In the summer of 1998 fundamentalist Christian organizations, fearful of the consideration by some states of recognizing same-gender marriage, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads in major newspapers telling the nation that gays and lesbians are “sick” and “sinful,” that they can and should be “cured,” and that their rights and protections should be denied.6-3
Louise, one of the first things I realized when I started to think about this subject was that the millions of gays and lesbians in this nation will never, with few exceptions, darken the doors of our churches, because they know our attitude toward them is one of hatred and condemnation. Is “hatred” too strong a word? A few years ago a Baptist church in Austin ordained a homosexual, and the leaders of the Baptist General Convention of Texas asked the church to disassociate itself from the Convention. The next day The Dallas Morning News ran this two-column headline: “Baptist General Convention Reasserts Its Hatred of Gays, Lesbians.”6-4 We may piously say that we don’t hate the sinner, only the sin, but the newspaper believed it just the way it was printed, and gays and lesbians do, too.
A writer says, “Those of us who have published opinion pieces in favor of gay equality can testify that most of the hate mail we get cites religious justifications for the hate.”6-5
A gay and a straight man worked together and became close friends. Then the straight man became a Christian. When his friend learned about it, he was concerned and asked, “Now that you are a Christian, will you still love me?” Isn’t that a tragic question? What did this man think about Christians that made him ask that? The Christian has a love that transcends anything known by the world, doesn’t he/she? Yet how many Christians would desert such a friendship? Christians! Jesus’ love included; our lack of love excludes. I have read that Carl Sandburg was once asked what he thought was the ugliest word in the English language. He thought for a minute and replied, “Exclusion.”
Our churches need to change, for the churches ought to be havens for gays and lesbians from the insufferable burdens they bear constantly. But when the world believes that churches despise and condemn homosexuals, those who hate them find encouragement. Fundamentalists such as Southern Baptists and Catholics promote the problems seemingly with a vengeance, declaring homosexuality itself a sin.6-6 Even the mainstream denominations do to a great extent as we read frequently in the papers. Most denominations are discussing it openly; without exception they are divided in their thinking, and the news reports of the discussions publicize the negative rhetoric along with the positive. This subject so needs to be examined and discussed at length in our churches, without passion and with open minds. I believe what I am stating in this letter will be the truth the churches will discover. Then they must act on and proclaim that truth.
When the story of the Holocaust became more fully known, there was recognition that the sin of the Nazis was not the only sin involved — there was the silence on the part of the churches and of other nations as they learned about it during the war. When we know of the hate and the hate-crimes against lesbians and gays, we should not be silent; we have a responsibility to fight it. Our silence encourages it and makes us guilty.
Pastor Paul Duke is preaching about the sufferings of gays and lesbians:
Whose fault is this? It’s the fault of us all. It’s the fault of any of us who make jokes about gay people, who insult them with the use of demeaning names. It’s the fault of us who are silent when others do these things or when they publish lies about what homosexuality is. And it’s the fault of us who don’t provide a safe place and a caring response to those of homosexual orientation. Who knows how many hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost – to violence, to suicide, to drugs, to promiscuity, to AIDS, to shattered self-esteem, to life forever outside the doors of the church – because we have participated in or by silence colluded with the demeaning and the ostracizing of homosexual people. In this respect there is blood on the hands of the church. And that’s what has driven me more than anything else to talk with you as I am doing. I have had a vision of Christ at the judgment asking, “Why were you silent?” Why has the church abandoned these children of God to despair and to death? When people are lost and dying by the millions you don’t pontificate about sexual morality, you reach out to them, you give them a safe place, you listen, you talk, you love with the love of Christ.6-7
You and I realize that the people in our churches are ignorant about the truths I have already stated about homosexuals and homosexuality. They must be made to realize that honesty and integrity demand they make judgments on the basis of knowledge and not on groundless feelings and prejudice. It’s like the race hatreds and segregated churches of a few decades ago; most church people know better now and our churches are at least open to all. The same must happen with this issue. I think of the homespun philosopher Josh Billings’ saying, “The longer I live the more I find it necessary to reexamine those things about which I was once most certain.” The church can’t begin its reexamination too soon.
I’ve given a lot of space to the church here, but that’s where we both have our hearts. And our churches are so terribly wrong here, just as they were in the sixties with the race issue and 150 years ago with slavery. All the wonderful things our churches are doing and the immeasurable importance they are to our society can’t cover up our woeful failures in this matter.
Seven. Gays and lesbians in general have the potential for outstanding character and accomplishment; some may have greater potential than most heterosexuals to be exceptional persons.
It is well known that while certain characteristics are dominant in men and others dominant in women, all people have some of both characteristics. Psychologists have found that the gay man has an exceptional supply of feminine characteristics (enough that he falls in love with a man), and the lesbian has an exceptional supply of male characteristics (enough that she falls in love with a woman). Psychologists are recognizing that this special combination of characteristics in homosexuals often results in their having exceptional potential.
Psychologist Mark Friedman, from a series of tests administered to both gays and lesbians, found that the homosexuals he tested were superior to their heterosexual counterparts in such psychological qualities as autonomy, spontaneity, orientation toward the present, and increased sensitivity to the value of the person.7-1 Thielicke remarked that the homosexual “is frequently gifted with a remarkable heightened sense of empathy.”7-2
The eminent psychologist Jung gives five very positive aspects of the homosexual male:
∑ This [homosexuality] gives him a great capacity for friendship, which often creates ties of astonishing tenderness between men, and may even rescue friendship between the sexes from its limbo of the impossible.
∑ He may have good taste and an aesthetic sense which are fostered by the presence of a feminine streak.
∑ Then, he may be supremely gifted as a teacher because of his almost feminine insight and tact.
∑ He is likely to have a feeling for history, and to be conservative in the best sense and cherish the values of the past.
∑ Often he is endowed with a wealth of religious feelings, which help him to bring the ecclesia spiritualis [the spiritual church] into reality, and a spiritual receptivity which makes him responsive to revelation.7-3
A special hope for homosexual influence on society is expressed by McNeill:
There is no doubt that the homosexual man is freer to develop aesthetic values than is his male counterpart in the heterosexual world, and thus he has an important role to play in guiding humanity to a deeper appreciation of aesthetic values…. There is the hopeful possibility that the homosexual community could serve the human community as a whole by making the male free to do works of service in the human community without feeling guilty about betraying the standards of his male identity.7-4
Many writers speak of the contributions gays and lesbians have made to our world and name dozens of examples, some of the world’s most famous statesmen, artists, writers, musicians, etc., present and past. While gays and lesbians make up probably 4%-6% of the population, a study of the biographies of 1004 eminent people found 11% of them to be homosexual or bisexual, with certain categories higher: 24% of poets, 21% of fiction writers, and 15% of artists and musicians.7-5
Louise, it seems as though one ought to look on a gay or a lesbian as potentially a very special person made that way by God, one we should seek out, especially for our churches.
Eight. It is not only unrealistic to expect homosexuals to live without sex, but also it is psychologically harmful to them for them to do so.
Now we are face to face with the question of what is moral in sex expression. In so many people’s minds, the whole meaning of homosexuality is immoral sex. And that is evil, they say, because sex must be between male and female, and it is evil because sex must be in marriage; it is as simple and black and white as that. But nothing as complex as sex, which plumbs both the heights of beauty and the depths of ugliness, can be simple, and no black and white rule can touch it. Professor Kathy Rudy says, “Christian ethicists, moral theologians, and religious leaders throughout the ages have spent an enormous amount of time and energy thinking about when sex can be considered moral and when it cannot.”8-1
Theologian James B. Nelson writes,
Even on such a major issue as sexual intercourse between unmarried consenting adults there is no explicit prohibition in either Hebrew Scripture or the New Testament (which John Calvin discovered to his consternation). Indeed, the Song of Solomon celebrates one such relationship. I believe that our best biblical scholarship reaches Walter Wink’s conclusion: ‘There is no biblical sex ethic. The Bible knows only a love ethic, which is constantly being brought to bear on whatever sexual mores are dominant in any given country, or culture, or period.’8-2
One reason theologians and Christian ethicists have difficulty finding a sex ethic in the Bible is that the Bible’s condemnation of sexual acts is always associated with selfish lust, with nothing said about a loving sex life. Further, the Bible does not say that moral sex is confined to what we understand marriage to be. For example, David and Solomon, beloved and used by God, were polygamists. Solomon had hundreds of mistresses. A pastor is found to have one mistress, and he is quickly gone. (This is not to comment on whether he should or should not be, only to point out the contrast between our concepts and a Biblical example.) Some New Testament Christians, church members, obviously were not “the husband of one wife” or I Timothy 3:2 would not have been written.
Must sex be between male and female? One act of sex must be. Is that all of sex, or for heterosexuals does sex — let’s think only of beautiful sex — involve many other acts, some of which sometimes become more important than that one act? Does marriage make sex beautiful and moral? Even those who insist that sex must be only in marriage admit that there is often immoral sex within marriage — selfishness, exploitation, even rape. So the marriage certificate is not what determines whether sex is moral or immoral. Then we must say that if legality is not the criterion for the morality of sex, lack of legality cannot be the criterion for its immorality.
McNeill speaks to this:
The average person has associated and confused the question of the morality of sexual conduct with the question of its objective legal status. The reason for this confusion is, in part, that one finds a very easily applied objective norm: sex before marriage is wrong; sex after marriage is right…. There is something more to the moral quality of sexual behavior than the purely objective legal question of marriage… Something else ought to be present; that something else is love…. The human conforms to the divine image revealed in Christ not by acting in an impersonal, rational way, but by acting from a motive of love.8-3
Nelson, Wink, and McNeill say love is the criterion. At least we can know that the definition is not in either a certificate or a specific sex act but is somewhere in the heart and mind of the participants. This does not define moral sex, but it tells us that the definition is not in an objective rule, but in the subjective psyche of the participants. Since the minds and hearts of gays and lesbians are in no way limited, are no different from the minds and hearts of heterosexuals, they can have the same criteria as heterosexuals for a moral sex act.
These things clearly indicate that requiring celibacy of gays and lesbians cannot be supported by the Bible, is unjustifiable from an ethical standpoint, and can be damaging psychologically. Many psychiatrists believe (a) it is wrong to consign a person to such isolation and loneliness, one who is thus cut off from close relationships with either sex, not temporarily but until death; (b) it is unrealistic to expect this for it is virtually impossible for it to be done; (c) many of those who attempt to do this do so for pathological reasons; (d) the “almost inevitable results [of attempting celibacy] will be tragic in terms of suffering, guilt, and mental disorder;” and (e) growth and maturity require deep and committed relationships in one’s life.8-4
I wondered about pathology in attempts at celibacy until I read McNeill’s statement:
In my experience as a psychotherapist, I have found that the vast majority of people living out a life of abstinence do so for pathological reasons. Many have internalized the homophobia of the surrounding culture and the Church and as a consequence hate and fear their sexual feelings….Others live out a life of abstinence because of serious trauma to their capacity for intimacy with another human….Those who have repressed or denied their homosexual feelings for pathological reasons are the ones in greatest danger of acting out those needs compulsively, imprudently, and unconsciously, seeking punishment for what they see as their crime….I would heartily advise all gay people to develop the most intimate and committed relationship possible for them.8-5
It would seem that a sound scriptural argument against requiring celibacy would be Paul’s writing clearly in I Cor. 7:9 that he does not expect all the church people to be able to be celibate even for the brief time before the (expected) return of Christ. Some commentators suggest that I Tim. 4:1-4, in speaking of marriage being good and not to be denied because “everything created by God is good,” would include homosexual marriage because God created homosexuality.
Highly respected theologians are coming to the conclusion that gays and lesbians need to develop intimate and committed relationships. Thielicke: “It is true that the homosexual relationship is… very certainly a search for the totality of the other human being. [Italics his] He who says otherwise has not yet observed the possible human depth of a homoerotic-colored friendship.”8-6 McNeill: “A general consideration of scriptural data concerning sexual behavior leads to only one certain conclusion: those sexual relations can be justified morally which are a true expression of human love. The call of the Gospel is not one of conforming passively to biological givens; rather, that call is to transform and humanize the natural order through the power to love.”8-7
William Barclay, whose commentaries on the books of the New Testament have sold over a million copies, has this comment on celibacy: “Sex is a part of life and the deliberate annihilation of it is not a virtue; it is a criticism of life as God made it and meant it to be.”8-8 McNeill believes, “Only a sadistic God would create millions of humans as gay with no choice in the matter and no hope of changing and then deny them the right to express their gayness in a loving relationship for the rest of their lives under threat of eternal damnation.”8-9
Historical theology professor Rosemary Reuther writes:
Once sex is no longer confined to procreative genital acts and masculinity and femininity are exposed as social ideologies, then it is no longer possible to argue that sex/love between two persons of the same sex cannot be a valid embrace of bodily selves expressing love. If sex/love is centered primarily on communion between two persons rather than on biological concepts of procreative complementarity, then the love of two persons of the same sex need be no less than that of two persons of the opposite sex. Nor need their experience of ecstatic bodily communion be less valuable.8-10
One of the earliest affirmations of this that I found is a statement made by Quakers back in 1963: “… the Quaker committee, after a long study of homosexuality, drew the conclusion: `Surely it is the nature and quality of a relation that matters; one must not judge it by its outer appearance but its inner worth. Homosexual affection can be as selfless as heterosexual affection, and, therefore, we cannot see that it is in some way morally worse.'”8-11
In 1975 a symposium on homosexuality at the annual meeting of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies [note Christian Association] reported that behavioral science research and the realities of their clinical practice had forced them to propose that while promiscuity, fornication, and adultery should be regarded as sinful for both homosexual and heterosexual persons, a loving, committed, permanent relationship between two persons of the same sex was in an entirely different category and was not condemned in Scripture, and that Christians burdened with an involuntary homosexual orientation could choose a committed homosexual relationship as within God’s will rather than an unwanted celibacy.8-12
If I can believe as I do, that gays and lesbians can have in their hearts and minds the criteria set forth here in their relationships, then I can believe, as I have come to, that they can engage in loving sex that is moral and that provides for their psychological needs — God-created needs — as celibacy cannot. And I can believe that their sexual love is not condemned by scripture, but is within the principles God expects us to live by.
You understand this is not a blanket approval of all homosexual sex. It is speaking of loving, committed relationships. I do not know what percentage of homosexuals are included here, but probably it is, unfortunately, a small percentage (10% in one large-scale study of gays.8-13) Many believe that number would increase if society accepted homosexuality for what it is and encouraged committed relationships, as it does heterosexual relationships.
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© Bruce W. Lowe, 2001
Bruce Lowe is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas (1936) and of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (1946). He married Anna Marie in 1944; they have two sons and two grandsons. His ministry included the chaplaincy during World War II, pastorates in Louisiana, and teaching Bible at Louisiana College, Pineville. He left the ministry in 1966 and worked until retirement in the Office for Civil Rights of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Anna Marie Lowe is a graduate of Henderson State University in Arkadelphia (1946) and attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She has been the church organist or pianist in churches and missions since she was eleven.