodox, biblical" understanding of God which 71% of heterosexual participants indicate they do. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as "born again", but as is standard in Barna studies, this classification was defined according to basic standard criteria. Barna concluded, “The data indicates that millions of gay people are interested in faith but not in the local church and do not appear to be focused on the traditional tools and traditions that represent the comfort zone of most churched Christians." And that "Gay adults clearly have a different way of interpreting the Bible on a number of central theological matters, such as perspectives about God."
Candace Chellew-Hodge, liberal Christian lesbian founder of online magazine Whoseoever, responded to the findings:
All in all, I'm grateful for Barna even wandering into the subject of gay and lesbian religious belief. I think his study is important and can go a long way to dispelling the old "gays vs. God" dichotomy that too often gets played out in the media. However, his overall message is still harmful: Gays and lesbians are Christians – they're just not as good as straight ones.
She argued that Barna had formulated his report with undue irony and skepticism, and that he had failed to take into account the reasons for the data which enkindled his "arrière pensée." The reason why far fewer homosexuals attend church, she argued, is that there are far fewer churches who will accept them. Equally, gays and lesbians do not see the Bible as unequivocally true because they are forced by its use against them to read it more closely and with less credulity, leading them to note its myriad contradictions.
Organizations for homosexual Christians exist across a wide range of beliefs and traditions. The interdenominational Gay Christian Network has some members who affirm same-sex relationships and others who commit themselves to celibacy, groups it refers to as "Side A" and "Side B", respectively. According to founder Justin Lee,
"We're just trying to get people together who experience attraction to the same sex, however they have handled that, and who love Jesus and say, OK, you are welcome here, and then let's pray together and figure out where God wants us to take it."
Some organizations cater exclusively to homosexual Christians who do not want to have gay sex, or attraction; the goals of these organizations vary. Some Christian groups focus on simply refraining from gay sex, such as Courage International and North Star. Other groups additionally encourage gay members to reduce or eliminate same-sex attractions. Love Won Out and the now-defunct Exodus International are examples of such ministries. These groups are sometimes referred to as ex-gay organizations, though many no longer use the term. Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus, says the term incorrectly implies a complete change in sexual orientation, though the group Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays continues to use the term. In addition, individual Christians identifying as gay who want to subscribe to the conservative ethic are becoming more vocal themselves.
Gay Christian writer and actor Peterson Toscano argues that organizations promoting orientation change are a "ruse." An organization he co-founded, Beyond Ex-Gay, supports people who feel they have been wounded by such organizations.
Other groups support or advocate for gay Christians and their relationships. For example, in the United States, IntegrityUSA represents the interests of lesbian and gay Christians in the Episcopal Church, while United Methodists have the Reconciling Ministries Network and evangelical Christians have Evangelicals Concerned. In 2014 the United Church of Christ filed a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage, which is America’s first faith-based challenge to same-sex marriage bans; the Alliance of Baptists joined the lawsuit later that year.
In Europe, lesbian and gay evangelical Christians have a European forum. Working within the worldwide Anglican Communion on a range of discrimination issues, including those of LGBT clergy and people in the church, is Inclusive Church. The longest standing group for lesbian and gay Christians in the UK, founded in 1976, is the non-denominational Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement; specifically aimed to meet the needs of lesbian and gay evangelicals, there is the Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians; specifically working within the Church of England is Changing Attitude, which also takes an international focus in working for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender affirmation within the Anglican Communion.
Sociologist Richard N. Pitt argues that these organizations are only available to LGBT members of liberal denominations, as opposed to those in conservative denominations. His review of the literature on gay Christians suggests that these organizations not only represent the interests of Christians who attend their churches, but (like gay-friendly and gay-affirming churches) also give these members useful responses to homophobic and heterosexist rhetoric. His research shows that those GLBT Christians who stay at homophobic churches "kill the messenger" by attacking the minister's knowledge about homosexuality, personal morality, focus on sin instead of forgiveness, and motivations for preaching against homosexuality.
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