[Text included from a draft of the Statement on Human Sexuality from a Lutheran task force. The draft was not adopted.]
The moral deliberation of the church on questions of homosexuality involves careful examination of the witness of Scripture. Scripture, which is normative in our deliberations, is to be understood in light of the Gospel as we know it in Jesus Christ. Deliberation also needs to be informed by the testimony of those among us who are gay or lesbian and by current understanding of sexual orientation.
Sexual activity between those of the same sex has been present throughout history, often overlooked or condemned, sometimes tolerated, occasionally celebrated. Historically, the focus has been on same-sex activity rather than on persons who understand themselves to be homosexually-oriented. The realization that some persons have a consistently homosexual orientation, in contrast to a heterosexual or bisexual orientation, arose in the 19th century. This made possible the modern distinction between homosexual orientation and behavior.
Nineteenth-century psychiatry viewed homosexuality as a mental illness. By the 1940's it tended to be viewed as a personality disorder. Some continue to view and treat those who are homosexual in this way. The psychological professions as a whole, however, no longer consider homosexuality to be a pathology in need of a cure or change. This understanding is also confirmed by the healthy, well-adjusted, productive lives of many individuals who are gay or lesbian.
How sexual orientation comes about is still somewhat of a mystery. The debate continues over whether homosexuality is primarily due to early factors in one's social environment (nurture) or primarily due to neurobiological, hormonal, or genetic factors (nature). Recent research increasingly indicates that nature more than nurture is the basis for homosexual orientation, but these studies are not yet conclusive.
However a person's sexual orientation comes about--whether through nature, nurture, or a combination--it seems to be established by early childhood. It becomes a part of our psycho social make-up. Whatever biological, social, or psychological factors may be involved, homosexual orientation is experienced as an aspect of who a person is rather than something one chooses to be.
Scientific studies can inform but they do not by themselves answer the ethical questions. The fact of homosexual orientation does not necessarily answer the question of what ought to be, or how it should be lived out. For these ethical questions, we seek biblical and theological guidance.
Of the many biblical passages referring to sexuality, only a few explicitly refer to same-sex activity. The focus is on same-sex acts rather than on persons who are homosexual in their basic orientation. Throughout Scripture, heterosexual assumptions clearly are present. It follows that no passage specifically addresses the question facing the church today: the morality of a just, loving, committed relationship between persons of the same sex.
Genesis 19 and the related story in Judges 19 are often cited as a condemnation of homosexual practice. The uncontrolled list and violent gang rape of the men of these cities are clearly abhorrent, but they cannot be equated morally with homosexual activity in a mutual, committed relationship. When the prophets refer to this story, they do not associated the sin here with homosexuality (Isa. 1:10-17; 3:9; Eze. 16:49). The association with sexual immorality does not appear to have been made until the New Testament (Jude 7; II Peter 2:6).
In the Holiness Code, prohibitions against a man lying with a man "as with a woman" (Lev. 18:22; 20:13) occur as part of a collection of laws dealing with various sexual relationships and activities. Here, homosexual acts are clearly forbidden. There are different possible reasons for this prohibition. Such acts are labeled an "abomination", a word often used to condemn idolatrous practices, such as cultic male prostitution. In this case, a violation of the First Commandment would have been at stake. This might explain why this prohibition is part of the Holiness Code. Another possible reason is that such acts are not procreative, which is why the prohibition in Leviticus 18:19-23 is grouped with sexual practices that were prohibited because they wasted male semen. Whatever the reasons for the prohibition, we must remember that Leviticus contains many laws that Christians, shaped by the Gospel, long ago ceased to observe. These particular prohibitions by themselves cannot be definitive of a Christian moral position.
In the New Testament, two lists of vices include words (malakoi and arsenokoitai) that may be related to homosexual activity (I Cor. 6:9-11; I Tim. 1:10). Their precise meaning is unclear; they may refer to sexual relationships between men and boys (pederasty). The list includes what generally were considered to be immoral and abusive behaviors of the Gentiles. They appeal to avoid such behaviors is made on the basis of our new life in baptism.
Because of the questions regarding the specific kind of same-sex behavior to which the above biblical passages refer, the social context and meaning of the texts, and the role of laws in the Christian life, it is inappropriate to use these passages by themselves as the basis for opposing all committed, just, loving homosexual relationships today.
Romans 1:26-27 is the most significant single biblical reference to same-sex activity. Like all biblical texts, it must be interpreted in its literary, historical, and theological context. Even though interpreters might agree on what Paul was saying in this text, that does not in itself determine its significance for the ethical questions we face today.
Paul's over-all arguments in Romans 1:18-3:20 is that *all* have sinned and are in need of salvation as a gift of God. The major topic of the passage is not homosexuality but God and the general human predicament. In 1:18-32 the apostle focuses on the primary sin of the Gentiles: their refusal to acknowledge God as God. He links this idolatry with sexual immorality, specifically in 1:26-27 with homosexual activity between men as well as between women (the only reference in the Bible to female-female sexual acts). The "degrading passions" expressed through this activity are asserted to be a direct consequence of the root sin of idolatry.
Some interpreters claim that this passage settles the case against any acceptance of loving, just, committed sexual relationships between two persons of the same sex. "Exchanging natural intercourse for unnatural" means that all same-sex acts are contrary to God's design for the created order. For these interpreters, even if Paul knew what we know today about homosexual orientation, he still would have judged it to be the result of human fallenness, and this a distortion of God's intent.
Other interpreters warn against too quickly assuming the meaning of "unnatural" in the text. Although Paul uses language about the Creator and creation, he makes no direct appeal to Genesis 1-3. Rather, he refers to same-sex activity in ways similar to Hellenistic-Jewish literature of his day (e.g. Wisdom of Solomon, 13-15), which presupposed that same-sex feelings and practices were a matter of one's choosing rather than consistent with an orientation. The possibility of loving, committed same-sex relationships was not considered. Instead, practices of "unbridled lust" are implied. Paul was drawing upon a common moral position and revulsion of his day, familiar to his audience, to emphasize his main theological point. His contemporaries judged these activities to be unnatural because they were contrary to the way human beings procreate, and because they diminished the superior status that was thought to belong by nature to the male. According to this interpretation, Paul does not develop a creation theology rooted in Genesis 1-3, in this passage or elsewhere in his letters, when he refers to what is natural or unnatural.
In Romans 1:18ff Paul clearly asserts that homosexual activity is a symptom of the idolatry of unbelievers. He viewed these practices as a pagan problem outside the faith community. He was not addressing the theological and ethical dilemma facing the church today, namely, the struggle of Christians of a homosexual orientation who seek to love out their baptismal vocation as faithful, responsible members of the Church. Paul links idolatry and homosexual activity. In light of our present knowledge of sexual orientation, however, it is inappropriate to conclude that all homosexual feelings and actions result from idolatry. For gay and lesbian Christians today, the central theological issue is not unbelief but freedom to live out the love they know through Jesus Christ.
Moreover, today we know homosexual activity is engaged in and experienced as natural by those whose homosexual orientation goes to the core of who they are. Given this understanding, it would not be consistent for Paul to assert that gay or lesbian persons are fallen or distorted at the core of their being in a way fundamentally different from other persons. This would contradict his overarching theological point that "there is no distinction, since all sin and fall short of God's glory" (Rom. 3:22b-23), and that all people are redeemable because of God's action in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21-26).
Questions remain as to the meaning and applicability of the above biblical texts. None of these passages speaks directly of involuntary sexual orientation or of loving, just, committed sexual relationships between persons of homosexual orientation. The focus of these texts is on external act, which are seen as expressive of sinful lust, sexual exploitation, or idolatry rather than of a loving relationship. Therefore, these texts alone are not adequate for addressing the ethical questions we face today.
It is essential that we also consider other biblical texts and themes that, while not speaking directly of same-sex activity, provide profound moral guidance governing all interpersonal relationships of Christians. For example, further on in the letter to the Romans the apostle Paul writes:
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet;' and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is fulfilling of the law (Rom. 13:8-10).
This love "does no wrong to a neighbor" and fulfills all the commandments is pivotal for evaluating homosexual activity. Through Jesus Christ, the heart of the Law is revealed as love of God and love of neighbor. Gay and lesbian persons are indeed among the neighbors we are called by Christ to love. But what that love entails, and the implication for church policy, evoke different responses among us.
Among the members of our church, three responses are common:
To love our neighbor who is homosexual means to love the sinner but to hate the sin. The church should be loving and accepting of persons who are homosexual, welcoming them as members, but clearly oppose their being sexually active. All such activity is contrary to God's Law. Negative moral judgments should be upheld and homosexual persons expected to abstain from sexual activity. Repentance should be expected from those who do not abstain, trusting that out of divine grace God will forgive them, as God does all repentant sinners.
Those who hold this position tend to view homosexuality as a disease or serious distortion resulting from the Fall. Because of this disease or distortion, such persons cannot responsibly live out their Christian freedom through sexual activity, even in a committed relationship. Some believe that homosexual persons can be changed in their sexual orientation, so that the loving response is to encourage and help them to change. Others believe that a homosexual orientation is basically given, that change is unlikely, and that lifelong abstinence is the only moral option.
To love our neighbor means to be compassionate towards gay and lesbian persons and understanding of the dilemma facing those who do not have the gift of celibacy. It is unloving to insist upon lifelong abstinence for all persons whose homosexual orientation is an integrated aspect of who they are. To tell them they will never be able to love out who they are as sexual beings is cruel, not loving. Thus, the loving response is to tolerate, perhaps even support mutually loving, committed gay and lesbian relationships.
Those who hold this position tend to view homosexuality as an imperfection or example of brokenness in God's creation. Although homosexuality may not reflect what God intends for our sexuality, in an imperfect world we must respond realistically to the situations in which people find themselves and promote what will be less harmful to individuals in a loving, committed relationship than through loneliness or casual sexual activity. This is somewhat analogous to how remarriage following divorce is viewed today: as a necessary accommodation in a broken world.
To love our neighbor means open affirmation of gay and lesbian persons and their mutually loving, just, committed relationships of fidelity. Such relationships are the context for sexual activity that can be expressive of love for one another. Prohibiting this expression of love is incompatible with the love of God we know through Jesus Christ, who challenged religious rules that hindered love for the neighbor. God's redemptive and sanctifying activity empowers gay and lesbian Christians to live lives of responsible freedom, including through faithful, committed sexual relationships. It is untenable to maintain that those who are gay or lesbian should have to live lives of secrecy, deception, or loneliness, alienated from self, others, and God.
Those holding this position tend to view homosexuality as another expression of what God has created. Homosexuality should be lived out with ethical qualities, boundaries, and structures consistent with those that apply to heterosexual persons. The church should move toward a practice of blessing committed same-sex unions.
Each of these responses is based on recognized interpretations of Scripture, but they differ over which texts are most relevant and how these should be understood and applied. Each claims to affirm God's love for the Church's welcome of lesbian and gay persons, however, the implications of that love and welcome are viewed quite differently. Each opposes sexual activity that is removed from a loving, committed relationship, but they differ regarding their acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships. Presently, all three responses are supported biblically and theologically by members of our church.
Response 1 needs to be questioned on biblical and theological grounds, indeed, challenged because of its harmful effect on gay and lesbian people and their families. Response 2 and 3 are strongly supported by responsible biblical interpretation within a Christ-centered Lutheran theological framework, as articulated in section 1. At this crucial time in our church, we need to engage in careful and continuing deliberation regarding the biblical-theological bases and the ethical end ecclesial implications of all three responses. Because of the differences present in our church, we are challenged to listen respectfully to the witness of those whose perspectives differ from our own.
We encourage considerations of questions such as: Are biblical texts that oppose loveless, lustful, exploitive sexual activity properly used to oppose all homosexual expression in committed, faithful relationships? Should gay and lesbian couples be welcomed into the church, as the church not welcomes remarried divorced persons? Should homosexual relationships be guided by the same or different ethics than apply to heterosexual relationships? Is it possible that the blessing of God rests upon same-sex couples in committed relationships? Under what conditions, if any, should the church consider blessing a loving, committed gay or lesbian union?
Love for our neighbors who are gay and lesbian means taking into account the effect of our attitudes, stances, and actions on them. Love is not condescending or fearful of others, but seeks to build up those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Love for our neighbors also means taking into account the effect of our attitudes, stances, and actions on those whose perspectives differ from our own. Those who believe that committed same-sex relationships may be blessed by God should be mindful of the effect of their witness on those who believe that all homosexual activity is sin.
As Lutheran Christians we are able to face and deliberate difficult questions. As we do so, we need to ask: What is evangelically most faithful to the revelation of God as we know it through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? What will best serve the proclamation, witness, and mission of the Church in our society today. We are reminded that we stand within a tradition in which ethical stances are to serve the mission of the Church, and especially the communication of the Gospel through Word and Sacraments. The Gospel message of freedom allows us to change positions we have held in the past when such change enhances the ministry of the Word of God, as part of the ongoing reformation of the Church.
We trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to Guide and unite us in Christ as we continue to deliberate on those questions and issues of homosexuality on which we are presently divided. God grant us the courage and the strength!