Christian views on homosexuality sometimes differ between denominations, but they are more commonly seen between liberal and conservative branches of each denomination. As with many Christian debates on ethical issues, the discussion hinges on how the Bible ought to be interpreted, taking into account the historical context and the meaning of specific words.
The following article provides information on what the Bible says about homosexuality (which is usually central in debates over the issue), historical Christian views of homosexuality, and a list of modern Christian views on homosexuality.
Homosexuality and the Bible
The Bible is the Christian sacred text, regarded as the ultimate authority by all denominations. It consists of the Old Testament (roughly equivalent to the Jewish Tanakh) and the New Testament. While the New Testament is the specifically Christian part of the Bible, both parts are regarded as equally authoritative. The following passages are those that are generally considered relavent to the Christian discussion of homosexuality, quoted from the NIV translation in the order they appear in the Bible.
God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground. (Genesis 1:28) The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. "My lords," he said, "please turn aside to your servant's house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning." ... Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them." .... They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. ... The two men said to Lot, "Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it." ... By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the LORD out of the heavens. (Genesis 19) Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable. (Leviticus 18:22) If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. (Leviticus 20:13) No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute. (Deuteronomy 23:17) There were even male shrine prostitutes in the land; the people engaged in all the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. (1 Kings 14:24) For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it. (Matthew 19:12) They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (Romans 1:25-27) Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders. (1 Corinthians 6:9) We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine. (1 Timothy 1:9-10) In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7)
Homosexuality and Modern Christianity
Following are summaries of the views of modern Christian denominations on homosexual orientation and behavior.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is opposed to homosexual practices and relationships on the grounds that "sexual intimacy belongs only within the marital relationship of a man and a woman." It believes the Bible consistently affirms the pattern of heteromonogamy, and all sexual relations outside the scope of spousal intimacy are contrary to God's original plan.
The Anglican Communion is divided over the issue of homosexuality. Generally the provinces of North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and southern Africa, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, hold the view that there are no grounds to condemn homosexuality as sinful in the Bible. Other provinces, such as the majority of Africa and the West Indies, as well as evangelical groups within Anglicanism, hold the view that homosexuality is a sin and believe there are biblical grounds for its condemnation. The latter have threatened schism if their counterparts continue their current practice on the subject.
The Southern Baptist Convention, the entity that represents the autonomous Southern Baptist Churches and the largest Protestant group in the U.S., considers homosexual behavior to be sinful. Relations outside lawful marriage are also considered deviant.
The general consensus is that homosexuals can in fact choose chastity and eventually recover their heterosexual preference. Southern Baptist clergy generally do not accept or participate in same-sex unions. To this date this denomination has never appointed a minister whom they knew to be homosexual.
On the other hand, there are a number of churches, particularly in the American Baptist Churches in the USA and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship that have more liberal views. The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, a small group of some 50 churches and organizations, is committed to the full inclusion of homosexuals in their churches.
Christian Reformed Church in North America
The Christian Reformed Church (CRC) has maintained the stance since the 1970's that homosexuality is the direct result of a sinful world much like any other sin. Homosexuality should be discouraged and the Church should show compassion for homosexuals like they would for any other sinner. Further, the Church should do everything in its power to help homosexuals see "the error of their ways" and to help repair the brokenness of sin.
However, homosexuals should not be denied any right granted to heterosexuals. They have the right to maintain office and be an active member in a congregation as their gifts can still be used to glorify God.
The view is generally derived from the compassion Jesus showed for the sinners of his day (prostitutes and other notable sinners). As such, any homosexual who repents the sin of homosexuality is entirely forgiven.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity
The Eastern Orthodox Church holds the opinion that sexuality, as we understand it, is part of the fallen world only. In Orthodox Theology both monasticism and marriage are paths to Salvation (σωτηρία: "sotiria" in greek, literaly meaning "becoming whole"). Celibacy is the ideal path for monasticism while marriage is blessed under the context of true Love ("Man must love his wife as Jesus loved his Church": this phrase is part of the Orthodox Marriage Ritual) . This context can be interpreted as not being exclusive of homosexuality. Traditionally the church has adopted a non-legalistic view of sin, however some members of the church have assumed an active role in encouraging negative social stereotypes against gay individuals and several prominent members of the clergy have made statements condemning homosexuality. The leader of the Church of Greece, archbishop Christodoulos of Athens has described gay people as "handicaps". Other jurisdictions, such as the Orthodox Church in America have taken a more liberal approach.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran church body in the United States, has a current policy which states that persons who are homosexual in their self-understanding are allowed to be ordained, but must maintain a lifestyle abstinent of sexual relations. Outside of ordination, policy states that LGBT individuals are welcome and encouraged to become members and participate in the life of the congregation. The ELCA does not have a policy against same-sex unions, nor does it have a rite for blessing those unions, but leaves the question up to pastoral care. ELCA congregations that specifically embrace GLBT persons are called Reconciling in Christ congregations. The group Lutherans Concerned supports the inclusion of GLBT members in Lutheran churches in the ELCA and ELCIC. All other Lutheran churches in the United States oppose ordination and marriage of homosexuals.
The Lutheran churches in Germany, Lutheranism's country of origin, are also divided on the issue. In general, those churches in a minority or diaspora situation in predominately Roman Catholic regions of the country are more in favour of allowing homosexual clergy and blessing same-sex unions than those in traditionally Lutheran areas. However all the churches agree that homosexual individuals are welcome as members, and that any kind of persecution is unacceptable.
The Lutherans in Scandinavia and the northern Baltics generally tend to the conservative side of the spectrum. Most do not ordain homosexual clergy or bless same-sex unions.
The United Methodist Church officially considers "the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching" and states that "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" cannot be ordained as ministers. Some local congregations, especially members of the Reconciling Ministries Network, have defied the church leadership on this issue and have fought the policy in church courts. In 1987, a Methodist church court in New Hampshire defrocked Methodist minister Rose Mary Denman for being openly gay. In March 2004, a church court in Washington state acquitted minister Karen Dammann, who lived with a same-sex partner, based on an ambiguity in church law. That ambiguity was then eliminated by the Methodist supreme court, and in December 2004 a church court in Pennsylvania defrocked minister Irene Elizabeth Stroud, who lives with a same-sex partner, voting to convict by a seven-to-six majority, though a later higher court overturned the conviction and reinstated her.
Politically, the Methodist church has supported civil rights for gays, although it is unclear whether that support extends to same-sex marriage.
Metropolitan Community Church
The Metropolitan Community Church is an international fellowship of Christian congregations. It is considered by many to be a full mainline denomination or communion. There are currently 300 members congregations in 22 countries, and the Fellowship has a specific outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Acceptance of homosexuality is an important part of its theology.
The Metropolitan Community Church was instrumental in the first legal challenges to the heterosexual legal definition of marriage in Ontario (see Same-sex marriage in Ontario). Two couples used an old legal procedure called reading the banns to marry without a licence. When same-sex marriage was legalized in Ontario, their marriages were recognized.
Because of the Church's views on homosexuality and its large membership of lesbians and gay men, it has been subject to bombings, desecrations, vandalism, threats, and arson. Seven percent of its congregations since its founding in 1968 have been targeted.
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 non-celibate 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 Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand has debated homosexuality for many years. In 1985 its General Assembly declared "Homosexual acts are sinful." The most recent decision of the Assembly (2004) upheld this decision. Many Presbyterians are active in the Association for Reconciling Christians and Congregations, an ecumenical groups that supports the full inclusion and particpation of all people in the Church, including homosexuals.
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 homosexuality.
The Roman Catholic Church describes the homosexual orientation as "an objective disorder" (On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986). The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes that homosexuality is not necessarily a matter of choice, but that such persons must nevertheless refrain from homosexual acts.
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 Universalist Association itself has stated that it is no longer a part of Christianity, although many Unitarian Universalists claim to be Christian (even though by definition they deny the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.)
United Church of Christ
The United Church of Christ is a denomination organized according to congregational principles, hence views on most controversial matters vary among congregations. A substantial minority of UCC congregations have adopted an "open and affirming" (ONA) statement welcoming homosexuals to become members and participate in all aspects of church life as equals. A few congregations explicitly oppose homosexual practice through a "faithful and welcoming" stance, and many have no official policy at all. In late 2004 the church produced a television commercial promoting policy of "radical hospitality" that dramatized a church entrance where minorities and hand-holding homosexuals were turned away from a typical church (implying they wouldn't be turned away from the UCC). The church was unable to persuade any of the three major U.S. television networks to air the controversial advertisement. In July, 2005, the 25th General Synod encouraged congregations to adopt wedding policies that do not discriminate based on the gender of the couple, and to support legislation permitting homosexual marriage. This caused substantial controversy within many congregations.
- Christian and Gay - BBC Religion Feature