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Christians and homosexuality

22 November 2007

An evangelical Christian blogger, Stephen Murray, recently wrote about some comments of Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, to the effect that the Anglican Church was spending too much time debating about homosexuality, when there were many more important and urgent issues to be concerned about.

There has been quite a lot of discussion about this in the South African Christian blogosphere, and, interestingly enough, the tone of that discussion has been very different from that prevailing in other parts of the world. Perhaps in South Africa we really do see things differently, though no sooner than I have said that than I think of the recent Deon Maas/Satanism debate, which definitely generated more heat than light.

I have generally tried to avoid the debates on homosexuality because I don’t identify with either side. The sides are sometimes identified as “liberal” and “conservative”, but on this issue I find I, a liberal, am largely in agreement with Stephen Murray, a “conservative”. Perhaps it shows that words like “liberal” and “conservative” are well and truly skunked, and have lost all meaning. Stephen Murray says:

I, along with many other evangelicals, believe that homosexual practice is sin in the eyes of God. I absolutely detest homophobia and hope that in my life and ministry it will be evident to all that I am as accepting of homosexuals as I am of anyone else on this planet.

The Orthodox Christian view on homosexuality has been put well and succinctly by Fr Thomas Hopko:

Given the traditional Orthodox understanding of the Old and New Testament scriptures as expressed in the Church’s liturgical worship, sacramental rites, canonical regulations and lives and teachings of the saints, it is clear that the Orthodox Church identifies solidly with those Christians, homosexual and heterosexual, who consider homosexual orientation as a disorder and disease, and who therefore consider homosexual actions as sinful and destructive…

There are sins which are involuntary, unwilled, unchosen; sins which overcome people and force them by irrational impulses and compulsions, by weaknesses of the flesh, emotional drives and misguided desires into actions which they themselves do not want, and often despise and abhor – even when they are engaging in them. These are known traditionally as the sins of passion. The fact that these sins are not freely chosen do not make them any less sinful. To sin means to miss the mark, to be off the track, to deviate, to defile, to transgress . . . whether or not the act is consciously willed and purposefully enacted; and whether or not the offender personally is freely and fully at fault.

According to Orthodox Church Tradition, Christians are redeemed sinners. They are human beings who have been saved from sickness and sin, delivered from the devil and death by God’s grace through faith in Jesus by the Holy Spirit’s power: “and such were some of you.” (1 Cor. 6:10) They are baptized into Christ and sealed with the Spirit in order to live God’s life in the Church. They witness to their faith by regular participation in liturgical worship and eucharistic communion, accompanied by continual confession, repentance and the steadfast struggle against every form of sin, voluntary and involuntary, which attempts to destroy their lives in this world and in the age to come.

As a Christian I believe that fornication and adultery are (among other things) sins that I must confess and struggle against. We are urged not only to confess the acts, but even the lustful thoughts that precede and sometimes lead to the acts. Temptation is not the same as sin, but to entertain temptation rather than dismissing it is to fall under the control of the passion called lust. “Homosexuality” is an orientation, not a sin. It simply indicates the direction from which the temptation may come. But where it leads to the passion of lust, then that is something to confess and struggle against. So I disagree with those who say, in effect, that this is a sin I should not struggle against.

This is similar to other passions, like anger, for example. Anger can be a passing temptation, momentary anger when someone cuts one off in driving in traffic, for example. But when one dwells on it, and encourages the thought, it swells to become road rage — and that is a sin to confess and struggle against, even if one does not act on it and physically attack the offending driver.

In the Anglican debate, which has largely concerned tropical Africa on the one hand and the USA and Britain on the other, the prohomosexuality side in the West has sometimes resorted to racist and imperialist sentiments, which are usually associated with “conservative” rather than “liberal” views, which shows that terms like “liberal” and “conservative” add nothing to this debate. I’ve written about this in more detail in my other blog at Notes from underground: Anglican introversion and also at Notes from underground: Mission is a two-way street… or is it?, so I won’t go into it in more detail here.

The rhetoric of the antihomosexual side, on the other hand, often urges us to think that homosexuality is in itself a sin, and much worse than any other sins. It sometimes urges us to hate people who are even tempted by it.

In South Africa the constitution protects the civil rights of homosexual people. They cannot, for example, be arbitrarily fired from their jobs. If firing such people were justified as some of the antihomosexuality advocates seem to urge, what about heterosexual adulterers — should they not also be fired?

Bishop Desmond Tutu says that God is a welcoming God, and that is true. God is indeed a welcoming God. He welcomes fornicators, adulterers, embezzlers, armed robbers, mass murderers, serial killers, genocidal racists and even me, the worst of sinners — provided we repent.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. tendertouch permalink
    22 November 2007 2:25 pm

    I wholeheartedly disagree. There are many who have come out of the gay lifestyle . Many people who are or were gay that I know were influenced by lack of a father figure etc but to say they were born that way or oriented that way is a crock. I personally was sexually assaulted when young and almost went that way but that certainly wasnt my sexual orientation. Lets get real! Phil

  2. 22 November 2007 4:55 pm

    Tendertouch.

    I’m not sure what it is you wholeheartedly disagree with. Care to explain?

  3. 22 November 2007 9:30 pm

    I think he is disagreeing with your implied view that homosexuality is an (involuntary) orientation, not a personal choice.

    It still surprises and upsets me when someone states they believe being gay is a lifestyle choice, something someone can “come out of”. I don’t see how anyone who has actually known a gay person, especially a gay Christian, and witnessed the struggle they face daily in Church and the world can say anyone would be insane enough to *choose* to be gay. Gay people who attempt to change their orientation / choose a straight lifestyle can destroy their own lives / relationships and those of others too.

    There is more and more scientific evidence that “being gay” has a biological basis – there is no credible evidence that “a lack of a father figure etc” can lead to someone being gay – therein lies the crock.

  4. 23 November 2007 4:32 am

    Ewan,

    Thanks for the comment. I don’t think I implied anything on that either way, and I don’t think anything I said would depend on one or the other view being true. My gay friends with whom I have discussed such things appeared to have made a choice, but they form too small a sample to draw any conclusions, and I know nothing about what predisposing genetic factors may have influenced them. One was in love with her gay (male) school teacher, and when she discovered he was gay decided that she would be too. Another met some gay friends and decided that he would be gay, and dropped his girlfriend. Within a year or two he shacked up with an older bloke, and lived with him for many years until he died.

    These two seem to me to have made a choice, but I really don’t know enough to be dogmatic about it either way, and nothing of what I said in my original post depended on either view being true.

  5. 24 November 2007 4:39 pm

    Steve, I appreciate your article. It’s thoughtful and deals with the heart of the issue rather than side issues. What causes homosexuality may be a worthy study but at this highly-charged, politicized point I greatly suspect everyone who claims to know exactly what that is and isn’t. Any study on the subject is bound to be politically motivated or agenda-driven. What’s more important is to understand what sin is, all sin, where it comes from, what it can do to us, how universally it afflicts us all, and how God saves us from it. So again, I appreciate your article.

  6. Stephen permalink
    24 November 2007 7:16 pm

    Tendertouch – from the research I’ve done (and I have done a bit in my pastoral studies) the evidence is inconclusive and at this point in time probably not the best avenue for debate. The evidence neither proves the validity or invalidity in the eyes of God. Scripture is where we must turn in order to make our judgments, humbly evaluating the evidence in the text.

    Ewan – As I said above the evidence is inconclusive at this stage and you’ll find non-Christian genetisicts arguing both views. Steve has already pointed out what he percieved to be individuals choosing to be gay. I would also argue that there are certain sectors of South African society that are increasingly more open to homosexuals and so more people are finding it easier to choose the lifestyle. I would also like to remind you that even if homosexual orientation is proved to be genetic we might note that their are many areas of our lives, both genetically recieved and not, that need to be broken down and submit to the counter-culture which is the kingdom of God. This has to inevitably bring out massive struggles in the lives of those who would follow the way of the kingdom.

  7. 7 July 2008 2:10 am

    Hello All,

    Even if one is genetically predisposed, the Holy Spirit has the power to radically alter all flesh. God can change our very root from evil to good. Whether souls have sufficient faith in that power is at issue. Voluntariness and involuntariness are contingent upon the degree of faith. With enough faith, Jesus tells us we may move mountains and plant trees in water, figuratively and literally. He is referring, of course, to God’s power over all things. God did the miracles, because Jesus had no doubt.

    God bless,

    Tom

  8. 19 January 2010 8:40 pm

    Steve,

    You have rankled me on more than one occasion…

    Thank you!

    Pr. 27:17

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