What if the church is wrong about homosexuality?

A little Evangelical “inside baseball…”

USA Today had an op-ed yesterday by a minister named Oliver Thomas taking the position that the morality of homosexuality depends on what science learns about the factors which may cause it.

I suppose that is the first topic for discussion here.

I have resisted this argument. One, because I do not like the idea that what one values or chooses to do is solely determined by private inclinations. As a matter of principle, there are numerous reasons to hope for restraint of private inclinations in behavior. Values and beliefs ought to guide such decisions. Two, as one who holds to an authority outside of myself, I reserve for myself the value of living by wisdom that may not comport with my private inclinations. So I do not agree with the idea that inclinations to do certain things are themselves enough to make them reliable guides to moral action. This is my brief take on things and I think many in Evangelical circles would agree.

Now for others, personal experience is the determiner of truth. For example, it was for Carl Rogers who said: “Experience is, for me, the highest authority…Neither the Bible nor the prophets — neither Freud nor research –neither the revelations of God nor man — can take precedence over my own direct experience.”

Worlds collide.

Now, let that quote from Rogers segue into a controversy involving Bart Campolo, son of prominent evangelical, Tony Campolo. Recently, he wrote an article suggesting in a Jethro Tull-like fashion that he could not believe in a God that did not compare favorably to his view of fairness and compassion. The article is a passionate and interesting read; here is a quote that provoked me to include it in this post: “I am a free agent, after all, and I have standards for my God, the first of which is this: I will not worship any God who is not at least as compassionate as I am.”

Bringing these two articles together, they testify to the powerful forces within Christianity broadly-speaking and to an increasing degree, within Evangelicalism as well, to allow science and compassion to decide the “gay issue.” If science determines that being attracted to same sex is hardwired (although I am not sure how much is enough – 40%, 60%, 90%?), then how could a compassionate god consider homoerotic behavior to be immoral? Science becomes the delimiting factor for what can, and cannot be moral.

We have a similar discussion before on this blog. Some people come to gay-affirming theology due to their study of the Scripture and not science nor subjectivity. And so there can be a discussion based on a foundation – what does Scripture teach?

However, for those following the lead of USA Today’s Thomas, we should take a leap of faith in the promises of the biological determinists regarding homosexuality. If we follow Campolo’s lead, human compassion, individually determined, is the test of godness and by extension what god prefers.

These are tough times for those who value primary guidance from Scripture and tradition and I suspect the status of homosexuality as a matter of ecclesiastical contention is safe for the forseeable future.

(Hat tip: No Kool Aid Zone for the Campolo article…)

25 thoughts on “What if the church is wrong about homosexuality?”

  1. What matters is being rigorously honest about how one lives their life and contributes to society as a whole unconditionally. What gets me though is how women can fall for all those male domination doctrines.

    I’m blessed to be finally free of religions that judged me as immoral or substandard because I wasn’t born 100% white, These same holy men decided later on down the road to refocus their pagan recruitment drives with heterosexist pontifications. I tried to believe in them, did my best amidst my own misery. In the end, I was left no choice but to say no thanks. I don’t need to rely on a version of a book that was Canonized by a murderer for his own gain to tell me what is right and wrong. It takes courage to stand up and say enough is enough.

  2. but I don’t think its right to go around and say that anyone can change, because most try and aren’t able to.

    That is the point, YOU CAN’T CHANGE. Only God can change you. It is not in our human capabilities to change. That is why people fail when they try. When you finally surrender and give it all up to God, that is when the transformation happens. I didn’t change because of anything I did. I changed because God did the changing. Therefore everybody can change because everybody has the same access to God’s power. Are you trying to say I am somehow more special then the next person? That God loves me more than the guy down the street who is also struggling with sexual immorality? No! The only difference between me and the rest of the people on the planet is how much faith you place in the Almighty. I try to put my life into his hands everyday. That is all I can do. But everybody is capable of change because we are all God’s children and therefore no one is left out in the cold. If you go an inch, God will take you the mile.

    God bless you, Dena. I am glad for your story. So readers can be clear, are you describing a change in same-sex behavior or opposite sex behavior?

    It was most opposite sex sexual behavior. But I have suffered from same sex attraction as well. I have noticed when I am doing what I need to be doing. When I am more focused on service and on God, then the same attraction fade considerably. When I don’t then they come back with a vengeance. However, I have never acted on my same sex attraction only on my heterosexual attraction. Not only that whenever I pictured my life with someone or thought about falling in love it was always with a man, never a woman. Therefore I consider myself straight with occasional same sex leanings.

  3. I’m heading out the door now so all I can say is that Darek and Dena have shown an accurate understanding of the God revealed in Scripture, not the one we construct. It is not the God whom we judge but the God who judges us. It is the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac revealed and incarnated in Jesus whose birth we celebrate at this time of the year.

  4. Dena,

    I’m kind of curious, what do you tell those people who pray and pray and pray and work for years trying to overcome/change their orientation and never do? Do you simply tell them they aren’t trying hard enough? Do you tell them sorry, but God blesses some of us and no others?

    I’m happy in that you seem to be VERY happy, and you seem to have a strong heart for God, but I don’t think its right to go around and say that anyone can change, because most try and aren’t able to.

  5. Yes, thanks Dena. You said what is on my mind. We are to follow his directions to his house instead of making them up along the way. I’ve been lost too – many times – and am ever grategul to find his path.

  6. God bless you, Dena. I am glad for your story. So readers can be clear, are you describing a change in same-sex behavior or opposite sex behavior?

  7. Why is it that we are always looking to have a relationship with God on our terms and not his? Why don’t we believe his directions for going to His home and spending an eternity in His kingdom. If you wanted to come to my house and I gave you directions but you decided you knew better and disobeyed them, then don’t be angry at me when you don’t arrive at my home. I gave you explicit directions and you ignored them. Is this no different than what God has done for mankind? He has given us specific directions that lead to eternal life and a restored relationship with him. Doing it our way is futile and unnecessary. I have tried it my own way and all it got me was sorrow, heartbreak and lost time. Time that could’ve been better spent helping my fellow man or learning about God and his plan for my life. The one who said he would never worship a god who wasn’t as compassionate as he was is arrogant and prideful. Who says you are compassionate in the first place? Who says your mercy and compassion are even an iota of what God’s are. His mercy and compassion is perfect, without flaw. You are not, I am not, no one on this earth is without flaw. God gives abundantly and without expecting repayment, for we could never repay him anyway. While his love may be unconditional, his blessings come only with our obedience to his law and commandments. For years I practiced sexual immorality, I thought I was a liberated woman and could do whatever I wanted. I tried to tell myself I was happy, yet after ever encounter with some anonymous male, I wanted to die. If I was so free then why was I so miserable. I realized that I had been lied to. So I sought out the truth and at the end of my search was God. He restored me, he replaced a broken woman with a shattered heart and soul with a woman who was finding herself falling deeply and in completely in love with the Lord. I have now been celibate for about sixteen months and I have found it to be a difficult but a wonderful, joyous and humbling experience. I would not trade it for anything. God has restored my self-respect and now my body is no longer an amusement park for my recreation but a temple of the Most High. So if I can change my sexuality, anyone can. It is not beyond God’s capability and if you think it is then you are worshiping an impotent and powerless god. Not to mention a pretty worthless and pathetic deity. However, the one true God, the one I worship, the one who was the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac, well he is all powerful, all divine, all holy and all perfect. That is my God. He has proven himself and his power over and over again to me. God is not wrong, God does not lie. God knows what is best for us, not man, not liberals, not society-God. The sooner you learn that, the better off you will be.

  8. The original Scriptures of the Torah, where the Christian Holy Bible Old Testament comes from, do not support anti-gay claims of some Christian faiths. As far as New Testament anti-gay admonishions go, look at the source of such: Paul, who was one sick, immoral man with his own agendas aside from spiritual purity. Will God punish me for relating these observations? That is not for any other human to decide.

    Frankly, the need for such gay-gene DNA studies is academic only; gender diversity–the healthy acceptance that non-heterosexuals deserve to be able to have an equal life (not a “lifestyle choice” as some would term it) is already alive and well amongst the compassionate portions of our civilized world. IF there is a lesson in humanity to be learned from what can otherwise be a devisive strife, it is that love and truth will persevere.

    Meanwhile, quite a number of married Baptist ministers have clamored at my email Inbox for my sexual attentions on Saturday nights, and that is no joke. But alas, sleeping with them is sleeping with an enemy who would make love to me on such nights and damn me in sermon the next morning. No thanks. I lead an ACTIVE spiritual life!

  9. I always thought it was rather simple; during one or two of his more lucid moments Jesus said:

    Matt 16:19… And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

    And again….

    Matt 18:18-20… Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, I say to you, that if two of you are in agreement on earth about anything for which they will make a request, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

    So good he said it twice. All it takes is your will not that of a god.

  10. What if the Bible is wrong?

    What if what God says is wrong? Do we even know what God thinks? How can we?

    Isn’t that another take on the title of this section?

    Haven’t men become so wise?

    Being gay works? I guess if you believe two men and two woman can create in God’s divine order… or not.

    “He sits upon the clouds and laughs.”

  11. Well, it only took the Roman Catholic Church four and a half centuries to acknowledge their error regarding Copernicus/Gallileo et al. It took about that long to get the Catholics and the Lutherans to even look like they were agreeing on the doctrine of justification. So I’d guess that the church will admit it’s wrong about homosexuality about the time that Jean-Luc Picard takes the Enterprise-B out of SpaceDock.

    What I find fascinating is that while philosophers, Greek translators and both straight and gay theologians try to argue passages out of the Old Testament, almost no one is willing to look at Acts 10 and the concept of Gentile inclusion in the greater church.

    Jeffrey Siker did so in an online essay for Theology Today, and later included it in his Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate.

    Perhaps if the church could see me as “A New Kind of Gentile” (with apologies to Brian McLaren) it just might be a wee bit easier to find “room at the inn.” Or the communion table…

  12. The church is wrong about homosexuality, at least the churches which condemn it. Just as it admitted error, when the bible clearly endorses slavery (if you need references, I am more than happy to provide them – old and new testament), the church will admit error with respect to same-sex relationships.

    It’s only a matter of time when we get the proverbial “oops.”

    Unfortunately, the church often follows the popular sentiments of its congregants at the time. If you want membership, if you want to be well-funded, you preach what your congregants wish – some ministers believing this, others not (Haggard, and many others living double lives).

    The slower growing denominations are those that have traditionally stood up for civil rights – and took stands against slavery even when not popular…look at the Unitarians, or more presently, the reconciling methodist church. Both welcome and marry same-sex couples. They do it at the expense of large pocketbooks and in the spirit of truth.

    I recall as a college-student wanting to teach a sunday school class – but was told I was not allowed, because women are not allowed to teach adults. Now that same church has women who teach adult-level sunday school classes…and this is thought to be “revolutionary” and progressive.

    Let’s not pretend that faith doesn’t fall into the same popularity trap that any other business in america does. Alas, it is as filled with corruption, distortion and greed as any other large business is. You just hope that the one you are attending, like the agency you work for, is more grounded and based in good and decent ethical foundation.

    All the research on committed same-sex relationships do not warrant the discrimination and bias it receives. Why does the church not even support basic civil rights for gay and lesbian people? That they not lose their job simply because they are gay or housing just because of their orientation? Well…it’s not because they aren’t political (they come in droves to rally against same-sex marriage legislation)…it’s because they are discriminatory.

    A sad but true commentary on much of the christian religion today.

  13. I need to clarify something. We are equal and it’s guaranteed by the Constitution yet all of us have different roles and responsibilities. When you go to work you have to submit to the rules and regulations there. Your boss tells you what to do yet you are not in any way inferior to him/her. You are equal under the law. The same analogy applies in the Bible. God chose man to be the head of household and that’s that. In many instances it requires the man to step up to the plate and do his job. More men should heed these teachings and take up their responsibilities.

  14. Churches that teach that divorce and re-marriage are acceptable are doing great disservice to their members. Jesus was clear when He said that marriage is between one man and one woman. He also gave us only “ONE REASON” for a scriptural divorce-adultery. How can you interpret it in more that one way? He said that if unscripturally divorced men or women marry they and their spouses commit adultery.

    Homosexuality is an abomination. God still loves homosexuals. He hates their sin if they engage in sinful behavior. I don’t know what god you guys believe in but my God tells me to stay away from sexual immorality and that the only acceptable intimate relationship between man and woman is in marriage. How can homosexuals call their relationship if not sinful?

    Women and men have different roles given to them by God. Whoever thinks that they have an inferior role in any way is a fool. God tells us to love one another. Men should love their wives like Jesus loved the church. They are to give up their lives for them. Wives are to love and respect their husbands. Just because it says that wives must submit to their husbands does not make them inferior in any way. Instead of questioning God lets follow His word and have faith.

  15. Warren wrote:

    With due respect to your worldview, what the Scriptures teach is the issue for those individuals who place [t]hem in the position of authority.

    “What the scriptures teach” is completely dependant upon how those scriptures are interpreted. Does scripture teach that women are equal to men, or does it teach that women are to be submissive and inferior to men in both marriage and in the church? If this is an issue about what scripture “teaches”, then why do Christians disagree on the answer to that question?

  16. Jimmy: With due respect to your worldview, what the Scriptures teach is the issue for those individuals who place Them in the position of authority. I said at the top of this post that I was engaging in a Evangelical “inside baseball” meaning that the discussion has the most relevance for people in that tradition.

    Your point about interpretation is well taken but all discussions involving the Scriptural teaching involve such matters.

    RE: being gay and pragmatism. I am pretty sure that a majority of evangelicals believe being gay does not lead to happiness or peace or satisfaction. But then again most evangelicals, I believe that all non-evangelicals are probably missing Jesus and therefore cannot be truly happy. Gays are not singled out. Please understand that I am not saying this is my point of view but I hear it enough that I think it is widely held.

  17. A separate comment. Warren wrote:

    If being gay worked, then they might ask themselves, then why are we against it?

    That’s a fascinating statement, namely, the “If being gay worked” part of it. What you are saying is that you think many evangelicals have a deep belief that being gay “doesn’t work”. What does this mean, exactly? What would a gay relationship have to do in order for it to “work” in the mind of an evangelical?

  18. what does Scripture teach?

    That is NOT the relevant question.

    The question you are looking for is this:

    How do we interpret scripture?

    Do you interpret scripture as:

    * allowing you to own a slave?

    * demanding an inferior and subordinate role for women both in the church and in marriage?

    * mandating execution for witches and gays?

    * insisting, by Jesus’ mandate, that you be poor are the proverbial churchmouse?

    You’ll find Christians, evangelicals even, who come down on multiple sides of any of those questions. The reason for the division is not that scripture is “teaching” different things, but that the individuals reading the scripture are interpreting it differently. The difference comes from you, not from scripture. If you can rationalize or ignore the verses about slavery, guttony (ever seen a fat Christian?) and poverty, then why can’t you also ignore the verses about homosexuality?

    The answer is: because there is a cultural animus toward homosexuality. This cultural feeling toward homosexuality is changing, and, when it changes sufficiently for you, then you’ll “interpret” the verses about homosexuality so that they fit what you know to be true.

  19. Dr. T,

    Thanks for clarifying….that does help. You may not want to answer this on the blog….but I am curious; overall, do you believe the “the church”, as you just defined it, is as compassionate as it should be toward gay folks? I’ll give you a scale of 1 to 10. 1 being “the church is compassionate” and 10 being, “the church is sinfully noncompassionate” toward gay folks. Just very curious as to your opinion of this. Email me if you’d prefer….even if you don’t want to answer…I do understand.


  20. Grace – By “the church” I am referring to the Evangelical church broadly. Imprecise I realize but I hope that narrows it some.

  21. Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

    This is getting quite interesting. I am going to reply by re-posting my article relating to Tim’s point #6 above on the front page of the blog. Perhaps we can discuss that point there.

    Nick said: But as more homosexuals live openly, and more Christians learn that they have gay relatives and coworkers and neighbors who are healthy, happy, and productive, then the dissonance between the traditional morality and real life becomes an issue.

    I think Nick has a point here. All surveys show this to be true. The more gay people you know, the more tolerant the attitudes. Those people I know who are worried about promisuity and disease among homosexuals are for the most part motivated by real concern. However, for those who have SSA and want to change for religious reasons, they are often challenged when they learn that not all gay people live “the lifestyle.” And they don’t.

    I get in hot water in conservative circles for saying this. Why? Perhaps, because there is an unspoken belief that the main reason evangelicals are against homosexual behavior is a pragmatic one. I think many evangelicals are closet pragmatists. If being gay worked, then they might ask themselves, then why are we against it?

    If indeed, pragmatics are the tests of truth, then we can pick and choose our religion based on which seems to work the best. Sounds like the American way to me.

  22. I have struggled through this issue for some time now. I totally agree that it depends of what answers science comes up with, but that science must be pure and unbiased. So much of what is being found about human personality is that there are many factors influencing who we are. Nature plays some role in this, but if we deny the role of nurture we are convincing ourselves that there is nothing we can do to better ourselves. That does not make sense to me.

    On the other hand if we are too judgemental towards those who we deem as different from ourselves we risk causing them much harm and harming ourselves in the process. In order for a true understanding we must be completely open to the possibility of either side of these debates and we must also recognize that it may infact be a combination of both genetics and our environment (including our upbringing and the experiences we bring with us into adulthood).

    Now the next question this raises is, does this still leave room for the idea of free will and choice. I believe it does and must. If religion is wrong we may gain some new insights if it is not we all loose and not because of an uncompassionate God, but because we have closed ourselves off to the natural law that governs us even when we want to be controlled by our own egos.

    For right now the only compassionate thing to do is accept each other and to be open to listening to the stories yet not told.

  23. In ways similar to Campolo I went through a struggle that resulting in my resolution to never serve a cruel and capricious god. It isn’t adequate that my god was the god of my youth, but he must also be a god of goodness, or a God. I wasn’t interested in a “religion of peace” that advocated suicide bombings of unbelievers. Nor was I interested in a “doctrine of compassion” that advocated the utter destruction of the life of those with whom you differ. Nor did I see a “Kingdom of God” that was indistinguishable from a kingdom of politicians as something to be pursued.

    And in my thinking on the nature of God (which seems to have been man’s pastime since the beginning of recorded history), and how His nature relates to sexual orientation, I came to some conclusions. Naturally, I could be wrong – but here are my conclusions:

    1. Sexual orientation exists. By that I mean that there are persons who are singularly attracted to persons of the same sex. Disregarding any disagreement about etiology, these people exist.

    2. Some same-sex attracted persons cannot reorient. They will never find themselves capable of a loving full (including sexuality) relationship with a person of the opposite sex no matter what methods they employ nor how committed to that endeavor they are. For simplicity, let’s call those people “gay”.

    3. Whatever method or circumstances were used, God was instrumental in these people being gay. This orientation was not chosen, selected, developed, adopted, or acquired through any action or inaction of the gay person.

    4. Only a cruel God would punish someone for being what he created. Please note that I did not discuss behavior at this point but rather I discussed being. Since a hallmark of evil is to punish others for ones own actions, a god that punished or condemned a gay person for being gay is by definition an evil god and one that should not be worshiped.

    5. A system of laws or commandments that requires separate responses based upon a God-given attribute is not just. God may call an individual to a higher standard or a different law but to require this of a group is not just. The requirements of a just God are just. And if the requirements are not just, neither is the God. And the cavalier dismissal of any introspection by saying “since God is just, so are his commandments no matter how unfair” is the cop-out of those unwilling to question their beliefs.

    6. Thus, I believe that God sees gay people the same as he sees straight people. I believe that his plan for gay people is that they join together in a loving monogamous committed relationship, just as it is for straight people. And I believe that this sort of union is only possible when it is with someone to whom one is genuinely attracted, and for gay persons (as herein defined) that would be a person of the same sex. I believe this union should be entered into soberly and in the eyes of God and the community.

    Naturally, not everyone here will agree with my points. But I think that other than anti-gay activists, most Christians have already reconciled to one or more of these points. Even some conservative evangelicals are willing to concede the first point.

    And I believe that it is along this line of thinking that the direction that the church will eventually go.

  24. Christianity has proven quite adaptable over the centuries in accomodating theological belief to changes in society. For example, the New Testament has much more to say about divorce than about homosexuality, yet the majority of Christian churches now permit divorce and remarriage. The Roman Catholic Church is one exception, and even there, the criteria for granting church annullments have been broadened to allow many more divorced people to remarry.

    Was the church’s growing tolerance due to scientific research proving genetic factors for divorce? Obviously not. But as divorce became more common, Christians could see that people were not helped by being forced to stay in unhappy marriages, or forced to remain single following a divorce. A strict interpretation of the biblical prohibition became less important than helping people

    I don’t think that proving a genetic cause to homosexual orientation will have a major impact on religious thinking. After all, there is also evidence that some people have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism, and that doesn’t make it moral to drink one’s self to death.

    The real question is: does the religious prohibition of homosexuality still make any sense, when it comes up against the real lives of homosexual people? As long as homosexuality remains stereotyped as a pathetic existence of rampant promiscuity, drug abuse, self-loathing, and disease, you can justify moral prohibitions no matter what the root cause proves to be.

    But as more homosexuals live openly, and more Christians learn that they have gay relatives and coworkers and neighbors who are healthy, happy, and productive, then the dissonance between the traditional morality and real life becomes an issue.

    That’s the real problem facing Christians who don’t want to adapt church teaching on homosexuality. To maintain its authority, even the clearest biblical teachings must also make sense in terms of people’s real experience.

    In my opinion, that’s also why it is so important to most ex-gay ministries to vilify homosexuals and fight against policies like same sex marriage that could produce positive effects in many homosexuals’ lives.

  25. The idea of “the church” itself can be such a loaded term….

    It’s tiresome to be sure…..I just can’t see how “erring” if one is indeed “erring” on the side of compassion isn’t the better route. Knowing what a “rascal” I can be at times, I just can’t find it in my heart to go “nutzoid” super right-wing on this issue….even AFTER all I’ve been through.

    The bottom line, for me, is to love others even if our details don’t agree…..there are SO MANY things we can agree on…like i’ve mentioned briefly on my blog, gay folks have plenty of other “sins” and things they actually struggle with that we DO agree seperate us from holiness and right relationship with God…..

    It would be so awesome if “the church” in general would at least entertain the question, “what if we’re wrong?” and then begin to take that perspective in more of the day-to-day dealings/relationships with gay folks.

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