Christian views of homosexuality

The question of whether homosexuality is a sin has become a matter of theological debate among Christians for many centuries.


Most Christian faiths hold that homosexual behavior is a sin. They argue that Christianity has always taught this, based on such Biblical passages as Leviticus 18:22 ("You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination."), Leviticus 20:13 ("If a man lies with a male as with a woman they shall surely be put to death"), Romans chapter 1, 1 Cor. 6:9-10 ("Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God"), Romans 1: 26-27("Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion."), 2 Cor. 12:21, and the Ten Commandments prohibition on adultery, and other verses that have traditionally been understood to prohibit any sexual activity that is not between husband and wife (see Fornication).

Many Christians in North America and Europe dissent from the traditional opprobrium of homosexuality. Among Protestants, the more traditional view is generally strongest in the US and Africa, while American Catholics are typically more liberal than Catholics elsewhere.

Christian theologians who do not believe homosexuality to be a sin argue that the traditionalists have misinterpreted the pertinent Bible passages or quoted them selectively. For example, they consider the original Hebrew in Leviticus to be ambiguous as to whether "male" means adult man or little boy. They also point out that Leviticus also condemns many other things that modern Christians do, including eating shellfish, wearing fabrics made from two different fibers (e.g., wool/cotton blends), and planting two crops in a single field. This is because Leviticus contains a mixture of "moral" codes and "purity" codes.

Jews hold the Bible actually makes no distinction between morality and purity, and that the rules were generated in such a way that following the purity laws would lead to ethical behavior. However, Christians do not believe that the purity code prohibitions apply to them because these codes have been superseded by the sacrifice of Jesus. On the other hand, Christians do believe that the moral codes still apply. Thus much of the debate centers on whether homosexuality falls within the category of a purity code or a moral code. Liberal Christians argue that since the prohibition against homosexuality appears in a list of purity codes, this prohibition is equally irrelevant to Christians. Traditional Christians, on the other hand, consider the Levitical condemnation of homosexuality to remain in force, because they believe it is reinforced elsewhere in the Bible, including the New Testament.

Many traditionalists view homosexual behavior as a freely made choice, and believe that it is possible and desirable to make a transition to heterosexuality. For some traditionalists this point is crucial to their position, accepting that if homosexuality is not a choice then it should be accepted according to Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." They argue that this verse refers to attributes that are not freely chosen. This idea has found its expression in the Christian fundamentalist ex-gay movement, which publicizes cases of people who claim to have "walked away from homosexuality".

The idea of homosexuality as a free choice is strongly rejected by most psychologists, however, as well as many scientists, and most homosexual people. The best evidence suggests that homosexual desires are present in some people in early childhood (see genetic basis for homosexuality and causes of sexual orientation). They further argue that to deny people the right to express romantic love with another human being in the manner that God endowed them with is not an act of compassionate love. Many theologically liberal Christians agree and believe that God wishes for each person to fulfill their desire for consensual romantic and sexual relationships, if they desire it.

Other traditionalists accept that homosexual orientation is not a choice, but argue that acting on that orientation is nevertheless sinful. In these cases, most Christians who condemn homosexual behaviour would not condemn homosexual orientation, but would advocate a life of celibacy for those who have that orientation. However, the Catholic Church has been moving towards a policy of prohibiting homosexuals from being priests, even if they are celibate. This position has been put forward by some Catholic leaders as a possible way of clearing up the sex abuse scandal that has scarred the reputation of the Church in recent decades.

Liberal Christians also argue that Jesus explicitly condemned divorce—equating it with adultery in the Sermon on the Mount—but never explicitly forbade homosexuality; so they call it hypocritical to criticize homosexuality much more vocally than divorce. Also, rather than interpreting the term "adultery" in the Ten Commandments to mean any sex outside of marriage, they interpret it to mean sexual betrayal of a spouse, which would make the prohibition irrelevant to sex between unmarried persons, including unmarried homosexuals.

Positions of specific churches

The Catholic Church considers homosexual behavior to be disordered and sinful, but has clearly stated that homosexual desire itself is not. On the one hand, "[homosexual acts] are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved." (Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 2357) On the other hand, "The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." (ibid, para. 2358) For homosexuals, in general, the Catholic Church offers the following counsel: "Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection." (ibid, para. 2359) It should be noted that the same call to the virtue of chastity applies to all persons. See Catechism of the Catholic Church Article 6 Section II: The Vocation to Chastity

The Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church, has been divided on this issue; see Anglican views of homosexuality.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the entity that represents the largest Protestant body known commonly as the Southern Baptist Churches, considers homosexual behavior to be sinful. Relations outside lawful marriage are also considered deviant. The general consensus is that homosexuals can in fact choose chastity and eventually recover their heterosexual preference. Southern Baptist clergy generally do not accept or participate in same-sex unions. To this date this denomination has never appointed a minister whom they knew to be homosexual. For more information see their position statement.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints considers homosexual behavior to be sinful. Homosexual desire itself (if not acted upon) is not viewed as sinful and is sometimes referred to as same-sex attraction rather than homosexuality. The church has actively opposed efforts to legalize same-sex marriage, although it has not taken any formal position on other political matters affecting legal rights for gays.

Jehovah's Witnesses consider homosexual activity to be sinful, but recognize that some persons may be prone to homosexuality. Such ones are encouraged not to act upon their homosexual feelings. While condemning homosexual behavior, the Watch Tower Society encourages its members not to hate homosexuals. Their literature has stated: "Christians do not make homosexuals, or anyone else, the target of ill will, ridicule, or harassment. True Christians view their fellow humans as potential disciples of Christ, treating them in a respectful and dignified manner."

The United Methodist Church officially considers "the practice of homosexuality (to be) incompatible with Christian teaching" and states that "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" cannot be ordained as ministers. However, some local congregations have defied the church leadership on this issue and are fighting the policy in church courts. Politically, the church has supported civil rights for gays, although it is unclear whether that support extends to same-sex marriage.

The Presbyterian Church (USA), the largest U.S. Presbyterian body, is sharply divided over the issue of homosexuality. Although gays are welcome to become members of the church, denominational policy prohibits non-celibate homosexuals (or unmarried people who are sexually active) from serving as ministers or on key church boards. After rancorous debate, that policy was upheld in a vote of presbyteries in 2002. It is uncertain how those on the losing side will react; some observers believe that congregations could break away from the denomination over that issue.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church condemns homosexual relations as "obvious perversions of God's original plan."

The Orthodox Church in America concluded at its 10th All-American Council in 1992 that homosexuality is "the result of humanity's rebellion against God, and so against its own nature and well-being... Men and women with homosexual feelings and emotions are to be treated with the understanding, acceptance, love, justice and mercy due to all human beings.... Persons struggling with homosexuality who accept the Orthodox faith and strive to fulfill the Orthodox way of life may be communicants of the Church with everyone else who believes and struggles. Those instructed and counselled in Orthodox Christian doctrine and ascetic life who still want to justify their behavior may not participate in the Church's sacramental mysteries, since to do so would not help, but harm them."[1]

The United Church of Canada, the largest Protestant denomination in Canada, affirms that homosexuals are welcome in the church and the ministry. The resolution "A) That 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. B) All members of the Church are eligible to be considered for the Ordered Ministry." was passed in 1988. This was not done, however, without intense debate over what was termed "the issue"; some congregations chose to leave the church rather than support the resolution. The church campaigned starting in 1977 to have the federal government add sexual orientation to federal non-discrimination laws, which was accomplished in 1996. [1]

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) is deeply divided on this issue. The more conservative Friends United Meeting and Friends Evangelical Church considers homosexuality sinful; but other Friends, such as those in the Friends General Conference, strongly support equal rights for homosexuals. See Quaker views of sexuality

The Metropolitan Community Church is a Protestant denomination with churches throughout the United States with a mostly, but not exclusively, gay membership. Acceptance of homosexuality is an important part of its theology.

The Uniting Church in Australia allows for the membership and ordination of homosexual people. On July 17 2003 it clarified its 1982 position when the national Assembly meeting stated that people had interpreted the scriptures with integrity in coming to the view that a practicing homosexual person in a committed same sex relationship could be ordained as a minister. It also stated that people who had come to the opposite view had also interpreted the scriptures with integrity. When Presbyteries (regional councils) select candidates for ministry they may use either of these positions, however they cannot formally adopt either position as policy, but must take each person on a case by case basis. By explicitly stating the two positions, this decision fleshes out a 1982 Assembly Standing Committee decision which did not ban practicing homosexual people from ministry but left the decision up to Presbyteries. After emotional debate, the 1997 Assembly did not reach a decision, and the 2000 Assembly decided not to discuss homosexuality.

Unitarian Universalists do not believe homosexuality to be a sin. They ordain gay and lesbian ministers, and welcome gay people into their congregations both informally and formally. The Unitarian Universalist Association itself has stated that it is no longer a part of Christianity, although many Unitarian Universalists are also Christian.

The Unification Church is not considered a Christian church by some other churches because of its strong orientation towards Sun Myung Moon as the Messiah; see Unification Church views of sexuality.

*Another discussion of Christianity and Homosexuality

See also: Religion and homosexuality, Homosexuality and morality, homophobia

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