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HOMOSEXUALITY AND RELIGION:

AN INTRODUCTION

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Homosexual topics covered in this essay:

bulletQuotations
bulletOpposing beliefs
bulletStatus within Christianity:
bulletCurrent status
bulletFuture trends
bulletReligion, homosexuality, and gay bashing
bulletSuicide by gays and lesbians

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Quotations:

bullet"I know that God created in me a need to love, the ability to love. I cannot believe that God would be so spiteful to say 'Ha! you're gay, you can't do anything about it.'" Chris Ambidge, co-convener of Integrity's Toronto chapter, a support group for Anglican/Episcopalian gays and lesbians.
bullet"I think that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin, but the Bible also teaches that pride is a sin, jealously is a sin, and hate is a sin, evil thoughts are a sin, and so I don't think that homosexuality should be chosen as the overwhelming sin that we are doing today." Billy Graham, 20/20 program, 1997-MAY-2
bullet"I'm tired of people telling me that homosexuality is a terrible sin. Homosexuality is not a sin. Heterosexuality is not a sin. It is coerciveness, promiscuity, manipulation, lack of safety, and lack of a prior commitment that makes a sexual act sinful -- not the gender of the two people involved." Anonymous posting to a gay mailing list.

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Opposing beliefs about homosexuality:

Many points of great tension and debate in North America are related to gender, and particularly to human sexuality. They include: abortion access, bisexuality, condom availability, erotic and pornographic material, female ordination, free (clothes optional) beaches, homosexuality, married clergy, power sharing within the family, premarital sex, the roles of men and women, and sex-education.

Abortion access had been the topic of greatest concern, at least to religious conservatives, for many years. However, homosexual rights became the most important ethical issue by mid-2000. This may have been driven by the decision by the Vermont legislature to create civil unions for gays and lesbians in that state and the availability of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and throughout almost all of Canada.

At the core of the homosexual issue is the concept of sexual orientation. It defines whom a person finds to be sexually attractive:

bulletHeterosexuals are attracted to members of the opposite gender.
bulletHomosexuals are attracted to members of the same gender
bulletBisexuals are attracted to both men and women, but not necessarily to the same degree.

The beliefs of many North Americans about the nature of homosexuality, fall into one of two patterns called "conservative" and "liberal" in the table below. Because of space limitations, some of the descriptions are necessarily very brief, and lack depth. 

Conservative Liberal

Generally held by:

bulletNARTH the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality -- a small association of therapists
bulletMost conservative Christians and their denominations. 
bulletReligious conservatives within Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, etc.
bulletSome members of mainline religious denominations.

Generally held by:

bulletHuman sexuality researchers.
bulletProfessional mental health therapists and their associations.
bulletGays, lesbians and bisexuals.
bulletMost religious liberals and their faith groups. 
bulletSome members of mainline religious denominations
Homosexuality is a behavior. It is what one does. Homosexuality is an orientation. It is part of one's being.
Attitude towards homosexuality is based largely on biblical passages. Attitude towards homosexuality is based largely on scientific studies and personal awareness.
Homosexual behavior is intrinsically sinful, disordered, abnormal and unnatural. It is an offense to God. God intends everyone to be heterosexual. Heterosexuality, bisexuality and homosexuality are three normal, natural variations of sexual orientation, found throughout all societies, cultures, and eras.
Individuals choose their sexual orientation at or after puberty. A person's eventual sexual orientation is determined for them before school age.
Sexual orientation is determined by upbringing, not by genes. Incompetent parenting skills by the parent of the same sex can cause the child to become a homosexual later in life. The tendency towards a particular sexual orientation is genetically predetermined at conception. An unknown environmental factor may or may not trigger the "gay" gene(s) and determines the person's orientation.
Sexual orientation can be changed during adulthood through reparative therapy and/or prayer. Sexual orientation in adults is unchangeable.
Since homosexuality and heterosexuality are behaviors, the concept of bisexuality is not really meaningful. A continuum exists between homosexual and heterosexual orientation; a small minority of people has a bisexual orientation.
Allowing gays and lesbians to have equal rights to heterosexuals would encourage more youth to choose to become homosexual. Equal rights for gays and lesbians  are fundamental human rights issues similar to equality for woman, racial minorities, and the disabled.
Sexually-active gays and lesbians should be refused church membership Sexually-active gays and lesbians should be welcomed as church members
No sexually-active homosexual should be considered for ordination. No person should be ineligible for ordination because of their sexual orientation.

However, within these two -- liberal and conservative -- viewpoints lie a number of shades of belief. We have identified six specific points of view which can be called

bulletAbomination,
bulletChange is expected,
bulletCelibacy is expected,
bulletMarginally acceptable,
bulletEquality and
bulletLiberation.

More details.

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Current status:

About 75% of North American adults consider themselves to be Christian. Christianity outnumbers each of the smaller organized religious groups in North America by a factor of 50 or more. Thus, the relationship between homosexuality and religion in the U.S. and Canada is almost entirely the relationship between homosexuality and Christianity.

bulletReligiously liberal groups, like the United Church of Christ, United Church of Canada and Unitarian Universalist Association have resolved the "homosexual issue."  The denominations work towards equal rights for gays and lesbians; they welcome homosexuals as members; they ordain them as clergy.
bulletMainline denominations, like the Presbyterians and Methodists are experiencing major internal conflict over the issue. Disagreements are deep and appear irresolvable, at least in the short term. There is a great deal of impassioned debate and little dialog. Fault lines within the denominations may appear on many levels:
bulletYoung people may take a more liberal view; older members are often more conservative. 
bulletThere are often geographical divisions, with north eastern groups being liberal and southern groups being conservative. 
bulletAn urban/rural split is also common.
bulletA major split is often between those who view homosexuals as a group, and those who personally know a gay or lesbian as a close friend.
bulletReligiously conservative groups, like the Southern Baptists, the Assemblies of God, and other Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christian denominations, have also resolved the issue. They work towards maintaining special rights for heterosexuals, defeating hate-crimes legislation that would protect gays and lesbians, and promoting legislation to prevent homosexual marriages or civil unions. Many denominations consider homosexuality to be a special type of sin. Some teach, on the basis of 1 Corinthians 6:9, that gays are prohibited from inheriting the Kingdom of God (heaven). They refuse membership and ordination to sexually active gays and lesbians. They have no expectation of changing their policy in the future.

In theory, "there should be at least one place where people who experience same gender attraction can expect justice & respect and that’s in a conservative Christian church." 1 They teach that all people are sinners. Thus, gays and lesbians should be accepted with open arms as fellow sinners. However, in practice, it does not necessarily happen. 

Justice and Respect, a conservative Christian group addressing the homosexual issue comments: "Tragically, the knee jerk reaction of 'shooting our wounded' is never more apparent than it is with SGA [same-gender attraction] and these people who most need a sense of Christian love and community often receive the least. We ...made our offer of love very conditional. It's time we stop tolerating our own unChristlike behavior...It is time to become Jesus to the hurting ..." 1

Many gays and lesbians remain partially or completely in the "closet". They often view the church as the last place that they would want to "come out", because of quite valid expectations of rejection and homophobia. This is a Catch 22 situation, because the most effective way of changing a heterosexual's beliefs about homosexuality is for them to befriend a homosexual. 

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Future trends in Christianity

We predict that over the next few decades, most Christian denominations will gradually accept the following beliefs:

bulletA continuum of sexual orientation exists, from heterosexual to bisexual to homosexual.
bulletAdult sexual orientation is essentially unchangeable.
bulletThe potential for Homosexuality is determined genetically in most or all people at the time of conception.
bulletSexual orientation appears after puberty. However it is established, and can be detected by skilled child psychologists, during early childhood.
bulletSince sexual orientation is not a matter of choice, homosexual and bisexual feelings are not sinful.

Actions are a different matter. History has shown that whenever a minority group becomes organized and demands equal rights, that they eventually attain equality. This was true of:

bulletAfrican-Americans during the days of slavery.
bulletWomen achieving the right to vote and to enter into any profession.
bulletInterracial couples seeking the right to marry.

If past precedents hold, then gays and lesbians will eventually attain equal rights, including the right to marry.

By the year 2010, mainline Protestant denominations will probably catch up with liberal faith groups and will accept sexually active persons of all sexual orientations as members and clergy. They will eventually approve of same-sex commitment or union services and adoption by homosexuals.

Fundamentalist and other Evangelical churches will probably make little or no movement towards acceptance of homosexuality until 2010 -- probably much later.

Eventually, all churches are expected to follow the lead of the American and Canadian United Churches, the Unitarian Universalist Association, Reform Judaism, Neopaganism, some traditions of Native spirituality, etc. They will accept gays, lesbians and bisexuals as full members and as eligible for ordination (or equivalent). The negative references to homosexual rape in the book of Genesis, and to temple homosexual prostitution in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) will eventually be interpreted as being unrelated to committed homosexual relationships. St. Paul's apparent condemnation of homosexuality in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) will become regarded as a criticism of heterosexuals engaging in same-sex activity and of men sexually abusing boys -- again topics unrelated to consensual, committed homosexual relationships.

Perhaps by the middle of the 21st century, sexual orientation will follow race and gender by becoming a non-issue in essentially all but the most conservative of churches and other religious groups. Discrimination against minority sexual orientations will be perceived as institutional hatred, and totally incompatible with the Gospel message - much as racism and sexism are today. Homosexuality and bisexuality will be recognized simply as a normal and natural sexual orientation for a minority of people. 

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Religion, homosexuality, assault and death:

Denominations that oppose equal rights for gays and lesbians may be contributing to gay bashing. Most teach that:

bulletGod hates homosexuality. 
bulletGod destroyed the men, women and children of Sodom because of sexual orientation of the men of the city.
bulletSexually-active homosexuals will never attain Heaven after their death
bulletThe Bible is inerrant and that various biblical passages state that:
bulletThe death penalty is appropriate for homosexual behavior
bulletGays and lesbians who are saved will be converted to  heterosexuality

To their credit, Evangelicals and mainline leaders frequently mention that true Christians should love the homosexual while hating the homosexual behavior. Unfortunately, this message is often ignored by the membership; they end up hating both the sin and the sinner. Pat Robertson has stated: "We abhor violence against homosexuals. We would counsel strongly in relation to homosexuality that you could hold your religious beliefs without beating people up and being violent." As Cardinal Johannes Willebrands of Utrecht has stated: "When religion sanctifies hostility, it erases the moral inhibitors and lends to hostility an irrational ferocity." Much gay bashing can be traced to the rejection of minority sexual orientations by religious denominations. Some people interpret their church's teachings as implying that it is always open season on gays.

Hate crimes against homosexuals occur at a higher rate than those based on ethnicity or national origin. The are probably more common that hate crimes based on religion, and second only to race-based crimes.

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Suicide by gays and lesbians

As with so many other factors related to homosexuality, people have different viewpoints about the relationship between suicide and homosexuality:

bulletSome religious and social conservatives feel that the high suicide rate is caused by the  intrinsically sinful, disordered, abnormal and unnatural nature of homosexuality. If society generally accepted homosexuality as normal and natural, then more youth would choose to be gay or lesbian. This would increase the already high numbers of suicides among homosexuals.
bulletReligious liberals generally feel that the high suicide rate is caused by society's oppression of gays and lesbians. Traditional church beliefs have gone a long way towards marginalizing homosexuals and inciting hatred against them. If the churches are the cause of, say, 40% of the systemic homophobia in North American society, then  religious denominations are currently responsible for the deaths of many hundreds of American gay and lesbian youth annually. This is a rate greater than the churches exterminated "witches" and other heretics during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Many religious liberals feel that the solution of this modern-day version of witch burning is for religious institutions to promote acceptance of homosexuality.

This dichotomy of belief is unlikely to be resolved in the foreseeable future.

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Related essays on this web site:

bulletA letter from a gay person to his church council
bulletIs homosexuality fixed or changeable?
bulletWhat determines sexual orientation?

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Reference:

  1. Justice & Respect is a conservative Christian site that advocates "a just and respectful response to persons who experience same-gender attraction." See: http://www.npiec.on.ca/~scalverl/justice.htm
  2. US Department of Health and Human Services, "Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Youth Suicide, Volume 3: Prevention and Interventions in Youth Suicide", Rockville, MD, (1989) (This report has been suppressed).

Copyright 1996 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 200
4-MAR-19
Author: B.A. Robinson

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