Thoughts and Comments


Homosexuality and the Bible

By the Rev. Wiley B. Cooper

Some dear friends of mine have two young grandchildren. One is already a “boy’s boy” – football, cars, rough play, fascinated with hunting and scantily-clad pictures of women. The other, asked what he’s going to be when he grows up, says, “like mommy and grandma.” He likes to dress in girl’s clothes, play with dolls, listen to and create music, and is fascinated with sewing. They are convinced that he is homosexual. Assuming for the sake of argument they are right, what do I as a disciple of Jesus Christ tell these committed, thoughtful Christians about the Christian stance toward their beloved grandchild?

Summary: In light of the now-overwhelming consensus of the biological, medical, and psychiatric community that same-sex preference is a condition that we are born with and certainly do not “choose”, those who would seek to exclude homosexuals from the community of believers, or to refuse to recognize loving, consensual, lifetime commitments of homosexuals to one another cannot fairly look to the witness of Scripture for justification. The clear witness of Scripture is embracing love for these fellow children of God and potential disciples of Jesus Christ, and clear condemnation for those who judge and exclude other believers from the Church and the Kingdom,  usurping the prerogative of God.

The Biblical Witness:

Only eight passages (less than 12 pages), none from the Gospels or the lips of Jesus, can be alleged to directly address homosexual practice. None say anything about the condition of homosexuality or loving, consensual, lifetime relationships between two same-sex adults,   The one statement or action of Jesus that some drag into the argument is the miracle at Cana. There, Jesus blesses, not commands, marriage. The focus of the passage is Jesus, the Life of the party (not Dionysius or Bacchus), who brings real joy and blessing.

Jesus prohibits divorce; only Matthew allows an exception for adultery. Yet Methodists, following Jesus’ example of forgiveness and new life,  make a place for divorced people like me in the body of Christ and in the ranks of the clergy. Jesus does not exclude the Samaritan (thus separated from the Chosen) woman  (prohibited from touching or speaking with a man not of her family in public) who has been married several times and is living with someone not her husband. In contrast, He condemns the “righteous” rich and powerful who offer thanks for their purity while scorning the poor asking forgiveness for their sins. Jesus enters the home of traitorous (tax collector for Rome), larcenous Zacchaeus and eats at his table. As a response to (not a condition of) Jesus’ embracing love, Zacchaeus returns what he has stolen. Jesus praises the compassionate Samaritan and condemns those who “pass by on the other side” including the priest who does so to maintain his purity.

In the Old Testament, the most-quoted reference is the “Sin of Sodom”. But Genesis 19:1-29 is not about homosexuality at all. After we plow through Lot’s offering of his daughters up for rape to try to persuade Sodomites not to violate God’s commandment to welcome and succor the stranger, we see the enraged male leaders of Sodom rape the interlopers to establish their power to dishonor and shame (treat them like women)  These are heterosexual males establishing their power! Nothing loving; no commitment except to shame and subdue; nothing about homosexuals. Simply a terrible violation of God’s sacred command to welcome the stranger and sojourner.

Leviticus 18 and 20, the “Holiness Code”, detail how Israel must live differently from the surrounding pagans. Don’t mix with them in any way (contrast Jesus), or even sew a field with two kinds of seed (violates the principle of separation). Don’t undermine the authority of men by cursing parents or committing adultery (usurping a man’s property); and “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination (toevah)” (Leviticus 18:22; cf. 20:13). Why? Because the man who was penetrated was acting like a woman! Can we really justify lifting same sex intercourse out of a list of practices, several of which no Christian considers prohibited today, and making it a sin justifying exclusion from the body of Christ?

Desperately searching for Biblical warrant for our prejudice, we come to Paul. But watch out! Even Paul never singles out homosexuality per se (unknown in his day) or same-sex intercourse in a loving relationship as a sin greater than others. The focus of the passages is more disturbing: when followers of Jesus leave Him and go running off after the gods of the culture, we open ourselves to the vices and even the spurious “virtues” of that culture.

Acts 15 offers better guidance. Peter tells about his vision that there are no clean and unclean people in God’s sight (contrast Leviticus 18 and 20) and proclaims that God has given the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles (non-Jews). Then Paul and Barnabus witness to God’s amazing acts among Gentiles. The Jerusalem Church saw us Gentiles as unclean by nature, polluted by idolatry, only eligible to enter the fellowship of disciples after converting to Judaism and submitting to the Law. Peter, Paul and Barnabus won the day simply: “God knows every heart; God has given Gentiles the Holy Spirit; God has made no distinction between them and us; God has performed signs and wonders among them.”

Conclusion: The witness of Scripture is clear: every person - male or female, Greek or Roman, slave or free - is a child of God and called to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. The Church cannot require freedom from our self-defined sins as a prerequisite for inclusion, because “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”; “whoever believes in him shall have eternal life.” The Church cannot exclude the “sinner de jour” from fellowship while ignoring, excusing, minimizing, or even forgiving sins detailed in the same sentences. The only consistent New Testament requirement for inclusion in the Body of Christ is accepting the loving embrace of Jesus - Christ, Lord, and Savior.

The church, following Jesus, has always held up lifelong, loving commitment – “the two become one” – as the most fulfilling and life-enhancing pattern for the vast majority of humans (some are called to celibacy as a Gospel choice, not a condition imposed by the church). When the church refuses to recognize and support loving, lifelong same-sex commitments, we “cause the little ones to sin,” rightly condemning promiscuity and adultery while wrongly refusing to recognize same-sex fidelity.

And so here we are, a people who proclaim that in Jesus the world is transformed. But when it comes to recognizing the sacred worth of persons in the LGBT community, we are seeing transformation take place outside of the church. Over the years perhaps we will catch up with the culture in realizing fully the sacred worth of sisters and brothers who are LGBT, but what are we to do in the meantime?

The United Methodist Church was in the news Thanksgiving week as the story of Rev. Frank Schaefer was convicted in a church trial of violating our Book of Discipline. He presided at the wedding of his son, a homosexual person of sacred worth, who was married several years ago. The son asked his father to preside at the service, and Schaefer agreed to do so. And once again, The United Methodist Church has become known as a church that punishes clergy for presiding at their children’s same-sex unions.

All of this press coverage has raised questions in my own soul as I’ve considered what my response will be when someone I love asks me to preside at their marriage. Actually, it’s caused me to reflect on the people at the church I now serve. We are blessed with a strong and vibrant youth and college ministry. I’ve gotten to know these young people during my years of service. What will my response be when one of them comes to me and asks, “Will you preside at our wedding?” When one of my members asks, what will I say to her?

I could say, “I’m sorry. I can’t. Our Book of Discipline says your lifestyle is incompatible with Christian teaching. Your marriage is a sin.”

Another option: “I’m sorry. I can’t. Our Book of Discipline won’t allow me to officiate your wedding. The United Church of Christ pastor down the street might help us out. You don’t know her, but she can do it.”

Or I might say simply, “You know I will. You are one of my people and, more than that, you are one of God’s people. I am honored to be a part of your special day.”

Which response really seems rooted in our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?

Our tradition teaches us that sometimes we must be willing to push the boundaries of our polity. Because God continues to work with us, just as God did in the Book of Acts, to extend grace and love to all of humanity. It was in that early New Testament community of Acts that many argued against expanding the reach of the church to the uncircumcised. But some dared to break the norm and discipline of the early church. And that’s when God affirmed their disobedience as the Spirit descended upon the outsiders, the ones declared unclean by some of the religious. I believe that same Spirit of dissent is still moving today.

So when I now consider a person I’ve watched grow up in the love of the church coming and asking for a blessing as she and her beloved offer themselves in a holy covenant, who am I to prohibit them from the blessing of the church? I cannot. I will not.

And that’s a trial I’m willing to bear.

Rev. Cooper is a retired member of the United Methodist Conference of South Carolina.

Publication: South Carolina United Methodist Advocate; Date: 2009; Page: