Homosexuality within the Church: An Issue of Religious Liberty The Argument If one were to ask your stance on homosexuality within the Christian church and your reasoning behind your views, how would you answer them? I find that most Christians I have talked with take a rather conservative, traditional view and base their beliefs upon a few key passages in the Bible - I Corinthians 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:3-5; Colossians 3:5-6; Jude 5-7 and about a dozen more. The basic problem with limiting your view to these various scriptures is that homosexuals who claim to be Christians use these same passages in defense. Many claim that these passages have been translated incorrectly from their original texts (Hebrew and Greek). An exhaustive study by Pastor Ken Coulter which has been published by Logos Ministries under the title Dispelling the Myth, attempts to prove that throughout the centuries the translations of the original texts have been incorrect. For example, I Corinthians 6:9 is translated in the New King James Version as follows: Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites.... The Greek words malakos arsenokoitai are translated into the modern word homosexual in this particular translation. However, Coulter makes the statement that malakos has a double meaning. The first of which means “softness,” the second describes a character flaw which he translates as meaning “weak willed” or “easily beguiled.” Arsenokoitai has been translated several different ways. Coulter says that the true meaning is a mystery, but that it could mean a “male prostitute who takes an active role.” He also claims that there were many other words in the Greek that the apostle Paul could have used to make his meaning clearer if he was referring to homosexuality. What Coulter doesn’t say is that Paul’s meaning was not lost on the audience to whom he was addressing. Coulter’s claim is that the correct translation should be a “sex addict.” Personally, I find the meaning fairly simple to see. A soft, weak willed, male prostitute who takes an active role is a homosexual. With arguments like these, homosexuals are attacking the validity of the Bible and its translations. They are also bringing up verses like Colossians 3:11-12 which says: ...where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering; Using this verse they are showing that in Christ, we are all the same and we should treat each other as such. They claim that homosexuality is an “orientation” and should be treated like ethnicity (neither Greek nor Jew). The research of Dean H. Hamer, Ph. D. has also been used as a defense for homosexuality being innate rather than a conscious decision. Hamer claimed that he had discovered the gene connected to homosexuality in an experimental study he conducted in 1993. In 1999, however, a team of researchers at the University of Western Ontario, in a more extensive study, could not find the gene Hamer said he had found. This was obviously less publicized than Hamer’s claims. The Issue The issue now facing the church is whether or not homosexuals should be accepted into the church, married by the church, and/or ordained within the church. Christendom has been split on this issue for quite sometime now. The more liberal sects have already accepted homosexuality into their churches. The conservative churches have refrained on the basis of correct interpretation of the Bible. The Religious Liberty issue that arises revolves around the autonomy of the church. Most denominations have taken the stance that they will take no stance, hence, they leave the decision to the individual churches within their denomination. The ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) has made it their official policy that “Gay and lesbian people, as individuals created by God, are welcome to participate fully in the life of the congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.”1 In their 1993 Conference of Bishops they stated that they “do not approve” of performing a ceremony of blessing for same-sex couples. “Nevertheless, (they) express trust in...those pastors and congregations who are in ministry with gay and lesbian persons...”2 What they mean by “trust” is left to interpretation. A liberal interpretation could see this policy as an opening for the individual church to allow ceremonies between homosexual couples. Even a conservative interpretation leaves the door ajar for such a ceremony to commence. Once that door is opened, liberals could easily use a precedent to establish new policy. The Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. recently rejected a recommendation to lift a ban on the ordination of practicing homosexuals. Instead, they voted to call for a two year study on the issue. Their official statement of the assembly was that “No church should insist that gay and lesbian people need therapy to change their orientation, nor should it inhibit or discourage those who are unhappy with or confused about their sexual orientation from seeking therapy they believe will be helpful.”3 Again, indecisiveness leads to individual churches within the denomination deciding for themselves. Their official statement also provides conclusive evidence of their toleration for the homosexual lifestyle. This can be used by liberals to reform the church from within. On a side note, Jane Spahr, a pastor in San Rafael, CA won the “Women of Faith” award at the assembly. She is a strong advocate for the ordination of gays and lesbians. Recognizing liberals within the denomination only opens another door to apostasy. On September 14, 1997, Reverend Jimmy Creech, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Omaha, Nebraska, presided over an unauthorized ceremony between a female homosexual couple. He was given a church trial where he was acquitted by one vote. The official policy of the United Methodist Church is that “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”4 So, why was Creech acquitted? On January 16, 1999, one hundred clergy belonging to the United Methodist Church presided over another ceremony involving two homosexual males. According to Reverend Don Fado of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Sacramento, “this was an act of compassion....what Jesus himself would do.”5 The previous trial set a precedent for the denomination. Liberal reformers interpreted the decision as an open door for the commencement of ceremonies between homosexual couples. The one hundred clergy presiding over the second ceremony was a political statement and a challenge to the denomination to officially change their policy. The Truth The allowance of autonomous churches within denominations has allowed liberal interpretations of scripture to infest denominations that were once very sound and biblical. These false teachings are precisely what the author of Hebrews was talking about: Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. Hebrews 13:9a The question, then, that must be asked is, “when an autonomous church takes liberty to interpret scripture in a radical way, is it the denomination’s duty to infringe on the rights of the church?” I believe it is. The ultimate authority on all issues of life and church conduct is scripture. The Bible clearly states that when false doctrines are introduced into the church, it is the church’s duty to rebuke and discipline the wayward Christian. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted - you may well put up with it!...For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. II Corinthians 11:4 & 13 I feel this applies to individual churches within denominations as well. When an autonomous church teaches a false doctrine, it is the denominations duty to rebuke and discipline the apostate church and if necessary, remove the church from the denomination. This is where the “liberal” denominations have gone wrong. Their allowance for the teachings of false doctrines within their churches has opened the door for these same false teachings to infest the entire denomination. This is why I feel the problem of homosexuality within the church is an issue of Religious Liberty. If it weren’t for the liberal denominations allowing autonomy to take precedence over biblical authority, the liberal/conservative split within the church may have never taken place. Grant it, this does not just apply to homosexuality alone. Other false doctrines and sins are to be treated in the same manner. But for the sake of this paper, I dealt only with this issue. I realize that it is not just the issue of homosexuality that has split the church, but many other issues as well. With this in mind, I leave you with one final verse that deals with sexuality and church discipline. It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles - that a man has his father’s wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you...In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump... I Corinthians 5:1-7a
Bibliography Coulter, Ken. Compiled and Edited by Ellis, Bob. Dispelling the Myth. Logos Ministries, 1997. What the Bible Says About Homosexuality. www.milepost1.com/~gaydad/FAQ/WHATBIBLESAYS.html Scriptures They Never Bring Up. www.spiritualfruits.com/scriptures.html Angier, Natalie. Report Suggests Homosexuality is Linked to Genes. New York Times: July 16, 1993. Goode, Erica. Study Questions Gene Influence on Male Homosexuality. New York Times: April 23, 1999. Clarification Regarding Same-sex Blessings and Ongoing Deliberation Concerning Homosexuality. from ELCA Office of the Presiding Bishop, May 2000 www.elca.org/ob/samesex.html Homosexuality at issue for PCUSA, Reformed. www.thelutheran.org/9908/page52.html What the United Methodist Church Teaches About Homosexuality. Schell, Clifford. www.gbgm-umc.org/pwvfumc/message/creech.html Homosexuality and the UM Church. O’Neil, Ray. www.goodnewsmag.org/the_latest/homo022499.htm The Holy Bible: New King James Version. Nashville, TN, Thomas Nelson Publishers.