Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

GLBT Persons in Church: Case for Full Inclusion, 3

This post should be the one on the Sodom and Gomorrha story and I hope to get to that before the weekend is out. But comments from my last post have led me to decide first to map out current theological/ethical views on “homosexuality,” so that people can see the range of views “out there,” and what I mean by arguing for “full inclusion.” This might help with some questions asked about what kind of treatment GLBT people should receive by those who, nevertheless, consider their behavior sinful. I’ll return to these issues after we examine the biblical texts used most often in these arguments.

There are five (5) typical positions or views about “homosexuality,” in the churches, each comparing this analogically to another issue. These range from the most punitive judgments to the most affirming. In this 5-fold scheme “homosexuality,” as a sexual orientation is:

  1. Deeply Immoral: a paradigmatic sign of the brokeness of the Creation. Same-sex sexual orientation is evil and the gay, lesbian, or bi-sexual person is personally culpable for not only their actions, but their desires, attractions, etc. A complete sexual reorientation is required as part of repentance and conversion. The church should not bless same-sex unions nor ordain homosexuals at all. Same-sex orientation reflects hatred of the opposite sex, is a perversion of natural (created) behavior and both legal and social discrimination is justified.
  2. Like Alcoholism: a greater, but not paradigmatic sign of the brokeness of the Creation. Same-sex orientation is a disease, so there is little personal culpability for desires, etc., but is culpability for actions. Gay or lesbian unions are more evil than enforced life-long celibacy/abstinence. The church should not bless same-sex unions and should ordain only closeted and totally abstinent gays or lesbians. Like alcoholism, homosexual orientation is incurable, so gays and lesbians must abstain from sexual activity (like being sober). This is viewed as morally identical to forbidding sexual activity to single heterosexuals. Since only homosexual ACTIONS are sinful, glbt persons should not be punished through discrimination in housing, workplace, etc.
  3. Like Blindness: a lesser sign of the brokeness of the Creation. Homosexual orientation, in this view, is a defect, so there is no culpability–any more than someone born blind or lame would be culpable. Since sexuality is deeply a part of the human person and celibacy a special spiritual gift and calling, gay or lesbian unions are less evil than enforced lifelong abstinence, which is an unreasonable expectation. Holders of this view vary regarding whether the church may or may not bless unions (or simply tacitly accept them) or ordain chaste, closeted gay people. This perspective views closeted unions as a way of coping with the defect–like learning to live with blindness. This is a compromise with the broken or fallen nature of the world– a recognition that the full healing of New Creation has not yet come.
  4. Like Color Blindness (that’s colour blindness for British or Commonwealth readers): not quite the fullness of God’s blessing; an imperfection. There is no personal culpability for the orientation. Both same-sex unions AND abstinence fall short of God’s ideal. The church should bless unions privately and ordain chaste, closeted gays and lesbians. Homosexuality is a minor manifestation of fallenness/brokenness–not the ideal. Just as color blind people choose to see rather than close their eyes, so gay or lesbian people choose to engage in imperfect expressions of sexuality rather than repress such a vital part of their humanness. Celibacy requires a special gift of the Spirit. People who hold this view believe God calls people to an appropriate fulfilling of their sexual identity–so abstinence cannot model appropriate sexual behavior for those not specially gifted and called. Small, private blessings (like some churches do with second marriages) are allowed. All forms of discrimination in society are opposed.
  5. Like Left-Handedness: part of God’s original blessing; a variation. The issue of culpability is as irrelevant as for left-handedness. Same-sex unions for gays or lesbians are good and should be publicly blessed. The church should ordain those called to ministry, including chaste, uncloseted, non-celibate glbt folk. “Homosexuality” is a natural variation in the created order–and found in other animals than humans. There is nothing wrong with being gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgendered. It would be unnatural and immoral for gays or lesbians to engage in heterosexual behavior.

Over my lifetime, I have moved from the first position to the fifth–passing through each in turn, although I stayed longest in positions 2 and 3 before coming to believe in full inclusion (5). It is the last position for which I am arguing in this series of posts. I’ll start on the biblical texts before the weekend is up.


January 12, 2007 - Posted by | GLBT issues, homosexuality, theology


  1. Very helpful summary. Though, I read somewhere something that made sense to me: homosexuality is not like left-handedness; it’s most like … heterosexuality, with all that implies about the ambiguous and broken condition we all share, and which manifests itself in all aspects of our lives, including our sexuality.

    Comment by Leehttp://thinkingreed.wordpress.com/ | January 12, 2007

  2. Where are all our “conservative” friends, I wonder?

    Comment by Dan Trabue | January 12, 2007

  3. Lee, you are SOOO right! Dan, I expect that if I leave this up a few days, our conservative readers will find it.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | January 12, 2007

  4. I can’t get past #4, for some reason.

    Maybe I think it is a concession to my fundie friends that shows I haven’t gone too far! ūüôā

    Comment by graham old | January 12, 2007

  5. I also wonder where all our conservative friends are!

    Comment by Jonathan | January 12, 2007

  6. Looking forward to your blog on the condemning scriptural misinterpretations. Start with Sodom and Co. for a quick fix. Ezekiel 16:48-50 does that in. Then Leviticus 18:6-20 on straight adulteries, including jail-rape of Vs. 22. Jesus defined sin as lack of love for self and others. Name me a sin that is loving. Name me loving acts (homosexualities?) that are sinful.

    Comment by Mexjewel | January 13, 2007

  7. I don’t quite understand your definition of view #1. Your whole aversion to that view may be based on a misunderstanding of the Biblical definition.

    You said:>Deeply Immoral: a paradigmatic sign of the brokeness of the Creation

    God doesn’t rank sin. Yes, it’s true that some sins carry different consequences (some outside of the body, some within), but God never says that any sins are acceptable. Homosexuality is a result of our sin nature – plain and simple. Just like lying, stealing, etc. We all have different areas where we are weak – some struggle with lusts (homosexual or heterosexual), others struggle with dishonesty, love of money/possessions, etc. Jesus introduced the kingdom of God in His public ministry by calling on man to ‘repent.’ Of what? Sin. Again, that’s plain and simple. Wouldn’t it logically follow that any other gospel is at odds with the gospel of Jesus?

    Comment by Roger | January 16, 2007

  8. Hi Michael,

    Earlier in his career, Hauerwas said that for Christians, singleness is the norm and marriage is a special vocation (the church is populated by conversion and baptism, not biological reproduction).

    You seem to be saying the opposite: sexual activity is assumed, and abstinence/celibacy is the special gift/calling.

    Am I reading this accurately?

    Comment by Jonathan | January 16, 2007

  9. Jonathan, THAT is a very bright question. I’m clearly going to have to say more at the end of this series, but basically, you’re right. I think Paul makes it clear that lifelong celibacy takes a special gift of the Spirit–even as, in the same breath, he wishes all were celibate like him–partly because of how close he believes Jesus’ return is and that marriage and family are distractions.

    But Jesus DID lower the significance of biological reproduction and the church DOES populate by evangelism, not reproduction. But that, as we’ll see, also allows for the redefinition of family.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | January 16, 2007

  10. Interesting post Michael. I suppose I fall in category 2, but I do like how you differentiate between category 1 and 2. I do agree with Roger that God doesn’t rank sin, but I know people normally do, so I can see the difference between 1 and 2.

    I have never really thought of reproduction in terms of evangelism, except when I look at Mormonism. I see having kids more as a blessing type thing, and giving another human to fellowship with God (not that God needs anything) more than getting more Christians out there.

    Comment by Chance | January 20, 2007

  11. […] orientation.¬† If you are new to the series, please read the previous installments first:¬† 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, this addendum, and 6.¬† Jumping straight to this post is not advised.¬† Also, even those who […]

    Pingback by GLBT Persons in the Church: The Case for Full Inclusion 7 « Levellers | November 17, 2007

  12. […] Range of Christian Views on “Homosexuality.” […]

    Pingback by Index of Posts on GLBT Persons in the Church: A Case for Full Inclusion « Levellers | August 18, 2008

  13. […] latest installment.¬† To date, there have been seven (7) major posts and an addendum. See: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, addendum on pro-GLBT “over reading,” 6, & 7.¬† This is addenum 2: Reaction […]

    Pingback by Video/DVD: For the Bible Tells Me So « Levellers | August 18, 2008

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