Inspired by Funky’s recent exchange with Amba, I’ve decided to share my opinions regarding Christian acceptance of gays.
At the University of Pittsburgh (aka Pitt), in the fall semester of 1999, I attended a bible study series sponsored by the Pitt Rainbow Alliance and lead by Dr. Michael Penn-Strah, a protestant minister from Pittsburgh’s Northside. They used the study book Claiming the Promise by Mary Jo Osterman. I would like to share some reflections of that Bible study that stuck in my mind along with some other intermingled comments. (As a matter of disclosure, I am a Catholic Christian who before and after the Bible study believed that a homosexual tendency is not a sin but that engaging in homosexual sex, even in same-sex “marriage”, is sinful.)
I attended the study for personal as well as “professional” reasons. I was an opinions writer for The Pitt News. There was another writer, Michael Mazza, who always wrote pro-gay columns. I thought that I should balance out his columns with at least one from the other side.
(All scripture passages are from the New American Bible published by the USCCB)
At the start of the study, the room in the William Pitt Union was packed with people. In a circle on the perimeter of the room sat the moderator, members of the Rainbow Alliance, members of Catholic and Protestant churches and student fellowships, those with promiscuous gay lifestyle, and those who had not admittedly made up their minds about homosexual and gay issues. (Keep in mind that there’s a difference between the terms homosexual and gay. As I understand it, nowadays, homosexual refers to sexual orientation that is unconnected to any physical act and gay refers to those who have homosexual sex.)
In the first session, we looked at 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
"All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work."
The word “is” was correctly deemed optional in the translation (from the Greek). It led to the following conclusion.
"The second translation [where the word ‘is’ is omitted] acknowledges that the writer of 2 Timothy probably did not mean that every verse of scripture was relevant for all time to come… The early church saw within these writings the ring of truth and reality and declared them to be scripture. However, biblical writers from both Testaments continually reinterpreted and modified scripture for their new times and situations. So did later theologians. We call their writings the tradition (Protestant) or part of the magisterium (Roman Catholic). At the same time, both biblical writers and church leaders continued to affirm the inspiration of the Bible."
"So can we. Some of us take one tiny step out of our joint dilemma by accepting the second translation of 2 Timothy 3:16. We believe that God’s Word is not synonymous with all the words of scripture. We acknowledge different ways of interpreting scripture."
This conclusion of the study left us open to disregard parts of scripture that were “not synonymous” with God’s Word. I argued that (1) the scripture to which Paul was referring was the Old Testament since the New Testament was not compiled yet and that (2) the compilers of the Christian Church’s canon of scripture, i.e. the magisterium of the Catholic Church, had the authority to (a) form that canon into the Bible and (b) officially interpret it. This pronouncement was mostly ignored.
The “joint dilemma” to which the passage speaks relates to two “different” Christian views. Note how the phrases slur the necessary line between “same-sex conduct” and homosexual orientation.
"Homosexual behavior as a sin. The Bible plainly says so, in several places, and the Bible is God’s word. Maybe homosexuality is no worse a sin than others, but how can we say that homosexual relationships are good when the Bible says same-sex conduct is an abomination? I don’t want to be seen as rejecting others, but how can we joyfully receive homosexuals into our church when they don’t repent of their sin? Often I feel as if other Christians are trying to destroy my belief in the Bible as the Word of God…."
1.Conduct or orientation? The orientation is not a sin, only same-sex conduct.
2. It may seem silly to ask, but are the relationships referred to sexual (as in “marriage”) or platonic non-sexual relationships? The latter is not a problem.
3. Does the rejection refer to those with a homosexual orientation or practicing gay individuals? Of course we should “joyfully receive homosexuals”. Again, the orientation is not a sin. It’s not clear if the pro-gay side thinks the orientation is viewed as a sin by the other side.
"The bible doesn’t clearly condemn gay and lesbian persons even though it contains negative verses about same-sex conduct . People back then didn’t have a word for homosexuality or a modern understanding of sexual orientation. Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. I believe the Bible is inspired by God – if I being to it insights from twentieth-century scholars and my own experience. I believe lesbian women and gay men are God’s children too and I welcome them in the church. My dilemma is how to connect with Christians who interpret the Bible literally. Often I feel as if my faith is dismissed and my approach is not understood…."
1. The words gay and lesbian might be used incorrectly to mean those with the orientation. As a person opposed to active homosexuality, I totally agree that the orientation alone condemns anyone. If they imply homosexual acts, I disagree since such acts are explicitly and implcitly condemned throughout the Bible.
2. No word for homosexuality? Do you mean the orientation or actions? They definitely had a word for the latter, but who cares if they had a word for the former?
3. Modern or post-modern understanding of sexual orientation? Only recently was homosexual orientation removed from some official list of mental disorders.
4. I’ll agree and disagree that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality. I’ll explain what I mean by that shortly.
5. I agree that gay men and women are God’s children, but just like any other children of God, they sin. The homosexual acts that they commit must be repented.
In the end, the disagreements during the Bible study came down to the directed, though possibly unintentional, conflating of “sexual orientation” and “same-sex conduct”. There was little acknowledgement of the important difference between each term. Many of the arguments that ensued were not necessary, unless they were simply prods for angry reactions. It seemed that, most of the time, toleration of those with homosexual orientation was being taught and then, all of a sudden, the same-sex conduct was being lumped in to be tolerated too. It was only later that the guide set up a clear defense for same-sex acts.
In this session they did say same-sex conduct in a non-committed relationship was wrong, only because it was non-committed and nothing else. Some of the promiscuous homosexuals did not come back after this pronouncement.
In the second session, the relationship between the Old Testament law and the new covenant “inheritance” was made using Galations 3:23-29, 5:13-23, and 6:15.
"Before faith came, we were held in custody under law, confined for the faith that was to be revealed. Consequently, the law was our disciplinarian for Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a disciplinarian. For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise. … For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. I say, then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want. But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. … For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation. (Galations 3:23-29, 5:13-23, 6:15)"
Here, the line between accepting those with homosexual orientation and tolerating the same-sex acts was further blurred. The conclusion was clear that those with a homosexual orientation can be “heirs apparent” of Christ, but then it became sketchy with development of the Galatians readings.
"The question to ask ourselves is not, ‘What laws must we follow?’ but: ‘Will such and such an action increase our love of God, neighbor, and self?’ (Galations 5:13,14). The signs that we are doing so will be signs and gifts of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galations 5:22)."
"Being called to freedom is about belonging to God as descendants of the Abrahamic promise (Galations 3:29). We are heirs of God’s new creation or coming reign. Being called to freedom is about living creatively in the Spirit. It is about being ‘new creations’ in Christ (Galations 6:15). It is about being both graced and claimed (wholly and unconditionally) by God’s creating and redeeming YES."
The confusion was concluded with this illogical statement:
"God honored us long ago by making us heirs without regard for our differences. We honor God when our gift of sexuality and love is expressed in a male-female relationship – if we are heterosexual or bisexual. And we honor God when that gift is expressed with a partner of the same sex – if we are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. We do not all have to be or act ‘straight’ to fulfill God’s promise. We each can claim the new promise and be new creations in Christ by remaining true to our basic identities and living in freedom with responsibility."
The above statement is illogical since it was not established whether same-sex conduct is a sin or not. If it is a sin, the above statement becomes invalid insomuch as it deals with the conduct in a positive light. Yes, we can be heirs if we have “differences”, but not if we continue to claim that our sin is not a sin; there is no responsible sin, as Isaiah 5:20-21 clearly states.
"Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who change darkness into light, and light into darkness, who change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own sight, and prudent in their own esteem!"
At this point, I had to convey that identifying sin was crucial to loving God: we have to follow His commandments to love Him as true disciples of Christ.
“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” (John 14:21)
But how do we know when we’ve acted contrary to his mmandments? Can’t we keep sinning even though we are not under the law? Paul said it plainly, “Of course not!”.
"What then shall we say? Shall we persist in sin that grace may abound? Of course not! How can we who died to sin yet live in it? Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life."
"For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. For a dead person has been absolved from sin. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as (being) dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus."
"Therefore, sin must not reign over your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires. And do not present the parts of your bodies to sin as weapons for wickedness, but present yourselves to God as raised from the dead to life and the parts of your bodies to God as weapons for righteousness."
"What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? Of course not! Do you not know that if you pres"ent yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, although you were once slaves of sin, you have become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were entrusted. Freed from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your nature. For just as you presented the parts of your bodies as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness for lawless ness, so now present them as slaves to righteousness for sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free from righteousness. But what profit did you get then from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit that you have leads to sanctification, and its end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. …"
"What then can we say? That the law is sin? Of course not! Yet I did not know sin except through the law, and I did not know what it is to covet except that the law said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, finding an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetousness. Apart from the law sin is dead. I once lived outside the law, but when the commandment came, sin became alive; then I died, and the commandment that was for life turned death for me. For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it put me to death. So then the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good." (Romans 6:1-23, 7:7-12)
In part II, I’ll demonstrate that there is a law in the scriptures that is still valid today that says homosexual acts are sinful.