A Biblical Justification for the Acceptance of Homosexuality by the Christian Church
© 2003, John P. Nordin

1.  Introduction

A.  The current debate on homosexuality is not working

The church’s debates over homosexuality are typically not very productive or edifying. [1]   Advocates and opponents too often “talk past” each other and too often everyone often winds up angrier than when they began.  “Liberals can make conservatives look dumb, and conservatives can make liberals look shallow,” writes one commentator. [2]   Bitterness and threats of church division often are the only outcome of publicly considering this issue. 

Despite this history, churches seem unable to try anything different, and the same arguments get repeated, with the same unhelpful result.  Why does the debate not make any progress?  The debate in the churches has usually been a debate using special pleading rather than universal principles, using secular arguments rather than religious ones and using fundamentalist religious arguments rather than more orthodox religious arguments.  These arguments have failed to be persuasive.  Worse, since these types of arguments are not part of the best of the church’s tradition, it contributes to the slow process by which the institution of the church surrenders its theological and scriptural heritage and becomes (if liberal) a sort of nearly-secular place where “good things” are done, or (if conservative) a rigid place, narrow, moralistic and unforgiving.

A new beginning comes from the realization that the church’s real tradition has not been employed in the debate about homosexuality: while the debate appears to have been an argument over the Bible, in fact, the Bible has seldom been used in any deep way consistent with its profound nature.  That is the key to breaking open the frozen categories of the homosexuality debate.  If we take seriously the Bible and how we should understand the Bible this will result in a more productive way for the church to decide this question that dissolves many of the dilemmas Christians find themselves in now.  We will find that scripture calls us to change the church’s opinion about homosexuality.  This document presents my argument for doing so.

B.  A new argument – in one page

In this section I give the outline of my argument.  The rest of the document presents the evidence to support this argument.

First of all, we do need an argument for accepting homosexuality.  It is a question of church policy, not just a question of each person deciding for themselves.

We need a biblical argument for accepting homosexuality.  A religious organization attempting to decide what God wants should use religious arguments, especially using the sacred texts of the religion.  Not to use religious arguments is to say that we are not really a religious organization.

In order to use our sacred texts, an analysis of how we interpret the Bible must be done first.  The debate over homosexuality has failed to think about what is an effective argument from the Bible. 

Examining the methods of Biblical interpretation used by proponents and opponents reveals serious flaws in their arguments.  The theories used by opponents of homosexuality (typically biblical inerrancy, the Bible as a book of laws) are internally inconsistent, impossible to apply and not what the Biblical text itself suggests.  The proponents of accepting homosexuality typically try to use different proof-texts or try to use criteria from outside the Bible to justify their position.  This is also not effective.

Looking at the methods of biblical interpretation used in the Protestant Reformation permits a new beginning on a more solid foundation.  During the Reformation considerable attention was given to understanding in what way scripture can function as an authority for the church.  The Reformation developed an approach to the Bible that is faithful to the form and content of scripture.  This approach affirms the centrality of scripture.  This approach invites the faithful to reason together about scripture and to pay attention to how scripture approaches issues, not just to consider a few selected verses ripped out of context.  This approach encourages us to let “scripture interpret scripture.”  It enables us to identify biblical ways of deciding among conflicting texts.

Putting the debate in religious terms, we ask “Is homosexuality a sin?”  With this perspective, we can consider all of scripture and study how the Bible defines what sin is.  This investigation reveals principles that when applied, show that homosexuality per se is not a sin, in the Biblical meaning of sin.

Thus, the church, in being faithful to scripture, should reverse its position of total opposition to homosexuality.

 

C.  To the reader: an invitation and a challenge

Homosexuality is a topic that produces strong emotions.  Experience in discussing the issue with people suggests that I should respectfully, but explicitly, both welcome and challenge you, my readers.

To readers, especially those not professionally trained in theology or the Bible, I want to extend a welcome and an invitation to work through this argument.  I have found that people are reluctant to venture into a serious analysis of this topic, fearing they don’t have the technical background to participate and concerned that the analysis of the Bible will prove to be “over their heads.”

That should not be the case.  It was one of the objectives of Martin Luther to restore the Bible and the study of it to rank and file members of the church; a worthy task in my view.  I try not to assume any technical knowledge.  I try to explain each point along the way.  Of course, being fallible, and given the diversity of people who might be reading this paper will mean that I don’t always succeed.  However, there is never any reason for you to feel afraid, intimidated or overwhelmed.  A person of ordinary intelligence, who has no special Biblical knowledge, but is intellectually curious and willing to invest time in the topic, is who I intend to write for.

But I must also extend a challenge to the reader.  This is not the standard way of approaching the topic; readers need to understand that from the beginning.  I think I am not overbearing in asking you to read what I’ve written and deal with it on its own terms, for good or ill.  Too often, people come to a new work on homosexuality only looking to see if it says what they already like to say themselves.  My goal here is to find a new way of assessing the issue, one that is not dependent on existing categories.

To liberals, I ask you to take seriously the scriptural basis of my argument.  Liberals, too often worn down by the capture of the Bible by fundamentalism, assume that one must “go beyond” scripture to achieve justice or liberation.  I am arguing here that scripture, when taken seriously, requires this liberating decision.

To conservatives, I ask you to take seriously the commitment to the entire Bible and to the many ways it reveals its truth to us.  Conservatives, too often offended by the way scripture is dismissed, cling loudly to three or four verses.  I am arguing here that the entire Bible applies to the decision about homosexuality.  Conservatives also tend to be worried about the general decline in morality in society, to them I ask that you notice that this argument for homosexuality takes seriously the God-given imperative to act morally.

Also, those who are professionally trained do sometimes object to discussion of their specialized subjects by the ordinary people, feeling that only people with some designated authority or credential should lead or control the discussion.  There is no worse critique of a scientist or other professional than to accuse him or her of being “popular.”  I would ask the professionals to understand that the decision on homosexuality belongs to the church, and as such, the members of the church need to be equipped to decide it.  Writing clearly and simply is a subtle and quite technical art, worthy of the best efforts of the learned.

Finally, there also objections raised against the length of this document and the number of subjects it discuses that are not normally covered in the traditional debate over homosexuality.  However, I think that such a lengthy process is in fact the shortest way to actually resolving the church's question on homosexuality (as opposed to "solving" the problem by the majority silencing the minority or by sending the issue underground).  So many false justifications are offered on the issue, so much assuming of the conclusions, that it is necessary to back up a long way and address a host of questions that do not appear to be immediately relevant.  For 2,000 years almost all of the Christian church as held one official position about homosexuality.  I don’t think we should expect a change to come from a five page pamphlet with colorful graphics.

I should also give a word of explanation about terms.  I refer to “homosexuals” or “gays.”   Of course any person has many aspects to their personality, but using such terms are simply a convenient short hand against the tedious practice of writing “persons whose primary sexual expression is homosexual.”  The distinction between “homosexual behavior” and “homosexual orientation” is often used to try to find a compromise position, as will be discussed below, I do not find this distinction useful.  So I refer to “homosexuals” without distinction as to whether their behavior is external or only in their hearts.  Similarly, I hope it will be understood that terms like “proponents” and “opponents” are used for convenience, and it is known that people have complex opinions on many aspects of the case. 

D.  Acknowledgements

I would like to thank those from the Ecunet discussion group, created by Wyn Martello, who have made suggestions and pointed out flaws.  The many who have written carefully about the Bible and who have been my teachers also deserve all the praise I can give them.  I also sincerely want to thank those I have disagreed with, for each has pushed me to be clearer and consider more aspects of this issue.  Several homosexual acquaintances and friends have provided food for thought both by their words and by my being able to watch their lives in the church unfold.

It is common for authors to say that “all errors remain the responsibility of the author,” granting a plenary indulgence to all those who may have sinned by contact with the writer.  For such a controversial subject, this must be a particularly sincere wish.  I do not know the opinions on homosexuality of many of the writers I quote; I assume that many would disagree with the conclusions of this work.



[1] The United Presbyterian Church, USA has several times been consumed with the question, starting in the late 70’s.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America had its first modern debate on the subject in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and the Anglican Church is facing the question in 2003.  None of these debated ended peaceably.  Documents produced by these debates are discussed by Fulkerson, “Church Documents.” 

[2] Rogers, Christian Body, at p. 19.  See his analysis of how each side misreads the other at pp. 19-27.