“Judge not, that you be not judged.” ( Matt 7:1)
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I have been asked if Louise is real. Yes, and this was a real letter to her. Shortly after I had gone to my first pastorate out of the seminary, Louise invited my wife, Anna Marie, and me to have Sunday dinner with her family. That was over 50 years ago, and she has been one of our dearest friends ever since.
The last time we visited her she told me what I have related in the first sentence of this Letter. At that time I really knew nothing about homosexuality. I did have some suppositions-- quite negative--and had never thought I needed to study it. But her words made me want to know as much as I could learn about it.
When I began reading I soon realized things about myself I now deplore: I was ignorant of the many facts about homosexuality and what the Bible says about it. Without facts I had pre-judged it; I was prejudiced. With little thought I had read into the Bible what I presumed it ought to say instead of reading out of it what it does say. My idea of not needing to study the subject was pure anti-intellectualism. I am now grateful to God that He led me to study.
I read some two score books, most by eminent sociologists, psychologists and theologians. Then I wrote this letter to Louise, reflecting what I now have come to believe is the truth about homosexuality, what the Bible says and what God wants us to think and do about it.
Now I want others to study seriously this matter of such importance to many lives and many churches and denominations. I asked for and received Louise's permission to share the Letter with others. I pray it may be helpful.
heavy-hearted words to Anna Marie and me the last time we saw you will always
burn in our hearts: "My brother hates God because God made him gay, and he
knows he is going to hell, and I do, too, for that is what the Bible
says." I struggled for a response, realizing suddenly that what I knew
about gays and what the Bible says about them was very superficial.
I decided to give serious study to homosexuality and what the Bible says about it. Thank God! There was so much to learn about gays and lesbians--and the Bible--that I am so glad to have come to know. It distresses me, though, to realize that most others of our church people do not know these facts about homosexuality and what the Bible really says, and that their thinking, like my previous concept, is based on suppositions, not facts, and on feelings, which, of course, have no place in a thoughtful consideration of facts.
I am now convinced that the presumption that you and your brother have about his condemnation is unjustified. I have written out what I believe is clearly a correct interpretation of pertinent Biblical passages; it is Appendix B to this letter. A correct interpretation is dependent on following dependable principles of interpretation, so I discuss these principles in Appendix A. In the body of the letter I have put the convictions I have come to into ten statements that I believe you and I and your brother and our church families must come to understand about homosexuality and about gays and lesbians. But I know some will never accept them, so I have something I want to say to those people; I have made it Appendix C.
Forgive the length of this treatise, but I didn't think I could address this matter adequately with fewer words. Also forgive the somewhat academic structure; I felt the nature of my study rather required it. I pray that this will give you some of the welcome insights my study has given me.
Louise, this is an essential basis for understanding homosexuality. There may still be a few knowledgeable people who do not believe this, but practically all behavioral scientists now accept this statement as a fact. Down through history same-gender sex was universally considered to be acts by (heterosexual) people who had chosen to engage in perverted sex. Advances in the sciences, particularly psychology, in the last 100 years have shown that not all people are heterosexual; some are homosexual, and their homosexuality is an unchangeable nature, not a choice.
The concept of a homosexual nature first appeared in print in Europe in 1869 and in the United States in 1889. Acceptance of it spread slowly over the next 100 years. Freud accepted it and discussed homosexuality rather extensively in the first half of the twentieth century. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) officially recognized it in 1973 when it declassified homosexuality as being a mental illness. The American Psychological Association followed with similar action two years later.
Helmut Thielicke, a theologian conservatives respect highly and quote often, recognized in his work, The Ethics of Sex, written some forty years ago, that at least some gays and lesbians have "constitutional homosexuality," and therefore we must "accept" the fact that it is "incurable," that "our attitude toward [it] changes" [his italics]. and that it is "a divine dispensation" and "a talent that is to be invested (Luke 19:13f.)."1-1
Evidence that homosexuality is unchangeable includes: (a) ten thousand suicides each year of young homosexuals unwilling to face life with that orientation; (b) the high percentage of homosexuals who go to psychotherapists desperately wanting to change their orientation, and then (c) the very small percentage of them reportedly being changed after hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars being spent in psychotherapy; (d) the millions of homosexuals who remain "in the closet," not acting like homosexuals and not wanting anyone to learn of their orientation; (e) the thousands who are reported as coming to pastors and counselors devastated to have to recognize their unchangeable orientation and wanting assistance in dealing with it.
A few, after psychotherapy, report successful change. It is believed that most of these are not true homosexuals, but because of some trauma in childhood they adopted homosexual traits; with these, psychotherapy can often do away with the results of the trauma and lead the person back to his or her natural heterosexuality. The results of extensive psychotherapy with homosexuals who desperately wanted to change their orientation have been studied, and several books document the disheartening lack of success of their time, money and efforts. In 1998 the APA adopted a position opposing any therapy designed to change a person's sexual orientation. The APA President stated, "There is no scientific evidence that reparative or conversion therapy is effective in changing a person's sexual orientation. There is, however, evidence that this type of therapy can be destructive."1-2
Scientists and sociologists do not know what causes homosexuality, just as they don't know what causes heterosexuality, but virtually all are convinced that whatever the cause, it is unchangeable. Homosexuals are homosexual by nature; it is never something they choose.
This is the second essential basis for coming to a right understanding of homosexuals. If I can say God made me as I am, a heterosexual, then homosexuals can say God made them as they are. If God made them that way, that way is good. If I am created in the image of God, homosexuals are created in the image of God. And if God has a purpose for every life, the lives of homosexuals have a God-given purpose. Then refusing to accept and affirm them in the same way we affirm others would be trying to thwart the purposes of God. Can we draw any other conclusion?
Some church people who are not accepting of gays and lesbians may say that homosexuality is an aberration of nature and that God doesn't want it, just as he doesn`t want a child with Downs Syndrome because of the limitations it places on that child throughout life. But homosexuals have no physical or mental limitations, and there is nothing about the homosexual that can be defined as an aberration.
Some accept it as unchangeable
but say it is like the predisposition to alcoholism--that
a person with this predisposition is not to blame for having it, but since acting
on it can lead to much destruction in many lives, the person is responsible for
not acting on it and, if he becomes an alcoholic, needs to recover from it. New
Another analogy would be the left-handed person, created that way, different from others, but whose difference is in no way an aberration or predisposition and whose personhood is the same as that of others. There is no reason for not admitting that the homosexual is simply made in the image of God as is every other person. The only reasonable statement is that homosexuality is God-given and, therefore, with a God-given purpose. We should embrace gays and lesbians and mutually help one another achieve the purposes God has for us all.
Evelyn Hooker, who taught psychology at UCLA, conducted the "...very first investigation into whether or not homosexuality was an illness that examined a population of `normal' gay men--men who were not residents of mental hospitals, prisoners, or distressed patients in therapy [common subjects of study at that time], but ordinary people living ordinary, if closeted, lives....In 1956 Hooker presented her findings--that no psychological differences existed between homosexual and heterosexual men--before the annual meetings of the American Psychological Association."3-1
But do not most heterosexuals have the very narrow view that homosexuality means engaging in sex with a partner of the same gender? That is a gross distortion. The homosexual has all the interests and concerns in life that a heterosexual has. Whatever importance sex has for the heterosexual, it has the same importance for the homosexual--no more, no less. The best definition I have read of a homosexual is that he or she is a person who falls in love with someone of the same gender. What made me, a heterosexual, fall in love with a person of the opposite gender? I can't say--it is just some innate characteristic of my makeup. In the homosexual, that characteristic works differently for some yet unknown reason, and the falling-in-love process is directed at the same gender. But it is a true falling in love. It isn't a sexual thing for them any more that it is for heterosexuals.
While some homosexuals are
sexually lustful and promiscuous, the percentage may actually be lower than
that of heterosexuals. The pornographic industry, estimated at up to one
hundred billion dollars a year, the gentlemen's clubs, the brothels, internet
pornography, etc. are all supported by heterosexual lust. That industry
annually lures two thousand teenage girls into prostitution in the city of
Dallas alone.3-2 Homosexuals have little interest in any of that widespread
industry. Every fifteen minutes in
Four. Several passages in the Bible speak of same-gender sex. In every instance, the Bible is talking about heterosexuals who, filled with lust, have become sex perverts. The Bible says nothing about innate homosexuality as we know it today or about people who are homosexuals.
Until the late nineteenth century, as already mentioned, the concept of homosexuality was totally unknown. No Bible writer knew of homosexuality, so no Bible writer could have said anything about it. When the Bible speaks of same-gender sex, it is always talking about heterosexuals who are given over to such lust that they commit lustful acts. There cannot be anything in the Bible that says anything about (unknown) homosexuality or homosexual people or acts by homosexuals.
No one questions the Bible's condemnation of sexual lust, and today that would be whether it was homosexual or heterosexual. Some want to say that same-gender sex acts are condemned by the Bible, and it doesn`t matter by whom they are committed. No, lustful same-gender sex acts are. Heterosexual sex acts are also condemned by the Bible whenever they are lustful, but that doesn't mean all heterosexual sex acts are condemned. It is the lust that is condemned, not an act. If we recognize that opposite-gender sex can be either lustful and evil as in rape or be moral and beautiful as between loving spouses, we must recognize the possibility that same-gender sex can be moral and beautiful, as well as lustful and evil. (This is discussed further in Eight below.) The Bible says nothing about homosexual people being sent to hell.
Five. The burden imposed on homosexuals by society is a great evil. We should stand in revulsion against, and do all we can to oppose, the prejudice, the hatreds, and the condemnation of a society that make the homosexual's life so difficult.
The lynching of Blacks has almost
passed, but not the lynching of gays and lesbians. Some one hundred hate-crime
murders of gays and lesbians are recorded in the
Homosexuals do not have the
natural protection of the law that others have. There are nationwide laws
against discrimination on the basis of race and national origin, but only
one-fifth of our states have laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual
orientation--there is no federal law. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld laws in
two states making same-gender sex illegal. A
Many problems... make a positive adjustment to a [homosexual] life extremely difficult. Among these difficulties can be enumerated the agonies of remorse and self-torture over what typical homosexuals feel to be their immoral desires, whether these arise from conscious identity with the condemnations of Church and society or from neurotic conflicts within themselves; their openness to blackmail and other forms of intimidation; their status of being outside the normal protection of the law; their necessity continually to conceal what they frequently believe to be their true identity from public view, with the added threat that accidental revelation could result in loss of their job, expulsion from school, dishonorable discharge from military service, loss of future security and job opportunities, loss of friends and the respect of family and dependents. Still other problems involve their propensity to sexual promiscuity [because they are] divorced from a complete and healthy interpersonal relationship; and the resulting tendency for sexual desires indulged in, but never fully satisfied, to occupy a disproportionate place in their life. Above all else, there is the very real threat of ultimate loneliness to one to whom all the normal structures of society - marriage, children, dependents, etc. - are closed. It should be noted, however, that all these negative aspects of homosexuality are not due to homosexuality as such, but are the results of both society's and the Church's attitude to the homosexual. All these rather common aspects of homosexual life can effectively paralyze all initiative, result in a feeling of inferiority, and lead to an emotional breakdown which could make social adjustment impossible.5-3
All of this hate is a sickness in our society that comes from ignorance about homosexuality. Our society must become informed, enlightened about it. Those who are involved in discussions in denominations and churches about it must study it and not speak from ignorance of it and the result of ignorance: prejudice.
I added the italics, foolishly; what italics are needed for such a statement. In your small town you probably have not seen that cleverly alliterative bumper sticker. For you and me it is unbelievable, unreal. Sadly, it is very real.
The thinking shown in the bumper
sticker and the position of many churches and their pastors abets the crimes
against gays and lesbians.
In preparing for her novel The Drowning
of Stephen Jones, based upon the true story of a young gay man tossed from a
bridge to his death by a group of young gay-bashers, author Bette Greene
interviewed more than four hundred young men in jail for various forms of
gay-bashing. Few of the men, she noted, showed any remorse for their crimes.
Few saw anything morally wrong with their crimes, and more than a few of them
told her that they were justified in their opinions and in their actions by the
religious traditions from which they came. Homosexuality was wrong and against
the Bible. One of those interviewed told her that the pastor of his church had
said that homosexuals represented
When the funeral of
In the summer of 1998 fundamentalist Christian organizations, fearful of the consideration by some states of recognizing same-gender marriage, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads in major newspapers telling the nation that gays and lesbians are "sick" and "sinful," that they can and should be "cured," and that their rights and protections should be denied.6-3
A gay and a straight man worked together
and became close friends. Then the straight man became a Christian. When his
friend learned about it, he was concerned and asked, "Now that you are a
Christian, will you still love me?" Isn't that a tragic question? What did
this man think about Christians that made him ask that? The Christian has a
love that transcends anything known by the world, doesn't he/she? Yet how many
Christians would desert such a friendship? Christians!
Our churches need to change, for the churches ought to be havens for gays and lesbians from the insufferable burdens they bear constantly. But when the world believes that churches despise and condemn homosexuals, those who hate them find encouragement. Fundamentalists such as Southern Baptists and Catholics promote the problems seemingly with a vengeance, declaring homosexuality itself a sin.6-6 Even the mainstream denominations do to a great extent as we read frequently in the papers. Most denominations are discussing it openly; without exception they are divided in their thinking, and the news reports of the discussions publicize the negative rhetoric along with the positive. This subject so needs to be examined and discussed at length in our churches, without passion and with open minds. I believe what I am stating in this letter will be the truth the churches will discover. Then they must act on and proclaim that truth.
When the story of the Holocaust became more fully known, there was recognition that the sin of the Nazis was not the only sin involved--there was the silence on the part of the churches and of other nations as they learned about it during the war. When we know of the hate and the hate-crimes against lesbians and gays, we should not be silent; we have a responsibility to fight it. Our silence encourages it and makes us guilty.
Whose fault is this? It's the fault of
us all. It's the fault of any of us who make jokes about gay people, who insult
them with the use of demeaning names. It's the fault of us who are silent when
others do these things or when they publish lies about what homosexuality is.
And it's the fault of us who don't provide a safe place and a caring response
to those of homosexual orientation. Who knows how many hundreds of thousands of
lives have been lost - to violence, to suicide, to drugs, to promiscuity, to
AIDS, to shattered self-esteem, to life forever outside the doors of the church
- because we have participated in or by silence colluded with the demeaning and
the ostracizing of homosexual people. In this respect there is blood on the
hands of the church. And that's what has driven me more than anything else to
talk with you as I am doing. I have had a vision of
You and I realize that the people
in our churches are ignorant about the truths I have already stated about
homosexuals and homosexuality. They must be made to realize that honesty and
integrity demand they make judgments on the basis of knowledge and not on
groundless feelings and prejudice. It's like the race hatreds and segregated
churches of a few decades ago; most church people know better now and our
churches are at least open to all. The same must happen with this issue. I
think of the homespun philosopher
I've given a lot of space to the church here, but that's where we both have our hearts. And our churches are so terribly wrong here, just as they were in the sixties with the race issue and 150 years ago with slavery. All the wonderful things our churches are doing and the immeasurable importance they are to our society can't cover up our woeful failures in this matter.
It is well known that while certain characteristics are dominant in men and others dominant in women, all people have some of both characteristics. Psychologists have found that the gay man has an exceptional supply of feminine characteristics (enough that he falls in love with a man -?), and the lesbian has an exceptional supply of male characteristics (enough that she falls in love with a woman -?). Psychologists are recognizing that this special combination of characteristics in homosexuals often results in their having exceptional potential.
Psychologist Mark Friedman, from a series of tests administered to both gays and lesbians, found that the homosexuals he tested were superior to their heterosexual counterparts in such psychological qualities as autonomy, spontaneity, orientation toward the present, and increased sensitivity to the value of the person.7-1 Thielicke remarked that the homosexual "is frequently gifted with a remarkable heightened sense of empathy."7-2
· · This [homosexuality] gives him a great capacity for friendship, which often creates ties of astonishing tenderness between men, and may even rescue friendship between the sexes from its limbo of the impossible.
· · Often he is endowed with a wealth of religious feelings, which help him to bring the ecclesia spiritualis [the spiritual church] into reality, and a spiritual receptivity which makes him responsive to revelation.7-3
There is no doubt that the homosexual man is freer to develop aesthetic values than is his male counterpart in the heterosexual world, and thus he has an important role to play in guiding humanity to a deeper appreciation of aesthetic values.... There is the hopeful possibility that the homosexual community could serve the human community as a whole by making the male free to do works of service in the human community without feeling guilty about betraying the standards of his male identity.7-4
Many writers speak of the contributions gays and lesbians have made to our world and name dozens of examples, some of the world's most famous statesmen, artists, writers, musicians, etc., present and past. While gays and lesbians make up probably 4%-6% of the population, a study of the biographies of 1004 eminent people found 11% of them to be homosexual or bisexual, with certain categories higher: 24% of poets, 21% of fiction writers, and 15% of artists and musicians.7-5
Now we are face to face with the
question of what is moral in sex expression. In so many people's minds, the
whole meaning of homosexuality is immoral sex. And that is evil, they say,
because sex must be between male and female, and it is evil because sex must be
in marriage; it is as simple and black and white as that. But nothing as
complex as sex, which plumbs both the heights of beauty and the depths of
ugliness, can be simple, and no black and white rule can touch it.
Even on such a major issue as sexual
intercourse between unmarried consenting adults there is no explicit prohibition
in either Hebrew Scripture or the New Testament (which
One reason theologians and
Christian ethicists have difficulty finding a sex ethic in the Bible is that
the Bible's condemnation of sexual acts is always associated with selfish lust,
with nothing said about a loving sex life. Further, the Bible does not say that
moral sex is confined to what we understand marriage to be. For example,
Must sex be between male and female? One act of sex must be. Is that all of sex, or for heterosexuals does sex--let's think only of beautiful sex--involve many other acts, some of which sometimes become more important than that one act? Does marriage make sex beautiful and moral? Even those who insist that sex must be only in marriage admit that there is often immoral sex within marriage--selfishness, exploitation, even rape. So the marriage certificate is not what determines whether sex is moral or immoral. Then we must say that if legality is not the criterion for the morality of sex, lack of legality cannot be the criterion for its immorality.
The average person has associated and
confused the question of the morality of sexual conduct with the question of
its objective legal status. The reason for this confusion is, in part, that one
finds a very easily applied objective norm: sex before marriage is wrong; sex
after marriage is right.... There is something more to the moral quality of
sexual behavior than the purely objective legal question of marriage...
Something else ought to be present; that something else is love.... The human
conforms to the divine image revealed in
These things clearly indicate that requiring celibacy of gays and lesbians cannot be supported by the Bible, is unjustifiable from an ethical standpoint, and can be damaging psychologically. Many psychiatrists believe (a) it is wrong to consign a person to such isolation and loneliness, one who is thus cut off from close relationships with either sex, not temporarily but until death; (b) it is unrealistic to expect this for it is virtually impossible for it to be done; (c) many of those who attempt to do this do so for pathological reasons; (d) the "almost inevitable results [of attempting celibacy] will be tragic in terms of suffering, guilt, and mental disorder;" and (e) growth and maturity require deep and committed relationships in one's life.8-4
In my experience as a psychotherapist, I have found that the vast majority of people living out a life of abstinence do so for pathological reasons. Many have interiorized the homophobia of the surrounding culture and the Church and as a consequence hate and fear their sexual feelings....Others live out a life of abstinence because of serious trauma to their capacity for intimacy with another human....Those who have repressed or denied their homosexual feelings for pathological reasons are the ones in greatest danger of acting out those needs compulsively, imprudently, and unconsciously, seeking punishment for what they see as their crime....I would heartily advise all gay people to develop the most intimate and committed relationship possible for them.8-5
It would seem that a sound
scriptural argument against requiring celibacy would be
Highly respected theologians are coming to the conclusion that gays and lesbians need to develop intimate and committed relationships. Thielicke: "It is true that the homosexual relationship is... very certainly a search for the totality of the other human being. [Italics his] He who says otherwise has not yet observed the possible human depth of a homoerotic-colored friendship."8-6 McNeill: "A general consideration of scriptural data concerning sexual behavior leads to only one certain conclusion: those sexual relations can be justified morally which are a true expression of human love. The call of the Gospel is not one of conforming passively to biological givens; rather, that call is to transform and humanize the natural order through the power to love."8-7
Once sex is no longer confined to procreative genital acts and masculinity and femininity are exposed as social ideologies, then it is no longer possible to argue that sex/love between two persons of the same sex cannot be a valid embrace of bodily selves expressing love. If sex/love is centered primarily on communion between two persons rather than on biological concepts of procreative complementarity, then the love of two persons of the same sex need be no less than that of two persons of the opposite sex. Nor need their experience of ecstatic bodily communion be less valuable.8-10
One of the earliest affirmations of this that I found is a statement made by Quakers back in 1963: "... the Quaker committee, after a long study of homosexuality, drew the conclusion: `Surely it is the nature and quality of a relation that matters; one must not judge it by its outer appearance but its inner worth. Homosexual affection can be as selfless as heterosexual affection, and, therefore, we cannot see that it is in some way morally worse.'"8-11
In 1975 a symposium on homosexuality at the annual meeting of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies [note Christian Association] reported that behavioral science research and the realities of their clinical practice had forced them to propose that while promiscuity, fornication, and adultery should be regarded as sinful for both homosexual and heterosexual persons, a loving, committed, permanent relationship between two persons of the same sex was in an entirely different category and was not condemned in Scripture, and that Christians burdened with an involuntary homosexual orientation could choose a committed homosexual relationship as within God's will rather than an unwanted celibacy.8-12
If I can believe as I do, that gays and lesbians can have in their hearts and minds the criteria set forth here in their relationships, then I can believe, as I have come to, that they can engage in loving sex that is moral and that provides for their psychological needs--God-created needs--as celibacy cannot. And I can believe that their sexual love is not condemned by scripture, but is within the principles God expects us to live by.
You understand this is not a blanket approval of all homosexual sex. It is speaking of loving, committed relationships. I do not know what percentage of homosexuals are included here, but probably it is, unfortunately, a small percentage (10% in one large-scale study of gays.8-13) Many believe that number would increase if society accepted homosexuality for what it is and encouraged committed relationships, as it does heterosexual relationships.
Louise, if it is moral as well as psychologically needful--a God-created need--for homosexuals to live as couples in committed relationships, as many theologians and psychologists have said it is, then homosexuals who are in loving, long-term, committed relationships should have the societal rights and privileges that marriage can give them. Following are some statements in this regard.
"Family" need not mean the
traditional heterosexual family to the exclusion of all others....
Marriage is not conditioned on the
intention or the capacity to have children. Nothing in marriage, except custom,
mandates partners of different genders. For example, [
Was it not God who said, "It
is not good for man to be alone." (Gen. 2:18)?
Nor can the Bible be confidently cited in this debate. Certainly, the concept of same-sex marriage is not found in the Bible. But the concept of government by democracy is also not found in the Bible, only that of monarchy. On strictly biblical grounds, the doctrine of the divine right of kings has a firmer base than government by the people. Human experience, however, has led us to believe that democracy is not an illegitimate, unbiblical form of government. Since the biblical models of marriage range from polygamy at one end to celibacy on the other, we shall have to find our own way and not claim that the Bible permits only one model of marriage.9-5
The fact that we are in a same-sex relationship means that the predetermination of roles by gender, sometimes so destructive a force in heterosexual relationships, is not relevant to our lives. Each member of a same-sex couple is free to act from individual interests, predilections, and skills, rather than having to choose between conforming to or rebelling against the cultural norm. We are able to see the mainstream culture from a greater distance and a healthier perspective. This means that we know that many of the oppressive messages of the culture are inapplicable to us, and that others are simply false or distorted. Thus, we are able to circumvent much of what is jokingly referred to as `The Battle of the Sexes' - really, no joking matter at all. Ironically, it is the same-sex couple that can most clearly see itself as being composed of two human beings, whereas the heterosexual couple is constantly having to deal with the coercive personae of Man and Woman.9-6
In many ways, we [lesbians] have an easier time of creating a truly egalitarian, mutual and mature relationship. In fact, some researchers are now beginning to look at the same-sex couple as a model for helping heterosexuals to create more human relationships. In contrast with heterosexuals, who often feel alienated from their mates, we need only look inside ourselves to know much about our lovers. We are able to relax with each other in a much more trusting way than can most straight couples. The inequities in our relationships are individually made ones, for the most part, and not a function of historically sanctioned power imbalances that have created the fear and hatred in which many women and men coexist today. In a lesbian couple, both women can freely develop strength and competence. In addition, having been socialized as women, we have been trained to be interpersonally sensitive, nurturant, gentle and compassionate. In a heterosexual relationship, these qualities are used primarily to serve the man and to oppress the woman, who often must bear full responsibility for the emotional quality of the relationship.... These same attributes, however, can create a miraculously high-quality relationship when shared by two women who are matched in their capacities to share and to love.9-7
Once we understand what marriage is, we can see what marriage would mean for us, and why it is worth fighting for. Same-sex marriage would not force anyone to honor or approve of gay or lesbian relationships against their will. But it would enable those of us who are involved in gay or lesbian relationships to get the rest of society to understand that we take these relationships just as seriously as heterosexual married couples take theirs. And without marriage, we remain second-class citizens - excluded, for no good reason, from participating in one of the basic institutions of society.9-8
[Noted church historian]
You know that for the past decade or so most Protestant denominations have been debating whether to affirm, and especially whether to ordain, homosexuals. Many committees/commissions have been appointed to study the matter and make recommendations to their general denominational bodies or their churches. I have read of much of this activity and the reports. In every case that I can recall now the commissions have recommended just about what I have said in this discussion. Then when the commissions have brought their recommendations to the general assemblies/conventions or to their churches, their reports have been voted down.
I am impressed that those who have made a serious study of this matter--the members of the commissions--are in favor of affirming gays and lesbians, and that those who vote it down are the ones who have not studied it. If they vote it down because they have not studied it, then they are voting on the basis of pre-judging, that is, prejudice. Prejudging, prejudice, is evil. We need to put aside our prejudices and presuppositions, then seriously and open-mindedly study this matter.
The question of their union - and
celibacy and marriage as well, for that matter - is whether it serves the
In 1973 the United Church of Christ's Executive Council urged the full acceptance of homosexual persons symbolized by ordination: "In the instance of considering a stated homosexual's candidacy for ordination the issue should not be his/her homosexuality as such, but rather the candidate's total view of human sexuality and his/her understanding of the morality of its use."10-2 The UCC's national body has recently adopted this, the only mainline denomination to have such a policy at this time. In June 2001 the Presbyterian General Assembly voted to permit ordination of openly non-celibate gay clergy. This must be ratified by the 173 presbyteries.
Conservative theologian Stanley Grenz observes that homosexuality in itself should not be considered in selecting a candidate for ordination, because, "The texts that set down guidelines for the selection of officers focus on three basic prerequisites - giftedness for leadership, spirituality and character, and public reputation (e.g., I Tim. 3:1-13).... These criteria give central emphasis to the importance of one's present life of faith."10-3
And Richard Hays, although believing homosexuality to be sinful, notes that other sins are in the same list with homosexuality, and concludes, "It is arbitrary to single out homosexuality as a special sin that precludes ordination. (Certainly the New Testament does not do this.) The church has no analogous special rules to exclude from ordination the greedy or the self-righteous. Such matters are left to the discernment of the bodies charged with examining candidates for ordination; these bodies must determine whether the individual candidate has the gifts and graces requisite for ministry."10-4
I have to believe deeply that these ten statements are true. The convictions have come from seriously studying this subject, and, thankfully, I now can feel enlightened about it. How I wish all our church members, especially all our pastors, would make such a study.
Now I know that gays and lesbians do not choose their orientation, for they are created by God, in his image with an unchangeable orientation which is good and with a God-given purpose. I know the love between gays and between lesbians is no less than that of others. I am convinced the Bible supports their loving, committed relationships, that there is no moral evil in such and that society and our churches should affirm them fully.
And homosexuals have those characteristics that give them some extraordinary potential in very desirable areas! If we would only accept them, respect them, affirm them and bring them out of their closets, they could give beauty and strength to society and our churches. It is not only sad, isn't it somewhat irresponsible that for a matter so important to so many people, to churches and to denominations, our churches and their members have never seriously studied what the Bible says and doesn't say about this matter? I am writing out below what I am thoroughly convinced is the correct understanding of scripture that may have relevance to this subject.
We Baptists believe that each person must interpret the Bible for himself or herself; we are not to let anyone else control our thinking about scripture. Surely there are some helpful guides for interpreting scripture, some principles that we should follow. I have selected a few of these to discuss briefly that I think are very important to our rightly understanding our Bible and perhaps especially the subject of homosexuality.
(1) Understanding the Bible is understanding what the writer wanted his readers to
understand. This seems so obvious, but millions of Bible readers and thousands
of preachers violate this principle constantly because when they look at a
passage, they do not give a thought either to the author or to those to whom he
wrote but immediately begin to decide what the words, by themselves, mean.
Practically everyone is guilty of this. This leads to almost as many different
ideas as there are readers. But the only truth in a passage is the truth the
writer was trying to convey to readers who were his contemporaries. The New Testament
(a) The writer's meaning comes out of his background. While the Bible is an inspired revelation of God, giving us "truth without any mixture of error" about God as the Baptist Faith and Message Statement says, God did not dictate; he let the authors of the books write out of their own consciousness and experience, using their own words (for example, the Greek of some NT writers was atrocious. Isn't it wonderful how unimportant that was for God's using them!). The Biblical author can write only out of his own culture, understandings and presuppositions. (Two presuppositions every writer in the Bible had were that everyone was heterosexual and that women were inferior.) People who have gone to church and Sunday school regularly usually know something about the writer's circumstances. The problem often is not ignorance of the writer's background but careless inattention to it.
(b) The writer's meaning is
determined by the background and situation of those to whom he wrote.
(c) Our understanding of the writer's meaning is colored by our own culture, experiences, understandings, presuppositions, etc. It is easier for us to impose our culture on the first century writer and readers than it is to understand theirs, so I am sure our interpretations would often be unrecognizable by the writer. If you and I read the same thing, not just the Bible, our interpretations will often be different just because of our different backgrounds and experiences. Which of us will be right? So many times I have stood in the vestibule after a service to speak to people as they left the church and had someone comment on something I had said in the sermon, only to think to myself, Where in the world did they get that? I didn't say anything like that! Many church members have such a cultural revulsion to the thought of same-gender sex that anything in the Bible about it is interpreted as its being the worst of revolting evils. So their thought is, "No homosexual could ever be welcomed to our church, he or she is just too vile." Actually, same-gender sex is in lists along with greed, envy, lying and gossip and is apparently neither better nor worse than those sins. Our culture's influence is what makes them different, not the Bible. (Now, does the list mean that lust is not very bad or that greed, envy, lying and gossip are just as vile in God's sight as lust? That is a serious question: How does God judge sin? The way we do? Appendix C below attempts to say a little about this.) We must try to keep our own background and culture out of our interpretations.
(d) Isn't it obvious and unquestionable that the Bible writers had a purpose for writing what they did? Our understanding of that purpose may be the most important thing about our understanding the meaning. As we read and watch the author fulfill his purpose, our understanding opens up. Whatever the author's purpose, it was for his contemporaries; he didn't have us in mind. Understanding why the writer was writing and what he wanted to accomplish will lead to our finding the principles and eternal truths in the writing.
(e) The meaning of the author is not in his words (!); words are merely imperfect vehicles for use in transferring thought. I can still hear the great W. T. Connor raise his voice in my theology class: "The Bible does not mean what it says, it means what it means." And I also hear thoughtless, defensive cries, "My Bible means what it says!" No, nothing ever written or spoken means what it says, it always means what it means. Words are the best things we have for trying to transfer the thinking of one mind to the understanding of another mind. If we are face to face, gestures and tone of voice help, and we can ask, "What do you mean?" But if it is something written, we probably never get exactly what was in the writer's mind. Nevertheless, we must try, and remembering principles of interpretation helps.
Every principle of interpretation outlined here is violated when we lift words out of the Bible, out of their context, out of their culture, away from the writer's purpose, hold them up and declare, "This is what the Bible says!" An example of this evil is in pointing to Leviticus 18 or Romans 1 and declaring, "The Bible says homosexuals are going to hell." The words of the Bible, wonderful as they are, are still limited in transferring thought, but they are all the writer had for getting his thoughts to his readers. If we can possibly go behind the words to the mind of the writer, we can have a glorious revelation of God. If we stop with the words, we shall find and worship and proclaim only false gods. The right question never is, "What does this passage say?" It always is, "What does this passage mean?"
(2) As the points above indicate,
what we must do is find the central truth or God's eternal principle in any
passage we are studying. The words used to form the context are the media for
giving us that truth. Unsupportable doctrines and practices are often formed
from the setting in which the truth is couched or in peripherals of the truth,
or first century practices are turned into rules for practice today. Women
keeping silent in some churches and being obedient to their husbands, as Paul
instructed, were not central truths of scripture, but practices that would keep
the church and Christianity from being unnecessarily "discredited" in
the first century's culture (Titus 2:5). So the central, eternal truth is: Do
not (in any century) unnecessarily engage in practices that would alienate
unbelievers. Compare slavery. It is evil, but in the first century
(3) Nothing should ever be taken
out of its whole context.
(4) A single passage should be
interpreted in the light of the Bible as a whole.
(5) The Bible is not a rule book.
Grievous errors are made by those who believe it is. The Bible is a record that
gives us a revelation of God by the writers' having
recorded their experiences with God, things that happened in the first and
preceding centuries. I regret it now, but I'm sure I have said it a thousand
times--you've heard me--"
Legalism has no place in
(6) How do we move from the first century Bible to today? We have talked about principles, but applying the principles is not always easy. The Bible has nothing to say about much that we encounter in the twenty-first century, for example, innate homosexuality.
Because the Bible does not speak of many things we encounter today and yet we believe God wants to lead us in our decisions today, we realize that revelation did not end when the Bible was completed but is "living," "dynamic," meaning that each age or circumstance has new revelation for the new challenges. All our spiritual growth through learning more about God means the Holy Spirit has given us a new revelation.
Bible commentators still follow
Then there is the final test.
An excellent example for seeing
this "living" revelation is in our concept of slavery. The Bible
supports slavery, mentioning it frequently with acceptance.
Another example of
"living" revelation is in divorce, for our current beliefs go against
Situations arise in which God's ideal for marriage is being effaced and human failure and sin are causing great suffering.... At this stage, the principle of God's compassionate concern for the persons involved, God's intent to establish shalom (peace) or human wholeness, must take precedence over the concern to maintain the inviolability of marriage.... The church, as the redemptive community [has the] opportunity to model the compassion of the God of new beginnings.A-4
We believe God blesses and uses many of those remarriages as he could never use the original marriage. I think many Bible principles go into our current belief about divorce and remarriage: love, forgiveness, the ideal of freedom for every individual, the value of God-given talents and the responsibility to develop and use them, etc. Psychological principles also are involved, which, if true, are God-given.
The past of every believer is marred by sin and failure. There are no righteous ones in the church. The disqualification of a believer from an office solely because a divorce is found in that person's past elevates this one expression of sin and failure to a status of sinfulness beyond all others....The texts that set down guidelines for the selection of officers focus on three basic prerequisites - giftedness for leadership, spirituality and character, and public reputation (e.g., I Tim. 3:1-13)....These criteria give central emphasis to the importance of one's present life of faith.A-5)
By our thinking about slavery and
divorce are we ignoring the Bible? No, we are searching for its eternal
principles and the best understanding we can have of
The relative importance of the
Bible to the life of Christ is indicated when we realize that those Christians
who were said to have turned the world upside down for Christ in the first
century (Acts 17:6) did not have a New Testament; it had not been written. They
had only (!) a life-transforming experience with
Interpreting scripture is surely one of the most glorious and rewarding privileges we have. It is worth making every effort we can to learn what eternal principles God was trying to give for all ages when he inspired writers long ago to write to their contemporaries.
Those who so restrict women make the
great and far-reaching mistake of ignoring the first century's culture [(1)(b) above]. The eastern half of the
As stated above, until 1869 there was no written idea of homosexuality being an innate part of one's nature. Until that time it was believed that all people were heterosexual, but some were so perverted that they engaged in same-gender sex. When the Bible writers talked on this subject, within their culture and understanding, that is what they were talking about--that kind of heterosexuality.
Nevertheless, there are Bible passages used by some people today to condemn homosexuals. I want to discuss each passage in some detail to show that not only is there no statement about homosexuality, but also that there is no statement applicable to homosexual sex if that sex is not lustful. Many authors write on this subject, and I am indebted to many of them.
Critics of homosexuality enjoy saying,
"The creation story is about
[As] Jeffrey S. Siker has pointed out in the July 1994 issue of Theology Today, to argue that the creation story privileges a heterosexual view of the relations between humankind is to make one of the weakest arguments possible, the argument from silence....It does not mention friendship, for example, and yet we do not assume that friendship is condemned or abnormal. It does not mention the single state, and yet we know that singleness is not condemned, and that in certain religious circumstances it is held in very high esteem. The creation story is not, after all, a paradigm about marriage, but rather about the establishment of human society.B-1
Some consider the sin of
The Hebrew verb used here, "yadha," "to know," is used 943 times in the OT and only ten times clearly to mean "have sex," then it always means heterosexual sex. The word normally used for homosexual sex is "shakhabh." Many scholars believe that in Gen. 19:5 yadha means "know" in the sense of "get acquainted with" (the city's men may have wondered if these were enemy spies or they might have sensed the city's impending doom and been concerned with what these strangers were doing there) and have several arguments for this, including Sodom's being used as an example of great sin numerous times in the Old and New Testaments with nothing ever said about same-sex sex, and the context of Jesus' references to Sodom (Luke 10:10-13) which seems to imply lack of hospitality as the sin.
Others think it means "have
sex," and point to
Another thought is expressed by
and are the only direct
references to same-gender sex in the Old Testament. They are both part of the
Old Testament Holiness Code, a religious, not a moral code; it later became the
Jewish Purity Laws. ["Abomination" is used throughout the Old
Testament to designate sins that involve ethnic contamination or idolatry. The
word relates to the failure to worship God or to worshiping a false god; it
does not relate to morality.]
purity for his worship. Anything pure was unadulterated, unmixed with anything
else These Purity Laws prohibited mixing different threads in one garment,
sowing a field with two kinds of seed, crossbreeding animals. A few years ago
Another reason they are not pertinent to our discussion is that these laws were for the particular time and circumstances existing when they were given. If you planted a fruit tree, you could not eat its fruit until its fifth year, and all fruit the fourth year must be offered to the Lord. A worker must be paid his wage on the day of his labor. You must not harvest a field to its edge. We readily dismiss most of them as not applicable to our day and culture, and if we dismiss some of them for any reason, we have to dismiss all of them, including the sexual regulations, for that same reason.
When we add the fact that these laws were talking about heterosexuals, it makes three reasons, any one of which would be sufficient, why they have no bearing on questions about homosexuals or homosexuality or on the morality of same-gender sex by homosexuals today.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men...
and 27 clearly speak of same-gender sex by both men and women, the only passage
in the New Testament that does so. Rom. 1:18-32 speaks of Gentiles (heterosexuals)
who could and should have known and served and given thanks to God but would
not, so God gave them up and let them do whatever they wanted to do, and that
resulted in degrading and shameful acts, including same-gender sex. It is
almost a moot point, but
9...Be not deceived: neither
fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate [malakoi],
nor abusers of themselves with mankind [arsenokoitai],
10 Nor thieves..., shall inherit the
9...Do not be deceived: Neither
the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes [malakoi] nor homosexual offenders [arsenokoitai]
10 nor thieves...will inherit the
A comparison of how the two Greek words
are translated in the different versions shows that translations often,
unfortunately, become the interpretations of the translators. In I Cor. 6:9
literally means "soft" and is translated that way by both KJ and RSV
in Matt. 11:8 and Luke 7:25. When it is used in moral contexts in Greek
writings it has the meaning of morally weak; a related word, malakia, when used in moral contexts, means dissolute and
occasionally refers to sexual activity but never to homosexual acts. There are
at least five Greek words that specifically mean people who practice
same-gender sex. Unquestionably, if
Arsenokoitai, is not found in any extant Greek writings until the second
century when it apparently means "pederast", a corrupter of boys, and
the sixth century when it is used for husbands practicing anal intercourse with
their wives. Again, if
One commentator has another reason for rejecting the NIV and original RSV translations, "homosexuals." Today it could mean that a person who is homosexual in orientation even though "of irreproachable morals, is automatically branded as unrighteous and excluded from the kingdom of God, just as if he were the most depraved of sexual perverts."B-8
Here only the RSV specifically refers to
same-gender sex, using the term "sodomites," which is the translation
given in both the Old Testament and New Testament to Hebrew and Greek words for
male temple prostitutes. The KJV probably has the same thought. The NIV does
not necessarily refer to same-gender sex. Again
So like the other two New Testament passages, I Tim. says nothing about homosexuality or homosexuals and nothing about same-gender sex unless that of temple prostitutes or possibly the molestation of young boys by heterosexuals.
In view of the facts set forth above, we
realize there is no moral teaching in the Bible about homosexuality as we know
it, including homosexual sex (except possibly pederasty). The Bible cannot be
used to condemn as immoral all same-gender sex. It clearly condemns lust,
whether homosexual or heterosexual. There is certainly nothing in the Bible
about anyone going to hell because he or she is homosexual. All who go to hell
will go for the same, one reason: failure to commit their lives in faith to
From a slightly different approach to
The Biblical writers never contemplated a form of homosexuality in which loving, monogamous, and faithful persons sought to live out the implications of the gospel with as much fidelity to it as any heterosexual believer. All they knew of homosexuality was prostitution, pederasty, lasciviousness, and exploitation. These vices, as we know, are not unknown among heterosexuals, and to define contemporary homosexuals only in these terms is a cultural slander of the highest order, reflecting not so much prejudice, which it surely does, but what the Roman Catholic Church calls "invincible ignorance," which all of the Christian piety and charity in the world can do little to conceal. The "problem," of course, is not the Bible, it is the Christians who read it.B-10
When we say to homosexuals, "We love the sinner but hate the sin; go clean up your act and then we will welcome you," what they hear us say is, "you" are sinners and "we" are not. Since we know that everyone is a sinner, what do we mean? "You are great sinners and we are little sinners"? Or possibly, "Well, everyone knows what your great sins are, but ours are hidden from other people"? This is all ridiculous, but isn't it easy to see why gays and lesbians hate this statement? I believe many of our church members (heterosexuals) honestly think that same-gender sex is a worse sin than any they commit, so much worse that homosexuals cannot be welcomed into our churches, or if welcomed to visit, never affirmed in their homosexuality. Can we be sure that such a judgment of same-gender sex, even that of loving, committed couples, is right?
It seems to me that Ezekiel 16:49 sums up
clearly the Bible's categories of sin. It says, "The sins of
First named is
pride and its companion, haughtiness. We didn't expect that; this isn't one of
the terrible, unspeakable things that criminals and perverts do. That's right, Ezekiel first names the sin of the spirit. Now we recall that the sins of the spirit were the sins for which
The problem about sins of the spirit is
that for most of us we are not conscious of them. We go to church and study the
Bible and give to the church; we must be pretty good people, But if, like the
Pharisees, we are not conscious of our sins of the spirit, then
maybe we are like the Pharisees. Religious editor
Ezekiel then says that the people of
I ponder this one sin of omission that Ezekiel speaks of here and have a feeling of great guilt, for both the Old and New Testaments have so very much to say about helping the poor, but my hands have never been dirtied by working with or for the poor, Should most of our church members feel the same way? But partly it's not their fault; we preachers have not preached and taught about this responsibility God expects us to take. So the sin of us preachers is multiplied in this, our sin of omission. And this is only one sin of omission. When we add all the others...I often think that surely our sins of omission must be our greatest sins. Or do I think that because I am so unconscious of my sins of the spirit? I don't know, but I am certain that our sins of omission are very great.
Finally Ezekiel says of the people of
If homosexual sex is sin, it is the sin
of commission. This was the third sin Ezekiel mentioned. The three sins may not
have been given in order of their evil, but wouldn't you expect him to name the
worst first? If they were in such order, then the sin of commission is not as
great as the others, and the sexual sin would not be as great as our sins of
the spirit and of omission. But whether our sins of commission are small or
great, are we not all such great sinners in God's sight that we cannot possibly
point a finger at anyone else and say "Sinner"? Is this why
Welcoming gays and lesbians and affirming them in our church fellowship is not going soft on sin. Just the opposite. It is recognizing that we are all such great sinners in God's sight that we can never judge another's sins as worse than our sins. If we, sinners as we are, can be part of the fellowship of the church, then homosexuals, if they are considered sinners, can also be part of the fellowship. The criteria for their being welcomed is in their love for the Lord, their desire to worship and serve him and to have fellowship with us.
Even Richard Hays, a conservative theologian who believes homosexuality itself is sinful, insists that gays and lesbians must be taken in and affirmed by our churches, saying, "Unless we think the church is a community of sinless perfection, we will have to acknowledge that [gays and lesbians] are welcome along with other sinners in the company of those who trust in the God who justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). If they are not welcome, I will have to walk out the door along with them, leaving in the sanctuary only those entitled to cast the first stone."C-2
Louise, how can we sinners, we great
sinners, say anything to gays or lesbians or anybody who wants to worship and
work with us except, "You say you love the Lord and want to serve him. We
do, too. Come be a part of our fellowship of worship and study and work. We are
all such sinners in God's sight we need one another and we can help and support
one another. We are not here to judge one another's sins; we are here to love
one another as brothers and sisters in
7-5 Myers, David, "Sexual Orientation and Science" in LeDayne McLeese Polanski and Millard Eiland, Eds., Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, The Alliance of Baptists and Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, 172
Bruce Lowe is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas (1936) and of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (1946). He married Anna Marie in 1944; they have two sons and two grandsons. His ministry included the chaplaincy during World War II, pastorates in Louisiana, and teaching Bible at Louisiana College, Pineville. He left the ministry in 1966 and worked until retirement in the Office for Civil Rights of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Anna Marie Lowe is a graduate of Henderson State University in Arkadelphia (1946) and attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She has been the church organist or pianist in churches and missions since she was eleven.