Sunday, October 31, 2010

LGBTQ Ordination Resource

Answering common arguments against LGBTQ ordination and making our own in favor of inclusion.  Each heading is a link to expanded arguments, with citations, on each point for anyone who is interested.

Answering Common Arguments Against LGBTQ Rights and Inclusion

“Homosexuality is an abomination”
The Hebrew word, [toevah], sometimes translated as ‘abomination’ or ‘detestable’, is also applied to the eating of shellfish in Levitical law, among other things, and seems to be a ritual-uncleanliness term, sometimes used to describe idolatry. Of course, it is not translated as ‘abomination’ when applied to eating shellfish, because abomination is a word specifically chosen in an attempt to paint a particular act as more heinous than the others listed in the same section of law. This is the long-standing translators’ bias impinging on the Biblical text.
Furthermore, the act described as ‘abomination’ was not describing a committed, monogamous relationship between two people of the same gender - which was not a category considered in Bronze Age Middle-Eastern thought. Rather, the ‘abomination’ in question would have been an instance of adultery and/or having sex with ritual prostitutes.

“Homosexuality is the ‘sin of Sodom’”
The ‘sin of Sodom’ is inhospitality. Nowhere in scripture is the destruction of Sodom linked with same-sex activity of any kind. The story immediately preceding the account of the destruction of Sodom is of Abraham receiving the three strangers and being hospitable to them. This is contrasted with the reaction of the men of Sodom who seek to gang-rape the angel visitors while Lot protects them under the auspice that they have accepted his hospitality. Ezekiel, in listing the sins of Sodom lists pride, idleness, greed and inhospitality, but never mentions homosexuality. Jesus himself cites this reason by analogy claiming that the towns which are inhospitable to his disciples will end up worse than Sodom or Gomorrah. The association between Sodom and homosexuality is largely the fault of bad translation. The Hebrew word, [qadesh], meaning ‘temple-prostitute’ has often been mis-translated ‘sodomite’ though it bears no linguistic relationship to the city of Sodom.

“Homosexuality is like pedophilia or bestiality”
Pedophilia in any circumstances constitutes rape because, by legal definition, a minor cannot be a consensual sex partner. Pedophilia is also a violation by any measurement because it is forcing sexual activity on someone who is not physically or psychologically ready for it. Love and sex between two consenting adults who are the same gender has nothing to do with pedophilia whatsoever, whether legally, morally or theologically.
Bestiality is a person having sex with an animal - this comparison is offensive, as if a same-gender partner was not even a human being. Love and sex between two people of the same gender has nothing to do with bestiality whatsoever, whether legally, morally or theologically.

“Homosexuality is like incest or polyamory”
It must first be noted that the Bible openly approves of polyamory and does not share our modern definition of incest. Because of this fact, those wishing to make a purely “Biblical” argument should accept this as a point in favor of LGBTQ ordination. Nonetheless, this argument is false. Incest is very often also rape and sexual abuse, and in cases where it is not rape/abuse it risks offspring with severe genetic abnormalities. Incest is something that, despite the Bible, we have come to define differently and reject over time, even though royal families practiced it well into the last century. Polyamory is also something that the Bible approves of but which we reject. It is now our assumption that fidelity is best expressed, children best raised, etc. by monogamous parents. However, it should be noted that the vast majority of Americans practice serial polyamory since very few people only have sex with one marital partner in their entire lives, and this is appropriately no bar to ordination. Homosexuality is not like incest or polyamory.

“Homosexuality is unnatural”
No matter how we interpret the word “natural”, this claim is false. That homosexual activity is observed in nature among other mammals is incontrovertible. Even if no other mammal engaged in any homosexual activity, there is no question that such activity occurs among humans, meaning that it is indeed entirely “natural”.
If the claim is that homosexual activity is “unnatural” because it does not lead to procreation, then we would have to condemn all sex that is not aimed at procreation as equally “unnatural”, and may have to consider preventing married adults who are not parents from being ordained - not to mention anyone on birth control, anyone who masturbates, etc.
If the claim is that homosexual activity is “unnatural” because it is dangerous or perverse, we should bear in mind that there is nothing activity-wise that LGBTQ persons do that straight persons do not do in far greater numbers. Homosexuality is natural by any reasonable definition of the word.

“Homosexuality is dangerous and/or unhealthy”
As mentioned above, this argument is nonsensical because there is nothing, no specific sexual activity, that LGBTQ persons engage in which straight persons do not engage in in greater numbers. If we are going to have sexual-act litmus tests for ordination, we should at least be fair about it. But the above claim, that LGBTQ activities are somehow especially or inherently dangerous or unhealthy, makes no sense whatsoever, because there are no exclusively LGBTQ sex acts for us to consider.

“Homosexuality is a choice”
Putting the ocean of anecdotal evidence against this claim aside, there is no scientific consensus supporting the claim that homosexuality is a choice in the vast majority of cases - quite the opposite, no credible American scientific organization would support that claim. Because sexuality is more than brain chemistry, scientific studies will never tell us all we want to know about ourselves, but the evidence that homosexuality is not a choice in the vast majority of cases is consistent and overwhelming.

“Sexual orientation can be changed with ‘reparative’ therapy”
Even in cases where “reparative” therapy isn’t simply abuse, this is not true in the vast majority of cases. The fact remains that some “reparative” therapies are abusive and even criminal. Beyond Ex-Gay is one example of an organization and conference for the survivors of these therapies. Truth Wins Out is another. Attempts to change a person’s sexual identity overwhelmingly fail (except in a few rare cases), which leads to an escalation of force used by those who are committed to the false idea that a person’s sexual identity is a malfunction of some kind. This is a view that is not shared by any credible American scientific organization, and should not be encouraged by the church.

“Homosexuality damages society and/or traditional marriage”
Claims like these are actually impossible to demonstrate or prove, but they are common nonetheless - perhaps for that very reason. There is little question that fighting over homosexuality damages the members of society who are denied equal rights under the law and are treated as second-class citizens. As for marriage, we don’t think any responsible observer would attribute our current problems with marriage in the US to LGBTQ persons. There is no situation where a societal ill can be legitimately laid at the feet of the LGBTQ community, where no other causes or circumstances can be identified. The above argument is rendered meaningless, and is simply an expression of fear, or perhaps frustration, deserving a pastoral response - but not validation.
Furthermore, ‘traditional marriage’ is a recent social construct. Our contemporary romantic ideal was a terrifying innovation 100 years ago. Traditionally, marriage has involved polyandry, polygyny, surrogate pregnancy, concubinage, arranged marriages, marriage between children, and others. The Bible approves of at least 8 types of marriage, including marrying war hostages, marrying slaves, marrying up to 700 women, marrying a sibling’s widow, marrying one’s rape victim, and others. We rightly reject these many forms of ‘traditional’ marriage.

“Paul condemned homosexuality”
The passage from Romans 1 popularly cited as the most damning New Testament condemnation of Homosexuality is a warning against the dangers of self-righteousness, not a polemic against Homosexuality. If anything it ought to be read as a strong caution against the belief that we can keep the church pure by keeping the wrong kind of people out. We are all in exactly the same position before the grace of Jesus Christ and no rule, least of all one as arbitrary as G-6.0106b, can ensure the faithfulness of the body.
Furthermore, we do not support every claim we can cherry-pick from the epistles. Paul also condemns women speaking in assembly or uncovering their hair. As a church, our polity should not, and does not, depend on proof-texts lifted out of context. Rather, Paul and the early church consistently defied social boundaries as they welcomed, as equals, many excluded and supposedly ‘unclean’ persons.

“Ordaining LGBTQ people makes it harder to work with churches in the rest of the world”
To what degree are we willing to compromise our conscience and our polity for the sake of ‘getting along’? Many churches in other countries do not ordain women either - it is a fact that our ordination of women makes it more difficult to work with ultra-conservative denominations and some international churches. Shall we cease to ordain women then? There are places in Africa that are currently debating whether to jail and execute LGBTQ persons. Must we deny our reason and conscience to support jailing and executing sexual minorities as well? We are better off as a witness of justice, equality and conscience for the whole world to see. This is what the church has always been at its best, choosing the love of God for all persons over the injustices of the world, loving the unclean as Jesus did.

Arguments in Favor of LGBTQ Rights and Inclusion

Justification is by faith
Justification comes by grace through faith and not through any human effort. Establishing a suspect standard of holiness for service in the Church contradicts our confessions where we proclaim that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but equally that all have been set free from bondage to sin and death in Christ. We are freed for service - a service which we unjustly and selectively deny to some who Christ has claimed.

We are sanctified by the Holy Spirit and gifted for service
The Holy Spirit is the source of all holiness. Just as we are not saved by our own effort, we do not grow in grace by our own sweat either. There are no actions of repentance, charity, or mercy that any individual could perform which would make them worthy of the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. Our worthiness lies not in our personal righteousness but in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, evidenced by the gifts of the Spirit.

LGBTQ persons have clearly demonstrated spiritual gifts for ministry
There are among us at this very moment LGBTQ individuals with an interior sense of call who many have testified are gifted with spiritual charisms for ordained ministry. That there have been in the past, are currently, and will be in the future, powerful preachers, teachers, leaders, and caregivers who happen to be LGBTQ persons is amply witnessed. Since ordained ministry in the Reformed tradition is strictly a division of function, and not of holiness, there can be no justification for denying their gifts for service. With Peter we ask “surely no one can stand in the way of the Holy Spirit?”

We call unclean what God calls clean
“What I have called clean, let no one call unclean.” In the Acts of the Apostles God encourages Peter to break the Law of Moses regarding purity - God directly tells Peter to commit the ‘abominations’ of eating shellfish with gentiles. Peter’s vision is about the continuing expansion and inclusion of God’s call, begun in the OT with the many calls to hospitality and love of neighbor as well as aliens in the land. Even if we pretended that the OT condemned consensual, adult same-sex love (which it does not mention, much less condemn), that love would be right there on the table-cloth...with the shellfish. This is not Peter’s innovation, nor his revisionism, nor his denial of God’s authority, any more than it is for those who support LGBTQ rights and inclusion for now. It is merely the continuation of God’s ever-expanding call, breaking down barriers wherever the Spirit is found.

We are made a community of equals in Christ
Male nor female, Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free. Neither how we are born, nor who we are politically or socially organized, nor how we are economically related to each other, is to have any impact on our status as children of God in Christ. All children of God should be welcomed in ministry. We extrapolate this powerful good news in many ways already - beyond ‘Jew and Gentile’ to other races and nations; beyond ‘slave or free’ to other economic systems and injustices. The community of equals in Christ extends to LGBTQ persons as well.

Jesus is silent on homosexuality, and nowhere in the Bible are loving monogamous LGBTQ relationships dealt with at all
Though Paul mentions it twice, Jesus does not talk about homosexuality at all in the Gospels that we have as canon. An argument from absence isn’t necessarily very compelling, but it is worth mentioning that for over 30 years we have energetically argued over something that the authors of the Gospels did not feel was worth mentioning even once one way or another. Paul, the first to write about Jesus whose manuscripts we have, encouraged people not to marry at all because he expected the imminent return of Jesus in his lifetime. He did not speak of committed LGBTQ relationships any more than the Hebrew scriptures did.

Our first and most important ordination is in Baptism
Our first and most important ordination is in Baptism, where we are adopted into Jesus Christ and given the ministry of every disciple. Ordination to a specific ministry in the church, whether of an Elder, Deacon, or Minister of Word and Sacrament does not confer any ontological change, override, supersede, or even amend the prior ordination into the ministry of the baptised. The distinction we make in the offices of the church is one of function and not of holiness. By saying that a baptised, called, and gifted individual is ineligible for a particular ministry by virtue of supposed insufficient holiness we are denying their Baptism. If one’s Baptism can be annulled by supposed sin, or is dependent on our effort and perfection, then we are all doomed.

The priesthood is composed of all believers
In the Reformed tradition, from the very beginning, it was understood that every believer is responsible as part of the priesthood - that priesthood was not a special ontological status conferred by the church, but was rather a general calling conferred by the grace of God on all baptised believers. The fact is that every LGBTQ Christian is already called to ministry.

Exclusion of LGBTQ persons adds nothing of value to the ordination standards we already have
Ignore for the moment that the average American becomes sexually active at 16 and gets married at 28, and that simple ‘chastity in singleness’ does not begin to address this societal reality in believers’ lives. Apart from the exclusion of LGBTQ persons from ordination, G-6.0106b does nothing whatsoever to further or deepen the Book of Order’s definition of ordained office or requirements for those seeking ordination. It can be omitted without losing anything of value.

LGBTQ persons already serve in other denominations and organizations, proving dire predictions false every day
LGBTQ persons are serving in ordained ministry in various denominations currently and the predicted denominational collapses have not taken place. The real harm is being done however by our continuing to fight over this issue, which damages the peace, unity and purity of the church particular and universal, as well as the witness of the church to the world.
Furthermore, we must never shrink from doing what is right for the sake of protecting our denomination. Even if acting justly causes a mass exodus from our denomination, that is no reason to continue to act unjustly.

No church that does not choose a LGBTQ minister, Elder or Deacon will ever have to ordain one
Even if the PC(USA) is to begin ordaining LGBTQ persons this very moment, there is no church anywhere in the denomination which would be forced to accept any particular LGBTQ pastor, Elder or Deacon against its will. It is the Presbytery’s function to examine candidates for Ministry of Word and Sacrament, and that will continue without interruption when G-6.0106b is erased from the Book of Order. The fact is that G-6.0106b does not protect anyone from anything. All it does is ensure that people who are demonstrably called to pastoral ministry are not allowed to live that calling out, and churches in need of pastoral leadership are unable to find it.

The church is currently lending tacit support to mocking, bullying, torment and exclusion suffered by LGBTQ persons
LGBTQ persons are being mocked, bullied, tormented, and discriminated against at this very moment, possibly jailed or even executed overseas. Some in recent days have taken their own lives as a direct result of this hateful treatment. Every second we fail to stand up and declare unequivocally that God loves them and they are welcome, is a second we acquiesce to bigotry and tacitly support bullies. It is time to begin undoing the harm official church policies of exclusion have wrought.

There are not even selfish reasons to retain G-6.0106b and continue to unjustly exclude LGBTQ persons from ordination. That single clause will not prevent frustrated congregations from leaving the denomination, nor will it convince parishioners frustrated with decades of conflict over this issue to remain. It will not maintain even a veneer of peace, unity and purity in the church. G-6.0106b does not put our current debates over ordination to rest. What it means is that barely more than half of the denomination is able to force its interpretation of ordination on every individual Presbytery, congregation, and member of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Getting rid of G-6.0106b will not force a single Presbytery or congregation to ordain or accept a single candidate they do not vote to accept. What it will do is enable thousands of congregations and dozens of Presbyteries who have been a slight minority in the denomination right now to consider, just consider, LGBTQ persons for ordination where they might be called to serve.

In a situation where believers disagree in good faith according to their conscience, where 30 years or argument has not made any progress in producing consensus, it seems most reasonable, most just, and best to allow freedom of conscience. Nothing is preserved when 51% of the denomination maintains a specific litmus-test and forces 49% to apply it. There is no other clause like G-6.0106b which is aimed at a specific issue in the same way in all of the Book of Order. G-6.0106b is an aberration in our polity, and we are better off in every conceivable way without it. It is not justified ethically, rationally, politically nor theologically. It is time for us to vote in favor of inclusion.

Download this document as a pdf in 8.5x11 portrait format, or half-fold booklet format.


Doug Hagler said...

With colors, no less!

There it is. We'll see what happens.

Aric Clark said...

This document is available in a nice pdf for those who might want to reproduce it and share with friends and presbyters. Leave contact information or reach us directly if you want it.

Doug Hagler said...

I edited "Homosexuality is like incest or polyamory" based on an angry email I received which made a couple good points. We'll see if we can edit the pdfs as well.

Alan said...

Nice summary. Concise and to the point.

Now if only people could be persuaded by rational argument and evidence....

Doug Hagler said...

We are not, and have never been, rational creatures. Change comes as more and more people have 'out' sexual minorities in their lives and realize there is nothing to be so afraid of.

When debating on the floor of Presbytery, though, I don't want someone who is a LGBTQ ally to be at a loss when presented with any of these arguments, or when asked to make a few arguments in favor of justice and inclusion.

Aric Clark said...

This document is available to download as a pretty pdf with graphics and pop-out quotes and everything. I encourage everyone to take it, print it, and distribute it at presbytery, on seminary campuses, and even to use it for a discussion starter in your church. You may choose a 8.5x11 portrait format, or a half-fold booklet format. Enjoy.

Anonymous said...

You mention some valid points. However, I think that if you want to win over the anti-homosexual Christians, you may want to further explicate on what Paul says in Romans 1 and 1 Cor 6:9.

In the Christian circles I run in, they are the only biblical passages that are pointed to. The only Christians I have heard use the passages from Leviticus,and the destruction of Sodom, are the likes of Fred Phelps.

Aric Clark said...

Thanks for the tip diglot. We are expanding our support for each argument about every 3 days or so. I think when we get to the point about Paul in the first half of the document, and the points about Peter and the Community of Equality in the latter half we will cover the subjects you are talking about. Hopefully. If you have suggestions for what to add or where to go, we welcome them.

Alan said...

"Change comes as more and more people have 'out' sexual minorities in their lives and realize there is nothing to be so afraid of."


Doug Hagler said...

@ diglot: I agree that each of the classic bludgeoning verses have to be dealt with - this is just the start. The main point that will carry over is the one about the connection between misogyny and homophobia. Also, interestingly, looking at 1 Cor 6:9, apparently Paul has nothing to say about lesbianism. But, anyway, I'll save it until we get to the Paul argument, one I wanted very much to expand on. Keep checking back in!

Christine Kooi said...

Thank you for this resource!

John Shuck said...

We copied the bulletin-ready format and inserted it in the bulletins for this past Sunday when I preached this sermon. My presbytery votes December 7. The resource was well-received! Thanks!

Doug Hagler said...

I'm glad people are finding it useful. I know that it is also being used actively in the Presbytery of the Mid-South, among other places. That's the part that I find rewarding - that it is proving helpful.

Anonymous said...

Question: Is homosexuality a sin?

Aric Clark said...


This resource argues for inclusion no matter how one answers that question, but we've addressed that thoroughly here.

Doug Hagler said...

@ Anon:

Yes, we are arguing for inclusion either way, but on a personal level, I must say that homosexuality is a sin precisely to the degree that heterosexuality is.

wonhoshin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wonhoshin said...

Thank you for the great work, linked on my own blog post .. :

Why I Stand in Solidarity With the LGBT Community

Doug Hagler said...

Greetings Wonhoshin! I'm wondering - what is a 1.5 generation Korean-American? I'm curious...

wonhoshin said...


"1.5 generation" refers to someone who immigrated to a foreign country during their teenage -- impressionable -- years. Someone who is somewhere in-between a "first generation" -- someone who immigrated to a foreign country as a middle aged adult, and therefore has difficulty immersing in foreign language and culture; and a "second generation" -- someone who is born in a country to immigrant parents, and identifies fully with that country in language, culture, education, and citizenship.

1.5 generation

Doug Hagler said...

Thanks for the new term. Even working in an immigrant church, I hadn't heard that one, but it makes sense, and I can see how that would be its own category.

Robert said...

Coming in a bit late in the conversation but . . .

I think the comments on the Leviticus passages, particularly in relation to "abomination" are outdated and beside the point. One author who agrees with you overall (and I am terrible with names, sorry) says that Leviticus clearly labels sexual activity between two men as sinful but that one has to consider the context. The problem is patriarchy.

If one looks at the context one sees a long list of people you can't have sex/ with but the kicker is why. If you have sex with your aunt the problem isn't that you have had sex with your aunt. The problem is that you have uncovered the nakedness of your uncle. The passage about a man lying with a man as with a woman must be considered within this patriarchal context. In effect anal penetration of a male treats that male as a female. To do so changes the "rank" (I think that is the right word) of the male who is penetrated. In a society that has rigid levels or ranks to have penetrative sex with someone who is your equal (both being men in this case) is a massive breakdown of society. So, by the way, is having sex with one's aunt. That affects the relationship (rank really is a better term here) between one and one's uncle. The aunt really doesn't count because she is of a lower rank.

Curiously this is also the basis for the argument concerning incest. Incest in a patriarchal society is not about causing psychic pain to another. It is about the disturbance of the family (and societal) structure and the relationships between the men in the family. This is why Rob Gagnon talks about incest as a sexual relationship that is "too close." He means that the Levitical text says that sexual activity with those within the family is unacceptable because of the closeness of the relationship, not because of any emotional reason. His study of the laws concerning sex between men in other ancient societies is on point as well. Hammurabi thought it was fine for a man of higher rank to have anal sex with a man of lower rank as long as the man of higher rank was doing the penetrating. Having anal sex with someone of your own rank broke down the structure of society.

But if one considers the whole question in a less highly structured/patriarchal society one has to ask if Leviticus can be considered to be on point or not.

Robert said...

BTW I used the word "rank" because wives and daughters were not possessions in OT society. Slaves were possessions who curiously still had some rights under the Law. Wives and daughters ranked above slaves. And occasionally a woman received the rank of a man or above a man, as in the case of Deborah and in a different way, Miriam. A look at the relationship between Sarah and Hagar will show the difference in rank.

Doug Hagler said...

Dammit - deleted my longer response. In brief:

What you write I've heard, read and written many times in the past and basically agree.

Our point was specifically about the word "abomination", which was used as the centerpiece of at least one argument in my Presbytery when we debated 10A. So, I obviously disagree that it is either an outdated point or that it is beside the point. We intentionally constrained what we wrote for each issue, and so had nowhere near the time to get into gender, rank and patriarchy in the OT.

Thank you for the comments, though - those things need to be said as well in the larger discussion of sexuality and the Bible.

Birgit said...

My PC USA church is having meetings about how to deal with this change. I would love to have a copy of your article to use as a resource. Thanks!!

Doug Hagler said...

Birgit - I'm glad you think the article might be helpful. If you check the very bottom of this blog post, you will find links where you can download the document in two different layouts as a PDF document.

Good luck!

David said...

Re: Abomination, I ask, how did bacon make the trip past Leviticus, but not lgbt? Bacon is a popular pleasure, that's why! It might clog our arteries or kill us with carcinogenic nitrosamies, but it is traditional, so it is OK.

rottenqueerchristian said...


I did a short work-over of 1 Cor 6:9:

I plan on doing it with Romans when I get around to it.