Gay Debate in the Church

by Larry Bishop and Eric Pement
Originally published in Cornerstone vol. 12, no. 65 (1983), pp. 12–16

[Minor typos or errors in the original text are normally corrected.]

In recent years few issues have come under such extreme reevaluation within the church as has homosexuality. Contributing to this reassessment of human sexuality and its developments have been studies in the fields of genetics and psychology. The growing interest within the secular realm has provoked major church studies bringing into question those scriptures traditionally held as prohibiting homosexuality.

Studies in Sexuality

Beginning with the Kinsey reports of 1948 and 1953,[1] studies on homosexuality have appeared prominently in psychiatric and medical journals. Kinsey formulated a rating scale in an effort to distinguish between the exclusive heterosexual (rated 0) and the exclusive homosexual (rated 6). He concluded that varying degrees of heterosexuality and homosexuality characterized those persons in between.

The issue of causation was raised in 1954 by Edward Glover in The Problem of Homosexuality.[2] Glover, a clinical psychologist, suggested three main factors leading to the development of the homosexual disposition: (1) Constitutional or innate factors, (2) factors of development during early childhood and at the age of puberty, and (3) factors during development which give rise to sexual arousal, together with encouragement toward homosexual enactment.

The following year a memorandum of evidence prepared by a special committee of the British Medical Association Council made distinctions between what it termed "essential" homosexuality (which was believed to be of genetic origin) and "acquired" homosexuality, which appeared as a continuation of adolescent homosexual activity, encouraged by "seduction, imitation, segregation of sexes during adolescence, defective homes, etc."[3]

Seven years later, in 1962, came the influential psychoanalytic studies of Irving Bieber. Bieber, along with other members of the Society of Medical Psychoanalysts, undertook an indepth study of 106 male homosexuals and 100 male heterosexuals. They concluded that homosexuality developed in persons as "a pathological exchange related to fears and inhibitions associated with the opposite sex."[4]

Bieber's studies, however, end on a distinct note of optimism. He states: "A heterosexual shift is a possibility for all homosexuals who are strongly motivated to change," for they "do not bypass heterosexual development stages and all remain potentially heterosexual."[5] Bieber's position has come under widespread criticism, yet he maintains that it "keeps the options open for homosexuals in a way the new myth that homosexuality is a normal variant of sexuality does not."[6]

In 1968 another major psychoanalytic study appeared, C. W. Socarides' The Overt Homosexual. Socarides maintains there is nothing innate, inborn, or genetic in homosexuality, but that it is rather a "learned, acquired behavior."[7] He further buttresses this through the male/female distinctions which exist in us from birth and have arisen as part of "the evolutionary development of man." This natural and institutionally maintained heterosexuality, Socarides argues, is only diverted by significant tensions and fears.[8]

John Money, a contemporary authority on psychosexual development, attributes homosexuality to "the influence of sex hormones on the development of sexual pathways in the brain."[9] He likens this to being left-handed, ambidextrous, or right-handed, stating: "The cause [of handedness] is not fully explainable, though there does appear to be an innate plus a learned component. The same applies to homosexuality, bisexuality, and heterosexuality."[10]

Obviously, not all authorities agree with this theory. Although most researchers find no hormonal associations specific to homosexuality,[11] Money's theory has gained a degree of popularity, and appears in several books which offer a pro-homosexual Christian perspective.

The question of causation—genetic, acquired, hormonal, etc.—is important because as these various theories unfold, they are paralleled by a diverging opinion within the church as to the acceptability of homosexuality. This lack of consensus among the psychiatric professions has been reflected similarly among churchmen.

Yea, Nay, and Maybe

The Minnesota Council of Churches is now urging its member churches to support gay rights legislation and has suggested that homosexuality is not sinful.[12] A nine-member court of the United Methodist Church's annual conference ruled recently that nothing in church law prohibits the ordaining of homosexuals.[13] Last year, a task force for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco prepared a report calling for rejection of the Church's historic stance on this issue.[14] Such winds of change continue to beat on many church doors.

Many of the arguments which now form the substance of these reconsiderations find their genesis in D. Sherwin Bailey's Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition, first published in 1955. The importance of this book in the current debate is not slight, it being often referred to as the "beginning of the church's attempts to come to terms with the facts of contemporary homosexual experience."[15]

In this work Bailey seeks to examine biblical attitudes toward homosexuality. He designates "true" homosexual orientation as "inversion" while deviation by heterosexuals is labeled "perversion." He argues that no foundation exists for the traditional belief that Genesis 19 and Judges 19 refer to homosexual sin, that the Levitical prohibitions of homosexuality are irrelevant to contemporary culture, and that New Testament authors were unaware of the distinction between inversion and perversion. Thus Bailey concludes that the New Testament offers decisive biblical authority for reproving only the conduct of "perverts," and does not speak to the expressions of love between genuine "inverts." As important as Bailey's book may be, it would be an oversimplification to describe the division in Christian opinion in terms of those who accept or reject his conclusions. In fact, it appears there are at least three main streams of thought concerning the question of homosexuality.

There are (1) those who, with varying degrees of acceptance of modern psychological findings, nevertheless maintain the traditional interpretation of Scripture and affirm that homosexuality is contrary to the will of God. In the second category (2) are those who have tried to develop a position of mediation, recognizing the fallen condition of homosexuality, but believing that its largely irreversible nature requires Christian morality to allow for some homosexual behavior within limits. In the last category (3) are those of the self-described "Christian homophile" movement who would affirm not only the permissibility but the "creative joy" of homosexuality. Believing the Bible has been misinterpreted, they assert that its moral teaching on sexuality was not meant to address the invert, and thus has no relevance.

In the first category appear such publications as the Church of England's Report on Homosexuality, David Field's The Homosexual Way—A Christian Option?, Jerry Kirk's The Homosexual Crisis in the Mainline Church, and Richard Lovelace's Homosexuality and the Church. Common to these works are criticisms of Bailey's exegesis, analyses of historical, biblical, and ethical elements, and various medical and psychological considerations. These elements are set in the midst of the conviction that both Old and New Testaments proscribe any form of homosexual practice. This literature demands a "double repentance" by both gays, who are called to forego all homosexual practices, and "straight" members of the church, who must exorcise pride, prejudice, hostility, and homophobia.

The second category includes such titles as H. Kimball Jones' Towards a Christian Understanding of the Homosexual, Charles Curran's Catholic Moral Theology in Dialogue, and Mark Oriason's The Homosexual Question. These works seek to develop a mediating position which generally submits that the homosexual question must not be viewed in terms of "sex within a heterosexual relationship" but rather "sex as depersonalizing force versus sex as the fulfillment of human relationships."[16] Attention is being drawn away from the question of with whom one has a sexual relationship (same sex/opposite sex), and being focused on how one's relationships are conducted.

However, writers taking this position by no means draw the same conclusions. For example, Jones concludes that the church must begin to recognize the validity of mature homosexual relationships and encourage the invert to maintain fidelity to one partner in order to overcome the guilt and fear which result from promiscuity. Oriason, on the other hand, sees little hope in such a position as Jones'. He rather states that "clinical experience leads me to believe that a successful homosexual pair involving real love is rare, especially on a long-term basis."[17].

In contrast, the third viewpoint argues that homosexuality is not only permissible, but to be affirmed on par with heterosexuality. Included in this category are J. J. McNeill's The Church and the Homosexual, Norman Pittenger's A Time for Consent, Sara Coggin's Sexual Expression and Moral Chaos, Jim Cotter's Freedom and Framework: The Shaping of Gay Relationships, Kennedy Thorn's Liberation Through Love and The Bible and Homosexuality, and perhaps the most influential of all, Scanzoni and Mollenkott's Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? The majority of these books draw heavily on the biblical exegesis of Bailey to support their rejection of the traditional position. God created human sexuality apart from biology, they affirm, and in light of today's knowledge the traditional arguments based on scripture and natural law are no longer valid. Typically, they feel that "it is entirely compatible with the Christian faith not only to love another person of the same sex but also to express that love fully in a personal sexual relationship."[18]

These arguments offer a significant challenge, centering around three main questions:

  1. Is homosexuality an abnormal condition, or is it a "natural" orientation on par with heterosexuality?
  2. Have the biblical passages which have traditionally been interpreted as condemnatory of homosexuality been misunderstood?
  3. What are the Christian norms for sexual behavior, and how should homosexual practices be viewed in light of them?

Is Homosexuality a "Natural" Sexual Orientation?

To ask whether homosexuality is "natural" or not is to ask a question about its relationship to creation, not merely whether homosexual impulses have been a lifelong part of one's disposition. On this order, it is not adequate to say that since people with a homosexual disposition exist, it necessarily follows that God has made them that way. Such an assertion can only raise a number of questions. In what respect has God made them homosexual, if indeed at all? Is this condition part of God's good creation as a distinct feature of the essential order of humanity?

The creation of male and female in Genesis 1 and 2 is the blueprint for human sexuality. With the admonition to "be fruitful and multiply" (1:28), we begin to see the divine pattern for human sexuality, a pattern which is not limited to the function of procreation but which goes beyond to express the complementarity of male/female relationships. Man's fullest complement is found in his wife, "a helper suitable for him" (Gen. 2:18), one who completes his basic needs in intimate human relationship. The passage implies the same fulfillment for a woman in her husband. Such a relationship is further developed in Gen. 2:24, in the phrase, "they shall become one flesh," joining the two persons in a unique and personal union.

Paralleling these passages are Jesus' teachings on marriage in the New Testament (Matt. 19:4-6, Mark 10:6-9) and Paul's analogy between man and woman's union in the marriage bond and the union between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:22-33), both of which clearly presuppose the normative nature of heterosexual marriage found in Genesis.

Conversely, nowhere in Scripture is there any evidence that homosexual relations receive the same blessing or can possess an equivalent intimacy or sanction as heterosexual relations. Passages indicating God's approval of this form of sexuality are not to be found. Rather, every reference to homosexuality comes in a clearly condemnatory context. In Romans 1 Paul seems to have specifically chosen homosexual behavior as his primary example of sexual behavior that is "against nature." In characterizing homosexuality as "against nature" (1:26), he describes it in the context of man's rejection of the evidence of creation and its testimony to God's existence, power, and divine nature. Thus Lutheran theologian Helmut Thielicke states: "The fundamental order of the creation and the created determination of the sexes make it justifiable to conclude that homosexuality is in every case not in accord with the order of creation."[19]

Is Scripture Concerning Homosexuality Misunderstood?

In examining the arguments of those who dispute the traditional interpretation of Scripture on homosexuality, there appear to be three primary contentions:

  1. The story of Sodom is not concerned with homosexual acts and is irrelevant to the issue of homosexuality.
  2. The two specifically condemnatory Old Testament passages (Lev. 18:22 and 20:13), because of their dispensational character, offer no guidance to the genuine invert today.
  3. The New Testament passages only condemn the practices of those described as male perverts but do not speak to the condition of inversion, since it was unknown at the time. Underlying these arguments is the contention that scriptural prohibitions of homosexuality solely address heterosexual "perverts," but not inverts.

Each of these arguments might easily be termed Baileyisms, for they find their origin in D. Sherwin Bailey's book, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition. For this reason we will concentrate on Bailey's texts.

Sodom: Just Getting Acquainted?

The story of Sodom is generally presented in homophile literature as the first example of scriptural misinterpretation by the church.

In the opening verses of Genesis 19, Lot is depicted as offering his home for the night to the two angels (vs. 1, 3), only to have their sojourn interrupted by the men of Sodom, who demand, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them" (vs. 5). Lot responds (vs. 7) by begging those who assailed his doors not to "act so wickedly," and counters their demand with the offer of his virgin daughters, which is summarily rejected (vs. 8,9). It is only through the protection of the angels that Lot keeps his life and that of his family (vs. 11-13).

Traditional interpretation has understood the phrases "that we may know them" and "act so wickedly" as referring to homosexual violation. Sherwin Bailey contends reference to homosexual sin in this account is highly tenuous. Rather, he tells us the Hebrew word yadha, while sometimes denoting "to have coitus with," denotes, with much greater frequency simply "to know" and may only mean "to get acquainted with." Bailey then suggests the men of Sodom simply wanted to "get acquainted with" Lot's visitors, perhaps committing a breach of local cultural rules regarding hospitality.[20]

However, this interpretation is open to severe criticism on a number of points. First, it is only with extreme difficulty one may comprehend the "sin of Sodom" solely in terms of hospitality. The Scripture states the men of Sodom were "wicked and great sinners before the Lord" (Gen. 13:13). Deuteronomy 32:33 interprets their influence in the land as "the poison of serpents." Indeed, "Sodom" became a byword for lewdness and abominations, ranging from oppressing the poor to pride and idolatry (Ezek. 16:46-58).

In the New Testament, Sodom is given as an example of ungodliness, lawlessness, and licentiousness (2 Peter 2:6). In Jude 7, 8 the inhabitants of Sodom are referred to as having left their natural affections, as did those angels who rebelled against God (vs. 6), to act "immorally," indulging in "unnatural lust." These and other scriptures serve to illustrate that the sin of Sodom was definitely seen by both Old and New Testament writers as the haughty defiance of God-given morality, demonstrating a vivid sexual distortion.

Second, Bailey seems to decide the meaning of yadha, "to know," primarily on the basis of statistical occurrence. As one writer points out, "of the 943 times yadha occurs in the Old Testament, 17 refer to sexual intercourse, and 28 to 'get acquainted with'."[21] Indeed, the word has a variety of usage, meaning at different times: find out, perceive, discriminate, consider, be wise, be skillful, etc. Obviously, context is the deciding factor in determining the meaning of a given word. Bailey himself apparently agrees, for he notes that yadha can only refer to sexual intercourse in Gen. 19:8.[22] Yet just three verses earlier, he claims yadha bears an entirely different meaning. That he has disregarded context to support a pet theory can be seen by consulting any commentary on Genesis. For example, the Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament states, in reference to Gen. 19:5:

"While Lot was entertaining his guests with the greatest hospitality, the people of Sodom gathered round his house … and demanded, with the basest violation of the sacred rite of hospitality and the most shameless proclamation of their sin … that the strangers be brought out, that they might know them. [Yadha] is applied, as in Judges 19:22, to the carnal sin of paederastia, a crime very prevalent among Canaanites."[23]

Third, Bailey contends the Sodom narrative is legendary rather than historical and therefore the relevance of this text for Bailey is nil. The reply to this would be that even if these passages were legendary rather than historical (an idea with no basis), they are nonetheless part of accepted Scripture, and thus the moral judgment which it provides, regardless of its literary form, is no less valid.

Leviticus and Irrelevancy

In Leviticus 18 and 20 we find the direct prohibition of homosexuality. "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (18:22). "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination ..." (20:13).

In both of these verses we find homosexual behavior described as to`ebah, usually rendered "abomination." This word finds wide usage in the Old Testament: when used in conjunction with "before the Lord," to`ebah often refers to practices derived from idolatry, as when referring to Ahaz in 2 Kings 16:3 or to "lying lips" and "diverse weights" (Prov. 12:22, 20:23), and according to commentators expresses the idea of something "loathed, detested" as "incompatible with the nature of God."[24] A study commission for the Church of England explains: "What appears to lie behind the use of the word in the Old Testament is the concept of an order of being which runs through the entire world and of which human society is a part. Basic to this concept is the idea that everything and everyone has a proper nature and a proper sphere: the clearest expression of this is found in the … picture of creation in Genesis 1 ... So whatever disrupts the proper ordering of the world and society is an 'abomination' and such disruption is particularly shown whenever any creature diverges from its proper nature or proper sphere."[25]

Thus, it is far understating the case to define to`ebah as J. J. McNeill does: "not proper according to Jewish law and custom."[26] Homosexual behavior is censured in Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 as being incompatible with the nature of God.

While Bailey seems to agree with the prohibitive nature of these passages, he nevertheless counters that these verses "give no guidance in dealing with the manifold and complex problems of sexual inversion."[27] Thus he feels that any reference to the Old Testament concerning homosexuality should be abandoned as irrelevant. This consideration, however, is unrealistic, simply for the fact that if the moral and ethical considerations found within the previous discussion of "abomination" cannot be found to be "relevant," where then can "relevance" be found? Bailey has transmuted moral issues into dispensable customs.

How Exclusive Is Romans One?

Perhaps the most well-known New Testament passage dealing with homosexuality is found in the first chapter of Romans, verses 18-27.

The context of these verses is clearly set within the framework of two words, "ungodliness" and "wickedness" (vs. 18). Few commentators find any great distinction in meaning between these two words as used here. One source offers that "we come closest to Paul's thought if we regard the two words simply [as] an emphatic expression of one and the same thing. A wrong relationship with God (vs. 21) and the wrong behavior linked to it are together set in contrast to the righteousness of God in verse 17."[28]

In Paul's reasoning, this "ungodliness" and "wickedness" emerge as a consequence of suppressing the truth (vs. 18) and rejecting that which God has made plain (vs. 19). Clearly, part of the guilt of man stems from rejecting the witness of creation. The mute testimony of the created order is Paul's basis for discerning the character and will of God. It is not unreasonable that the pattern of creation should also serve as the backdrop for our conduct in human sexual relationships.

Therefore when Paul speaks of "dishonorable passions" and "shameless acts" of a sexual nature (vs. 26, 27), given the descriptive "unnatural," the sense would indicate "unnatural" in terms of the heterosexual pattern of human creation. On this basis, all homosexual behavior is, by reference back to vs. 18, contrary to the revealed scheme of creation.

Some writers have suggested Paul's condemnation of homosexuality in this passage refers only to those who practice it as the result of idolatry. Accordingly, homosexual behavior between Christians is thought to be exempt from Paul's censure. However, Paul does not argue that the homosexuality of men and women is related to the faith or idolatry of each. Rather it is, as Richard Lovelace puts it, "a product of the damaged social fabric in a society of idolaters."[29] Such disorders as illustrated in vs. 24-32 are not wrong merely because they issue from idolatry, but are wrong because of their very nature.

McNeill argues the word "unnatural" in vs. 26 denotes either the heterosexual idolater who goes beyond his natural sexual appetite, seeking new sexual pleasures, or those who fail to conform to the "Jewish-approved customs of the Levitical laws."[30]

For the sake of argument, let's assume McNeill is right: nonetheless, this would still mean Paul believes homosexuality is behavior characteristic of pagans, uncharacteristic of the people of God. In either case, Paul is expressing a specific morality which prohibits such behavior. And in actual fact, Paul is referring to the ungodly actions of all men, not just Gentiles, but both Jew and Gentile by way of their inclusion in "the very same things" (Rom. 2:1).

Thus we find that the "exclusive" context which McNeill and others try to give these passages is unacceptable, simply because Paul is addressing the behavior of all men. His concentration on behavior is evident from the descriptives given in verses 29-31, and is further clarified by his observation in 2:2 that "the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who do such things." That Paul chose to discuss homosexuality first is perhaps coincidental, though it aptly serves to demonstrate the spiritual darkness of a culture which has turned its back on God, producing the reverse of what is "natural" to the creation.

Corinthians as Cultural Conditioning

"Don't you know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards … will inherit the kingdom of God" (I Cor. 6:9-10 NIV): The Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai which appear here are respectively translated "male prostitutes" and "homosexual offenders." Most commentators understand these words to refer to the "passive and active partners, respectively, in male homosexual relations."[31] This understanding is disputed, again by McNeill, whose argument is used by John Boswell[32], that malakoi refers to those who are "self-indulgent" and that arsenokoitai is limited to homosexual prostitutes.

McNeill's definition of malakoi is untenable. The fact that the term in extrabiblical Greek literature refers to male prostitutes, and that, when referring to persons, most Greek lexicons and dictionaries give it this definition argues forcefully against his claim. McNeill does not deny that arsenokoitai refers to homosexuality. However, he maintains the plural form indicates a promiscuous gay prostitute, as opposed to a committed lover. What he fails to note is that arsenokoitai is in the plural simply because all the other classes of unrighteous persons are pluralized (adulterers, thieves, revilers, etc.), and thus his argument falls flat.

Paul affirms this sort of behavior has no place in the kingdom of God and implies that persons who continue in the behavior described here themselves have no place in the kingdom. This is predicated on the fact that, as Lovelace points out, biblical morality distinguishes between "repentant believers prone to certain sins, but striving against their inner and outward expressions, and unrepentant persons following a steady, unresistant course of willful disobedience."[33]

Interestingly enough, Bailey agrees with our conclusions concerning malakoi and arsenokoitai, which, he states, "… denote respectively those males who engage passively or actively in homosexual acts."[34] He, however, makes a suggestion which has proven to be highly influential. Based on his distinctions between perverts and inverts, he offers that Paul's censure applies only to the former and that Paul, being unaware of the condition of inversion, does not speak to the physical expressions of two persons of the same sex who affirm they are "in love."

Such an assumption contains certain fallacies. Homosexual behavior has existed in societies throughput history. Thus, it would seem highly unlikely that earlier cultures would be unaware that some people appeared to express an exclusively homosexual disposition. Aristophanes (Greek dramatist, 445-385 B.C.) recognized the homosexual disposition as "natural" to some, just as hetero-sexuality was for the majority, as did the illustrious Aristotle (384-322) and others.[35] The homosexual condition was obviously not unknown in the ancient Greek culture which bore a direct influence on Paul's writings. It may be safely assumed that the well-educated Paul, in condemning homosexuality, took fully into account the Greek acceptance of gayness as a natural and permanent state for certain persons.

Thus we find that from the standpoint of Christian morality, the distinctions of "invert" and "pervert" are completely inadequate to determine the rightness or wrongness of sexual acts for specific individuals. Rather, the Bible reveals a God to whom certain acts are wrong regardless of the personal and social context in which they occur. By returning to the pattern of creation as the norm for human sexuality, Paul places all homosexual behavior, as well as all heterosexual distortions, in the category of perversion. Thus we must totally reject the situationism of Bailey's invert/pervert ethic, since from the standpoint of Scripture, the distinction between "invert" and "pervert" are non-existent.

Others suggest that Paul's moral judgments in sexual matters were a product of cultural conditioning. However to assert that Paul has intruded a passing cultural prejudice into his teaching on salvation is to impugn his inspiration altogether.

The Church and Homosexuality

There is need for repentance on the part of the Church. Too long the Church has maintained an attitude which typifies homosexuality as some special "mark of the devil." Christians must exorcise any attitudes which characterize homosexuals as persons to be shunned or set apart as pariahs. Such prejudices have cut homosexuals off from both the gospel and the Church as a redemptive, loving community. The failure to offer homosexuals compassion, understanding, and love exists only to the Church's shame. On this order it is important to realize that homosexuality is not a sin which is above and beyond other sexual sins as "special." To treat it as such fosters alienation in those struggling with this sin, who may already feel their case is "special" and that they are set apart from others as "more wicked." Rather, it must be affirmed that homosexuals are persons equal to ourselves in all respects.

Having repented of its homophobia, the Church's first responsibility to the homosexual is to proclaim the redemptive love of Christ, affirming that the homosexual stands equally under the call of God's love. Under this call, they are to be welcomed into the fellowship of believers as members of a congregation of repentant sinners. Thus the Church as the body of Christ is given the responsibility of providing the same context for the growth and change of homosexuals that it provides for its heterosexual members.

This is to be expressed in a number of ways. First, members of the congregation must be willing to become accepting friends, helping in times of temptation and particular needs. Second, it calls for the development of practical counseling. The counselor, in a supportive relationship, will offer hope, compassion, and affirmation while lovingly holding the individual accountable. Such involvement requires the counselor to invest a great deal of himself, his time, and his gifts.

Numerous media images portrayed in the "straight" society have done much to distort the prevailing heterosexual concept of masculinity and femininity, often affecting even the Church. However, we do not wish to lay the blame for our sinful activity at the doors of a nebulous but corrupting "society." Christian doctrine holds that death and decay entered the world due to the fall of Adam (Rom. 5:12). The effects of the Fall touch every area of human existence, including human sexuality.

Homosexuality is but one of many distortions of this component of our lives. All of us have fallen into distortion and sin through individual choice. Sometimes informed, sometimes not, those choices are our own. The Bible declares that homosexuality is a sin, both unnatural and wrong, but thankfully it can be repented of and changed. At some point in our lives, we allowed sinful desires to break out into sinful acts, which reinforced those desires, which in turn contributed to further sinful acts. This round-robin of sin must be interrupted and broken if we wish to become the whole persons God intended us to be.

Among those within the evangelical ranks, there is a growing contingent who doubt that the homosexual can find a new orientation. They recognize that God forbids homosexual activity, but for various reasons they feel the homosexual orientation is irreversible. Thus, they believe the regenerate homosexual must remain gay but celibate. This cannot be considered a real option for homosexuals. Homosexuality goes much deeper, to include sinful desires as well as sinful acts. It is not enough to cease the act but leave the desire or affection untouched. The core element which generates sin must be altered. Jesus taught that "from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery . . . All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man." (Mark 7:21-23) To ask homosexuals to simply remain celibate is to ask that they remain only partially healed of sin and its expression. The converse "quick-fix" of marriage is also no answer, as one doesn't become whole through simply reciting wedding vows. To marry or not isn't the issue; to become whole takes time.

The Church can best fulfill its calling to the homosexual by offering a complete redemption for the whole person. A fixed "state of being" offers little hope for change; a sinful habit pattern, though complex, can be repented of, altered, and replaced with righteous habit patterns. By enlarging our conception of homosexuality from "act" to include "mindset" and "lifestyle," the Church can better aid the homosexual in achieving deliverance.

Finally, the Church must orient itself totally within the example of Christ. Persons caught within the snare of homosexuality may reject the love and direction of God's truth and persist in a lifestyle and behavior which clearly denies the essential characteristics of their humanity. Yet, the Church will do well to remember that God does not love or offer his love because we respond well. Rather, he loves prior to any response and persists in spite of our lack.

Thus we must do likewise, recognizing the "No" which is aimed at homosexuality is also launched at the distortion present in all human beings. It is a "No" which wills that human beings turn from their distortion and the sin which taints the great potential for beauty in their lives and turn toward the freedom which only God can offer. God loves the homosexual even while he sins, calling him to something better. Sometimes that call is presented as a command, other times as a plea, yet it remains a call, spoken by a God who wills, chooses, and loves. As the Church, we too must convey that message with compassion and conviction. Should we fail to convey it, transmitting God's Word of repentance and restoration, we treat the person caught in homosexuality as someone not worth saving and our Lord as someone not worth obeying. []

For those interested in additional information or counseling and referrals we recommend Exodus International, P.O. Box 540119, Orlando, Florida 32854 (, a network of ministries reaching out to gays. We at Cornerstone would also be glad to dialogue and counsel with anyone seeking help for himself, friends or family members. [Note: The mailing address was updated and web addresses have been added since the original printing in 1983, to reflect current data as of Dec. 2003.]


1. Alfred Kinsey et al., Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (Phila.: W.B. Saunders Co., 1948); Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (Phila.: W.B. Saunders Co., 1953). [back][up]

2. Edward Glover, The Problem of Homosexuality (Rockville, MD: Institute for the Study and Treatment of Delinquency, 1954), p. 6. [back][up]

3. Council of the British Medical Association, Homosexuality and Prostitution (London: BMA, 1955), p. 49. [back][up]

4. Irving Bieber, Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study (NY: Basic Books, 1962), p. 303. [back][up]

5. Ibid., p. 319. [back][up]

6. Ibid., p. 320. [back][up]

7. C. W. Socarides, The Overt Homosexual (NY: Grune and Stratton, 1968), p. 133. [back][up]

8. Ibid., p. 138. [back][up]

9. John Money, "Statement on Antidiscrimination Regarding Sexual Orientation," Siecus Report 6 (Sept. 1977), p. 3. [back][up]

10. Ibid. [back][up]

11. J. Money et al., "Combined Antiandroqenic and Counseling Program for Treatment of 46, XY and 47, XYY Sex Offenders," in E. J. Sachar, ed., Hormones Behavior and Psychopathology (NY: Raven Press, 1976), p. 82. [back][up]

12. "Gays Are Gaining Acceptance in More Churches," Christianity Today (Dec. 17, 1982), p. 50. [back][up]

13. "Methodists Rule on Homosexuality in the Ministry," Christianity Today (July 16, 1982), p. 44. [back][up]

14. "Homosexuals in the Churches," Newsweek (Oct. 11, 1982), p. 113. [back][up]

15. David Blamires, Towards a Theology of Gay Liberation (Great Britain: SCM Press, 1977), p. 9. [back][up]

16. H. Kimball Jones, Towards A Christian Understanding of the Homosexual (NY: Association Press, 1966), p. 108. [back][up]

17. Mark Oriason, The Homosexual Question (Boston: Search Press, 1977), p. 120. [back][up]

18. Gay Christian Movement pamphlet, Statement of Conviction, p. 4. [back][up]

19. Helmut Thielicke, The Ethics of Sex (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975), p. 282. [back][up]

20. D. Sherwin Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition (NY: Longmans, Green and Co., 1955), p. 155. [back][up]

21. Atkinson, p. 81, referring to Bailey's quotation of the Brown, Driver and Briggs, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 2. [back][up]

22. Bailey, p. 155. [back][up]

23. C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 1 (1869; rpt. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), pp. 232-33. [back][up]

24. K. Grayston, A Theological Word Book of the Bible (Great Britain: SCM Press, 1957), p. 98. [back][up]

25. Church of England, General Synod Board for Social Responsibility, Homosexual Relationships: A Contribution to Discussion (London: CIO Publishing, 1979), p. 29. [back][up]

26. J.J. McNeill, The Church and the Homosexual (Mission, KS: Sheed, Andrews and McMeel, 1976), p. 55. [back][up]

27. Bailey, p. 157. [back][up]

28. Anders Nygren, Commentary on Romans (Phila.: Fortress Press, 1967), p. 100. [back][up]

29. Lovelace, p. 93. [back][up]

30. McNeill, p. 56. [back][up]

31. Walter Barnett, Homosexuality and the Bible: An Interpretation (Walingford, PA: Pendle Hill Publishers, 1979), p. 14. [back][up]

32. John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), pp. 339-40. [back][up]

33. Lovelace, p. 96. [back][up]

34. Bailey, p. 156. [back][up]

35. Boswell, p. 49. [back][up]