Christ and the Homosexual Person

by Reverend Charles Bidwell, Ph.D.

How would Christ deal with, or be in relationship with, persons who are oriented to love those of their own gender? Same sex love and relationships are natural and seem to occur in all races and cultures. How these cultures deal with same sex love is a direct result of the social and religious teachings of those in authority. Christians have different responses depending on their denominational views and their personal faith views. Some Christians condemn others bless; you must decide where Christ would stand with you to demonstrate God's love.

Where did you get that idea?

In Edmonton (and probably to a greater degree in conservative southern Alberta) there is a vocal segment of society that fears and condemns same sex emotional and spiritual relationships and physical intimacies. These fearful and condemning people are not evil but they are often unloving in their behaviours. It seems to me that they are delighted to discover certain phrases and paragraphs in the Bible that, taken out of context, seem to support their revulsion and convictions. Jesus commented on many aspects of life but he never impressed his followers with any words against loving someone of your own gender. The Bible has as much authority as we give it and it has a gold mine of wisdom that needs to be explored and mined; the nuggets are not sitting on the surface. So we need to take the time to read a passage in context and see with full vision what over-riding message and principle is being conveyed. Many 20th Century biblical scholars have done their research and have reported that the Bible does not condemn a loving relationship between any two people. Their evidence is published in many texts (such as may be found in the library of St. Stephen's College) but I suspect that many of the condemning persons are not interested in getting a different view of same sex relationships or of people who are oriented toward their own gender. Ignorance begets fear (we are afraid of the unknown or the stranger) and fear begets anger or hatred.

And now for something completely different.

How do you change and grow? First, you have to be open to change. Then you have to look for opportunities to learn something new. Ignorance begets fear (of the unknown and unfamiliar) so ask and read and increase the chances that the new knowledge will reduce your fear and anxiety.

One of the most effective ways to understand same sex couples is to meet and get to know them. When condemning people discover that someone they know and love is oriented toward their own gender, the condemning person is often challenged to re-think their stand. The friend does not fit their stereotype and their fear is not useful in helping them relate to this person with new insight. Whenever you are tempted to declare that you do not know any homosexually-oriented people realize how unlikely that really is. The reason why those of your friends and family and co-workers who are homosexually-oriented have never confided that information to you is that they fear that it will damage their relationship with you. Would it? Could you discover that fact about someone you know and still relate to them as a friend?

Where's the beef?

Where's the sin? If you look at what Christ condemned and what he supported, you discover that he was more concerned with relationships than laws. The law said stone to death the adulterer; Jesus said let the one who is without sin cast the first stone (it takes two to commit adultery; did the law say that both were to be killed or only the woman?)

If being in a loving relationship with someone of your own gender is a sin then you'll have to show me what harm it does to the relationship (or souls) of the couple. I understand why lying is a sin; it destroys the trust between the liar and the one lied to. Stealing is a sin because it destroys the trust between the thief and the robbed. Rape, any abuse, and harassment is a sin because it destroys the safety and peace in the relationship between the person who abuses their power over the other and the person so used. If being gifted with the ability to intimately love someone of your own gender is a sinful state, then you will need to show where the harm is to their souls in their loving.

Any sin you can name needs to be supported by the harm it does to the persons directly or indirectly involved. Hatred and bigotry against homosexually-oriented or bisexually-oriented persons is a sin because it causes fear and secrecy and pain between the differently oriented person and the one who condemns them for being who they are.

How many teenagers have killed themselves rather than face life in a family or community that seems to them to condemn who they are and the way they feel; they see no hope for a loving relationship that is natural and vital to them. Who do you picture Jesus standing with? Where would he see sin and why? What harm is being done to relationships? What love is lost?

I believe that it is not who you love but that you love which counts. As Fred Small's song goes, "The only measure of the life you have lived will be the love you leave behind when you're gone". And in Les Miserables they sing that "to love another person is to see the face of God." Regardless of the genders involved any relationship must be assessed on the basis of the love and support between the couple.

In your face

Because I believe we are taught to fear and hate, I believe that it is the responsibility of churches and parents to stand firmly against bigotry and the abuse of persons who are differently oriented or differently challenged or different in any way from the people in power. Because the feelings of revulsion at same sex expressions ("You do what?!") is based on what you have been taught is repulsive, rational arguments will do little to change those impressions.

But feelings can be changed by allowing yourself different experiences and knowledge. The ignorance and fear that keeps people hating and bashing lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons (when they are discovered or suspected) is a sinful, unloving state for anyone to live in. As more healthy and happy homosexuals and bisexuals reveal themselves to their friends, family members, and co-workers they will be putting a face - a known and loved face - on the fearsome stereotype those people have been taught to believe in. Coming out is an act of courage; it is also an act of love because it offers the person trapped in fear and hatred a chance to grow and change and be freed from fearing and hating those who are not heterosexually oriented.

The media are giving people an awareness of homosexuality that wasn't there twenty years ago. Some of it has been positive but all of it keeps people aware that lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons are a very present reality. You can't grow up today, as I did, thinking that you are the only one in the world who shares your feelings for those of your gender. Now there are publications, organizations, computer bulletin boards, phone lines, TV and radio programs, and movies that can keep anyone informed and connected.

A new heaven and a new earth

Change is occurring in every aspect of our lives and within Christianity as well. There are individual Christians, congregations and whole denominations that have changed their beliefs and teachings and regulations regarding homosexually and bisexually oriented persons in society as well as within their churches.

Metropolitan Community Churches are an international denomination of Christian churches in most major cities. They were founded by a pastor who was evicted from his church because he identified himself with the fight against discrimination of homosexually oriented persons. MCCs everywhere bless same sex couples (as do all Unitarian churches) and most of their pastors are homosexually oriented.

The United Church of Canada (UCC) has changed; it now ordains self-affirming gay and lesbian ministers (like all churches it has always ordained homosexuals but they were never allowed to declare themselves or live in loving same sex relationships). The UCC is moving toward identifying "affirming congregations" who are comfortable in calling an identified gay or lesbian ordained minister and recognizing their partner as a spouse and not just a friend or housemate.

The Anglicans, Lutherans and other denominations are moving too. Although many cannot yet bring themselves to bless same sex relationships, they are speaking out against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Christ came to give us vision and hope for a new world and new ways of relating to each other. Loving your neighbour doesn't require that you like them; it requires that you wish them the best and work to keep from doing them harm.

We are family

When a gay, lesbian, or bisexual teenager ends their life rather than face the bigotry and discrimination they see in Alberta, some families need Christ's compassion and correction. Communicate to your children that it is natural for some men to love men and some women to love women and that your concern is that they find someone whom they can love and be loved by regardless of their gender. Use gender neutral terms like life partner to convey that you are comfortable with whomever your child chooses to love.

The struggle for justice and love is eternal. Perhaps it is a life-long struggle toward a new heaven and a new earth; certainly toward a new Alberta or Edmonton or community or family. Grow out, in Christ's unconditional love! Be blessed and be a blessing to others. Amen.

Suggested Reading

Christianity and Sexuality Boyd, Malcolm. Take Off The Masks. New York: Doubleday, 1978. Goss, Robert Jesus Acted Up: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 1993 Fortunato, John. Embracing the Exile: Healing Journeys of Gay Christians. New York: Seabury-Winston Press, 1982. Woods, Richard Another Kind of Love: Homosexuality and Spirituality Chicago: Thomas More Press, 1977.

The Bible and Homosexuality

Specific verses in various translations have been researched in recent years by theological scholars and biblical researchers. The insights from the contemporary literature of the biblical times and other analytical approaches have given new understandings to all of these passages.

Representative explorations of how these new understandings have been arrived at, and what they are, can be found in these references:

Boswell, John. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.
This Yale historian has covered the sources of thinking and believing that homosexual orientation is not desirable. His Chapter 4 on The Scriptures [Old Testament over pages 91 to 106 and the New Testament over pages 106 to 117] gives a thorough coverage of the results of Biblical scholarship in the 1970's that points to the fact that these passages are not directed at the 10% of our population that are created with a sexual orientation that is not heterosexual, but that these passages point to errors in relationships (sins) that all persons are capable of committing.

Edwards, George R. Gay and Lesbian Liberation: A Biblical Perspective. New York: Pilgrim Press, 1984.
Chapter two presents Sodom revisited and chapter four discusses homosexuality in Paul's theology.

England, Michael E. The Bible and Homosexuality. Silver Spring, Maryland: Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC), Department of Christian Social Action, 1983.
A small book that reviews inspiration and critical interpretation (textual, historical, source, and form criticisms) before exploring the eight verses in the Bible that have most commonly been cited as prooftexts of condemnation of homosexual activity. It reconsiders the creation accounts and how they relate to human sexuality and concludes with Christ's reinforcement of the great commandments to love God, to love others, and to love ourselves.

Macourt, Malcolm. (Editor) Towards a Theology of Gay Liberation. London: SCM Press, 1977.
In the section on The Biblical Material, Rictor Norton claims that 'The Biblical Roots of Homophobia' can be traced directly from the Judaeo-Christian tradition and traditional interpretations of Bible verses (pages 39-46). Then James Martin 'An Old Testament Scholar Replies' that in only two passages does the Old Testament condemn homosexual acts and that the matter of sexual expression is extremely peripheral to the Old Testament (pages 47-56). In 'A Rejoinder', Norton raises the heterosexual bias and the need to assess the cultural context in any study of biblical material (pages 57-60). "Particularly, we must remember that in the past few other statements in the Bible have been treated as literally as those that touch on homosexuality by people who have found more flexible or non-literal interpretations for every other topic" (page 37).

McNeill, John J. The Church and the Homosexual Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1976. Reprinted New York: Next Year Pubs., 1985.
This Jesuit priest gives a profoundly Christian study of the scriptures in Chapter 2 covering the use of scripture, the need for a definition of homosexuality, the Sodom and Gomorrah story, the problems of translation, the interpretation of Romans 1:26, the Old Testament context and the creation account in Genesis.

Nelson, James B. Embodiment: An Approach to Sexuality and Christian Theology. Minneapolis: Augsburgh, 1978.
Nelson, Professor of Christian Ethics, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, addresses the Biblical passages that have been understood to condemn love between two people of the same gender/sex. See especially Chapter 8 on 'Gayness and Homosexuality: Issues for the Church' over pages 181 to 188.

Pennington, Sylvia Good News for Modern Gays; A Pro-Gay Biblical Approach Hawthorn, California: Lambda Christian Fellowship Press, 1986.
Reverend Pennington reviews the biblical texts in context in an effort to help gay people know that God's Word does not condemn them and to enable heterosexual Christians to see more clearly what God has to say to the Church about homosexuality today; to rectify the error and consequent injustice with which well-meaning Christians are inadvertently persecuting innocent people.

Pittenger, Norman Time For Consent: A Christian's Approach to Homosexuality London: SCM Press, 1976.
This senior member of King's College, Cambridge briefly addresses 'The Biblical Material and Changing Religious Attitudes' in Chapter 9 over pages 81 to 87.

Scroggs, Robin. The New Testament and Homosexuality: Contextual Background for Contemporary Debate. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.

Spong, John Shelby. Living in Sin?: A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality. San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 1988.
This Episcopal bishop has reviewed the biblical material and placed it in our 20th Century context to reveal many challenging insights. Chapter 2 is a biblical call to inclusiveness; chapter 5 describes homosexuality as a natural part of life and not a curse in and of itself; chapter 9 deals with the Bible and homosexuality; and chapter 14 recommends blessing same sex couples in life-long committed relationships.

Wink, Walter Biblical Perspectives on Homosexuality in The Christian Century Nov. 7, 1979.
This scholar addresses the topic in the light of the fundamental biblical commandment to love (pages 1082-1086).