Why I Changed My Mind about Homosexuality and the Church

As a delegate to the United Methodist General Conferences in 1984 and 1988, I voted to reaffirm and expand the restrictive language regarding homosexuality. I did so out of sincere conviction as the right thing to do, even though the issue was an abstraction to me. I knew no one who was admittedly gay, and the notion of same-sex attraction was foreign to my experience.

I now deeply regret those votes! Over the intervening thirty years, I have changed my mind and now support the removal of all restrictive language in the United Methodist Book of Discipline here. The following are the factors that contribute to my change of mind.

First, I got to know people who fall into the category of “homosexual.” I came to realize that many of them had long been in my circle of relationships but were afraid to share this important component of their identity. Some are beloved members of my own family!

Many are faithful, devoted, life-long church members who can’t be open within the body of Christ for fear of rejection and condemnation. Some are parents of LGBTQ children who shared stories of bullying and abuse of their kids.

A few were colleagues on the staff of congregations I served, and their ministries reflected the qualifications identified by John Wesley—grace, gifts, and fruits. Many were exceptionally gifted, devoted seminary students whose call to ordained ministry seemed evident to me.

Some are people in same-sex marriages who are committed Christians and faithful to the church, faithful to one another, and faithful to Christ, and who possess “the gifts of the Spirit.”

Hearing the painful stories of these beloved children of God cut me to the quick. The issue of sexual orientation was no longer a theological or ethical abstraction. It became embodied in people I loved, from whom I learned, in whom I experienced God’s grace-filled presence!

Secondly, the evidence is overwhelming that sexual orientation is not a choice. I have yet to meet a heterosexual who can tell me when he/she decided to be attracted to the opposite sex; nor have I met a gay person who decided to be attracted to persons of the same sex.

Sexual identity and desire are complex realities with biological, social, environmental, and psychological components. While the Discipline labels “the practice” of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching,” the implication is that a person’s being is contrary to the Christian gospel. That is incompatible with our doctrine of creation.

Thirdly, by the 1992 General Conference I had not only begun to change my mind about the language of incompatibility and exclusion, I had become convinced that legislation is the wrong way to deal with the issue.

The pivotal decision was made in 1972 when the language of incompatibility was added to  Social Principles Study Commission Report, by an amendment from the floor with limited debate.

The consequence of that political parliamentary action has disproportionately dominated subsequent General Conference agendas and expanded legislative restrictions. It now threatens to split the denomination.

We have legislated ourselves into a box, maybe into a regrettable schism. Whatever our position on this issue, legislative action will not resolve it!

Fourthly, I came to realize more fully the meaning of Martin Luther King’s words in his letter from the Birmingham jail:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

During my first eight years as a member of the Council of Bishops, I was deeply immersed in the Initiative on Children and Poverty. I felt that the persistent discussion of homosexuality within the Council and other denominational circles was distracting us from fully addressing economic injustice.

I shared my concern with a friend, a theological consultant to the Initiative. His response lodged my conscience: “But, Ken, you can’t portion God’s justice for one group and ignore it for another.”

I realize that some injustices are beyond our ability to remedy immediately, but to ignore those that are within our immediate sphere of influence cannot be excused. By removing the discriminatory language, we can take an immediate step toward correcting an injustice inflicted on our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

Fifthly, I’m convinced that the discrimination against LGBTQ people is being justified by inadequate biblical interpretation. I’ve read arguments from the Bible used by southern preachers to justify slavery, and I see a similar hermeneutic operating in support exclusion of gay persons.

Using the Bible to support misguided causes is a long-standing scandal in the church. Scripture has been used to justify such evils as the Crusades, genocide, slavery, the subordination of women, persecution of scientists, and burning of “heretics.”

I firmly, unapologetically believe in the primacy and authority of Scripture! What we mean by “the authority of Scripture” determines how we use it.

Here is my understanding: The authority of Scripture lies in its authentic witness to God’s mighty acts of salvation supremely in the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and in its power through the Holy Spirit within community to transform individuals, communities, nations, and the entire cosmos into the likeness of Christ.

The test of commitment to the authority of Scripture is this: Is it shaping us into the likeness of Jesus Christ and enabling us to love as Christ loves and to witness to his present and coming reign of compassion, justice, generosity, hospitality, and joy?

The influence of the Gospel over the centuries has enabled us to see Scripture through the lens of the Word-Made-Flesh, Jesus Christ. Such a lens enables us to avoid misusing  some troubling passages in the Bible.

Three glaring examples: massacring of religious opponents as did Elijah with the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18:40); slavery which was taken for granted in many Old and New Testament narratives; women keeping silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34).

Finally, my understanding and experience of what it means to love as Christ loves has deepened and widened over the years. People whom society relegates to the margins have taught me about the nature, depth, and expanse of God’s love. I have experienced profound faith among the incarcerated, the homeless, the frail elderly, orphans, immigrants, the poor, and LGBTQ persons.

I have met the Crucified and Risen Christ in my relationships with those whom society treats as “outcasts.” I know from experiences with them that Christ has broken down ALL dividing walls between us. Paul makes it clear:

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

ALL includes gays and straights, LGBTQ and heterosexuals, “progressives” and “traditionalists.” Christ died for ALL, includes ALL, and invites ALL to “love one another as I have loved you.”

It is the quality of our love and its imitation of Christ’s love that is definitive, not gender or sexual orientation. As committed couples, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters should be able to love each other in ways mutually fulfilling to them, as surely as we who are heterosexual.

I’m still growing in my understanding and my ability to love as Christ loves. God grant me the humility to keep learning and growing toward the fullness of God’s perfect love!

146 thoughts on “Why I Changed My Mind about Homosexuality and the Church

  1. Anything outside of God’s will and design is sin. Sin keeps us separated from God. Sin will send us to hell.

    God is clear homosexuality is sin. He is also clear overeating is sin. Lying – sin. Disrespect to parents – sin. Stealing- sin. Pride -sin. As with any sin we ought to hate the sin and not the sinner.

    It’s always been interesting to me that the sin of homosexuality is one that keeps people out of church. Aren’t we all in sin? Isn’t that why we’re all desperately in need of a relationship with God and belief in Jesus as our one and only way to salvation?

    Your comments regarding being born with the predisposition to homosexuality…again sin is in all of our genes. We are all born with a sinful nature. It seems just as likely for the devil to tempt a man to lust after a woman as it would be for him to tempt a man to lust after another man. In any scenario where sin is involved God is clear the best action is to flee from sin, to stand against temptation and the devil.

    Do I believe people who identify as homosexual belong in church? Absolutely! Do I believe if they’re in a true relationship with God and believe in Jesus they can stay that way? Well none of us can stay the same – regardless of the type of sin we’re in. God promises to heal and restore us all to himself.

    When Jesus returns and finishes the full restoration in us we will all see many many areas where we fell short and why we were in dire need of a Savior- a Savior from sin, from ALL sin.

    Lastly, you mention how many individuals close to you identified as homosexual you never knew about yet you believed they had a heart for God. I found that in my own experience as well. Many people I love identify the same way.

    One of the reasons this continues to be a touchy topic is because of the hidden nature that has surrounded homosexuality. Anything the devil can keep hidden, secretive, and fearful of can continue to take root. Boy! Are we ever discovering the root homosexuality actually has.

    I think as Christians we ought to bring it out in the light. In the light of Jesus! Let’s bring everything, including homosexuality to the light of Jesus!

    But if we live in the light—just as he is in the light—then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin. (1 John 1:5-7)

    Not talking about it, keeping homosexuals out of church continues the issue. Let’s draw it out into His light, address it and then strive to live in the will and design of God, knowing His work in us is still incomplete while we’re on this earth.

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    • I am utterly shocked at some of these responses to Bishop Kenneth’s wonderful article and approach: 1) because it is plainly clear too many have not really read the article, and 2) the positively dark ages draconian attitudes of many indicates there are those who want the Church to walk backwards in time – not listening to what the Spirit is saying to the Church, side-stepping compassion, sidestepping the very commands of Christ.
      Because I am a gay man does not, automatically, mean I am in sin. The sin is in not accepting me and all my gay brothers and sisters in Christ for who we are.
      I am no longer responding to this discussion here because the pain some of the responses is bringing on is simply too much. Those of you living in glass houses – please think about what you are saying and doing – the spec that you see in another’s eye … think on.
      With love and blessings, Rev’d Hm Graham-Michoel OSBC

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      • Thank you for responding and sharing your pain. While many of the responses have harsh and judgmental, the overwhelming response has been affirming. I have received several personal, private responses which tell stories of deep pain and hurt caused by dogmatic judgmental attitudes that fall woefully short of the mind that was in Christ Jesus. With love and blessings to you!

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  2. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” works for a lot of Christians. But with homosexuality that’s a problem. They claim it’s part of who they are, and how they were created. Many associate it with their earliest memories. If it’s not a choice, then how should they separate it? Could you renounce your blue eyes, or the sound of your voice? ‘Cut off your hand if it causes you to sin?’ Do we then focus on the behaviors? Tell them it’s fine to feel how they do, but admonish them against acting on it? Perhaps we should try ignoring our own sexual preferences first. Would we agree for the sake of Biblical purity to give up our spouse, our family, our love, and our physical intimacy? That’s what many expect them to do.

    I choose a different motto. “Love the sinner, let God worry about the sin.” I don’t need to relabel it, or rewrite the Bible; I just need to allow God to deal with His child as He sees fit. None of us are perfect. Because our sins aren’t on our sleeves, or evident in our relationships, we’re able to keep them out of sight, and out of judgment. We’re able to attend church, serve in church, and even lead in church, with no one pointing out our enduring sins. Many of us hold on to our own sins, just as unrepentant as the open homosexual. ‘That’s just how I am. I know it’s wrong, but I can’t change.’

    Wouldn’t it be better if we treated our churches like hospitals for our souls, rather than showcases of perfected piety? In one recent discussion on the matter, someone claimed we need to preserve the integrity of the church. But what is a church but where two or more gather in His name? If we reject those who would gather, claiming they don’t fit the mold, don’t adhere to the rules, and don’t have their sins under control, are we not destroying the church from within?

    Love the sinner. Period.

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  3. It remains that homosexuality was forbidden in Leviticus along with rape, incest,adultery and bestiality. How does one separate out homosexuality from the rest of the list? It is also explicitly referenced only in Romans 1 but throughout the the Letters (Paul’s and John’s) it can be considered part of the term sexual immorality. To properly address the Biblical issues these passages need to be addressed a simple dismissal is insufficient.

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      • Ken, if you were interpreting them in context, you would agree with them, rather than dismiss them.
        The Jewish culture has been against the sin of homosexuality for more than 3000 years. Christ’s followers – Peter, John, Paul – taught against the sin of homosexuality – hence, Christ did not change His mind on the sin.
        Thirdly, Christ will not contradict scripture. Homosexuality is a sin and it is time we stop hurting these people by endorsing their sin and inability to see the Kingdom of Heaven

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      • But Christ didn’t. His followers taught that homosexuality is a sin that one can be cleansed of. We need to stop hurting homosexuals Ken.

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    • May I respectfully suggest you ask an openminded Jewish scholar to explain these particular injunctions in Leviticus. As for the Romans quote, Paul is referring to the indulgent practices of the Roman occupiers, he is not condemning love between two individuals – how can he when elsewhere he prescribes gender is immaterial.

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      • Paul was writing to the church in Rome which was a multi-ethnic church. Romans
        could not be said to be occupying Rome in the sense that you were using the term. Further, the assessment of the fallen state of humanity was not limited to Romans, unless you want also to say that salvation by faith was similarly limited to the Roman congregation.

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  4. Forgive me, my words are not as eloquent as most and I don’t always express myself as well as I would like. You see I went to church some as a child, no I wasn’t raised in the Church like many were. As an adult I went to some churches off and on. Just never felt like I fit in any where. I always believed in what the Bible told me, I believed and still believe that Christ died for me. I have gone through a lot in my life as I’m sure most people have. You see without parents most of my growing up years the Bible and God’s words were the only constant in my life. I believe God talks to me through what I read in the Bible. I believe what is told to me in the Bible. Now to read your article makes me question church, Pastors, Preachers. I think this is why there is such a decline in membership in churches. We are told the Bible is God’s Word and we believe God’s Word. But then we are caught off guard when we are told not to take the Bible literally. You see people like me that are searching for truth and honesty and consistency grab hold of the Bible and believe with all our hearts. We love everyone as God tells us to. But most get confused because there is conflict about what is preached and what we read in the Bible. Therefore people turn away from the Church out of confusion. I don’t disagree that we should love everyone like Christ loves us, but to condone sinful acts to me just doesn’t seem Christ like. I think many people go to church and leave more confused than when they started. I mean no disrespect sir, but your words make it confusing for some of us that need the truth of the Bible to cling to. I have been a member of the Methodist Church now for about 16 years, each time I read things like this I start to question why am I going to Church. I thought I went to Church to be with God’s people, to learn all I can about God love. Again I question why?

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    • I am sorry that my statement confuses you and causes you to question your faith and commitment to the church. We all interpret the Bible, which is witness to God’s Word. It is impossible to take the Bible literally on a consistent basis. Jesus Christ is the Word of God as John’s Gospel declares and every passage must be read in light of the overall message of God salvation. I am trying to be faithful to the Bible as are you. At the heart of God’s Word is Love and I hope you will remain in the church and continue your relationships with God’s people.

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      • I agree that we are all sinners. Regardless of the sin we should be welcome in the church. But we can’t rewrite the scriptures to accommodate our sins. If society decides that adultry is an acceptable sin do we ignore the Bible on that matter also. I think everyone sins and should be welcome in the church thru Gods grace. But accept that it is what it is a sin in the eyes of the Lord. Don’t try to justify it by yourreinterpretation ofthe word of God.

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    • Of course, but who says ‘straight’ or ‘gay’ is a calling? We are what God has made, and that cannot be denied. To deny what is made in the image of God is to deny holiness.

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  5. I appreciate Bishop Carder’s thoughtful and articulate response to the UMChurch’s dilemma, as well as the comments following. I also agree with almost everything the bishop said, except to wonder if he (and others who agree) feel that Jesus’ coming has abrogated the Scriptures prior to His coming. Some point out that Jesus doesn’t directly speak to homosexuality… So, what does that mean? Are we now saying that God’s role in all of our history is open to the interpretation of any observer? Anyone who reads the Bible?

    I happen to believe that my sexual orientation, the “attraction factor,” is something I was born with, but so, too, is my tendency toward depression, my “shoot-from-the-hip” temper, my aversion to anything with eight legs or worse yet, my distaste for brussel sprouts.

    I want – more than anything – to follow Christ’s mandate to love the Father and I’m pretty sure that includes loving all of the Father’s creations. I would also like God to change out all my sinful behavior for non-sinful behavior, but until that miracle happens I believe God still wants me as part of His Family of Man.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your thoughtful response. I wish we could talk face to face and explore your question together. I don’t think that Jesus’ coming abrogates the Scripture prior to His coming, but his coming provides a clearer lens through which to interpret and all Scripture. The Bible itself is not the Word of God; Jesus is the Word of God to which the Scriptures are the authentic witness. God’s revelation is unfolding and each new insight must be evaluated in the light of God’s supreme revelation in Jesus’ life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension. We are all flawed, finite creatures who need one another to grow into the fullness of God’s image in which we have been created.

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  6. Thank you for your insightful and caring Christian pastoral message. Better to come from you than one who is dismissed in some quarters as a reckless reprobate. I’ll forward you my more recent reflections. Roy

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  7. I should have added: My most recent discovery in our Articles of Religion said “Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation” (as we were hearing from biblical scholars in the early 20th century: “The Bible is not The Word of God, but contains the Word of God”). Our Articles did not say, “All things in Scriptures are required for our salvation.”

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  8. Pingback: Gleanings from Responses to “Why I Changed My Mind about Homosexuality and the Church” | Shifting Margins

  9. Pingback: Why I changed my mind about homosexuality and the church | A Peculiar Prophet

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