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Christian views of homosexuality

Whether homosexuality is a sin has become a topic of hot theological debate among Christians in the half century since World War II.

Most Christian faiths hold that homosexual behavior is a sin. They argue that Christianity has always taught this, based on such Biblical passages as Leviticus 18:22 ("You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination."), Romans chapter 1, 2 Cor. 12:21, and the Ten Commandments prohibition on adultery, and other verses that have traditionally been understood to prohibit any sexual activity that is not between husband and wife (see Fornication). On the other hand, John Boswell's Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe asserts that the adelphopoiia liturgy was a historical example of church approval of homosexual relationships. His interpretation of this rite is not universally accepted, with other scholars saying that the bond created between men in this liturgy was not sexual. In Boswell's interpretation, the adelphopoiia rite is evidence that attitude of the Christian church towards homosexuality has changed over time, and that early Christians did on occasion accept homosexual relationships. Those who reject his interpretation see the adelphopoiia rite as unimportant.

Many Christians in North America and Europe dissent from the traditional opprobrium of homosexuality. Among Protestants, the more traditional view is generally strongest in the US and Africa, while American Catholics are typically more liberal than Catholics elsewhere.

Liberal Christian theologians who do not believe homosexuality to be a sin argue that the traditionalists have misinterpreted the pertinent Bible passages or quoted them selectively. For example, they consider the original Hebrew in Leviticus to be ambiguous as to whether "male" means adult man or boy. They also point out that Leviticus also condemns many other things that modern Christians do, including eating shellfish, wearing fabrics made from two different fibers (e.g., wool/cotton blends), and planting two crops in a single field. This is because Leviticus contains a mixture of "moral" codes and "purity" codes.

Jews hold the Bible actually makes no distinction between morality and purity, and that the rules were generated in such a way that following the purity laws would lead to ethical behavior. However, Christianity does not believe that the purity code prohibitions apply to them because these codes have been superseded by the sacrifice of Jesus. On the other hand, Christians do believe that the moral codes still apply. Thus much of the debate centers on whether homosexuality falls within the category of a purity code or a moral code. Liberal Christians argue that since the prohibition against homosexuality appears in a list of purity codes, this prohibition is equally irrelevant to Christians. Traditional Christians, on the other hand, consider the Levitical condemnation of homosexuality to remain in force, because they believe it is reinforced elsewhere in the Bible, including the New Testament.

Many traditionalists view homosexual behavior as a freely made choice, and believe that it is possible and desirable to make a transition to heterosexuality. This view is strongly rejected by most psychologists, however, as well as many scientists, and most homosexual people. Modernists often argue, by contrast, that homosexual desires are present in some people at birth or in early childhood (see Genetic basis for homosexuality and Causes of sexual orientation. They further argue that to deny people the right to express romantic love with another human being in the manner that God endowed them with is not an act of compassionate love. Many theologically liberal Christians agree and believe that God wishes for each person to fulfill their desire for consentual romantic and sexual relationships, if they desire it.

Other traditionalists accept that homosexual orientation is not a choice, but argue that acting on that orientation is nevertheless sinful. In these cases, most Christians who condemn homosexual behaviour would not condemn homosexual orientation, but would advocate a life of celibacy for those who have that orientation. However, the Catholic church has been moving towards a policy of prohibiting homosexuals from being priests, even if they are celebate.

Liberal Christians also argue that Jesus explicitly condemned divorce -- equating it with adultery in the Sermon on the Mount -- but never explicitly forbade homosexuality; so they call it hypocritical to criticize homosexuality much more vocally than divorce. Also, rather than interpreting the term "adultery" in the Ten Commandments to mean any sex outside of marriage, they interpret it to mean sex with somebody else's spouse, which would make the prohibition irrelevant to sex between unmarried persons, including sex between unmarried homosexuals.

Positions of specific churches

The Roman Catholic Church considers homosexual behavior a sin, but has clearly stated that homosexual desire itself is not. On the one hand, "[homosexual acts] are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved." (Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 2357) On the other hand, "The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." (ibid, para. 2358) For those homosexuals who cannot be cured of their condition, the Catholic Church offers the following counsel: "Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection." (ibid, para. 2359) It should be noted that the same call to chastity applies to unmarried heterosexual persons. See Catechism of the Catholic Church Article 6 Section II: The Vocation to Chastity (http://www.christusrex.org/www1/CDHN/sixth#CHASTITY) This position has changed recently from what the Church has held previously. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas held that homosexuality, indeed any sexual act not performed in the natural way such as masturbation, was one of the worst sexual sins, worse then rape. This was because his theology laid great emphasis on the nature of humans, which means not doing what feels natural, but doing what you were created to do, fulfilling your nature. Since this was fundamentally designed by God, it was directly injurious to him.

The Episcopalian church has been divided on this issue. Bishop John Shelby Spong has argued extensively in favor of the view that homosexual behavior is not a sin, and so have various dioceses in Canada, in disagreement with much of the Anglican Communion, both domestically and abroad. Some bishops have openly disregarded the viewpoints of church leaders, ordaining homosexual rectors within their diocese, causing debate within the church. However the majority of the Anglican Communion, in particular the African churches, maintain the traditional view that homosexual behaviour is a sin. Many Anglicans and Episcopalians reject all of Spong's beliefs (including but not limited to those about homosexuality), because Spong's theology conflicts with conservative views in a number of ways, in particulary rejecting traditionally theistic conception of God. Thus his critics argue that he is no longer a Christian, and thus reject the notion that his beliefs have any bearing on Christian theology. However, he continues to affirm that he is a Christian, and has argued that what he proposes is a modern reformation of Christianity, of which is beliefs in homosexual rights is just a part.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints considers homosexual behavior to be sinful, along with sexual relations outside a lawful marriage. Homosexual desire itself (if not acted upon) is not viewed as sinful and is sometimes referred to as same-sex attraction (SSA) rather than homosexuality. The church has actively opposed efforts to legalize same-sex marriage, although it has not taken any formal position on other political matters affecting legal rights for gays.

The United Methodist Church officially considers "the practice of homosexuality (to be) incompatible with Christian teaching" and states that "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" cannot be ordained as ministers. However, some local congregations have defied the church leadership on this issue and are fighting the policy in church courts. Politically, the church has supported civil rights for gays, although it is unclear whether that support extends to same-sex marriage.

The Presbyterian Church (USA), the largest U.S. Presbyterian body, is sharply divided over the issue of homosexuality. Although gays are welcome to become members of the church, denominational policy prohibits noncelibate homosexuals (or unmarried people who are sexually active) from serving as ministers or on key church boards. After rancorous debate, that policy was upheld in a vote of presbyteries in 2002. It is uncertain how those on the losing side will react; some observers believe that congregations could break away from the denomination over that issue.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church condemns homosexual relations as "obvious perversions of God's original plan."

The Orthodox Church in America concluded at its 10th All-American Council in 1992 that homosexuality is "the result of humanity’s rebellion against God, and so against its own nature and well-being... Men and women with homosexual feelings and emotions are to be treated with the understanding, acceptance, love, justice and mercy due to all human beings.... Persons struggling with homosexuality who accept the Orthodox faith and strive to fulfill the Orthodox way of life may be communicants of the Church with everyone else who believes and struggles. Those instructed and counselled in Orthodox Christian doctrine and ascetical life who still want to justify their behavior may not participate in the Church’s sacramental mysteries, since to do so would not help, but harm them."[1] (http://www.oca.org/pages/ocaadmin/documents/all-american-council/10-miami-1992/synodal-affirmations#homosexuality)

The United Church of Canada, the largest Protestant denomination in Canada, affirms that homosexuals are welcome in the church and the ministry. The 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." was passed in 1988. This was not done, however, without intense debate over what was termed "the issue"; some congregations chose to leave the church rather than support the resolution. The church campaigned starting in 1977 to have the federal government add sexual orientation to federal non-discrimination laws, which was accomplished in 1996. [2] (http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_ucc.htm)

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) is deeply divided on this issue. The more conservative Friends United Meeting and Friends Evangelical Church considers homosexuality sinful; but other Friends, such as those in the Friends General Conference, strongly support equal rights for homosexuals. See Quaker views of sexuality

The Metropolitan Community Church[?] is a Protestant denomination with churches throughout the United States with a mostly, but not exclusively, gay membership. Acceptance of homosexuality is an important part of its theology.

The Uniting Church in Australia's position on homosexual ordination has remained unchanged since 1987, despite an emotional debate at the 1997 national Assembly meeting. Homosexual orientation is not of itself a bar to ordination and cannot be used as a reason for knocking back a ministerial candidate. However, the Assembly allows each Presbytery (regional council) to make its own decision on whether to ordain practicing homosexuals. Homosexuality will be raised at the next Assemly meeting in July 2003 when it debates a proposal to "remind Church Councils and Presbyteries that ... persons who are homosexual are eligible to be members of the Uniting Church and that all members are expected to exercise their gifts and fulfil their responsibilities".

Unitarian Universalists do not believe homosexuality to be a sin. They ordain gay and lesbian ministers, and welcome gay people into their congregations both informally and formally. The Unitarian Church itself has stated that it is no longer a part of Christianity, although many Christians are members of the Unitarian church.

The Unification Church is not considered a Christian church by some other churches because of its strong orientation towards Sun Myung Moon as the Messiah; see Unification Church views of sexuality.

Ancient Views

There has been some modern debate on whether the ancient church approved of same-sex marriage. John Boswell argued that early Christians did on occasion accept homosexual relationships, while other scholars disagree, countering that Boswell misinterpreted his sources.


See also: Religion and homosexuality, Homosexuality and morality, homophobia



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