Myths and a lack of clear teaching have blocked compassion on the one hand and discipline on the other.

Later this month the General Conference of the United Methodist Church will have to make some difficult decisions about its attitudes toward homosexuality. It will discuss whether to delete policy statements that prohibit homosexual practice (it is “incompatible with Christian teaching”) and the giving of funds to any group that promotes the acceptance of homosexuality.

In place of these would be a vague statement noting that “today some biblical scholars, theologians, and ethicists are critically re-examining and questioning this teaching” and that the church is “seeking the truth as we take seriously both the witness of our heritage and the Spirit who is leading us.”

These are the immediate questions. They provoke the need for all Christians to be absolutely clear both about biblical standards of sexual morality and how to relate to those who break them. We must first determine just what the Bible says about homosexual activity and then look at some popular myths that Christians often unthinkingly accept. We must remember that we are talking about real people, not abstractions. Thousands of people—many of them evangelicals—are struggling over how their homosexual condition squares with Scripture and with their ministries in churches and in Christian organizations. Our previous editorial (Dec. 7, 1979) addressed the issue in the United Methodist Church. We focus here on the personal response of Christians to homosexuals in their midst. First, what does Scripture teach?

Heterosexuality is the biblical norm. In the Genesis account, man is created “male and female” (1:27). Throughout the whole of Scripture, heterosexuality is both assumed and affirmed as God’s order of creation. Though Jesus never spoke about homosexuality, clearly he presupposed heterosexuality. In Matthew 19:4–6, while talking about divorce, Jesus appealed to the creation account of man as male and female, thus reaffirming the heterosexual orientation as God’s norm. The homosexual condition and behavior, therefore, are not normal, and those who try to prove otherwise are mistaken.

Homosexuality is one of many human conditions and activities resulting from the Fall. Adam’s sin tainted every aspect of man’s being. Death, divorce, war, pride, and greed also stem from the Fall. Not one of these conforms to God’s original purpose.

Scripture condemns all sexual promiscuity, both homosexual and heterosexual. The sin of homosexual rape accompanied Sodom’s other sins of pride and inhospitality (Gen. 19; Ezek. 16:49; Jude 7). Heterosexual prostitution, premarital and extramarital sex, and lust are condemned. Homosexual activity comes under God’s judgment in Romans 1; 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1.

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The Bible does not distinguish between different kinds of homosexual activity. Some have argued that the Bible permits homosexual activity if it is confined to one mate only. We can find no scriptural support for this claim. The two Greek words translated “homosexuals” or “sexual perverts” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 may refer to the practice of pederasty, where older men have intercourse with young boys. If Scripture addressed the subject of homosexuality in this passage alone, one might be able to argue that Paul condemned only one kind of homosexual activity. But it is not at all clear that this was his intent. His other condemnations of homosexual activity make such an interpretation impossible. Therefore, in keeping with the whole of Scripture, Paul forbade homosexual activity in general, even in this passage.

The plain teaching of Scripture is that all homosexual activity is sinful. But while Christians must believe the Bible, they should not believe the myths about homosexuality circulated by many. Some of these are as follows:

Myth #1: All homosexuals are effeminate limp wrists who wear women’s clothes, recruit and molest little children, and preoccupy their minds with sex. These characteristics simply are not true of all persons with a homosexual condition, but are usually seen in public displays of homosexual activity reported in the news media.

Myth #2: Those persons who have a homosexual condition actively seek to live promiscuously with any member of the same sex. Homosexuality is not only something one does, it is something one is. Usually homosexuals don’t consciously choose to be homosexual. Often they simply discover that they have no interest in members of the opposite sex and are attracted to members of the same sex. At that point they must decide whether or not to engage in overt homosexual behavior. People may be homosexual all their lives and never choose to engage in homosexual activity.

However, those who do choose homosexual activity do not necessarily become prostitutes or follow the lifestyle of gay bars and one-night stands. Instead, some choose a loving relationship with one partner. Numerous professing Christians who have a homosexual condition have taken this route.

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Myth #3: One can always be cured of his or her homosexual condition by a Christian conversion experience. Many Christian homosexuals have prayed for God to change them, but change did not come. Some have, with God’s help, been able to overcome their sinful activity, but still do not find that their condition has changed. In some cases, homosexuals have been able to reverse their orientation to heterosexual—usually after long and intense periods of psychotherapy and Christian counsel.

Most psychiatrists agree that certain behaviors and traits are formulated early in childhood, and many of these traits are difficult to change later in life. Sexual preference is one of these traits. Right- or left-handedness is another. Changing one’s homosexual condition is in a way like renouncing one’s right-handedness. One can control homosexual behavior, though it is difficult; but the condition is even harder to reverse. One must draw on all the resources God has given to effect change, including professional help.

At this point we must confront a central question: What should we expect of the Christian who discovers that he or she is homosexual? What about those who believe in the authority of Scripture, read the Bible regularly, serve on church committees, and work for Christian organizations?

First, we should not expect that God will necessarily change their homosexual condition, though unquestionably he is able to do so, and in some cases does by means of psychotherapy. This change usually depends on the person’s motivation. Christians, of course, should have the highest motivation to change. Conformity to God’s will should lead them to seek professional help in dealing with the causes of their homosexual condition.

Second, even if their homosexual condition persists, we should counsel them to abstain from homosexual activity. Chastity is never easy—for the heterosexual or the homosexual. However, we need to stress God’s power to prevent people from yielding to homosexual impulses, and his promise to meet the emotional needs of those who choose celibacy. God does give grace to maintain chastity and celibacy. Scripture does not say there will be no struggle; it only promises God’s presence and help.

Many Christians who are homosexual feel that the burden of celibacy is too great for them to bear, and choose instead a permanent relationship with another homosexual Christian. While this kind of relationship may seem preferable to promiscuous homosexual activity, it is still condemned as sin by Scripture.

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Third, we must hope that homosexuals will be patient with the vast majority who are heterosexually oriented and may have what seems to be an especially prejudiced view of homosexuality. Our whole culture is based on heterosexual attitudes with built-in protection against the weakness of the flesh on the part of heterosexuals. These culturally embedded safeguards simply do not exist to shield against homosexual temptations. This explains, for example, the great reservation of school boards to hire even a nonpracticing homosexual schoolteacher.

Many people in churches across the country conceal their homosexual condition in order to continue worshiping and serving in their churches. Some teach Sunday school classes, serve as pastors, elders, and deacons, work with youth groups, and conduct Bible studies.

To deny that they know Christ would be to go beyond Scripture. But God’s apparent blessing of their ministry does not mean that he approves of their homosexual activity, or that their condition is normal or desirable.

How should the church respond? First, it should recognize how widespread homosexuality is in both the secular and Christian community. Some have estimated that 10–15 percent of the U.S. population is homosexual. Churches must without hesitation stand behind the teachings of Scripture, but at the same time strive to understand the personal struggles of homosexuals.

Second, the church should show compassion. Christians can affirm that homosexual activity is sin without rejecting the person. Honest conversation can increase one’s compassion and understanding a great deal. Homophobia must be replaced by teaching, preaching, and counseling that strengthens and supports those who see their need of help and who want to change.

Many who slip into homosexual activity do so because they have not heard clear, scriptural teaching in their churches, families, and youth groups. They have not carefully studied the biblical data. Evangelical churches must share part of the blame for this. The Christian’s sexual ethic is clear in the Bible. It is blurred when people try to rationalize their own unscriptural positions.

United Methodists are to be commended for facing up to the difficult problem of homosexuality. We can only pray that they—and all Christians, heterosexual and homosexual alike—will be willing with equal boldness to face up to the clear teaching of Scripture.

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