homosexuality within Christianity
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
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
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
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:
||Maintenance of traditional standards
|Do gays & lesbians need employment protection under law?
||No. Gays and lesbians average higher income than the general
||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
||Yes. We already protect religion which is a changeable
behavior. Homosexual hate crimes are common and becoming more
|Basis of belief about homosexuality
||English translations of the Bible
||Hebrew and Greek original Bible texts; human sexuality
|Basic nature of homosexuality
||A normal sexual orientation for a minority of adults
|Outside the will of God?
||Any homosexual behavior
||Homophobia and non-consensual or unsafe sex
|How should gays & lesbians live?
||In monogamous relationships, or celibate, whatever their choice.
|Is discrimination OK
||Yes, to protect the family and other social institutions
||A lifestyle; a behavior
|Is it chosen?
|Is it changeable?
|Is it normal?
||Yes, for a minority
|Is it natural?
||Yes, for a minority
|Allow to marry
|Allow celibate gays & lesbians to join church
||Yes and no
|Allow active gays & lesbians to join church
||Yes and no
|Allow as clergy
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:
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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:
The Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty
Commission maintains a list of links on homosexual topics at: http://www.erlc.com/Homosexuality/homosexuality.htm
James C. Waller, "In the Middle of Sodom and Gomorrah":
Raleigh-Area Churches and the Homosexuality Issue, at http://www.uts.columbia.edu/~usqr/WALLER.HTM
This essay describes a gradual evolution of belief within two SBC congregations on the "homosexual issue"
Alexa Smith, "Presbyterian Evangelicals say they'd rather fight than switch," PCUSA News, 1999-SEP-24.
Randall Donald, Renewal and Reform Groups within the United Church of Canada" website at:
The Presbyterian Coalition has a web site at: http://www.presbycoalition.org/
"Presbyterian Coalition presses on for renewal in PC(USA)," Press release, 1999-SEP-25 at:
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church has a web site at: http://www.epc.org/hmaimenu.htm
The Rev. P.H. Sherry, "Now, No Condemnation," at:
"Born-again Christian oppose abortion, homosexuality, poll shows," Associated Baptist Press, at:
Copyright © 1997 to 2009 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-MAR-18
Author: B.A. Robinson