issue of gay Christians rouses strong feelings on both sides. But how well does
either side understand the other's position?
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.
are 10 commonly-used arguments which say 'yes' to the issue of whether Christians
can be in gay relationships.
The Bible is not against it
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
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.
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.
himself said nothing at all about gay relationships - despite healing the beloved
'servant' of a centurion.
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?
church always lags behind society
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?
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'?
It harms no one
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.
Morality is not all about personal lives
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.
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.
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
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.
Sex is not just for procreation
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.
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.
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.
Homosexuality is natural
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'?
Homosexuality is an involuntary orientation
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.
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
Church tradition is not unanimous
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
Conservatives lack understanding
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.
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
are 10 commonly-used arguments which say 'no' to the issue of whether Christians
can be in gay relationships.
The Bible is clear
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).
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
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
is still clearer. It talks of men and women turning from 'natural intercourse'
to 'unnatural' with the same sex, calling these 'degrading passions'.
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?
Less of the 'homophobia'
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?
Not sexuality but sex acts
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?
God did not create us this way
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.
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.
Liberalism can be western imperialism
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
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
The church should not be ruled by secular ideology
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?
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.
Celibacy is not a death penalty
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.
Jesus did not condone gay sex
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.
far as we can see it was unknown among first-century Jews. What was there to say?
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.
The church should not be ashamed to be different
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