Recently a dispute over a gay priest's appointment as bishop has threatened to tear the Anglican Church apart. Arguments over homosexuality have simmered for years within the Anglican Communion, even as a blind eye has been turned to the fact that some members of the clergy are gay.
Arguments from the Bible are marshalled in support of the point of view which says that sexual preference is simply a matter of taste. Can they be supported?
In some countries a homosexual act performed in private between consenting adults over a certain age is no longer considered to be a criminal offence. That's not to say that it's no longer to be regarded as immoral. There can be a big difference between what is legal in the eyes of men and what is right in the eyes of God. That difference is the difference between a crime and a sin.
The term 'homosexual', or 'gay'/'lesbian', can also imply different things. It can refer to what a person is by nature or to what a person is by practice. Certain studies have taught us to make a distinction between physical homosexual practices and homosexual orientation arising from environmental factors in childhood (or possibly even in-born biological factors). Those involved in the former, are, by contrast, most definitely responsible for their practices. Even so, among homosexual relationships, there are those which are casual and those which claim to be stable, loving relationships.
What exactly is it that the Bible has to say on this subject?
There can really be no doubt that homosexual practices were among the sins of Sodom which attracted God's fearful judgement. In Genesis 19:5-9, Lot is asked by the men of Sodom to bring out his visitors "that we may know them" (RV), or "so that we can have sex with them" (NIV). It is the use of the word 'know' (Hebrew: 'yada') in the context of this passage which gives rise to the verse being understood as a request to have sexual relations with the visitors. The same word is used a few verses later to describe Lot's daughters who have never 'known' a man. This confirms the NIV translation as accurate. However, some may argue that this is only evidence against homosexual assault.
The best answer is to look elsewhere in the Bible. The prohibition "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable" (Lev.18:22) is to be found in a general passage involving forbidden sexual relations, and is quite explicit against any homosexual physical practice. For all who take the Bible seriously, the clarity and force of this prohibition cannot be overstated. There is no limit as to whether only certain homosexual practices (e.g. gang rape, prostitution, shameless orgies, or corruption of the young) are taboo. Although there is undoubtedly a religious context to this prohibition (see e.g. v19, 21), it cannot be argued that the ban does not extend to homosexual behaviour without religious overtones, because incest and adultery are also condemned. We must see Leviticus 18:22 as an unequivocal statement covering every form of homosexual practice, confirmed by the writings of Paul listed above. The most common word used by Paul (Gk.: arsenokoites) covers all homosexual behaviour and not only those who have personally abandoned heterosexual practice. In Romans 1:18-32, homosexuality is seen as a sign of people's rebellion against God, although not the only one. Both homosexual behaviour and the condoning of such practices are condemned.
On the other hand, if someone claims to have a homosexual orientation, then it is our duty to support them in what will have to be for them a celibate lifestyle, at least as far as relationships with the same sex are concerned. Loneliness could be a real problem. We should aim at understanding, not prejudice. Christians with a homosexual orientation have testified to the overcoming grace of God in living with this human weakness, when a changed pattern of sexual desires, although prayed for, has not apparently been granted. The power to control our strongest urges (and our sex drive is one of them) is part of the fruit which the Holy Spirit produces in a yielded believer's life (Gal.5:22, 23). 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 demonstrates it.
In Canada, a new bill before Parliament aims to have those sections of the Bible to which we've referred designated as 'hate literature' in respect of the homosexual community. Were it to become law, the state would be the final arbiter of what its citizens are permitted to believe. But the Bible's case does not rest on 'negative' and isolated sections...
In case there should be any lingering doubt as to whether there could ever be a biblically acceptable alternative to a heterosexual marriage relationship, let's remind ourselves of the original, divine institution of sex and marriage in the Bible record of creation. Genesis 2:24 states: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." God's design for human family units is for the union of one man and one woman ("a man", "his wife"). This union is to be publicly recognised ("leave his father and mother" - a public social occasion is in view), next it is to be permanently sealed ("be united to"), and finally it is to be physically consummated ("one flesh"). The Bible does not envisage any other kind of marriage or place for sexual relations; God has not provided any alternative.
For those who do practise physical homosexual activity, 1 Corinthians 6:9,10 makes clear that they can have no part in God's Kingdom. Therefore, they could not continue to have a place of service in a local church of God. [/p][p] Maybe we should mention here that whereas AIDS once appeared to be a disease specifically relating to homosexuals, this is no longer the case. The first wave of media attention targetted homosexuals, the second wave drug-users, and the third wave heterosexuals. While in Europe and North America the disease spreads mainly by homosexual transmission; the spread is mainly by heterosexual transmission in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. In Africa, it is a family disease since in many areas polygamy is still the norm. This has led to large numbers of babies also carrying the infection. Thirty percent of women with AIDS were virgins when they married and have been faithful wives.
Of course, all along there have been those, tragically, who have been infected quite innocently (e.g. when receiving health-care). When the disease does arise out of deviant sexual practices it can only be viewed as a consequence of such (Prov.6:27,28; Rom.1:27), and compassion shown to the victims.
Further Reading: Genesis 19:1-13; Jude 7; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26,27; 1 Corinthians 6:9,10; 1 Timothy 1:8-1