Recently however, some Christians have come to believe that sexual relations between members of the same sex is not inherently sinful. Denominations holding to that view include the United Church of Canada, liberal congregations within the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the Moravian Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Methodist Church of Great Britain, and Friends General Conference. Furthermore, the Metropolitan Community Church has been founded to specifically to serve the Christian LGBT community. Other denominations, such as the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Methodist Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church, are actively debating the issue. It is a current controversy in the worldwide Anglican Communion since the Episcopal Church of the USA has ordained the first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson.
The Bible, both in the Old and New Testament, includes several passages that some choose to interpret to condemn sexual relationships between members of the same sex; there are, however, alternative interpretations. The most commonly cited verses are and in the Old Testament, and , and in the New Testament. Christians generally accept these verses as Scripture but differ about how to interpret them and how they apply to contemporary situations. Issues include:
Particularly, the Genesis account of Sodom and Gomorrah is under severe dispute among modern Christians, especially because such an interpretation of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is entirely alien to Jewish tradition: does it refer to same-sex activities at all, or was this interpretation developed during late antiquity and the early Middle Ages for political reasons? See the Sodomy article for more detail on this issue.
Certain texts within the Bible, such as Leviticus, declare sex between men as sinful and, in the eyes of God, an "abomination"; though the term abomination as translated from the Hebrew implies that the sin itself is not "of the flesh" but a betrayal of one's faith.
In the Epistle to the Romans, Saint Paul describes "men, leaving the natural use of the woman, [burning] in their lust toward one another" as a consequence or cause of the sin of idolatry. Paul also says "abusers of themselves with mankind" (arsenokoitai) are "unrighteous" and predicts that they "shall not inherit the kingdom of God". The phrase is often interpreted as being a euphemism for men who have sex with men. He also reminds the saints that "such were some of you" before being washed, sanctified and justified through Christ.
The early Christian Church, the Roman Catholic Church the Eastern Orthodox Churches and, later, the Protestant churches have traditionally explicitly condemned of sex between men, namely, "man lying with man as one lies with a woman" and men "burning with lust toward one another." Whereas the Roman Catholic view is founded on a natural law argument informed by scripture and largely indebted to Thomas Aquinas, the Protestant view is based more directly upon scriptural verses.
Denunciation of same-sex sexual relationships is also seen in surviving early Christian writings, such as in the writings of Justin Martyr, Aristides, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian, Eusebius of Caesarea, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, and in canonical sources such as the Apostolic Constitutions. Eusebius of Caesarea, for example, condemned "the union of women with women and men with men."
Many prominent Christian theologians have been critical of homosexual relationships throughout the religion's history. Thomas Aquinas denounced homosexual acts ("the sin of sodomy", sodomiticum vitium) as second only to bestiality among the worst of all sexual sins, and Hildegard of Bingen's book Sci vias, which was officially approved by Pope Eugene III, condemned sexual relations between women as "perverted forms".
The late Yale University Church historian John Boswell controversially argued for the existence of a rite of adelphopoiesis as a religiously-sanctioned same-sex union. His views have not found wide acceptance. He also argued that condemnation of homosexuality began only in the 12th century. Critics of Boswell have pointed out that many earlier doctrinal sources condemn homosexual behavior in ethical terms without prescribing a punishment, and that Boswell's citations reflected a general trend towards harsher penalties from the 12th century onwards.
Many of the debates among Christians have roots in questions about the sources of authority different Christians believe represent God's purest or most definitive message. More generally: which kinds of arguments should be persuasive to Christians, and which do not possess the weight necessary to determine opinions and policies. Such is also the case with the issues related to the morality and inclusion of LGBT persons in Christian life.
Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christianities regard Sacred Tradition and Ecumenical councils as co-authoritative with scripture, and the ordinary Magisterium is authoritative in Catholic theology.
Methodism derives doctrine from the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which consists of an evaluation of the synthesis of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. There are also differing positions about how great a role is played by continuing revelation (see Cessationism and Secular theology).
In conservative strains of Protestant Christianity, Scripture is understood to be the only truly definitive authority (a position called Sola Scriptura). Exegesis, or the reasoned study of the text to discover its own meaning, is the central concern for believers in Sola Scriptura. The classic formulation of Sola Scriptura regards "good and necessary deduction" from Scripture as authoritative; what these deductions might be is a frequent subject of controversy.
Liberal Christians tend to regard the Bible as the record of human doings, composed of humans encountering the Divine within their specific historical context. They often interpret passages of the Bible as being less a record of actual events, but rather stories illustrating how to live ethically and authentically in relation to God. Some such Christians might, for instance, see Christ's death and resurrection in terms not of actual physical reanimation, but in terms of the good news of Jesus' teaching: that God's children are no longer slaves to the power of death.
Some professional exegetes consider the Bible, to a greater or lesser degree, to be a document of its time, taking on attitudes which may not be God's. While they may hold the document as sacred, and most certainly as central to Christianity, they are also aware of the historical and cultural context in which it was originally written through archaeological and form critical study. Some scholars feel that in addition to its spiritual components, portions of the text merely reflect the human authors' beliefs and feelings about God at the time of its writing, and their cultural sensibilities. The influence of such persons may reflect a heightened spiritual consciousness, or may simply represent people attempting to explain the world as best they could given the tools of the time. Such scholars purport that passages in scripture related to slavery, war, genocide, female marginalization, and sex between men may not necessarily be about God's wishes, but rather about the predominant culture's opinions at the time of the passage's writing.
Within the remainder of this article, those who claim early Christianity denounced sexual relationships between members of the same sex are called conservative Christians, and likewise those who claim the opposite are called liberal Christians.
Furthermore, they believe that the heterosexual family is divinely inspired, commanded of God, and that homosexual relationships undermines heterosexual marriage. They interpret some Biblical passages such as "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh"() and "Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord"() as evidence of the God-given nature of the heterosexual family.
Several conservative homosexual Christians have formed support groups, some specifically targeted at those who are heterosexually married. A number of gay Christians have reported satisfaction in their mixed-orientation marriages to partners of the opposite gender.
Others have joined ex-gay groups, which try to reduce same-sex attractions, and some of which also try to increase heterosexual desires. One study showed 34.3% of them self-reported much change in sexual orientation. Exodus International is the largest ostensibly ex-gay group. A major ally of Exodus International is Focus on the Family, who works with Exodus International in their Love Won Out ministry.
Conservative Christians argue that there were denunciations of same-sex sexual relations in the writings of the early Christian era. In response to the claim that such passages have been mistranslated due to certain obscure words whose meanings are unclear, conservatives point out that many passages use commonplace words whose meanings are well-known, such as the passage from the writings of Eusebius of Caesarea which condemns "the union of women with women and men with men", or St. Cyprian's denunciation of "men with frenzied lusts rushing upon men".
They are critical of the views that early Christians and Biblical figures had same-sex relationships. Conservatives claim that neither the Bible nor ancient Jewish law records such unions and that the term "son-in-law" at the heart of the Jonathan and David dispute could be used symbolically rather than literally.
In response to claims that even the medieval Church tolerated same-sex sexual relations, conservatives Christians cite documents such as the "Summa Theologiae", the chief summary of doctrine in that era, which contains passages denouncing "copulation with an undue sex, male with male, or female with female" (ST: II:II: Q154: Art.11). The author, Thomas Aquinas, considered this to be second only to bestiality as the worst of all sexual sins writing, "After this bestiality comes the sin of sodomy, because use of the right sex is not observed." St. Hildegard's book "Scivias", which was officially approved by Pope Eugene III, related visions from God which contain quotes stating: "a woman who takes up devilish ways and plays a male role in coupling with another woman is most vile in My sight", and "a man who sins with another man as with a woman, sins bitterly against God and against the union with which God united male and female", and similar quotes in which same-sex relations are condemned as "perverted forms". Conservatives point out that such passages use commonplace terms which are neither obscure nor in dispute.
In response to those who say that the Bible and early/medieval saints condemned same-sex relationships only due to a misconception that homosexual relationships could not be stable and committed, conservatives point out that revealed sources such as St. Hildegard's visions quote God as condemning certain forms of sexual intercourse both in same-sex relationships and also when they are practiced by a husband and wife, explaining that this is not the form of sex which God had ordained - meaning that the issue here is not "commitment", but rather God's purpose for sex. Baptists and other groups in the tradition of the Reformation, however, do not cite such sources, since the visions of medieval saints do not hold the same degree of authority for them.
Conservative Christian scholars believe that the original texts must be translated by abiding by the standard definitions of ancient words as defined both by previous generations of scholars and by the people who lived close to the time periods in which the original languages were in active use, such as the early Church Fathers and ancient Christian writers (see examples of their interpretations above).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states "men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies ... must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." Dallin H. Oaks, an LDS Apostle, stated "Our doctrines obviously condemn those who engage in so-called “gay bashing”—physical or verbal attacks on persons thought to be involved in homosexual or lesbian behavior." The LDS leadership later released an official statement saying "We of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reach out with understanding and respect for individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender. As an alternative to a school-sponsored Day of Silence supporting homosexuality, conservative Christians organized a Golden Rule Initiative, where they passed out cards saying "As a follower of Christ, I believe that all people are created in the image of God and therefore deserve love and respect.
Some churches publish specific instructions to clergy on how to minister to homosexuals. These publications include Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination, produced by the Roman Catholic Church, and God Loveth His Children, produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1994, a church in the Presbyterian Church (USA) held a conference entitled “The Path to Freedom: Exploring healing for the Homosexual.”
Liberal Christian scholars, like conservative Christian scholars, accept earlier versions of the Bible in Hebrew or Greek. However within these early Bibles there are many terms that liberals have interpreted differently than previous generations of scholars. They are concerned with copying errors, forgery, and of biases among the translators of later Bibles. They consider some verses such as those supporting slavery or the inferior treatment of women not being valid today, and against the will of God present in the context of the Bible, and they cite these issues when arguing for a change in theological views on sexual relationships to what they claim is an earlier view. They differentiate among various sexual practices, treating rape, prostitution, or temple sex rituals as immoral and those within committed relationships as positive regardless of sexual orientation. They view certain verses, which they believe refer only to homosexual rape, as not relevant to consensual homosexual relationships.
Some believe that a number of early Christians entered into homosexual relationships, citing the views of John Boswell, or even claim biblical figures as homosexual couples - biblical injunctions against sexual relationships between members of the same sex notwithstanding. Often cited are Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi, Daniel and the court official Ashpenaz, and most famously, David and King Saul's son Jonathan.
Writings of later time periods deploring same-sex sexual relations are discounted by many liberal Christians. They ascertain that such opinions were formed upon flawed Biblical translations caused by human error or personal bias of translators. Many claim that wording in verses denouncing sex between men were created after the twelfth century A.D. and reflect the society at the time, not the word of God.
Modern homosexual Christian activist Justin R. Cannon promotes what he calls "Inclusive Orthodoxy". He explains on his ministry website: "Inclusive Orthodoxy is the belief that the Church can and must be inclusive of lgbt individuals without sacrificing the Gospel and the Apostolic teachings of the Christian faith. Cannon's ministry takes a unique approach quite distinct from modern liberal Christians. His ministry affirms the divine inspiration of the Bible, the authority of Tradition, and claims "...that there is a place within the full life and ministry of the Christian Church for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christians, both those who are called to lifelong celibacy and those who are partnered.
Some ex-gay groups say conversion therapy may be helpful. The American Psychological Association states that conversion therapy "is based on an understanding of homosexuality that has been rejected by all the major health and mental health professions". The American Psychiatric Association states: "The potential risks of 'reparative therapy' are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."
There are people who see their beliefs about same-sex sexual relationships as an essential part of their identity, whether religious or sexual. This sometimes leads to conflict as people from both sides voice their beliefs, live in accordance with their beliefs, and/or try to impose their beliefs on other people. In the case of homosexual Christians who do not believe same-sex sexual relations are acceptable, that conflict between their sexual orientation and their religious identity is frequently dealt with either by remaining celibate or by heterosexually marrying.
Christians and Christian groups critical to sexual relationships between members of the same sex have drawn protests or attacks by groups such as ACT UP, OutRage! and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Other groups, such as the Gay Christian Network work to promote dialog between homosexuals who approve of same-sex relationships and homosexuals who don't. State and federal laws in various countries often prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression as well as religion. Local and national LGBT rights organizations, religious organizations, or local law enforcement, occasionally bring actions against people, often religious conservatives or promoters of gay rights, whom they believe are violating these anti-discrimination laws.
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