Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Churches of Christ and Homosexuality


An Introduction
A friend recently sent me two articles from the New York Times about homosexuality and religion.  These articles were published in print in the Sunday Magazine (pg. MM30) on June 19, 2011.  More about that later, but it made me think back on the struggles that I faced (and to some extent still do) about my own Christianity and homosexuality.  I am a member of the Churches of Christ.  Most people consider it to be a very conservative church.  Churches of Christ are autonomous Christian congregations associated with one another through common beliefs and practices. They seek to base doctrine and practice on the Bible alone, and seek to be New Testament congregations as originally established by the authority of Christ.  When I began to become aware of my sexual orientation, I began to question also what it would mean to be gay and Christian.  Not everyone who comes out has this struggle, but if you grew up in a religious family, then this is a very vexing question.  I began to look for resources online.  Was there a support group for gay members of the Church of Christ?  How did the church receive homosexuals?  What would other members of the church think if they knew I were gay?  What should I do?  What does the Bible say about homosexuality?  It was all very confusing and also difficult to find answers related specifically to the Church of Christ. One reason for this is if you Google homosexuality and the Church of Christ, then you are likely to come up with a wide range of sources for the United Churches of Christ.  So I had to dig deeper.  Ten years ago there were plenty of sites for larger church organizations, but really nothing for the Church of Christ.  Even today there is still very little out there.  There are several references to a a group called the A Cappella Chorus, a group formed in 1979 by gay and lesbian members of the Houston area Churches of Christ as a fellowship to provide educational and spiritual support to each other and the Church as a whole.   According to the information I found: “Since [1979], additional fellowships have formed in many large urban centers. Named an A Capella Chorus because most congregations of our fellowship have no instrumental music, the organization also serves as a network for gay people in small towns and rural areas." However, I cannot find anything current on this group other than a few anti-gay rants by members of the Church of Christ from 1986.  Apparently there were "chapters" in at least four cities: Houston, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Tampa, and they published a monthly newsletter.  If they are still out there, I can’t find them on the internet, and this was the closest I came to finding a group of GLBT church members, other than rumors of a Gay/Straight Alliance at Pepperdine University and a group of GLBT Harding University alumni who wrote The State of the Gay at Harding University published through a group called HU Queer Press.  According to HU Queer Press:
Welcome to HU Queer Press and The State of the Gay! We are made up of a variety of queers with varying affiliations with Harding University. The State of the Gay is a self-published zine that aims to give voice to the experiences of gay and lesbian students at Harding. It is part storytelling, part religious and political critique, and partly a manifesto of hope for Harding’s future. The voices enclosed are the unedited and uncensored voices of individuals who are all too familiar with censorship. In truth, there is no single, identifiable goal of this zine other than to put our voices out there.
With so little to be found out there positive for gay and lesbian members of the Church of Christ, I wanted to write a series of post that would not only examine homosexuality and the Churches of Christ, but also to to discuss homosexuality and Christianity as a whole.  I wanted to share with you the fruits of my research, the journey I took, and how I will proceed on my journey.  I also wanted to establish a place where others questioning their sexuality or homosexual members of the Church of Christ could go to get answers.  I don’t have all of the answers, but I want to connect with other members of the Church of Christ and begin a discussion.  I also would like a discussion of religion and sexuality in general.
I know that some of you are not religious.  You have questioned me about this before and to some extent criticized me for my Christianity.  I will not be apologetic about it.  I do hope that all of you will read these posts and that we can have a genuine discussion.  And if you are asking why I don’t simply find a more accepting church, I will answer that in this series of posts.
I am a Christian and at the core of my belief and faith is contained within the following Bible verses that I do my best to always keep in my mind:
Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.  Matthew 7:1-2
And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. Luke 6:31
Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  Matthew 22:36-40
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. John 8:32
I also want to leave you with this from Wikipedia (I know it is not always a great source) about homosexuality and the Churches of Christ:
Except for the Bible, there is no universal belief, creed, or confession of faith among the various independent Churches of Christ. Congregations of the Church of Christ, each individually led by local elders or pastors, set policy for their own individual congregations. Members believe they become a part of the Church of Christ when they are added by God as believing, confessing, repentant persons immersed in water (Baptism) for the forgiveness of sins. A confession of faith precedes baptism but does not include a declaration or denunciation of homosexuality. Most persons within the international fellowship of autonomous congregations would likely believe that homosexual activity is incompatible with living a faithful Christian life. Positions taken by Churches of Christ, through various church related publications and from church affiliated colleges and Universities, are almost unanimous in their opposition to homosexuality in any form. No congregations that condone homosexuality are known to exist; however, views on the issues of homosexuality and same-sex marriage among individual members range widely from very conservative to progressive. Marriage is not believed to be a sacrament of the church, and members are not required to be married "in the church", though the practice is common.
Many Churches of Christ are beginning to address this issue with an open and compassionate approach. Several universities associated with the fellowship have held forums and conferences to address the issue and to open up discussion on the approach Christians should take toward homosexuality.
Openly gay and lesbian persons will find it difficult to find a congregation willing to include them in church life if they are unrepentant of what the church considers an ungodly lifestyle. Even openly gay baptized believers who are celibate, though unwilling to change their beliefs concerning homosexuality, may find it difficult to be accepted. The "disfellowshipping" of gay and lesbian persons from congregations is not unheard of. However, many urban and even small-town congregations are actively opening dialog with and seeking to minister to the gay population in their locales.
The first substantive  post of this series will be tomorrow and will examine what others are saying about how to deal with religion and homosexuality.  


A few brief notes about these posts:
    1. I will refer to the Churches of Christ as either the Churches of Christ or Church of Christ.  To be absolutely correct, when referring to the Churches of Christ one should not capitalize church, and it world-wide congregations should be referred to as “the churches of Christ.”  However, this can be a bit deceiving and/or misleading, so I will used the capitalized version.
    2. The Churches of Christ do not consider themselves Protestants, nor do they refer to the world-wide congregations as a denomination.  In fact, this is a practice recognized by the government of the United States.  If you enter the military and are issued dog tags, they usually place your religion on there: Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Protestant, etc.  If you are a member of the Churches of Christ, then they are only allowed to put “Christian” and cannot put Protestant.
    3. Though the Disciples of Christ and the Christian Church are also part of the Stone/Campbell Restoration Movement.  I am not an authority on those historically linked churches (I won’t even say that I am an authority on the Churches of Christ, but it has been my church for 33 years, and I have been a member for 21 years).  For the differences see the Wikipedia articles on the historically related Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ or the less historically related United Church of Christ.
Here are links to the full series in order:
  1. Quid Est Veritas (What is truth?John 18:38)
  2. Sola Scriptura (By Scripture Alone)
  3. Abusus Non Tollit Usum (Just Because Something Is Misused Does Not Mean It Cannot Be Used Correctly.)
  4. Veritas Vos Liberabit (The Truth Shall Set You Free—John 8:32)
  5. Deus Caritas Est, Veritas Est Amor (God is Love, Truth is Love)
  6. Vince Malum Bono (Overcome Evil with GoodRomans 12:21)
  7. Via, Veritas, Vita (The Way, The Truth, and The Life—John 14:6)

18 comments:

fan of casey said...

Joe: As you know, I'm not very religious. I attended sunday school for about 5 years as a teenager but it never really took hold. As I grew older, I also found passages of the Bible to be confusing and conflicting. I saw many Christians to be quite hypocritical, either selectively cherry-picking issues that supported an argument while disregarding others or worse living in a manner very un-Christ like, admitting that what they were doing was "wrong" but felt the excuse that we are all sinners somehow gives them a ready pass.

And of course I was turned off by all the anti-gay rhetoric. I often wondered how being gay became the worst thing a person could be when there are so many other worst moral failings. So religion never took hold for me because of this as well as I just did not have the faith to take everything at literal value in the Bible. I also found my own open nature at odds with idea that one could be "wrong" simply for being a non-believer while some of those who professed faith could be such poor examples, yet would be "saved."

Now just because religion did not fit me does not mean I think it has no use. Half of my friends are Christians and their faith helps make them the good people that they are. Just as it brings comfort and strength to them, your faith helps you with your life even though there are conflicts along the way. I think as long as people use religion to help live a more enlightened path without demonizing others and going to extremes, it can be a positive force.

I hope this series shows people that being gay and Christian can be done when one finds acceptance and love.

Jeffri Harre said...

When queer folks question my Christianity, asking me how I can belong ot such an oppressive institution, my reply is to ask them why they are still living in an oppressive country. They could, after all, move to Canada, Denmark, or the Netherlands.

To those conservative Christians who tell me I can't be gay and Christian, I tell them to come back and talk to me when they are keeping every single one of the 613 mitzvot.

For the rest of us it is an ongoing, ever-changing journey. I look forward to reading your future posts about this.

JoeBlow said...

Thanks for the wonderful comment, FOC. I also hope this series shows people that being gay and Christian can be done when one finds acceptance and love. It is a main reason for me writing this.

Jeffri, I think all institutions are oppressive if we allow them to be. Many of the 613 mitzvot are not even applicable for today. I for one, love rabbit, shellfish, and pork. I don't think that I am going to hell for that anymore than for being homosexual, like God made me. I do hope you enjoy the rest of the series.

Jeffri Harre said...

Which is exactly my point. There is so much in those 613 that isn't even practical in today's world, so why harp on us?

One of these days I'll get around to reading "A Year of Living Biblically", which is about a Jewish man who decided to try living according to the entire code.

JoeBlow said...

Jeffri, the problem is that too many people pick and choose what to follow and what not to. I follow the New Testament only. We use the Old Testament as historical reference (that's the best way I can describe it). Therefore, I don't think that any of the 613 apply unless reiterated in the New Testament.

I will give two examples of how people pick and choose: marriage and divorce. Christian families push for their children to marry, even though St. Paul advises against marriage (he did think the world was coming to an end and that one should instead focus on matters of faith. Second, the New Testament gives clear guidelines for reasons for divorce, but too many people ignore those guidelines. Sorry, I got a little bit preachy there.

Thanks for the comment, and "A Year of Living Biblically" sounds like a very interesting book that I will have to look into. I hope that you will continue to enjoy this series of posts.

JC said...

hi joe.
stumbled upon this series from a google search. i read the first four installments with great interest. first i say: you are SO c of c! almost every bit of insight and commentary rings true for me. you appreciate most of it more than i do, which i admire. lots of thoughts and questions.
first one: how do the people in your little church interact with you knowing what they do?

JoeBlow said...

JC, thank you for your comment, it is always wonderful to hear from GLBT members of the church. First of all, let me say that the members of my church do not know that I am gay. It is not.something that has ever been discussed, do it has never been an issue.

I also wanted to add this, a close friend of mine who was also raised church of Christ and knows that I am gay, has no problem with it. She has often stated when we are discussing religion, "The reason we make such great friends is because we were both brainwashed the same way." Neither of us use the term brainwashing in a negative way, but in a facetious way. However, it is true, we were raised with the same values which give us a unique bond.

Reghardt Marneweck said...

Hi I am a member of the Church of Christ in South Africa
I hope you will like my comment

What does the Word of God say about Homosexuality?


"So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'" (Genesis 1:27, 28)

"You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination." (Leviticus 18:22)

"For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due." (Romans 1:26, 27)

"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
Homosexuality is a lifestyle. It is a choice made by those who desire the unnatural. Can a homosexual person repent and be forgiven by God? The answer is yes.

"And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:11)
God remains consistent in His condemnation of homosexuality as He does for all other sins. Homosexuality is indeed an unacceptable lifestyle before our Lord God Almighty. By the written Word of the Most High God we cannot condone or embrace homosexuality within the church.

JoeBlow said...

Reghardt, I am sorry that you feel the way you do because homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice. It is not a choice at all. It is a gift and orientation bestowed on me by God in the same way He gave me the ability to love unconditionally and to be non-judgmental. Furthermore, if you look at the verses that you quote with the churches of Christ tradition of grammatico-historical analysis, then you would see that these verses do not refer to homosexuality. I urge you to read my other posts about the churches of Christ and see my grammatico-historical analysis of these verses. I also urge you to read the book "God vs. Gay" by Jay Michaelson which give a more I depth case that the Bible and God do not condemn homosexuality.

gwynns falls resident said...

I am so thankful to have found this blog. I was a minister in Churches of Christ for the same congregation for 27 years and came to terms with being gay in my 50's. After not acting on my sexual orientation for over 40 years I went through a period of extreme promiscuity for about 2 years hurting my former wife and my grown children terribly. The guilt over this has almost killed me but I finally decided I would be as good and forgiving to myself as I have always tried to be to others no matter what they have done. I now have a wonderful partner and am disabled from Lyme Encephalopathy. I am worshipping now at a Disciples of Christ church where a small group that I am a part of has been a real godsend in my life. I was not determined to leave Churches of Christ but I did not want to be an object of curiosity in them in this metropolitan area that I have lived in for so long. With a few exceptions most of my friends in Churches of Christ have been kind and gracious to me including many ministers. I never ask anyone to approve or condone what I have done because I still struggle with guilt for my unfaithfulness to my former wife who is a wonderful, beautiful person who truly deserved better in life than this nightmare I put her through. I simply appreciate kindness from others and a suspension of judgment leaving it in God's hands. I look forward to following this blog and contributing from time to time. May God bless all of you and remember what John the Baptist said when he saw Jesus walking towards him: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

professor said...

Thank you for this blog. i came across it because i wanted to find out the stands of the American churches of Christ on Homosexual ism. Permit me to enter from a different door. I am not gay i do not intend to be and that is how i enter and my take will be for us to quietly examine bible principles on the issues of homosexual ism. If we all respect the word of God as we claim then we should be slaves for it . That is what the scriptures say. To begin with , no one who claims to be a christian should engage in homosexual ism. Just like no one should engage in any form of sexual perversion who respects God. Homosexual ism is perversion.God is clear through His word. Your collective lifestyle of perversion will bring down America. This beautiful country that became blessed because it acknowledged the providence of God.... I will continue my comments if you accept me in after now.

Anonymous said...

my roots in the the coC go back 4 generations. I am the source of that article you found. I sent that pamphlet to the Examiner. Restoration Quarterly was how I first heard of A Capella Chorus. Found no reference to them after the mid-80's their have been several attempts at "gay" friendly COC congregations. Most of the GLBT folks I knew with coc roots have moved on to other places of worship. yes I am still in Tampa

Anonymous said...

Hello, I chose Anonymous because the other choices make no sense to me.
I'm not sure I can add anything you don't know, but as I was reading the new book "The Stone Campbell Movement: A Global History" I came across a section entitled: Sexuality. It talks briefly about homosexuality, as well as other strands of the movement, and the A Cappella Chorus (p. 219-223). It states that the magazine that they publish was entitled "Holy Kiss". Also, the article contains a copy of a flyer that was provided by the Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University. Strangely, it didn't mention GLAD Alliance from the DoC.
Larry

Anonymous said...

Some interesting background on A Cappella Chorus and Houston's Montrose Church of Christ.

http://www.houstonlgbthistory.org/Houston80s/Misc/Churches/Church%20of%20Christ-A%20Cappella%20Chorus80-86.compressed.pdf

Anonymous said...

Hello. I came to this website and article by way of my attempt to find other Christians who worship at churches of Christ and deal (or have dealt) with homosexuality in their own lives.

Being a bible student, church-goer for most of my life, and one who shamefully practiced homosexual activity and struggled to change, I don't understand how one can love God but live the homosexual lifestyle.

JoeBlow, what do you mean by 'being gay and Christian can be done when one finds acceptance and love'? I'm not sure how this relates to what the Apostles taught about homosexuality. Does this acceptance and love come from God or from men?

Joe said...

Remember that "God is love" and love comes from God. I'm sorry you feel the way you do but I think a close study of the bible will show you as I explain in this series of posts that you can be gay and Christian. I hope and pray that you find happiness and can be content with who you are because God created you just the way you are: homosexual and all.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joe,
I’ve attended a church of Christ most of my life but I privately struggle with homosexual thoughts and activity, and have since my youth. I’m now in my late 30’s and deal with the struggle each day, but I’m stronger in my walk with God these days, and focusing on my spiritual life has been a tremendous help in the effort to work through the trials and temptations.
I read this article and I’m confused and concerned on your points made. Early in your article, you stated that you ‘began to question also what it would mean to be gay and Christian’, following several questions while searching for a church of Christ which would accept your homosexuality. At that point, I gathered that you already disagreed with what your current church had taught about it, so why search for another church of Christ? Why not a local community church or other religious group? I too did an online research on the topics of homosexuality and the church of Christ, but I found quite a few outlines, blogs, articles and sermons on the topic. You very well might find a church by the title ‘church of Christ’ one day who accepts your homosexuality, but ultimately, such a search is like looking looking for a McDonald’s who will sell you a Whopper.
I’m also troubled with your use of Matthew 7:1-2 because if you read the verses that follow, it indicates a judgement of hypocricy. I’ve heard atheists quote this scripture against Christians when they don’t want to hear about salvation. As a Christian who privately and shamefully practiced homosexual behavior, I cannot judge the sinful living in your life until I completely put mine away. This doesn’t mean a Christian can’t point out or help you with your sin. I believe we can discuss the topic and identify what is sinful, but again, I cannot judge or condemn you. Jesus goes on to talk about a righteous judgement (vs. judging by appearance) as he did with the crowd in John 7:24.
I’m confused on the following scriptures you use regarding love, because a biblical study on the topic of love will show that there’s also tough love, a type of love addressed in the bible but sinners rarely discuss and often deny.
Finally, you state the precepts and practices of the churches of Christ as if you speak on behalf of the majority, and maybe you do, but as these churches are autonomous, you’d have to visit the majority of them to know what they teach and how they worship. I was reading Wikipedia’s summary of the church of Christ and I didn’t recognize my church or it’s affiliations.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joe,
Don't be sorry. I consider my struggle with homosexuality to be the daily trial and temptation in my life which I realize is testing my faith and producing patience and endurance, so I'm actually counting it joy at this time, as we should.