The Church and Homosexuality


[1] After attending a study group using the ELCA study guide Journey Together Faithfully: The Church and Homosexuality at Advent Lutheran in Arlington, TX, I felt as Dennis Bielfeldt (2003) did when he wrote:

"While I believe Journey Together does fairly describe the different voices and positions within the ELCA on this controversial issue, I find it neither particularly helps readers arrive at justifiable views, nor effectively aids the institution of the ELCA in coming to a responsible and defensible position."

[2] I certainly had a viewpoint on all the topics addressed in Journey, and this contribution is an attempt to express part of that viewpoint as a defensible position. I have assumed that statements by Jesus in the Gospels outweigh rules and judgments found elsewhere in the Old and New Testaments and that those rules and judgments must be evaluated in light of Jesus' moral principles as applied to 21st century western culture.

[3] Jesus' moral principles are simple, the application difficult: "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27); "always treat others as you would like them to treat you" (Matthew 7:12); and "forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Luke 6:37).

[4] Jesus was an iconoclast as he applied these principles of love and forgiveness, and broke biblical rules and laws when they violated his principles. He rejected the law of revenge in Leviticus 24:19-22 (Matthew 5:38-42). He rejected the death penalty for adultery in Leviticus 20: 10-11 and in Deuteronomy 22:22 (John 8:3-11). He condoned violations of the commandment to remember the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8).

[5] The application of Jesus' ethic to sex and coupling, whether hetero- or homosexual, can never produce universal rules, but there are some generalizations that can be made with a few assumptions about how most humans want to be treated. For example, most people want others to:

tell them the truth;
keep promises;
help in an emergency.

[6] Homosexual sex doesn't violate Jesus' principles of unconditional love and forgiveness any more than heterosexual sex does. Both homosexuals and heterosexuals deceive and manipulate each other, both have committed long term relationships, and both engage in prostitution, fornication and adultery. Using Jesus' ethic, heterosexual sex is moral when it involves unconditional love, when it is free from deceit and manipulation and when any resulting children are loved and cared for. Using that ethic, homosexual sex is also moral under the same circumstances. There is no reason to believe that homosexuals as a class are any more deceitful and manipulative than heterosexuals are. Deceit, manipulation and self interest are part of everyone's nature.

[7] Because Jesus always judged cultural and biblical rules and laws using his principles of love and forgiveness, and rejected biblical rules that violated those principles, his followers are obligated to do the same. Those who say homosexual behavior is morally wrong in principle and should not be tolerated in the church must justify that judgment in terms of the principles of love and forgiveness. We cannot rely on St. Paul to do that for us in the 21st century.

[8] For example, St Paul had no language to comprehend the possibility of a genetic basis of homosexuality. Most Christians today reject St. Paul's moral standards concerning the behavior of women and what they should wear primarily because those standards violate Jesus' principles applied to women in the 21st century. Most modern Christians conclude that slavery always violates Jesus moral principles and do not agree with St. Paul's live-and-let-live tolerance of it. St. Paul's condemnation of homosexual behavior must be examined in light of Jesus' principles as they apply in our culture, and not just blindly followed.

[9] Even more compelling is that most Christians today accept divorce and remarriage in spite of Jesus' explicit judgment that it is adultery (Mt 19: 3-9). Presumably, Christians forgive and accept it because allowing a second or third chance is the loving thing to do. If heterosexual Christians can forgive and accept adultery among their remarried brothers and sisters, it smells like hypocrisy to deny sexual companionship and even marriage to their gay brothers and sisters. If heterosexual Christians can manage to get around Jesus' judgments, they certainly ought to be able to get around St Paul's.

[10] No matter what our sexual orientation, none are free from the often unconscious deceit and manipulation wired into our nature. While Jesus' ethic demands that humans reject our natural compulsion and love our neighbors unconditionally, it also recognizes that all humans are deceitful, manipulative and egotistical, and that we must forgive our neighbor's deceit and manipulation if we expect our own to be forgiven. Gays need to forgive and be forgiven, not because they are gay, but because they are so much like straights: neither loves their neighbor unconditionally, and both practice sexual deceit and manipulation.

Bielfeldt, Dennis. 2003. Journeying Together and Faithfully?: Journal of Lutheran Ethics, 3, no. 12 (Dec).



© August 2004
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 4, Issue 8