Redeeming Our Sad Gay Situation
A Christian Response to the Question of Homosexuality
by Christopher Blake
At the time of our encounter, Jack and I didn't know each other well. I lived in a cozy water tower apartment in San Luis Obispo, California. and he lived somewhere across town. Despite our lack of familiarity, we were enjoying a relaxed, meandering conversation; he lounged in my one overstuffed chair. I perched on the edge of my bed.
I had begun my fifth year at a public university, and our talk reflected a world still reeling from Viet Nam and Patty Hearst and Watergate. Suddenly Jack fixed me with a look that communicated a deeper level of intensity,
"You know," he said, I'm gay."
I was stunned. What was that he's said? My thoughts catapulted, and an unnamed terror jolted through me.
"Well," I finally managed with a a tinge of defiance, "I'm not."
Seventeen years later the memory of Jack's revelation still evokes confusing emotions. Was I angry or afraid? Why did I feel somehow betrayed?
Beginning in 1981 a church-sponsored treatment center called Quest Learning Center located in Reading, Pennsylvania, was promoted as the Seventh-day Adventist Church's chief response to homosexuality. In 1985 Quest's director, Colin Cook, appeared on the Phil Donahue Show in connection with Homosexuals Anonymous, a support ministry related to Quest. The response was overwhelming. Over the next 17 hours more than l,3OO calls requesting more information poured into Andrews University's Adventist Information Ministry (AIM).1 We (the church) seemed to be on our way toward dealing with "the problem."
However, tangible results-- meaning documented cases of "cured" homosexuals--still were not appearing. An article in the March 15, 1986, Columbia Union Visitor cautioned, "The church needs considerable patience and sensitivity in its ministry to homosexuals, as well as in judging the results of the Quest program."2 Two months later Cook, an ex-gay, issued a correction to a quote of his from that same issue. He denied that "seeing a handsome man can present a temptation to him" and announced, "I do not experience this kind of temptation today."3
A year later Quest Learning Center was closed. During interviews with Ronald Lawson, a professor of sociology Queens College of the City University of New York, clients of Quest revealed matters that led to its closing.4 Colin Cook later acknowledged in print that he had indulged in very inappropriate physical intimacy with some [his] counselees."5 Although Homosexuals Anonymous continues operating, the ministry of Quest Learning Center ended on a tragic note.
One evidence of the true largeness of a person or an institution is the ability to admit: "I made a mistake. I'm sorry. Here's what I'm going to do, as far as I'm able, to make up for it" And so I waited for my church to issue a proclamation or an apology or something that began: "Though we acted in good faith, we could have made a mistake by suggesting that Quest was the answer to homosexuals' problems. We need to do more for this group of church members. For the future, here are some tangible ways we're going to help homosexuals ..." So I waited, and waited, and waited.
I'm still waiting.
It's spring 1990, and amid budding cherry trees I'm attending a conference titled "Adventists and AIDS: Our Stories, Our Response" at Sligo church in Takoma Park, Maryland.
As a youth magazine editor, I consider myself fairly aware of the AIDS epidemic and its related anguish. What I'm not prepared for at this conference is the pain and hopelessness that pour from the homosexual community in attendance. These aren't angry, profane protesters -- these are hurt-filled, humble people, and most have been wounded by fellow church members.
One young homosexual describes his childhood, when from his first thoughts he knew he was different: he was attracted only to males. Then he points out the absurdity of believing that anyone would choose such an orientation. "Why would I choose to be excluded?" he demands, "Why would I choose to have my family ashamed of me? Would I choose to be subjected to constant persecution? Tell me this," he asks a stunned audience, "When exactly, did you choose to be a heterosexual?" I couldn't say. Can you? An older homosexual man recounts how three Seventh-day Adventist churches denied him membership despite his having been celibate for about 15 years. With tears in his voice, he asks the audience, "How long do I have to be celibate before I can become a member again?"6
I'm in St. Louis, Missouri, in April 1991, at the annual meeting of Adventist Editors International. The AFI members are interviewing Robert Folkenberg, General Conference president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He has just expressed his view that he would appreciate knowing about especially sensitive and controversial articles before they are printed, so that he might provide some broader input. It appears to me that this could be a good time to seek that input.
"All right," I say politely, "INSIGHT is going to he tackling the topic of homosexuality some time in the future. What input do you have for us?" The room is quiet.
Elder Folkenberg states his opinion, then responds to questions for clarification. For my final question I ask, "How should the church treat people who are homosexual but who do not practice their homosexuality?"
He pauses to reflect, then says, "I cannot imagine God condemning someone for overcoming a sinful tendency."
A letter arrives for me at the INSIGHT office. It is written by a Seventh-day Adventist mother of a homosexual. The following excerpts reveal her agonized journey.
Homosexuals. Gays. Lesbians. Queers. Fags. Dykes. Butches. Fairies. Fruits. Femmes. Pansies. Homos. For some people these words roll off the tongue with ease, contempt, and loathing. And fear.
For others who are homosexual, or who know a loved one who is, the words stab and scar with unimaginable force.
The fear for some people emanates principally from the mystery of human sexuality--a confusing, tumultuous, electrifying drive that can leave us breathless with wonder or plagued by guilt. Very simply, we are not quite sure of ourselves in this sex thing. The apostle Paul could have summed up eons of sexual tension with his admission in Romans 7:15: "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."*
In researching this article I've read hundreds of pages of articles, reports, surveys, anecdotes, and testimonials on the subject of homosexuality. I've received input, some of it unsolicited, from dozens of heterosexuals and homosexuals. Upon hearing that we're tackling the subject, people have commented, "I wouldn't touch that one." And "Good luck! You'll need it!" I'm not certain they aren't right in their concern.
This past summer's United States political conventions featured, at least obliquely, the topic of homosexuals, and much rhetoric and plotting and posturing were devoted to the "lavender scare" on the campaign trail. Newsweek screamed on its cover, "Gays Under Fire: What America Thinks." In that issue Morris Chapman, president-elect of the 15 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, was quoted as predicting that "in the 1990s homosexuality will be what the abortion issue has been in the l980s."7 Christianity Today featured an article headlined "Born Gay?" with the subhead "How politics have skewed the debate over the biological causes of homosexuality."8 The Washington Post referred to "17 million plus voting age homosexuals."9
INSIGHT ran a groundbreaking series of three articles on homosexuality, written by Colin Cook. in 1976,10 Since then our most recent major article appeared in 1981, although through advice columns we've answered personal questions on the subject.
It's time to talk again. It's time for awareness and understanding on the subject of homosexuality, and it's time healing, especially.
The following are 12 starting points for understanding homosexuality. 12 conclusions before healing can begin.
There's a difference between being a homosexual and practicing 'homosexuality.
Understanding this difference is crucial in determining our Christian response to homosexuals, As Letha Dawson Scanzoni writes in The Other Side, homosexuals belong to "that minority of persons who find themselves romantically attracted, through no conscious decision of their own. to someone of the same sex. Their orientation is homosexual. To speak of a homosexual orientation is to speak of a way of being and feeling--whether or not those feelings are ever translated into sexual acts."11
Other words used to describe this orientation are "inclination," "inversion," "desires," and "outlook." All of these are apart from actions or behavior. "It's like telling me I can't have green eyes," one homosexual says. "The color of my eyes is simply a natural part of me. Oh, I could cover them up for a while, wear blue or brown contacts, but that wouldn't change the reality. My eyes are green, and my sexual orientation is gay."
The repeated theme one hears from homosexuals is this: "From my earliest memories, I always knew I was different." Their secret crushes and sexual arousals focus on persons of the same sex, and they often felt confused and trapped by their feelings.
I talked with Larry, a homosexual who told me that to him the thought of sex between a male and a female was just as disgusting as is the thought to me of sex between two males. That perspective astounded me. I'd never considered it before (maybe you hadn't either).
Nobody chooses to be homosexual.
People may choose to engage in or not engage in homosexual acts, but sexual orientation, as defined earlier, is not a matter of choice. In this respect the term sexual preference is a misnomer.
The exact causes of homosexuality are unknown. Many single cause theories abound, but in general homosexuality is "likely to be the result of an in interaction of several different factors, including genetic, hormonal and environmental actors."12
Recently much media attenti6n has been focused on the findings of Dr. Simon LeVay, a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute of La Jolla, California."13 Dr. LeVay examined the brains of 41 cadavers, 19 of which belonged to homosexual men, and found that a cluster of neurons in the hypothalamus, which is believed to govern sexual activity. is on average smaller in homosexual men than in heterosexual men.14
For centuries the "nature versus nurture" debate on the cause of homosexuality has fueled fires in science and society, and at first glance this discovery would appear to point to a genetic origin for homosexuality. But LeVay's work will do little to douse the flames until other questions are answered. As just one example, does the size of this cluster determine homosexuality, or does homosexuality determine its size? Nobody knows. Even LeVay admits his study leaves key questions unanswered.15 William Byrne. resident of psychiatry at Columbia University's College of Physicians and surgeons, comments: If you look at any one piece of that evidence, it is inconclusive. It's like trying to add up a hundred zeros so you can get one." Richard Nakamura of the Internal Institute of Mental Health echoes the majority of scientific opinion by concluding, "it will take a much larger effort to be convinced that there is a link between this structure and homosexuality."16
Why is the origin of homosexuality such a charged topic? At the heart of the controversy is this: Is homosexuality a changeable condition or not? If the root causes are strictly genetic, the chances for change are comparable to changing a leopard's spots. If the environmental context caused the condition, then changing the "environment"--even if it's the paneling of a mind--is a process that can effect change.
However, subscribing to an either/or approach can create overdeveloped conclusions. The genetics theory may lead some to believe that fate, or God's will, mandated the homosexual orientation. This in turn could he interpreted to mean that nothing substantive can be (or should be) done about it.
The environmental theory can leave parents of homosexuals having great sighs of remorse. Maybe I was a dominant or binding mother. Maybe I was a harsh or distant father. Maybe I didn't buy the right brand of breakfast cereal. The guilt index can rocket through the roof.
Moreover, homosexuals themselves may grapple with oppressive guilt over their part in their sexual orientation. In that sense, however, nature versus nurture becomes a moot question. Whether a person is born with the orientation or it develops as a result of his or her upbringing or it's a complex combination of both (which is most likely), it is not a matter of choice.
A child chooses neither how she is born nor how he is raised. We shouldn't hold a person responsible for her or his sexual orientation any more than we hold a person responsible for skin color (nature) or how a preschooler is dressed (nurture). Blaming the homosexual for his or her sexual orientation is both wrong-spirited and wrong.
"How many people are homosexual?" is widely disputed.
The Washington Times says "10 percent of American men are homosexual and 5 percent of women are lesbian (Nov. 19, 1991). USA Today refers to 25 million gay men and lesbians (Nov, 13, 1991), based on 250 million population in the United States. The American Psychological Association claims that homosexuality is "an orientation found consistently in about 10 percent of the male population and approximately 5 percent of the female population."17 The famous figure of 10 percent is often cited when referring to numbers of homosexuals in the United States. Where does this figure originate?
The figure comes from a study conducted in the 1940s. In 1948 Dr. Alfred Kinsey and others published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, in which they cited the 10 percent figure based on their findings. What is not generally acknowledged, however, is that their study was seriously flawed.
In addition, contrary to what is often reported, the study did not contend that 10 percent of the U.S. population was homosexual. Rather, Kinsey's conclusion was that "10 percent of White American males were 'more or less' exclusively homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 65.
The statistic for females was 5 percent. The actual percentage of those thought to be exclusively homosexual for their entire lives was only 4 percent of men and 2 or 3 percent of women."21 This was all based on his allegedly representative sample of the population.
Other studies have been recently conducted with different results. One study conducted between 1984 and 1987 by David Forman, senior staff scientist at the Radcliffe Infirmary (Oxford. England), found that only 1.7 percent of men in the sample had ever had homosexual intercourse.22 And a 1989 study conducted at the University of Chicago resulted in a figure "less than 1 percent exclusively homosexual."23
What is "exclusively homosexual"? Kinsey developed the "Kinsey Scale of heterosexuality and Homosexuality," a scale that runs from 0 (zero) to 6. Category 0 includes all people who are exclusively heterosexual in experience and attraction. Category 6 represents those who are exclusively homosexual in experience and attraction. The remaining categories are in between, in differing degrees.24
In one sense, knowing the most accurate figures possible matters a great deal. Understanding how many people are likely to experience a homosexual orientation makes us better able to respond to groups and to individuals.
In another sense the numbers don't matter. Whether in this one country there are 25 million or 4 million homosexuals, as with any human beings, they all need and deserve our attention.
Many gays are not gay about their sexual orientation.
I wrestled with terminology in this article, i.e., Should I use the term gays to refer to both male and female homosexuals, or the politically correct terms gays and 1esbians? And should I call heterosexuals straight? No, I decided, too much is implied there. A heterosexual can be crooked in a thousand ways.
Really, many gays aren't gay in the sense of carefree happiness; they can in many cases be characterized as frustrated, angry, alienated and depressed by their situation. (Of course, heterosexual people can be frustrated. angry, alienated, and depressed. too.)
Strict literalness may not be called for -- most Blacks aren't black, and Whites are not white. Still, the term gay in itself appears as a self-enclosed irony, an entombed oxymoron. Tim Stafford writes, "Over 15 years ago I started a column on love and sex for Campus Life, a Christian youth magazine. Among the letters I received was a steady stream from young people who felt sexually attracted to their own gender. Nobody could express more fear and despair. They wanted to be Christians yet feared they were damned."23
Homosexual men are six times more likely to have attempted suicide than heterosexual men. Studies also indicate that at least 25 percent of homosexual men and women are alcoholics (the national average is 7 percent).26 These statistics may say as much about heterosexuals as they do about homosexuals. Sick people in the "straight" community have long been bent on guaranteeing that life for homosexuals is a living hell.
The religious community hasn't always helped in the understanding and healing process either. Pastors, ignorant as to the nature of homosexuality, write off their homosexual parishioners as basically bad people, destined to be eternally lost.27 Is it any great wonder that homosexuals lose hope and turn to suicide?
"Gay bashing" is never acceptable, especially for Christians. From Newsweek (Sept.14. 1992):
In mid-article a half-page photo spotlights a large placard bearing the message GOD HATES FAGS--LEV. 18:22.
Does He? Not too long ago a Seventh-day Adventist college newspaper published an article in which 12 students were asked. "How should we as Adventists deal with homosexuality?" The responses astonished me. From four of the students emerged: "They should not be a part of our church"; "Send them to Canada"; "Castrate them"; and "Shoot them."
What do such responses say about us? What do they say about our God'?
When we speak of gay bashing, we must define what it is and what it is not. Gay bashing is more than simply disagreeing with "gay rights," for the not-so-simple reason that gay rights can mean granting equal access to job opportunities, and it can mean making homosexual marriages legal. We may be both for and against gay rights. And merely disagreeing with an issue does not constitute bashing. Bashing is attacking in a hostile, virulent way.
As Newsweek reports, most people are "torn between a basic impulse to be tolerant and a visceral discomfort with gay culture."28 The Christian community especially is torn, because we want to do what's right, to be loving and compassionate, and we want to do what's right in the eyes of our loving, compassionate God. This same God communicated, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Leviticus 18:22), and "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again" (John 8:11).
It's the classic challenge of "reject the sin, not the sinner." We reject promiscuity. We reject immorality in any form. We do not reject homosexuals. Separating the sinner from the sin is difficult, but we must do it. And we must continue battling against sin, because ultimately it hurts people.
Christians should be at the forefront in protecting the rights of minorities, whether they are orphans and widows (see James 1:27), or the homeless, aged, educated, unborn, unattractive. The issue is really human rights, not gay rights. We are here to protect basic human rights for everyone.
What rights should we as Christians guarantee for homosexuals? "The right to have a job without losing it and the right to walk down the street without getting beaten up would be a good start, says Gregory King of the Human Rights Campaign Fund."29
The right to be treated as a fellow child of God is another.
Many fears about homosexuality are irrational.
Sometimes through accurate information homophobia (an irrational fear or hatred of homosexuals) can be cured and fears allayed, particularly through two understandings.
a. If you aren't sure if you are a homosexual or not, the far greater odds are that you're not. Don't let the prospect petrify you. True homosexuals know they are different, as shown in the earlier portion of this article (they have secret crushes on persons of their own sex, etc.).
Sometimes a person can have a homosexual experience and agonize about his or her sexuality as a result. Dr. G. Keith Olson, a Christian marriage and family counselor and the author of Counseling Teenagers, writes, "Many young people experiment with sex in a variety of ways, often homosexual.... One experimental event during puberty certainly doesn't mean you're gay.... Guys often suffer from what's called homosexual panic.... Panic about being gay, however, has nothing to do with whether a person really homosexual."30
Moreover, an absence of sexual attraction for the opposite sex doesn't make you a homosexual. You may simply not have strong sexual desires. Perhaps, as does happen, only one person -- literally -- can "light your fire." Consider yourself blessed if that person becomes your partner in marriage.
b. Homosexuals are not by nature necessarily promiscuous or child molesters.
Homosexuals can be trusted around children with the same caution one takes with all heterosexuals, especially males. And like heterosexuals, homosexuals are not attracted indiscriminately to every person of their sex.
Some statistics show that high percentages of homosexual males have had multiple sexual partners but this may not say anything about the nature of homosexuality. By comparison, lots of professional athletes are promiscuous, but they are that way based on lifestyle choices -- they are not that way by nature. No responsible homosexual (yes, they do exist) advocates promiscuity or attempting to change anyone's orientation -- child, adolescent, or adult -- to homosexuality.
Few homosexuals are parading militants.
The gay nineties aren't what they used to be, to be sure, yet what is portrayed via mass media isn't typical of homosexuals either. Consider one complaint as it appeared in an Ann Landers' advice column, October 12, 1992:
Ann Landers responded:
Homosexuals are found in all walks of life. Many are respected teachers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, plumbers. secretaries, and city planners. Many are or have been married. To equate all homosexuals with a few militant and obnoxious ACT UP people is as wrong as portraying all Americans as arrogant, or equating all Christians with those the media refers to disparagingly as the "religious right."
Changing one's homosexual orientation is difficult and rare.
The realm of homosexual "change ministries" is riddled with claims and counter-claims. Exodus International and other ex-gay ministries believe that homosexuality can be altered. They quote psychiatrists and researchers to support their assertions:
On the other hand, critics charge that these claims are largely unsupported, and that change ministries set up homosexuals for failure and despair. Michael Bussee helped organize the first Exodus conference, but four years later he left his wife and daughter to live with another ex-gay. Bussee says the term ex-gay is deceptive. "It conjures up in people's minds the idea that a person has actually gone from gay to straight,. and they have stopped having gay feelings." He suggests this creates "false hope."35
Critics of the ex-gay movement contend that far more ex-ex-gays exist than ex-gays; that it's only a matter of time before homosexuals abandon their efforts to change their homosexuality. If so many people have been cured, they ask, where are they? Why aren't they queuing up by the thousands to trumpet their testimonies?
In a superb article in Christianity Today, Tim Stafford asked leaders of Exodus why they didn't talk more about "cure rate" statistics. He said he could feel the discomfort level rise. "But then someone asked what the general 'cure rate' for the church was. How many Christians really overcome the patterns they have grown up with -- patterns of pride, or fear, or arrogance?"36 Like other Christians, perhaps ex-gays are blending into churches and are reticent to disclose their pasts.
Few in the homosexual change ministries claim that curing homosexual orientation is the norm. Even using the term cured -- as though finding relief from a cold -- is not encouraged. Instead the words often mentioned are "process," "growth," "becoming," "healing," "discipling," and "gradual." Colin Cook remarked in l997, "It may surprise many people to know that change of orientation was never a major issue at Quest, but rather a releasing from life dominance. It was the Pro-gays that introduced the controversy of orientation change "37
Perhaps there is a difference between curing and healing. Healing is often a fresh pathway, an altered trajectory, not instant deliverance. For people with a homosexual orientation, it isn't a matter of "just control yourself"' until you're "heterosexualized." Think of it this way: How long would it take for you to "just control yourself" before you became "homosexualized"? Going the other way probably isn't much easier.
9. Homosexuals can be genuine, model Christians.
A model Christian exhibits the fruit of the Spirit, as listed in Galatians 5: "love, joy, peace. patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law" (verses 22, 23), Then comes verse 24: "And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."
Can these texts describe a homosexual? (Can they describe a heterosexual?) Remember that God does not save people in varying ways, "But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:3). We are all sinners; Christ died for all of us; we are all saved through Christ.
Robert Folkenberg remarked, "I cannot imagine God condemning someone for overcoming a sinful tendency." The crux lies in the overcoming, or as Paul put it, the crucifying. We can battle against gossip or envy or pride or impurity or cowardice or laziness or love of money all our lives and still be model Christians, because we are overcoming and because we point people constantly to the model, Christ. Similarly, homosexuals may battle against their orientation all their lives and be model Christians the entire way.
"Ah," we say, "but if they are Christians, they must give up their homosexual lifestyle." When we say that, what do we really mean? A homosexual writes, "I find that the words 'gay culture' are often used as a shorthand way to conjure negative images of our lives. My experience of gay culture includes, among other things: poetry, music, literature, theater, sports, humor, and politics. My understanding of heterosexual culture includes, among other things: domestic violence, abortion, rape, and sexual harassment. My point is to look at only one side is mean-spirited and inaccurate."
If by "homosexual lifestyle" we mean "having sex with persons of their own sex," that's one thing. But there's more to a lifestyle than sex. Not everything a homosexual person does is immoral. My sexual orientation does not make everything I do either right or wrong. We should take care never to communicate Christian disapproval of a lifestyle strictly on the basis of taste or personality preference.
As I see it, God didn't create homosexuality, as He didn't create loneliness or disabilities. But God loves homosexuals just as they are now. His grace already covers them. And He expects them, as He expects everyone to grow in His grace and to follow His leading. We should not ask for more. Or for less.
10. Being a homosexual is not a sin.
Our church does not regard the condition of homosexuality to be a sin for which one must give an accounting to God. The Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual under the section "Social Relationships," p 147 states that "homosexual practices and lesbian practices are among the obvious perversions of God's original plan." Seventh-day Adventists Believe...continues the thought. "Scripture condemns homosexual practices in strongly negative terms (Gen. 19:4-10; cf. Jude 7,8; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom 1:26-28; 1 Tim. 1:8-10). Practices of this type produce a serious distortion of the image of God in men and women" (p.303).
I looked through Index to the Writings of Ellen G. White for words on homosexuality. Amazingly, with hundreds of references on other topics, including roughly 150 entries on criticism, I could not find any specific counsel on homosexuality.
"Perverse" is defined as "willfully deviating from acceptable or conventional behavior." I found nine entries in the Index under "perversity." including:
The church's distinction between condition and practices underscores our first understanding of the difference between being a homosexual and practicing homosexuality. A person is not a contemptible pervert for being a homosexual any more than we are all perverted and retarded compared to the Creator's original design. Ellen White's counsels on perversity apply to you and me, whatever our sexual orientation.
Some have said that being a homosexual is a sin because it is "unnatural." The phrase "God originally created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" is used to highlight a crucial point, namely, homosexuality isn't how God intended the two genders to coexist.
From there people imply that what is natural is good, and what is not natural is not good. (After all, aren't we supposed to eat natural foods?) Yet homosexuals claim they have felt "natural" sexual feelings toward the same sex all their lives. Furthermore, if claims for a biological origin of homosexuality turn out to be true, some would argue this proves the condition is natural.
But natural doesn't necessarily mean good. As Richard Lovelace writes in his book Homosexuality and the Church: "An appeal to nature proves nothing in a fallen world." By the same token, unnatural doesn't necessarily mean bad. Adoption agencies, eyeglasses, pasta, airplanes, and compact disks weren't in God's original creation either.
The danger here for the homosexual is that hearing "You're not normal" translates to "You're a freak" -- and then suicidal depression descends. What needs to be communicated is this: We're all born with natural sinful tendencies. Every human being is naturally unnatural, for one reason or another, and we must battle different natural tendencies that would rip us from the Father and rip up those we should love. "So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members" (Romans 7:21-23).
We cannot condone homosexual sexual activity. Homosexual sexual activity is sinful -- it is apart from God's will. Yet a difference exists between the person who fights against homosexual tendencies and the one who experiments with or revels in them. It's a sin to cave in to temptation. It's not a sin to be tempted.
Sexual acts are charged with meaning because they involve our very beings. "Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body" (I Corinthians 6:18). Which brings us to what we've always said in INSIGHT: Be careful with your sexuality. It's powerful. Like electricity the power can be life-enhancing or life-destroying. Only when we are able to control it does it become good for us.
11. There is no scriptural support for practicing homosexuality.
As Seventh-day Adventists we believe the Bible to be God's thoughts communicated in human language. Read any of the biblical texts that mention homosexual acts. Not one says homosexuality is in God's plan for humanity. The Bible refers to obviously condoned sexual relations solely in terms of heterosexuality (see, for example, Genesis 2, Song of Solomon, Ephesians 5).
Other texts condemn homosexual sexual acts (see Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:24-27; other possible applications may include I Corinthians 6:9-Il. I Timothy 1:8-1l. and Jude 7). Without going into great detail, we should note that some theologians find these last texts to be obscure, and that the Leviticus and Romans texts refer to the abuse of homosexuality, to homosexual promiscuity, rape, or prostitution, and not to the homosexual sexual orientation. They point out that biblical condemnations against similar heterosexual acts are even more plentiful, and conclude that "a simplistic English reading of the few scriptural references to homosexual acts do not suffice to determine the Lord's will for homosexual persons today."38 Still the fact remains that these scholars cannot, without resorting to strained speculations, find in the Bible license or praise for, or even one word of counsel on, homosexual relationships.
The Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists commissioned a book to be written by Ron Springett, professor of religion at Southern College, on homosexuality. Published in 1988, Homosexuality in History and in the Scriptures provides a thorough treatment of historical and biblical perspectives on homosexuality.39 In the book Dr. Springett examines "the claims made in much of the 'gay' literature," and also looks at other texts "used by overzealous Christians bent on finding condemnation of homosexuality throughout Scripture."40
Dr. Springett concludes the book with these words: "The church must accept the individual of homosexual orientation who needs help and support and [who] struggles against same-sex tendencies. But those who insist on and promote the active homosexual lifestyle as normal, natural, or even superior to heterosexual relations by that very act disregard the sole authority upon which the church's very existence and mission is based, namely, the Scriptures."
12. The problem won't just go away.
Whether people suffer silently with it, ignore its existence, or rage against it, the question of homosexuality remains. In some Christian denominations the issue has reached epic proportions.
Rebecca Ruth Richards was a minister in the United Methodist church until 1990, when she surrendered her credentials on the basis of her homosexuality. In June of that year she was granted an opportunity to address the Annual Conference Executive Session, and said in part:
The text of her speech continues under a banner that reads: "Homosexuality: A Difficult Issue for United Methodists."
It's been a difficult issue for Seventh-day Adventists, too. The issue doesn't just "go away" because we want it to, because people don't just "go away." Even if they leave our congregations, even if they wander through waterless climes or grope for a mythical success ladder, people are still here on this planet, still needing the fellowship of the Spirit, still longing for unconditional love, still connected by invisible threads to Christ's body. And the problem remains.
Healing is called for. Radical fringes of homosexuality have enraged people. Reactionary fringes of heterosexuality have hurt people. Those not on the fringes are left enraged, hurt, and torn.
Where does that leave us?
Though ultimately incomplete, comparisons to other conditions in life can enable us to find healing approaches to homosexuality.
Analogy A. Although the homosexual community dislikes the analogy,42 alcoholism exhibits some resemblance to homosexuality in that it remains a lifelong characteristic, apart from behavior.
Moreover, science may have discovered some genetic similarities. "In the fall of 1991 (around the same time as LeVay's results were published), researchers at the City of Hope Medical Center found a certain gene to be present in 77 per cent of alcoholics who were studied, yet absent in 72 percent of the nonalcoholics also studied. This presented significant evidence for a genetic predisposition toward alcoholism. "43
As many understand it, a true alcoholic is never cured. The predisposition is always intact; the temptation remains. But through programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, alcoholics have been healed by the millions.
Analogy B. Some people view homosexuality as a type of handicap. While persons are born with or develop physical handicaps, homosexuals have a sexual handicap. While others are physically challenged, homosexuals are sexually challenged, although many contend that more may be involved Dr. Elizabeth Moberly leads a school of thought that believes, "it is misleading to assume that the homosexual condition is essentially sexual, and to evaluate it as such. The homosexual condition -- although often an occasion for sexual expression -- is in itself a state of unfulfilled developmental needs "44
Being handicapped is not a sin, as Jesus showed magnificently in John 9. Jesus doesn't cure all disabilities today. He does heal today -- mentally, emotionally. and spiritually -- even when a physical cure isn't evident.
Philip Yancey writes, "I sometimes threaten to produce my own line of get-well cards. I already have an idea for the first one. The cover would read in huge letters, perhaps with fireworks in the background, 'CONGRATULATIONS!' Then inside, the message: '...to the 98 trillion cells in your body that are still working smoothly and efficiently.'"
An, alternative perspective considers homosexuality not as sickness such as alcoholism, nor as a handicap such as blindness, but as an eccentricity such as left-handedness. The left-handed comparison assumes that either sexual behavior-heterosexual or homosexual -- can be "all right."
But the Bible doesn't mention any "all right" homosexual sexual behavior. If nothing is wrong with homosexuality, there's no need to be healed from it. And according to the Bible, that perspective is illusory.
Analogy C. Many people compare the sexual condition of homosexuals to that of singles. Whether divorced, widowed, or never married, Christian singles are to remain celibate, abstaining from sexual intercourse.
This is where for many in the Christian community the big debate resides. Paul referred to celibacy as a gift: "I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do" (1 Cor. 7:7,8). Has God given the gift of celibacy to all homosexuals?
It may sound arrogant and self-serving for me, a joyously married heterosexual, to state that homosexuals should stay celibate, but we advocate precisely the same state for singles. (And all singles don't have a choice in getting married. We should avoid using heterosexual relationships -- even marriage -- as a "cure" for homosexuality, anyway. Such an approach leads to fractured lives.) As is the case with singles, this is different from advocating a life of loneliness, or even aloneness.
Christian homosexuals say that the nub of the problem is not promiscuity -- we're all in the same boat up to marriage. Chastity is required of all singles. The nub to them -- using their phrasing -- is this: Is it all right for homosexuals to enter into a loving, committed relationship (read "marriage") with a person of the same sex?
There is, of course, a sense of completion and bonding in human sexual intercourse that is not found elsewhere, and God intended it so. But Americans especially tend to overestimate the importance of sexual activity. Marlene Dietrich put it this way: "With Americans sex is an obsession. With the rest of the world it is a fact." This obsession is in part a result of Americans' worship of the entertainment industry.
More to the point, as long as "straight" people buy and spread the message that we cannot really live without sexual gratification, then homosexuals are going to feel that it is an inherent human right. As Tim Stafford comments, this is an argument that "makes some sense in our modern therapeutic society, but none at all in biblical thinking: the claim that desires -- particularly sexual desires -- have a fundamental claim on us and that those who cannot fulfill their desires must be unfulfilled."45
Stafford also points out that "the Big Lie of the sexual freedom revolution is that you have to follow your sexual preference (whatever it is), that you have no choice. If I fall in love with someone, it's inevitable we'll end up in bed....
"But this is sheer nonsense.... One difference between human beings and animals is that we can control our sexuality; it doesn't have to control us."46
Perhaps this is what Paul meant when he wrote, "I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content" (Philippians 4:11).
In the end, true and total healing comes from God's unconditional love and forgiveness toward us, His fallen, failing children. It also involves radiating God's unconditional love and His Holy Spirit of forgiveness to others. We are all healed in working toward the healing of others. "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of godliness. Look to yourself, lest you to be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 5:26-6:2).
The Seventh-day Adventist Church can reach out in practical, new ways to help homosexuals. Task forces, seminars, communiqués. brochures, and streamlined referral service to responsible support ministries are a start.47 Churches compound the problem of homosexuality when they provide nowhere to go and no one to talk to. Churches and church members ideally should be the first place homosexuals want to go to, not the last.
Cruel and uneducated comments also demoralize the parents of homosexuals. Enough pain already exists for them without our adding to it. Many of us have become conceited not realizing that "homosexual sins are not a special category meriting our hatred and disgust."48
The good news is that we can do our part in relieving the pain, and in promoting the healing process. We must distinguish between the state of being a homosexual and being a sexually active homosexual, between the orientation and the practice. We must understand that acceptance does not mean agreement. And we must not allow the world's irrational fears to dominate us. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2). When we are thus transformed, we know that the will of God is to defend and hearten people who are on the fringes. In characterizing the fringes of society, we may at once think of the poor, the handicapped, the elderly. Let us enlarge our vision to include the singles, the emotionally addicted, the homosexuals.
I didn't want to write this article. For a long time I put it off. And I don't intend now to become a spokesperson for homosexuals: for me this is not an all-consuming platform. I'm telling you this because (probably like you) I wasn't naturally drawn to this topic, but heard too many desperate, heartbreaking cries in the wideness of our church to ignore them.
It is our duty -- mine and yours -- to alleviate suffering and to generate awareness, spawn understanding, and foster healing where we can, even when we are not "naturally drawn" to do so. To encourage, uphold, and point to our all-sufficient King when others are fearful is also more than our Christian duty -- it is our joy.
Homosexuals, as long as they are not practicing homosexuals, can be members in good and regular standing of any Seventh-day Adventist church. They can hold church offices. If an alcoholic who never drinks alcohol can hold any church office, a homosexual who never practices homosexuality can hold any church office.
Did we go too far? Please consider this: susceptibility is not a valid reason for exclusion. Imagine what would happen if all who were susceptible to the sin of pride -- the very first sin, the very worst sin -- were excluded from the ordained ministry. How many pastors would be out of their profession? Many people succumb to the sin of pride when discussing homosexuality. Or when discussing pride, for that matter.
My fervent hope and prayer is that our church accept people with homosexual tendencies into our midst, that we will be known truly as Christ's disciples: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). May God rain His mercy on us.
Finally, if Jesus hung around with prostitutes, lepers, and tax collectors, would He hang around with homosexuals? with lesbians, gays, "faggots" and "queers"?
You know the answer as well as I do. Yes, He would.
And yes, He does.
Overcoming Prejudices Against Homosexuals
You may be battling against homophobic prejudice, or know someone who is (or who should be). These four directions will help.
If You Know You Are Homosexual...
If you are homosexual, please don't give up hope. Contacting one of the organizations recommended in the Healing Ministries sidebar will put you in touch with people who can help you.
For immediate help, one approach to healing is found a refocusing on a new identity inn Christ
For example, people who have a tendency to tell lies must develop a new sense of identity. one that frees them from feeling helpless or hopeless. They must not think, I am a liar. Instead they say, "I do have tendency to deceive But I am in Christ and Christ is in me, the hope of Glory" see Colossians 1:27. This allows for a change in identity. Saul became Paul, even though he was still the "chief of sinners." We are Christians before we are anything else -- male, female, Brown, Black, White, fat, skinny, blind, seeing, scared, or fearless. And Christ's love toward us is unconditional -- that means no matter what our condition is. Even if we slip up, we never slip out of His love. That's how God is.
Now that you have this new identity, even though you have these tendencies, you recognize that you are first a Christian. You must believe, "I am not just 'a homosexual.' I am a person with homosexual tendencies. Most important, I am a Christian; I am accepted through Christ; I am 'dead to sin' but 'alive to God in Christ Jesus' (Romans 6:11); I am God's child." This allows for a change in identity.
God has not cursed you. If anyone is cursed, it is Jesus, God's Son: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us." (Galatians 3:13).
"Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:4,5).
Good, glorious, liberating news! Let it inform and sustain your every breath.
To change any behavior -- whether promiscuity or gossip or whatever -- it must be crowded out with good. Jesus spoke of this when He referred to an unclean spirit returning to its "house," finding it empty, and bringing with him seven more spirits more evil than himself (see Matthew 12:43-45).
Unwanted behavior is not eliminated by concentrating on it. This is like staring into the bright headlights of an oncoming car; we either turn into its path or steer off the road. What's needed is to keep our eyes on the road, not on the bright lights. What's needed is not to try to rid ourselves of sin, but to fill our life with God's Spirit, with unselfish, joyous acts of service. We tend to lose sight of our sinful tendencies when we gain sight of the kingdom of heaven.
"Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:12-14).
This article was first published in the December 5, 1992 issue of Insight magazine.