Homosexuality in Christianity
Homosexuality is a controversial subject in Christianity because not all Christians agree upon the nature of homosexuality and the interpretation of relevant Biblical writings. When defined literally, the term “homosexual” means “same sex.” It can be used to describe sexual or nonsexual behavior or to describe sexual desire.
Christianity comprises many denominations, which differ in how they interpret the Christian Bible and in how exclusively they use the Bible as a foundation for their beliefs. Generally, conservative Christians base their faith on a strict literal interpretation of Biblical text, which they believe to be free from error. Liberal Christians base their faith on a more figurative interpretation of the Bible and supplement this with other informational sources such as scientific advances. Variation exists in the way people in these groups view homosexuality.
For conservative Christians such as Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, homosexual acts are considered to be inherently sinful. This belief is based on the interpretation of several key passages in the Bible: the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), the laws of the Torah (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13), and the writings of the Apostle Paul (Romans 1:26–27 and I Corinthians 6:9–11). To conservative Christians, such passages indicate that homosexual acts are an abomination to God and may prevent people from attaining eternal salvation. Fundamentalists generally do not believe that an unchangeable homosexual orientation exists. They do believe that prayer and reparative counseling may cause homosexual desires to be replaced with heterosexual desires. Some Evangelical churches and the Roman Catholic Church consider it possible for an unchangeable homosexual orientation to exist, but that God will help such individuals remain celibate through prayer.
For liberal Christians, such as those belonging to the United Church of Christ or the Metropolitan Community Church, homosexual acts within a committed and loving relationship are not considered sinful. This belief is based on a different interpretation of the previously described key passages in the Bible. In general, liberal Christians promote the examination of biblical writings in their original language within the appropriate historical context. They suggest that those passages in the Bible that appear to condemn homosexuality in a Page 306 | Top of Articlegeneral sense are actually referring to specific immoral behaviors. These would include such behaviors as homosexual rape, pedophilia, prostitution, and ritualistic pagan homosexual activities. Most liberal Christians agree with the mainstream psychological view that sexual orientation cannot be changed through prayer, reparative therapy, or counseling.
Biblical passages can be interpreted differently. The text of Leviticus 18:22 (King James Version) is given as “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: It is abomination.” For conservative Christians, the English translation is God's word and no further explanation is needed. For liberal Christians, the literal translation from the original Hebrew, “And with a male you shall not lay as you lay with a woman: It is abomination” allows room for debate. This translation has been interpreted to ban a variety of behaviors: Specific homosexual acts between men, all homosexual acts be tween men, specific homosexual acts between men in a pagan temple ritual, and specific homosexual acts between men on a woman's bed.
The term abomination could also be in reference to the act of submission, not to the sexual act itself. In ancient Hebrew culture, a woman's status was much lower than that of a man's. A man taking on the role of a woman would result in that man lowering his status, which would have been an abomination. Liberal Christians also question the validity of using the laws of the Torah for today's Christian peoples.
Among mainline Christian churches such as the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Metho dists, there is a wide range of beliefs concerning homosexuality. The congregations of these churches consist of individuals who have liberal, conservative, and moderate views on this issue, which has led to conflict. One example is the schism that occurred in the worldwide Anglican Community in February 2005. At a meeting between thirty-five of the thirty-eight heads of this community, the Episcopal Church of the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada were asked to leave the Anglican Consultative Council until at least 2008. This was due, in part, to the 2003 election of a homosexual minister as Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire and the public blessings of samesex unions within the Westminster Diocese of the Anglican Church of Canada. Fueled by the diverse beliefs existing in each of these Anglican communities, public debate continues and may reflect the larger controversy over the future status of homosexuality in Christianity itself.
Dave D. Hochstein
References and Further Reading
Baird, Vanessa. 2001. The No-Nonsense Guide to Sexual Diversity. Oxford: New Internationalist Publications.
Grenz, Stanley. 1998. Welcoming But Not Affirming: An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality. London: Westminster John Knox Press.
Holben, Larry R. 1999. What Christians Think about Homosexuality: Six Representative Viewpoints. North Richland Hills, TX: Bibal Press.
Jones, Stanton, and Mark Yarhouse. 2000. Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church's Moral Debate. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Jordan, Mark D. 1998. The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2449700168