Friday, March 30, 2012

Is Homosexuality a Sin?

How, or why, can some good “mainstream” Christian organizations be labeled hate groups? That was one of the main questions raised in response to my blog posting on March 20
The two groups specifically mentioned in that posting are the American Family Association (AFA) and the Family Research Council (FRC).
I have had no direct contact with either of those organizations, but I have often seen references to them and to a prominent leader in each group: Donald Wildmon and Tony Perkins. 
Most of what I have read about those leaders’ activities and public statements has not been positive.
That is not to say there is not a lot of good done by these and other similar organizations or by the two men mentioned and others with similar beliefs. As I said in a comment following the 3/20 blog posting, to say that some organization is a hate group does not mean that everything they do is bad or hateful.
It is only (or at least mainly) because of their strong stance in opposition to gays and lesbians that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) identifies the AFA and the FRC as hate groups. The supporting data presented by the SPLC can be found here (AFA) and here (FRC).
The AFA says their mission is “to inform, equip, and activate individuals to strengthen the moral foundations of American culture, and give aid to the church here and abroad in its task of fulfilling the Great Commission.” Hard to argue with that! Except that the AFA’s definition of working for the moral foundations of American culture includes castigating homosexuality, which they clearly consider to be sinful.
The same is true for the Family Research Council (FRC), which, according to their mission statement, “champions marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society. FRC shapes public debate and formulates public policy that values human life and upholds the institutions of marriage and the family.” They see homosexuality as a threat to the well-being of the institution of marriage and family (as well as to society as a whole).
Some Christians try to show Christian love toward gays/lesbians, saying we should hate the sin but love the sinner. These Christians agree that all people, including gays/lesbians, should be welcomed by Christians—but “deviant” sexual orientation should not be affirmed. Or, these “loving” Christians will point out that we all are sinners, so no special opposition should be made toward gays/lesbians. But from this standpoint also, homosexuality is clearly considered a sin.
Some protest signs against gays/lesbians proclaim, “We don’t hate homos, God hates sin.” Although they might not be that direct, that plainly seems to be the position of the AFA and the FRC. They strongly oppose homosexuality because they think it is sinful.
It is quite probable that those who condemn homosexuality as a sin have a faulty interpretation of the Bible. There is not space to deal with this important matter here, but I have written about that in the ninth chapter of my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism.
Matthew Vines, 22
Other good sources that explain what the Bible does, and doesn’t, say about homosexuality are the DVD “For the Bible Tells Me So” (2007) and the talk given this month by Matthew Vines, a young gay man who dropped out of Harvard for two years to study what the Bible says about homosexuality. Check out his superlative speech here.

16 comments:

  1. Thinking Friend Phil Rhoads, who is a very active member of Rainbow Mennonite Church, sent the following comments (which he was unable to post directly).

    "Leroy, I appreciate so much your writing on a subject that is close to my heart. Too often in the media all Christians are portrayed as anti-gay.

    "Just this morning in the 'KC Star' there is a long article about the ACLU vs. the Camdenton, MO, school board regarding their internet filter prohibiting all gay affirming sites (labeled 'sexual') but allowing many sites advocating against homosexuality and gay marriage (labeled 'religious.')

    "The voice of Christians who affirm gay rights most often gets drowned out, just as Christians who opposed attacking Iraq, including Methodist bishops and the Pope, were over-ruled by President Bush, who said that God told him that was the right thing to do.

    "When Muslims are all portrayed as terrorists, and Christians as war mongers and gay haters, we need voices like yours to expand the conversation. Thank you, for that.

    "Here is a little anecdote for your enjoyment. Last month I visited my two lesbian daughters in Seattle and their two kids. Their boy is now four and a half, and their daughter just turned two, so I got to attend her "Tu-tu" birthday party.

    "On Sunday I decided to attend the local United Methodist church for the first time, since the Mennonite church (which is gay affirming and pacifist, like Rainbow) was more than an hour across town. After the service I got acquainted with an 80-something retired Methodist pastor who told me he had given up church some twenty years ago, but when he got a phone call six years ago that the local Methodist church was in an uproar because their pastor had just come out as gay, he said to himself he had to start going to church again to support her! He has been an active member ever since. And to confirm my stereotypes, he shared that when he was a teen-ager (in the late 40's), he sought out a Church of the Brethren college to attend since they had a peace studies major."

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    1. Thanks, Leroy, for navigating the security procedures on blogspot.

      The stereotype of Jews too often is Zionist, and the recent Facebook initiative, "Israel hearts Iran" is a breath of fresh air: https://www.facebook.com/israellovesiran

      There are two recent articles on Zionism which might be grist for a future blog posting:
      http://www.salon.com/2012/03/28/rethinking_zionism/?source=newsletter
      and
      http://blog.buzzflash.com/node/13393 (about Christian Zionism, ala John Hagee, pushing for war on Iran).

      Here's a quote for Rethinking Zionism, speaking about his children:

      "One day, when they’re old enough to understand, I’ll tell his sister and him how my grandmother made me a Zionist. And one day, if they see a video like this, I’ll tell them that unless American Jews help end the occupation that desecrates Israel’s founding ideals, this is what Zionism will become, a movement that fails the test of Jewish power."

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  2. I just saw that Dr. Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, spoke in the Chapel service at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary on Wednesday of this week.

    In that Chapel service, Dr. Land said, “Make no mistake about it, this is not a debate about live and let live. The agenda of the homosexual community is to have their lifestyle and their behavior normalized and have same-sex marriage normalized and to have those who disagree with it to be ostracized on the level of the Ku Klux Klan. That’s their goal. Make no mistake about it.”

    He continued, “They would consider what I’m saying to you this morning to be hate speech. If we didn’t have a First Amendment to protect us, at least when we’re in chapel, there could come a time when I could be arrested for just saying what the Bible says about homosexuality.”

    I have serious doubts, though, that he understands correctly what the Bible says about homosexuality.

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  3. Dr. Glenn Hinson, a Thinking Friend who many readers of this blog know or know about, sent the following message by e-mail, and I post it here with his permission.

    "A well-balanced, thoughtful reflection, Leroy. Proper interpretation of the Bible is always difficult, but I'm amazed at how much time groups like AFA and FRC spend on the very scanty references to homosexuality and how little time they spend on the mountain of condemnations of the Rich!"

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  4. I had long, thoughtful e-mail from a Thinking Friend who does not wish to be identified here but said it was OK to post his comments and the responses I have made to him. He began,

    "My comments are based largely on your blog, particularly with the designation "hate groups." Let me explain.

    "(1) The "argument" identifying hate groups is too simple for me. It seems to go something like this. (a) Premise: hate groups include groups that are anti-lesbian and anti gay; (b) the two groups noted are anti-lesbian and anti-gay. (c) ergo, these groups are hate groups. Such an argument, based largely on an authoritative definition, seems to leave little room whatsoever for counter-argument or empirical evidence, once the premise is granted."

    Here is my response to this first point:

    As I understand it, SPLC identifies hate groups as those groups which foster hateful attitudes and/or actions toward people just because of who they are innately: black, white, Jewish, gay/lesbian, etc. All of the hate groups have that in common. The AFA and FRC fall into that category the same as the Ku Klux Klan or the militant Black groups.

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  5. My TF's second point:

    "The rhetoric of the argument is inflammatory, and encourages 'either-or' thinking. 'Hate' represents an extreme position, and doesn't allow for varying degrees of opposition to or support of gays and lesbians. (It reminds me of a gentler but also worrisome rhetorical tactic of claiming that all teasing equals bullying.) I know nothing about the AFA and FRC, but I assume their hostility to homosexuals is not nearly as severe as that of Fred Phelps and his ilk. Even if the AFA and FRC themselves use inflammatory rhetoric, that doesn't justify responding in kind, at least for Christians. I wonder whether it is possible to allow people to hold fundamental positions different from mine without demonizing them (with terms like 'hate groups')--on either side?"

    My response:

    As far as I know, the SPLC does not try to indicate which hate groups are better or worse than others, although they, no doubt, realize that there is a variety in both the attitudes expressed and the actions performed by the groups on their list.

    It would, conceivably, be possible to rank the groups on a scale of, say, 1 to 5, but that would be quite difficult to do conscientiously, it seems to me. So, they simply label as hate groups those groups which exist largely, or to a great degree, to foster hateful attitudes and/or actions toward people just because of who they are innately.

    Sure, this is an either-or division (either a group is a hate group or it isn't), but sometimes an either-or judgment has to be made (either the baseball player trying to steal second base is safe or out).

    The SPLC is "dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society" (from their HP). Other than use of the label "hate group," I don't know that they can justly be charged with "inflammatory rhetoric," and they "demonize" some groups only to the extent that those groups are guilty of hate and bigotry and of causing physical and psychological pain to "the most vulnerable members of society."

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  6. The third comment from the TF:

    "Why pick on the small fry (i.e., AFA and FRC) when picking out 'hate groups,' if the use of such terms is warranted? Why not pick on on the Roman Catholic Church, and virtually all Protestants at least up to the 18th century, and many well beyond this?"

    My response:

    The SPLC would not be supportive of many statements made by the Roman Catholic Church, or many Protestants in the past, but it would be a stretch to say that the RCC or any Protestant group existed primarily, or even largely, for the purpose of fostering hateful attitudes and/or actions toward people just because of who they are innately."

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  7. The fourth (and final) point:

    "I am not yet convinced that the blblical evidence to which you refer (and which you explain in your book) is all that clear in support of homosexuality."

    My response:

    I have not claimed, nor has anyone else that I have read/heard, that the Bible supports homosexuality. (Homosexuality activity as practiced by consenting adults in a loving relationship was probably not known in NT times.) All I state is that the Bible does not condemn homosexuals the way most conservatives/ fundamentalists claim.

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  8. Then I added a comment to my TF, making reference to what I said about Dr. Land's statement (cited above). I wrote there (after that statement) that I have serious doubts that he (Dr. Land) understands correctly what the Bible says about homosexuality.

    Here is why I say that his interpretation of the Bible is probably not correct: if one's understanding/interpretation of the Bible results in demeaning some people because of who they are innately, it is most likely (or maybe almost certainly) erroneous.

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  9. The Bible taken as a literal document is terribly flawed. It promotes slavery, polygamy, and a flat earth. We have relearned how to read it to get around those problems. But then we forget all we have learned when we meet a difficult subject, such as homosexuality. We even forget some of the hard sayings that just might shed a different light that what we expect.

    II Samuel 1:26 flatly announces "David loved Jonathan more than women." This must have been a surprise and frustration to the surprising number of widows who ended up in David's harem. Yet, a long romance between David and Jonathan is there in the text, waiting to be acknowledged. David loved Jonathan more than Bathsheba.

    The prophets tackled the sin of Sodom. Ezekiel 16:49 speaks clearly that the sin of Sodom was that "she was rich, and sated with food, yet had no mercy on the poor." Indeed the story of Sodom in Genesis 19 has a very close parallel in Judges 19 where the offered daughter is accepted, yet nothing is actually better as a result. Whether the victim of a rape is a man or a woman does not matter as to whether the assault is acceptable.

    I am writing this while listening to Matthew Vines, and was surprised to hear him make my next point, just as I was getting ready to write it. Leviticus 18 and 20 ban homosexuality, yet they also ban all kinds of other things, none of which we pay any attention to. Are we to follow commands on how to treat our slaves and our plural wives?

    The problem of homosexuality is not in the Bible, nor in homosexuals, but rather in the rest of us. For we have taken a few verses in a way we would never read much of the rest of Bible, not to achieve a better understanding, but rather to excuse our own prejudice, fear and ignorance. Some are "born eunuchs" and Jesus says "Let anyone accept this who can." (Matthew 19:11-12) In those same verses Jesus even calls them "eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven."

    Perhaps if heterosexuals got the beams out of our own eyes, we could be better neighbors to the homosexuals, and better heterosexuals as well.

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    1. Craig's comments give me a whole new perspective, and I am glad that Leroy featured them in his email today.

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  10. Matthew's message is rather flawed. A flawed interpretation of the Bible, flawed understanding of ancient history and flawed logic. EG he starts out his theological analysis by referring to Matthew 7 as a test of the validity of a teaching, ie the fruit test. But if you look up the passage, it says it's not a test of the validity of a teaching. Rather it's a test of the validity of a prophet. Quite different. More details here: http://stasisonline.wordpress.com/2012/04/10/homosexual-marriage/

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  11. The Bible is a book that can be understood by the layman. One need not have a degree in theology to understand it. One can read it and accept it whole as the truth and revelation of God (with the guidance of the Holy Spirit), or one can choose to reject it.

    What is EXTREMELY dangerous, however, is if you pretend to believe it, and then promote your own philosophy / agenda by twisting the scriptures while under the guise of being a true Christian. This leads many astray. The Bible is also very clear about the serious consequences to the teacher who leads others astray.

    If one, who professes to believe the Bible as God's Word, does not believe the Bible in its entirety, and picks and chooses what to believe and what to discard, then the net effect is that you believe your own take of things is more authoritative than what is PLAINLY written in the Bible. To do this, in effect, is self-deification. You are saying that you know better than God. Sounds like a certain fallen angel, no?

    The matter of homosexuality is clearly not condoned in the Bible. It is condemned. It is not an "alternative lifestyle". It is NOT EQUAL to heterosexuality. Have you ever read anything in the Bible that said heterosexuality was a sin? Of course you haven't.

    People are NOT BORN homosexual. Also, to even dare imply that it can be innate is completely equal to saying that God made his creation flawed and with sin....which, of course is NOT TRUE. Man chose to sin, just as man can chose to engage in deviant sexual behavior or chose to do any other sin.

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  12. Anonymous, I wish you had had the courage to give your name and contact information so I could have responded to you directly.

    Do I assume correctly that you follow, or at least try to follow, all of the purity code of Leviticus in the Old Testament. If not, why not? What is your rationale for picking and choosing what to follow?

    And on what basis do you declare that people are no one is born homosexual? How do you know that? And how do you rebut the "experts" who claim that some people are, in fact, born homosexual?

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  13. People have a right to stand for what they believe is right and should not be labeled as violent or hateful for doing so or else those who stand on the opposing side should also be considered violent and hateful. Hate groups that burn houses, hang people, burn crosses, and beat people...these are violent, hateful people. People who refer to other people as haters, bigots, pharisees, or other horrible names that conservative thinkers have been called for simply taking a stand for what they believe are no less harmful than anything being done to those who are against them. This would make those who support gay rights who belittle those who don't as bullies, and haters just as evil as the KKK...if that is indeed what Christian conservatives are labeled for doing the same thing. Anatomy speaks to what is normal in regards to sexual behavior. Anything that deviates from the normal is considered deviant behavior. It is not wrong to consider same-sex relations as deviating from what is normal. It is not insulting. It is not hateful. It is by definition the truth. Bible or no Bible. Scripture or no scripture. People should not be condemned by other people for this. They should not be mistreated or avoided. But they cannot claim that their choice is not deviating from what is anatomically correct behavior. And they should not try to convince people that they are wrong to see it as deviating or abnormal because our bodies were not made for same sex relations. Penis to Penis will never work...neither will it with two women...it will never reproduce it will never be joined. All the theological explanations and studies can debate on their differences forever but the anatomical part of this remains without argument.

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  14. Read the ten commandments, how many commandments were broken and still are being broken with the bible under the control of Constantine, the pagan Roman king? Scapegoating at it's finest.

    Isn't it convenient that the new testament was under the control and dictation of a Roman king and Jews are to be blamed for Jesus' death even though the Romans crucified him?

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