Ellen Goodman lambastes the Pope in a recent article (Nature or nurture?) accusing the Roman Catholic Church of backsliding on the homosexual issue. She complains that the dividing line over gay issues has moved since the Pope Benedict XVI has banned sodomites from Catholic seminaries. There are many good reasons to come down on the Roman Catholic Church, but this is not one of them.
Of course there is a sense in which she’s right. The line did move. For over 3,500 years of recorded history every culture has considered sodomy to be taboo, which includes all of the history of Christianity — until about thirty years or so ago. Some cultures (like the Greeks) have more or less tolerated homosexuality, but none has embraced it as a social norm.
Two months before the Stonewall uprising in New York (1969) — generally recognized as the beginning of the modern gay and lesbian rights movement — the United Church of Christ’s Council for Christian Social Action declared opposition to all laws criminalizing private homosexual relations between adults. The council also opposed the exclusion of homosexual citizens from the armed forces. This action constituted a complete reversal of all historic Christian belief and practice regarding sodomy.
In 1972 William Johnson became the first openly homosexual person ordained to the ministry by a Christian church. He was ordained by the Golden Gate Association, a grouping of UCC congregations in Northern California. Johnson has had one of the most effective ministries in modern times. A virtual revolution of views and values has occurred since that time. The line, as Goodman has referred to it, has rotated 180 degrees in most mainline churches. This revolution, more than any other single factor, has resulted in the gutting of mainline Christianity.
But the so-called line didn’t actually move in the Roman Catholic Church. Pope John Paul ordered the issue to be studied, but didn’t issue any official teaching regarding homosexuality. Goodman quotes from some Catholic study materials, but fails to mention that the study documents did not and do not reflect official Catholic doctrine. Of course, many Catholic priests have argued vociferously in favor of sodomy within and without the church, but the arguments of priests do not constitute official Roman Catholic doctrine. Benedict has merely brought the study to a close by issuing an official proclamation. That’s his job. The buck stops there.
Goodman doesn’t have a proverbial leg to stand on regarding the Catholic Church. The Pope decided not to move the Catholic “line” (position) after years of institutional study. It is his job to make such decisions. There is, however, a point to be made regarding the mainline Protestant churches because they did move the line. But Goodman won’t appreciate the point.
History aside, the nub of Goodman’s concern appears to be whether sodomites are born or made. She errantly claims that the research favors the idea that homosexuality is a born trait. The National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) provides extensive research to the contrary.
Friedman and Downey, psychiatric researchers at Columbia University, offered a strongly worded conclusion opposing the essentialist (or genetic) argument: “At clinical conferences one often hears…that homosexual orientation is fixed and unmodifiable. Neither assertion is true…The assertion that homosexuality is genetic is so reductionistic that it must be dismissed out of hand as a general principle of psychology” (2002, p 39).
Yet many national organizations continue to offer the essentialist argument as a guide for law and public policy. No reputable scientist on either side of the political spectrum would disagree with the conclusion of Friedman and Downey. Even the gay-activist researchers themselves who studies have been used by the media to trumpet the message that homosexuality is biologically determined do not support the “born that way” myth.
—A. Dean Byrd, Ph.D., MBA, MPH, from “Born that way” theory
Matt Foreman’s comment that it “doesn’t matter what you do or believe or practice. If you are gay there is no making that better in the eyes of the church” reflects a complete misunderstanding of Christianity. Paul noted that among the Corinthian Christians were former homosexuals. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. 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 6:9-11). No sin (except the unforgivable sin—Matthew 12:31) is so great that it cannot be forgiven. But the forgiveness must be personally received, which necessarily involves repentance.
The critical issue regarding homosexuality in the church has little to do with homosexuality per se, but everything to do with repentance. First, understand that Christianity is for Christians, and Christians are necessarily forgiven and repentant sinners. It is not sin that keeps people from Christ, it’s a lack of repentance that God cannot countenance. This should be clearly understood by all Christians, but is too often misunderstood by Christians and is widely misunderstood in contemporary society. Again, the issue is not the nature of any particular sin, but the change in the heart of the sinner that leads to revulsion of sin—all sin.
From a Christian perspective it doesn’t matter whether homosexual orientation is genetic or learned. Because of the Fall (or what is sometimes called “original sin”) sin is the natural condition (orientation, proclivity and/or tendency) of all human beings from birth. Critical to this issue is the biblical teaching that sin is the natural condition, but not the original condition of humanity. The purpose of Jesus Christ is to restore the original condition. The issue is not about the nature of homosexuality, but the extent and effect of sin and the power of Jesus Christ to subdue it.
The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. established the fact that Christianity is not about the nation or the race of Israel. Christianity is not about genetics, but faithfulness. The birth, life and death of Jesus Christ established that the power of God is greater than the power of the flesh (genetics). In Christ regeneration produces power over the flesh, over natural orientations, proclivities and tendencies. God trumps genetics. In Christ, Christians rise above their natural tendencies to sin and live in their original tendencies to faithfulness and holiness—not all at once, of course, but over time.
There are only two considerations pertinent to the issue of sin—any sin: 1) Can it be forgiven? And 2) is the sinner repentant (growing in grace and godliness, living according to the desires of Jesus Christ rather than the desires of self)? Being a Christian requires that each question be answered with an unqualified yes.
All sin involves natural tendencies, proclivities and orientations. But the power of Christ through forgiveness and regeneration overcomes our natural tendencies, proclivities and orientations and provides Christians with godly tendencies, proclivities and orientations. This is what makes the gospel of Jesus Christ “good news.”
Using the term “sodomites” helps to frame the issue in the traditional biblical perspective. Much of the battle is won at the point of terms and definitions. That’s why they call it “gay,” and why we should refuse to do so.