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THE TONY CROSS COLUMN

Article No. 62

A dialogue about homosexuality

I am afraid I really cannot agree with you that homosexuality is acceptable for a Christian.

Why not?

Because I really think the Bible legislates against it. Many Christians think the same and I have seen a number of articles by theologians and others who know about these matters that there is no doubt that homosexuality is forbidden in the Bible.

Well, I have to accept that there are many theologians and theological writers who take up that position. There is no disputing the fact. However, there are also a good number of theologians and theological writers who say that there is a great deal of uncertainty about what the various terms used in the Bible actually meant in the era in which they were written. They therefore are accepting of homosexuality.

Yes, but the fact that there are so many eminent people who say that the Bible condemns homosexuality must also be supported by the fact that there is the whole weight of Christian tradition that takes the same view.

Well that is true. Both societal and Christian tradition has been anti-homosexual. Indeed, most religions (but by no means all) are anti-homosexual. However there is another side to this story.

Well, what is it? Because I cannot see how you can possibly argue for the acceptance of homosexuality when both the bible and tradition (Christian and otherwise) is against it.

Well let’s go back to the bible first.

There are only a few direct references to what may be termed homosexuality in the bible. Christ himself never mentioned it in any way. The main references, most would agree, are the prohibition in Leviticus and what Paul says in Romans.

Yes.

As regards Leviticus you have to bear in mind that when the Israelites were a nomadic tribe wandering about the Middle East three thousand years ago (and subsequently), they were anxious to increase their numbers, and to maintain a form of discipline that would enable the tribe to be cohesive in alien surroundings. Producing offspring was essential for the survival of the tribe. Of course they forbad homosexuality. If the men had started to go the homosexual route there would have been fewer children – who were needed to grow up and look after and protect the tribe. Anything that threatened the tribe was forbidden. I can perfectly understand the prohibition in those circumstances.

Well, I am not very convinced by that thought. However what about Romans? Surely there you have the basic objection to homosexuality?

Not at all. The scholars who understand these documents in their original language and who have acquainted themselves regarding the cultures in which they were written and to which they were addressed, tell us that the whole point of the passage in Romans (one verse of which is often lifted out to make an anti-gay argument) was really directed quite differently. We need to read the words of the epistle right through, ignoring the chapter breaks, which were inserted fairly recently and very haphazardly.

I am no expert, but when you read the whole passage (say Chapter One to Chapter Four) you realize that what Paul is really saying here is that God abandons the self-righteous (those who judge) to profligacy and perversion. Heterosexual people going badly off the rails with homosexual practices.

But if you really want to understand what Paul is saying I suggest you read ‘A question of truth’ by Gareth Moore OP (Continuum Press ISBN 0-8264-5949-8) which is an excellent book covering the whole subject.

Well, that certainly puts a different light on it. And I think I might get that book to learn more about it all. But what about the argument that the Creation Story in Genesis leads us to see that the man-woman setup is what God intended? That man-woman is a natural combination whereas man-man would be an unnatural combination?

If you are going to bring up the natural/unnatural suggestion then we must deal with it separately. First, however, I would like to say that while of course the man-woman combination is obviously God’s intention for the raising of children (and, incidentally, creating the family unit as a basis fort society), there is absolutely nothing in Genesis to suggest that the man-man combination is wrong, unnatural or unhealthy in any way.

Now, turning to your ‘unnatural’ point: I have to say that this seems to me to be the weakest argument that any conservative evangelical can ever use. It is so false to reality that it just does not bear examination.

In the first place it is entirely natural in the animal kingdom to find male-male sex right across the whole spectrum of animals, though obviously male-female relationships predominate. It is a total misunderstanding of the natural world to think that only male-female sexual activity happens. So, if you define ‘natural’ as what happens in the animal world, then homosexuality must be classed as entirely natural.

Secondly the argument that because man-man relationship cannot produce babies it is therefore unnatural is totally ineffective on several counts. First, that would lead to also saying that childless couples were unnatural, which is surely wrong. But mainly, because in fact a lot of our normal life is equally unnatural. For example, is it natural to use contraceptives? Is it natural to do surgical operations on people? Is it natural to fly in aeroplanes? If your theory is that we should only do what is 'natural’ then we would have to totally change the way we conduct life today. If one accepts ‘unnatural’ activity in so many other fields, why carp at it in the sexual field?

Yes, well I have to admit that you have a point there. But there is still another reason, which has to do with disgust, it has been said that we humans have an inbuilt sense of disgust, which protects us from many bad, rotten and injurious things and activities. And there are many people who just feel that same sex sexual activity is disgusting. They just turn away at the thought. What do you say to that?

Yes, I do accept that there are some people who feel disgusted at gay sex. They may also feel disgusted at other things as well, but let’s ignore all of that for the moment. Let us ask simply why they feel as they do. Is it an inbuilt human thing or is it in just some of the population? The answer of course is that it is only in a proportion of people. By no means does everyone feel disgust at the thought of gay sex. So we have to ask why it is that this group of people feels disgusted.

The reason I would suggest lies in their childhood and youth. It was the custom, previously, for children to be taught from the earliest age that gay sex was wrong, evil, perverted and disgusting. It was the implicit (and sometimes explicit) teaching in the home, in schools, in Christian circles and from the pulpit. In fact in society generally homosexuality was the great forbidden subject. It was not discussed. It was not referred to. It was not accepted. It was a totally hidden subject. And, of course, it was illegal – you could go to prison for having gay sex.

In such circumstances it is hardly surprising that some people have associated abhorrence with gay sex. Add to that the whole religious prejudice against gay people and it becomes obvious that what we are facing there is a generational thing.

I believe that in twenty or thirty years time homosexuality will be as acceptable as heterosexual sex is today.

You may be right, but religious people will never accept it

I am afraid I have to disagree with you there. There are many millions of Christians across the world who realise that the information and knowledge we have gained in the past hundred or so years about the nature of human beings and of their sexual make-up has led us to totally re-evaluate homosexuality.

I still think that religious people will refuse it – and that includes other religions, besides Christianity.

Of course it will take time. But even in today’s climate – which I would term as transitional – youngsters are asking why their parents are so set against gay people and gay sex. And the two do go together, you know. Prejudice is not just about gay sex, but about gay people too.

No, I don’t accept that. You can hate the sin and love the sinner.

Let’s knock that idea on the head forever! If you reject gay sex because it is perverted, sinful, sick and morally wrong, then how can you possibly accept the gay person into the church?

Well – you can accept them if they have repented.

Why should they repent for being as God made them?

But God did not make them like that – humankind has deteriorated through original sin to the point where these things happen.

Well, I believe that God makes all humankind, with all its rich diversity. I believe that God blesses what he has made and sees it as good. I believe that a gay person, whether they practise gay sex or not, is as acceptable to God as any heterosexual.

How can you say that! I cannot agree with you.

I'll go further – I believe that God is pleased with gay people and I believe they should thank God for the way they are made. They are in God’s world and He has intended/permitted them to be made so that they are oriented sexually towards their own sex. Let them thank God for it, and make sure that they operate their lives under the Rule of Christ.

Well, I hope that one-day peace comes again to the church and this whole business is settled once and for all.

All down the centuries the history of the Christian Church has been studded with fierce debates as knowledge grew and the world changed. In every century theologians have had to adjust their thinking and give up their doggedly held beliefs in the light of new understanding of the world they live in.

It happened about whether the sun went round the earth or the earth went round the sun. It happened about whether women should be subservient to men or whether they should play an equal part in life and in the church. It is now happening about our understanding of human sexuality. And it will go on happening down the centuries until Christ comes and the world comes to an end.

Tony Cross

June 2004


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