The issue of ‘homosexuality’ is probably one of the more heated social issues facing the contemporary Church. Among different denominations (and even within single denominations) the issue divides on a scale from peaceful disagreement to violent hatred. Perhaps the most visible and widely despised of these positions is illustrated by the antics of the Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church and their signature slogan: ‘God Hates Fags’.
Needless to say, this is a MASSIVE conversation in the Church and society at-large. Unfortunately the debate within the Church—the topic of this post—frequently results in an ever-divergent hatred for the opposition. One view (we’ll call it ‘Perspective I’ to avoid confusing, overused and unhelpful ‘conservative’ vs. ‘liberal’ labels) essentially believes that the Church and the Scripture attest to the opposition of LGBT+ people in the kingdom of God. In this view God has designed sexual relationships to take place in a particular way – in other words, heterosexually. This is often supported with social and psychological analyses of homosexuality in Western culture. The ‘slippery slope’ is often appealed to here, concerning the possibility in a culture that grows more accepting of ‘public homosexuality’. An example of how this view sees homosexuality adversely affecting the Church follows: same-sex marriage is made fully legal, churches will lose tax-exempt benefits for teaching portions of Scripture that seem to attest to the prohibition of homosexuality in the kingdom of God and ultimately conservative priests will be prosecuted and imprisoned for merely teaching what the Church has generally held to for nearly two-thousand years.
Another view (which we’ll call ‘Perspective II’) essentially believes that the Church is mistaken and that the Scripture is not explicitly clear regarding sexuality, often appealing to socio-historical evidence for the manner in which homosexuality was practised in the Scripture’s first-century-Roman context. In this view homosexuality is not generally considered a choice, but a specific sexual orientation that defines a significant part of what makes an individual an individual.
There are numerous positions around and about these two views (including two views based upon the assumption that homosexuality is natural – one view holding that LGBT+ people are called to celibacy in the kingdom of God while the other holds that homosexuality is natural and should be openly embraced in the kingdom of God) and it is would be impossible to explore them all, but I believe we’ve got a moderate sample of the two major ‘sides’ of this argument within the Church in Perspectives I and II.
One interesting thing I feel the need to point out is the general historical oppression of non-heteronormative people in Western society. Even today, with the elimination of laws prohibiting homosexual practise in Western countries (though these are still quite present in many nations today), massive stigmas and stereotypes are used to oppress LGBT+ people. In my experience I have heard many-a-Christian rants on how homosexuality has ‘infiltrated our culture’ and is being used to ‘pervert our youth’. That’s a very loaded assessment. I am generally sceptical of such sweeping statements regarding a group of people who by and large don’t even have the legal right to marry in the vast majority of American states. Homophobia is rampant and this (like other forms of xenophobia) oftentimes leads to very aggressive mistreatment of LGBT+ people. Even the recent claim by Cardinal Bertone that homosexuality was to blame for the Catholic abuse scandals ignored the fact that many of the abused were in fact females (and also that the large number of males abused might be a result of the general pairing of girls with nuns and boys with priests in schools) in exchange for trying to oppressively pin the failure of the Church on a whole people group.
My honest opinion is quite open in general, although my tendency is to lean toward Perspective II. Whilst I hold Church tradition in high esteem, the Church has certainly been wrong in the past with numerous issues and our trusty Nicene Creed makes no mention whatsoever concerning the nature of sexual relationships in the kingdom of God. For now I merely want to pose two brief lines of questioning to the two main camps on either side of the issue of homosexuality. These questions are not meant to pull the rug out from either side, but to promote a more compassionate and gracious way of thinking about the debate. I do not necessarily agree with each one of these questions on either side, but they seem to be valuable things to address.
- Is it possible that in the Church, homosexuality, if considered a sin, is often treated very differently than other issues that are considered sins (even other sexual sins) in an unfair manner?
- In Mere Christianity, Lewis argues that the nature of particular sins can make them more or less cancerous within the Church. For instance, pride involves sinfully elevating oneself above another. Is it possible that an egotistical zealot might be more divisive and harmful to the community of a local church than a homosexual couple in a committed relationship?
- Can the few passages in Scripture that are often associated with anti-homosexual views be interpreted in any other manner? What are we to make of the lack of teaching regarding homosexual relationships in the teaching of Christ found in the Gospels? Let me stress that I do not believe that these issues alone make or break Perspective I (the general tradition of the Church might be able to provide some added strength to this view), but I do believe that these possibilities might serve to soften the tone of Perspective I.
- Is it possible that many of the people who espouse ‘Perspective I’ are not hatemongers, but Christians who genuinely care about the well being of LGBT+ people, even if misguided?
- Drawing from what I believe is Christ claiming that marriage will not exist in the Resurrection (the eventual fullness of the kingdom of God) when responding to the Sadducees in Matthew 22, shouldn’t we as Christians place far more emphasis on our identity in the kingdom of God and not with regard to sexual orientation? I generally believe that we discover the greatest fullness of who we are as individuals as we relate to God and to the community of the kingdom of God. Is this the process in which one finds their identity?
I have many thoughts on these issues, but I’ll cease my questions and open up the discussion. What I hope and pray for in this conversation is mutual respect and beyond everything else, love and compassion. Profound love is what ought to characterise the words, thoughts and actions of a member of the kingdom of God who has been profoundly confronted by the immense grace and love of God as demonstrated in the life, death and Resurrection of Christ and the advent of his holy and inviting Church.
There are many good thoughts and perspectives on either side of this debate. Please share your input, but take care to use gracious language and to neither demonise nor dehumanise the opposing perspective or your comment may be deleted. I am not demanding that everyone shares my views or that no one holds firmly to his/her own view—I encourage you to share your convictions with a loving and gracious passion.
We believe in one God, the Father All Governing, creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten from the Father before all time, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not created, of the same essence as the Father, through Whom all things came into being, Who for us [humans] and because of our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became human. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, and rose on the third day, according to the Scriptures, and ascended to heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father, and will come again with glory to judge the living and dead. His Kingdom shall have no end.
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and life-giver, Who proceeds from the Father, Who is worshiped and glorified together with the Father and Son, Who spoke through the prophets; and in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. We confess on baptism for the remission of sins. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
(Creed taken from John H. Leith (ed.), Creeds of the Churches [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1982], 33.)
Read more of Imaging the Kingdom.
An added treat:
[Greg adds: One more?]
12 thoughts on “Imaging the Kingdom III: Homosexuality & the kingdom of God”
I picked up “Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis” by Webb, and “Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community: Eight Essays” by Wendell Berry.
If you want I can pass them onto you when I finish.
As I arise today,
may the strength of God pilot me,
the power of God uphold me,
the wisdom of God guide me.
May the eye of God look before me,
the ear of God hear me,
the word of God speak for me.
May the hand of God protect me,
the way of God lie before me,
the shield of God defend me,
the host of God save me.
May Christ shield me today.
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit,
Christ when I stand,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Thanks for the comment and St Patrick’s prayer. I have actually read Webb’s book and enjoyed it. I’ve not read the Berry, but I’ll let you know if I get a free reading window. I suppose my main goal in writing this post was to lay aside specific arguments for one side or the other (or specific arguments regarding hermeneutics, psychology, etc.) and really try to orient both sides (and myself) with the power of the kingdom of God (i.e. God’s love).
Really great post. Good questions on both sides.
I was just going to post some thoughts, but then I read this line in your comment: “I suppose my main goal in writing this post was to lay aside specific arguments for one side or the other (or specific arguments regarding hermeneutics, psychology, etc.) and really try to orient both sides (and myself) with the power of the kingdom of God (i.e. God’s love).”
Aside from thinking that your “i.e.” is a bit strong (really? The kingdom of God is God’s love?), I’m not sure then what you want the discussion to include. Mind clarifying what you’re looking for in the comments?
Christians in Context
Thanks for your response, as they are always thoughtful and clarifying for the whole conversation. The ‘i.e. God’s love’ is more applying to ‘the power of the kingdom of God’ – that is one aspect of the power of the kingdom, I suppose. Thanks for bringing that up – I am not equating the kingdom of God to God’s love.
Sorry if I wasn’t very clear on what I was asking. I am basically looking for a conversation between the two sides and ways in which people like you see your perspectives on homosexuality playing out in light of the kingdom of God. If you’d like to bring up particular issues that compel you to take one side (or no side) and how those work together with the Gospel I’m interested in reading. My aim was merely to get the ball rolling in an open conversation, but feel free to start pulling it one way or another (or several different ways).
I love the tenor and thoughtfulness of your introduction to this dialogue (and the photo mocking the Westboring Papsmear Churros). Part of me feels like I want to take a break from having an opinion on the matter altogether unless I am asked by someone honestly struggling with the tension of their own sexuality who wants to converse & pray & live life together over a long period of time. I feel like I need to spend a bit more time exploring my own f-ed up behaviors & desires and coming to others in a place of questioning, rather than presuming to have the answers.
However, as someone who is anticipating, God willing, to take up the vestments of Christian leadership, it seems unlikely that I would be able to side-step the issue, which makes this conversation helpful. I have some thoughts on the matter, but perhaps I’ll wait to see what others cover before shooting off!
PS Thanks for posting–I was so sick of seeing those Tea Party patriots/zealots/idiots on the home page…
Thanks for the love. I’m with you with: “Part of me feels like I want to take a break from having an opinion on the matter altogether unless I am asked by someone honestly struggling with the tension of their own sexuality who wants to converse & pray & live life together over a long period of time.” I want to hear your practical ways for fleshing this conversation out. We’ve heard this talked about a lot, but typically from very dogmatic and ungracious positions.
My openness in this issue (as well as other issues such as women in ministry and annihilationism) reminds me of how similar you and I are.
To give my perspective on the meaning and practice of homosexuality, I must offer some qualifying info…first. The basis for my perspective is rooted in Eden. It is a ‘rare’ view of man’s Eden experience…and it’s purpose and outcome. The perspective is also grounded in one simple fact….that good and evil are equally real…and man’s chooses between the two. The Gospel is so simple that the majority of us miss Christ’s ‘simple’ main essence…the ultimate regeneration back to the pre-separated state of man. I am convinced through scripture that God is ruler over all things. I believe He purposed…permitted…orchestrated…allowed Eve’s encounter with ‘the most subtle deciever’ at the Tree of Knowledge…for the purpose of equipping man with the equal knowledge of both good AND evil. In doing so….He equipped them with the full KNOWLEDGE of both sides of the contraversy. This KNOWLEDGE was necessary for man to truly possess FREE WILL….in the image of God’s FREE WILL.
Because of my firm, firm, firm….heart-wrenching conviction that only two choices are offered man….man will either choose to return to the fellowship once enjoyed with the Father of Light…God……OR…he will choose to move forward to becoming fully sensuous ‘flesh’ which is patterned after the Father of Darkness….Satan. After years of experience, of learning, of increasing in both God’s wisdom and man’s knowledge, and most importantly…after growing a heart of real love….I see homosexuality as the evil replica of what God gave to man….the deep/pure/fruitful/regenerative ability to produce offspring ‘according to his kind.’ Homosexuality robs man of his created purpose….of his place in the natural order of all things. It robs him of offspring. It is oppressive, destructive, and against the natural procreative law. BUT…BUT…BUT…concerning sin…homosexuality is EQUAL with adultery (both performed or imagined)… and all other sins against the body…all sexual abuse, protitution, fornication , glutony/body-destroying addictions of all kinds
Homosexual practice is found near the end of the lust continuum….and is dangerous to the soul of man….according to scripture which is held by the Christian as Truth.
I refer to homosexuality as being near the end of the carnal continuum ….because of the above scriptures which say homosexuals and those who ‘possess’ the body rather than yielding it back to the Father through the renewal and regeneration of the indwelling spirit of man…..are given over completely….to carnality and fleshly lusts. They pass a point of no return and are given totally to what they chose….to serve man (themselves) rather than God.
For the Christian….the Bible is the inspired Word of God. It’s Truth is revealed only through being taught by the Holy Spirit of God. But for the non-believer……the Bible is merely a ridiculous book of stories. Thus, each must decide for himself/herself whether or not Truth and God are synonomous. I declare they are one and the same. BUT…BUT…BUT…Truth commands that we do NOT judge another….commands that we cannot judge our own heart. BELIEF in Truth….is characterized by possessing a heart which no longer loves according to the flesh-heart…but loves from a regenerated heart….a heart in the image of God’s heart….a heart which desires ‘that all come to repentance John 3:16,’ and which ‘loves ones neighbor as self..especially the unlovely,
FOR THE CHRISTIAN…THE SUBJECT OF HOMOSEXUALITY IS A DISCUSSION OF SIN…AND NOT A DISCUSSION OF LIFESTYLE. BUT IF THE CHRISTIAN IS TO REBUKE SIN IN THE FORM OF HOMOSEXUALITY AND DOES NOT REBUKE HIS OR HER OWN SIN….WE, TOO, ARE EQUALLY GUILTY.
The above verses from what Christians accept as TRUTH, declares that the true Christian CANNOT and WILL NOT…be hateful, hurtful, and arrogant against the practicing homosexual. Instead, the TRUE Christian heart will grieve over what is lost…stolen by the advesary….’the most subtle deceiver.’
I know this has been way too lengthy. But I so desire to express the deep desire in my heart that ALL know the fulness of the things planned for man from the Father. ‘DOMINION’ over all the earth…which comes only from being IN Christ.. But most of us never reach the point of having DOMINION over our own spirit, mind, and body. HOW VERY, VERY, VERY ….SAD.
Thank you for your lengthy interaction with this subject. We always appreciate your contribution here at LITC. I admire the gracious tone of your comment, but I have a few issues I’d like to bring up that came to mind while reading your comment.
You mention that the basis for your perspective is ‘rooted in Eden’. I believe that Eden has some incredible implications for the Church, but I would argue that it is not God’s plan to merely restore us to the state of the Garden of Eden in the Resurrection. I appeal to my previous mentioning of Jesus’ comments in response to the Sadducees in Matthew 22. It seems to me that the Resurrection will actually be a very distinctly elevated experience. I believe that in the Resurrection there is no need for marital relationships (unlike in Eden – “It is not good that man should be alone” [Genesis 2:18a]). It is also a possibility that members of God’s kingdom will also not be empowered by God’s Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 13:8-12). The reason for these things is that the presence of God in his New Creation is so profound that things like marriages and the filling of the Holy Spirit (and even the sun [Revelation 21:23]!) will not be necessary. Also, it seems unlikely to me that the earliest humans in Eden were capable of what the resurrected Christ is capable of, and the resurrected Christ is the ‘first fruits’ of the kingdom of God (i.e. the preview of the fullness of the kingdom of God [1 Corinthians 15:20-23]).
I agree with you that our choices in life are either to choose God or to choose something that is not God. I also think you have a good point regarding man’s calling to be fruitful and multiply (though perhaps this mandate to multiply made more sense at the beginning of Creation as opposed to our current grossly overpopulated situation…). I’m not entirely certain I would fully ascribe to the weight you give these things, but they are certainly defensible. When you write, “Homosexuality robs man of his created purpose….of his place in the natural order of all things. It robs him of offspring”, I would see that the Scripture seems to offer us a fuller perspective on what humanity was created to do, namely to worship and glorify God through loving God and loving our neighbour.
I would disagree primarily with the associations in the following statement:
While I believe—like you do—it is good to avoid elevating homosexuality above these things, to see it as equal to the others is somewhat problematic for me. I do believe that if homosexuality is a sin it is inexcusable. Still, I believe that grouping it with these things (adultery, sexual abuse, prostitution, fornication, gluttony, etc.) is somewhat unfair. Like I mentioned with regard to Lewis in my post, the NATURE of these sins are very different. For instance, adultery involves a lack of fidelity and an action that seeks to either hurt someone else or gain something at the cost of hurting someone else. I would see this as VERY different from a committed and loving homosexual relationship. The same can be said about sexual abuse, prostitution, fornication and gluttony – I just don’t believe that a homosexual is as dangerous to the body of Christ as these things because of their anti-social implications. But I must say that I also understand your grouping of these things with homosexuality based upon your interpretation of Scripture.
Also, while this is not the main purpose of my post, this leads me to express something regarding what I believe concerning the language of the New Testament that is typically attributed to the judgment of every homosexual – I believe that this language is not actually as clear as it might initially seem. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10,
It would seem that St Paul’s usage of the phrase ‘male prostitutes, sodomites’ (ἀρσενοκοίτης) would mean to apply to homosexuals in general. What is problematic is that there was already a commonly used word available to Paul for male homosexuality (ανδροκοίτης). Perhaps Paul is alluding to something else (Philo uses ‘ἀρσενοκοίτης’ to refer to pagan temple prostitution).
With regard to the Romans 1 passage, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, comments:
This is by no means an easy passage for anyone who disagrees with the traditional interpretation. Columbia Seminary’s David Bartlett comments,
While I agree that the Bible is most certainly authoritative, I acknowledge that different traditions have different methodologies for the interpreting of Scripture and that it is by no means a list of facts that we accept at face value. I believe it is even possible for two people who are truly interested in learning from God’s Spirit via the Scripture to come to two different conclusions on these issues.
These are very true and humbling words for Christians who accept homosexuality as a sin. Like I mentioned before, I am not trying to get you to give up and accept my views, but rather throwing out some other perspectives I see on these issues. Thank you for taking the time to share and interact with this topic and please continue to share your thoughts.
Thanks for your thoughtful post on this subject. I’d say I fall into Perspective I, with a few qualifications. (1) If by “homosexuality” you mean the disposition to be attracted to members of the same sex, I don’t think that’s a sin. I do think it’s a result of the fall (just as my desire to be polyamorous is), but I don’t think a genetic predisposition is tantamount to sin. (2) I’d go beyond what you say regarding the context for sex – I think sex is designed by God for life-long, monogamous, heterosexual marriage. (3) My views on public policy concerning homosexuality aren’t nearly as strong as my views on what Scripture teaches about it. Ok, having offered these needlessly long-winded clarifications, I thought I’d respond to your questions.
* Is it possible that in the Church homosexuality is often treated very differently than other issues that are considered sins (even other sexual sins) in an unfair manner?
Yes. I think sexual sins in general are treated in this manner. We hear stories about churches disciplining sexually immoral members (which is fine with me), but I haven’t heard many stories about the church disciplining greedy or covetous members. I think every sin in the camp should be taken seriously.
* In Mere Christianity, Lewis argues that the nature of particular sins can make them more or less cancerous within the Church. For instance, pride involves sinfully elevating oneself above another. Is it possible that an egotistical zealot might be more divisive and harmful to the community of a local church than a homosexual couple in a committed relationship?
Yes. I can envisage many scenarios where one person would be more destructive to a church than a committed homosexual couple. My question is this…assuming that homosexual behavior is sinful, and that both members of the couple in your example claim to be Christians – how long could the leaders in this church realistically allow said couple to continue in their unrepentant state before the character of God is impugned?
* Can the few passages in Scripture that are often associated with anti-homosexual views be interpreted in any other manner? What are we to make of the lack of teaching regarding homosexual relationships in the teaching of Christ found in the Gospels? Let me stress that I do not believe that these issues alone make or break Perspective I (the general tradition of the Church might be able to provide some added strength to this view), but I do believe that these possibilities might serve to soften the tone of Perspective I.
I don’t think they can be convincingly interpreted in any other manner. Even if some of the passages refer to exploitative or pederastic homosexual behavior, I think the weight of the evidence is overwhelming. Moreover, Perspective II seems to neglect the fact that the ancients were pretty sophisticated when it came to sex – they were well aware of committed homosexual relationships. N.T. Wright makes that point here…
Therefore, we can’t say they were unfamiliar with the sort of homosexual relationships that exist today.
The issue of Jesus’ teaching is a moot point to me. Given that he was a first century Jew who often taught from the Old Testament, I think you’d be hard-pressed – in the absence of evidence to the contrary – to say he believed that the Leviticus 18 prohibition on homosexual sex had been abrogated.
Romans 1 is the decisive passage for me. Frankly, I find Williams’ comment on the passage mystifying. The fact that Paul is only making a subsidiary point about homosexuality is a complete red herring. Paul’s target is the law-possessing/law-abiding Jew (as Romans 2-3 makes clear), but Paul indicts his interlocutor not for passing judgment per se, but because he practices the things mentioned in chapter 1 (cf. 2:1-4)! Paul is not making a point about judging the sins of others, he is laying a trap for his interlocutor by appealing to self-evidently sinful behavior. (Rob Gagnon’s critique of Williams is helpful…http://www.robgagnon.net/RowanWilliams%27WrongReading.htm)
I’ve found Gagnon’s book The Bible and Homosexual Practice, and Richard Hays chapter on homosexuality in The Moral Vision of the New Testament to be really helpful on this issue.
I apologise that it has taken me so long to respond – things have been a bit busy for me recently. Thanks for taking the time to respond to this post.
If we are assuming that homosexuality is without question a sin then it is a real issue that the Church needs to address. Essentially I believe it would be important to ask those questions that I posed towards the ‘Perspective II’ folks. In this assumption we need to take seriously God’s calling and place this above any personal attraction. How each congregation ought to deal with each scenario should really be based on a case by case approach emphasising the call of the Christian away from homosexuality.
I don’t see the interpretation of certain passages necessarily as clearly as you do, I’m afraid. You write,
I did not make the case that the early Church audience was unfamiliar with the sort of homosexual relationships that exist today, but rather that St Paul doesn’t use that available concept explicitly (from my response to Carolyn above):
I would love to read the pieces that you have suggested (I’ve read Hays’) at some point and I’m sure they would benefit this conversation – hopefully I’ll get to that at some point in the near future.
I still believe that the first century association of homosexuality with a social power structure and pagan worship practise make the arguments against contemporary homosexuality a bit more difficult to express.
Ultimately I think you’re absolutely correct if we take the view of homosexuality that you argue for, but this will not be an easy road to navigate in either case. May God empower us with wisdom and love to discern his ultimate will and his desire for a course of action.
No problem on taking so long to respond. Thanks for taking the time to do it (I consistently failed to offer worthwhile responses when I was blogging, so I appreciate it)!
Just wanted to say a few things quickly;
1. In making my point about homosexuality in the world of the early church, I wasn’t trying to present an argument against you. Just trying to address a common perspective II objection. I apologize for not being clearer on that point.
2. While Paul doesn’t use the standard word for homosexuality, I think it’s flawed to conclude,
“that St Paul doesn’t use that available concept explicitly.”
It seems there’s an important word/concept distinction to make here, as I think it’s clear that Paul condemns the concept of homosexuality in Romans 1:24-27. Gagnon offer 4 points with regard to this text that I find compelling (see http://robgagnon.net/articles/homosexScripReallySays.doc.pdf)
a. It has 8 points of intertextual correspondence with Gen 1:26-27.
b. Paul’s nature argument isn’t conducive to a distinction between exploitative and non-exploitative forms of homosexual practice.
c. Paul specifically notes the reciprocity involved in this relationship in 1:27 (which seems to preclude a reference to exploitative or pederastic relationships)
d. Paul’s indictment of lesbianism in 1:26 further confirms that his condemnation of homosexuality is absolute, since (1) the parallelism of language between 1:26 and 27…; “(2) the fact that in antiquity lesbian
intercourse was the form of female intercourse most commonly labeled “contrary to nature” and paired with male homosexual practice; (3) the fact of nearly universal male opposition to lesbianism in antiquity, even by men engaged in homosexual practice; and (4) the fact that lesbian intercourse was the dominant interpretation of Romans 1:26 in the patristic period.”
I definitely agree that this will not be an easy road to navigate in either case, and I’ll have to check out some of the resources you’ve mentioned.