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Conflicts concerning
homosexuality within Christianity

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Religion and homosexuality

Because different Christian denominations have diverse methods of interpreting the Bible, they have developed belief systems that are poles apart. Some commentators view Christianity as two separate religions, one liberal and the other conservative. They are seen as sharing the Bible, a name, and little else. More often, theologians divide Christendom into three wings: conservative, mainline and liberal.

Individual denominations hold different beliefs on many controversial social topics. Most are related in some way with sex, such as: equal rights for women, pre-marital sex, living together without marriage, divorce, abortion access, power sharing in families, methods of disciplining children, female ordination, transsexuality, etc. But perhaps the most passionately held belief -- even greater than a woman's access to abortion, concerns homosexuality. The specific points of conflict are:


Whether "homosexuality" should be a category added to race, gender, religion, nationality, etc., as a protected class in anti-discrimination, civil rights legislation.


Whether sexually active gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry


Whether they should be accepted as church members.


Whether they should be considered for ordination as clergy.

There are six main belief systems concerning homosexuality and the treatment of gays, lesbians and bisexuals. Christians who have taken a strong stand on the "homosexual question" generally fall into one of two categories from among the six, which we call very conservative and very liberal.


Those who are "very conservative" tend to value historical laws criminalizing homosexual behavior, and exclusionary rules against membership and ordination within the church. They view homosexual behavior as chosen, unnatural, abnormal and changeable. They believe that to extend equal rights to gays and lesbians would lower these traditional standards, which have served us well. To do so would tolerate a serious sin among us. 


Those who are "very Liberal" tend to look upon homophobia as the sin. Homosexuality is simply one of three normal, natural, fixed, and unchosen sexual orientations. They view the "homosexual question" as a civil rights issue.

It is important to realize that public opinions are in a state of flux over homosexuality. Many people may well hold beliefs which are intermediate between these two positions.

The following table indicates the considerable gulf between the two positions. For purposes of clarity, the descriptions are simplified:

Factor Very conservative Very liberal
Basic concern Maintenance of traditional standards Human rights
Do gays & lesbians need employment protection under law? No. Gays and lesbians average higher income than the general population Yes. homosexuals are severely discriminated against, and make less money than average.
Should gays & lesbians get human rights protection? No. Civil rights protection should not be granted to behaviors. They should be restricted to unalterable factors, like gender and race. Yes. We already protect religion which is a changeable behavior.  Homosexual hate crimes are common and becoming more so. 
Basis of belief about homosexuality English translations of the Bible Hebrew and Greek original Bible texts; human sexuality research
Basic nature of homosexuality Intrinsically disordered A normal sexual orientation for a minority of adults
Outside the will of God? Yes No
Associated sin Any homosexual behavior Homophobia and non-consensual or unsafe sex
How should gays & lesbians live? Celibate In monogamous relationships, or celibate, whatever their choice.
Is discrimination OK Yes, to protect the family and other social institutions No
Definition A lifestyle; a behavior An orientation
Is it chosen? Yes No
Is it changeable? Yes No
Is it normal? No Yes, for a minority
Is it natural? No Yes, for a minority
Allow to marry No Various opinions
Allow celibate gays & lesbians to join church  Yes and no Yes
Allow active gays & lesbians to join church  Yes and no Yes
Allow as clergy No Yes

Culture has been radically changed since World War II, in areas such as: abortion access, extra-marital sexual behavior, inter-racial marriage, racial integration, school prayer, equal rights for women, physician assisted suicide, etc. There have also been rapid religious changes in such diverse areas as women wearing hats in church, female ordination, concepts of Hell and Heaven, the nature of Satan, etc. Religious liberals, both individuals and denominations, tend to promote change; religious conservatives tend to resist it. Change often seems to flow like a river, starting with the more liberal religious groups, (e.g. Unitarian Universalists, the United Church of Christ, and the United Church of Canada). Perhaps decades later, mainline denominations (e.g. the Presbyterians and United Methodists) follow, repeating the same battles. Finally, many decades or even centuries later, conservative denominations complete the transition. 

Current beliefs about homosexuality in the U.S.:

Strains within religious groups over homosexuality will probably increase in the future. In 2001-AUG, Barna Research reported on their sampling of over 1,000 American adults. Barna asked whether they considered homosexuality to be "an acceptable lifestyle." This is not a well worded question.  Many people consider homosexuality to be a sexual orientation and not a lifestyle. Thus, some persons polled would answer that it is not an "acceptable lifestyle" because they don't regard it is not a lifestyle. It is also poorly worded because it does not differentiate among persons with different sexual orientations. A heterosexual may view homosexual behavior as unacceptable for themselves, but regard it as acceptable for homosexuals. The results show a remarkable polarization in the country:


Among Americans generally, 45% agreed that homosexuality is acceptable; 46% said it is unacceptable. Since the margin of error is 3%, this is a statistical dead-heat.

bullet Among Born-again Christians: the numbers were 27% and 66%.
bullet Among Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians, they were 2% and 95%.
bullet By inference, a significant majority of Americans who are neither born-again nor Evangelicals agree that homosexuality is acceptable.

Since 2001 was taken, more recent polls have shown a significant movement towards acceptance of homosexuality.

This presents very conservative Christians with a serious problem when they try to carry out the Great Commission and evangelize the "unsaved." Their potential converts will be increasingly in favor of equal rights for persons of all sexual orientations. Yet the evangelizers will remain very strongly opposed to homosexuality. Their beliefs will be a millstone around their necks, as the people they are trying to convert increasingly view conservative Christians as intolerant of sexual minorities. Many of their potential converts will want to have nothing to do with any religion whose believers they view as highly prejudiced.

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Conflict within conservative denominations

Social change tends to be very slow with in many conservative denominations. One example is the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. They broke away from their abolitionist parent organization over slavery in 1844. They believed, at the time, that slavery was not a sin according to the Bible. It took them 151 years before they issued their remarkable 1995 statement apologizing for their racist past, and promising to eliminate any residual racism still left within the SBC.

Almost all fundamentalist and other evangelical congregations and denominations have not yet altered their stance on homosexual rights, marriage and ordination. 1 Some do accept homosexual members as long as they remain celibate. When a local church does become inclusive -- treating homosexuals and heterosexuals alike -- it is often dealt with harshly, as in the cases of three SBC congregations in North Carolina :


In 1992, the North Carolina State Baptist Convention acted against the recommendations of their own executive committee, and disfellowshipped (expelled) two of its congregations. The Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church in Chapel Hill NC had approved the ordination of a known homosexual. Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh NC had blessed the relationship of two committed gay men. These decisions were later ratified by the SBC, who warned that other churches would be expelled if they demonstrated "unfriendly cooperation". The SBC then amended their constitution to bar from membership any congregation that would "affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior." 


In late 1998, the Wake Forest Baptist Church, on the campus of Wake Forest University in North Carolina passed a statement which states in part: "... though we cannot, as a church, bless any relationship, we do with joy petition God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, that He bless, insofar as it conforms to His will, any and all loving, committed, and exclusive relationships between two people." The vote was 90 to 33. They also decided to allow their clergy preside at gay and lesbian union services. Mac Brunson, president of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention commented "Regardless of how they phrase it, they're sanctioning same-sex marriage." This action by the church severed its relationship with the state convention.

These were remarkable decisions that reversed centuries of tradition. 2 One of the identifying characteristics of Baptist denominations had always been the freedom of the individual congregation and individual members in matters of doctrine and morality. Congregational freedom had existed in the SBC ever since the founding of the denomination. It ended in the 1990s. More details on the SBC and homosexuality.

The conflict within mainline denominations

Mainline faith groups have a special problem. Their members are often far more heterogeneous on matters of belief. Within their denomination, they often have substantial numbers of members who hold liberal, mainline and conservative belief about matters as diverse as the virgin birth, the inerrancy of the Bible and equal rights for homosexuals. One or more organizations of renewal or reform have been formed within many mainline denominations.  These are conservative groups that are dedicated to rolling back any change in denomination beliefs and practices. These groups are often formed because of pressure by progressives in the church who favor homosexual ordination.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is typical. The Presbyterian Coalition is its renewal organization. They describe themselves as "A Movement of Christ's People Committed to Life and Transformation in the PC(USA), Exalting Jesus Christ, Energizing Congregations, [and] Upholding Historic Biblical Leadership Standards."  They have "gathered individuals, churches, organizations and their leadership into a loosely defined, open, and active movement sharing the conviction that the words of Scripture, interpreted by the Confessions of the Church, reveal the will of God."  5 The founding of the Presbyterian Coalition was trigger by proposals that might have led to the ordaining of non-celibate homosexuals. 

A key consideration for reform/renewal movements is whether individuals and congregations should stay within the congregation and fight to maintain historical standards, or to give up, leave the denomination, and seek another, more conservative, spiritual home. This decision was on the minds of many of the approximately 210 participants who attended the Presbyterian Coalition Gathering IV, at Dallas, TX, 1999 SEP-20/22. On the first evening of the conference, two board members spoke: Jerry Andrews advocated staying within the denomination and trying harder to resist the progressive elements. He proposed "reconnecting" or "keep[ing] covenant." with the PC(USA).  Mark Toone felt that after many years of discussion within the denomination that further dialog would not be productive. "He pleaded battle-fatigue and an unwillingness to devote a lifetime of ministry to fighting for ordination standards - including chastity in singleness, fidelity in marriage and no same-sex relations - that, as far as evangelicals are concerned, are spelled out clearly in scripture and tradition." 4 He describes their current situation as a "Paul and Barnabas moment," a time for parting of the ways. Mark Toone was referring to the incident in Acts 15:35-41 when Paul and Barnabas experienced a conflict and each went their separate way. 6 The general consensus of those at the gathering was to stay within the denomination. Leaving is not an encouraging option. They could transfer to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, or some similar more conservative denomination. (The EPC was formed in 1981 and has 188 congregations and over 55,000 members in the U.S.)  But that alternative would embroil them in other controversies, like debates at the congregation level whether women should be eligible for ordination. The PC(USA) settled that question in the affirmative over 4 decades ago. 

The conflict within more liberal denominations

The "homosexual question" has been largely settled in the United Church of Christ and similar liberal denominations. The ordained their first openly gay man, William Johnson, in 1972. They formed the United Church Coalition for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns in 1973. They ordained their first openly lesbian woman, Anne Holmes, in 1977. Ordination of gays and lesbians is left up to the local associations within the denomination. Some, like Western North Carolina have gone on record as refusing to consider any homosexual candidate for the ministry.  The Rev. P.H. Sherry issued a pastoral letter in 1998-DEC which discusses the benefits that the church and its members have received from the inclusive policies of the denomination. 8

The United Church of Canada (UCC) was until recently the largest Protestant denomination in Canada. It has now been surpassed in membership by the Anglican Church. Although its leadership has consistently had a liberal orientation in recent years, there are still many conservatives and mainliners in the denomination. One factor which may have caused their diversity of religious belief is the origin of the denomination. It was formed in 1925 as a merger of most of the congregations of the Association of Congregational Churches in Canada, the Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The UCC has its internal reform groups, including the National Alliance of Covenanting Congregations, Community of Concern and Church Alive. 4 The path which the UCC followed to authorize homosexual orientation was remarkable. In 1988:


Many hundreds of local discussion groups had debated what is called "the issue." About 90% of their reports were opposed to ordaining gays and lesbians. 


A renewal group, the Community of Concern, was organized to fight to consider a ban on gay ordination. 


A poll showed that only 28% of the membership were in favor of homosexual ordination.


At the general meeting, two unusual events occurred: 

the meeting was crashed by a group of anti-gay fundamentalists from the U.S. Their hatred probably generated significant sympathy for the gay and lesbian cause.


The delegates heard the heart-wrenching testimonies of devout gay and lesbian church members. Many delegates probably met an openly homosexual person for the first time in their life at this time. They debated little else among themselves. They searched their souls and prayed to learn God's will. And most changed their mind!


By a 3:1 vote, they passed a simple, elegantly 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."

The delegates came to the general meeting with a bias against homosexual ordination, but with an open, caring mind. They heard the painful stories of fellow church members. They experienced an attitude readjustment. They began to realize that gays and lesbians were not people to keep out of the church; homosexuals had been in the church all along -- and that they were hurting. The delegates began to think of how they could contribute to the healing of the suffering of their fellow Christians. Many attributed the startling events of that meeting to the Holy Spirit. 

The author experienced a similar transformation at a meeting of a subcommittee of the local Board of Education. The group was receiving public input on human sexuality in general, and on teaching about homosexuality in particular. The first speakers were stridently homophobic. Then came a gay and lesbian who were equally intense. The next speaker was a lesbian who described, in a soft voice, her experience as a local high school student. She had recognized that she was different; she thought that she was the only lesbian in the world; she had no contacts, no information, and no counseling services available to her. It was a very lonely and painful experience for her. After she finished, one could sense a change in the committee's concern. No longer were they intent on keeping gay and lesbian speakers and information out of the schools. They realized that homosexuals were already among the student body. Their priority became how to properly support their gay and lesbian students.

Related essays on this web site:

bullet Menu: homosexuality and bisexuality
bullet Denominations' policy about homosexuality:
bullet Policies of religious groups towards homosexuals and homosexuality
bullet The Southern Baptists
bullet The Presbyterian church
bullet The United Church of Christ
bullet The United Church of Canada
bullet Other denominations
bullet Is opposition to homosexuality hate or love?
bullet Homosexuality in the Bible


  1. The Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission maintains a list of links on homosexual topics at:
  2. James C. Waller, "In the Middle of Sodom and Gomorrah": Raleigh-Area Churches and the Homosexuality Issue, at This essay describes a gradual evolution of belief within two SBC congregations on the "homosexual issue"
  3. Alexa Smith, "Presbyterian Evangelicals say they'd rather fight than switch," PCUSA News, 1999-SEP-24.
  4. Randall Donald, Renewal and Reform Groups within the United Church of Canada" website at:  
  5. The Presbyterian Coalition has a web site at: 
  6. "Presbyterian Coalition presses on for renewal in PC(USA)," Press release, 1999-SEP-25 at: 
  7. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church has a web site at: 
  8. The Rev. P.H. Sherry, "Now, No Condemnation," at:
  9. "Born-again Christian oppose abortion, homosexuality, poll shows," Associated Baptist Press, at: 

Site navigation: Home page > Conflict > Homosexuality > Religious impact > here

Copyright 1997 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-MAR-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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