Volume 45, Number 5
In 1983 at the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, the Church of the Brethren issued a Statement on Human Sexuality from a Christian Perspective. Most of the Statement addresses human sexuality on conventional terms, and from a fairly conservative approach. However, when turning to the issue of homosexuality, the paper tries to moderate its stance, calling for the church to be kind in its treatment of homosexual persons, while also declaring that same-sex covenantal unions (essentially, homosexual marriages) to be unacceptable. While it is true the Annual Conference delegate body amended the final statement, it remains that it is the statement of Annual Conference, and has the same authority as any other Annual Conference statement (most of which are amended in some way before final passage).
Since then a number of activists within the Church of the Brethren have sought to undermine the statement by agitating for a more open stance on homosexuality. These activists have organized under the auspices of the Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgendered Interests (BMC), the Womaens Caucus, and the Voices for an Open Spirit (VOS) groups. The BMC repeatedly has requested opportunities to promote its view through an Annual Conference exhibit booth and meal events. The other two groups have aided the homosexual cause through their publications and meal events at Conference.
Has the argument really changed since 1983? Has there been any new Biblical scholarship that overturns the plain meaning of the seven Scripture passages directly relating to the homosexual issue? Has there been any new ground broken that would enable the two positions to remain in harmony in the same church? The answer, of course, is no. Nothing has changed since 1983 except that the homosexual advocates and friends have become more insistent, more determined, and more shrill—to the point that they do not even want to “dialogue” over the seven passages that they say “clobber” them on the issue. It is ironic that some ministers and members in a denomination founded on Bible study of “hard passages” now want to avoid those Scriptures directly touching this subject. They are attempting to shift the debate from homosexuality to “inclusion.”
God’s Word has not changed on the subject. The Scripture passages still stand as a consistent testimony against homosexual practice. The 1983 paper declares, “[H]omosexual behavior is considered contrary to the heterosexual norm that runs throughout scripture.” Some claim, “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality—and neither should we.” This is a dangerous thing to say, for at least three reasons:
1) When Jesus spoke in Matthew 19:1-9, He affirmed the plan of God was for one man with one woman for one lifetime. “Jesus affirms that heterosexual marriage is the pattern for sexual union God intended from the beginning” (Human Sexuality). While singleness is possible under Jesus’ teaching, homosexuality is not.
2) Jesus Himself said that the Holy Spirit would teach the Apostles further truth, which we have recorded for us in the Acts, the Epistles, and the Revelation. If Jesus was silent in the Gospels, then certainly the teaching of Paul in Romans 1, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (also the Word of God) should be enough for us to know that homosexual practice–in any context–is wrong.
3) As Robert Gagnon points out, “Jesus doesn’t have to mention homosexual practice explicitly because (1) there in no Jew in first-century Palestine known to be engaging in it…and (2) there is no Jew advocating for the acceptance of homosexual relations, committed or otherwise…. Telling his audience in first-century Palestine that men should stop having sex with other males would have been met with perplexity since the point was too well known, too foundational, and too strongly accepted to merit mention” (http://www.robgagnon.net/articles/homosexNewsweekMillerResp.pdf).
The issue underlying the homosexual debate is the authority of the Bible. How then can agreement or a means of living together in a church body be found on homosexuality–when that issue stems, almost wholly, from how Scripture is read and applied? What is the basis for détente between the views? There is none. To accept homosexuality is to reject the Bible.
Human nature has not changed. We are all born in sin, inherited through our ancestors from Adam, and we engage in sin all too often. What matters is that we call people to cease from sin, including homosexuality. Homosexuality is not necessarily an “is,” it is a “does.” We are all bent toward sin in some way. Some are bent toward lying, some stealing, some blasphemy, and so on. Some are bent toward homosexual lusts. That does not make it right, or make one human. We simply recognize that fact, and then not act on that “bentness.” A person is a person, no matter what their temptation. It is when they act on those temptations that they become the sinner in deed.
The church has not changed. In 1983, Annual Conference stated, “the church holds to the teaching that sexual intercourse, which can be the most intimate expression of sexuality and the bonding of human relationships, belongs within heterosexual marriage,” and, “the Church of the Brethren upholds the biblical declaration that heterosexuality is the intention of God for creation” (emphasis added).
If anything, the voice of the church is stronger on the Biblical view than in was in 1983. Then, Annual Conference voted by a two-thirds margin to pass the sexuality paper. Carl D. Bowman’s most recent look at the Church of the Brethren, Portrait of a People: The Brethren at 300, indicates that 83% of the Brethren oppose same-sex marriage or covenantal relationships. This shows the effect of teaching God’s Word as it reads.
At several points since 1983, Annual Conference, its committees, and districts have spoken again prophetically to the issue. In 1992, the Annual Conference Standing Committee affirmed the 1983 statement. In 2002, the Annual Conference itself prohibited the licensing and ordination of homosexual persons, and affirmed that homosexual practice is unacceptable behavior in the church and therefore implied to be sin. A third of the districts have affirmed the 1983 statement that homosexuality is unacceptable. For example, the South/Central Indiana District has stated,
“We of the South/Central District of the Church of the Brethren affirm our call to engage in Christ-centered ministry that seeks to be in right and loving relationship with all of God’s children. Moreover we assert that ‘right and loving relationship’ includes holding one another accountable to the standards or moral behavior found in Scripture. Therefore, in accordance with Scripture and in solidarity with the 1983, 1992 and 2002 actions of the Church of the Brethren’s Annual Conference concerning homosexuality, we will not support actions, policies, positions, or ceremonies that in any way promote homosexuality as an acceptable Christian lifestyle blessed by God.”
There has been extensive discussion within the church. The denomination has been active in its conversations since the 1970s. The issue has been almost a constant undertone of Conference since 1983. Yet the dialogue has strengthened the Biblical view against homosexuality within the Church of the Brethren, to the point where the church has accepted the need for self-discipline on the issue.
One thing has changed—the world. In the past three decades, our society has continued down the path of sexual looseness. What was once whispered in shame has become shouted on the street corner. Immorality that was preached against in the pulpit in the name of Christian holiness is now welcomed in the name of inclusiveness. A church that once upheld nonconformity with the world now seeks to adopt the world’s approach to morals.
We have been having an extended conversation for nearly thirty years. The stark disagreement is still there. The Church of the Brethren in its boundaries has determined that under God’s Word, homosexual practice is not acceptable, it is implied as sin, and no minister may be a practicing homosexual.
Brethren Revival Fellowship believes it is time for the Church of the Brethren to reaffirm the Biblical position and church applications on homosexual practice, to conclude our decades-long dialogue, and to work at building the church once again—on the authority of the Bible.
–Craig Alan Myers
Homosexuality: Genetic, Healthy, and Beneficial?
Flaws in the Arguments
By Kiah Wenger
“It’s an abomination!”
“You are a bigoted homophobe!”
These emotionally charged words are often exchanged in heated arguments over the issue of homosexuality. Many advocates of homosexuality claim that homosexuality is genetic, healthy, and beneficial for society. On the other hand, those who oppose the practice of homosexuality state that homosexuality is not an unchangeable genetic trait, is often the result of unhealthy family structures, and is harmful for society. However, is there valid evidence and scientific evidence to support these claims? Recent scientific evidence supports the notion that homosexuality is a changeable lifestyle, unhealthy for the individual, and harmful to society. There are flaws found in several claims about homosexuality such as that homosexuality is genetic and not a matter of choice; that it is not harmful to one’s health; and that it is beneficial for society to embrace.
The first claim is that homosexuality is genetic, an inherited trait that is unchangeable and must be accepted as natural. Homosexuals have been compared to blacks during the Civil Rights era: discriminated against because of an unchangeable genetic trait (Layman 117-18). Supporters of homosexuality state that if it were a simple choice of preference, like choosing a food selection from a buffet, why would homosexuals endure the persecution and discrimination that sometimes occurs from choosing a gay lifestyle (Layman 115)? If the notion that homosexuality is an unchangeable genetic trait is true, any opposition to homosexuality seems to be reduced to prejudice and hateful slander.
There are several flaws, however, with this claim that homosexuality is an unchangeable genetic trait. The first flaw is the idea that if homosexuality is inherited it must be good or acceptable. If someone claimed that his or her out-of-control anger was inherited genetically, society would understand that the person has an inclination to anger but would not pardon the acts of uncontrolled anger (Dr. Satinover). Another instance would be if there was a “rape gene” that could be inherited, society would understand that the people who inherited the “rape gene” were predisposed to rapist feelings or desires but certainly would not condone or allow people to act on these feelings (Harrub, Thompson, and Miller).
The second flaw with the idea that homosexuality is an unalterable genetic trait, is that many men and women have turned from a homosexual lifestyle to a life of heterosexuality. One study found that seventy-five percent of men who think they are gay at age seventeen “change” on their own and by age twenty-five are not gay (Dr. Satinover). Additional studies have shown that homosexual feelings can be removed. According to psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, multiple studies have shown those who undergo treatment of some kind for unwanted homosexual feelings have “success rates ranging from 30% to 70%.” If homosexuality were an unchangeable genetic trait, there should be virtually no record of anyone changing. The pro-homosexual Dr. Robert Spitzer, a high-ranking psychiatrist and researcher at Columbia University, performed his own study about whether or not homosexuality was changeable and concluded: “I’m convinced from the people I have interviewed, that for many of them, they have made substantial changes toward becoming heterosexual…I think that’s news…I came to this study skeptical. I now claim that these changes can be sustained” (quoted in Dr. Satinover’s testimony).
Another aspect of whether or not homosexuals can change is the question: are attempts to change unhealthy for the homosexual? Contrary to claims that going against homosexual attraction will harm the individual, studies have shown that there is no indication that those who undergo change from homosexuality suffer psychological harm. A researcher in a study conducted on this topic, Stanton L. Jones (a provost and professor at Wheaton College), stated that throughout the study the subjects were psychologically assessed and Jones noted that there was no change in their distress level (Williams). In addition to studies showing people can choose to depart from a homosexual lifestyle, other studies have shown that sexual activities can change the structure of one’s brain. According to Mark Breedlove, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, the sexual actions taken by or impressed upon an individual can alter their brain structure (Harrub, Thompson, and Miller). This shows that one’s upbringing greatly affects their perceptions and inclinations.
The notion that homosexuality is not an unchangeable genetic trait is further backed by studies involving identical twins where one twin grows up to be homosexual. If homosexuality is an unchangeable genetic trait then identical twins with matching sets of chromosomes would both grow up to be homosexual. One study conducted by Michael Bailey and Richard Pillard (researchers at Northwestern University and the Boston University School of Medicine), showed however, there is only a fifty percent chance that identical twins will both grow up to be homosexual. The results of the study further dispelled the genetic link by showing that subjects who were adopted siblings had a greater chance of being homosexual than non-twin biological siblings (Harrub, Thompson, and Miller).
These flaws in the genetic theory of homosexuality do not mean that homosexual feelings are not real or are easy to control. Those who have turned from a homosexual lifestyle attest to the difficulty of the lifestyle change (Williams). It simply shows that though the change is difficult, it is not impossible like many advocates of homosexuality assert. The claim that homosexuality is an unchangeable genetic trait has major flaws, mainly the idea that something inherited is not necessarily good, the fact that many people change from a homosexual lifestyle, and the scientific evidence that shows a disconnect between genetics and homosexual behavior.
A second claim of homosexuality is that homosexuality is a normal and healthy aspect of human behavior. Advocates of homosexuality declare it is healthy for the homosexual individual to embrace their orientation as reality and to live courageously a lifestyle that reflects their feelings (Layman 115, 116). Several flaws exist with this claim that homosexuality is a natural and healthy human behavior.
The first flaw is that children are deprived when a homosexual couple raises them. Child Matters, a publication on facts about children, affirms that the healthiest upbringing for children is when they are raised by their two biological parents (Moore, Jekielek, and Emig). The fact that it is less healthy for children to be raised by homosexual couples suggests that a homosexual relationship is lacking certain healthy aspects that a heterosexual relationship has and is, therefore, unhealthy.
A second flaw with the claim that homosexuality is a natural and healthy human behavior is homosexuals are at higher risk to various diseases and psychological disorders. According to multiple studies referenced by psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, who testified before the Massachusetts Senate Judicial Committee on the issue of homosexuality, twenty-year homosexual males were found to have a thirty percent or greater chance to be HIV positive or suffer death from AIDS by age thirty. Another study referenced by author Sue Bohlin, found that homosexual behavior renders the individual at greater risk for “alcoholism and drug abuse; depression; emotionally exhausting relationships; and a shortened lifespan.”
A third claim of homosexuality is that if it were embraced and accepted it would improve the society of the United States. Advocates of homosexuality staunchly insist that it is crucial for society to accept homosexuality as a symbol of human diversity and accept the benefits it brings. There are several flaws with this claim that homosexuality is beneficial for society.
The first flaw is demonstrated by the disintegration of marriages and the family structure in nations that have adopted homosexuality. Even though some proponents of homosexuality proclaim that homosexuals desire a permanent lover, Scandinavia is a modern example of the corrupting effect that embracing homosexuality has on a nation. Analyzing trends of decline in marriages and increase in children born outside of marriage in Scandinavian countries that legalized gay marriage, author Stanley Kurtz stated, “Marriage is slowly dying in Scandinavia” (quoted in Anderson).
A second flaw with the assertion that embracing homosexuality is beneficial for society is the likely possibility that it will not only destroy marriage, but also open the door to the acceptance of many other kinds of unnatural human relationships. When deviances from heterosexual marriages, such as the homosexual preference, are accepted as mere “aspects of behavioral diversity,” what is to stand against preferences such as polygamy or bestiality other than the time needed by advocates to desensitize society (Anderson)? Accepting homosexuality will destroy marriage and dissolve the structure of the family unit, which is crucial for any society to survive.
Homosexuality is a changeable lifestyle, is unhealthy for individuals, and is harmful to society. As responsible citizens, we must look not only how a behavior affects us but also how the behavior affects society. It is clear that the traditional heterosexual family structure is the very foundation of a society and when that institution fails—then society is weakened. It is crucial, therefore, that each individual firmly oppose the acceptance of homosexuality for it harms not only the individual but also society as a whole. It equally crucial that the object of this opposition is to the practice of homosexuality and not the homosexual person, for each life is to be respected and treated with dignity.
Anderson, Kerby. “Answering Arguments for Same-Sex Marriage.” PROBE Ministries. 2008. PROBE Ministries. 27 July 2009 <http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4426923/k.F513/Answering_Arguments_for_SameSex_Marriage.htm>
Bohlin, Sue. “Helping Teens Understand Homosexuality.” PROBE Ministries. 2005. PROBE Ministries. 27 July 2009 <http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4219073/k.20DF/Helping_Teens_Understand_Homosexuality.htm#text4.
“Dr. Jeffrey Satinover Testifies Before Massachusetts Senate Committee Studying Gay Marriage.” NARTH. 3 Sep. 2008. NARTH. 27 July 2009 <http://www.narth.com/docs/senatecommittee.html>.
Harrub, Brad, Bert Thompson, and Dave Miller. “This is the Way God Made Me” A Scientific Examination of Homosexuality and the “Gay Gene.” True Origin Archive. 2003. 27 July 2009 <http://www.trueorigin.org/gaygene01.asp>.
Layman, David Wayne. “Ethics: Belief and Action.” McGraw-Hill. 115-18.
Moore, Kristin, Susan Jekielek, and Carol Emig. “Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, and What Can We Do about It?.” Child Trends Research Brief. June 2002. 27 July 2009 <http://www.childtrends.org/files/marriagerb602.pdf>.
Williams, Devon . “Researchers Say Sexual Orientation Can Change.” Focus on the Family Action CitizenLink.com. 13 Sep. 2007. Focus on the Family. 27 July 2009 <http://www.citizenlink.com/2007/09/citizenlink-researchers-say-sexual-orientation-can-change/>.
Kiah Wenger is a member of the White Oak Church of the Brethren, near Manheim, PA.