Faithful, Biblical, Open & Affirming
Is homosexuality a sin? In a word, no! “Homosexual” and “homosexuality” are modern terms and conceptions, in use less than 200 years. The American Psychiatric Association in 1973 and the American Psychological Association in 1975
concluded that homosexuality is neither a mental disorder nor moral perversion.
Instead, the scientific community of psychiatrists and psychologists define homosexuality as an orientation (not
a “lifestyle”), an instinctual attraction to persons of one’s own gender. Therefore, it is no more ethical or unethical than heterosexuality – like left-handedness, simply the characteristic of a minority.
Why do so many churches teach against homosexuality? We know that Scripture can fall under the power of Sin, so that the Bible has been used to sanctify prejudice and evil.
For centuries racist readings of Scripture upheld the institution of slavery, and for many a sexist reading continues to deny that women are made in the image of God equally to men, prohibiting them from ordination and other ministries.
The Church has been similarly divided over such “sins” as divorce, smoking, dancing, or drinking, sometimes making certain practices/works pre-requisites for ordination.
There’s something about this prejudice regarding sexual orientation, related to racism and sexism, that debilitates people in power so that they are not open to dialogue or change. Like the pharisees of the NT, they would rather see individuals perish, “to preserve the nation.”
Obsessive concern for supposed purity sees God’s grace as blasphemous—and crucifies God’s prophets of radical love and inclusion.
Which passages from the Bible are relevant?
SODOM AND GOMORRAH (Gen 19:1-29; Jude 5-7); cf. Rape of the Levite’s Concubine (Judg 19:1-30). In OT, references to the sins of Sodom = inhospitality (as in Mt 10:15, Lk 10:12), greed, injustice, excess wealth, indifference to the poor, general wickedness. Only in later rabbinic and Christian texts does interpretation shift to same-sex violation.
Originally, concern seems focused on improper intermingling of what God wants to be kept separate – namely, human beings and heavenly beings, angels (see Gen 6:1ff). Note also the evidence in these texts of uncritical sexism, the devaluing of women. Finally, note the need for ancient Israelites and Jews to be distinct from pagan neighbors.
HOLINESS CODE COMMANDMENTS (Lev 18:22; 20:13), “lying with a man as with a woman.” The proscribed punishment is death by stoning. Note evidence of bias again. Is anyone arguing for capital punishment of rebellious children who curse their parents (see Lev 20:9)? There is clearly selective literalism and sexual obsession at play here.
VICE LISTS (1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10), sexual exploitation, (cultic) prostitution. Note the sexism evident here, i.e., men abhorring being considered womanly. There is no awareness or consideration of sexual orientation and attraction or relationships of love.
NATURAL ORDER (Rom 1:26-27), idolatry, degrading passions, according to contemporary Jewish righteousness. Again, Paul shows no awareness of sexual orientation and same sex attraction in the natural world. Moreover, most readers fail to recognize Paul’s line of argument, evident in Rom 2:1 and 3:21-26, in which (Jewish Christian) judgmentalism against (Gentile) lawlessness is also condemned.
Paul reminds all Christians in Rome that human beings cannot be differentiated with regard to sin, whereby some fall short and some do not – all are saved only by the grace of Christ Jesus’ death on the cross.
Other texts are sometimes mentioned: 2 Pet 2:6 and (KJV) Dt 23:17; 1 Kgs 14:24; 15:12, 22:47; and 2 Kgs 23:7. Note the way translations, reflecting the bias of their day, can perpetuate discrimination.
In contrast are the hundreds of passages in Scripture emphasizing the love of God and neighbor, grace and mercy as the heart of the Law, and the danger of judging others.
Which churches witness on behalf of Gays and Lesbians?
“Open and Affirming” (O & A) identifies congregations in the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), along with others in mainline denominations that believe in God’s full and radical welcome of all God’s children into their communities of faith.
These churches recognize God’s rejection of homophobia—along with racism, sexism, and other social or religious expressions of prejudice, ignorance, and fear that need to be overcome. These communities of faith struggle to be witnesses to truth and justice regarding gays and lesbians as children of God—just as they are.
What is the Open & Affirming approach to biblical Interpretation?
O & A churches see the sin of heterosexism or homophobia at play in the conventional interpretation of passages supposedly dealing with “homosexuality.”
A sexual orientation is not inherently sinful, but it is as sinful for heterosexuals to claim that only their experience of sexual attraction is “clean” as it would be for right-handed people to force left-handed people to use their hands the way they do.
Once a sin or prejudice is recognized, it is humbling but liberating to read the scriptures anew. This is happening for more and more interpreters of the Bible, but the pace seems much too slow.
What approach to Scripture can help to bring about a more faithful interpretation?
(1) Beware of bibliolatry, making an idol of (a reading of) Scripture. If our faith affirms Christ Jesus as fully human as well as divine, Scripture must not rank above Christ, as only divine. The Bible has a human and historical context that must be considered and explored.
(2) Read individual passages of the Bible with the whole canon in mind. The rest of Scripture may provide a dynamic contrast or even corrective to what is found in one passage.
(3) Read with the great themes of Scripture in mind, like justice, mercy, hope, and love. These may positively affect understanding of passages on righteousness and judgment. If our interpretation of any passage does not strengthen the great commandments to love God and neighbor, or if our judgment is always pointed out against others, we need to keep reading.
(4) Read with the heart and mind of Christ. Without the Spirit of Christ, Scripture can become a letter that kills, rather then the bearer of life.
(5) Invite as many as possible to the table of interpretation. One person’s reading of a passage can change our appreciation of a text for a lifetime.
– Richard Sturm