Gay relationships - yes or no?
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YES: "Many Christians and church leaders in the past opposed the development of democracy, the abolition of slavery and the liberation of women. They quoted very convincing biblical evidence to support their conservatism. Now, almost all Christians agree that they were wrong. Before long, won't homophobia be just one more part of the church's embarrassing past?"

NO: "Christians who disagree with gay sex are stigmatised as homophobic. But they are not driven by an irrational fear or hatred. They believe that it is forbidden by God, that it is unhealthy and harmful and not what we are intended for. How does warning people about that equate to hate or prejudice? Do doctors who speak out against smoking also have a phobia?"


 

The issue of gay Christians rouses strong feelings on both sides. But how well does either side understand the other's position?

In the wake of the debacle over Jeffrey John's appointment, Rowan Williams has called for a time of reflection and listening to each other. In that spirit, Steve Tomkins outlines the arguments on both sides.

YES

Here are 10 commonly-used arguments which say 'yes' to the issue of whether Christians can be in gay relationships.

1. The Bible is not against it

Several verses are quoted against gay relationships. Leviticus 18:22 says: 'You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.' But the same law also forbids eating pork and wearing clothes of mixed fabrics. It instructs us to kill those who work on Saturday and to sell penniless thieves into slavery. Why uphold one law when we reject the rest? As St Paul says, 'You are not subject to the law'.

The other verses are Paul's own. In 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 he uses technical terms that seem to refer to either man-and-boy or client-and-prostitute relations, rather than gay sex in general.

That leaves Romans 1:24-27 where Paul talks of men and women turning from 'natural intercourse' to 'unnatural' intercourse with the same sex. Some interpret this as talking about straight people experimenting with gay sex, others as referring only to temple prostitution. Others note that it is a heavily ironic passage, where Paul repeats conventional Jewish judgments on pagans, only to overturn them in chapter 2.

Jesus himself said nothing at all about gay relationships - despite healing the beloved 'servant' of a centurion.

It hardly adds up to a solid, unambiguous ruling against gay relationships. Isn't this too slender a basis for demanding a lifetime of self-denial and singleness?

2. The church always lags behind society

Many Christians and church leaders in the past opposed the development of democracy, the abolition of slavery and the liberation of women. They quoted very convincing biblical evidence to support their conservatism. Now, almost all Christians agree that they were wrong. Before long, won't homophobia be just one more part of the church's embarrassing past? Wouldn't it be nice if for once the church was a pioneer in progress rather than the rearguard?

Christianity should be on the side of the oppressed minority. How can we tolerate a situation where, as Peter Tatchell says, the Bible 'is to gays what Mein Kampf is to Jews'?

3. It harms no one

When two women live together in a loving marriage, no one is hurt - instead two people find great happiness. Nothing can be wrong that harms no one. The only reason for its being wrong is 'God says it is'. But surely God says something is wrong because it is wrong; it isn't wrong because he says it is.

4. Morality is not all about personal lives

Modern Christians are too hung up on private morality - the behind-closed-doors world of sex, drugs and personal behaviour. These things are not irrelevant, but are too often a distraction from far more serious and important issues like war, starvation, the environment, poverty and corporate exploitation. Our obsession with sexuality is unhealthy - we need a better sense of perspective.

5. Creation is not homophobic Conservatives argue that in Genesis 2 God creates male and female to find fulfilment in each other, through monogamous heterosexual marriage, and that this is fundamental to his creative purpose.

But if this makes gay relationships sinful, by the same token it would also make singleness sinful - or at least wilful singleness, such as celibacy or turning down marriage proposals.

This argument also means that all the patriarchs from Abraham to David lived in open disobedience, having several wives despite knowing this creation story. Paul, who advocated and practised vocational singleness, would violate this 'creation ordinance', and presumably Jesus too. The greatest irony is that if this passage condemns gay relationships, it equally condemns the celibacy that conservative Christians propose as the alternative.

6. Sex is not just for procreation

Another argument against gay relationships is that sex and marriage are designed by God for procreation and the raising children. A sexual relationship where there is no prospect of having children is therefore wrong.

Again this argument does too much collateral damage, as it would make it wrong for infertile couples to have sex too. Surely the Bible is clear that sex is not just for procreation but an emotional bond, so it is not wrong to have sex without the prospect of conception. As Robert Runcie said, heterosexual Christians who use contraception have already lost this argument.

Far from gay relationships being wrong because they cannot have children, the fact that many are keen to adopt the children of procreating heterosexuals unable or unwilling to raise them themselves, suggests that gay relationships should be honoured for provided family rather that rejected for failing to add to the population.

7. Homosexuality is natural

Gay relationships were accepted in many pre-Christian societies. They were highly praised in ancient Greece, and still are in some parts of the world. Homosexuality is quite common in other species. Any feeling that gay sex is simply 'unnatural' (and how much opposition is in truth based on this unspoken idea?) is not supported by the facts. Isn't it rather celibacy that is 'unnatural'?

8. Homosexuality is an involuntary orientation

Being gay is what you are, not what you do or choose to become. Like one's preferences in food, clothes and music, like being extrovert or practical, sexuality is basic to your personality, not a matter of choice. Church leaders who tell gays to 'expect divine deliverance and restoration' (John Stott), and organisations that try to help them change their sexuality, are being unrealistic and have caused a great deal of emotional damage.

They seem to be working on the assumption that God would not make people gay and then condemn them for what they cannot change or control - and of course they're right. The appalling case of Jeffrey John demonstrates that conservatives - for all their rhetoric - are not satisfied with celibacy but demand gays to renounce their very nature.

9. Church tradition is not unanimous

Conservatives claim that until recent decades Christians unanimously agreed that homosexual relationships were wrong. But James Boswell (in his book, "Same Sex Unions in Pre-modern Europe", 1996) has demonstrated that not only were they widely accepted in the church until the 14th century, but that they were solemnised in church.

10. Conservatives lack understanding

It is so very easy for married theologians and Christian leaders, supported by loving families, to decide that homosexuality is sinful, and call on gay Christians to change their ways.

How rarely they show any real understanding of the realities of gay life, or of the fact that they are asking gays to renounce a major part of their very selves along with any hope of personal fulfillment in an intimate loving relationship - the very fulfillment that their interpretation of the creation story puts at the heart of being human. How rarely they seem to have weighed up what it would take for them to renounce their heterosexuality.

NO

Here are 10 commonly-used arguments which say 'no' to the issue of whether Christians can be in gay relationships.

1. The Bible is clear

You can 're-interpret' any passage of the Bible to avoid the implications of what it says if you want to badly enough. It's understandable that people should want to, but for those who have no axe to grind, the Bible is clear in its condemnation of gay sex. The law of Moses twice calls it an abomination 'to lie with a male as with a woman' (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13).

In 1 Corinthians 6:9 Paul says that 'male prostitutes' and 'sodomites', will not inherit the kingdom of God, and 1 Timothy 1:10 agrees. The precise meaning of these terms is disputed, but the word translated 'sodomites' seems to be Paul's own, adapted directly from the Leviticus passage, literally 'those who lie with males'.

This seems to refer to gay sex in general, undermining the argument of those who say that the Leviticus law does not apply to Christians, since Paul simply reiterates it.

Romans 1:26-27 is still clearer. It talks of men and women turning from 'natural intercourse' to 'unnatural' with the same sex, calling these 'degrading passions'.

2. Christian unanimity

Those who interpret their way out of the biblical prohibition cannot escape the fact that this interpretation is an unprecedented novelty, contradicting unanimous Christian teaching throughout 2,000 years in all countries and denominations outside the contemporary West. Are all other Christians so wrong, and we in embracing the ideology of secular humanism right? Or are we a blip, a historical aberration?

3. Less of the 'homophobia'

Christians who disagree with gay sex are stigmatised as homophobic. But they are not driven by an irrational fear or hatred. They believe that it is forbidden by God, that it is unhealthy and harmful and not what we are intended for. How does warning people about that equate to hate or prejudice? Do doctors who speak out against smoking also have a phobia?

4. Not sexuality but sex acts

Christians do not - or should not - condemn homosexuals or homosexuality, but only homosexual intercourse. We need to distinguish between orientation and acts. A natural predisposition can be acted on, or it can be resisted. We recognise this in other areas - for example, compulsive eating, materialism and violent temper. Is it impossible that this might be applied to gay tendencies too?

5. God did not create us this way

The biblical case against gay relationships is not just a matter of a few scattered proof texts, but of the Bible's most basic teaching on what being human means. Genesis 2 describes our race being created male and female to find fulfilment in each other, through monogamous heterosexual marriage.

It is fundamental to his creative purpose that sex should join together men and women. The rest of the Bible's teaching is based on this foundation.

6. Liberalism can be western imperialism

Is it right to ignore the ethical concerns of the vast third-world church in favour of western values? That's what the Church of England does when it accepts gay relationships.

The question brings out an unpleasant imperialistic side to liberals. In the Jeffrey John debate, the Guardian baldly declared 'the voice of the developing world... should have been totally ignored', comparing the position of 'Archbishop Peter Akinola, leader of the 17.5million-strong church in Nigeria' unfavourably with 'one vicar in the north of England'. Is imperialism only wrong when other people do it?

7. The church should not be ruled by secular ideology

The grestest pressure on church leaders to accept gay clergy has been from the non-Christian media. What gives non-Christians the right to rewrite Christian theology?

There's nothing wrong with non-Christians disagreeing with Christian doctrine - that's why they are not Christians. But saying the church should have a different view of sexuality makes as little sense as saying that Muslims should believe in the Trinity, or that atheists should believe in miracles.

8. Celibacy is not a death penalty

The fact that the church expects clergy who do not marry the opposite sex to remain celibate does not put gays in a class of their own. Celibacy is no more than the church has traditionally demanded of all clergy and religious orders, and of all unmarried people. Not that that makes it easy, but the idea that a life without sex is not worth living is not a Christian one.

9. Jesus did not condone gay sex

It is often arued that Jesus said nothing against homosexuality. Does this mean he accepted it? It was condemned in the scriptures of his day, and generally dismissed by Jews as pagan immorality.

So far as we can see it was unknown among first-century Jews. What was there to say?

He also said nothing about the then-current practices of slavery, infanticide and the confinement and subjugation of women. Should we take this as tacit approval too? Surely Jesus's silence gives us no reason to reject the teaching of the rest of the Bible.

10. The church should not be ashamed to be different

The personal morality of liberal Christians can be hard to distinguish from non-Christians of the same time and place. To accept homosexuality is once again to remake Christian beliefs in the image of the world. Surely Christianity does not exist merely to echo and bless contemporary secular ethics. Conservative Christians are indeed afraid - not of gay sex, but of the church becoming a pointless mirror to the world.


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