The issue of homosexuality is prompting increasingly intense debate in virtually all sectors of our society. It’s a debate that is being held in the halls of government, as legislators try to define what marriage is, and what rights and protections should be given to homosexual citizens. It’s a debate that is being held in public school systems, as teachers and administrators make determinations about hiring practices and what should be taught to children about homosexuality. It’s a debate that is being held in corporate boardrooms, as executives decide about extending health care benefits to gay partners. It’s a debate that is being held in more of our homes, as increasing numbers of friends and family members and neighbors admit their involvement in same-sex relationships and we try to discern how to respond. And it’s a debate that is being held in many denominations and churches-some of them nearing the point of splitting apart-over the question of whether homosexuality should be affirmed in the church and practicing homosexuals should be ordained into Christian ministry. Our culture is deeply divided on many levels about the homosexuality question, with one end of the spectrum populated by gay activists who hold parades and demand unqualified acceptance of all homosexual activities. At the other end of the spectrum are the people who attend those parades and wave banners that boldly proclaim “God hates gays.” On both sides, feelings are intense, passions are strong, and ugliness and hatred often emerge.
Where does The Wesleyan Church stand on this challenging and complex contemporary issue?* Is homosexuality activity a legitimate alternative lifestyle that we as Wesleyans can embrace? Or is it a sin that distorts God’s purposes and is prohibited by His Word? What should be our response to this issue in our contemporary context?
It is the historic and sustained conviction of The Wesleyan Church that homosexual activity is contrary to the known will of God as revealed to us in the Bible. While numerous biblical passages can be cited to support this view, we believe the strongest biblical argument against homosexual activity comes from the account of creation (Genesis 1-2). When Jesus was asked His opinion about divorce, He took His listeners back to the beginning and used the creation as a means for teaching them God’s purposes (Matthew 19:4-6). God’s intentions could be discerned from the way God created things. In a similar way, we believe that the biblical account of creation is highly instructive as we sort through the complexities of the homosexual debate. From that account, we learn the following key truths about human sexuality:
- We learn that we are created male and female, and that male and female together reflect the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
- We learn that it is through the relationship between a man and a woman that human beings can be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28).
- We learn that man and woman were created for one another, and that it is God’s intention that a man and a woman become one flesh.
God’s plan for us is revealed in our design, and the book of Genesis shows unmistakably that God has designed our bodies for heterosexual relationships. Even an elementary school understanding of basic biology affirms this view. God’s majestic creation of human beings in His own image, male and female, shows us that homosexual activity is a use of our bodies that rejects God’s original intention and design.
From Genesis onward, the Bible affirms this understanding. Whenever the Bible talks about God’s plan for marriage and sexual fulfillment, it is always and only within the context of a heterosexual marriage (e.g., Mark 10:1-12, Ephesians 5:21-33). Whenever Jesus spoke of marriage, He spoke of a man and a woman. The entire book of the Song of Solomon is a tribute to the beauty of heterosexual love. And several passages explicitly mention homosexual activity as among those behaviors that perverts God’s plan (1 Corinthians 6:9, Romans 1:26-27, Genesis 19). The Wesleyan Church acknowledges that there are Christians who come to a different conclusion, but it seems to us that the overwhelming preponderance of biblical evidence points to the fact that God’s plan is one man and one woman for one lifetime. We take this stand not because we are homophobic or intolerant or narrow-minded, but because we are committed to following the teachings of the Bible about marriage and family and human sexuality, even when those teachings run counter to prevailing cultural norms.
Some will object to this position based on their claim that people seem to be born with their sexual orientation. The objection amounts to a different kind of appeal to the created order: “If God made homosexuals the way they are, how can it be wrong?” Some Christians respond to this objection by simply asserting that the homosexual orientation is not a genetic or biological predisposition, but rather a personal choice. The Wesleyan Church believes that the causes of homosexuality are likely not as simple as either of those explanations. The truth is that we do not yet have final answers on the causes of homosexuality, and that there are probably different causes for different people, and that often the cause is a combination of factors.
However, the uncertainty and complexity surrounding the root causes of homosexuality do not in any way undermine or compromise our position that homosexual behavior is outside the will of God. Not all inborn traits are good ones. Not all behavior patterns we learn from our families or childhood trauma are desirable. Just as alcohol abuse or rage or any number of destructive behavior patterns might stem from a variety of causes and yet we still hold people to a biblical standard of behavior, we do the same with the issue of homosexuality. We humbly acknowledge the uncertainty around its causes, yet we unashamedly insist that by the grace of God we are still called and empowered to live in compliance with God’s will and purposes as revealed in Scripture.
This leads to an important distinction that we call on all Wesleyans to understand and remember in their thinking about this topic. The sin of homosexuality is about the behavior;1 it is not about the orientation or the desire or the temptation. We are all tempted in many ways-some of us to greed or pride or envy or self-righteousness. Jesus himself was tempted! And the temptation itself is not sin; sin comes only when a person yields to that temptation and engages in the sinful behavior or attitude (1 Corinthians 10:13, James 1:13-15). The same is true of homosexuality. The temptation or desire (or “orientation”) to find sexual fulfillment with members of the same sex is not sin any more than any other temptation is sin; homosexuality becomes sin only when that desire is acted on through homosexual lust or behavior. We certainly believe as Wesleyans that people with a homosexual orientation can be healed of that orientation and become heterosexuals, yet we also believe that those who are not freed of the orientation can be obedient to Christ by abstaining from homosexual practices and living in sexual purity.
As The Wesleyan Church seeks to respond to the homosexual issue and (more importantly) to homosexual individuals, we look to Jesus as our example. Just as He responded to the woman caught in the act of adultery with these words: “. . . then neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11), so we call on Wesleyans to respond to the homosexual community with both boundless compassion and a call to biblical standards of sexual morality. We do not, cannot, and will not endorse homosexual activity as a lifestyle; just as we cannot, do not, and will not endorse all other kinds of behaviors that displease God. But we also do not, cannot, and will not endorse condemning, hate-filled, self-righteous attitudes toward those in the gay community. This type of attitude, all too common among evangelical Christians, serves only to drive people farther away from the God who loves them and the community where they can find Him. Jesus was known as a “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34), and so we invite Wesleyans to reflect His heart to all persons who are far from God, including those in the gay community. We will not compromise biblical truth and we will not endorse homosexual activity, but we encourage our churches to be the kinds of communities where a homosexual person can feel wanted and loved and valued and where they can be introduced to the love of Christ and nurtured in Him. We require our churches to hold unashamedly to the biblical teaching against homosexual behavior, but we also ask our churches to provide generously the sort of teaching, support, ministry, counseling, and hospitality that can be used by God to bring His redemptive love to those who need it most. The Wesleyan Church is populated by sinners who have acknowledged their need of God and are being transformed and renewed by Him; we reach out and welcome anyone who is seeking that same transforming grace to be at work in their lives as well.
1 “Sexual relationships outside of marriage and sexual relationships between persons of the same sex are immoral and sinful. The depth of the sinfulness of homosexual practice is recognized, and yet we believe the grace of God sufficient to overcome both the practice of such activity and the perversion leading to its practice.” (Discipline 410:5. Emphasis added.)