On the subject of homosexuality, I do not here write thinking to add anything novel to what has already been hitherto known and argued. The material is out there, but, perhaps, not numerous nor loud enough, and so I think to add my voice to chorusing what I myself believe with regards to a topic that is still controversial and divisive even among mainstream Christians – indeed even amongst people in the same church and denomination. I think those of us who are able to ought to contribute to the unfolding discourse, and participate as members of the body of Christ as the Church steers its way through these new waters.
Now in discussing whether or not homosexuality is a sin, I should first like to emphatically note that our Lord, in His ministering to the downtrodden, oppressed, and hungry of His time, never counted the sins nor the sinfulness of His charges. He mingled with prostitutes and lepers while rebuking the teachers who disdained Him for it. And so with Christ as our master, be homosexuality a sin or not, there should be no question as to the correct treatment which the Church and her charges owe to homosexual men and women who come to her doors. They must be served, loved, and protected. Any discussion about the sinfulness of homosexuality may only properly proceed after we establish this as a basic consensus.
Now, in considering the question of whether homosexuals ought to be permitted to – and be protected in the course of – pursuing romance and relationships analogous to heterosexual ones, but with men or women of the same sex, I should think that the very tenor of the Christian faith first compels us to say “yes”. After all, as a religion and as a philosophy of life, Christianity heavily emphasizes care for our fellow man. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we are to sell our riches and give to the poor. Those who are hungry we are to feed, those who are thirsty we are to water. We are to invite in the stranger, clothe the naked, look after the sick, visit the imprisoned – for these which we do for the least of our brothers and sisters we do also for Christ our Lord. And so when perceiving these men and women who, it seems, cannot help being attracted to people of the same sex, how can we but naturally desire that they too may be permitted and defended in the possibility of tasting the fruits of romance and the complex joys of family building that we ourselves pursue? What privilege I enjoy, I wish also for my brother or sister – even at my own peril. That is a pillar of the Christian faith.
What privilege I enjoy, I wish also for my brother or sister – even at my own peril. That is a pillar of the Christian faith.
Then wherefore the controversy? Opposition largely centers around several bits of scripture – up to 6 verses in all – that seem to be critical of homosexual behavior. Flanking this are claims of the unnaturalness of homosexuality, the idea that homosexuality is not determined but chosen, and the claim that homosexuality can be changed into heterosexuality and thus “cured”. On the basis of scripture opponents claim that homosexual behavior is sinful, and on the basis of the other claims they may go on to charge that homosexuals sin by choosing homosexuality for themselves over natural heterosexuality, and that repenting the sin of homosexuality holds up hope that homosexuals may re-embrace heterosexuality and thus be admitted to the same possibilities and fruits heterosexuals traditionally enjoy.
Let us examine these claims
Is homosexuality a choice?
The answer seems to be “no”, for the time being. This is a scientific question, and we must thus draw our answer from the work of the scientific community – the prevailing consensus of which at the time of this writing is that no, homosexuality is not a choice. It is true that there is yet no established scientific consensus on the cause(s) of homosexuality, and our understanding of homosexuality may yet evolve with the progress of related research, but at least for the time being there is no use cherry-picking results as I have seen done in some Christian-themed material. To, for example, conclude homosexuality as a choice merely from the fact that scientists don’t currently regard hereditary/genes as the sole/main cause of homosexuality is to misrepresent the literature. If we appeal to science at all we must take it in full and accept the interpretation of its practitioners.
If we appeal to science at all we must take it in full and accept the interpretation of its practitioners.
Likewise on the topic of whether homosexuality is “unnatural” or whether it might be “cured”, the view held by contemporary science as of this writing is unfavorable to people who would argue against homosexuality on these grounds. Research appears to have shown that homosexuality is a natural variation on human sexuality and that it does not result in negative or pathological psychological effects. On “curing”, there is yet insufficient evidence of the efficacy of sexual orientation changing efforts, and some people appear to have experienced significant distress from the experience, so that there is now great suspicion on the practice on ethical grounds.
An understanding of these ideas is significant to our framing of the homosexuality issue because it outlines the moral gravity of the whole thing. If we insist that homosexuality is sinful and turn out to be wrong, we risk inflicting significant suffering and trauma on innocent people. This is why I have said that an anti-homosexuality position runs against the tenor of the Christian faith. I think it is encouraging that many Christians who view homosexuality as sinful are nonetheless well aware of these things and are exceedingly cautious and gentle in practice. Some have restricted the sinfulness of homosexuality to only the sexual act itself, and thus view the sexual orientation as merely a temptation rather than an aberration or a sin, one that may be successfully resisted simply by celibacy. Now this is I believe a more robust, scientifically tenable position. We shall consider it next.
If homosexuality is not a choice, can it be a sin?
In a strict sense, no – since an act of sin must be an act of choice. But it may still plausibly be a temptation to sin. This can be illustrated very simply with a thought experiment. Let us consider pedophilia – that is, a dominant sexual attraction towards children. Now I am not myself knowledgeable about the real facts about pedophilia and its effects on its sufferers, but let us suppose here purely for the sake of argument that it is not a choice and also not a source of other negative psychological effects. It should be evident that pedophilia remains a temptation to real sin all the same. The sinfulness of consummating a pedophilic desire is not nullified by the involuntariness of the desire. Likewise therefore, if it can be demonstrated that, for example, homosexual intercourse is sinful, then homosexuality could be a temptation to sin even if it is not a choice. This would in fact be entirely analogous with regular modes of sin – we did not choose to be born with greed, and yet following our greedy impulse would lead inevitably to sin. Involuntary temptation, and virtuous – oftentimes painful – resistance, is well at home in Christian thought.
Involuntary temptation, and virtuous – oftentimes painful – resistance, is well at home in Christian thought.
The question then becomes: is homosexual intercourse sinful? The answer clearly isn’t as evident as with the case of my hypothetical pedophilia. If pursued monogamously, consensually and with due diligence, there is no evidence that homosexual intercourse results in any significant harm to its participants – or anyone else. How then might we decide?
“Scripture!” would doubtlessly be the resounding answer from some Christians. But is it really decisive?
Does Scripture decisively rule against homosexual acts?
No, I do not think so. There is a good amount of debate around this topic, which I won’t endeavor to consider in full here. Example full articles treating it from each side can be found here and here. For my part, I find myself in greater agreement with the perspective that Paul in his epistles never began to consider homosexuality in the context which we do today – ie that of lifelong, monogamous, consensual relationship in accordance with an involuntary sexual orientation. There is evidence that heterosexual men and women did engage in homosexual intercourse out of depravity in those days, and no evidence that homosexuality was ever coherently known or discussed as an involuntary sexual orientation. And therefore it seems extremely likely that Paul was writing in reference to depraved homosexuality and not to the sort of sincere, loving relationships we are here considering. While one must admit there is some merit to the idea that Scripture can often stand on its own, transcending even the context and intentions of its human author, exegesis of this sort must naturally be applied with caution. It suffices at any rate for our current purposes to note that there is credible opposition to the idea that Scripture is unequivocally against homosexual relationships/acts of the type we are considering. It thus becomes a question of Scripture interpretation, and in Christian thought, Scripture is engaged and interpreted with the help of personal communion with the Holy Spirit, and that brings me to my next point.
It suffices at any rate for our current purposes to note that there is credible opposition to the idea that Scripture is unequivocally against homosexual relationships/acts of the type we are considering
Can we truly understand a sin towards which we feel no temptation?
Admittedly – sometimes yes. In the case of pedophilia for example, the sinfulness of the consummation is apparent from the evil and suffering it inflicts on others. And so where the sin eventually manifests itself as harmful effects we can clearly see and perceive, then we can understand its sinful nature even if we are not tempted to it. “Ye shall know them by their fruits”. However, in cases where a hypothetical sin may manifest no clear outward signs of harm – as in, apparently, the case of our type of homosexual relationships – the situation is more complicated.
Does “no outward signs of harm” decisively eliminate the possibility of sin?
We must acknowledge “no”. Harm is not always apparent to the observer – at least, not to observers such as us. The goal of the Christian life is to manifest the Godliness of our Father as fully as we are able to, and a sin may cause us to simply fall short of what we would otherwise be able to attain. An external human observer would likely have no true idea of what God’s plan is for a particular soul, and so might not be able to tell when such a soul has fallen short. And so it is certainly possible for a real sin to manifest no clearly humanly discernible outward signs – though God of course would know. That however brings forth the following synthesis:
Can we as third-party human observers truly know an untempted sin which manifests no clear signs?
I would argue, no. It doesn’t seem to me that in Its guidance of my soul the Holy Spirit is usually concerned with things that do not tempt me. Out of my own sincere contemplation I can speak with confidence about my own battle with my own enemies, but can I truly also speak with confidence about the battles that I do not fight? I think not. And so it is my opinion that those of us who are not homosexual cannot know that homosexuality is a sin merely on our own introspective thought, however sincere. The Christian homosexual may plausibly be able to say with confidence that he/she thinks homosexuality is a sin, but the rest of us, I think, cannot make this claim on our own. We must be supplemented – either by scientific data, or at least by unequivocal Scripture. Neither of which, as I have argued, seems presently decisive.
can I truly also speak with confidence about the battles that I do not fight? I think not.
In the final analysis it must be admitted that the position I am arguing for is tentative. It seems clear to me that we currently have no grounds to say confidently that homosexuality is a sin or a temptation to a sin, and therefore should in practice allow it and even support it whenever such support may result in good effects – like alleviation of personal distress and defeat of social discrimination. At the same time I admit that this position is not set in stone – it can be modified by new information. Before ending, I should like to make clear the sort of new information I am here talking about. I do not think it is likely to come from Scripture – we have probably already debated all there is to debate about that. I think at least 2 things may hold the potential to affect my position. Firstly – new scientific/research results. If scientific research were to, say, eventually demonstrate that homosexual relationship in fact causes tangible harm of some sort, then that would be a valid occasion to revise our conclusion. Secondly – the testimony of homosexual Christians. If large numbers of homosexual Christians were to independently and sincerely testify that, through their experiences and their journey with the Spirit, they perceive that the consummation of their own homosexual desires is sinful, then, on the grounds of my previous thesis that a sin is knowable to those whom it tempts, I would also consider this a valid occasion for potentially revising our conclusion.
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.“
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ“