Christians and homosexuality
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.