Source: The Word Magazine, Volume 54, No 9, November, 2010
It is obvious to anyone who studies the history of Christian moral teaching that the leadership of several American Protestant groups has taken a very serious step by ordaining openly practicing gays and lesbians and blessing same-sex relationships. For almost 2,000 years, all Christians – Orthodox, Roman Catholic or Protestant – have agreed on this important issue. The gay rights movement, which began at the Stonewall riots in 1969, has slowly spread from the secular society to the religious community. Using methods that grew out of the Civil Rights Movement, homosexuals and their supporters have successfully transformed the moral issue of gay and lesbian practices into one of civil rights. As early as 1980, the United Church of Christ, perhaps the most liberal of all American churches, approved the ordination of openly practicing gays and lesbians. More recently, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church and the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to eliminate the prohibition against the ordination of openly practicing homosexuals. Gays and lesbians and their supporters continue to struggle to gain approval within the United Methodist and Presbyterian Church (USA). Despite the strong disapproval of the Vatican, Roman Catholic homosexuals and their supporters organized Dignity to further their cause.
The controversy over homosexuality and lesbianism has largely focused on questions involving the authority and interpretation of the moral teachings contained in the Holy Scriptures and followed by Christians since the apostolic era. Although there are some exceptions, such as John Boswell, the vast majority of biblical scholars agree that the Holy Scriptures consider gay and lesbian sexual acts sinful. It is very serious to reject the authority of the Holy Scripture. It is also rather arrogant for anyone, including a scholar like Boswell, to claim that every other Christian authority has been wrong and that they are the first to really understand the teachings of the sacred texts. However, the recent decisions of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church and the Church-wide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have other more serious implications. Summarized briefly, the argument in favor of ordaining practicing gay and lesbian clergy and blessing same sex-unions runs something like this: “They are born that way and cannot change; therefore Christ’s command to love all persons requires the Church to accept and bless their relationships.” This reasoning, however, has serious implications for soteriology, or the doctrine of salvation. Indeed, the belief that Christ saves us, but does not change us to become more like God, compromises the meaning of salvation and thus the entire Christian Faith.
It is somewhat ironic that some leaders of the major branches of American Protestantism have forgotten their own Western heritage when discussing the claim that homosexuality is normal for some people because they are born inclined towards attraction to their own sex. As Western Christians, the Episcopal Church, like the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed traditions, has built its understanding of salvation solidly on a foundation of the Augustinian doctrine of original sin. Brief y stated, the Western tradition teaches that all are born guilty of inherited sin. In his famous rebuke of Erasmus’ argument in favor of freedom of the will, “The Bondage of the
Will,” Martin Luther argued forcibly that original sin has so corrupted pre-redeemed humans that they have “no capacity to do anything but sin and be dammed.” The Westminster Confession, the standard summary of Presbyterian belief, states, “From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.” Finally the Thirty Nine Articles of Anglicanism considers all actions before justifi cation as having the “nature of sin.” Although Eastern Orthodoxy rejects the doctrines of inherited guilt and total depravity, the Eastern Church recognizes that all are born tainted by the consequences of ancestral sin, the chief of which is mortality. This condition, that is, the struggle against death, leads to personal sin. Despite a more optimistic view of pre-redeemed humanity, however, Orthodox still believe that those not perfected by God’s grace are imperfect and corrupted by sin. Furthermore, Eastern theology considers a life lived contrary to the revealed will of God unnatural. Thus, according to the beliefs of the Orthodox Church, those who support the acceptance of homosexual and lesbian behavior on the assumption that those who are “born gay or lesbian” cannot change, falsely believe that the standard for natural human behavior is the actions of those who have not been transformed by the grace of God.
If one takes the moral teachings of the Bible seriously, however, one must conclude that a person who participates in homosexual or lesbian acts is living a sinful and therefore unnatural life. The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its official list of mental disorders in 1973 [after lobbying and politicking by pro-homosexual members – ed.], but what may be considered “normal” by some scientists is not necessarily moral. Because all have sinned, it is obvious that one can be a sinner and still be what the psychological community considers mentally healthy. (See Romans 3:23.) Self-realization and developing a good self-image may be a legitimate goal of psychotherapy; the goal of the Christian life, however, is not a psychological sense of wellbeing, but the higher standard of a life lived according to God’s moral law as revealed through the Holy Scriptures.
Furthermore, Christians must reject the foundation of the entire movement for the unconditional acceptance of unrepentant gays and lesbians: the argument that it is unloving to expect a person involved in the gay or lesbian life style to cease such activity. The unconditional affirmation of any human behavior, despite the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, is itself a rejection of the first requirement for salvation. The Gospels tell us that Our Lord began his ministry with the words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The Greek word translated “repent” more accurately means “turn a new way,” or “choose a new path.” It is true that the bystanders commented that Christ “has gone to be a guest of a man who is a sinner” (Luke 19:7). As the texts makes clear, however, Zacchaeus repented of his sin of cheating people, before Christ said, “Today salvation has come to this house . . . .” Our Lord told the crowd threatening to stone the adulterous woman, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her fi rst” (John 8:7). Christ did not accept the woman’s sin, but instead told her, “Go, and sin no more.” It is clear from the New Testament that those who wish to be saved must be willing to repent and begin a new life in conformity with the will of God and the moral teachings of the Holy Scriptures. Thus, the argument that Christ accepts sinners in their sin and does not require them to change their behavior, implied by those who accept the arguments in favor of affirmation of homosexuality and lesbianism, greatly compromises the biblical teaching concerning what one must do to be saved.
Although our secular society has accepted the idea that without complete sexual fulfillment one’s life is incomplete, that is not the Christian point of view. Instead, Christians accept the biblical teaching that the only proper use of God’s gift of sexuality is in the union of a man and a woman in Holy Matrimony. Those who participate in sexual intimacy outside of marriage fall into serious sin, regardless of the nature of that activity. Gay and lesbian sin is just as immoral as heterosexual sin. A Christian must not seek sexual fulfillment as the goal of his or her life, but instead must seek to live according to the will of God. St. Peter wrote, “Abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Indeed, asceticism or controlling the lusts of the flesh is an essential part of the Christian life. Despite popular belief, one can live a long and happy life without sexual gratification, as can be seen in the lives of monks and nuns.
Finally, the argument that Christian gays and lesbians cannot change seriously compromises the doctrine of salvation and sanctification. Indeed this is perhaps the greatest distortion of Christian doctrine caused by the affirmation of gay and lesbian sex and same-sex unions. To be saved is to experience the transforming grace of God. In the words of St. Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Elsewhere, the Apostle to the Gentiles wrote, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Indeed, traditional Orthodox theology so emphasizes the change that takes place in a person as they are redeemed, that it uses the term “theosis” or deificaiton to describe salvation, because those who are saved become by grace what God is by nature. Thus, Orthodox Christians cannot accept the teaching that one who is being saved remains in a sinful state and does not grow in grace towards sanctification. Regardless of why a person is tempted to commit sexual sins, not only can they resist temptation, they can also grow in holiness so that they resist temptation and do good because God has made them good by His grace.
Thus, the acceptance of homosexuality and lesbianism by some American Protestants is much more than the rejection of the teachings of the Holy Scriptures on morality. If one accepts the conclusions of the pro-gay and lesbian movement, one must also deny that anyone who wishes to follow Christ must take up his or her cross and strive for true repentance by turning away from sin towards righteousness. The movement also rejects the power of the Holy Spirit to change a sinner into a saint. Thus, instead of salvation as a work of God’s grace, salvation is reduced to a quest for a good image of oneself, and for mental health as defined by the psychological community.
John Boswell, Christian, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980).
Martin Luther, “The Bondage of the Will,” in Timothy F. Lull, ed., Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), p. 203.
“The Westminster Confession,” in The Proposed Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (Atlanta: Materials Distribution Service), p. 83.
“The Articles of Religion,” in The Book of Common Prayer, (New York: The Church Hymnal Corporation, 1979), p. 871.