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Homosexuality and bisexuality

Why are conservative Protestants
opposed to gay rights, while liberals
favor equal rights for all?

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Difference of opinion:

The Southern Baptist Convention, (along with other denominations within the conservative wing of Protestantism) and the United Church of Christ, (along with other liberal faith groups), all consider themselves to be Christians. They all use the contents of the Bible as a main foundation for their beliefs. Why have they reached such different conclusions concerning:

bulletThe morality or immorality of same-sex behavior;
bulletWhether sexually active homosexuals should be allowed as members or clergy;
bulletWhether loving same-sex committed couples should have their relationships recognized by a church ritual similar to a marriage ceremony.
bulletWhether same-sex committed couples should be allowed to marry in the church where it is legal to do so.

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Understanding the different beliefs:

One approach to understanding this difference of opinion is to consider how each wing of Protestantism develops their religious beliefs. Whether expressed by Christian individualsor denominations, their convictions are mostly based on a blend of four factors. In the case of homosexuality, this involves:

bulletWhat the Bible actually says about homosexual behavior;
bulletThe historical position of the denomination on homosexuality;
bulletPersonal observation and experience from one's involvement with homosexuals; and
bulletRational study -- the findings of researchers working in genetics, child psychology, human sexuality, etc.

It is important to realize that conservative and liberal Christians place different emphasis on the four factors. Generally speaking:

bulletConservatives rely mostly on the content of the Bible, as they interpret it to mean. "Sola Scriptura" ("Scripture alone") was one of the rallying cries of the Protestant Reformation. "Quod non est biblicum, non est theologicum" ("What is not biblical is not theological") was one of its slogans. 1 They give far less emphasis to the findings of researchers. In this case, the findings of researchers are generally rejected because they conflict with their interpretation of the Bible. Relying on their interpretation of the Bible can be disastrous. Consider the debate over slavery in the mid 19th century. In those days, some denominations enthusiastically quoted biblical passages to support the owning of human slaves as pieces of property.
bulletLiberals give far greater weight to the findings of scientific research, and are willing to abandon the traditional interpretation of biblical passages in favor of new analyses which harmonize the Bible and scientific discoveries. This also can be disastrous from time to time. Although science is inherently self correcting, sometimes scientists develop theories which deviate wildly from reality, are inaccurate, and cause harm. Always remember that one of the recipients of the Nobel Prize for medicine was the physician who developed frontal lobotomies.

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Typical conservative Protestant beliefs about homosexuality:

Conservative Christians generally believe that the Bible authors were inspired by God to write text that is inerrant -- free of error. They often quote the Bible's seven passages -- often called "clobber passages" which have traditionally been used to condemn homosexuality. They have generally concluded that the Bible clearly and consistently condemns all homosexual behavior, no matter what the nature of the relationship is:

bulletGenesis 19 discusses God's destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in response to the rampant homosexuality of the men in the two cities.
bulletLeviticus 18:22 and 20:13 clearly condemns same-sex behavior; it is described as an abomination. The  latter passage actually calls for the death penalty for sexually active homosexuals.
bulletVarious passages in Deuteronomy, Judges and Kings also condemn homosexuality.
bullet1 Corinthians 6 condemns "homosexual offenders," "homosexuals," "sodomites," or "abusers of themselves with mankind," depending upon the English translation used. Such will not "inherit the kingdom of God" -- they will not attain Heaven after death.
bulletRomans 1 condemns both men and women engaging in same-sex behavior.  Bennett Sims, the former Episcopal bishop of Atlanta, believes that these verses have done more to form conservative Christians' negative opinion of homosexuality than any other single passage in the Bible. He writes:

"For most of us who seriously honor Scripture these verses still stand as the capital New Testament text that unequivocally prohibits homosexual behavior. More prohibitively, this text has been taken to mean that even a same-sex inclination is reprehensible, so that a type of humanity known as 'homosexual' has steadily become the object of contempt and discrimination." 2

bullet1 Timothy 1 contains thoughts similar to Romans 1.
bulletJude 1:7 reinforces Genesis 19 and condemns the men of Sodom and Gomorrah for their desire to have sex with male visitors -- described in various Bible translations as "perversion" "perverted sensuality," "unnatural lust," "unnatural sex," "lust of men for other men," and "pursued unnatural desire."

Their conclusion is obvious: homosexuality is consistently condemned throughout the Bible. Further, they interpret 1 Corinthians 6 as showing that homosexuals can be cured and converted to heterosexuality by first being saved.

They generally believe that the proper approach of a Christian to a homosexual is to convince him to be converted to heterosexuality either through reparative therapy or by becoming saved.

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Typical liberal Protestant beliefs about homosexuality:

Liberal Christians generally reject the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. They acknowledge that the Bible consists mainly of material promoting the authors' evolving beliefs. To that is added text imported from nearby Pagan cultures, some religious propaganda, and some material -- like the execution of rape victims, religious minorities, and homosexuals; forced divorce of inter-faith couples; genocides; etc. -- which they view as definitely against the will of God.

Rather than concentrating on the seven "clobber" passages, they derive their beliefs from biblical themes of love, caring for other humans, inclusiveness, and justice. When they do study the "clobber" passages they often interpret them very differently and conclude that the Bible is silent on loving, committed consensual same-sex relationships. Typical interpretations are:

bulletGenesis 19 discusses the city residents' intent to rape strangers.
bulletLeviticus 18:22 and 20:13 condemns same-sex behavior, but only in Pagan temples.
bulletVarious passages in Deuteronomy, Judges and Kings condemn prostitution.
bullet1 Corinthians 6 condemns child molesters.
bulletRomans 1 describes heterosexuals going against their nature by engaging in same-sex behavior.
bullet1 Timothy 1 contains thoughts similar to Romans 1.
bulletJude 1:7 accuses the men of Sodom of intent to commit bestiality: having forcible sex with a non-human species -- angels in this case.

Their conclusion is obvious: The Bible condemns same-sex abuse -- rape, desecrating holy places, prostitution, child molestation, bestiality and sexual activity against one's basic nature. It is silent on consensual same-sex activity by persons with a homosexual or bisexual relationship within a loving committed relationship.

They generally believe that the proper approach of a Christian to homosexuality is to:

bulletHelp them accept their sexual orientation as ethically neutral, normal, natural and unchangeable.
bulletWork to end oppression of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals; and
bulletWork to end special privileges for heterosexuals -- like the right to marry.
bulletReject reparative therapy as ineffectual and unsafe.

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Opinion expressed by John S. Spong:

Waterfront Media publishes a regular Email newsletter in which retired bishop John S. Spong answers questions submitted by the public. 3 "SXL" wondered about the growth of conservative Protestant denominations and was "rather appalled that their 'love' for humanity does not include homosexuals" and other groups The asked Spong's opinion about the future of these groups in the U.S. 4

J.S. Spong suggested that religious fundamentalism is a mechanism to generate security and stability in its members who live in a culture that is in rapid change. Unfortunately it requires that some group be demonized. Currently, the group selected are persons with a homosexual orientation. He writes, in part:

"I think that we have in recent years entered a 'New Dark Age' in the Western world. It is marked by the rise of religious systems that seek to build security by encouraging prejudice against a designated victim. Both evangelical fundamentalism and the kind of ultra-conservative Roman Catholicism that is at present installed in the Vatican are publicly defined by their visceral and uninformed hostility toward homosexual persons. What the heretic was in the Middle Ages, the black in the days of slavery and segregation, and the Jew in Nazi Germany, the homosexual has become in the religious hysteria of our day. This kind of behavior is always a response to fear and to a rapidly changing world. Security-providing religion, which always requires a victim, is like a drug that carries us over the rough places of life. It is certainly not the wave of the Christian future....Beyond that I think we ought to recognize that truth and unity cannot ever be built on identifying a victim that creates the illusion of unity because there is a common enemy. When these institutions say that God hates the same things that the worshiper hates, everyone should be very suspicious."

"Dark Ages do not last forever. Ten years from now this phase of our religious history will surely be over. The contemporary scientific and medical data that suggests that homosexuality is a perfectly normal but minority aspect of our humanity, that it is a given and not a chosen aspect of life, will have challenged these prejudices so deeply as to make them seem not only quaint but ignorant. Remember that less than one hundred years ago we were still persecuting left-handed people as evil, deviant and unnatural. In the meantime I share your enormous embarrassment that the Christian church is today the major voice in the Western World in the persecution of those members of our society whose only 'sin' is that they were born with a sexual orientation different from the majority. 5 Someday we will be terribly ashamed of the Christian leaders in our generation." 4

If Bishop Spong is correct, then fundamentalists will have to move on, leaving homosexuals to demonize another group -- perhaps Muslims, or Witches, other Neopagans, or some other religious group.

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A book to help the general public understand homosexuality:

"Ordination Standards:  Biblical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives," iUniverse, Inc., (2005), 588 pages. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.

The Ordination Standards Task Force of North Como Presbyterian Church in Roseville, MN, has produced a most impressive book on homosexuality. Its main theme is whether candidates who are in loving committed same-sex relationships should be allowed to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church, (USA). It also covers many other topics associated with sexual orientation, including reparative therapy, suicide among gay and lesbian youth, homosexuality in the natural world, etc. Unlike almost all other books which take either a liberal or conservative approach, this book attempts to explain all viewpoints objectively. An amazing accomplishment.

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Site navigation:

Home > "Hot" religious topics > Homosexuality & Bisexuality > Homosexuality & religion > here

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. James Akin, "The Practical problems of Sola Scriptura," at: http://www.cin.org/

  2. "How to be true to the Bible and say 'Yes' to same-sex unions,"  at: http://members.aol.com/

  3. You can receive the free newsletter by signing up at: http://www.johnshelbyspong.com/

  4. John S. Spong, "Bishop Spong Q&A on Growth of the Evangelical Community," Beliefnet weekly mailing, 2005-DEC-07. We deleted part of Bishop Spong's reply in order to stay within copyright guidelines.

  5. Strictly speaking, Bishop Spong many be incorrect here. The available scientific information on homosexuality seems to indicate that the 5% of adults who are homosexual were not actually born with that way. Rather, a larger number of infants -- perhaps 10% -- are born with the propensity to homosexuality which was later triggered in some children before school age. It lies dormant in others. The trigger is an unknown factor in the environment.

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Copyright © 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-DEC-07
Latest update: 2005-DEC-08
Author: B.A. Robinson, who happens to have been born left-handed, and thus -- by definition -- is deviant.

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