Ministers Disagree on Gay Ethics




“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie,
and worshiped and served created things
rather than the Creator.”
Romans 1:25


A mother is weeping. Susan’s young son is moving. As his relocation takes him to the theater district of a distant city, she warns him about gay activity: “Don’t get caught up in that.” To her horror, Ben responds he is gay.

Susan sobs. “My world fell apart.”

This mother is also a minister. She recounts her experience to 40 American Baptist pastors who meet to discuss gay ethics. As Susan grew up, her church taught that gays are sinners who choose their lifestyle. She knows her son is not the vile stereotype of gays she learned in church.

“I wore out my knees in prayer,” Susan continues. Her struggle was focused on Ben. One day she hears the whisper of her Lord, “I’ve got work to do, but it’s not in Ben. It’s in you.”

Many ministers attending this meeting agree with Susan that churches must welcome and affirm gays. Some disagree. Others are exploring these issues.

Douglas also has gay family members. He says the church is a hospital, not a hospice, so the sins of gays must be confronted and healed. He believes the Bible clearly teaches that homosexuality is sinful and we must be faithful to the scriptures. Accordingly, gays must be transformed.

Leaders at this conference emphasize we must put aside our personal agendas and attempt to discern the Spirit. Focus on listening to one another. Our primary question is not what we want, but what God wants.

After hearing many viewpoints, I share my journey on this issue. I enter seminary believing homosexual practice is sinful. While taking an ethics course, I learn of a bank manager fired because of his leadership in a gay organization. So I research and write a paper on gay ethics. What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

The answer is surprising. A few verses appear to condemn homosexuality. Perhaps the passage most frequently cited, written in the book of Romans, speaks of men “committing indecent acts” and “inflamed with lust for one another.”

The homosexuals Paul describes, however, are idolaters who “worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” This does not describe my former pastor who, after thirteen years of faithful ministry, accepted himself as a gay person. Nor does it describe Susan’s son or a multitude of other gays who do not conform to the stereotypical lifestyle of lascivious sinners.

I now believe the Bible rightfully condemns homosexual rape, sexual promiscuity, sexual slavery, temple prostitution and the sexual exploitation of young boys. Scripture addresses these practices because of their prevalence in Greco-Roman culture. Nowhere in scripture do I find condemnation for gays who faithfully commit to a long-term relationship with a partner they love.

Especially since the Middle Ages, the church treats gays as outcasts. Pogroms were perpetrated in the name of purity. By contrast, the most striking element of Jesus’ ministry is his love for outcasts. Would not Jesus want the church to reject stereotypes, social ostracism and second-class status for gays?

So I ask my colleagues who are certain that homosexual practice is sinful to reconsider their position. The church rejected the biblical understanding of a flat earth when it became apparent the earth is a globe. So should we not also reject a biblical misunderstanding that gays are the most despicable sinners when we see many gays are caring, faithful Christians?

Yes, we must preach against sinful practices, but not against people whose practices exhibit love and kindness. Jesus says it is by their fruit we shall know them.

Likewise, we cannot stereotype our opponents. While we disagree, my colleagues in ministry are not harsh homophobes. Yes, some ministers have biases against gays, but I also have biases to confront. We must continue to dialogue. Jesus, whose love is unbounded, also encourages us to love one another as we seek his wisdom.

©2005 Harry Rix. All rights reserved. 

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