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Beliefs about homosexual orientation by
Christian and Unitarian Universalist theologians

Part 3

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Survey of 19 Christian and Unitarian Universalist clergy and theologians:

A total of 19 theologians were asked two questions:

  • Question 1: In your opinion, does God regard homosexuality as a sin?

  • Question 2: In your opinion, do the Scriptures object to homosexuality?

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Rev C Robert Nugent (Roman Catholic -- co-editor of "The Vatican and Homosexuality", holds degrees from St Charles College, St Charles Theologate, a degree in library science from Villanova University and a Masters of Sacred Theology from Yale University Divinity School):

    Q1: I do not believe that God regards homosexuality as a"sin" if homosexuality means the psychosexual identity of lesbians or gay persons, which we know from contemporary scientific studies is within the boundaries of healthy, human psychological development, and which seems to be as natural for some people as heterosexuality is for others. If homosexuality means the emotional,intimate bonding in same-gender relationships of love and friendship, I believe that since God is love, where there is authentic love, God is present.

    Where God is present, there can be no sin. If homosexuality means same-gender erotic, physical expressions of union and pleasure, the possibility of personal sin exists in homosexuality -- as it does in heterosexuality -- depending on the interplay of three factors including the physical behavior itself and its meaning for the person, the personal motives and intents of the person acting, and the individual and social consequences or results of the behavior. For many people, sexual behavior which is exploitative, coercive, manipulative, dishonest, selfish or destructive of human personhood is sinful; for all people "sin" means freely acting contrary to one's deeply held moral or ethical convictions, whether these come from organized religion or a personally developed value system. In speaking of the "sinfulness" of same-gender genital expressions, the Roman Catholic Bishops of Washington say that "...no one except Almighty God can make certain judgments about the personal sinfulness of acts (The Prejudice Against Homosexuals and the Ministry of the Church, Washington State Catholic Conference, 1983).

    Q2: Catholicism uses four major sources for principles and guidance in ethical questions like homosexuality: scripture, tradition (theologians, church documents, official teachings, etc), reason, and human experience. All are used in conjunction with one another. Scripture is fundamental and primary authoritative Catholic source -- but not the only source. Biblical witness is taken seriously, but not literally. An individual scriptural text must be understood in the larger context of the original language and culture, the various levels of meanings, and the texts' applications to contemporary realities in light of the role of the community's and its official leadership role in providing authoritative interpretations. Both Jewish and Christian scriptures do speak negatively of certain form of same-gender(generally male) sexual behavior (not same-gender love), especially when associated with idol worship,lust, violence, degradation, prostitution, etc. Whether scriptures condemn all and every form of same-gender sexual expression in and of itself for all times, places and individuals is the topic of serious theological and Biblical discussion and debate.

    Same-gender expressions of responsible, faithful love in a covenanted relationship between two truly homosexually oriented people not gifted with celibacy is not something envisioned by scriptures. Whether this form of homosexuality violates biblical or anthropological principles of sexuality and personhood -- especially in light of current scientific knowledge and human experience about the homosexual orientation -- is a key issue facing the churches and religious groups today.

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Rev Dr William F Schulz, DD (Unitarian Universalist -- president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, a phi beta kappa graduate of Oberlin College, holds masters in philosophy from University of Chicago and doctorates in ministry and divinity from Meadville-Lombard Theological School, board & member of numerous organizations including People For the American Way and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, author of numerous books and articles, appears on national radio programs and in nationally-distributed newspapers, listed in Who's Who of America):

    Q1: I do not believe that God regards homosexuality as a sin. In the first place, of course, I do not believe in an anthropomorphic God who defines or delineates sinful behavior. But even if I did, I cannot believe such a God would reject any of His/Her children on the basis of their affectional orientations. If He/She did, such a God would not be one to whom I would want to pay homage.

    Q2: While the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) certainly condemns what it refers to as sodomy, it also condemns a whole host of other practices (e.g., sleeping with a menstruating woman) which have long been accepted as reputable. Most of the Old Testament is surely not an appropriate resource from which to obtain guidance regarding contemporary ethics! Turning to the New Testament, we discover that Jesus has nothing whatsoever to say regarding homosexuality. Inasmuch as he frequently condemned others of whose behavior he disapproved (e.g., the money-changers in the temple),it is significant that he makes no reference to homosexuals or their practices.

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Dr Karen Lebacqz, PhD (United Church of Christ -- professor of Christian ethics at Pacific School of Religion, holds bachelor degree in Biblical history from Wellesley College and masters and PhD in religion and society from Harvard University, phi beta kappa member and past president of the Society of Christian Ethics):

    Q1: What God does regard as sin is oppression, injustice, persecution, disrespect for person. This sin, then, is homophobia, gay-bashing, discriminatory legislation toward lesbians and gays, refusal to include lesbian/gay/bisexual people into our churches and communities. To force any people, whether for reasons of race, age, or sexual orientation, into a "ghetto" -- this is a sin.

    Q2: Yes and No. Yes, in the same sense that the Scriptures object to wearing clothes of different fabrics, eating pork or other kinds of meat, and women speaking in church. That is to say, the Scriptures are a human product which reflects the cultural limitations of their time. Thus, they speak negatively about a number of practices that are routinely accepted today, including certain sexual practices. Some of these sexual practices are engaged in by both heterosexually and homosexually oriented people.

    No, in the same sense that the Scriptures do not speak clearly to the phenomenon that we today call "homosexuality". That is, Scripture speaks negatively about certain behaviors, most notably temple prostitution, not about basic orientation or about loving and committed gay/lesbian relationships. (A possible exception here is the praise of the relationship between David and Jonathan.)

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Rev Dr. James B Nelson, PhD (United Church of Christ -- professor of Christian ethics at the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, holds bachelor degree from Macalester College and a bachelor and masters and PhD in divinity from Yale University, visiting scholar at Oxford and Cambridge Universities and visiting professor at numerous other institutions, consulting editor of "Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality", honorary doctor of Sacred Theology from Dickinson University and award-winning educator for the United Church of Christ):

    Q1: I am convinced that our sexuality and our sexual orientations, whatever they may be, are a gift from God. Sexual sin does not reside in our orientations, but rather in expressing our sexuality in ways that harm, oppress, or use others for our own selfish gratification. When we express ourselves sexually in ways that are loving and just, faithful and responsible,then I am convinced that God celebrates our sexuality, whatever our orientation may be.

    Q2: The scriptures actually say nothing about homosexuality as a psychosexual orientation. Our understandings of sexual orientation are distinctly modern ones that were not present in the minds of Scripture writers. A few passages of Scripture (seven at the most) object to certain types of same-sex expressions or acts. The particular acts in question, however, are sexual expressions which are exploitative, oppressive, commercialized, or offensive to ancient purity rituals. There is no Scriptural guidance for same-sex relationships which are loving and mutually respecting. Guidelines for these relationships should come from the same general Scriptural norms that apply to heterosexual relationships.

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Rev Dr. Professor John B Cobb Jr, PhD (United Methodist -- recently retired from Ingraham Professor of Theology at the School of Theology at Claremont and an Avery Professor at Claremont Graduate School, holds masters and PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School):

    Q1: Surely being attracted to persons of the same sex is not, as such, a sin. But of course how we act in our attractions, towards whichever sex, is often sinful. The ideal is to be responsible and faithful rather than self-indulgent. Unfortunately, society does not encourage responsible and faithful relations with persons of the same sex. That makes the situation of the homosexual very difficult.

    Q2: Certainly some of the Biblical writers objected to homosexual acts, but there is surprisingly little attention to this topic. The opposition of the church comes from other sources much more than from scripture. There are more scriptural reasons to oppose homophobia than to oppose homosexuality.

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Bishop Melvin Wheatley Jr (United Methodist -- ordained elder of the United Methodist Church who retired in 1984 after 33 years as pastor and 12 years as bishop, honorary PFLAG director due to services to gay and lesbian people in the church):

    Q1: Of course not! The preponderance of evidence now available identifies homosexuality to be as natural a sexual orientation for a significant percentage of persons as heterosexuality is the natural sexual orientation for the majority of persons. Homosexuality is an authentic condition of being with which some persons are endowed (a gift from God, if you please), not an optional sexual lifestyle 1 which they have willfully, ly or sinfully chosen. Certainly one's sexuality -- heterosexual or homosexual -- may be acted out in behaviors that are sinful: brutal, exploitative, selfish, superficial. But just as surely, one's homosexual orientation as well as another's heterosexual orientation may be acted out in ways that are beautiful: tender, considerate, mutual, responsible, loyal, profound.

    Q2: The Scriptures at no point deals with homosexuality as an authentic sexual orientation, a given condition of being. The remarkably few Scriptural references to "homosexuality" deal rather with homosexual acts, not with homosexual orientation. Those acts are labeled as wrong out of the context of the times in which the writers wrote and perceived those acts to be either non masculine, idolatrous, exploitative, or pagan. The kind of relationships between two consenting adults of the same sex demonstrably abounding among us -- relationships that are responsible and mutual, affirming and fulfilling -- are not dealt with in the Scriptures. Dealing with those relational realities is one of the tasks we are about in our time.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The term "lifestyle" is often associated with homosexual orientation. However it normally refers to a chosen and changeable behavior in one's life, like living in an urban or rural area, being self-employed or working for a company; being single or married or living together. Lesbians, gays, and bisexuals generally agree that a sexual orientation is not chosen, changeable, or a behavior.

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Copyright remains with the individual contributors.
Initial posting: 2011-APR-30

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