Same-Sex Relationships in the Light of the Bible
Few subjects have been as explosive as that of homosexuality in recent years. Rapid social change has brought about a degree of acceptance of homosexuality which is unprecedented. This has led to a change in Western perceptions of issues such as the nature of sexuality, the concept of the family, the education of our children and the nature of human rights. It is in this context that the church has to offer leadership by reflecting biblically and responding appropriately to the agenda. It does so at a time when many homosexual campaigners see Christianity as one of the primary sources of resistance to their demands.
As we reflect on the message of the Bible and the demands of our culture, we need to reassert our belief in the authority of Scripture. If we waver in our belief that God has spoken to us in the Scriptures, then we are left with conjecture and opinion. Yet we also need to be sensitive to the fact that we are dealing with people’s emotions, their sexual identity and their dreams of finding love and acceptance. We have a mandate to speak the truth, but we are called to speak the truth in love. We are all human and we are all sexual. If we stereotype and stigmatize one another, then we do not treat each other with the respect that each person deserves. After all, as far as the Bible is concerned, there is no such phenomenon as “a homosexual”; there are only people made in the image of God. We all share in the glory and tragedy of being human and we share it in our sexuality as well as other areas of our lives. We may disapprove of homosexual practices; we have no liberty to dehumanize those who engage in them. We are all frail and vulnerable and nobody has been sexually sinless apart from Jesus. Although we must not shy away from making judgements about what is right and wrong in the light of Scripture, we are not to be judgemental. We shall be judged by the standards by which we judge others. Nobody has the right to be morally superior. Besides, sexual sins are not the only sins, nor even necessarily the most sinful; pride and hypocrisy are surely worse.
In what follows, then, I want to explore what the Bible has to say about same-sex relationships from a Christian viewpoint. It may well be that some of those reading this are not Christians, but those who are will surely want to know what light Scripture can throw on this topic. Having discovered this, they will wish to seek God’s grace to live in a way which is consistent with his Word, obedient to his will and a witness to his world. Nevertheless, I hope that those who read this who are not Christians may hear the voice of God calling them to discover the liberty of obedience to his will in this area of their lives.
THE INCIDENCE OF HOMOSEXUALITY
Not everybody is exclusively homosexual or heterosexual in inclination. Some people find that they are attracted to people of the same sex, even briefly, during their lives. A major survey in the US, the National Health and Social Life Survey published in 1994, found that 2.7% of men reported same-gender sex partners in the last year, 4.1% in the past five years and 4.9% since the age of eighteen. The equivalent figures for women were 1.3%, 2.2% and 4.1%.1
When asked about “having done anything sexual” with a person of the same sex since puberty, these figures rise to 9.1% for men and 4.3% for women.2 The figure of 9.1% is higher than any figure reported by similar surveys at the time, but if true implies that around 4% of the men surveyed undertook some form of sexual activity with another man before the age of eighteen, but not after.3 In examining those people who experienced only same-sex partnerships, the study found that since puberty 0.6% of men have had sex only with other boys or men and never with a female partner. For women, the proportion is 0.2%.
Sexual Behaviour in Britain, a large study published in 1994, found that 3.6% of men (and 1.7% of women) have ever had same-sex genital contact,4 though this was a one-off isolated act in 50% of these cases.5 In addition, 1.1% of men had had a homosexual partner during the previous year (0.4% for women), and 1.4% (0.6% for women) in the past five years.6 Only 0.3% of men (and 0.1% of women) reported having exclusively same-sex partners.7 A more recent large British study found that the proportion of men aged between sixteen and forty-four years who had ever had a homosexual partner was 5.4%, with those having a homosexual partner in the last five years being 2.6%. The equivalent figures for women were surprisingly high at 4.9% and 2.6%.8 These studies suggest that in the Western world, putting aside teenage experimentation, between 3% and 5.5% of men have undertaken a homosexual act in their adult lifetime,9 between 1.5% and 4% of men have had a homosexual partner in the last five years, and less than 2% of the male population, and less than 1% of the female, are exclusively homosexual in inclination and practice.
ASKING THE KEY QUESTION
Having delineated the context for our discussion, I am ready to ask the question, are same-sex partnerships a Christian option? I phrase my question carefully as it introduces us to three necessary distinctions.
The distinction between sins and crimes
Firstly, at least since the Wolfenden Report of 1957 and the resultant Sexual Offences Act of 1967, we have learned to distinguish between sins and crimes. Adultery has always (according to God’s law) been a sin, but in most countries it is not an offence punishable by the state. Rape, by contrast, is both a sin and a crime. The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 declared that a homosexual act performed between consenting adults over the age of twenty-one in private should no longer be a criminal offence. However, there is a difference between decriminalizing an act and legalizing it. Throughout Europe, following a ruling by the Court of Human Rights, laws that criminalize private consensual sex between adult men are now invalid. However, Denmark and the Netherlands, for instance, have given full legal status to same-sex partnerships.
Globally, attitudes are very diverse. In approximately seventy countries around the world homosexual relationships are illegal, and in some of them same-sex relationships are punishable by execution. In other countries jail sentences are long and people are harshly treated. Sometimes this antipathy to homosexuality can threaten the very foundations of our shared humanity. At a session of the United Nations which addressed these issues, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe said that lesbian and gay men are “less than human” and are, therefore, not entitled to human rights.10 Yet human rights are those rights which are due to a human being by virtue of him or her being human and nothing else.
The distinction between preference and practice
Secondly, it is important to note from the outset that what we are concerned with here is homosexual practice (for which a person is responsible) and not homosexual orientation or preference (for which he or she is not responsible). The importance of this distinction goes beyond the attribution of responsibility to the attribution of guilt. We may not blame people for what they are, though we may for what they do. In every discussion about homosexuality we must be rigorous in differentiating between “being” and “doing”– that is, between a person’s identity and activity, sexual preference and sexual practice, constitution and conduct.
Whatever our inclination, we are to bring every thought captive to Christ and recognize that sexual intercourse is a joyful celebration of the unity between one man and one woman for life. The person who cannot marry and who is living a celibate and chaste life, whatever his or her sexual orientation, is living a life which is pleasing to God.
The distinction between casual and committed
Thirdly, we need to distinguish between casual acts and committed relationships which (it is claimed) are just as expressive of authentic human love as is heterosexual intercourse in marriage. No responsible homosexual person (whether Christian or not) is advocating promiscuous “one-night stands”. What some are arguing, however, especially in the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM), is that a heterosexual marriage and a homosexual partnership are “two equally valid alternatives”,11 being equally tender, mature and faithful. The Statement of Conviction of the LGCM contains the assertion that “it is entirely compatible with the Christian faith not only to love another person of the same sex but also to express that love fully in a personal sexual relationship”.12
In 2003 such views were at the heart of a series of events which were very painful for the Christian church. I shall mention only three. The first occurred on 28 May 2003, when Michael Ingham, Bishop of the New Westminster diocese in Canada, announced approval for six Vancouver-area parishes to bless same sex unions. This development provoked a storm of protest within the church worldwide. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said that New Westminster was “ignoring the considerable reservations of the church” and was going “significantly further than the teaching of the church or pastoral concern can justify”. He continued, “I very much regret the inevitable tension and divisions that will result from this development.”13 J. I. Packer, a highly respected conservative theologian and church leader, was one of those who walked out of the synod which approved the blessing of same-sex unions. For him, it was not legitimate to allow experience to judge Scripture or to mould Scripture in order to provide a basis for the blessing of homosexual relationships.14 Such a move deviated from biblical teaching, misled people since it did not help them to live a chaste life and deluded people into thinking that God blesses behaviour which he condemns. He simply asked the question, “How could I do it?”
The second issue was the consecration of Rev. Canon Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in the USA on 2 November 2003. Canon Robinson had lived in a gay relationship for fifteen years. The impact of this consecration on the global Anglican communion was even greater than the events in New Westminster. Yet again the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, had to respond and recognized in doing so that divisions were being opened up across the world as a consequence of such an event, which he called a “matter of deep regret”. The consecration took place despite the fact that thirty-seven archbishops had met the previous month at Lambeth Palace and had warned of the consequences of such a move. His fears were confirmed when primates throughout the world expressed their disquiet and, in some cases, their sense of outrage at this development.
The third issue was the proposed appointment of Rev. Canon Dr Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading in the UK, which was announced on 21 May 2003 and was proposed by the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Richard Harries. Jeffrey John had been in a gay relationship for more than twenty years but said that, although the relationship continued, it was not now a sexual relationship, nor did he and his friend live together, because of their different ministerial responsibilities. However, he had been extremely critical of previous orthodox teaching on sexuality, especially the teaching which arose from the Lambeth Conference in 1998. Although he stated that he would abide by the teaching and discipline of the church in the area of sexuality were he to be consecrated as a bishop, many felt that there was no real evidence of repentance over his previous lifestyle, nor was there sufficient confidence that he would be able to support orthodox teaching as a bishop, given his own personal views. After a meeting with Archbishop Rowan Williams, he resigned from the appointment, but was later accepted as Dean of St Albans.
These three events were extremely painful for the Church of England, since they exposed the deep divisions which still exist on issues of human sexuality and particularly on same-sex relationships. It is important, therefore, as Bible-believing Christians, to examine the original text of Scripture, to see what light can be thrown on these issues. The question before us, then, does not relate to homosexual practices of a casual nature, but asks whether homosexual partnerships – lifelong and loving – are a Christian option. Our concern is to subject prevailing attitudes (which range from total revulsion to equally uncritical endorsement) to biblical scrutiny. Is our sexual “preference” purely a matter of personal “taste”? Or has God revealed his will regarding a norm? In particular, can the Bible be shown to sanction homosexual partnerships, or at least not to condemn them? What, in fact, does the Bible condemn?
THE BIBLICAL PROHIBITIONS
There are four main biblical passages which refer (or appear to refer) to the homosexual question negatively: (1) the story of Sodom (Genesis 19:1–13), with which it is natural to associate the very similar story of Gibeah (Judges 19); (2) the Levitical texts (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13) which explicitly prohibit “lying with a man as one lies with a woman”; (3) the apostle Paul’s portrayal of decadent pagan society in his day (Romans 1:18–32); and (4) two Pauline lists of sinners, each of which includes a reference to homosexual practices of some kind (1 Corinthians 6:9–10; 1 Timothy 1:8–11).
The stories of Sodom and Gibeah
The Genesis narrative makes it clear that “the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD” (Genesis 13:13), and that “the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah” was “so great and their sin so grievous” that God determined to investigate it (Genesis 18:20–21) and in the end “overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities” (Genesis 19:25) by an act of judgement which was entirely consistent with the justice of “the Judge of all the earth” (Genesis 18:25).
There is no controversy about this background to the biblical story. The question is, what was the sin of the people of Sodom (and Gomorrah) which merited their obliteration? The traditional Christian view has been that they were guilty of homosexual practices, which they attempted (unsuccessfully) to inflict on the two angels whom Lot was entertaining in his home. Hence the word “sodomy”. But theologian Sherwin Bailey, in re-evaluating the evidence, challenged this interpretation on two main grounds, and it is important to consider his arguments. Firstly, in his view, the phrase “Bring them out to us, so that we may know them” need not necessarily mean “so that we can have sex with them” (Genesis 19:5). The Hebrew word for “know” (yada) occurs 943 times in the Old Testament, of which only ten occurrences refer to physical intercourse, and even then only to heterosexual intercourse. It would therefore be better to translate the phrase “so that we may get acquainted with them”.
We can then understand the men’s violence as due to their anger that Lot had exceeded his rights as a resident alien, for he had welcomed two strangers into his home “whose intentions might be hostile and whose credentials had not been examined”.15 In this case the sin of Sodom was to invade the privacy of Lot’s home and flout the ancient rules of hospitality. Lot begged them to desist because, he said, the two men “have come under the protection of my roof” (v. 8).
However, Robert Gagnon, in what must be the most comprehensive and encyclopaedic treatise on the Bible and homosexuality, entitled The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, comments that though hospitality may be part of the story, the focus of it is on the demeaning and dehumanizing act of homosexual rape. Commenting on the sins of Sodom, he says of homosexual intercourse itself that it treated a man “as though his masculine identity counted for nothing, as though he were not a man but a woman. To penetrate another man was to treat him like an assinnu, like someone whose ‘masculinity had been transformed into femininity’. Thus three elements (attempted penetration of males, attempted rape, inhospitality) and perhaps a fourth (unwitting, attempted sex with angels) combined to make this a particularly egregious example of human depravity that justifies God’s act of total destruction.”16
Secondly, Bailey argued that the rest of the Old Testament nowhere suggests that the nature of Sodom’s offence was homosexual. Instead, Isaiah implies that it was hypocrisy and social injustice, Jeremiah adultery, deceit and general wickedness and Ezekiel arrogance, greed and indifference to the poor (Isaiah 1:10ff.; Jeremiah 23:14; Ezekiel 16:49ff.; cf. the references in the Apocrypha to pride in Ecclesiasticus 16:8 and to inhospitality in Wisdom 19:8). Then Jesus himself (though Bailey does not mention this) on three separate occasions alluded to the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, declaring that it would be “more bearable” for them on the day of judgement than for those who reject his gospel (Matthew 10:15; 11:24; Luke 10:12). Yet in all these references there is not even a whiff or rumour of homosexual malpractice. It is only when we reach the Palestinian pseudepigraphical writings of the second century BC that Sodom’s sin is identified as unnatural sexual behaviour.17 This finds a clear echo in the letter of Jude, in which it is said that “Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion” (v. 7), and in the works of Philo and Josephus, Jewish writers who were shocked by the homosexual practices of Greek society. Sherwin Bailey handled the Gibeah story in the same way, for they are closely parallel. Another resident alien (this time an anonymous “old man”) invites two strangers (not angels, but a Levite and his concubine) into his home. Evil men surround the house and make the same demand as the Sodomites, that the visitor be brought out “so that we may know him”. The owner of the house first begs them not to be so “vile” to his “guest”, and then offers his daughter and the concubine to them instead. The sin of the men of Gibeah, it is again suggested, was not their proposal of homosexual intercourse but their violation of the laws of hospitality.
Although Bailey must have known that his reconstruction of both stories was at most tentative, he yet made the exaggerated claim that “there is not the least reason to believe, as a matter of either historical fact or of revealed truth, that the city of Sodom and its neighbours were destroyed because of their homosexual practices”.18 Instead, the Christian tradition about “sodomy” was derived from late, apocryphal Jewish sources. But Sherwin Bailey’s case is not convincing for a number of reasons: The adjectives “wicked”, “vile” and “disgraceful” (Genesis 19:7; Judges 19:23) do not seem appropriate to describe a breach of hospitality. The offer of women instead “does look as if there is some sexual connotation to the episode”.19 Although the verb yada’ is used only ten times of sexual intercourse, Bailey omits to mention that six of these occurrences are in Genesis and one in the Sodom story itself (about Lot’s daughters, who had not “known” a man, v. 8). For those of us who take the New Testament documents seriously, Jude’s unequivocal reference to the “sexual immorality and perversion” of Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 7) cannot be dismissed as merely an error copied from Jewish pseudepigrapha. To be sure, homosexual behaviour was not Sodom’s only sin, but according to Scripture it was certainly one of its sins, which brought down upon it the fearful judgement of God.
The Leviticus texts
Both texts in Leviticus belong to the “Holiness Code” which is the heart of the book and which challenges the people of God to follow his laws and not copy the practices either of Egypt (where they used to live) or of Canaan (to which he was bringing them). These practices included sexual relations within the prohibited degrees, a variety of sexual deviations, child sacrifice, idolatry and social injustice of different kinds. It is in this context that we must read the following two texts:
Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable. (Leviticus 18:22)
If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. (Leviticus 20:13).
“It is hardly open to doubt,” wrote Bailey, “that both the laws in Leviticus relate to ordinary homosexual acts between men, and not to ritual or other acts performed in the name of religion.”20 Others, however, think differently. They point out that the two texts are embedded in a context preoccupied largely with ritual cleanness, and Peter Coleman adds that the word translated “detestable” or “abomination” in both verses is associated with idolatry. “In English the word expresses disgust or disapproval, but in the Bible its predominant meaning is concerned with religious truth rather than morality or aesthetics.”21 Are these prohibitions merely religious taboos, then? Are they connected with that other prohibition, “No Israelite man or woman is to become a temple prostitute” (Deuteronomy 23:17)? Certainly the Canaanite fertility cult did include ritual prostitution, and therefore provided both male and female “sacred prostitutes” (even if there is no clear evidence that either engaged in homosexual intercourse). The evil kings of Israel and Judah were constantly introducing them into the religion of Yahweh, and the righteous kings were constantly expelling them (see, e.g., 1 Kings 14:22ff.; 15:12; 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7).
The homosexual lobby argues, therefore, that the Levitical texts prohibit religious practices which have long since ceased, and have no relevance to same-sex partnerships today. The burden of proof is with them, however. As William J. Webb points out in his recent work on hermeneutics, the issue here is primarily one of sexual boundaries.22 The incest laws protect the boundary between parent and child; the bestiality laws protect the boundary between human and animal. Similarly, the homosexual boundaries prohibit intercourse between members of the same sex. These boundaries are not cultural in that they change as Scripture develops, but transcultural, prohibiting such activities in any place at any time. So the plain, natural interpretation of these two verses is that they prohibit homosexual intercourse of every kind. The requirement of the death penalty (long since abrogated, of course) indicates the extreme seriousness with which homosexual practices were viewed.
Paul’s teaching in Romans 1
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (Romans 1:26–27) All are agreed that the apostle is describing idolatrous pagans in the Graeco-Roman world of his day. They had a certain knowledge of God through the created universe (vv. 19–20) and their own moral sense (v. 32), yet they suppressed the truth they knew in order to practise wickedness. Instead of giving to God the honour due to him, they turned to idols, confusing the Creator with his creatures. In judgement upon them, “God gave them over” to their depraved mind and their decadent practices (vv. 24, 26, 28), including “unnatural” sex. Robert Gagnon says of this: “Quite appropriately, an absurd exchange of God for idols leads to an absurd exchange of heterosexual intercourse for homosexual intercourse. A dishonouring of God leads to a mutual dishonouring of selves. A failure to see fit to acknowledge God leads to an unfit mind and debased conduct.”23 So the passage seems at first sight to be a definite condemnation of homosexual behaviour. But two arguments are advanced on the other side. Firstly, it is argued, Paul cannot be talking of people of homosexual orientation, since he says that their homosexual acts were “unnatural” and that they had previously had sex with women. But people of homosexual orientation would neither have had sex with the opposite sex, nor would homosexual sex be “unnatural” to them. Secondly, since Paul is evidently portraying the reckless and promiscuous behaviour of people whom God has judicially “given up”, what relevance has this to committed, loving homosexual partnerships? These two arguments can be rebutted, however, especially by the apostle’s reference to “nature”, that is, the created order, as I hope to show later.
The other Pauline texts
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes [malakoi] nor homosexual offenders [arsenokoitai] nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–10).
We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for law-breakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts [arsenokoitai], for slave traders and liars and perjurers–and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God. (1Timothy 1:9–10)
Here are two ugly lists of sins which Paul affirms to be incompatible in the first place with the kingdom of God and in the second place with either the law or the gospel. It will be observed that one group of offenders are called malakoi and the other (in both lists) arsenokoitai. What do these words mean? The point is that all ten categories listed in 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 (with the possible exception of “the greedy”) denote people who have offended by their actions – for example, idolaters, adulterers and thieves. The two Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai should not be combined, however, since they “have precise meanings. The first is literally ‘soft to the touch’ and metaphorically, among the Greeks, meant males (not necessarily boys) who played the passive role in homosexual intercourse. The second means literally ‘male in a bed’, and the Greeks used this expression to describe the one who took the active role.”24
Robert Gagnon translates malakoi as “the soft ones” and arsenokoitai as “males who take other males to bed”.25 The Jerusalem Bible follows James Moffatt in using the ugly words “catamites and sodomites”, while among his conclusions Peter Coleman suggests that “probably Paul had commercial paederasty in mind between older men and post-pubertal boys, the most common pattern of homosexual behaviour in the classical world”.26 If this is so, then once again it can be (and has been) argued that the Pauline condemnations are not relevant to homosexual adults who are both consenting and committed to one another. This is not, however, the conclusion which Peter Coleman himself draws. His summary is as follows: “Taken together, St Paul’s writings repudiate homosexual behaviour as a vice of the Gentiles in Romans, as a bar to the Kingdom in Corinthians, and as an offence to be repudiated by the moral law in 1 Timothy.”27
Reviewing these biblical references to homosexual behaviour, which I have grouped, we have to agree that there are only four of them. Must we then conclude that the topic is marginal to the main thrust of the Bible? Must we further concede that they constitute a rather flimsy basis on which to take a firm stand against a homosexual lifestyle? Are those protagonists right who claim that the biblical prohibitions are “highly specific”28 – against violations of hospitality (Sodom and Gibeah), against cultic taboos (Leviticus), against shameless orgies (Romans) and against male prostitution or the corruption of the young (1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy), and that none of these passages alludes to, let alone condemns, a loving partnership between people of homosexual orientation?
But no, plausible as it may sound, we cannot handle the biblical material in this way. The Christian rejection of homosexual practices does not rest on “a few isolated and obscure proof texts” (as is sometimes said), whose traditional explanation (it is further claimed) can be overthrown. The negative prohibitions of homosexual practices in Scripture make sense only in the light of its positive teaching in Genesis 1 and 2 about human sexuality and heterosexual marriage.29 Yet without the wholesome positive teaching of the Bible on sex and marriage, our perspective on the homosexual question is bound to be skewed.
SEXUALITY AND MARRIAGE IN THE BIBLE
The essential place to begin our investigation, it seems to me, is the institution of marriage in Genesis 2. I have devoted a chapter of this book to marriage and readers may wish to refer to that as well. Since members of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement deliberately draw a parallel between heterosexual marriages and homosexual partnerships, it is necessary to ask whether this parallel can be justified.
We have seen that in his providence God has given us two distinct accounts of creation. The first (Genesis 1) is general, and affirms the equality of the sexes, since both share in the image of God and the stewardship of the earth. The second (Genesis 2) is particular, and affirms the complementarity of the sexes, which constitutes the basis for heterosexual marriage. In this second account of creation three fundamental truths emerge.
Heterosexual gender: a divine creation
Firstly, the human need for companionship. “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). True, this assertion was later qualified when the apostle Paul (surely echoing Genesis) wrote: “It is good for a man not to marry” (1 Corinthians 7:1). That is to say, although marriage is the good institution of God, the call to singleness is also the good vocation of some. Nevertheless, as a general rule, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” God has created us social beings. Since he is love, and has made us in his own likeness, he has given us a capacity to love and be loved. He intends us to live in community, not in solitude. In particular, God continued, “I will make a helper suitable for him.” Moreover, this “helper” or companion, whom God pronounced “suitable for him”, was also to be his sexual partner, with whom he was to become “one flesh”, so that they might thereby both consummate their love and procreate their children.
Heterosexual marriage: a divine institution
Having affirmed Adam’s need for a partner, the search for a suitable one began. The animals not being suitable as equal partners, a special work of divine creation took place. The sexes became differentiated. Out of the undifferentiated humanity of Adam, male and female emerged. Adam found a reflection of himself, a complement to himself, indeed a very part of himself. Having created the woman out of the man, God brought her to him, much as today the bride’s father gives her away. And Adam broke spontaneously into history’s first love poem, saying that now at last there stood before him a creature of such beauty in herself and similarity to him that she appeared to be (as indeed she was) “made for him”: This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman”, for she was taken out of man. (Genesis 2:23).
There can be no doubting the emphasis of this story. According to Genesis 1, Eve, like Adam, was created in the image of God. But as to the manner of her creation, according to Genesis 2, she was made neither out of nothing (like the universe), nor out of “the dust of the ground” (like Adam, v. 7), but out of Adam.
Heterosexual fidelity: the divine intention
The third great truth of Genesis 2 concerns the resulting institution of marriage. Adam’s love poem is recorded in verse 23. The “therefore” or “for this reason” of verse 24 is the narrator’s deduction: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”
Even the inattentive reader will be struck by the three references to “flesh”: “This is … flesh of my flesh … they will become one flesh”. We may be certain that this is deliberate, not accidental. It teaches that heterosexual intercourse in marriage is more than a union; it is a kind of reunion. It is not a union of alien persons who do not belong to one another and cannot appropriately become one flesh. On the contrary, it is the union of two persons who originally were one, were then separated from each other, and now in the sexual encounter of marriage come together again.
Heterosexual intercourse is much more than a union of bodies; it is a blending of complementary personalities through which the rich created oneness of human beings is experienced again. The complementarity of male and female sexual organs is only a symbol at the physical level of a much deeper spiritual complementarity. In order to become one flesh, however, and experience this sacred mystery, certain preliminaries are necessary, which are constituent parts of marriage. “Therefore” (v. 24), “a man” (the singular indicates that marriage is an exclusive union between two individuals) “shall leave his father and mother” (a public social occasion is in view) “and cleave to his wife” (marriage is a loving, cleaving commitment or covenant, which is heterosexual and permanent) “and they will become one flesh” (for marriage must be consummated in sexual intercourse, which is a sign and seal of the marriage covenant, and over which no shadow of shame or embarrassment had yet been cast). (v. 25)
It is of the utmost importance to note that Jesus himself later endorsed this Old Testament definition of marriage. In doing so, he both introduced it with words from Genesis 1:27 (that the Creator “made them male and female”) and concluded it with his own comment (“so they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate”, Matthew 19:6). Here, then, are three truths which Jesus affirmed: (1) heterosexual gender is a divine creation; (2) heterosexual marriage is a divine institution; and (3) heterosexual fidelity is the divine intention. A homosexual liaison is a breach of all three of these divine purposes.
The late Michael Vasey’s book Strangers and Friends30 attempts to combine evangelical faith with homosexual advocacy. In doing so he sees Genesis 2:24 as having been used to impose on Scripture the domestic ideals of the nuclear family with its “idolatry” and “self-centredness”.31 Jesus, he says, renounces marriage as part of the present world order in favour of “Christian freedom”. With the family denounced as oppressive, the way is open for homosexual partnerships as another, even a better, option. Yet he has twisted the biblical material to suit his purpose. Neither Jesus’ own singleness, nor his teaching that singleness is a divine vocation for some (Matthew 19:11–12), may be taken as evidence that he opposed marriage and family, for they belong to the created order. Nor is the family envisaged in Genesis 1 and 2 “nuclear” in a negative or selfish sense. To be sure, Jesus did inaugurate a new order, refer to his new community as his family (Mark 3:34), and warn that if an unavoidable conflict arises between our loyalty to him and our loyalty to our natural family, then our loyalty to him takes precedence (Matthew 10:37; Luke 14:26). But Jesus and his apostles also insisted that Christians have a continuing obligation to their natural family, including reciprocal duties between parents and children, and between husbands and wives (e.g., Mark 7:9–13; Ephesians 5:22–6:4). The new creation restores and redeems the old; it does not reject or replace it. As for idols, every good gift of God can become an idol, including marriage and family; but in themselves neither is idolatrous or enslaving. A homosexual partnership, however, is essentially incompatible with marriage as the God-ordained context for one-flesh intimacy.
Thus Scripture defines the marriage God instituted in terms of heterosexual monogamy. It is the union of one man with one woman, which must be publicly acknowledged (the leaving of parents), permanently sealed (he will “cleave to his wife”) and physically consummated (“one flesh”). And Scripture envisages no other kind of marriage or sexual intercourse, for God provided no alternative.
Christians should not therefore single out homosexual intercourse for special condemnation. The fact is that every kind of sexual relationship and activity which deviates from God’s revealed intention is ipso facto displeasing to him and under his judgement. This includes polygamy and polyandry (which infringe the “one man, one woman” principle), cohabitation and clandestine unions (since these have involved no decisive public leaving of parents), casual encounters and temporary liaisons, adultery and many divorces (which conflict with “cleaving” and with Jesus’ prohibition “let man not separate”), and homosexual partnerships (which violate the statement that “a man” shall be joined to “his wife”).
In sum, the only “one flesh” experience which God intends and Scripture contemplates is the sexual union of a man with his wife, whom he recognizes as “flesh of his flesh”. As George Carey, then Archbishop of Canterbury, said in an address at Virginia Theological Seminary on 10 February 1997, “I do not find any justification, from the Bible or from the entire Christian tradition, for sexual activity outside marriage.”
CONTEMPORARY ARGUMENTS CONSIDERED
Homosexual Christians are not, however, satisfied with this biblical teaching about human sexuality and the institution of heterosexual marriage. They bring forward a number of objections to it, in order to defend the legitimacy of homosexual partnerships.
The argument about Scripture and culture
Traditionally, it has been assumed that the Bible condemns all homosexual acts. But are the biblical writers reliable guides in this matter? Were their horizons not bounded by their own experience and culture? The cultural argument usually takes one of two forms.
Firstly, the biblical authors were addressing themselves to questions relevant to their own circumstances, but these were very different from ours. In the Sodom and Gibeah stories they were preoccupied either with conventions of hospitality in the ancient Near East which are now obsolete or (if the sin was sexual at all) with the extremely unusual phenomenon of homosexual gang rape. In the Levitical laws the concern was with antiquated fertility rituals, while Paul was addressing himself to the particular sexual preferences of Greek pederasts. It is all so antiquarian. The biblical authors’ imprisonment in their own cultures renders their teaching on this topic irrelevant.
The second and complementary culture problem is that the biblical writers were not addressing themselves to our questions. Thus the problem of Scripture is not only with its teaching but also with its silence. Paul (let alone the Old Testament authors) knew nothing of post-Freudian psychology. They had never heard of “homosexual orientation”; they knew only about certain practices. The very notion that two men or two women could fall in love with each other and develop a deeply loving, stable relationship comparable to marriage simply never entered their heads.
If the only biblical teaching on this topic were to be found in the prohibition texts, it might be difficult to answer these objections. But once those texts are seen in relation to the divine institution of marriage, we are in possession of a principle of divine revelation which is universally applicable. It was applicable to the cultural situations of both the ancient Near East and the first century Graeco-Roman world, and it is equally applicable to modern sexual questions of which the ancients were quite ignorant.
The reason for the biblical prohibitions is the same reason why modern loving homosexual partnerships must also be condemned, namely that they are incompatible with God’s created order. And since that order (heterosexual monogamy) was established by creation, not culture, its validity is both permanent and universal. There can be no “liberation” from God’s created norms; true liberation is found only in accepting them. This argumentation is the opposite of the “biblical literalism” of which the gay lobby tend to accuse us. It is rather to look beneath the surface of the biblical prohibitions to the essential positives of divine revelation on sexuality and marriage. It is significant that those who are advocating same-sex partnerships usually omit Genesis 1 and 2 from their discussion, even though Jesus our Lord himself endorsed their teaching. It is now important to look at gay relationships and their social context in a little more depth, and to consider the arguments used to support committed gay relationships.
The argument about creation and nature
People sometimes make this kind of statement: “I’m gay because God made me that way. So gay must be good. I cannot believe that God would create people homosexual and then deny them the right to sexual self-expression. I intend, therefore, to affirm, and indeed celebrate, what I am by creation.” Or again, “You may say that homosexual practice is against nature and normality; but it’s not against my nature, nor is it in the slightest degree abnormal for me.” Norman Pittenger was quite outspoken in his use of this argument. A homosexual person, he wrote, is “not an ‘abnormal’ person with ‘unnatural’ desires and habits.” On the contrary, “A heterosexually oriented person acts ‘naturally’ when he acts heterosexually, while a homosexually oriented person acts equally ‘naturally’ when he acts in accordance with his basic, inbuilt homosexual desire and drive.”32
Others argue that homosexual behaviour is “natural”, (a) because in many primitive societies it is fairly acceptable, (b) because in some advanced civilizations (e.g., ancient Greece) it was even idealized, and (c) because it is said to be quite widespread in animals: a matter still the subject of intense debate among zoologists.33
In any case, these arguments express an extremely subjective view of what is “natural” and “normal”. We should not accept Norman Pittenger’s statement that there are “no eternal standards of normality or naturalness”.34 Nor can we agree that animal behaviour sets standards for human behaviour! God has established a norm for sex and marriage by creation. This was already recognized in the Old Testament era. Thus sexual relations with an animal were forbidden, because “that is a perversion” (Leviticus 18:23), in other words a violation or confusion of nature, which indicates an “embryonic sense of natural law”.35 The same verdict is passed on Sodom by the second-century BC Testament of Naphtali: “As the sun and the stars do not change their order, so the tribe of Naphtali are to obey God rather than the disorderliness of idolatry. Recognizing in all created things the Lord who made them, they are not to become as Sodom which changed the order of nature …”36
The same concept was clearly in Paul’s mind in Romans 1. When he wrote of women who had “exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones”, and of men who had “abandoned natural relations”, he meant by “nature” (physis) the natural order of things which God has established (as in 2:14, 27; 11:24). What Paul was condemning, therefore, was not the perverted behaviour of heterosexual people who were acting against their nature, as John Boswell argued,37 but any human behaviour that is against “Nature” – that is, against God’s created order. Richard B. Hays has written a thorough rebuttal of John Boswell’s exegesis of Romans 1. He provides ample contemporary evidence that the opposition of “natural” (kata physin) and “unnatural” (para physin) was “very frequently used … as a way of distinguishing between heterosexual and homosexual behaviour”.38
British commentators on Romans 1 confirm his conclusion. As C. K. Barrett puts it: “In the obscene pleasures to which he [Paul] refers is to be seen precisely that perversion of the created order which may be expected when men put the creation in place of the Creator.”39 Similarly, Charles Cranfield writes that by “natural” and “unnatural”, “Paul clearly means ‘in accordance with the intention of the Creator’ and ‘contrary to the intention of the Creator’, respectively.” Again, “The decisive factor in Paul’s use of it [physis, “nature”] is his biblical doctrine of creation. It denotes that order which is manifest in God’s creation and which men have no excuse for failing to recognize and respect.” 40 Robert Gagnon states that “same-sex intercourse is ‘beyond’ or ‘in excess of’ nature in the sense that it transgresses the boundaries for sexuality both established by God and transparent in nature even to Gentiles”.41
An appeal to the created order should also be our response to another argument. Some point out that the early church distinguished between primary and secondary issues, insisting on agreement about the former but allowing freedom to disagree about the latter. The two examples of Christian liberty which they usually quote are circumcision and idol-meats. They then draw a parallel with homosexual practice, suggesting that it is a second-order issue in which we can give one another freedom. But actually the early church was more subtle than that. The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) decreed that circumcision was definitely not necessary for salvation (a first-order question), but allowed its continuance as a matter of policy or culture (second-order). The Council also decided that, although of course idolatry was forbidden (first-order), eating idol-meats was not necessarily idolatrous, so that Christians with a strong, educated conscience might eat them (second-order). Thus the second-order issues, in which Christian liberty was allowed, were neither theological nor moral but cultural. This is not the case with homosexual practice.
A second parallel is sometimes drawn. When the debate over women’s ordination was at its height, General Synod agreed that the church should not be obliged to choose between the two positions (for and against), declaring one to be right and the other wrong, but should rather preserve unity by recognizing both to have integrity. In consequence, we are living with “the two integrities”. Why, it is asked, should we not equally acknowledge “two integrities” in relation to same-sex partnerships, and not force people to choose? The answer should be clear. Even if women’s ordination is a second-order issue (which many would deny), homosexual partnerships are not. Gender in relation to marriage is a much more fundamental matter than gender in relation to ministry. Marriage has been recognized as a heterosexual union from the beginning of God’s creation and institution; it is basic to human society as God intended it, and its biblical basis is incontrovertible. Dr Wolfhart Pannenberg, professor of theology at Munich University, is outspoken on this subject. Having declared that “the biblical assessments of homosexual practice are unambiguous in their rejection”, he concludes that a church which were to recognize homosexual unions as equivalent to marriage “would cease to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church”.42
The argument about quality of relationships
The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement borrows from Scripture the truth that love is the greatest thing in the world (which it is) and from the “new morality” or “situation ethics” of the 1960s the notion that love is an adequate criterion by which to judge every relationship (which it is not). Yet this view is gaining ground today. One of the first official documents to embrace it was the Friends’ Report Towards a Quaker View of Sex (1963). It included the statements, “One should no more deplore ‘homosexuality’ than lefthandedness,” 43 and, “Surely it is the nature and quality of a relationship that matters.” 44 Similarly, in 1979 the Methodist Church’s Division of Social Responsibility, in its report A Christian Understanding of Human Sexuality, argued that “homosexual activities” are “not intrinsically wrong”, since “the quality of any homosexual relationship is … to be assessed by the same basic criteria which have been applied to heterosexual relationships. For homosexual men and women, permanent relationships characterized by love can be an appropriate Christian way of expressing their sexuality.” 45 The same year (1979) an Anglican working party issued the report Homosexual Relationships, A contribution to discussion. It was more cautious, judicious and ambivalent than the Quaker and Methodist reports. Its authors did not feel able to repudiate centuries of Christian tradition, yet they “did not think it possible to deny” that in some circumstances individuals may “justifiably choose” a homosexual relationship in their search for companionship and sexual love “similar” to those found in marriage.46 Surely any relationship characterized by mutual commitment, affection, faithfulness and support should be affirmed as good, not rejected as evil? It rescues people from loneliness, selfishness and promiscuity, and it can be just as rich and responsible, as liberating and fulfilling, as a heterosexual marriage. In the spring of 1997, in a lecture delivered at St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, Bishop John Austin Baker gave his own version of this argument. Formerly Bishop of Salisbury, chairman of the Church of England’s Doctrine Commission, and chairman of the drafting group which produced the moderate report Issues in Human Sexuality (1991), he astonished the church by his apparent volte-face. The goal of Christian discipleship, he rightly affirmed, is “Christlikeness”–that is, “a creative living out of the values, priorities and attitudes that marked his humanity”, especially of love. Now sex in marriage can be “a true making of love”, and “erotic love can and often does have the same beneficial effects in the life of samesex couples”. There are three reasons, however, why this claim for the quality of same-sex love is flawed.
Exclusive relationships are rare
Firstly, the concept of lifelong, quasi-marital fidelity in homosexual partnerships is largely a myth, a theoretical ideal which is contradicted by the facts. The truth is that gay relationships are characterized more by promiscuity than by fidelity. The National Gay Men’s Sex Survey 2001, a large UK study of over 14,600 respondents, found that 73% of gay men surveyed had more than one sexual partner during the last year.47 This compares with 30% of heterosexual men.48 Thomas Schmidt has commented: “Promiscuity among homosexual men is not a mere stereotype, and it is not merely the majority experience – it is virtually the only experience … In short, there is practically no comparison possible to heterosexual marriage in terms of either fidelity or longevity. Tragically, lifelong faithfulness is almost non-existent in the homosexual experience.” 49 “Non-exclusive relationships are, for many men, simply more fulfilling than monogamous ones,” reports SIGMA, a leading research organization examining homosexual practice and AIDS.50 There seems to be something inherently unstable about homosexual partnerships. The quality of relationships argument does not hold water.
Gay sex can be damaging
I have written at length about AIDS in the chapter about “Global Poverty” (chapter 6), since AIDS is a global phenomenon and frequently associated with poverty. So I will confine my remarks here to the gay community and especially the practices of gay men. It is the sexual practices of gay men which make them an especially high-risk group. It is difficult to maintain that homosexual partnerships are just as much an expression of love as heterosexual marriages in light of the known damage and danger involved in gay sexual practices. Both the degree of promiscuity and the nature of the practice mean that gay men are at risk of contracting all kinds of STDs and especially AIDS, as well as hepatitis, rectal cancer, non-viral and viral infections and a decrease in life expectancy. It is true that some diseases can also be transmitted by similar activity between heterosexual people, but “these health problems are rampant in the homosexual population because they are easily spread by promiscuity and by most of the practices favoured by homosexuals”.51 If these physical dangers attend common gay sexual activities, can authentic lovers engage in them? Nor can these dangers be avoided merely by the use of a condom, which is known to be an unreliable contraceptive. Two comments I have already referred to are worth repeating here. Dr Patrick Dixon, founder of ACET (AIDS Care, Education and Training), sums the matter up like this:
“Condoms do not make sex safe, they simply make it safer. Safe sex is sex between two partners who are not infected! This means a lifelong, faithful partnership between two people who were virgins and who now remain faithful to each other for life.”52
Or, to quote from the United States Catholic Conference:
Abstinence outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage, as well as the avoidance of intravenous drug abuse, are the only morally correct and medically sure ways to prevent the spread of AIDS.53
The gay community has been decimated in some areas by the advent of AIDS. In the early 1980s AIDS was called “the gay plague” precisely because it seemed to hit the gay community hardest. Now we know that AIDS can affect any person, whether male or female, heterosexual or homosexual, adult or child. It is not confined to any one country but is now a global pandemic which Nelson Mandela has called a “global emergency”. Transmitted most often by sexual intercourse or by intravenous drug use (with contaminated needles), it is incurable, though modern drugs can delay the onset of death by ten years or more. But eventually, HIV will become full-blown AIDS, manifesting itself by attacking and damaging the body’s immune and nervous systems, and so making it defenceless against certain fatal diseases.
The incidence of AIDS remains high in the gay community. According to UNAIDS, “taken worldwide, 5–10% of all HIV cases are due to sexual transmission between men. In parts of the world, including North America, parts of Latin America, most of Europe, Australia and New Zealand, sex between men is the main route in the transmission of HIV, being responsible for up to 70% of HIV cases in these areas. Elsewhere, it is a secondary route. In all countries though, the likely extent of male-to-male sex is probably underestimated.”54
The greatest risk comes from the practice of anal sex, due to the fact that tears can occur and small lesions can exist through which the virus has easy access. The presence of other STDs can also magnify the risk of HIV transmission. HIV can be transmitted through other sexual acts, including oral sex, but the incidence is much lower. In many parts of the world sex between men is hidden and difficult to measure, because it is illegal and therefore secretive. Its presence is, therefore, often underestimated.
Within the community of those who study HIV/AIDS, the designation “MSM” has come to be used, which refers to “men who have sex with men”. This is a recognition that it is not the sexual identity or inclination of men which is of primary importance in the discussion of AIDS, but the sexual practice itself. It is acknowledged that some MSM may be heterosexual men who either wish to have a casual encounter with another man or cannot “come out” as gay men because of the culture in which they live.
In the US, the estimated number of deaths of persons with AIDS from 1998 to 2002 was 501,669. Of these, half were men who had sex with men.55 Incidence in this group has been gradually declining not, according to The American Journal of Public Health, because of behavioural change, but because of the increased effectiveness of antiretroviral therapy.56 Approximately 40,000 new HIV infections occur each year in the US, about 70% among men and 30% among women.57 Of these newly infected people, half are younger than twenty-five years of age.58 Of new infections among men in the US, the Centre for Disease Control estimates that approximately 60% of men were infected through homosexual sex.
Our response to HIV/AIDS must be theological, pastoral and educational. I have outlined this response in more detail in chapter 6, so I will make only a few brief (and indeed, similar) points here. Firstly, our response needs to be theological. We need to remind ourselves that we reap what we sow. Though AIDS may not be God’s judgement on an individual, Christians cannot regard it as an accident. There is, as I have said in chapter 6, a process of cause and effect at work in our world, both morally and physically, which means that we reap what we sow. If we perpetually reject God’s ways, we can, for instance, sear our conscience so that we become less sensitive to its entreaties. Physically we must live with the consequences of our actions. If we are pomiscuous, we risk getting STDs, if we are gluttons, then we risk getting heart disease or diabetes. There are consequences to be faced for our actions. So although we may not be able to say that HIV/AIDS is God’s judgement on any particular individual, we can say that if a society tolerates wrongdoing and even celebrates it by calling ‘evil good and good evil’ then it must face up to the consequences of doing so (Romans 1:18–32). Judgement is already at work in this world (John 3:18–21; 5:24–29).
Secondly, our response must be pastoral. “Don’t judge me,” an American AIDS patient called Jerome said. “I’m living under my own judgement. What I need is for you to walk with me.”59 Local churches need specially to reach out to AIDS sufferers in their own fellowship and in their wider community. We may be thankful that both the origins of the hospice movement and its extension from terminal cancer patients to those living with AIDS have been due largely, though not solely, to Christian initiatives.60
Thirdly, our response must be educational. Christians are likely to prefer a thoroughgoing educational programme as the most human and Christian way to combat ignorance, prejudice, fear and promiscuous behaviour, and so turn back the AIDS tide. Certainly the current complacency and indifference, which are helping to spread the disease, can be overcome only by the relentless force of the facts. In such a preventive education programme the churches should have a major role. Is it not the failure of the churches to teach and exemplify God’s standards of sexual morality which, more than anything else, is to blame for the current crisis?61 We must not fail again, but rather challenge society to sexual self-control and faithfulness, and point to Jesus as the source of forgiveness and power. Several Christian groups have been set up to alert the churches to their responsibilities, to provide educational resources and to encourage support groups.62
Above all, “The AIDS crisis challenges us profoundly to be the Church in deed and in truth: to be the Church as a healing community”. Indeed, because of our tendency to self-righteousness, “the healing community itself will need to be healed by the forgiveness of Christ”.63
Love needs the law
If the first reason why Christians cannot accept the quality of love argument is that exclusivity is rare, and the second reason is that gay sex can be damaging, the third is that love needs the law. Christians cannot accept the idea that love is the only absolute, because love needs law to guide it. The moral law has not been abolished. In emphasizing love for God and neighbour as the two great commandments, Jesus and his apostles did not discard all other commandments. On the contrary, Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments,” and Paul wrote, “Love is the fulfilling [not the abrogating] of the law” (John 14:15; Romans 13:8–10).
So then, although the loving quality of a relationship is an essential, it is not by itself a sufficient criterion to authenticate it. For example, if love were the only test of authenticity, there would be nothing against polygamy, for a polygamist could certainly enjoy a relationship with several wives. Or let me give you a better illustration, drawn from my own pastoral experience. On several different occasions a married man has told me that he has fallen in love with another woman. When I have gently remonstrated with him, he has responded in words like these: “Yes, I agree, I already have a wife and family. But this new relationship is the real thing. We were made for each other. Our love for each other has a quality and depth we have never known before. It must be right.” But no, I have had to say to him, it is not right. No man is justified in breaking his marriage covenant with his wife on the ground that the quality of his love for another woman is richer. Quality of love is not the only yardstick by which to measure what is good or right.
Similarly, we should not deny that homosexual relationships can be loving (although a priori they cannot attain the same richness as the heterosexual complementarity which God has ordained). As the 1994 Ramsey Colloquium put it, “Even a distorted love retains traces of love’s grandeur.” 64 But the love quality of gay relationships is not sufficient to justify them. Indeed, I have to add that they are incompatible with true love because they are incompatible with God’s law. Love is concerned for the highest welfare of the beloved. And our highest human welfare is found in obedience to God’s law and purpose, not in revolt against them.
Some leaders of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement appear to be following the logic of their own position, for they are saying that even monogamy could be abandoned in the interests of “love”. Malcolm Macourt, for example, has written that the Gay Liberationist’s vision is of “a wide variety of life patterns”, each of which is “held in equal esteem in society”. Among them he lists the following alternatives: monogamy and multiple partnerships; partnerships for life and partnerships for a period of mutual growth; same-sex partners and opposite-sex partners; living in community and living in small family units.65 There seem to be no limits to what some people seek to justify in the name of love.
The argument about justice and rights
If some argue for homosexual partnerships on the basis of the love involved, others do so on the basis of justice. Desmond Tutu, for example, formerly Archbishop of Cape Town and universally admired for his courageous stand against apartheid and for racial equality, has several times said that for him the homosexual question is a simple matter of justice. Others agree. The justice argument runs like this: “Just as we may not discriminate between persons on account of their gender, colour, ethnicity or class, so we may not discriminate between persons on account of their sexual preference. For the God of the Bible is the God of justice, who is described as loving justice and hating injustice. Therefore the quest for justice must be a paramount obligation of the people of God. Now that slaves, women and blacks have been liberated, gay liberation is long overdue. What civil rights activists were in the 1950s and 60s, gay rights activists are today. We should support them in their cause and join them in their struggle.”
The vocabulary of oppression, liberation, rights and justice, however, needs careful definition. “Gay liberation” presupposes an oppression from which homosexual people need to be set free, and “gay rights” imply that homosexual people are suffering a wrong which should be righted. But what is this oppression, this wrong, this injustice? If it is that they are being despised and rejected by sections of society on account of their sexual orientation, and are in fact victims of homophobia, then indeed they have a grievance which must be redressed. God opposes such discrimination and requires us to love and respect all human beings without distinction. If, on the other hand, the “wrong” or “injustice” complained of is society’s refusal to recognize homosexual partnerships as a legitimate alternative to heterosexual marriages, then talk of “justice” is inappropriate, since human beings may not claim as a “right” what God has not given them.
The analogy between slavery, racism, the oppression of women and homosexuality is inexact and misleading. In each case we need to clarify the Creator’s original intention. Thus, in spite of misguided attempts to justify slavery and racism from Scripture, both are fundamentally incompatible with the created equality of human beings. Similarly, the Bible honours womanhood by affirming that men and women share equally in the image of God and the stewardship of the environment, and its teaching on masculine “headship” or responsibility may not be interpreted as contradicting this equality. But sexual intercourse belongs, according to the plain teaching of Scripture, to heterosexual marriage alone.
Therefore, homosexual intercourse cannot be regarded as a permissible equivalent, let alone a divine right. True gay liberation (like all authentic liberation) is not freedom from God’s revealed purpose in order to construct our own morality; it is rather freedom from our self-willed rebellion in order to love and obey him.
The argument about acceptance and the gospel
“Surely,” some people are saying, “it is the duty of heterosexual Christians to accept homosexual Christians. Paul told us to accept – indeed welcome – one another. If God has welcomed somebody, who are we to pass judgement on him (Romans 14: Iff.; 15:7)?” Norman Pittenger says, “The whole point of the Christian gospel is that God loves and accepts us just as we are.” 66
This is a very confused statement of the gospel, however. God does indeed accept us “just as we are”, and we do not have to make ourselves good first; indeed we cannot. But his “acceptance” means that he fully and freely forgives all who repent and believe, not that he condones our continuance in sin. Again, it is true that we must accept one another, but only as fellow penitents and fellow pilgrims, not as fellow sinners who are resolved to persist in our sinning. Michael Vasey makes much of the fact that Jesus was called (and was) “the friend of sinners”. His offer of friendship to sinners like us is truly wonderful. But he welcomes us in order to redeem and transform us, not to leave us alone in our sins. No acceptance, either by God or by the church, is promised to us if we harden our hearts against God’s Word and will. Only judgement.
FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE
If homosexual practice must be regarded, in the light of the whole biblical revelation, not as a variant within the wide range of accepted normality, but as a deviation from God’s norm; and if we should therefore call homosexually inclined people to abstain from homosexual practices and partnerships, what advice and help can we give to encourage them to respond to this call? I would like to take Paul’s triad of faith, hope and love, and apply it to homosexually inclined people.
The Christian call to faith
Faith is our human response to divine revelation: it is believing God’s Word. Firstly, faith accepts God’s standards. The only alternative to heterosexual marriage is singleness and sexual abstinence. I think I know the implications of this. Nothing has helped me to understand the pain of homosexual celibacy more than Alex Davidson’s moving book The Returns of Love. He writes of “this incessant tension between law and lust”, “this monster that lurks in the depths”, this “burning torment”.67
The secular world says, “Sex is essential to human fulfilment. To expect homosexual people to abstain from homosexual practice is to condemn them to frustration and to drive them to neurosis, despair and even suicide. It’s outrageous to ask them to deny themselves what to them is a normal and natural mode of sexual expression. It’s ‘inhuman and inhumane’.68 Indeed, it’s positively cruel.”
But no, the teaching of the Word of God is different. Sexual experience is not essential to human fulfilment. To be sure, it is a good gift of God, but it is not given to all, and it is not indispensable to humanness. People were saying in Paul’s day that it was. Their slogan was, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food; sex for the body and the body for sex” (see 1 Corinthians 6:13). But this is a lie of the Devil. Jesus Christ was single, yet perfect in his humanity. So it is possible to be single and human at the same time! Besides, God’s commands are good and not grievous. The yoke of Christ brings rest, not turmoil; conflict comes only to those who resist it.
At the very centre of Christian discipleship is our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The St Andrew’s Day Statement on the homosexuality debate (1995), commissioned by the Church of England Evangelical Council, emphasized this. We are “called to follow in the way of the cross”, for “we all are summoned to various forms of self-denial. The struggle against disordered desires, or the misdirection of innocent desire, is part of every Christian’s life, consciously undertaken in baptism.” But after struggle comes victory, out of death resurrection.69 So ultimately it is a crisis of faith: whom shall we believe? God or the world? Shall we submit to the lordship of Jesus, or succumb to the pressures of prevailing culture? The true “orientation” of Christians is not what we are by constitution (hormones), but what we are by choice (heart, mind and will). Secondly, faith accepts God’s grace. Abstinence is not only good, if God calls us to celibacy; it is also possible. Many deny it, however. “You know the imperious strength of our sex drive,” they say. “To ask us to control ourselves is just not on.” It is “so near to an impossibility”, writes Norman Pittenger, “that it’s hardly worth talking about”.70 Really? What, then, are we to make of Paul’s statement following his warning to the Corinthians that male prostitutes and homosexual offenders will not inherit God’s kingdom? “And that is what some of you were,” he cries. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). And what shall we say to the millions of heterosexual people who are single? To be sure, all unmarried people experience the pain of struggle and loneliness. But how can we call ourselves Christians and declare that chastity is impossible? It is made harder by the sexual obsession of contemporary society. And we make it harder for ourselves if we listen to the world’s plausible arguments, or lapse into self-pity, or feed our imagination with pornographic material and so inhabit a fantasy world in which Christ is not Lord, or ignore his command about plucking out our eyes and cutting off our hands and feet–that is, being ruthless with the avenues of temptation. But, whatever our “thorn in the flesh” may be, Christ comes to us as he came to Paul and says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). To deny this is to portray Christians as the helpless victims of the world, the flesh and the Devil, to demean them into being less than human, and to contradict the gospel of God’s grace.
The Christian call to hope
I have said nothing so far about “healing” for homosexual people, understood not now as self-mastery but as the reversal of their sexual orientation. Our expectation of this possibility will depend largely on our understanding of the aetiology of the homosexual condition, and no final agreement on this has yet been reached. Many studies have been conducted, but they have failed to establish a single cause, whether inherited or learned. So scholars have tended to turn to theories of multiple causation, combining a biological predisposition (genetic and hormonal) with cultural and moral influences, childhood environment and experience and repeatedly reinforced personal choices. Dr Jeffrey Satinover concludes his investigation with an appeal to common sense: “One’s character traits are in part innate, but are subject to modification by experience and choice.” 71 So, if homosexuality is at least partly learned, can it be unlearned?
Just as opinions differ on the causes of homosexuality, so they also differ on the possibilities and the means of “cure”. This issue divides people into three categories – those who consider healing unnecessary, and those who consider it either possible or impossible. Firstly, we have to recognize that many homosexual people categorically reject the language of “cure” and “healing”. They see no need, and they have no wish to change. Their position has been summed up in three convictions. Biologically their condition is innate (being inherited), psychologically it is irreversible and sociologically it is normal.72 They regard it as a great victory that in 1973 the trustees of the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its official list of mental illnesses. Michael Vasey declares that this decision was not the result of some “liberal” conspiracy.73 But that is exactly what it was. Seventy years of psychiatric opinion were overthrown not by science (for no fresh evidence was produced) but by politics.74 At least the Roman Catholic Church was neither impressed nor convinced. The American bishops, in their 1986 Pastoral Letter, continued to describe homosexuality as “intrinsically disordered” (para. 3).
Secondly, there are those who regard “healing”, understood as the reversal of sexual orientation, as impossible. “No known method of treatment or punishment,” writes D. J. West, “offers hope of making any substantial reduction in the vast army of adults practising homosexuality.” It would be “more realistic to find room for them in society”. He pleads for “tolerance”, though not for “encouragement”, of homosexual behaviour.75
Are these views, however, not the despairing opinions of the secular mind? They challenge us to articulate the third position, which is to believe that at least some degree of change is possible. Christians know that the homosexual condition, being a deviation from God’s norm, is not a sign of created order but of fallen disorder. How, then, can we acquiesce in it or declare it irreversible? We cannot. The only question is when and how we are to expect divine intervention and restoration to take place. The fact is that, though Christian claims of homosexual “healings” are made, either through regeneration or through a subsequent work of the Holy Spirit, it is not easy to substantiate them.76
Martin Hallett, who before his conversion was active in the gay scene, has written a very honest account of his experience of what he calls “Christ’s way out of homosexuality”. He is candid about his continuing vulnerability, his need for safeguards, his yearning for love and his occasional bouts of emotional turmoil. I am glad he entitled his autobiographical sketch I Am Learning to Love in the present tense, and subtitled it “A personal journey to wholeness in Christ”. His final paragraph begins: “I have learnt; I am learning; I will learn to love God, other people and myself. This healing process will only be complete when I am with Jesus.”77 His most recent book continues the theme, being entitled Still Learning to Love.
True Freedom Trust have published a pamphlet entitled Testimonies. In it homosexual Christian men and women bear witness to what Christ has done for them. They have found a new identity in him, and have a new sense of personal fulfilment as children of God. They have been delivered from guilt, shame and fear by God’s forgiving acceptance and have been set free from thraldom to their former homosexual lifestyle by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. But they have not been delivered from their homosexual inclination, and, therefore, some inner pain continues alongside their new joy and peace.
Here are two examples. “My prayers were not answered in the way I had hoped for, but the Lord greatly blessed me in giving me two Christian friends who lovingly accepted me for what I was.” “After I was prayed over with the laying on of hands a spirit of perversion left me. I praise God for the deliverance I found that afternoon … I can testify to over three years of freedom from homosexual activity. But I have not changed into a heterosexual in that time.”
In the US one prominent organization in this field is Exodus International.78 Tim Stafford, in the 18 August 1989 edition of Christianity Today, describes his investigation into several cases. His conclusion was one of “cautious optimism”. What ex-gays were claiming was “not a quick 180-degree reversal of their sexual desires”, but rather “a gradual reversal in their spiritual understanding of themselves as men and women in relationship to God”. This new self-understanding was “helping them to relearn distorted patterns of thinking and relating. They presented themselves as people in process”. Is there really, then, no hope of a substantial change of inclination? Dr Elizabeth Moberly believes there is. She has been led by her researches to the view that “a homosexual orientation does not depend on a genetic pre-disposition, hormonal imbalance, or abnormal learning process, but on difficulties in the parent-child relationships, especially in the earlier years of life”. The “underlying principle”, she continues, is “that the homosexual – whether man or woman – has suffered from some deficit in the relationship with the parent of the same sex; and that there is a corresponding drive to make good this deficit through the medium of same-sex or ‘homosexual’ relationships”.79 The deficit and the drive go together. The reparative drive for same-sex love is not itself pathological, but “quite the opposite – it is the attempt to resolve and heal the pathology”. “The homosexual condition does not involve abnormal needs,but normal needs that have, abnormally, been left unmet in the ordinary process of growth.”
Homosexuality “is essentially a state of incomplete development” or of unmet needs.80 So the proper solution is “the meeting of same-sex needs without sexual activity”, for to eroticize growth deficits is to confuse emotional needs with physiological desires.81 How, then, can these needs be met? The needs are legitimate, but what are the legitimate means of meeting them? Dr Moberly’s answer is that “substitute relationships for parental care are in God’s redemptive plan, just as parental relationships are in his creative plan”.82 What is needed is deep, loving, lasting, same-sex but non-sexual relationships, especially in the church. “Love,” she concludes, “both in prayer and in relationships, is the basic therapy … Love is the basic problem, the great need, and the only true solution. If we are willing to seek and to mediate the healing and redeeming love of Christ, then healing for the homosexual will become a great and glorious reality.”83
Even then, however, complete healing of body, mind and spirit will not take place in this life. Some degree of deficit or disorder remains in each of us. But not for ever. The Christian’s horizons are not bounded by this world. Jesus Christ is coming again; our bodies are going to be redeemed; sin, pain and death are going to be abolished; and both we and the universe are going to be transformed. Then we shall be finally liberated from everything which defiles or distorts our personality. This Christian assurance helps us to bear whatever our present pain may be. For pain there is, in the midst of peace. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22–23). Thus our groans express the birthpangs of the new age. We are convinced that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). This confident hope sustains us.
Alex Davidson derives comfort in the midst of his homosexuality from his Christian hope. “Isn’t it one of the most wretched things about this condition,” he writes, “that when you look ahead, the same impossible road seems to continue indefinitely? You’re driven to rebellion when you think of there being no point in it and to despair when you think of there being no limit to it. That’s why I find a comfort, when I feel desperate, or rebellious, or both, to remind myself of God’s promise that one day it will be finished.” 84
The Christian call to love
At present we are living “in between times”, between the grace which we grasp by faith and the glory which we anticipate in hope. Between them lies love. Yet love is just what the church has generally failed to show to homosexual people. Jim Cotter complains bitterly about being treated as “objects of scorn and insult, of fear, prejudice and oppression”.85 Norman Pittenger describes the “vituperative” correspondence he has received, in which homosexuals are dismissed even by professing Christians as “filthy creatures”, “disgusting perverts”, “damnable sinners” and the like.86 Rictor Norton puts it even more strongly: “The church’s record regarding homosexuals is an atrocity from beginning to end: it is not for us to seek forgiveness, but for the church to make atonement.”87 Peter Tatchell, a well-known British campaigner for “gay rights”, has said, “The Bible is to gays what Mein Kampf is to Jews. It is the theory and practice of Homo Holocaust.”88
The attitude of personal antipathy towards homosexuals is nowadays termed “homophobia”.89 It is a mixture of irrational fear, hostility and even revulsion. It overlooks the fact that the majority of homosexual people are probably not responsible for their condition (though they are, of course, responsible for their conduct). Since they are not deliberate perverts, they deserve our understanding and compassion (though many find this patronizing), not our rejection. No wonder Richard Lovelace calls for “a double repentance”, namely “that gay Christians renounce the active lifestyle” and that “straight Christians renounce homophobia”.90 Dr David Atkinson is right to add, “We are not at liberty to urge the Christian homosexual to celibacy and to a spreading of his relationships, unless support for the former and opportunities for the latter are available in genuine love.”91 I rather think that the very existence of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement is a vote of censure on the church.
At the heart of the homosexual condition is a deep loneliness, the natural human hunger for mutual love, a search for identity and a longing for completeness. If homosexual people cannot find these things in the local “church family”, we have no business to go on using that expression. The alternative is not between the warm physical relationship of homosexual intercourse and the pain of isolation in the cold. There is a third option, namely a Christian environment of love, understanding, acceptance and support. I do not think there is any need to encourage homosexual people to disclose their sexual inclinations to everybody; this is neither necessary nor helpful. But they do need at least one confidant (e) to whom they can unburden themselves, who will not despise or reject them but will support them with friendship and prayer; probably some professional, private and confidential pastoral counsel; possibly in addition the support of a professionally supervised therapy group; and (like all single people) many warm and affectionate friendships with people of both sexes. Same-sex friendships, like those in the Bible between Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, and Paul and Timothy, are to be encouraged. There is no hint that any of these was homosexual in the erotic sense, yet they were evidently affectionate and (at least in the case of David and Jonathan) even demonstrative (e.g., 1 Samuel 18:1–4; 20:41; 2 Samuel 1:26). Of course, sensible safeguards will be important. But in African and Asian cultures it is common to see two men walking down the street hand in hand, without embarrassment. It is sad that our Western culture inhibits the development of rich same-sex friendships by engendering the fear of being ridiculed or rejected as a “queer”.
The best contribution of Michael Vasey’s book Strangers and Friends, in my view, is his emphasis on friendship. “Friendship is not a minor theme of the Christian faith,” he writes, “but is integral to its vision of life.”92 He sees society as “a network of friendships held together by bonds of affection”. He also points out that Scripture does “not limit the notion of covenant to the institution of marriage”.93 As David and Jonathan made a covenant with each other (1 Samuel 18:3), we too may have special covenanted friendships. These and other relationships, both same sex and opposite sex, need to be developed within the family of God which, though universal, has its local manifestations. He intends each local church to be a warm, accepting and supportive community. By “accepting” I do not mean “acquiescing”; similarly, by a rejection of “homophobia”, I do not mean a rejection of a proper Christian disapproval of homosexual behaviour. No, true love is not incompatible with the maintenance of moral standards. On the contrary, it insists on them, for the good of everybody. There is, therefore, a place for church discipline in the case of members who refuse to repent and wilfully persist in homosexual relationships. But it must be exercised in a spirit of humility and gentleness (Galatians 6:1f.); we must be careful not to discriminate between men and women or between homosexual and heterosexual offences; and necessary discipline in the case of a public scandal is not to be confused with a witch-hunt.
Perplexing and painful as the homosexual Christian’s dilemma is, Jesus Christ offers him or her (indeed, all of us) faith, hope and love – the faith to accept both his standards and his grace to maintain them, the hope to look beyond present suffering to future glory and the love to care for and support one another. “But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
1 – Age range eighteen to fifty-nine. Reported in Edward O. Laumann, John H. Gagnon, Robert T. Michael and Stuart Michaels, The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), pp. 294, 303. This study was “the most comprehensive US sex survey ever” according to USA Today. See www.press.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/hfs.cgi/00/12747.ct.
2 – Ibid., p. 296.
3 – Ibid., p. 296. This high figure of 9.1% caused the authors of the survey to suggest two other explanatory factors: firstly, that this specific question was asked in a private questionnaire rather than face-to-face, and secondly, the broader phrasing of the question about the nature of the sexual activity. A similar question was raised in the Sexual Behaviour in Britain study. Respondents were asked about whether they ever had “any kind of sexual experience” with a person of the same sex, also in a private questionnaire. The result showed 6.1% of men and 3.4% of women had such an experience. See K. Wellings, J. Field, A. Johnson and J. Wadsworth, Sexual Behaviour in Britain (London: Penguin, 1994), p. 187.
4 – Ibid., p. 187. Sample of 18,900 adults aged between sixteen and fifty-nine years. Answers quoted here were made in a confidential self-completed questionnaire.
5 – Ibid., p. 213, and as cited in C. Hart, S. Calvert and I. Bainbridge, Homosexuality and Young People (Newcastle: The Christian Institute, 1998), p. 32.
6 – Wellings et al., Sexual Behaviour in Britain, p. 187.
7 – Ibid., p. 209.
8 – National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal, 2000), with 11,200 respondents, all aged between sixteen and forty-four years, cited in The Lancet, vol. 358, 1 December 2001, p. 1839. It is likely that in keeping the upper band at forty-four years, the survey is overestimating the proportion of homosexual men in the population overall. See, for example, the age breakdown in E. O. Laumann and R. T. Michael (eds.), Sex, Love and Health in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), ch. 12, T12.2. In addition, a 1997 National Statistics Office survey of 7,560 adults using an age range of sixteen to sixty-nine years for men found that 3.2% of men in Great Britain had had sex at least once with another man, and 1.7% had only ever had same-sex intercourse. See Contraception and Sexual Health 1997, a report on research using the ONS Omnibus Survey produced on behalf of the Department of Health (Office for National Statistics, London, 1999), p. 11, and correspondence with ONS.
9 – It is noted, however, that there is higher incidence of homosexuality in the US than in the UK. See, for example, Laumann and Michael, Sex, Love and Health in America, pp. 442–43, and Hart et al., Homosexuality and Young People, p. 49.
10 – Cited in Brian Whitaker, “Government Disorientation”, April 29, 2003, Guardian Unlimited, www.Guardian.co.uk.
11 – Malcolm Macourt (ed.), Towards a Theology of Gay Liberation (London: SCM Press, 1977), p. 3. The quotation comes from Mr Macourt’s own introduction to the book.
12 – www.lgcm.org.uk/
13 The full statement can be found at
14 – J. I. Packer, “Why I Walked”, Christianity Today, 21 January 2003.
15 – Derrick Sherwin Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition (London:
Longmans, Green, 1955), p. 4.
16 – Robert A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001), pp. 75–76.
17 – Sherwin Bailey gives references in the Book of Jubilees and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, in Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition, pp. 11–20. There is an even fuller evaluation of the writings of the intertestamental period in Peter Coleman, Christian Attitudes to Homosexuality (London: SPCK, 1980), pp. 58–85.
18 – Bailey, Ibid., p. 27.
19 – See James D. Martin, in Macourt (ed.), Towards a Theology of Gay Liberation, p. 53.
20 – Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition, p. 30.
21 – Coleman, Christian Attitudes to Homosexuality, p. 49.
22 – William J. Webb, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2001), pp. 250–51.
23 – Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, p. 253.
24 – Coleman, Christian Attitudes to Homosexuality, pp. 95–96.
25 – Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, p. 306.
26 – Coleman, Christian Attitudes to Homosexuality, p. 277.
27 – Ibid., p. 101.
28 – Rictor Norton, in Macourt (ed.), Towards a Theology of Gay Liberation, p. 58.
29 – Sherwin Bailey’s book contains no allusion to these chapters at all. And even Peter Coleman, whose Christian Attitudes to Homosexuality is comprehensive, mentions them only in a passing reference to 1 Corinthians 6 where Paul quotes Genesis 2:24.
30 – Michael Vasey, Strangers and Friends (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1995), pp. 46, 82–83.
31 – Ibid., p. 116.
32 – Norman Pittenger, Time for Consent (London: SCM, 1976), pp. 7, 73.
33 – On the evidence that homosexuality is pervasive among animals, see
www.subversions.com/french/pages/science/animals.html, and the scholarly work by Bruce Bagemihl, Biological Exuberance: Animal Hospitality and Natural Diversity (New York: St
Martin’s Press, 1999).
34 – Pittenger, Time for Consent, p. 7.
35 – Coleman, Christian Attitudes to Homosexuality, p. 50.
36 – Coleman, Ibid., p. 71, chapter 3.3–5.
37 – John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), pp. 107ff.
38 – Richard B. Hays, “A Response to John Boswell’s Exegesis of Romans 1”, Journal of Religious Ethics, Spring 1986, p. 192. See also his The Moral Vision of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1996), pp. 383–89.
39 – C. K. Barrett, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (London: A. & C. Black, 1962), p. 39.
40 – C. E. B. Cranfield, “Commentary on Romans”, in the International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975), vol. 1, p. 126. He attributes the same meaning to physis in his comment on 1 Corinthians 11:14. What the NIV translates “the very nature of things” Professor Cranfield renders “the very way God has made us”.
41 – Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, pp. 299–302.
42 – Christianity Today, 11 November 1996.
43 – The Friends’ Report, Towards a Quaker View of Sex (1963), p. 21.
44 – Ibid., p. 36.
45 – Methodist Church’s Division of Social Responsibility, A Christian Understanding of Human Sexuality (1979), chapter 9.
46 – See chapter 5 of the report.
47 – David Reid et al., “Know the Score: Findings from the National Gay Men’s Sex Survey 2001” (London: Sigma Research, September 2002), pp. 12, 24. Wide age range of men surveyed, with average age of thirty-two.
48 – Anne M. Johnson et al., “Sexual Behaviour in Britain: Partnerships, practices and HIV risk behaviours”, The Lancet, vol. 358, 1 December 2001, p. 1838. Men aged sixteen to forty-four. In the US, the National Health and Social Life Survey found that men with no male partners had an average of five sexual partners in the past five years, as compared to between twelve and twenty-one for men with same-gender partners. See Laumann et al., The Social Organization of Sexuality, p. 314.
49 – Thomas E. Schmidt, Straight and Narrow? (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1995), p. 108.
50 – F. C. I. Hickson et al., “Maintenance of Open Gay Relationships: Some strategies for protection against HIV”, AIDS Care, vol. 4, no. 4, 1992, p. 410. Project SIGMA is London-based and under the auspices of the University of Portsmouth. It is openly sympathetic to gay rights. See http://sigmaresearch.org/.
51 – Thomas E. Schmidt, Straight and Narrow?, Compassion and clarity in the homosexuality debate (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1995), p. 122.
52 – Dixon, The Truth about AIDS, p. 113. See also p. 88, and the whole chapter entitled “Condoms Are Unsafe”, pp. 110–22.
53 – The Many Faces of AIDS: A Gospel Response (United States Catholic Conference, 1987), p. 18.
54 – www.unaids.org/en/
55 – CDC Survey Report, vol. 14, Table 7, www.cdc.gov.
56 – John Karon, L. Fleming, R. Skeketee, Kevin De Cock, “HIV in the United States at the Turn of the Century: An Epidemic in Transition”, The American Journal of Public Health, vol. 91, July 2001, pp. 1060–68.
57 – Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HIV and AIDS – United States 1981–2001, MMWR 2001, 50:430–34.
58 – Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HIV Prevention Strategic Plan through 2005, January 2001.
59 – Quoted in Christianity Today, 7 August 1987, p. 17.
60 – For example, the London Lighthouse (a twenty-six-bed AIDS hospice), 178 Lancaster Road, London W11 1QU, UK, and the internationally known thirty-two-suite AIDS ward at the Mildmay Mission Hospital, Hackney Road, London E2 7NA, UK. Both hospices also arrange home care. ACACIA (AIDS Care, Compassion in Action) cares for about seventy-five people with HIV/AIDS in their own homes in Manchester, UK.
61 – So Gavin Reid rightly argues in his Beyond AIDS, The real crisis and the only hope (Eastbourne:
62 – ACET (AIDS Care, Education and Training) has an international network of projects associated with AIDS. Its address is ACET International Alliance Network, 1 Carlton Gardens, Ealing,
London, W5 2AN, UK.
63 – AIDS, A Report by the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility (GS 795, 1987), p. 29.
64 – “The Homosexual Movement: A Response by the Ramsey Colloquium”, first published in First Things, March 1994.
65 – Macourt (ed.), Towards a Theology of Gay Liberation, p. 25.
66 – Pittenger, Time for Consent
67 – Alex Davidson, The Returns of Love (London: InterVarsity Press, 1970), pp. 12, 16, 49.
68 – Norman Pittenger, in Macourt (ed.), Towards a Theology of Gay Liberation, p. 87.
69 – The St Andrew’s Day Statement (published 30 November 1995) begins with three theological “Principles” relating to the incarnate Lord (in whom we come to know both God and ourselves), the Holy Spirit (who enables us to interpret the times), and God the Father (who restores the broken creation in Christ). The statement’s second half consists of three “Applications” relating to such questions as our human identity, empirical observations, the reaffirmation of the good news of salvation and the hope of final fulfilment in Christ. Two years later, The Way Forward? Was published, with the subtitle “Christian voices on homosexuality and the church”. This symposium, edited by Tim Bradshaw, consists of thirteen responses to the St Andrew’s Day Statement, from a wide range of different viewpoints. One appreciates the call to patient and serious theological reflection. But it is inaccurate to write of “dialogue” and “diatribe” as if they were the only options. Some of us have been listening and reflecting for thirty or forty years! How long must the process continue before we are allowed to reach a conclusion? In spite of claims to the contrary, no fresh evidence has been produced which could overthrow the clear witness of Scripture and the long-standing tradition of the church. The St Andrew’s Day Statement says that the church recognizes two vocations (marriage and singleness), and adds that “there is no place for the Church to confer legitimacy upon alternatives to these”. Further, the authors of the statement do not consider that “the considerable burden of proof to support a major change in the Church’s teaching and practice has been met” by the contributors to the book (p. 3). Yet the book makes a more uncertain sound than the statement. So by all means let there be serious theological reflection, but then let the church make up its mind.
70 – Pittenger, Time for Consent, p. 7. Contrast The Courage to be Chaste: An Uncompromising Call to the Biblical Standard of Chastity (New York: Paulist Press, 1986). Written by Benedict J. Groeschel, a Capuchin friar, the book contains much practical advice.
71 – Jeffrey Satinover, Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), p. 117.
72 – Ibid., pp. 18–19, 71.
73 – Vasey, Strangers and Friends, p. 103.
74 – See Satinover, Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, pp. 31–40.
75 – D. J. West, Homosexuality (1955; 2nd ed., London: Pelican, 1960; 3rd ed., London: Duckworth, 1968), pp. 266, 273.
76 – Nelson Gonzalez’s article “Exploding Ex-Gay Myths”, in Regeneration Quarterly, vol. 1, no. 3, Summer 1995, challenged the aims and claims of the ex-gay movement. In 1991 Charles Socarides founded the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which investigates the possibilities for “healing”.
77 – Martin Hallett, I Am Learning to Love (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), p. 155. Martin Hallett’s organization is called True Freedom Trust (TfT), and can be contacted at PO Box 13, Prenton, Wirral, CH43 6BY, UK. It offers an interdenominational teaching and counselling ministry on homosexuality and related problems. The website is www.truefreedomtrust.co.uk/index.html. Martin Hallett’s new book is available only through TfT.
78 – Exodus International can be contacted at PO Box 540119, Orlando, FL 32854, USA, or http://exodus.to/about_exodus.shtml.
79 Elizabeth R. Moberly, Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1983), p. 2. See also Lance Pierson, No-Gay Areas, Pastoral Care of Homosexual Christians, Grove Pastoral Studies, no. 38 (Cambridge: Grove Books, 1989), which helpfully applies Elizabeth Moberly’s teaching.
80 – Ibid., p. 28.
81 – Ibid., pp. 18–20.
82 – Ibid., pp. 35–36.
83 – Ibid., p. 52.
84 – Davidson, The Returns of Love, p. 51.
85 – Macourt (ed.), Towards a Theology of Gay Liberation, p. 63.
86 – Pittenger, Time for Consent, p. 2.
87 – Macourt (ed.), Towards a Theology of Gay Liberation, p. 45.
88 – www.petertatchell.net
89 – The word seems to have been used first by George Weinberg in Society and the Healthy Homosexual (New York: Doubleday, 1973).
90 – Richard R. Lovelace, Homosexuality and the Church (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1978), p. 129; cf. p. 125.
91 – David J. Atkinson, Homosexuals in the Christian Fellowship (Oxford: Latimer House, 1979), p. 118. See also Dr Atkinson’s more extensive treatment in his Pastoral Ethics in Practice (London: Monarch, 1989). Dr Roger Moss concentrates on pastoral questions in his Christians and Homosexuality (Carlisle, Penn.: Paternoster, 1977).
92 – Vasey, Strangers and Friends, p. 122.
93 – Ibid., p. 233.