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Our Church’s stand on homosexuality

WHAT is our Church’s stand on homosexuality?

It is clearly stated in the Book of Discipline of The Methodist Church in Singapore. In the section on Social Principles, we read: “We consider the practice of homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teachings. However, we do recognise that homosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. They need the ministry and guidance of the Church as well as the spiritual and emotional support of caring fellowship.”

We maintain that homosexual practice is sinful, contrary to God’s will, and forbidden in Scripture. We also believe that God’s grace is available to homosexuals and must be offered to them. These two points are based on our faith in a God who is both holy and compassionate (Ezek. 39:25), righteous and merciful (Ps. 4:1).

Let us think about the first point — that Scripture speaks against homosexual practice.

Those who argue that the gay lifestyle should be accepted as an alternative lifestyle rely on two assumptions that are suspect when examined closely.

The first assumption is that gays are made that way, and therefore their behaviour should be accepted by society as normal.

It has been argued that there could be a gay gene and that gay behaviour is therefore genetically determined, and that it is therefore “natural”. Others have proposed that there is such a thing as a “gay brain,” structured or wired in a particular way that creates gay behaviour. Yet others have suggested that “hormones” probably explain why some people are gay. Whether it is a gay gene, brain, or hormones, their existence or significance has not been proven.

Homosexual practice an unacceptable lifestyle

Even if proof emerges for a strong biological explanation for gay behaviour, there is still a problem. Does biology determine moral values? What if it is shown that, biologically speaking, certain people are naturally and particularly lazy, greedy, selfish, dishonest, violent or lustful? Do we accept the full and free expression of these impulses, even if they cause harm? In reality we don’t.

To state an unproven claim as a newly-established fact (that gays are “made that way”) is in itself questionable. To assume that moral values, or what is right or wrong, can be determined mainly by biology adds to the myth.

The second assumption is that moral values are determined by what is popularly acceptable. Can we determine what is right or wrong by merely looking at the latest polls?

Alfred Kinsey’s famous study on human sexuality in 1948 claimed that 10 per cent of the population are gays. The accuracy of this study has been seriously challenged and later studies show that the figure is significantly lower. But Kinsey’s figures made gay behaviour appear “normal” and helped to legitimise it. It led to changing views on homosexuality. Until 1973 homosexuality was considered a mental illness. Now it is viewed as an alternative lifestyle. It is claimed that there is nothing biologically or psychologically wrong with homosexuals, and that the problem really is one of social acceptability.

Hence, it is assumed that though the majority in Singapore are still “conservative” they will come to accept gay lifestyles in due time. The gay activists hope that their lifestyles can then be integrated into mainstream thinking and practice. The assumptions made here are that this shift is the path of progress and that the opinions of the majority determine what is right and wrong. Both stand on shaky ground.

Yet, the biological and sociological assumptions described above are often found in arguments used by those who seek to promote gay rights and lifestyles, and sometimes by those who are opposed to them.

As Christians our primary argument must lie elsewhere. It must be rooted in Scripture, what it teaches, and the authority it has in the doctrine and life of the Church. Perhaps we can start by thinking about norms. How do we find and establish norms for our lives? It is not enough to allow what is normal to determine norms, especially moral ones. Rather we should base such norms on what is normative? What then is the difference between what is normal and what is normative?

The normal is discovered by empirical scientific study, e.g. the normal height of men, the incidence of lying, cheating, corruption and bribes. Whatever is discovered to be normal cannot be automatically assumed to be right. Science merely describes what is. We need God’s revelation, through Scripture, to prescribe what should be. Science (whether it is the brain scans of biology or the surveys of sociology) can only show what is normal while it is Scripture that can truly point us to what is normative.

Our moral views therefore cannot be based merely on the normal (however it is scientifically or sociologically arrived at) but must be clearly based on the normative as found in Scripture. Hence Scripture should take a central place in our discussions and reflections on the issue of homosexuality.

What then is Scripture’s normative teaching on homosexuality?

Bible scholar Robert Gagnon’s excellent book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon, 2001) provides a thorough study of the matter. He examines the key verses such as Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:24-27; 1 Cor. 6:9, and 1 Tim. 1:10 and concludes that Scripture’s clear teaching is that [the practice of] homosexuality is a sin. Even those who try to reinterpret Scripture to support homosexuality find it difficult to refute Gagnon. Gagnon has reiterated the Church’s historical scriptural position. On this matter we must be clear and hold firmly to Scripture’s teaching.

We come to the second point raised at the beginning — that we should offer homosexuals the Gospel of God’s forgiveness, grace and power to transform people.

The Bible declares that all have sinned, and all are in need of God’s grace. In condemning sins, we must also work with God in redeeming sinners. God loves all that He has made, whether they please Him or not. Jesus taught that God gives sunshine to both the good and the evil, and sends needed rain to both the righteous and the unrighteous (Mt. 5:45).

In providing for people’s basic needs, God shows a loving non-discrimination. We must note that homosexuals are also people and have basic human dignity and like us, have basic rights, such as the right to education, health care, and employment. It must also be noted that just like all humans who are a mixture of sin and grace, a homosexual may also exhibit many praiseworthy character traits in spite of engaging in a particular sinful practice. (We must also note that while we condemn homosexual practice, we must likewise be prepared to condemn with equal strength and conviction the other sins listed in, say, 1 Cor. 6:9 such as stealing, greed, drunkenness, slandering, and idolatry, or the more deadly sins such as pride.)

We must be careful in not outdoing and contradicting God by rejecting people or denying them their basic needs as God-created individuals because of their unrighteous acts. This applies to homosexuals too. What we must oppose, however, is the active and aggressive promotion by gay rights groups of a gay lifestyle in our society. We must raise strong objections when there are attempts in the arts, media and other places to endorse, normalise or idealise the gay lifestyle. We believe that such a lifestyle is contrary to family values and the kind of society we seek to live in. We live in a common social environment and as salt and light, we must fulfil our role in the larger society.

In Church, we must take a clear moral stand that homosexual practice is sinful and is an unacceptable lifestyle. Like all sinners, those who are repentant and seek God’s grace, healing and transforming power should be welcome in the Christian family (cf. 1 Cor 6:11; it suggests that some of the church members in the Corinthian church were repentant ex-homosexuals just as there were people who had repented from the other sinful practices listed in v. 9. The Church, after all, is a fellowship of repentant and forgiven sinners who are being transformed into Christlike holiness and love). Such people must be treated with sympathy and love. We must ensure that condemnation of the sin does not carry over to hatred and destruction of the sinners. We must be morally clear and firm against the sin, and at the same time loving and gracious towards the repentant and struggling sinner. They must find in the Christian community the tender kindness of divine grace that Jesus always showed to those who had failed morally but had turned to God in repentance.

Jesus is our best example here.

When asked to judge and throw stones at a woman caught in adultery He told her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” (Jn. 8:11) A clear judgement is made on the sin but grace is offered to the one caught in that sin. Like our Lord, we must clearly condemn the sin but also, with the grace of God, set aside and discard the stones. For it is in Him and by the Spirit of God that all sinners, whatever their sin, are washed, justified, and sanctified (1 Cor.6:11). There are no exceptions, and no other way.

This article was endorsed by the General Conference in its 2004 Session as reflecting the official stand of the MCS with regard to homosexuality (2004 Official Journal, Daily Proceedings 2004/186).