Is homosexuality sinful? Is it an abomination, a blessing, a unique lifestyle? Religious groups have been rigorously tackling these and other relevant questions regarding same-sex relationships. But the inconsistencies among the groups’ positions can be overwhelming.
Modern Judaism generally approves of gay marriage and homosexuality, with an estimated 81% of professed Jews in the U.S. supporting it. Islam, however, is harshly opposed, considering homosexual acts as abominable sins punishable by death (in fact, Muslim-dominated countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran still uphold the death penalty for such offenses).
Buddhism takes the middle ground. It can be either supportive, emphasizing compassion and acceptance, or disapproving, regarding these sexual acts as harmful “pleasures of the senses” that are to be renounced in this life, according to The Eightfold Path.
What do Christian churches have to say? A lot, as it turns out. And it is not consistent.
Among major Evangelical Protestant (EP) denominations, like the Southern Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God and the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, as well as a multitude of smaller churches (Reformed Presbyterian, Orthodox Presbyterian and Presbyterian Church of America to name a few) the vast majority maintain that homosexual practices (not the sexual orientation itself) are sinful, but forgivable.
As the Southern Baptist position statement puts it, “Homosexuality is not a ‘valid alternative lifestyle.’ The Bible condemns it as sin. It is not, however, unforgivable sin. The same redemption available to all sinners is available to homosexuals. They, too, may become new creations in Christ.”
These EP churches affirm that homosexuals may receive the same redemption as heterosexual believers. Nevertheless, they forbid active homosexuals from becoming church elders, pastors or ministers and usually do not allow them to become full members.
Similarly, The United Methodist Church prohibits active homosexuals from obtaining church office—though some in the church have actively opposed this position in recent years. Despite attempts to amend the Book of Discipline, this mainline church has continued to assert that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
On the other side of the Christian religious spectrum are the liberal churches that accept homosexuals and their practices with open arms. These include the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Presbyterian Church of the USA (PCUSA).
In recent years these churches have revised their former positions concerning homosexuality to adopt more tolerant ones. Since the ELCA’s 2009 Churchwide Assembly, for example, the church has affirmed that they will “recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable” same-gender couples within their congregations and allow those in such relationships to become pastors or ministers.
The PCUSA has also come to accept homosexuals as leaders. After years of examining and reexamining the issue, the presbyteries voted in 2011 to withdraw the requirement from their Book of Order that officers of the church must “live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.”
Some denominations have yet to unify on their position. The Episcopal Church is a chief example. While some dioceses have accepted homosexuals as bishops and approve unions between same-sex couples, others are opposed to the whole issue. Unable to come to a consensus, during the 2009 General Convention the church issued an official statement acknowledging that “members of The Episcopal Church … are not of one mind, and Christians of good conscience disagree about some of these matters.”
Lastly (and interestingly), the Roman Catholic Church also lacks unity on the issue, despite the principles laid out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (para. 2357). The Catechism instructs that homosexual acts are “a grave depravity,” yet according to a recent survey by Pew Research, 53 percent of American Catholics say they do not consider homosexual acts to be sinful (compare with the 14% of EPs with this view).