Homosexuality in the Christian Church.
This is a draft (that may be revised) of the final article I am going to hand in for my non-fiction assessment. Please let me know what you think!
Homosexuality and God; really an open door?
Homosexuality has recently become an increasingly important issue in the Christian world today, brought to the fore by the appointment of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop, to the diocese of New Hampshire in 2003. This tore the international Christian community apart, with potentially devastating effects. But the problems can be seen closer to home, in the breach existing between the University of Warwick’s Christian Union and the Student Union. In 2002, the Student’s Union issued a ban on the Christian Union following accusations that the President of the CU had made homophobic comments to a gay student, therefore standing in breach of the University’s Equal Opportunities Policy. Whilst this breach seems like it may slowly be on the way to being healed, there are controversies world-wide regarding Christianity and homosexuality that raise issues of understanding, acceptance and hypocrisy within the Christian Church, as well as issues of scripture.
Mark Bratton, Anglican Chaplin at Warwick University, outlines the events of 2002 in his article written regarding the Christian Union’s disaffiliation. It is claimed, that in 2002, a student sent an email to the president of the Christian Union, saying he though he was homosexual, and asked for his advice. The president replied with a tow page long email, explaining that as a Christian homosexuality was wrong and unclean, as specified in the bible, and told the student to turn to prayer for guidance and forgiveness. This advice was sent to the Student’s Union, who ruled it could be seen as offensive, and bid the Christian Union apologise to the student in question. The Christian Union refused to do so, and so were ruled as standing in breach of the University’s Equal Opportunities Policy, and were subsequently banned from the union. This, as well as having the practical implications of meaning that the Christian Union could not hold any meetings in Student Union buildings, also meant that the Christian community of the university was divided, between the “Christian Focus”, the more liberal, and union-based Christian society, and the Christian Union which was now viewed by many with great scepticism. Many tend now to see the Christian Union as an extremist, elitist and old-fashioned Christian community, which acted wrongly and in a discriminating manner. It is interesting however, to look at the views of the likes of the Anglican Chaplain, Mark Bratton, who, although he does not approve of the Christian Union’s stance on homosexuality, he does not condemn them, pointing out the advise given to the student (whose name has not been revealed), was exactly that – advise, that stated a certain Christian point of view. He argues that where the Christian Union went wrong was when they refused to apologise to the student who found the advise offensive; he says “the Christian Union’s problem tends to be that they like to make a stand, and can often be too self – sacrificing. They have a principle, and are prepared to fight for that, even at the risk of a loss of unity.” He also says, that although homosexuality should maybe be acceptable within the church, it does raise questions of what is a suitable “code of behaviour” for Christians in the modern world, and how far this “code” should stray, or expand, from the directions given in the Bible.
Many cite the Christian code of behaviour as existing in the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament, which says, specifically on the subject of homosexuality, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” Many Christians, the CU included, quote this as the reason why in God’s eyes homosexuality is unlawful and sinful. Christian belief in the sanctity of the scripture is central to many denominations’s worship, and therefore this law must be obeyed. However, there are some Christians who believe that the Bible is there to be interpreted as the situation demands, and that as a document written thousands of centuries ago, the modern world demands that it be adapted to suite the issues of today. Leviticus is a prime example of this; a Baptist minister, known only as “Real Live Preacher”, has written an article in which he claims “the code of rules and behaviours in Leviticus does not apply to Christians. No Christian group I know demands full compliance… If we did, we would allow polygamy, which is lawful in Leviticus.” We also would not allow anyone to wear clothes of a mixed cloth, and makers of nylon and lycra would be out of business. This code of behaviour therefore is seen by many Christians to be outdated, old-fashioned, and in many ways redundant. We may agree with the Reverend Mark Bratton in agreeing that Christians do need a code of behaviour, but surely it need to be one that takes into account the world we live in today? Homosexuality is factor in society now, whereas it was not in the time of Jesus, and therefore perhaps the Leviticus code should not rule against gay behaviour, but simply against violent and degrading sexual nature of any kind? Indeed, this is what the Real Live Preacher claims is what is being taught in the stories of Sodom, in Genesis, and then a similar one is told later, in Judges. Here, we see two examples of sodomy committed through rape, which is brutal and violent. Christians who do not oppose homosexuality are quick to point out that these passages also are not condemning homosexuality, rather they are condemning rape, and are showing “the need for God’s love in a brutal world… both of these stories condemn ignorance and sexual brutality, but not homosexuality.” The same goes for Corinthians, where Paul says, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral not idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders.” This is not saying that homosexuals are damned, but that men that sell themselves for sex, and use their sexuality to defile themselves will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. This cannot apply to those who live as homosexuals in a monogamous, faithful, committed and loving relationship.
These few pieces of scripture therefore, which are hardly substantial, are what Christians like those in the Christian Union, and those condemning Gene Robinson, use in their defence, claiming God is on their side. Many of these passages, especially Leviticus, actually backfire on such Christians, as the question is raised, as to if we have to follow the laws on homosexuality outlined in the bible, should we not follow all the other laws as well? “If Christians were honest, they would admit they do not abide by all the commandments of scripture themselves. I don’t mean we try and fail. I mean we deliberately choose to ignore scriptures that are not convenient for our lifestyle”, and as the Guardian reporter, Harry Bingham comments, “Jesus never once spoke about homosexuality. Funnily enough, though, he did have a thing or two to say about hypocrites.”
Traditionalist Christians are quick to condemn homosexuals as sinful and unclean because they do not fall into step with the word of God as documented in the Bible, and yet does every Christian ensure that they wear only clothes made of one hundred percent cotton? Is bigamy allowed? Why did the church manage to stay reunited when the first female bishop was appointed, and yet is threatening to split because a gay bishop has been appointed? Why do Christians not condemn the use of nuclear weapons, if they are so against the relatively small matter of a man's sexual orientation? The very argument of the Christians against homosexuality is deeply hypocritical, something Jesus was undoubtedly, and fervently against. Harry Bingham makes this point humorous in his article “Thou shalt not wear nylon”, suggesting that the major concern for Christians today is not homosexuality, but the “mixed fibre pandemic”, which is the “pivotal moral issue of contemporary Christians”. This is a very effective piece, playing on sarcasm and cynicism to get his point across, and can be seen in an example of what he is saying can be seen in the Christian Union itself. The same Christian Union that discriminated against a homosexual student is the Christian Union that issued all it’s members with sweatshirts made from seventy percent cotton, and thirty percent polyester – a perfect example of a mixed cloth! The Real Live Preacher takes a more serious, concerned approach, using the metaphor of a furnace in which Christians burn every scripture they ever choose to ignore to make his argument; “feed these flames with the bible, with every book, chapter and verse, that… Christians must burn to support our bloated lifestyles, our selfishness, our materialism…” He effectively uses an image of hell, an image feared by all Christians as the ultimate punishment, to demonstrate the way ordinary followers of Jesus live their lives as hypocrites, and to use a commonly quoted parody, they have a tendency to let the pot call the kettle black. Christianity is centred on love, something that is preached about time and time again, and something that Jesus said was the most important thing for his followers to do. This love cannot exist in a hypocritical society that excludes certain people and accepts others, on the basis of sexuality, race, nationality and so on. Christians should look further into a person, beyond the labels attached to them, and see into the people they are, the values they hold.
The Christian church is frequently said to have an “open door”, welcoming all those that wish to enter, and seeing all as equal in the eyes of Christ, and in the eyes of God. The central event in the Bible, that is the pivotal moment in the Christian belief, is an act of love, when Jesus died on the cross for his people. I think nearly all Christians would disagree with the Reverend Fred Phelps, a minister famously very anti “fags”, when he says, “Love? That’s a story that ‘kissy-poo ministers’ tell misguided parishioners… You’re not going to get nowhere with that slop that ‘God loves you’… that’s a diabolical lie from hell without biblical warrant.” I don’t know which Bible Phelps was referring to, but it certainly wasn’t the one I read. He would therefore be able to excuse the British Anglican who sent Gene Robinson, the caring, compassionate, loving man, who just happens to be a homosexual in a committed long-term relationship, a postcard saying he was a “fornicating, lecherous pig”, as he himself told Robinson that he was “a disgusting, detestable, loathsome, filthy abomination – the great whoremonger”. And yet, these words came from the mouths of those who follow the path of Christ, the man who told them to “love each other. You must love each other as I have loved you.” There are thousands of references to love in the bible, and one of the most famous passages is from Corinthians 13 tells us “love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not boast, and it is not proud. Love is not rude, is not selfish, and does not get upset with others. Love does not count up the wrongs that have been done.” This is the love that should exist within the Christian community, but which in issues such as this, we sadly see very little of. The idea of the community within the church is the theory that a group of people can work together in order to follow God and create a better, more compassionate and equal world. Therefore, it should be argued that a community cannot exclude certain people because of their race, or their gender, or because of their sexual orientation.
Some Christians who oppose homosexuality, claim that they do so not because of the nature of it, but because it means that a sexual relationship is entered into, outside marriage, and this is expressly forbidden in the Bible. One American minister said that he believes it “is wrong to be in a sexual relationship outside marriage and I’d say that to a heterosexual as well.” Undoubtedly, and rightly so, the sanctity of marriage is a state that has been very important in the Christian faith, for centuries, although some would argue that this is outdated now, when we live in a modern world of free sexuality, and independence. Therefore, if indeed such critic’s objections are that homosexuals are not married, a sceptical onlooker cannot help but wonder what the likes of Harmon would think if they undertook a gay marriage. I think the Archbishop of Canterbury, who condemned the Canadian churches that gave blessings to same sex marriages, asking them to “consider their place within the Anglican Communion”, probably answered this question last week, an answer the Christian Union have agreed with. Therefore, it can be safely assumed that even if the likes of Gene Robinson and his partner Mark Andrew had a gay wedding, the church would not recognise it, and the problem would still exist.
This draws us back to the idea of a “code of behaviour” for Christians, and the idea of a Christian morality being more important than labels that are associated with us. Christian behaviour should be judged by our devotion to God, our treatment of fellow human beings, as people who were all made in God’s image, and who we have been commanded to love as we do ourselves. A situation needs to be looked at in context in order for us to reach a valuable conclusion. An example of this can be seen in Gene Robinson, who is labelled as a homosexual divorcee. But if we look beyond this, we see a loving, family man, who agree with his wife, who knew he was gay when she married him, that divorce was the best option, that “we were honouring each other by letting each other go… we were honouring our marriage by getting a divorce”. Afterwards, they held a ceremony asking for each other’s forgiveness, and are now still friends, and at Robinson’s ordination, appeared to be “a most wholesome example of a family”. Therefore, yes their divorce may have broken a bond made in the sight of god, but it enabled them to find a lasting, prosperous love elsewhere, whilst maintaining their platonic bond, and is this therefore not a blessing from God in itself? Does it really matter therefore that this love for Gene was found in another man? Surely that is a small, insignificant detail, compared to his loving nature, and devotion to God? Similarly, the incident with the Christian Union must also be put into context; it is important to remember here, that the student only said that he thought he was having homosexual feelings, not that he had acted on them in any way, or that he would use his sexuality to cause abuse to himself or anyone else. We cannot condemn a man for something he has not done, and may never do.
We can see therefore, that objections to homosexual relationships are obscure, and to a certain degree, unfounded, in many Christians eyes, whereas for the like of Fred Phelps, it is the central issue of Christianity in the contemporary world. This debate is described as the contention over whether homosexuality is an “indifferent”, or “inessential” subject, or as the Windsor report, a report commissioned to investigate whether the Church had the authority to rule on homosexuality, phrases it, “what are the limits in diversity of Anglican belief and practise?” An inessential, or indifferent topic in the Anglican Church is a topic on which there is little or no scriptural ruling, and therefore a decision must be made according to moral conscience and what is considered to be acceptable behaviour. It is also described as defining the difference between what is essential in a Christian, and what is simply a “flaw” of character. Many Christians believe that it is “inessential”, that compared to examples of a loving, caring life doing the work of the Lord is much more important. Clearly some Christians disagree, and it is this that led to the breach in the Christian Union and the reaction against Gene Robinson’s ordination.
Christians spout scripture in situations such as this, typically quoting Genesis, Corinthians, Leviticus, and Romans. We argue against each side, saying that love is most important, and it is not the homosexuals that are in the wrong, but those who are unable to love them as God’s children. On the other side of the fence, we have Christians saying that homosexuality is a sin, a sign of the devil, that means those unfortunate people are damned for eternity. But amidst all this bible – bashing, and with all these accusations, we fail to remember a small piece of teaching given to us by Jesus in Matthew, chapter seven, saying, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” We, as Christians were made in God’s image, to serve him and live in the world he created. But we do not have the god-given right to judge our fellow Christians, as you they are, or how they live their lives. We can advise them against doing something, as the Christian Union warned against homosexuality, but we do not have the right to condemn someone; this can only be done by God on Judgement day.
Homosexuality is clearly a contentious issue in our world today, which is sadly, and in my eyes, wrongly, tearing our church apart. It is time for the Christian church to grow up, wake up, and see the twenty-first century for what it is; a world where liberalism is embraced, where people attempt to look beyond labels, and to see the person inside. Hypocrites are not welcome here. If you discriminate against a group of people, do so only with firm doctrinal evidence behind you. In the case of homosexuality, I believe that this does not exist. In his ordination sermon, Gene Robinson told his parishioners a parable: Four American soldiers become best friends in the trenches of France during World War I. When one of them is killed, the others vow to give him a proper burial. But when they ask a priest to allow them to bury their comrade in the parish cemetery, the priest denies their request because the men can’t guarantee that their dead friend was baptized. Instead, the men bury the soldier just outside the graveyard. After the war, when they return to visit the grave, they can’t find it. When they ask the priest what happened, he explains, “I felt bad about my decision. Why should this man not deserve the same status before God as all these others who have gone before him? Who am I to judge him? So I moved the fence.” It is time we moved the fence, and made our church a truly open door, welcome to all those who wish to enter. We are told repeatedly to open our hearts to God, well maybe first, we should be prepared to open our hearts to other human beings.