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Opinion - Homosexuality: A church divided and wrestling with the issues

2021-05-21  Reverend Jan Scholtz

Opinion - Homosexuality: A church divided and wrestling with the issues

In a world rocked by wars, poverty and HIV/AIDS, it seems absurd that so much intensity of feelings is generated with regard to homosexuality. Yet, for those who are homosexual, it is not absurd. It is a deeply hurtful and sensitive issue. Bird writes of it thus: “ Homosexuality is a subject of debate in the church today – because faithful Christians who understand themselves as homosexual and seeking fulfilment of  their sexual needs in same-sex relationships have insisted that their identity and practice as gay men and lesbians is consonant with, and even expressive of, their identity as Christians. It is also a subject of Christian debate because other homosexual Christians, faced with a perceived conflict between biblical norms and their own sexual needs, have been driven to the tragic options of divided lives, divided consciences, denial of sexual expression, contorted rationalisations, rejection of biblical authority  and the Bible itself, self-hate and even self-destruction” (in Balch 2000:143)

Today, with the enormous problems facing the world, it is the issue of homosexuality that threatens to split the church. It seems that one of the main pastoral needs is to educate the church regarding homosexuality. The Christian community should not reject the homosexual simply for being a homosexual. Instead, they should be better informed on the origins and results of homosexuality. The Christian community should re-examine whether some of its attitudes towards homosexuals are due to prejudice rather than facts and Christian beliefs. The Christian community should be a place where all sinners feel accepted and loved. For many, it seems reasonable to assume that homosexuals should be bound by the same moral criteria for sexual activity as heterosexuals.

If heterosexuals must stick to one partner, so should homosexuals. However, one must also take cognisance of the attitudes of society. Many homosexuals are lonely and lack self-esteem. They are driven to seek superficial encounters, even if it‘s a temporary one. Heterosexual, Christian couples make vows of fidelity to one another, before God. The Christian community recognises the union, affirms it, and pledges support and prayer for the couple. Homosexuals have no such recognition and help . By withholding recognition of a homosexual union and refusing any liturgical blessing, the church is promoting promiscuity because whatever the relationship, it is still not right for public Christian affirmation. 

It makes no difference whether it is a lifelong relationship or not. If homosexuality is accepted by the church as a legitimate expression of sexuality, this may be the end-result.  In looking at models of ministry for the church, one needs to consider that a major feature of Jesus’ ministry  was solidarity with the marginalised ( poor and sinners ). If the church’s ministry is to be anything like Jesus’ ministry, then it must take the marginalised, the poor and the sinners seriously .They are the religious outcasts of the day.  Thus, it is important to consider what kind of church we are modelling or what model of ministry we are following when we exclude the marginalised (homosexuals) from membership or ministry. The parents of homosexuals often condemn their children, and cannot accept their sexual orientation. By not accepting homosexuality, many parents suffer greatly as they reject their children, and family relationships  are destroyed.

The church has to face the issue of homosexuality. There is tension between the traditional teaching of church and the modern acceptance of homosexual acts. As one church leader wrote, “ A crisis  is upon the church… homosexual persons demand the sanction of their  lifestyles …I call this a crisis because it promises to disrupt  congregations, shatter church structures, throw confusion into a time-honoured biblical interpretation, change the social structure of our country, and revoke our fundamental view of man as created by God as male and female “(Michael Green, The Church and Homosexuality:  A positive answer to the current debate (London 1980)

Whatever one’s feeling, the heterosexual majority in the church can gain an immense amount from a deeper grappling with this issue, and a deeper encounter with gay Christians. Grappling with the issue of homosexuality might help to give Christians an enriched capacity to love other people more fully and less fearfully. The church should, therefore, be called upon to acknowledge the pain that is a reality for people on all sides of the debates; to engage in ongoing biblical and theological matters on the subject in light of continuing clinical studies; to assist pastors and members to cultivate attitudes and acquire skills that enable them to minister the grace of God to person who are openly homosexuals; and to revisit, with great care, its disciplinary codes in light of sexuality and sexual orientation.

In summary, the question of homosexuality is a growing concern within our own families, our fellowships, and our communities.  It is one that we cannot wish away, and our duty is to seek the mind of Christ through continuing openness to the Holy Spirit, and dialogue amongst ourselves and with the homosexual  community. What is non-negotiable for us is the conviction that all humanity is made in the image of God, however scarred, in many ways, that image may be. 

2021-05-21  Reverend Jan Scholtz

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