The parson plopped himself down in the chair at the lunch table at a local eatery around which were gathered some sacred brethren of the United Methodist ordained. In the course of the discussion, one of the ordained brought up the subject of the Boy Scouts. He raised the question of whether the United Methodist Church should withdraw their support of the Boy Scouts should that organization allow homosexuals to be scout leaders.
Father forgive me for I have sinned. I didn't respond as I should. Instead, I said, "Well, hell, why don't we prohibit them from having scout leaders who have freckles since both cases are genetic." I should have been more patient. I guess I was in a bad mood.
The meeting sent me back to a blog I wrote back in February, 2007. Maybe I should just repost it here.
Homosexuality and the Church
York Times story which
appeared Christmas Day, 2006, headlined: “At Axis of Episcopal
Split, An Anti-Gay Nigerian.”
Lydia Polgren and Laurie Goodstein open the story by reporting, “The way he tells the story, the first and only time Archbishop Peter J. Akinola knowingly shook a gay person’s hand, he sprang backward the moment he realized what he had done.”
The story relates:”Archbishop Akinola, the conservative leader of Nigeria’s Anglican Church, who has emerged at the center of a schism over homosexuality in the global Anglican community, re-enacted the scene from behind his desk Tuesday, shaking his head in wonder and sorrow.”
In the Archbishop’s quoted words: “This man came up to me after a service, in New York, I think, and said, ‘Oh, good to see you bishop, this is my partner of many years.’” The Archbishop added, “I said, ‘Oh!’ I jumped back.”
I must confess, when I read this I was horrified. The horror results not from the Archbishop being anti-gay. The horror is in my reaction to discovering the Archbishop is anti-Christ.
I’m aware of the seriousness of that assertion. And, certainly such actions as those of the Archbishop are too common among many who wear the Christian mantle. Picture the scene in your mind’s eye. The head of the Anglican Communion in Nigeria is participating in a Christian celebration in New York City. After the service, a gentleman, following the tenants of Christian hospitality, instead of leaving immediately, seeks out the stranger from a far away land, a visitor to the church, and extends the right hand of Christian fellowship. “Good to see you, bishop.” And now, being courteous, he introduces his “partner of many years.” The Archbishop jumps back.
While he gives no description of vocalization, other than “Oh!” the Archbishop’s actions cried loudly, “Unclean! Unclean!” Visions of cast aside lepers of Jesus’ day are brought forth.
In this I believe the Archbishop is wrong in his actions, and such cannot be justified for one purporting to be a servant of the servants of Jesus Christ. But, hold that thought and indulge me a discussion of homosexuality and the church in today’s world.
I began my ministry in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement in America. The first parish I served brought me face-to-face with demonstrations for desegregated schools and equal access to public facilities. Within my first sixty days I’d seen Hosea Williams, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, spit in the face of the local sheriff in an attempt to provoke him. I’d also seen the scores and scores of cars pulled up to the windowless white frame building that served as the area headquarters of the KKK. Talking with people at the county seat, with members of my church, and with those who hung out at the local Gulf Station in the little community where I served, I became much aware of the passions evoked over the issue of segregation; there was a fury surrounding local emotions.
A young cleric, naïve and inexperienced, I didn’t know what my role was supposed to be. I was considered, I soon learned, a liberal. That designation came not from any professed position of preached theology. I was so timid in my bearing at that juncture of my ministry I did nothing, absolutely nothing, to deserve the reputation. I was liberal by association. I was a young Methodist preacher, i.e., I was a liberal.
In my heart I was rooting for those demonstrators who wanted nothing more than to eat in the same restaurants and to have the same opportunity of education as did I. My childhood had presented me experiences that slung the injustice of segregation in my face. So, I harbored a secret desire to be among the marchers, to fight to make the world right. Yet, I was a pastor to the folks who were genuinely fearful of what this inevitable onslaught of demand for equality would bring. In that setting, I learned the emotion generated when a people demand “certain inalienable rights” and others don’t want to give those rights to them.
Now in the climax of my years, the same passions are raising their heads. These are the passions of those who will not be denied and the passions of those who interpret this irresistible force as an affront to the sacred. In that circumstance, reasonableness and even openness to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit is often stifled.
In my United Methodist Church our doctrines are supposed to rest upon four pillars: scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. As such, let me look at this divisive issue in the light of these four considerations.
Walter Wink’s article “Biblical Perspectives on Homosexuality” which first appeared in the Christian Century in 1979 (and reprinted at religion-online.com) brings the biblical-based objections to homosexuality into perspective. Though they are now almost thirty years from the first appearance his words are worth heeding today.
Wink observed that the issue of homosexuality threatened to fracture whole denominations. (His analysis has obviously proved true.) He states: “We naturally turn to the Bible for guidance, and find ourselves mired in interpretative quicksand.” The issue becomes, for Dr. Wink, not one of homosexuality alone but, also, how we go about allowing scripture to inform our lives today.
After looking at passages of scripture advanced as prohibitions against homosexuality in the Genesis story of Sodom and supposed prohibitions in Deuteronomy, and highlighting the actual intent of these references, (1) and discussing lack of clarity to meaning in New Testament references cited often as prohibitions as those in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, Wink concedes there are three undeniable prohibitions against homosexuality in the scriptures. These are found in Leviticus 18: 22 (“You [masculine] shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”), Leviticus 20: 13 (If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”), and Romans 1: 26 (For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.)
The society depicted in these passages is one with no knowledge of eggs and ovulation. The purpose of a woman was considered to be that of providing incubation space. With such an understanding the spilling of semen would have been considered tantamount to murder or abortion. The society was patriarchal.
Indulging in a homosexual act would be an affront to male dignity. One can glimpse the affront to maleness in that there is no similar prohibition to homosexual acts of females.
The remaining unequivocal condemnation of homosexuality is found in Romans 1: 26-27. There is no doubt this is a condemnation of homosexuality. Yet there is a twist. Paul, as well as other authors of scripture, understood the practices they contemned as perversion to be acts committed by heterosexuals. Modern considerations of sexual orientation were not considered by Biblical writers.
Acknowledging the three unquestionable scriptural prohibitions in homosexuality, Wink considers other scriptural prohibitions. Nudity was regarded as “reprehensible,” even within the family. Sexual intercourse during the menstrual cycle was to be punished by execution. Sexual relations between unmarried adults were prohibited. The touching of semen or menstrual blood caused one to be unclean. Sexual relations between unmarried consenting adults were prohibited.
Adultery, incest, rape and prostitution in Biblical times were reflections of the property owner relationship in a male over female society. Wink points to Genesis 38: 12-19 and Joshua 2: 1-7 as illustrative of the tolerance of prostitution to ensure the virginity of unmarried women and as a way to safeguard the property rights of husbands. In prostitution only the woman, not the man, is guilty of sin. Deuteronomy 22:22 assigns the punishment of death for the offense of adultery. But adultery is not a married man having intercourse with an unmarried woman.
Polygamy was a regular feature of Old Testament society. Indeed, some scholars see certain New Testament passages saying deacons and bishops should have only one wife as indication of the presence of polygamy in New Testament times.
The practice is also evidenced in the practice of a childless widow marrying the brother of her deceased husband to ensure children.
Other mores prescribed by scripture include the practice of endogamy, marrying only within the twelve tribes of Israel, the abnormality of celibacy (a practice required of priests by the Roman Catholic Church) and the blessing of slavery, female slaves, and concubines.
When considering these references to laws of the Old Testament, Wink suggests one lift up the verses from Romans (10: 4; 7: 6): “If Christ is the end of the law, if we have been discharged from the law to serve, not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit, then all of these Old Testament mores come under the authority of the Spirit.”
One of Wink’s more penetrating conclusions is: “The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is simply that the Bible has no sexual ethic. There is no Biblical sex ethic.”
When it comes to the Scriptural Pillar, then, we have a problem. Do we get to pick and choose? Do we have to accept all of it? If the choice is the former, from where does authority of selection evolve? If it is the latter who is going to serve on the committee to establish humane methods of stoning? Or are Jesus’ words in Luke 12: 57, a clarion call to our day: “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?”
We find ourselves here on the horns of a dilemma. The Bible clearly condemns homosexuality in these few passages. Yet, the Bible just as clearly sanctions slavery; the Bible disallows divorce; the Bible permits prostitution, and so on.
What judgment is to be drawn from the pillar of scripture? Perhaps the greater tenor of scripture is the standard to be applied, that being the Biblical portrayal of God constantly taking the side of the powerless and moving all creation toward reconciliation.
History shows us that until the late eleventh century homosexuality was tolerated or ignored by the Christian church throughout the western world. Condemnation of homosexuality became official around the time of the writings of Thomas Aquinas.(2) (3) From this point homosexual behavior is prohibited by religious authority and these attitudes of the church found their way into the secular statutes. This would continue virtually unquestioned until the late nineteenth century when medicine and psychiatry began to contest with the religious institutions for primacy in matters of sexuality. At this point the understanding of homosexuality as pathology and not a crime, or even sin, begins to develop. This understanding would be prevalent until the dawn of the twentieth century.
Havelock Ellis, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, published his Sexual Inversion in 1896. This was one of the earlier attempts to examine the subject from a scientific viewpoint. Ellis had studied eighty homosexual males and had concluded this sexual behavior was not the result of disease. He continued to study sex from a biological and multicultural perspective. With the publication of Studies In the Psychology of Sex, Ellis insisted that homosexuality was inborn and therefore could not be immoral. (4)
Freud differed with Ellis. His research convinced him that all humans were born bi-sexual. The relationship a child experienced with parents and others determined whether the sexual course that followed would be homosexual or heterosexual.
In 1935, Freud wrote a letter to the mother of a homosexual. He said:
Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respected individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals. . . It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime, and cruelty for . . .(5)
It should be noted that Ellis, Freud, and the other early leading researchers were
primarily psychoanalysts, and their research was not the result of empirical testing. The conclusions were based on the analyst’s observations and were not separated from the bias, expectation, and attitudes of the researchers. Still, these early writings first brought the light of modern scientific reasoning to bear on the issue of homosexuality.
It would be the ground-breaking empirical work of Alfred Kinsey that birthed a reassessment of homosexuality in the twentieth century. Kinsey’s work revealed that a significant number of American adults reported having participated in some form of homosexual behavior to the point of orgasm after the age of sixteen.
Kinsey’s study cast doubts on the general belief that only a small number of
deviates practiced homosexuality.
For those who desire to look for the data, there is a large quantity of empirical research supporting the dismissal of the idea that homosexuality is in any way resultant from psychopathology.
One of the most extensive of these empirical research efforts is that of Evelyn Hooker. The American Psychological Association says: “Hooker’s work was the first to empirically test the assumption that gay men were mentally unhealthy and maladjusted. The fact that no differences were found between gay and straight participants sparked more research in this area and began to dismantle the myth that homosexual men and women are inherently unhealthy.” (6)
Hooker’s research is of particular note in that it has been replicated by many other scientists using a multitude of research methods. (7)
As is obvious from the contemporary debate over homosexuality, there are psychologists and psychiatrists who still hold negative views toward homosexuality. However, the preponderance of empirical research does not support any assertion that homosexuality is in anyway a form of mental illness.
In 1973, homosexuality was removed from the official list of mental diseases by the American Psychiatric Association. In 1992 the association released a statement that endorsed the repeal of all legislation criminalizing homosexual acts by consenting adults in private.
John McNeill, while still a member of the Jesuit Order, who ministered in the homosexual community, and a practicing psychotherapist wrote an article that appeared in The Christian Century, March 11, 1987. McNeill, a homosexual himself, wrote from his experiences, his research and writings. He writes, “I was convinced that what is bad psychologically has to be bad theologically and that, conversely, whatever is good theologically is certainly good psychologically.” (8)
In his book, The Church and the Homosexual, McNeill attempted to debunk three positions of the Christian community about lesbian and homosexual relationships. These were: 1) “the view that God intends all human beings to be heterosexual; 2) that homosexuals are a menace to the values of society and family; and 3) that homosexual love is sinful and alienates the person from God.
With regard to the first supposition, McNeill asserts that such thinking rests upon
the assumption that sexual fulfillment is the exclusive right of heterosexuals. He, obviously, having a familiarity with empirical research, in part, as referenced above, affirms that homosexuals and lesbians are, as much as heterosexuals, part of God’s creative plan. “God does not despise anything that God has created.”
Additionally, he states: “Every human being has a God-given right to sexual love and intimacy. Anyone who would deny this right to any individual must prove without a doubt the grounds for this denial.”
As to the second Christian position he feels is in error, that homosexuals are a menace to family and society, he asserts the lesbian / homosexual community, as part of God’ creation, possess the gifts and talents to be a positive contribution to society. “Consequently, I am convinced there is a special providence in the emergence of a visible gay community within the Christian churches at this point in history.
Refuting the assertion that every homosexual act is sinful and that homosexual love alienates the one who engages in it from God, McNeill insists homosexual love can be holy and can reflect the presence of God in the human community.
Reflecting on the research of the last century he maintains that 1) one has no choice about sexual orientation, and 2) the only healthy reaction to being homosexual is to accept it. (9)
“I, for one, would prefer to believe that the church is wrong about homosexual activity than that this sadistic, superego God has any true relation to the God of loved revealed in Jesus Christ. He asserts the mainline Protestant churches when facing the homosexual issue today do not ask the moral question of their position “Is it right or wrong?” Rather, they ask “What is going to work?” (10)
One must also address the issues of “reparative therapy” which are being advocated by certain religious right and/or anti-gay groups today. At the forefront of this is the Family Research Council, an arm of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family association. These “reparative therapy” programs hold that the homosexual can be “redirected” away from the “deviant” behavior through proper intervention therapies. One is reminded of the deprogramming therapies of the cult intervention programs.
The crux of such intervention strategies is that homosexuality is not a biological function but rather a deviant choice based upon incorrect choices. Is homosexuality, then, biological, as opposed to the type of behavior as that put forth by the Family Research Council and others?
The fact of the matter is the research conducted by the Family Research Council is considered flawed by some of the better scientific minds. This fact can be confirmed by simply conducting a Google search of the material. This paper, in the interest of brevity, will not delve into this issue but simply point out two excellent sources for consideration. Chandler Burr wrote a comprehensive overview of “Homosexuality and Biology” for The Atlantic Monthly, June 1997 issue. Burr concludes his writing with: “Five decades of psychiatric evidence demonstrates that homosexuality is immutable, and nonpathological, and a growing body of more recent evidence implicates biology in the development of human orientation.” (11)
In the face of the mounting scientific evidence that homosexuality is not a matter of choice, one cannot but wonder at the manner in which the church fails to act to include the gay community more fully. McNeill points out the absence of a moral debate that is the refusal of the mainline churches to engage those condemning homosexuality, assures that the only voice on the issue is that of the conservative and reactionary forces.
This pillar of our faith is simply self-evident. In the light of scholarship in regard to the understanding of scripture as well as empirical research into matters of sexuality allow no other conclusion than that homosexuality is not a perversion of the sexual act, but rather is a human urge toward intimacy that is part of the person at birth.
Reason points us to the multitude of instances where scripture is not only ambiguous but contradictorily. It is fruitless to list here the number of scriptural prohibitions modern Christians ignore as a result of the advancement of the knowledge of humanity.
Reason also reminds us that we who are Christian are not allowed to use bias, or honest belief that homosexuality is wrong, as an excuse for the sin of hateful persecution.
The crux of the matter is simply that we creatures created with the ability to reason. It is what sets us apart. And to fail to apply reason to the continued evolvement of our theology and religious mores is to deny our creative nature.
Reason also reminds us that we can debate this issue endlessly. Is it biological? Is
there a homosexual gene? Perhaps Chandler Burr in The Atlantic Monthly article referenced above puts it best:
“Science can enlighten, can instruct, can expose the mythologies we sometimes live by. It can make objective distinctions – as, for example, between sexual pathology on the one hand and sexual orientation on the other. But we cannot rely on science to supply full answers to fundamental questions involving human rights, human freedom, and human tolerance. The issue of gay people in American
life did not arise in the laboratory. The principles need to resolve it will not arise there either.
Obviously, here what is said must be my personal experience.
I have to tell you from the get-go: same-sex relationships do not personally compute in my mind. There’s no doubt I’m heterosexual. For that reason alone my experiences with individuals in the homosexual community have been times of learning and of growth.
My first experience in coming to my positions on homosexuality is simply the study and the learning of information such as that cited above under Scripture and Reason. Early in my Christian life I concluded one cannot have it both ways. Either the Bible is totally correct, inerrant, or it is not. If it is inerrant then we cannot be allowed to pick and choose which portions we will obey. My entire life experience has taught me we all pick and choose.
I choose to eat pork because it pleases me; I ignore the Biblical prohibitions because I know how to cook it and it is no longer a threat to the health of my community. I have chosen all my married life to not follow the Biblical dictates of not sleeping with my wife during her menstrual cycle. I have freely and unconditionally welcomed into the membership of the church divorced persons and even persons whom I had personal knowledge had participated in adulterous relationships previously, despite the Biblical condemnations of such
I have chosen to grow in my understanding of what is required to live an authentic life of faith in this world. And my understanding of homosexual relationships has grown over the years.
Not long ago, I was blessed to be the senior pastor of a church that served a community which was probably thirty-five to forty percent gay. There my learning curve increased dramatically. Previously my views on homosexuality and the church were academic. While I had known a few homosexual persons my exposure had been limited.
My memories of the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered people who inhabited that parish are vivid. They are memories of people deeply committed to their God, to their church, and, often, committed to a loving relationship with a life partner. I also have memories of sitting in a hospital waiting room with someone whose partner was in intensive care, but who could not go into the area as visitation was limited to “family.” I have had too much experience with denied health or death benefits to not realize the wrong that is being done.
This writing began with a presumptive statement being made by me that Archbishop Akinola was anti-Christ. I’ll stick by that. But my judgment of the Archbishop is not based on the suppositions above concerning the issue of homosexuality. My criticism of the Archbishop is two-fold. As his relating of the story is told in the New York Times article one gets the feeling the Archbishop almost delights in his memory of jumping back at contact with a homosexual.
That in and of itself is decidedly not an action the Christ would have taken.
Additionally, phrases keep running through my mind, “Judge not lest you be judged,” “The second is like unto it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On and on the quotations could go.
If the Archbishop thinks the homosexual he met is a vile degenerate would not the proper action be to place his arms around him and proclaim the love of Christ?
Finally, this is one parson who fully believes that when the last verse of Revelation was completed God did not shut God’s mouth and have no more revelation. God continues to reveal God’s self. And in this issue of homosexuality God may be revealing each and every one of us as the person we really are.
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1.The references to Sodom are put aside with the observation that the sin committed against the visitors to the city was perpetuated by heterosexuals, not homosexuals. When a similar (or same) story is related in Judges 19, again Wink suggests the references “refer to a heterosexual ‘stud’” and points out this reference is to infiltration of Canaanite fertility rites into Jewish worship.” The King James Version inaccurately labeled him a “sodomite.”
About Homosexuality and Mental Health.”
3. It should be noted that Aquinas seems to condemn homosexuality within a wide range of sexual acts, specifically he argues against any form of sex that does not have the intention of producing children.
4. “Facts About Homosexuality and Mental Health”
6.American Psychological Association Online
7. “Facts About Homosexuality and Mental Health”
8. John J. McNeill “Homosexuality: Challenging the Church to Grow”
11. Chandler Burr, “Homosexuality and Biology,” The Atlantic Monthly, June, 1997.