When North America is faced with a major ethical conflict, it
tends to be resolved first among religious liberals, and last among
religious conservatives. This has been the pattern in such conflicts as equal
rights for women, including the right to vote; an end to racial
segregation; and legalization of
interracial marriage. Currently active topics like abortion access, physician assisted suicide,
and equal rights for gays and lesbians appear to be
in the process of being resolved in the same way.
is no exception. Most conservative Christians are firmly in favor of maintaining the status quo by discriminating against persons with a homosexual or bisexual sexual orientation. Many liberal Christians feel that ethical considerations require equal rights for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals
(LGBs) both within and outside of the church, including the right to marry.
A serious problem facing most mainline denominations is that the national
conservative/liberal split is also reflected within the membership of their own
congregations. Within each mainline faith group, there is a wide range of
belief on all social and theological topics, from abortion access to the
virgin birth. The larger
mainline denominations have spawned internal, conservative, reform movements which are attempting
to restore church teaching, belief and practices to those of earlier
times. They seek to prevent sexually active gays and lesbians from being considered for
ordination, and to prevent the church from holding homosexual union or commitment
ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples. Meanwhile, liberals
within these same denominations -- often including central leadership in
the denomination -- are fighting for change. Bitterly fought
battles have occurred in such denominations as the
Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), and United Methodist Church.
The possibility of denominational schism has been raised, as they were
over previous ethical clashes such as the legality of slavery and
The Episcopal Church appears to be evolving in the direction of a
major schism. There are, in effect, two Episcopal Churches within the United
States. Two bishops head a conservative, reform Episcopal movement which is attempting
to end female ordination and roll back gains made by gays and lesbians
within the church. Meanwhile Gene Robinson, an openly gay person in a loving committed relationship has been elected and installed as bishop of New Hampshire. A bishop with a homosexual orientation is not a new development for the Episcopal Church, but an openly gay bishop is. Some dioceses are holding union ceremonies to recognize same-sex unions.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) may be moving towards a liberal point
of view. At a 2000-Fall meeting of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians,
(a conservative reform group), speakers stated that "Scriptural
condemnations of homosexuality merely reflect biblical authors' cultural
biases and are not among the "essential" messages of the
gospel." Several conference speakers said the Bible's condemnations of
same-gender sexuality call to mind other scriptural passages used in past
centuries to justify slavery and to keep women from participating fully in
the life of the church -- on the basis of long-held interpretations that are
largely abandoned today." 1Speaker William
Placher from Wabash College, said interpreters of the Bible must "draw
a line between cultural conventions and the truths that Bible stories convey,"
and always "keep in mind the assumptions the author brought to his
time and place." He said the apostle Paul, for example, lived in a
patriarchal culture where it was "socially acceptable to treat
homosexuals with contempt." 1
During 2010-summer, the General Assembly passed a resolution for the fourth time to reword Section G-6.0108 of the Book of Order. Once more, the 173 U.S. presbyteries were asked to ratify the decision. A major breakthrough happened in 2011-MAY-10, when The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area voted 205 to 56 in favor of the resolution. Their's was the 87th affirmative vote among the denomination's presbyteries and resulted in ratification of the resolution. Lesbians, gays, and bisexuals in covenanted relationships can now be considered for ordination to deacon, elder or minister. 2
United Methodist Church: The conservative wing of this denomination
appears to be currently gaining ground. At their 2000-MAY convention, a
resolution was proposed about homosexuality. It read "Many
consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. Others believe
it acceptable when practiced in a context of human covenantal faithfulness. "
This motion was simply a statement of fact. It accurately reflected the
reality of the division within the denomination. However, it was voted down
by a ratio of 1.5 to 1. During 2011, two local conferences has approved liberal resolutions concerning same-sex couples. But no action has been taken by the denomination as a whole.
For the foreseeable future, mainline denominations will undoubtedly remain split
over the homosexual issue, with one part of their membership following
conservative Christian beliefs (described in a separate essay) and the rest following
liberal beliefs (described below). Only time will tell whether the
conflict will be resolved through:
a compromise (as in a local option plan which would let individual
congregations or regions decide what path to take), or
a gradual fading of the conflict as one division within the church loses
One or more denominational schisms may well materialize as they did
over slavery and female ordination. However, history has shown that they need not be permanent.
Religious liberals generally do not view the
Bible as inerrant. They see it as a collection of writings by various
authors, each of whom was promoting their own religious beliefs. Thus, biblical
passages describe how Jewish and early Christian societies viewed various
matters. They may or may not reflect the will of God. Liberals generally reject passages that describe
the genocide of whole peoples, the oppression of women, acceptance of slavery, executing some hookers by burning them alive, torturing prisoners, etc. because they appear to be not in accordance with the wishes of God. Many have based their beliefs about sexual orientation upon:
Their personal experience at knowing familiy members or friends who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and/or
The findings of professional psychiatric and psychological associations concerning sexual orientation, and/or
The findings of human sexuality researchers.
Some religious liberals argue one or more of the following points:
English versions of the Bible are translations from the original
Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The wording has been filtered
through the mind-set and prejudices of various sets of translators.
They feel that one must carefully examine the original texts from the point of view of
ancient Israeli and early Christian cultures in order to determine
their precise meaning.
Most religious liberals believe that some sexual acts are
sinful; others are not. It depends mainly on
the participants' relationship, not by the specific act itself.
manipulative, dominating, coercive, under age and/or unsafe sex is sinful. Safe
heterosexual or homosexual sex within a truly
consenting and committed relationship is not sinful. Author Chris Levan
sees this reflected in the Bible. He writes: "The best response that scripture can give with regard to
homosexuality is the declaration that our Creator is very often not
concerned about the 'who' of relationship so much as the 'how.' It simply
asks if the relationship is functioning according to principles of justice
and dignity? Does the partnership demonstrate mutual trust and compassion?
If so, it is blessed by God." 3
The original passages in the Hebrew Scriptures usually do not refer to homosexual acts
in general, but to specific immoral behaviors, such as rape, ritual sex in Pagan temples, and
Genesis 19: Other biblical passages about Sodom identify
the sin of the city as being unresponsive to the poor and needy,
and being uncharitable towards strangers. The only obvious sexual
sin of Sodom was a desire to rape strangers.
Leviticus 18 & 20: Male ritual same-sex activity in
Pagan temples is clearly prohibited. Such behavior was a common practice within the
Canaanite fertility religion. The practice may also have been taken up by
some ancient Israelites.
Deuteronomy 23: Prostitution, both heterosexual and homosexual is always
Judges 19: A duplicate of the Genesis story.
Jimmy Creech, former senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church,
in Omaha, Nebraska has concluded that:
"...there was no understanding of sexual
orientation in the culture and time when scripture was written. There was not even a word
for 'homosexuality' or 'homosexual' in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, the original languages
of scripture. There are biblical references that condemn same-sex sexual behavior, but
they are all within contexts related to violence, idolatry, promiscuity and exploitation.
Careful reading within the historical setting reveals that it is the violence, idolatry,
promiscuity and exploitation that is condemned, not the same-sex sexual behavior.
The same condemnation is given to opposite-sex sexual behavior that is violent, idolatrous, promiscuous and exploitative." 4
The Bible says little about homosexual feelings.
The Bible says nothing about the concept of sexual orientation for the same
reason as it does not mention television sets and airplanes. All were
unknown in biblical times. The
concept of orientation dates only from the late 19th
century and only began to be seriously investigated in the middle of
the 20th century.
There may be as many as three references in the Bible to committed
homosexual relationships, none of which was condemned. But there is no
absolute proof that they were sexually active.
Paul's Epistles in the Christian Scriptures considered at least some male and female homosexual acts to
be forbidden, but it is unclear precisely which acts are included. He
may have been referring to:
ritual sex activities in Pagan temples,
heterosexuals who engaged in homosexual acts against their basic
child sexual abuse,
group sexual orgies, or
all people who commit any homosexual acts.
Paul was certainly aware of sexual orgies in Pagan temples, including
both heterosexual and homosexual encounters. He would have been aware of the
practice of male adults keeping a boy (often a slave) for sexual purposes. These may have
been the only forms of same-gender sex that he knew of. He did not appear to
make any references in his writings to consensual, committed homosexual
relationships. He may well have not known of any; he may not have known that
any could exist.
Paul is not necessarily a useful guide for ethics and morals.
Elsewhere in his writing, he was sexist: For example, he condemned
women preaching (1 Corinthians 14:34). A passage in 1 Timothy 2:11
condemned the wearing gold or pearls. This book says that it was
written by Paul, but most mainline and liberal theologians believe
that it was written up to 80 years after Paul's death. Paul accepted and did not criticize the institution of slavery
(Philemon 1:15 to 16). Many Christians feel that some of his writings
reflect his own prejudices are not a particularly helpful guide
It is unclear whether St. Paul's prohibition of at least some
homosexual acts was:
for Christians in the vicinity of the Mediterranean during the
1st Century CE, or
for all people, forever.
One can argue that the ancient Israelites were surrounded by warlike
tribes. Their fertility was very important if the group was to survive. The
early Christian church was persecuted by the Roman government and by the
Jewish religious leaders. Homosexuals tend to have few children; thus their
presence would be met with opposition. At the end of the 20th Century,
conditions are the exact opposite; we are threatened by our excessive
fertility. Perhaps Paul's criticism of homosexuality (if that was his
intent) is no longer valid today.
Bible translators must be aware of the errors that have been made in
previous versions of the Bible; they are widely discussed in
theological literature. But it would probably not be economically
possible at this time to produce a translation of the Bible that was
accurate. People are so used to expecting homophobic references in a
half-dozen locations in scripture that they probably would not buy a
Bible that was accurate to the original text, or which admitted that
the meanings of certain words are unknown.
Most religious liberals agree with the main mental health associations. Sexual orientation is determined before school age, and is perhaps determined
genetically at conception. It cannot be changed through prayer, religious conversion, reparative therapy, aversion therapy, or counseling, any more than a person can change
their race, skin color, or genetic gender.
[Note: Some transgender individuals can and do have their appearance changed to match more closely that of their gender identity which is differnt from their genetic gender. This can be accomplished through surgery, medication, makeup, etc.
"Genetic gender" refers to the X and Y chromosome makeup of each cell of a person' body. It is unchangeable.]
The Reconciling Congregation Program publishes and distribute a
pair of books: "Claiming the Promise Bible Study: An Ecumenical
Welcoming Bible Study Resource on Homosexuality." One is a
study book, the other a leader's guide. They "can be used for group
or individual study. Planned for seven one- to two-hour sessions."