Christianity and sexual orientation

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Christian denominations have a variety of beliefs about sexual orientation, including beliefs about same-sex sexual practices and asexuality. Denominations differ in the way they treat lesbian, bisexual, and gay people; variously, such people may be barred from membership, accepted as laity, or ordained as clergy, depending on the denomination. As asexuality is relatively new to public discourse, few Christian denominations discuss it.[1][2] Asexuality may be considered the lack of a sexual orientation, or one of the four variations thereof, alongside heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality.[3][4][5]

Beliefs and mythology[edit]


The destruction of Sodom as illustrated by Sebastian Münster (1564)

Following the lead of Yale scholar John Boswell, it has been argued that a number of early Christians (such as Saints Sergius and Bacchus) entered into homosexual relationships,[6] and that certain Biblical figures had homosexual relationships, despite Biblical injunctions against sexual relationships between members of the same sex. Examples cited are Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi, Daniel and the court official Ashpenaz, and, most famously, David and King Saul's son Jonathan.[7]

The story of David and Jonathan has been described as "biblical Judeo-Christianity's most influential justification of homoerotic love".[8] The relationship between David and Jonathan is mainly covered in the Old Testament First Book of Samuel, as part of the story of David's ascent to power. The mainstream view found in modern biblical exegesis argues that the relationship between the two is merely a close platonic friendship.[9][10] However, a few have interpreted the love between David and Jonathan as romantic or sexual.[11][12][13][14] Although David was married (to many women), he articulates a distinction between his relationship with Jonathan and the bonds he shares with women.

The story of Ruth and Naomi is also occasionally interpreted as one of romantic love and/or lesbian sexuality.[15]

Another biblical hero, Noah, best known for his building an ark to save animals and worthy people from a divinely caused flood, later became a wine-maker. One day he drank too much wine, and fell asleep naked in his tent. When his son Ham entered the tent, he saw his father naked, and his son, Canaan was cursed with banishment and possibly slavery. In Jewish tradition, it is also suggested that Ham had anal sex with Noah or castrated him.[16]

Anti-gay denominations interpret Romans 1 24-32[17] as condemning homosexuality.


Saint Sebastian, considered by some to be the world's first LGBT icon.

While highly controversial, attempts have been made to hold up certain Christian saints as positive examples of homosexuality in Church history:

  • Saints Sergius and Bacchus: Sergius and Bacchus's close relationship has led some modern commentators to believe they were lovers. The most popular evidence for this view is that the oldest text of their martyrology, in the Greek language, describes them as "erastai", or lovers.[18] Historian John Boswell considered their relationship to be an example of an early Christian same-sex union, reflecting his contested view of tolerant early Christians attitudes toward homosexuality.[18] The official stance of the Eastern Orthodox Church is that the ancient Eastern tradition of adelphopoiia, which was done to form a "brotherhood" in the name of God, and is traditionally associated with these two saints, had no sexual implications.
  • Saints Cosmas and Damian[19] A difficulty with this assertion is that most hagiographies list these saints as natural brothers or twins.[20][21]
  • Saint Sebastian has been called the world's first gay icon.[22] The combination of his strong, shirtless physique, the symbolism of the arrows penetrating his body, and the look on his face of rapturous pain have intrigued artists both gay and straight for centuries, and began the first explicitly gay cult in the 19th century.[22] Richard A. Kaye wrote, "contemporary gay men have seen in Sebastian at once a stunning advertisement for homosexual desire (indeed, a homoerotic ideal), and a prototypical portrait of tortured closet case."[23][24]


The extent and even the existence of religious castration among Christians, with members of the early church castrating themselves for religious purposes,[25] is subject to debate.[26] The early theologian Origen found scriptural justification for the practice in Matthew 19:12,.[27] where Jesus says, "For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can." (NRSV)

In describing Jesus as a spado and Paul of Tarsus as a castratus in his book De Monogamia, Tertullian, a 2nd-century Church Father, used Latin words that denoted eunuchs[28] to refer to virginity and continence.[29][30]

The significance of the selection of the Ethiopian eunuch as being the first gentile convert has been discussed as representative of inclusion of a sexual minority in the context of the time.[31]

Specific sexual orientations[edit]


Male homosexuality[edit]

Christianity has traditionally regarded male homosexual behavior to be an immoral practice, or sinful, and most major Christian denominations (containing the majority of Christians worldwide) continue to hold this view. These include the Roman Catholic Church,[32] the Eastern Orthodox churches,[33]the Church of Latter-Day Saints, the Brethren in Christ,[34] and the Christian & Missionary Alliance. Some denominations have subgroups that also hold this belief, including some conservative synods of the Lutheran Church (e.g., Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod[35][36][37]), most Evangelical Protestant churches, and the Southern Baptist Convention.

Some Christians have come to believe that gay sex is not an inherently sinful practice. Denominations holding this position include the United Church of Canada, the United Church of Christ, the Moravian Church, the Metropolitan Community Church, and the Friends General Conference. Recently, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Methodist Church of Great Britain,[38] and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America[39] , have also determined that same-sex relationships are not inherently sinful. As of 2018, the United Methodist Church is debating this issue, and will be voting in June 2019 on a plan that will allow conferences to decide whether or not to ordain LGBT clergy and conduct same-sex marriages.[40] The worldwide Anglican Communion has experienced ongoing debate and controversy over homosexuality both before and after the Episcopal Church ordained the first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2003.

The Metropolitan Community Church has been founded specifically to serve the Christian LGBT community. Its founder, Troy Perry, was the first minister to conduct a same-sex marriage in public, as well as filing the first lawsuit for legal recognition of same-sex marriages in the United States.[41]


Lesbians face different social and cultural preconception than gay men. Their experience in Christianity sometimes dissimilar to that of gay men, although lesbianism has also traditionally been considered a sin within the religion.[42] However, some contemporary Christian denominations, like the United Church of Christ and the Metropolitan Community Church, do not hold this belief. They accept lesbian parishioners, perform same-sex marriages, and ordain women who are in same-sex relationships.

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." [43]

A survey of self-identified lesbian women found a "dissonance" between their religious and sexual identities. This dissonance correlated with being an evangelical Christian before coming out.[44]


Very few churches have released statements about bisexuality, and research into the bisexual Christian community has been effected by the fact that bisexual Christians are often considered the same as lesbian and gay Christians.[45] However, in 1972, a Quaker group, the Committee of Friends on Bisexuality, issued the “Ithaca Statement on Bisexuality” supporting bisexuals.[46] The Statement, which may have been "the first public declaration of the bisexual movement" and "was certainly the first statement on bisexuality issued by an American religious assembly," appeared in the Quaker Friends Journal and The Advocate in 1972.[47][48][49] Today Quakers have varying opinions on LGBT people and rights, with some Quaker groups more accepting than others.[50]


Asexuality may be considered the lack of a sexual orientation, or one of the four variations thereof, alongside heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality.[3][4][5]

As asexuality is relatively new to public discourse, few Christian denominations discuss it and the Bible does not clearly state a view on it.[1][2] However, some Christians have recently made statements on the subject. In the Christian magazine Vision, David Nantais, S.J. and Scott Opperman, S.J. wrote in 2002, "Question: What do you call a person who is asexual? Answer: Not a person. Asexual people do not exist. Sexuality is a gift from God and thus a fundamental part of our human identity. Those who repress their sexuality are not living as God created them to be: fully alive and well. As such, they're most likely unhappy people with which to live.” [2][51]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Smith, SE (21 August 2012). "Asexuality always existed, you just didn't notice it". The Guardian. Retrieved March 11, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^ a b Bogaert, Anthony F. (2004). "Asexuality: prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample". Journal of Sex Research. 41 (3): 279–87. doi:10.1080/00224490409552235. PMID 15497056.
  4. ^ a b Melby, Todd (November 2005). "Asexuality gets more attention, but is it a sexual orientation?". Contemporary Sexuality. 39 (11): 1, 4–5. ISSN 1094-5725. Archived from the original on 6 November 2015. Retrieved 20 November 2011  The journal currently does not have a website
  5. ^ a b Marshall Cavendish, ed. (2010). "Asexuality". Sex and Society. 2. Marshall Cavendish. pp. 82–83. ISBN 978-0-7614-7906-2. Retrieved 27 July 2013.
  6. ^ Boswell, John (1996). "The Marriage of Likeness. Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe". Fontana.
  8. ^ Haggerty, p.380
  9. ^ DeYoung, p. 290
  10. ^ Martti Nissinen, Kirsi Stjerna, Homoeroticism in the Biblical World, p. 56
  11. ^ Boswell, John. Same-sex Unions in Premodern Europe. New York: Vintage, 1994. (pp. 135-137)
  12. ^ Halperin, David M. One Hundred Years of Homosexuality. New York: Routledge, 1990. (p. 83)
  13. ^ When Heroes Love:. The Ambiguity of Eros in the Stories of Gilgamesh and David (New York & Chichester, Columbia University Press, 2005), pp. 165-231
  14. ^ Homosexuality and Liminality in the Gilgamesh and Samuel (Amsterdam, Hakkert, 2007), pp. 28-63
  15. ^ ''Soliciting Interpretation''. 2011-10-27. Retrieved 2013-04-10.
  16. ^ Conner & Sparks p. 250, "Noah"
  17. ^ "King James Version".
  18. ^ a b Boswell, p. 154
  19. ^ Jordan, Mark D. (2000). The silence of Sodom: homosexuality in modern Catholicism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-41041-2. on the nature of "brotherly love", p.174
  20. ^ Holy Wonderworking Unmercenary Physicians Cosmas and Damian at Rome, synaxarion, Orthodox Church in America
  21. ^ "Martyr Leontius With Unmercenaries Cosmas and Damian in Cilicia".
  22. ^ a b "Subjects of the Visual Arts: St. Sebastian". 2002. Retrieved 2007-08-01.
  23. ^ Kaye, Richard A. (1996). "Losing His Religion: Saint Sebastian as Contemporary Gay Martyr". Outlooks: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities and Visual Cultures. Peter Horne and Reina Lewis, eds.. New York: Routledge. 86: 105. doi:10.4324/9780203432433_chapter_five.
  24. ^ "Arrows of desire: How did St Sebastian become an enduring, homo-erotic icon? - Features, Art". The Independent. 2008-02-10. Retrieved 2009-07-16.
  25. ^ Caner, Daniel (1997). "The Practice and Prohibition of Self-Castration in Early Christianity". Vigiliae Christianae. Brill. 51 (4): 396–415. doi:10.1163/157007297X00291. JSTOR 1583869.
  26. ^ Hester, David (2005). "Eunuchs and the Postgender Jesus: Matthew 19:12 and Transgressive Sexualities". Journal for the Study of the New Testament. Sage Publications. 28 (1): 13–40. doi:10.1177/0142064X05057772.
  27. ^ Frend, W. H. C., The Rise of Christianity, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1984, p. 374, which in footnote 45 cites Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica VI.8.2
  28. ^ "Words". Retrieved 2014-04-24.
  29. ^ Moxnes, By Halvor (2004). Putting Jesus in his place. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 85. ISBN 978-0-664-22310-6. Especially in De Monogamia it seems clear that Tertullian takes spado to mean a "virgin", but by using the word spado he employed a term that was in common use to refer to castrated men
  30. ^ Accordingly, Tertullian's text, "ipso domino spadonibus aperiente regna caelorum ut et ipso spadone, quem spectans et apostolus, propterea et ipse castratus, continentiam mavult" (De monogamia, 3) has been translated as "seeing that the Lord Himself opens 'the kingdoms of the heavens' to 'eunuchs', as being Himself, withal, a virgin; to whom looking, the apostle also--himself too for this reason abstinent--gives the preference to continence" (Roberts-Donaldson translation).
  31. ^ Rogers, Jack (14 April 2009). "Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality, Revised and Expanded Edition: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church". Westminster John Knox Press – via Google Books.
  32. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 2357 and Criteria for the Discernment of Vocation for Persons with Homosexual Tendencies Archived February 25, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  33. ^ "Holy Synod - Encyclicals - Synodal Affirmations on Marriage, Family, Sexuality, and the Sanctity of Life".
  34. ^
  35. ^ Homosexual Policy Archived 2004-03-23 at, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod
  36. ^ What is the Missouri Synod's response to homosexuality? Archived 2010-02-23 at the Wayback Machine.
  37. ^ "Theology and Church Relations - The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod" (PDF).
  38. ^ Daniel Blake (2005-05-04). "Methodist Conference to Reaffirm Church Tolerance for Homosexuality". Christianity Today.
  39. ^ Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (August 19, 2009). "A Social Statement on Human Sexuality, Gift and Trust" (PDF).
  40. ^ Council of Bishops, The United Methodist Church (July 9, 2018). "Amended Call for Special Session of the General Conference" (PDF).
  41. ^ "History of MCC – Metropolitan Community Churches". Retrieved 2018-07-16.
  42. ^ Mahaffy, Kimberly A. (1996). "Cognitive Dissonance and Its Resolution: A Study of Lesbian Christians". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 35 (4): 392–402. doi:10.2307/1386414.
  43. ^ Keller, Rosemary Skinner; Ruether, Rosemary Radford; Cantlon, Marie (1 January 2006). "Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America: Women and religion: methods of study and reflection". Indiana University Press – via Google Books.
  44. ^ Mahaffy, Kimberly A. (1996). "Cognitive Dissonance and Its Resolution: A Study of Lesbian Christians". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 35 (4): 392–402. doi:10.2307/1386414.
  45. ^ Toft, Alex (2014-08-15). "Re-imagining bisexuality and Christianity: The negotiation of Christianity in the lives of bisexual women and men". Sexualities. 17 (5–6): 546–564. doi:10.1177/1363460714526128. ISSN 1363-4607.
  46. ^ "June 1972: The Ithaca Statement - BiMedia". 10 February 2012. Archived from the original on 15 October 2015.
  47. ^ Donaldson, Stephen (1995). "The Bisexual Movement's Beginnings in the 70s: A Personal Retrospective". In Tucker, Naomi. Bisexual Politics: Theories, Queries, & Visions. New York: Harrington Park Press. pp. 31–45. ISBN 1-56023-869-0.
  48. ^ Highleyman, Liz (2003-07-11). "PAST Out: What is the history of the bisexual movement?". LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth. 13 (8). Archived from the original on 2008-05-31. Retrieved 2008-03-18.
  49. ^ Martin, Robert (1972-08-02). "Quakers 'come out' at conference". The Advocate (91): 8.
  50. ^ Campaign, Human Rights. "Stances of Faiths on LGBTQ Issues: Religious Society of Friends - Human Rights Campaign".
  51. ^ "Eight myths about religious life - VISION Vocation Network for Catholic Religious Life & Priesthood - English".


  • Wilcox, Melissa M. (2003). Coming out in Christianity: religion, identity, and community. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-21619-9.