HOMOSEXUALITY AND RELIGION:
Interactions of Christians and
Members and leaders of some conservative Christian churches believe that they have few
or no members or staff who are homosexuals. Evangelicals Concerned, a group which
believes that there is no conflict between Biblical faith and a committed, monogamous
homosexual relationship, believe the opposite: that gays and lesbians are as common within
conservative churches as within the general population. Justice
& Respect agrees . 1
There is really no way to collect accurate statistics on the prevalence of
homosexuality within churches. Both members and employees would be reluctant to reveal
their orientation because they would fear being expelled as a member or fired as
an employee if they came out of "the
closet". One interesting statistic comes from Love & Action, an
Evangelical agency that ministers to persons with AIDS. They visited about a dozen
Christian colleges during 1990 and offered confidential counseling to those who were
struggling with homosexual feelings. About 4% of students signed up. They estimate the
total number of such students to be at least 8%. Presumably they felt that only half of
the gays and lesbians volunteered for counseling because of fear of being exposed and a
lack of trust in the agency. Or perhaps they had come to terms with their sexual
orientation and saw no reason to be counseled. These data would indicate that the
prevalence of homosexual orientation might be significantly higher in Christian colleges
than in the general population. 1
The relationship between gays and Christian religious communities has been largely
negative. Some barriers are:
||Some religious folks mistrust gay and lesbian members of their congregations. They see
homosexuals as trying to impose a gay agenda on the church in order to further their
political goals of attaining equal rights. The look upon gays and lesbians as an issue, not as
||This suspicion is returned. Some gays and lesbians lump all denominations together -
whether conservative, mainline, or liberal - and see them all as the enemy.
Mark Bowman, once executive director of the Methodist's Reconciling
Congregations Program, hoped that gay political leaders may begin to respect people
of faith more and trust their insight.
||Some church members are not politically active in the community. Mark Bowman commented:
"...people of faith need to realize that their religious witness goes beyond the
church. A lot who are working in religious organizations see themselves focused only
within their denomination, and we really have to understand that we have a larger witness
beyond that and a larger responsibility."
||Some gays and lesbians remain firmly in the "religious closet." The Rev. Elder
Darlene Garner, pastor at Metropolitan Community Church of Northern Virginia (MCC
NOVA) said: "I would encourage all of us to come out of our faith closets...There
are those of us who are Gay who have been ashamed of letting people know that we
believe in God because of the pressure that we often experience from other Gay and Lesbian
people...Gays who embrace religion are frequently labeled as identifying with the enemy."
Some congregations are identifying themselves as welcoming, affirming or
reconciling churches. This movement started in the 1970's and has now grown to involve
943 congregations in ten denominations in 46 states, DC and five provinces in
Canada. Participating congregations go on record as supporting
gay and lesbians in their church.
The Westminster United Church of Waterloo, ON, Canada is an affirming
congregation. They added the following paragraph was added to their Mission
Statement at a congregational meeting on 1998-NOV-22:
"...To create an environment of openness for all people. To affirm
that all who seek to live faithfully regardless of ability, age, ethnicity,
gender, race, sexual orientation, or social circumstances are welcome to full
participation in the life of the congregation. To foster full opportunity for
participation by all in the wider church, Church Council will be looking at
changing our advertising, a service to celebrate becoming an affirming
congregation, performing same sex unions, and developing plans for continued
support of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people in the coming months." 8
A search program is available to locate nearby
welcoming congregations. 2 As of 2000-MAR, the following programs are
active at the denominational level:
* These groups jointly publish "Open Hands: Resources for Ministries
Affirming the Diversity of Human Sexuality" This is a quarterly
magazine of 32 pages in length. "Each issue...addresses a particular
theme regarding resources for ministries affirming the diversity of human
sexuality. Each issue contains: insightful feature articles; worship and
devotional aids; resources for study and ministry; news of the welcoming church
movement. As a special feature, the winter issue includes the complete
up-to-date listing of hundreds of welcoming churches in the U.S. and Canada."
The Reconciling Congregation Program's web site provides
links to other denominational welcoming programs. 4 They
also publish and distribute two 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
Mainline Protestant conference on homosexuality:
Members of seven mainline and liberal Protestant denominations (the American
Baptist Church, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian
Church (USA), Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), United Church of Christ, and United
Methodist Church) organized a one-day conference on "Building An
Inclusive Church: Loving each other when some of us in the family of God are not straight,"
for 1999-APR-17 in Minneapolis MN. 6 The planning committee
was chaired by the Rev. Howard Johnson, a retired United Methodist clergyman, who
"None of us officially represents our denomination and we aren't planning
discussion specifically on the sticky question of ordination, but we are united in our
concern about continuing misinformation regarding those in our communities of faith who
are GLBT. It arises from condemnation and exclusion of GLBT persons of faith and the pain
and sense of alienation this causes, not only to them, but to their parents, families and
friends. The exclusion of any group of persons on the basis of stereotypes and flawed
assumptions is contrary to the spirit and mind of Christ, and a destructive source of
alienation within the entire community of faith. We believe that when we are not inclusive
and loving to one another within the church, we, as the body of Christ, have no clear
witness of healing and reconciliation for a troubled world. This event was planned with
the deep conviction that we must be an inclusive church in order to be a faithful witness
to the God whose love embraces us all."
The conflict over sexual orientation in the churches should be viewed from the
perspective of history. There have been many similar intense moral, ethical, medical, and
scientific debates in the past. Some battles have already been
settled; others are ongoing. In each case, past experience shows us that:
||Liberal faith groups tend to be willing to:
||embrace new scientific findings quickly,
||ignore some portions of their sacred texts as invalid
||treat other passages in scripture as applying only to past eras or societies
||promote change within society.
||Mainstream denominations often follow the lead of liberals, but only after
secular groups in society have
generally accepted the new beliefs. i.e., they trail public opinion.|
||Conservative denominations are frequently the last to change, and often take many
decades or even centuries to shift their beliefs and practices.|
One example is the ordination of women. Most
liberal denominations have accepted female clergy for decades. The United Church of Canada
started in 1936. Mainstream denominations followed: United Methodist Church in 1939;
Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1956; the main Lutheran denominations in the 1970's. Many
conservative denominations have not yet begun to study the question. In the year
2000, the Southern Baptists decided to no longer accept new female pastors. The same dynamic has
been observed over such issues as slavery, racial segregation,
and inter-racial marriage.
So too with the "homosexual issue" as it affects membership and ordination:
The experience of one denomination, the United Church of
Canada may be a useful guide for those groups who are wrestling with "the
issue." Delegates to their Victoria BC conference in 1988 came with negative beliefs
about gay and lesbian ordination, but with a willingness to listen. At the start of the
conference, only 28% of the church membership were in favor of gay ordination. The
delegates listened prayerfully as some long-time gay and lesbian members of the Church
described growing up in a denomination that rejects them because of their sexual
orientation. Many delegates changed their mind. The final vote was about 3 to 1 in favor
of homosexual ordination.
As long as the debate over including gays and lesbian in church life is treated as an
issue, little progress can be made. Liberals will talk endlessly about fundamental rights
and scientific findings on human sexuality. Conservatives will counter with favorite Bible
quotations and warn against lowering moral standards for membership and leadership within
the church. But, in our opinion, real progress can be made only when homosexuals are no
longer seen as an issue, but as individual human beings.
Some interactions can force church members to view gays and lesbians as real people. Acts
||allowing devout Christian gays and lesbians address church assemblies and describe their
lifetime of rejection by the church that they love, or
||organizing a Shower of Stoles to show the large number
of clergy that have been excluded from serving their denomination because of
their sexual orientation, or
||the symbolic act of gays and lesbians holding open the doors of a conference assembly
room so that all may freely enter, or
||taking the risk of "coming out" to friends and family. At the trial of Methodist minister Rev. Jimmy Creech, many of the jurors had
been significantly influenced in the past, by knowing openly gay friends, family members,
fellow students, etc. If those gays and lesbians had not risked revealing their sexual
orientation, the jury's verdict probably would have been to find Rev. Creech guilty of
misconduct for presiding at a lesbian union service.
Some members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) took an interesting
approach to "the issue." They held a three-day retreat to
exchange information on how members and meetings had dealt with it. (Quaker
Meetings are local assemblies representing a group of congregations). They hoped to help
individuals "search for guidance and unity on this issue." One technique
used was to discuss those passages from the Christian Scriptures that describe
events of major religious change and conflict within the early Christian movements. Some
of these were:
||Acts 5:33 where Gamaliel, a Pharisee, counseled the Sanhedrin on how to handle
the new Jewish heresy: the Jewish Christian Church.
||Acts 10, which describes a vision, that Peter experienced. God told him to lay
aside his Jewish practices concerning impure and unclean food.
||Acts 15 which describes the meeting between Paul, Barnabas and the Council of
Jerusalem over whether Gentiles should have to undergo circumcision before joining the
Jewish Christian church.
||Romans 14 which describes Paul's recommendations that members not judge each
other over divergent practices. 7
There are some interesting theological questions that have developed as a
result of scientific findings about homosexual orientation:
||A common belief taught by many Christian churches is that God plays an
active and intrusive role in human affairs. He
micro-manages every event in each person's life. Presumably, this includes
the act of conception when a person's unique DNA is created. Now,
genes have a large role in determining sexual
orientation. This has been proven by various
studies. If the tendency for a homosexual orientation is decided at conception, then why does God intentionally create so many
homosexuals? What is His purpose for doing so? Can we reject a whole group of people as
God has created them?|
||Almost all denominations teach that God is all-powerful, and that He
answers prayer. Yet the earnest prayers of many homosexuals to be converted
to heterosexuality have always been ignored? Some
devout gay and lesbian Christians have begged God for years to make them
"straight" without success. Why is cure rate for reparative
therapy, which attempts to convert homosexuals into heterosexuals, so
low if God, the therapist and the client all want the person to be
||homosexual orientation is a natural condition for a minority of people (just as
heterosexual orientation is natural for the majority), and
||God has given to almost everyone the ability to love another
individual and to seek to marry them, and
||God has stated that it is not good for a person to live alone (Genesis 2:18), then
should all people, whether heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual, be allowed to marry?
Implications in Sunday school teaching and parenting:
If the conservative Christian belief is true, then it can
be argued that:
||A homosexual preference is chosen by the individual.
||God hates homosexual behavior.
||A Christian must absolutely avoid homosexuality.
||The extremely high suicide rate among gays is caused by the
unnatural and deviant homosexual behavior itself.
The obvious approach of Sunday school teachers and parents is to teach their children:
||to avoid any contact with information on homosexuality, in school, books, the media,
the Internet, etc.;
||to reject homosexuality as a valid, normal, natural sexual
in the expectation that they will grow up to be heterosexual.
This approach has one potential danger if the child grows up gay or lesbian. By the
time that they realize their orientation, they may well have internalized an
extreme hatred of
homosexuality. They may have concluded that God rejects both homosexuality and
homosexuals. They would probably have low self-esteem, suffer from depression and may well be be at a high risk
If the liberal Christian belief is true, then it can be argued
||Evidence of a homosexual orientation develops before school age; it is not chosen.
||God loves diversity in gender, race, and sexual orientation.
||A homosexual orientation is as valid, natural and normal as is heterosexuality.
||The extremely high suicide rate among gays is caused by their internalized hatred of
their sexual orientation that has been taught to them during childhood.
The obvious approach of teachers and parents is to:
||teach children about sexual orientation, both heterosexual and homosexual.
||teach children to accept homosexuality as a valid sexual orientation.
||counteract negative portrayals of gays and lesbians at school, at church, in the
in the expectation that they will probably grow up to be heterosexual. But if they turn
out to be homosexual, they will probably accept their own sexual orientation in a positive
light, as a gift from God. They will not have low self-esteem as a result of their sexuality.
They would not be at a high risk for suicide.
This approach has one potential danger. If the conservative Christian belief
system is correct after all, then the teacher and parent will have made no attempt to steer
children away from homosexuality. By choosing to be gay or lesbian, the
will be made more difficult because of the hatred and discrimination directed against
homosexuals by the rest of society.
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
A search facility to find local welcoming congregations is at: http://www.rcp.org/db_search.cgi?database=wminlist
"Open Hands" web site is at: http://www.rcp.org/openhands/
The Reconciling Congregation Program's home page is at: http://www.rcp.org/welindex.html
"Claiming the Promise Bible Study" at: http://www.rcp.org/ctp.html
News release: "Mainline Protestants plan confab on inclusion of gays and
lesbians." 1999-FEB-06. Web site is at: http://www.winternet.com/~rwhenn/inclusive.htm
Report and questions on a Quaker "Retreat on Same-Sex Issues,
1996-MAR-15-17". See: http://www.quaker.org:80/pendle-hill/same-sex-issues.html
Paul Warder, "Local church becomes an affirming congregation,"
Copyright © 2000 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2000-OCT-25
Latest update: 2000-OCT-25
Author: B.A. Robinson